Jamie Beck and Operating from Authenticity

Jamie Beck the Beauty of Rain

Jamie Beck and Operating from Authenticity

This post is part of the monthly How Writers Revise series, where I talk with successful authors about their editing and revision processes, as well as the challenges and setbacks they’ve faced in their careers and how they overcame them. If you’d like to receive these and my weekly writing craft posts in your in-box you can sign up here.

Early in author Jamie Beck’s career, she wrangled a problem most writers imagine they would love to have: Her first contract was for two books, a stand-alone debut (In The Cards), and a second book (Worth the Wait) that she had written as the first of a planned series. Weeks before the release of that second book, she was offered another contract for a sexier contemporary romance series (The Sterling Canyon novels), and quickly found herself writing seven days a week to keep up with a packed release schedule.

Jamie’s writing career may appear as if it started with a bang, but it started much less auspiciously. Jamie knew from a young age that she loved to write, but “nobody in our families was a writer, anything creative, and that just seemed like a silly dream,” she says. Her parents encouraged her to pursue a more practical and lucrative career path, and Jamie took that dictate seriously, earning both a law degree and an MBA at the same time.

Between that and starting her family, it was another ten years before she tried her hand at writing again—in secret, working on a YA story for her daughter that she told no one about until she was nearly finished. “I just wrote it from instinct; I had no idea what I was doing,” she says. “But I was just having fun. And I was living out that childhood dream finally.”

But once she finished, she knew that she needed help to make it publication-ready, so Jamie joined a local chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) and started reading and taking workshops, “learning everything I had done wrong,” she jokes.

She started submitting to agents and it was “roundly rejected,” as she puts it. She wrote a second and sent it out—which was also “roundly rejected.” She wrote a third—this one netting her an agent (still her agent today)…but guess what happened with that title as well?

“It got roundly rejected. All the women’s fiction editors said it was too romancey and all the romance editors said it was too women’s fictiony.”

Choosing Her Path

Jamie’s agent suggested she pick a lane. “So I thought, Okay, I’ll write a romance,” and she started what would eventually become book one of her Sterling Canyon series, Accidentally Hers.

But meanwhile, she was considering self-publishing her third manuscript, a story she loved—Worth the Wait, which, as noted above, had netted her her agent but failed to find a publisher because it straddled the line between romance and women’s fiction.

That was when Montlake Publishing picked her second manuscript (In the Cards) out of the slush pile from her submission more than a year before, and made an offer. When they learned she intended to self-pub Worth the Wait they bought that one too, though they had initially rejected it, to make sure it didn’t publish before her debut with them, and released it three months after In the Cards.

Worth the Wait debuted at #10 in the Kindle store and stayed in the top 20 for four months, an unexpected breakout success.

I felt so vindicated, because I just believed in that story,” Jamie says, attributing its appeal to readers partly to the very fact that had gotten it rejected—that it didn’t fit neatly into prescribed categories. At the time Fifty Shades of Grey was dominating the market, which had become flooded with similar types of stories. “I think people talked about it because it was different.” 

In fact, readers clamored for more stories about Worth the Wait’s characters, and the book launched a second series for Jamie (because just before its release, she’d signed another contract for the Sterling Canyon books). Suddenly she found herself juggling writing three books a year—editing one while writing another while promoting the release of yet another.

“It’s a Blur”

“I was working seven days a week,” she says of that time. “It’s a blur…. I’m not 100 percent sure that I would make that same choice again.”

After several years of that breakneck pace, Jamie wanted more time for her family—and more space to level up her writing chops. “I always was trying to get better with every book and really painstakingly, very critically looking at my work. But when you only have four months to write a book, there’s a limit to how much you can step back and give yourself a couple of weeks off to see it with fresh eyes.”

“I always was trying to get better with every book and really painstakingly, very critically looking at my work.”

–Jamie Beck

So she took her foot off the accelerator, first dropping to two books a year, and then to only one.

It didn’t hinder her popularity as an author: A book from her new Sanctuary Sound series, The Promise of Us, put Jamie onto the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. A novella she contributed to an anthology made her a USA Today bestseller.

But Jamie found herself wanting to move away from straight romance into the weightier themes of women’s fiction that had become more appealing to her. “Although from almost any perspective my writing career was going very well, I felt like I wasn’t writing the stories I really wanted to tell,” she says. “The issues I wanted to address changed, so I started to shift my storytelling.”

Changing Lanes

Mindful of branding and reader expectations, Jamie wanted to use a pen name for her new books, but her publisher hoped her established track record and proven appeal would draw crossover readers.

If You Must Know, the first in her Potomac Point women’s fiction series was an Amazon Kindle Top 100 bestselling book of 2020. The second, Truth of the Matter, was a Publisher’s Weekly top pick. A third in the series and two more standalones followed, most recently her newest release, The Beauty of Rain.

But despite strong reviews both critically and across reader platforms, her women’s fiction books didn’t sell as robustly as her romance novels had. “It’s been a source of consternation for me,” Jamie reflects, “that although I am certain my recent work is some of my best writing, the women’s fiction books are not matching the sales success of my earlier work.”

The genre change and scaled-down schedule were the right moves for her creatively. But they downshifted her career “into something quieter than it was.”

Still, Jamie has no regrets. “It’s not all upside when you take those risks and stay true to your heart,” she says. “Sometimes there’s a downside. And then you have to figure out, like, do I reinvent again? Do I just keep doing this?”

Staying True to Herself

For Jamie, the answer is yes. The Beauty of Rain released July 18 to stellar reviews—but it marks the end of her contract with her publisher. Her romance publisher expressed interest in signing her for more romances…but that’s not what’s calling to Jamie creatively; she’s been working on a new story, another genre shift into magical realism, and she’s more interested in pursuing that.

“Those of us who are called to [writing] because we have stories we want to tell and things we want to say, themes we want to talk about, I think if you veer from that the work is not going to be as authentic, because it’s not really what you want to say.”

–Jamie Beck

“Those of us who are called to [writing] because we have stories we want to tell and things we want to say, themes we want to talk about,” she reflects, “I think if you veer from that the work is not going to be as authentic, because it’s not really what you want to say…. I think it’s really important to stay authentic—even if, like me, you find yourself in a bit of a trough at some point.”

Jamie has written 19 books and two novellas, selling millions of copies in numerous countries. She’s a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller, and on the Romance Writers of America’s honor roll.

“I’ve already published more books than I ever thought,” Jamie says—she’s written 19 books and two novellas, selling millions of copies in numerous countries.

“I’ve had fan letters and awards,” she continues—including being named to the Romance Writers of America’s honor roll, “and I’ve had these things happen that were never part of my original excitement about [writing]. And so I can’t really regret it. And if this is where it ends, I’m still proud of what I did, you know? I don’t have regrets. I always just like to think, Who knows what’s next?… Who knows what I’ll do next. Right?”

I highly recommend Jamie’s full interview, which you can find on my YouTube channel here, where she offers countless insights and excellent writing advice for authors, including:

  • the importance of authenticity not just for a writer’s career, but her voice
  • how having a writing community buoys and supports her, and her top advice to writers for finding their own
  • why she’s glad she launched into her early manuscripts “with instincts and guts and passion” instead of painstakingly studying craft first

…and so much more.

I asked Jamie to share her editing and revision processes with readers, and how she works with feedback on her stories, and I love her considered, authentic process.

How Jamie Beck Revises:

TYM: How do you edit—meaning how do you initially evaluate your manuscript and assess what may need developing or changing?

JB: I am a plotter, so when I begin a draft, I’ve already got an outline built around a theme, and a character who is least likely to enjoy confronting that theme. Sadly, that level of organization has not made revisions less complicated or messy. My pre-submission self-editing process consists of three steps.

First, I edit as I write. By that I mean that I write about three chapters and then comb back through to search for elements that feel wrong or are missing. Then I write forward another few chapters before going back to the very beginning and combing through everything again. I continue this circular process throughout the draft so that, by the time I finish it, I’m confident there aren’t plot holes or completely dropped threads.

At this point, being too close to the story to effectively evaluate it, I enlist three beta readers (writers with whom I trade beta reads) to get fresh but professional eyes on the book. When all three have sent me notes, I first look for any consistencies among the feedback. That always indicates a genuine story issue (as opposed to the personal preferences of a single reader). As for the one-off notes, if something resonates (or what’s underneath said comment will enhance my vision), I address it as well.

Once that round of revisions is complete, I give that new version of the manuscript to my agent for her notes, which I also address to the best of my ability. By the time it gets to my editor, it’s gone through a few iterations that have helped me hone my theme, better understand my POV characters, and smooth out a lot of clunky writing.

TYM: How do you process editorial feedback, and how do you decide what feels right for your story and what to disregard?

JB: I try to give myself a day to process editorial feedback (rather than knee-jerk react to it). As I explained above, I am very thoughtful about my work from the outset, which makes it hard for me to “see” what other people do when they read it, and particularly hard for me to see what is missing. This is a common note I get—a calling out of what isn’t on the page (which I don’t always catch because it usually is in my head).

“I don’t take feedback personally—I welcome anything that can make my work better.”

–Jamie Beck

Once I’ve taken that “moment” for myself, I divide the notes into baskets (grouping things together in a way that makes sense for a plot point or character arc, depending) and think up possible solutions to address whatever the underlying problems seem to be. This often requires me to touch base with my editor in order to either clarify the notes, or to discuss potential fixes that best serve the story.

I think I’m openly collaborative with editors and never get offended or upset (I don’t take feedback personally—I welcome anything that can make my work better). That said, I have dug my heels in on one or two occasions when I strongly objected to a suggested change. In those instances, I look for places to lay a better foundation for the matter to alleviate my editor’s concerns (or convince him/her that I’m not simply being obstinate). For better or worse, this give-and-take has worked well and allowed me to enjoy good relationships with my various editors throughout my career.

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