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WCW: Author Jennifer Wilck

Welcome back to another Writer's Corner Wednesday! Today I'm talking to award-winning contemporary romance author Jennifer Wilck. She has published an impressive number of romances (featuring both Jewish and non-Jewish characters), including many with Harlequin Press. Read on for our fascinating conversation, including some great, practical advice for fellow writers.

Q. How did you get into the romance-writing business? What was your first big break, and how did you go from there to being so prolifically published?

According to my dad, I’ve been writing since I was five—he actually told friends this. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I’ve always loved writing. I started writing with the aim to complete a romance in the early 2000s, but it took a long time for me to learn what to do (and not to do), and to actually get published. I’m not sure there was ever one “big break.” Rather, a lot of steps along the way, each one bigger than the last. So my first publishing contract, even though it was with a tiny publisher, was a big deal to me—and to my mom, who just kept repeating, “My baby wrote a book,” for, like, twenty minutes. That book was A Heart of Little Faith, and I’ve since self-published it. And because I’m constantly learning, I listened to the one piece of advice that everyone said, which was, “keep writing.” So I’d finish one book and start on the next, even before I knew what I was doing with the first one. That helped me build up a great stack of manuscripts that I could do things with—not all of them were good enough to publish, but I had things to work on when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write next. Continuing to write enabled me to write my Scarred Hearts Series, and publish the books every six months or so, which is great for a series. I’ve also always kept in mind that I wanted to continually improve my writing skills, and my writing success. So once I was published with a small publisher, I worked on getting published with bigger publishers, and then an agent, and then even bigger publishers, and then getting rights back from smaller publishers and self-publishing those books. That’s why I’m self-publishing my latest series, The Perfect Match.

Q. Many of your novels feature Jewish characters (including the Holidays, Heart, and Chutzpah series you're working on for Harlequin). Presumably, these are intended for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers. How do you balance writing for both of these audiences at the same time? More broadly, what challenges have you faced as a Jewish writer within the contemporary romance genre?

Great question. I write Jewish characters because I want to see people like myself in my books. I think Jewish representation is important, and if romance is going to be inclusive, it should include everybody. Jews often get overlooked, and I’m doing my part to try to fix that. However, I also want my books to be read by everyone, so I try to keep my characters and storylines relatable. I’ll use kids to explain things that non-Jews might not understand. I’ll use meddlesome grandmas to get away with saying things no one else can say. As far as challenges go, it’s taken a while to convince agents and editors that publishing a Jewish romance doesn’t have to be any different than publishing any other romance. I imagine the challenge is similar to what authors of color have gone through, and I’m grateful to them and supportive of the strides they’ve made—the romance community is, by and large, a wonderful place where successful authors help those behind them to achieve their own successes. My current agent, Cathie Hetrick-Armstrong, and my publisher, Harlequin, have been hugely supportive of my writing and my desire to get Jewish romance out to readers. And once I was able to get my foot in the door with Harlequin and my Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah series, I’ve been asked to contribute Jewish books to other lines that they have where they want to extend their diversity to Jewish characters.

Q. Beyond Jewish themes, what are some of the other themes/tropes you find yourself drawn to write, and why do you think that is? Do you have a favorite romance trope to write? How do you keep these fresh while still giving the readers what they want?

I love writing wounded heroes. I’m a big fan of delving into the reasons why a character acts or thinks as they do. And I love making my heroes vulnerable in some way so that they, as well as the heroines, have to grow and stretch beyond their comfort zone. Sometimes that comes out as a physical wound, such as in The Perfect Secret or A Reckless Heart, but most often it comes out as a psychological wound, such as in A Heart Restrained or my upcoming book, Deadlines, Donuts & Dreidels. I think readers want to see complex characters work on things beyond just their relationship with their love interest, and it’s certainly something I enjoy writing.

Q. Tell me a little bit about The Perfect Match series. What made you want to revise and re-release this book and series? What was that process like?

I’m a member of the New Jersey Romance Writers, and as a member, I have a huge network of amazing romance writers from whom I get a lot of advice. Many of them are self-publishing and they convinced me to try it. I look at publishing kind of like investing—I think it’s important to have a diverse portfolio so that if one thing doesn’t work, I have others to fall back on. The Perfect Match series is a great example of that. I published it originally with a small publisher, and I love them, but the books weren’t doing much. So when I was able to, I took my rights back. Then I re-edited all the books, updated them, hired a cover artist to create a look and brand that would appeal to the target audience, and I’m in the process of republishing them one right after the other now. It’s been an interesting learning experience. Based on the ages of the characters, I’m really targeting the new-adult contemporary romance market. That’s the “just out of college age” group, which is also exploding onto the romance scene right now. My daughters are that age, and while they won’t actually read my books—I’m totally fine with that, by the way—they’ve given me great advice as to covers and social media marketing. The Perfect Match series features three friends who have recently entered the job market and are dealing with all the things young professionals do in their early careers. Plus, the pressures of dating, family responsibility, and Judaism sprinkled in. It’s been a fun series to revisit.

Q. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for fellow writers, especially those who may be struggling to finish their manuscript or land a publishing deal?

If writing is your passion, don’t give up. Keep writing. Learn from every page you write. As much as it’s your creation, take a step back and make sure that you are listening to advice you are given, whether it’s about grammar rules or marketing or whatever. You don’t have to follow the rules—although I’m a big fan of correct grammar—but you should be willing to rationally consider what others say, and then take the pieces of advice that resonate and discard the rest. Find your tribe and rely on their support. Support others who need it, too. If you find talented critique partners, savor them! Enter contests where editors and agents judge your work—it’s a great way to get eyes on your writing. Make sure you’re having fun, because this is a hard business (isn’t everything?) and you need to enjoy what you’re doing if you’re going to last. And finally, gratitude. Appreciate each step of your journey and show that appreciation to others.

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