New York Times bestselling author, Bobbi Smith, is also known as Queen of the Western Romance. To date, there are more than five million copies of her novels in print. After working as a department manager for Famous-Barr, and briefly as a bookstore clerk, she decided to write. She sold her first book to Zebra in 1982. Since then, Bobbi has written over 40 books and several short stories. She has been awarded the prestigious Romantic Times Storyteller of the Year Award and two Career Achievement Awards. She frequently gives enthusiastic and heartfelt talks to writers’ groups. Bobbi is also the mother of two sons and resides in St. Charles, Missouri with her husband and three dogs.
1. You have been writing romance novels for over 25 years. What led you to this genre?
I love happily-ever-after endings!
2. For those aspiring romance novelists, are you saying all romances have to have happy endings? What constitutes a happy ending in a romance novel?
Yes, a happy ending is required. People want to put the book down smiling. The good guys always win, the bad guys always lose, and our heroine always gets her man!
3. With over 40 books and several short stories, is it difficult to come up with fresh plot lines and settings? What do you do to make each book stand out and beg readers to grab it off the shelf?
Yes, it gets harder all the time. I do a lot of research, digging through history to get story ideas. I’ve always been a history-lover. To make the readers keep coming back, an author has to give them characters they really care about. I have to love my hero and heroine, and I really enjoy my secondary characters. They can get away with so much!
4. What are some of your favorite historical settings to write about and why?
I love writing about the West. Texas is awesome and so is Arizona. Since I grew up in St. Louis, when I started writing, I wrote about the history here during the steamboat era. Westerns have a bigger audience, though, so I’ve concentrated on the Wild West. Cowboys are romantic, and there is a large loyal readership that loves Native American stories.
5. When do you know you have done enough research and you can start writing?
You need to write! Don’t use research as an excuse not to get your pages done. You can always go back and fix things later. The important things to know before you start are the basic history of the era and the area you’re writing about as well as your main characters’ work and lifestyles. I have made it a point, most of the time, to make up my own towns, so no one can nail me on historical inaccuracy. And I did get nailed once, years ago. I had an English nobleman go into a bar and order a bourbon. The trouble was it was 1776, and bourbon didn’t come along until the 1830s. Now, all my guys drink whiskey!
6. You also write as Julie Marshall. Why do you use a pseudonym?
I use the name Julie Marshall for my two contemporary inspirational books, Haven and Miracles. I didn’t want my fans to pick them up, thinking they were going to get a western or a historical. I enjoyed trying to show God’s influence on the lives of people with real problems in the real world.
“The good guys always win. The bad guys always lose, and our heroine always gets her man!”
7. What makes an inspirational romance different from other romances? Do you enjoy one kind of romance novel better than others?
The basic inspirational market is very different from the romance market. There are very strict guidelines from each publisher on what can and cannot go on within the story.
The two contemporary inspirational books I wrote, Haven and Miracles, published by Leisure, were inspirational with a mainstream feel to them. I wanted to write about real people with real problems and how God came into their lives to help save them.
Haven is about a man who, very early one morning, witnesses a drive-by shooting and runs into a Catholic church to hide out. 6:30 morning Mass is going on and he isn’t Catholic. It picks up three other story lines of three people who are at Mass, too: a middle-aged woman whose husband came home late the night before and asked for a divorce; a young, unmarried pregnant woman about to give birth; and a very religious elderly man, who can’t understand why the world isn’t a better place. They are all there praying for guidance and the story follows each of their paths.
Miracles is about our hero, a police detective, and our heroine, a reporter. There is a highway sniper at work in their city, and they are both trying to track him down. There is also an elderly man, who just learned he has only a short time left to live, and a teenage drunk driver who has to turn his life around. I love doing the multiple story lines.
I enjoyed writing both of these books, but my main audience wants my westerns.
8. If you could write any romance novel and not have to worry about sales and markets, what would you write?
I do love steamboats and having grown up in St. Louis, I love the history here. I love westerns, too. It doesn’t get any better than John Wayne and all the good TV shows we used to have—Bonanza, Lancer, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, and Rawhide. I enjoyed doing my two faith-based novels, too.
9. What is your daily writing routine like?
Well, I just sent in my next manuscript a few weeks ago, and this last month, I was writing 18-hour days at the computer. I am the most creative in the morning and at night, but I can do rewrites and corrections in the afternoons. It’s funny—the first three books back in the early 1980s, I wrote longhand and then typed on my electric typewriter. I went through a lot of White Out, that’s for sure. Computers are wonderful things!
10. How do you balance the rest of your life with your writing life?
Writing is my life!
11.Do people in your life ever make it into your books? Please explain!
Occasionally, I help out charities with auctioning off, “Be A Character in a Bobbi Smith Novel.” It’s fun.
“Writing is my life!”
12. What advice can you give to someone who has a completed manuscript and is looking to get published? Do they need to find an agent first?
I run the Advanced Aspiring Writers’ Track for the Romantic Times convention. It’s in Pittsburgh this spring. We do a lot of workshops on polishing your manuscript and submitting. There is a book out by my agent Evan Marshall called The Marshall Plan for Getting Your Book Published. It’s a good reference to work with.
Here are three other tips:
#1 - Make sure the manuscript is perfect. Don’t give an editor or an agent any reason to put it down except that they don’t like the storyline.
#2 - The last stat I heard was that only one out of every 10,000 manuscripts gets published. It’s a tough market. Go to writers’ conferences where agents and editors are attending, so you can pitch your story to them. That way, if they ask to see a copy, it gets on their desk more quickly.
#3 - Get a copy of Writer's Market, and see what the submission requirements are. You can also check out agents’ and publishers’ Web sites to find out how to submit to them. I generally say, “Go for it.” The worst that can happen is nothing, but that’s exactly what will happen if you don’t take any action. See who accepts multiple submissions and be prepared to wait a long time for responses. I know some houses don’t like authors to make multiple submissions, but, hey, who knows? You might start a bidding war for your first book!
13. When and why did you decide to get an agent?
I was fortunate enough to be working at a bookstore when I wrote my first book, and one of our customers had just started agenting. He took me on, and we stayed together for a few years. I went on my own for a while, and then I was blessed to meet Evan Marshall. We’ve been together ever since. He’s the best!
14. How did you get your current agent?
I was already published. Evan knew who I was and we were a perfect match. For beginning authors, I would say attend all the writers’ conferences you can and network. That’s the best way to find the agent who is right for you.
15. What are some of the best writing groups and conferences romance writers can join or attend?
I have found through the years that the Romantic Times’ conference is the best, by far. There are writers’ tracks for aspiring writers and workshops for those who are already published. RT is about reaching out to the fans of romance novels and selling books, and that’s what the publishing business is all about.
16.Do you belong to a critique group or have you ever? What do you think of critique groups?
Independent person that I am, I had trouble with critique groups. To me, the only person’s opinion that ultimately matters is my editor’s. Now, for an unpublished person, I would say recruit your best friend, but someone who is not a “yes man,” to read your work. What you don’t need are people telling you it’s great when it isn’t, and other aspiring authors with egos who might get jealous and deliberately put you down to make you quit. Just make sure when you submit your manuscript, that it’s A-letter perfect. You don’t want to give the editor any reason to put it down other than she doesn’t like the story.
17. How do you beat writer’s block?
Honestly, I had writer’s block recently for the first time. As painful as it was, the advice my longtime friend and multi-published author, Robert Vaughan, (he’s published over 400 books now, I think) gave me kept me going. He told me to just sit at the computer and keep writing. Constance O’Banyon, too, urged me on, telling me that it eventually would pass. In the past, I have had occasions where I’ve gotten stuck, and usually it turned out to be that I’d made a mistake in plotting, and my subconscious had caught it for me. The best thing to do is go over what you’ve written, keep typing, and pray a lot for inspiration!
18. What is the best marketing tool you have found?
In the 1980s and early 1990s, visiting bookstores was the best way to get the word out about your new books. Things have changed now, though, since so many of the independent bookstores have closed. I have a Web site, www.BobbiSmithBooks.com, and I work with Romantic Times magazine a lot. I try to tour as much as I can. I just did my 25th Anniversary book tour in Texas. I logged more than 2700 miles, driving all over Texas, doing signings and TV/radio interviews. It was fun!
19. What are some tips you have for successful book signings?
Book signings are tricky. If the store and employees are behind you, you can move some books, but I’ve had some occasions where I show up, and they forgot I was coming or the books never got there. I constantly keep books in my car when I go to book signings, just in case.
I have found that people will hide from you until you leave, and then come up and get a book. They like what you write, but they’re shy and don’t necessarily want to talk to you. I am always thrilled for the authors, who are soooo popular that they give out “line tickets” at Barnes & Noble and Borders for their signings. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it!
Also, bring promotional items with you like bookmarks or Hershey kisses (they’re a staple of mine). Anything you can use to make people stop and talk to you helps.
20.Who are your favorite authors?
I have to say Kathleen Woodiwiss got me into historicals. Once I got published, though, I stopped reading a lot of historicals because I was afraid of accidentally plagiarizing someone. Now, I read Vince Flynn. If you like political thrillers, he’s the man! Also, Debbie Macomber is wonderful! And Constance O’Banyon always turns out a great story. She’s just started writing a series for Leisure about ancient Egypt.
Thank you to Bobbi for an insightful and honest interview full of wonderful advice, helpful tips, and encouraging words that any romance writer can take to heart!
Margo Dill is a freelance writer and elementary school teacher, living in Mahomet, Illinois. Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The News-Gazette. Her first book, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids in 2009. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, and two dogs—Charlie, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound.
Margo is also part of Team WOW! You can read her previous article in WOW!’s September issue: Writers’ Conferences: 5 Reasons You Should Go NOW and How To Get the Most for Your Money