CHELSEA SKANES — The Muse (Memorial University)
ST. JOHN’S (CUP) — When people think of the writers of Newfoundland and Labrador, usually Kevin Major or Bill Rowe come to mind — authors who choose to focus on the history and stories found on the island and have their works primarily published in physical form. However, Hatchet Cove native Debbie Robbins has defied these criteria in her quest to publish the first novel in her Highland Chief Series, Bound to the Highlander, and has quickly found worldwide acclaim in doing so.
Robbins, who publishes her romantic works under the pseudonym Kate, has lived in St. John’s, N.L, for a number of years and has had a hand in many aspects of the arts community. She became inspired to try writing five years ago after hearing two friends discuss the first meeting scene between Gerard Butler and Hilary Swank in the 2007 film P.S. I Love You. That evening, she wrote the first meeting scene of the hero and heroine in her novel. Six months later, Robbins had an 80,000 word manuscript that would go on to be rewritten twelve times.
A political backdrop weaves its way through this first novel — a historical romance set in 15th-century Scotland, and will continue on in the next books in the series.
Bound to the Highlander focuses on James MacIntosh and his romantic interest Aileana Chattan. Robbins admits that some liberties were taken with historical facts and assumption in her novel, but assures that it still makes sense for the story she is telling and makes the plot even stronger.
“Finding that place between history and fiction is really interesting because you have to know the history really well before you can decide how far you move yourself away from it,” said Robbins. “You have to know what you’re changing before you change it.”
Robbins visited Scotland twice to research and visit places that inspired her novel.
“Walking along and listening and looking and seeing [everything], it just surged so much more creativity in me,” said Robbins. She hopes she can put the reader in the same places she visited with her words. “When you’ve experienced something you can share it better, regardless of the medium.”
During the process of writing and publishing her novel, Robbins joined Romance Writers of America and was happy to find that there was a chapter for Atlantic Canada.
Although there were members of the chapter in all the other Atlantic provinces, she was the first to join from Newfoundland. She said that the RWAC and the support and resources they offered her were integral to her writing, and helped her to go forward with her endeavours. She also built up an online presence so when she brought her novel to different publishers they could quickly see she was already connecting with the world at large.
“In the changing publishing game, authors are expected to do a lot more of their own promotions and publishers are doing less and less,” Robbins said.
“In knowing that, I tried to wrap my head around what that all meant. So I made my own website and started a Twitter account. I started engaging with people more, meeting and networking with more authors and learning from them,” she said.
“When I actually approached Tirgearr Publishing, they only had my book for a week and a half before they offered me a contract. They’re a tiny digital press that expect their authors to do a whole lot of work, and they knew that I would be able to do it because they saw that I had done a lot of it anyway.”
She continued on to say that this online presence helped immensely because on the day that the novel was published, she saw countless people talking about and sharing the link to where her book could be bought.
“I had enough good support around me and on my social media channels that were sharing the heck out of this book,” she said. “The day that the book launched, I scrolled down my newsfeed and all I could see was my book cover. That’s my book cover in front of the eyes of thousands of people, and I didn’t have to pay a cent for that. That’s gold. Having a good social media presence is a stellar tool, but you have to mean it and be willing to put the time into it.”
Due to the fact that she is operating through a publisher, Robbins won’t know how many books she has sold until she receives her royalty check in January. However, due to her placement on the top ten charts of three Amazon Kindle lists it can only be assumed that the book is selling well.
Her book launch on Oct. 22 was also successful, garnering a number of people who gathered to hear a portion of the novel — as well as to partake in some haggis.
“The fact that this book is 100 per cent digital means that at this point I do not have a physical copy of this book, so having a launch with no paper book was interesting,” Robbins said. “Traditionally at a book launch you sit down and sign books, but I couldn’t. So I had to print index cards with the cover on it and a little blurb and sign them, and people loved it.”
Although she is heading down the route of having her book published in a physical form because of how well it has been selling, Robbins is also content to have her novel sold through the internet so she can reach a wide audience. In fact, her blog tour has brought her novel to places such as Scotland, Ireland, England, Canada and the United States.
“Everything is changing to a more electronic field. That’s the world we’re moving towards,” she said. “We’re in an era of instant gratification and we want everything right now. The book industry has very much moved into that.”
Robbins said she believes the changes that the writing and publishing world has gone through in the past decade are positive for writers in the way that they have a significantly more control over their marketing and promotion.
“I think it’s a really exciting time for writers because now you don’t have to wait for one of the five big publishers to pick up your writing,” said Robbins. “You can do what I did. A big publisher might not be willing to take the risk on an unknown author — somebody who has no proven track record — whereas a smaller publisher might. So far, it has worked out well for both of us.”
The second book of the Highlander Chief series should hopefully be going to the publisher soon, and after Christmas she’s planning on writing the third book in the series. Robbins said that she might continue on to write another two books in the series, but hasn’t made any definite conclusions. After that, she plans on writing another series that will also be set in Scotland sometime within the next year.
Robbins also offered advice to people who might be looking to write and publish a novel, but might not be able to immediately see the support or resources that are needed.
“If you’re writing any genre at all, just go find the support you need and just do it. Don’t let any barrier come up that is going to prevent you from doing what you want to do,” said Robbins.
“If you really want something bad enough, don’t let anything stop you.”