Successful Novelist Elizabeth Robards Advises Writers To Develop a Thick Skin

January 28, 2009
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With Violets cover
With Violets
by Elizabeth Robards
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An exclusive Authorlink interview with Elizabeth Robards

Author of With Violets

by Ellen Birkett Morris

February 2009

Beginning writers are often advised to join a group or professional organization to jumpstart their career as a professional creative writer.

Former journalist Elizabeth Robards took that advice and ran with it. Thirteen books later she is glad she did.

Advised by her editor at a business journal to set aside creativity and focus on “just the facts,” Robards knew she had more to offer the writing world. She sought out her local chapter of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), Central Florida Romance Writers.

“It was fantastic. I met people who had sold their manuscripts, learned the proper way to format a manuscript, had access to workshops that taught me how to submit material and had the opportunity to meet publishing professionals,” said Robards.

She attended her first national conference in 1997. There she pitched a story to an editor and was invited to submit her manuscript. It took Robards, who also writes under the name Nancy Robards Thompson, three years to write her first book, which was a finalist in RWA’s Gold Heart Contest in 2000.

“She offered me representation before our face to face meeting. . .”
—ROBARDS

She won the Golden Heart in 2002 with SISTERS, a Harlequin Next novel. She landed her agent, Michelle Grajkowski, owner of 3 Seas Literary Agency on the strength of her work.

“I sent her the manuscript in advance of our meeting at the conference. She offered me representation before our face to face meeting,” said Robards.

Her current book, WITH VIOLETS published by Avon, has its roots in a trip Robards made to Paris with her husband in 1999. On the second floor of the Musee Marmottan she saw the work of impressionist painter Berthe Morisot for the very first time.

Robards also came across a photo of Morisot with her family that captured her attention. She spent the next four years reading Morisot’s diary, visiting places where she painted and the chapel she was married in and talking with art experts.  

“My first published book, REINVENTING OLIVIA, was sparked by a party in a loft apartment. . .”
—ROBARDS

Robards became intrigued by Morisot’s relationship with Edouard Manet, whose brother she would eventually marry. The book explores a fictionalized romance between the two great artists.

“Inspiration is everywhere. My first published book, REINVENTING OLIVIA, was sparked by a party in a loft apartment above a restaurant my husband and I go to in Orlando. I heard music and saw someone’s hand holding a drink over the balcony and I wondered who lived there and what their story was,” said Robards.

Robards, who often pens contemporary novels for women in two to three months, spent a year writing WITH VIOLETS. “I felt responsible because I was writing about real people. I went to great lengths to make sure the details were correct,” she noted.

Once she got over the fear of being inaccurate, Robards dealt with the challenge of “painting in the missing pieces.”

"I had to meld the framework of historic fact with the imagined parts."
—ROBARDS

 

 

 

 

 

“I had to meld the framework of historic fact with the imagined parts. Finally I relied on the gut test. I asked myself if it felt right.”

Robards tries to keep office hours of 10 to 4 and holds herself to a page a day quota. When she is on deadline she will work late into the night.

“I’ve learned over the course of 13 books that I can’t depend on the muse. I love to plot the story. I love my critique group. But there comes a time when I have to sit down and get the words on the page,” observed Robards.

When she is stuck she remembers the words of Nora Roberts who says you can fix bad writing but you can’t fix the blank page. When she is particularly unmotivated, Robards challenges herself to answer the question “What happens next?”

She often constructs a detailed synopsis of as many as 30 pages when proposing a book idea to an editor. Robards works with Lucia Macro at Avon and Gail Chasan at Harlequin.  

"The editor is there to make you look good."
—ROBARDS

 

 

 

 

 

“Maintaining as good relationship with your editor is paramount to succeeding . . . The editor is there to make you look good,” said Robards.

She advises writers to do their research and find out who has published work similar to yours with the goal of getting it into the hands of someone who will love your work and stand behind it.

“Talk to writers. Read the Romance Writers Report and see who is seeking what (kind of material) in what house,” advised Robards.

She noted that writers need to develop a thick skin because “even after you are published the rejection doesn’t stop.”

“Get a mentor. Always have something out there in the world. Come up with an idea, pitch it, write it, and keep working. An artist friend said it is like putting stuff in a long pipe. Eventually something will come out the other end,” said Robards.

About Elizabeth Robards

Elizabeth Robards lives and writes in central Florida, but her imagination transports her all over the world. She is currently working on a sequel to WITH VIOLETS. You can learn more about Robards at www.elizabethrobards.com, www.nancyrobardsthompson.com, and http://jauntyquills.com/author/nancy-robards-thompson/.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris

Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.

 

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This post was written by Ellen Birkett Morris