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 Brooke O’Brien. 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?

Reading and writing have been a big part of my life since elementary school. I started writing poetry in second grade and got into reading paranormal romance in 2011 after my second son was born. I started following bloggers who shared their love of books online, like Maryse’s Book Blog and The Rock Stars of Romance. I devoured the books they were gushing over, and it led me to find authors like Colleen Hoover, Abby Glines, K. Bromberg, and Adriana Locke.

It was on my bucket list to write a book for years. I posted about it on social media one day and it came up in my memories. It was like the idea I had planted in my mind started to grow. Inspiration struck and that’s what led me to write my debut small town romance, Where I Found You.

I learned a lot writing that first book—it was the hardest book I’ve ever written. Not only did it touch on some traumatic events in Ellie’s life, but also because it was my first book, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. It’s the only book I’ve written without plotting too.

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?

I get inspiration everywhere, especially from music. I listen to the lyrics and the emotions they evoke, and it evolves from there. I enjoy writing certain tropes, like enemies to lovers and brother’s best friend. There’s something so exciting about putting the characters in situations where the passion and chemistry between them brings out the most honest and raw parts of themselves.

How much of yourself – if any – do you put into your books?

There have been scenes in my stories that have come from experience, but it’s often tapping into the emotions I felt in similar moments. For the most part, though, I try to keep my stories fiction. It’s more fun for me to write that way and let the characters be themselves, and I can explore who they are as the story progresses.

How do you come up with the names for your characters? What about the titles of your books?

I love unique names, so whenever I hear one I love, I’ll jot it down. Most of my book titles are either the hero’s name/nickname or it’s a play on words connecting to the storyline somehow. For example, Wild Irish is an underground fighter romance, and his fighter name is Wild Irish. Ironically, my uncle was a boxer when he was younger, and he went by the name Wild Irish. I also have a sports romance titled Personal Foul about the newest basketball recruit falling for the coach’s daughter. Personal Foul is a play on words because of the risks that come with crossing that line.

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 think it helps to follow and understand what readers are enjoying while also putting your own spin on things. I’ve always loved writing and reading small-town romances. I grew up in the Midwest, away from the hustle and bustle of bigger cities. My most popular books are sports and rock star romance, so it’s my goal to stick to those going forward. I’ve been researching hockey and started watching the Stanley Cup playoffs this year for a series I hope to dive into in 2024.

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 shared before that from my experience, my series are the books that sell the best. Like readers, I get invested in the side characters and want to explore their stories too.

Sometimes the next story doesn’t come to me as quickly as others. I’ve found when I let the characters lead the way, those are often the stories readers message me and tell me they loved most. It’s my reminder to not force it and I’ll often have another series I’m working on at the same time, to give myself more creative freedom.

When it comes to the planning process, I’ve found that when I lay the foundation for future books, it keeps readers engaged and excited for what’s to come. The series I’m working on now is a college football romance set in a small town. I have it planned for five books, but we’ll see as the series progresses.

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 stand by the phrase, “It takes a village.” It’s so true! I rely on my team to help share their honest and constructive feedback throughout the writing process. I lean on and learn a lot from my peers, especially those who have been doing this for a while. That’s something I love about the book community, how wonderful everyone is in supporting each other, sharing advice and knowledge, and lifting each other up too.

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?

I’ve had the honor of attending several book signings, and each time I’m reminded why I love being a part of the romance community. There’s just something about the energy of being in a room full of people who share the same passion and love for books. They get you and your love of romance! You can be complete strangers gushing over your mutual love of characters. I’ve met some of my best friends from this community.

If you can, I highly recommend looking up other book signings and conventions near you on Facebook. They are a blast!

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.?

When I meet or talk to a reader, they often tell me they saw one of my books promoted on Facebook or TikTok or their friend found me on social media and recommended me to them. Social media, whether you love or hate it, is an incredible way to connect with people you wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet in any other way.

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.

I enjoy having a space for me to connect with readers. There are a lot of groups and forums online for readers to share their love of books. I try to respect those spaces as being for them, but I am a reader first, so I pick up books from my own TBR too. I often connect with readers on my social pages, through my newsletter, or more on a personal level in my Facebook reader group.

My beta and advanced review teams have been invaluable to me. I’m very grateful they take the time to read early copies, leave a review, and share with their friends, family, and followers. Word of mouth is so important to authors, and without them, I don’t think I would’ve made it this far.

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.

Absolutely! You want to live up to the excitement and expectations with every book and hope it keeps readers coming back for more. I try to keep each story and character different from the last, while having the same Brooke O’Brien feel. That being said, not every book will be a bestseller or a reader favorite. I work hard to put out the best book I can, so I try to remember it’s okay. I will listen to any constructive feedback that may come my way and all I can do is work to apply it in the next book.

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?

I’ve said this earlier, but social media is powerful, and that’s one of the great things I’ve witnessed through TikTok. More and more people are picking up books, particularly romance, and are realizing there is so much more to them than steamy sex.

It’s breaking down barriers in relationships and encouraging them to open up to their partners too. I try not to listen to people who put down romance. While it’s fiction, a lot of these stories depict real relationships. You could learn a lot about yourself and ways to be a better partner from romance novels, and I’m not only referring to in the bedroom.

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?

Representation is important. Books should be as diverse as the people who read them. Everyone wants to be seen and heard and having characters from all walks of life gives readers someone to relate to. That’s what is amazing about fiction—you get to immerse yourself in another world, live inside the head of other people, and see through their lens of what it’s like while also seeing parts of yourself in them too.

If we could all walk in each other’s shoes for a day, I think we’d have more compassion for what life is like for others, their struggles, hopes, and fears.

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?

It’s important to study the market trends. What are other popular books right now in the genre with similar tropes? How are those authors marketing their books? It helps capture the reader’s attention if they can get an idea of what the story could be about when looking at the cover.

My upcoming sports romance series, Braysen U, will have a football stadium background and the titles are a play on words suggesting the tropes. The Rivals We Hate is the first book, and you can probably guess it’s an enemies to lovers story. The Plays We Fake is the second book. If you thought it was a fake dating story, you’re correct!

For me, I start brainstorming the visuals in the very beginning. Envisioning the look and feel of the series helps me think through how to market not only the first book, but the series too. I’ll tie in elements of the stories into the marketing graphics and swag. I’ll admit, the book cover, the teasers, all the bookish merch—seeing it all come together is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. You’re watching your world, your vision come to life.

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 finding real people that align with the characters in your mind?

Only one of my cover designs featured a license exclusive cover image. Most of my covers are non-exclusive photos through Shutterstock and iStock for my cover art and graphics. That’s where my cover designers shine—taking photos that you might see on other covers and making them stand out on their own.

One of my cover designers, Najla Qamber, has jokingly referred to herself as a Digital Plastic Surgeon, and it’s absolutely true. She is incredibly talented and often takes body parts and hair styles from other images, changing their hair color, adding tattoos, and other elements to make the cover fit my vision for the series and the characters. She blows me away every time.

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 can be challenging but very rewarding. I love having creative control over everything from the story, the characters, the cover design, interior formatting, teasers, and marketing graphics—you name it.

Sometimes you’re too close to the story to see the bigger picture or invested in an idea to recognize the risks. That’s where having people on your side who will give you their unfiltered, honest opinion is important. You don’t want to surround yourself with people who will tell you what you want to hear, or you’ll never grow. It can be difficult coming to terms with tough decisions, like whether to change a book cover because it’s not selling well, even though you love the original design and maybe you spent a lot of money on it.

I often remind myself it’s still a business, and what I might love isn’t always what readers like or what is selling.

The industry is constantly growing and evolving, and to keep up, you have to be willing to do the same.

What has your experience been as an indie author encountering pirating and copyright issues with companies like Amazon or Apple Books?

It’s disheartening and frustrating, however sadly, it’s the risk that comes with the job. I have twenty-plus years of working in retail customer service, so I begrudgingly understand that theft, in some form, will happen.

It’s not easy writing and publishing a book, so having someone steal and try to pass it off as their own or give it away for free is disappointing. Thankfully, I haven’t had any issues with Amazon or Apple Books. Fingers crossed it stays that way, but we’ll see.

I try not to let them ruin my spirit or get me down. It can’t. I love this career too much to let anyone take that from me too.

Is there anything else you’d like to share that hasn’t been covered in the questions?

You can find all my books on Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited.

Here’s where you can find Brooke O’Brien online and learn more about her novels!

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