Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Favorite Author and My Guest Today: Western Historical Romance Author Ellen O’Connell Talking About An Independent Path

For all my followers, you are in for a special treat today as my guest, Ellen O’Connell, is one of the best authors of Western Historical Romance I know (and I’ve read a lot of them!). I have read all her novels and given each 5 stars, and of course, she is on my Best Western Historical Romance list. Her own story is an interesting one and all prospective authors (as well as readers) should consider her insightful comments.

Ellen has graciously agreed to give away a copy of any one of her books to one of those leaving a comment--an eBook sent anywhere or a paperback to someone commenting with a US address who prefers paperback). So comment for a chance to win!

Welcome, Ellen!

Thank you, Regan, for the invitation to be a guest on your blog. I’ve read previous guest blogs here and know I’m in illustrious company.

Writing My First Novel

Those other guests undoubtedly all started their writing careers in more dignified ways than I did. In fact if someone held a contest searching for the author who started in the strangest way, I would enter and expect to win because a bet started me off. My sister and I had been having one of those common reader discussions of books we liked and disliked and of course before long we got to, “I could write something better than that.”

That particular day we didn’t stop there. We kept going and challenged each other to prove we really could do it. We would each write our better book, and the first one to finish would win. Being competitive at best of times and more so in sibling situations, I set out to win that bet.

Threads in romance forums along the lines of “What I Hate About....” show I’m not the only one with a list of tropes that don’t make me sigh with satisfaction but grind my teeth in aggravation. From the start I knew I couldn’t write anything that mentioned flowing tresses or emerald eyes once, much less once every five pages, but I concentrated on more substantial issues.

My book would have a hero who came across as strong and masculine without being arrogant, domineering, or manipulative. My heroine would be strong enough to be his equal, no silly TSTL script for her. Love was not going to change anyone’s personality 180 degrees in 300 pages. My hero and heroine were not going to quarrel their way into bed; lust wasn’t going to substitute for love. I wanted to stay within the conventions of what we all know as romance but also wanted to stay as realistic as possible.

I won that bet by writing the first draft of what would become EYES OF SILVER, EYES OF GOLD, and EYES has continued to be a winning book for me, one that still draws in new fans by the hundreds every month two and a half years after I first published it. My determination to avoid characters that don’t appeal to me doing things that make me throw books across the room (or these days slap the Kindle shut) has driven my subsequent three romances, and so has the determination to create each story unique from the others. I believe I’ve achieved that so far. What will happen when I get to ten? Twenty? I’m not so sure but have faith it will work out. My faith comes from the fact the stars have aligned in ways that pushed me this far.

Investigating the Publication Possibilities—the Indie Path

After winning the bet with my sister, I investigated publishing. That was long enough ago that traditional publishing was the only available route. I joined Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, attended writers’ conferences and editor/agent appointments. I entered contests. ROTTWEILER RESCUE, my first indie published book, won the mystery division of RMFW’s annual Colorado Gold Contest. EYES was a second place finalist in that contest and one other. I was a member of a very good critique group for several years.

The problem with all that investigation was that while I learned a lot about writing, I also learned a lot about the publishing industry and didn’t like any of it. In spite of attending the conferences and meeting editors and agents, I never mailed a single query letter or sent a requested partial manuscript. The lack of control, time necessary to invest, and minimal financial reward for that time invested all convinced me that writing as a profession was nothing I wanted to do. A full time job and an avocation raising, training, and showing horses were all I could manage anyway.
When I finally turned my back on the whole idea for good, EYES OF SILVER, EYES OF GOLD and ROTTWEILER RESCUE were finished stories and SING MY NAME was little more than a half-finished first draft.

By late 2009 when I first saw tantalizing snippets of information on the Internet about Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) program, my situation was different. Age and injuries had forced me to wind down my horse operation. At that time I believed all the conventional wisdom about the futility of self-publishing, but I had two and a half books on my computer that would never see a reader any other way. I had nothing to lose.

After months of reading everything I could find on self-publishing both eBooks and POD (print on demand) paperbacks, I published ROTTWEILER RESCUE with no expectations whatsoever. If it sold one copy, that would be one more than I ever expected. ROTTWEILER RESCUE sold 300 copies in its first full month, and although it is my slowest seller, it has now earned more than twice the advance published authors once assured me a book of that kind could bring a first-time author.

The results of my experiment astounded me. What if I had four of those? I didn’t. All I had finished was EYES, and everyone knew western historical romances were out of style and had no audience. Still, what if it sold a few copies? I published EYES in April of 2010. At first all my dismal expectations looked to be coming true. EYES didn’t sell nearly as well as the mystery, but by June something magical started, and I am so very grateful to the readers who found an indie western historical romance among the hundreds of thousands of books at Amazon, spread the word, and changed my life.

After that, of course, I had to get busy and start writing again. I finished SING MY NAME in 2010 and wrote DANCING ON COALS in 2011. BEAUTIFUL BAD MAN, released September 29th, is my 2012 story. My goal is to complete another Rottweiler mystery and another romance before the end of next year, and I believe that’s a realistic goal.

The indie path isn’t for every writer, but for me it has been the only way. Since the success of my books, I’ve had contacts from editors and agents involved in traditional publishing, and I’ve tried to remain open minded, but what they offer still doesn’t work for me, either financially or artistically.

I like what I’m doing and the way I’m able to do it. DANCING ON COALS, my Native American romance, has the best overall review average of all my books, but an occasional reviewer says, “It’s not a romance.” I think it is, but it’s my kind of romance, and no agent or editor was able to force me to make it a more conventional Native American story. In BEAUTIFUL BAD MAN, the hero, Cal Sutton, doesn’t do any politically correct turn around and hang up his guns for love of his lady. He may love Norah, but he’s not hanging up his guns and she’s not asking him to. In fact he’s as ready to gun down an enemy in the last chapter as the first.

As the saying goes, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


  1. Thanks for sharing your publishing journey with us.

    Western Historical Romance is a fairly new genre for me. Though I have read a couple of authors who write this, I'm usually drawn to Romantic Suspense. Your more realistic approach to characterization certainly sounds appealing.

    1. Take my word for it, Roxy, Ellen's novels will hold you spellbound. They are really terrific.

  2. Ellen, You have had a great journey on the way to publishing. I'm the same way, I don't care for arrogant heroes and make my strong without being arrogant and likewise with the heroines. Congratulations on learning the process and digesting the publishing industry and doing what works best for you.

  3. Regan,Thanks for introducing us to Ellen. I love the story of your beginnings, Ellen. My sister and I kind of started out the same way, but wrote our book together. Your pet peeves are in line with mine, which makes me think I would enjoy reading your books. I always look forward to discovering a new author!

    1. Naomi,
      Thanks for commenting...and Congratulations! Ellen picked your name as the winner. Congratulations! Let me know what you want (which book and which format), and where to send it. You can contact me via my author website, www.reganwalkerauthor.com and I'll get the information to Ellen.


  4. Hi everyone - thought I'd just check in to see if anyone had any questions. My sister never did write a book, Naomi. I'm too hard-headed to write with a co-author, but sisters who can do that must make a great team.

  5. Regan this is another wonderful interview.
    Ellen, your publishing journey is inspiring and your approach to your characters is similar to mine which made my day. Thank you for sharing.

    I do not think western romance is dead. I love the genre. I always believe that if you write a great book your will find an audience. And your story proved that could be true!

    1. Thanks, Haley, but Ellen did all the work on this one. I have so loved her novels I've been wanting all my followers to meet her for a long time!

  6. I am a HUGE Ellen O'Connell fan!! My sister-in-law introduced me to Ellen's books and I sit and wait for each one to come out..........Ellen's books get better and better with each one and historical western romance are my absolute books yet.Keep up the great work Ellen and please keep your wonderful books coming!
    Marcia Montoya

  7. Ooops.....I ment it to say my absolute favorite books yet............sorry

    Marcia Montoya

    1. Marcia,
      If you love Western Historical Romance, check out my "best list" for that subgenre. Of course, Ellen's novels are featured prominently!

  8. Roxy, I think all romance subgenres (and all genres in general) are the same in that you have to hunt around to find the books that work for you. Amazon's samples help with testing out a new-to-me writer for quality of writing. I don't know about anyone else, though, but often where books fail for me is plot. Just this week I tried someone knew to me. Good writing, great characters, but toward the end there were plot holes you could drive a truck, err, stagecoach through.

    Paty, thanks for stopping by. It's nice to see someone from our favorite Amazon MOA thread.

    Haley, boy, are you right. Maybe western historicals don't have the vast numbers of readers of Regency or some subgenres, but there's obviously a hungry audience out there searching for new westerns.

    Marcia, it's good to see you here too. You know how much I appreciate loyal readers like you.

  9. Ellen I enjoyed reading more about your reasons for writing your first book. Very glad you took that bet particularly being a hungry apreciative western reader.
    Regan thanks I will keep eye out on your blog.

    1. Rosheen,
      I'd love to have you join my blog or check in to catch my reviews and posts! Thanks for stopping by!