Does the romance genre have room for male writers? Definitely, and this month’s author — Jordan Riley Swan — is proof of that. Swan is the alter ego of Bernie Miller, a self-proclaimed ‘wild word hunter’ who also writes with a crew to produce romance novels as well as epic fantasy tomes. In addition to running successful business concerns and writing, Swan has served as president of the Central Ohio Fiction Writers organization. His interview provides a delightful glimpse into his world that includes dropping out of high school, pursuing his GRD, creating an online antiques business that morphed into two physical store locations, and developing his own publishing group. Swan is that unique blend of a self-actualizing businessman and successful writer. Rather than spend time on introducing him here, let’s get right into the conversation itself!
Jordan Riley Swan: The business of antiquing definitely impacted my first stand alone romance. It was called The Heart’s Bidding and revolved around an antique dealer and auctions. They say write what you know, after all. Also, if someone chooses to be self-published, they will find that they become something of a business owner. I found that coming from a background of running my own business helped me transition into self-publishing. Other people’s mileage may vary, though.
JEI: You are a male writing in a genre generally commandeered by women. Does that make it easier or more difficult for you?
JRS: Both? Lol. Ok, so actually its a bit easier in some ways. I become a unicorn that is easily remembered by other members of the writing community. But its also a bit harder in that I tend to attack romances from outside the characters with external conflicts and overly complicated world building, etc. It seems that the ladies who write romance have an instinctive understanding on how to bring everything internal for their characters and lead with emotions, (which honestly, is what a romance should be about, the internal struggles that come with loving someone).
But as to the readers, barely any of them know I am a guy. I intentionally chose a pen name that is androgenous enough that when I write a romance people assume it’s a woman and when I write fantasy, they assume I’m a guy.
JEI: So, you self-publish your books. What are the advantages to following that path? the disadvantages?
JRS: I could write a ten chapter book about this. I’ll choose one advantage and one disadvantage so we don’t end up with a fifty page treatise. Advantage: You have absolute control of the product. You decide when to publish, the cover you like or don’t like, which editors to work with, the price to charge for it (which you keep a WHOLE lot more of than Trad publishing). You can choose to write something that is very niche and no one can say no, etc.
Disadvantage: Prepare to toil away in obscurity as there are something like 4 million newly published books on Amazon each year (self and trad combined). You’ll either need to be famous, an incredible writer on par with the best, lucky, a self promotion guru, or willing to spend a metric ton of money advertising it for little return on investment for quite a while in order to move the needle on sales.
JEI: You have a creative team behind you and write or co-write your novels. How does the co-writing work?
JRS: There are a ton of variations on co-writing with other authors, but the way we do it is as follows:
- I come up with a series concept, then follow that up with the book concept.
- Someone joins me in plotting out the first book(s). Usually this is my direct employee who is also our in-house artist. Sometimes it is the author who will be first-drafting it. Either way, they are paid for the help. Everyone who helps with these books is compensated in advance, so they are guaranteed to get paid no matter how badly a series does. That being said, they are only paid up front and don’t get royalties on the books (this is called work for hire).
- An author will first draft the book. Sometimes this is me (although I only do one book a year). Most of the time it is one of several ghost writers we have hired along the way. But unlike most ghost writers we share credit for the work. They are on the covers and can use our books to advertise their services to other writers. (And if a series takes off, there is a bonus structure in place to get the co-writer extra money for a job well done. This hasn’t happened yet as we are just now really taking off.)
- The pages come to me a chapter at a time as the co-writer drafts them. I revise the chapter and send it back with notes so they can make course corrections on the voice/plot/characters.
- When the first draft is done, we send it to get a developmental edit.
- It comes to me for final notes and then one of us (either me or the co-writer) will do the last revisions based on the developmental.
- Then its off to the line editor, the beta readers, the copy editor and then finally the proof reader (with me or the co-writer using their notes to adjust the novel). This part is handled by our managing editor Diane Callahan of the Quotidian Writer.
- All this occurs at the same time we are concepting other books and plotting them out at our office. Currently we have four other writers working with us but that number is going to increase in the new year as I do less and less personal writing and more developing concepts and plotting. (As of right now there are about 8 finished books being polished to be released next year. We hope to start releasing a book every month.
JEI: What research do you have to do for your high fantasy works?
JRS: Seat of my pants research. LOL. Most of what I create is a nod to Dungeons and Dragons so I just use a lot of that for inspiration. We do have a series we are releasing this year that is set in 1920 alternative America (with dragons!) that I do actually spend a lot of time researching.
JEI:You have served as president of the Central Ohio Fiction Writers organization for several years. What value do you see in writers joining such organizations?
JRS: Community! Shout it from the roof tops. Community! LOL. Nothing like a fellow writer to keep you honest and on target. Seriously, though, writing is a lonely job. You can talk to your friends about it all day long but they won’t really understand, not like a fellow writer will. Suffering from a saggy middle because you lost the plot? Your fellow writer will empathise. Character has become likeable and you’re not sure why? The writing group you joined will help you suss it out. Find your tribe, my people, and you will find your writing gets a hundred percent better (or at least easier).
JEI: Where do you see yourself as an author five years from now?
JRS: Still pulling my hair out wondering if anyone will notice all the hard work we are putting into these dang things.
JEI: Which writers have served as your mentors or guiding lights?
JRS: For guiding light I look toward Beverly Jenkins. She went out of her way to make sure I felt welcome during one of my first RWA conferences. I realized at that moment that I not only want to be a writer, I want to make sure others feel welcome in the space. Also, I like Sherry Thomas as she and I bonded at a couple of conferences and she writes a Sherlock Holmes retelling that I have found inspirational for my own Holmes-inspired works.
JEI: How far out do you plan your books?
JRS: We plan about three books out in each series. We like to know where things are going as we seed plot points and easter eggs into the current books. Plus, with romances, you want to make sure and introduce coming leads for other novels so your super-fan readers will know them in advance.
JEI: Let’s depart from the book world for a moment.What’s the most valuable item you have ever found as an antiques dealer?
JRS: An abstract painting by a Japanese artist from the 1960s. It was passed over during an auction when they couldn’t get a bid (it was in a pile of paintings/prints that they were trying to get people to bid ‘choice’ on). We ended up with it when they were getting ready to trash the stuff that didn’t get a bid and the seller didn’t come back for. The auction manager asked if we wanted anything from the pile and though we didn’t think anything of the painting, it was on canvas and my artist employee asked if we could take it so he could salvage the canvas for his own work (he was going to paint it white and then paint another subject on top of it). When I flipped it around to look at the canvas, there was a paper gallery tag on the back from 1967. It had the name of the work and the artist and a sold price tag of $650 (a lot of cash for the sixties). We researched the artist and were amazed at what we found. I took it to a Chicago auction house and made a tidy sum.
JEI: What’s your favorite eating establishment in Columbus, Ohio?
My thanks to Jordan for spending this month at my author’s table. Below are a few of the covers for his stable of books.