In honor of Read-A-Romance Month and Romance Awareness Month, this August we’ll be sharing the insights of four romance authors who have been navigating the world of the genre and writing all about love in their latest novels. Here, you can read the full interview with AK Landow. For her website and social media, see below!
How did you first get into writing romance novels – why romance? Do you have any stories you’d like to share about your initial experiences in this particular genre and how they have influenced your journey going forward?
The story for my first novel, Knight, bounced around in my head for years. During the COVID quarantine period, romance author TL Swan created a separate private Facebook group for anyone in her private reader group that had an interest in learning her writing process. The group is called “Cygnets” (see what she did there?). Once the group was created, she sporadically posted videos. They were along the lines of: character development, chapter outlines, pep talks, how to get started, how to self-publish, how to create helpful ads, etc. Her #1 message was to just sit down and start writing. So one day that’s what I did. I was addicted from that minute on. Though her most liberating statement was, “Your first draft will be shit. That’s okay. No other eyes have to see it until you decide it’s time.”
I was an avid romance reader. In all honesty, I’m basically considered a funny pervert by all who know me. Writing romance was the only way for me to go. I didn’t consider any other genre.
Aside from the TL Swan guidance videos, I went in blind. I made mistakes, but I’m learning and improving every day.
I’m also a bit of an against-the-grain person. I like to write things that are abnormal for traditional romance stories. I NEVER write about weak women. All of the women in my books are smart, strong, and sexually confident. (more on this in below answers)
What does your writing process typically look like? Where do you gain inspiration from, especially because there is a depth and complexity to these stories that set them apart from traditional conceptions of romance novels?
(This is such a Thorunn question) It’s changed and evolved throughout my first eight books. Per TL Swan’s advice, my initial inspiration came from people and stories in my real life. My characters are now highly fictionalized, but the original characters started from people I know. I also didn’t set out to be a RomCom writer. After my first two books, people kept telling me how funny they are. I decided to embrace the RomCom title. It wasn’t truly until my fourth book that I “tried” to be funny. In the first three, my own personality came out in my writing and fortunately made people laugh.
My initial process was chapter by chapter in order. Only my first book was written that way. Now I write the prologue and then the first steamy scene. It helps me set the chemistry for the characters. I write chapters as they occur to me. Per TL Swan’s advice: when you’re feeling happy, write happy scenes – when you’re emotional, write emotional scenes – when you’re silly, write silly scenes – when you’re frisky, write the sex scenes. It’s almost like mood writing, and that’s my process now.
How much of yourself – if any – do you put into your books?
A lot. Much of the humor comes from my real life. TL Swan even advised us to begin with what we know.
As I mentioned above, several original characters started from my own life but I’ve now added many more that aren’t inspired by anyone I know. Any friends and family who read them often recognize things from my personal life.
Interestingly, my mother recently commented that she feels as though my personality is coming out more and more with each book. I’m a relatively immature 46 year old woman. The silliness comes from me and my real life shenanigans.
How do you come up with the names for your characters? What about the titles of your books?
I have an unusual name and have always loved that it’s unusual. My children all have fairly unusual names too. I try hard to come up with dynamic, unusual names. They stick out to people. I’m often complimented on my name choices.
My titles are now fairly collaborative with my beta readers. I trust them all. My close personal friend and original beta reader helped name many of the books.
How do you approach determining the nature of the plot or the trope(s) that you pursue in a given novel? Do you tend to stick with what is popular among readers or what is trending at the moment? Are there other key decisions at any point in the writing process that you tend to struggle with?
I write because it makes me happy. It’s extremely fulfilling for someone to tell me that they laughed, cried, felt hot under the collar, and all around truly enjoyed my books. I don’t ever think about what’s popular. I write as inspiration strikes me. I write the characters that inspire me. The characters whose stories I want to tell. I try to hit different tropes each time to challenge myself.
Sometimes I struggle with description. I’m not a verbose person in real life. I always have to go back and add color to many of the scenes I write.
When writing a novel, how do you decide whether or not it will become a series? Is it sometimes difficult to envision a future for a narrative or characters, or do subsequent books come naturally? Do you plan writing a series in advance/prior to starting the process, or is that a decision that comes later?
I never set out to write a series but I fell madly in love with my fictitious family and can’t stop writing about them. In my mind, they’re real and they’re important to me. I’m not ready to move on from their universe.
I could never outline an entire series before I start the first book. I write the characters that become interesting to me along the way.
To what extent would you say that writing in this genre is a group effort? Or, how does having a greater network of writers and collaborators benefit your work and help you grow as a writer?
I was on a bit of an island for my first three books. I didn’t start talking to other authors until around my fourth book. I wish I could do that part of it again. I didn’t realize how truly wonderful and collaborative this community is. I now have daily group chats with authors. We bounce ideas off one another, we help promote each other, we read advance copies and give ideas to each other, etc. Part of my love for writing is my new friendships with other romance authors.
Tell me about the impact of events/conventions/etc. in the romance writer community. How have these shaped your experience as a writer? What has your personal experience/take-away been from attending as an author or even as a fan/participant?
My first signing event is in July of 2023. I then have 6 events between then and May of 2024. It’s hard for me to know the impact yet, but I’m hopeful it will grow my readership to new people.
Social media, particularly TikTok in recent years, has played a huge role in book promotion with the advent of “BookTok” and the progression of online fandom activities that have existed for decades. How has social media provided a platform for promoting/marketing your books and creating a fandom space for your novels? Do you have any notable stories in mind about your works going viral or skyrocketing in other ways through TikTok, etc.?
Social media is both good and bad for indie authors like myself. It’s good in that I can promote my books and get them to new readers. It’s bad in that it takes up a lot of my time. There are many things you do [as] an author that have nothing to do with writing and take time away from writing. Social media now takes up hours of my day. I LOVE interacting with readers and authors, but it does take away a lot of my writing time.
When I have a post or video that gains traction, I do see a difference in sales. BookTok is real. If you have the secret formula to success on BookTok, let me know. I don’t know it yet. I’ve had a few videos get over 100K views, but that’s the most I’ve gotten to date. A few authors I know had videos get millions of hits and it completely catapulted them to the next level.
That being said, readers are more connected to authors than ever through social media and independent publishing. How do you feel about this sense of connection and attainability? How do fans impact your writing process, whether directly or indirectly? Describe what it’s like having an ARC team, beta team, etc. and being able to receive trusted feedback from your readers.
They are absolutely more connected. I love connecting with them. I love when they tell me how certain scenes in my books made them feel. It’s special to truly touch someone and make a difference for them. Several scenes resonate with different people for different reasons.
I’ve come to rely on my beta team as trusted advisors. I’m constantly bouncing thoughts and ideas off them. Much more so now than at the beginning. They used to get the full first draft. They would have no information going in. Now they help me through the first draft. I realize the value.
The ARC team is great. They give me feedback on the final product, help promote my books, and help build my reviews. Review numbers are surprisingly important.
My street team promotes my books out of the goodness of their hearts. What I’ve learned is that many women, for whatever reasons they have going on in their lives, consider this their social interaction. I love that my street team has a group chat and talk every day. Not only about my books. They share their lives with each other. They support each other. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Do you feel a sense of pressure having a dedicated fanbase who cares about your stories? Discuss any concerns you might have that come with this, especially since sharing your narratives with the world can be an extremely vulnerable exercise.
Of course I feel pressure. I want each book to be better than the one before. When readers tell me that they feel my fictitious family is real, that’s extremely rewarding. I know I’ve done my job.
I probably care too much about the opinions of my fans. More seasoned authors don’t read reviews, but I read every single one of them. If someone takes the time to read and review my books, I feel I owe them the time to read their reviews. I’ve been fortunate that a vast majority of my reviews are positive. That being said, you can’t be everything to everyone. There are a few bad reviews and they sting.
Although social media has definitely helped to dismantle negative perceptions of romance novels (i.e. views that “they’re not real books”), what is your stance on these sorts of beliefs? How do you think the genre more generally, or your particular niche of romance novels, disproves popular stigmas?
On a macro level, it doesn’t bother me at all. People have different interests. I don’t enjoy certain genres just as some don’t enjoy romance. That’s true in most hobbies, not just reading. Some people like sports and watch sports, while others don’t care for it. Some people love the arts, and some don’t care for it. I personally enjoy romance as escapism, but everyone is entitled to do what they enjoy, and it’s not romance novels for everyone.
On a micro level, it annoys me when people generally refer to romance novels as smut and belittle them (or call them “sex books”). Romance novels are mostly just love stories. Some are lighter and some are darker. Some aim to make you laugh, and some aim to make you cry. I don’t write dark, but darker stories often shed light on real world issues. I touch on some of those in my books (harassment, sexism). Some books include the dirty details and some don’t. It doesn’t make it less of a book just because we see what goes on in the bedroom. Those scenes are a small part of any book. They are all still beautiful stories with developed, complex characters.
In what ways do you think romance novels are significant for readers to engage with or have access to, whether this be in terms empowerment, gender dynamics, representation (i.e. for BIPOC or the LGBTQ+ community), exploration of sexuality, or otherwise? What power do you think these stories can have for readers and communities at large?
As stated above, I only write about strong, smart, sexually confident women. I don’t enjoy reading books with weaker women, so I don’t write them. There’s always an underlying girl power and sisterhood theme in my books. I’ve never written a backstabbing female co-worker. I’ve never written an “underhanded mother-in-law.” I get many comments from my readers about how refreshing it is to read about strong women.
Also as stated above, I do tend to touch on real life issues such as workplace harassment, sexism, drug abuse, mental illness, etc.
How do you curate a cohesive aesthetic and visuals for your stories and series? What about the creation of merchandise that pairs with your stories? What sorts of artists and creatives do you normally have to consult for your vision to be realized?
I’m not making real money doing this, so it’s always an internal debate as to how much to invest. Initially, I bought inexpensive stock photos for my covers. After the first few books, I made the decision to invest in higher-end professional photos. I’m personally happier with the covers, but I’m not sure it’s translated into sales. I switched to my current cover designer after my fourth book, and I had her redo my first four books. I wish I found her from the beginning. It’s worth finding someone who knows what they’re doing. At the end of the day, I want to be proud of the way my book looks.
As for merchandise, again, I debate the investment. I do smaller items like bookmarks, stickers, magnets, lip balm, and koozies. I didn’t do any of it during my first three books, but now I have a nice assortment and people seem to enjoy it.
Going off of this, explain the process of seeking out and attaining cover photos/art for your books. What is it like to choose designs and models that best fit your story? Do you find it troublesome to find real people that align with the characters in your mind?
As stated above, I initially utilized stock photos. Now I have certain professional cover photographers I use. I used to search for the cover after I wrote the book to try to find models that matched my character descriptions. Now I find the photos first and then write the characters to match them. It’s a bit easier that way.
Describe what it’s like to be an independently published novelist. What obstacles have you encountered with this approach? Advantages? How do you handle the “business” aspect of being not only the author but the publisher and promoter of your stories?
It’s hard. I spend a tremendous amount of time doing author things that aren’t writing. It’s time-consuming and takes away from my writing time. I would love to have people that do it for me, but I’m not there yet. Maybe one day.
Formatting is hard. Even knowing which formatting software to purchase was an obstacle.
A lot of this is touched on above.
What has your experience been as an indie author encountering pirating and copyright issues with companies like Amazon or Apple Books?
It’s running rampant right now. I hired a watchdog company. They charge $7 per book per month to look for you and they are empowered to send takedown letters on my behalf. Each of my books has nearly two dozen websites illegally providing my books. It’s frustrating. Not only does it cost me money, but Amazon has a no-tolerance policy. Even through no fault of the author, if there are too many sites providing your book for free they will remove your book. So many authors have had to deal with that and battle their way back to Amazon.
Is there anything else you’d like to share that hasn’t been covered in the questions?
I love being an author. It truly brings me joy to watch people enjoy the stories I’m telling and to meet women from all over the world that I would never have otherwise met.
Here’s where you can find AK Landow online and learn more about her novels!
Website » www.aklandowauthor.com
Email » firstname.lastname@example.org
Amazon » Click here!
Facebook » Click here!
Instagram » www.instagram.com/aklandow_author