10 Questions: Heather Howland, Entangled Publishing
Welcome to 10 Questions! Each month, we talk to a different member of the Passionate Ink community to ask them 10 questions about writing.
Today, we’re thrilled to welcome Heather Howland, senior editor and co-founder of Entangled Publishing.
After years of editing in the legal, industrial, and technical sectors, Heather Howland packed up her desk and dove into her true passion: love stories. With Entangled, she’s helped launch the careers of many NYT and USA TODAY bestselling authors, hitting both lists several times over. She holds a B.S. in creative writing and psychology and channels that knowledge into her love of dark, twisty, sexy romantic fiction. Married to her very own romance hero (a firefighter, rawr!), Heather’s now outnumbered by Howland males, their dogs Oden and Finnick, and a rabbit aptly named Ruckus. Find her on Twitter at @HeatherHowland.
Let’s get started!
1. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
HH: I read That Was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton in seventh grade and went into a major depression for a solid week. My parents didn’t know what to do with me, and the closest thing I’d ever experienced was crying while reading Island of the Blue Dolphins in fourth grade. This was…not at all the same. I quickly realized books had the ability to alter a person’s life on a level I’d never expected.
2. Do you look for stories that are original, or do you try to deliver to readers what they want?
HH: Both. Readers want originality, especially in such a crowded marketplace, so I look for compelling books with intriguing (yet relatable) characters that I believe readers will enjoy.
3. What are common traps for aspiring writers?
HH: Not spending enough time on their craft before trying to dive into publishing is a big one. Rejections are hard and can discourage writers who could be great with more time and practice. I also see a lot of clichéd plots and characterizations. Bottom line, take the time to learn and hone your craft, then pay attention to the market. If your story has been done a million times, come at it from a different angle readers haven’t seen before.
4. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
HH: A big ego? Not helpful. Confidence in your story and your ability to tell that story really helps the creative process, though. If you spend too much time second-guessing every word on the page instead of letting it flow out of you, it’s difficult to produce an enjoyable story or the highest quality work possible. Look at your book with the eye of an editor after the fact.
5. Do you think someone can be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
HH: This is just my opinion, but I believe you need a deep well of emotions to tap into, even if those emotions feel chaotic in your mind. Books are meant to evoke visceral and emotional responses in readers, and if you’re not feeling it as an author, it’s hard to convey what’s needed on the page.
6. What authors and editors helped you become a better editor?
HH: Working with Liz Pelletier, Lori Wilde, and Margie Lawson at various points in my career have impacted me the most. Also, shout out to my old critique partner Charlie, a noir author who, 10 years ago, took a book I wrote and cut more than 2,000 words from the first 25 pages. I was stunned, but you better believe I never wrote anything wordy again.
7. What kind of research do you think writers should do, and how long do you think they should spend researching before beginning to write a book?
HH: I think research is very important. The key is to research everything, even in a contemporary book, then put it all aside. You don’t want to sound like a textbook, but that research will be what adds color and flavor the world you build.
8. What’s the biggest problem you see writers have when it comes to writing characters of the opposite sex?
HH: Not understanding how that particular character sees the world. The lens through which a character experiences life affects voice and thought processes and how they react in situations. This also applies to characters of a different age (such as YA being written by an adult), and marginalized characters beyond the author’s scope of experience. The author is secondary to the characters’ viewpoint, and I think sometimes that gets lost.
9. What do you find yourself editing out of most books?
HH: Excessive exposition, telling rather than showing, clichéd descriptions, unnecessary dialogue tags, simultaneous action errors, adverbs…
10. Do you believe in writer’s block?
HH: Not in the way most authors describe it. I believe that if you’re stuck, you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere in the story. Don’t panic. Just back up and figure out where you veered off track and pick things up from there.
Thanks, Heather! We appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.