Jennifer Echols dishes on the release of her new book, her writing process, and the invaluable friendships she’s formed in the publishing industry. Read on, and be sure to check out Playing Dirty, now available from Pocket Books! 

Playing Dirty is my lucky number thirteen. That’s how many romances I’ve written for Simon & Schuster. Having been around the publishing block a few times by now, and having fallen into the metaphorical street and been run over by a taxi and dragged myself back to the curb, I’ve developed a few rules I live by to keep my sanity intact in this crazy industry.

1. Write the book you want to read.

2. Assume all negative reviews are written by your ex-husband.

3. Make friends with other writers.

It’s obvious I’m following that third rule when you read USA Today bestselling author Victoria Dahl’s quote on the cover of Playing Dirty: “Sizzling hot chemistry and laugh-out-loud humor.” Maybe readers want to think authors just happen upon other authors’ books and love them so much that they feel compelled to write to the publisher about what they thought. I know some readers were upset when Sherrilyn Kenyon said on the cover of Sword of Darkness by Kinley MacGregor (who is actually Sherrilyn Kenyon), “Kinley MacGregor writes fantasy the way I would.” It’s a joke, y’all! Maybe those same people will discount what Vicki says about my book when they find out we’re critique partners and best friends.

The truth is, I didn’t twist Vicki’s arm to write this quote. I could have, but I didn’t need to. Vicki loves my writing like I love hers, and this has been true since we first “met” online in 2004.

Romance Writers of America has three levels of membership for authors. There’s General, meaning you’re “pre-published” (I love this optimistic term). There’s the Published Authors Network (PAN). In between, there’s PRO, another optimistic term that doesn’t really stand for anything. PRO is like purgatory in reverse. General members can apply for PRO if they have written a complete manuscript, sent it off to an editor or literary agent, and gotten rejected. Your rejection letter is your admission to PRO. What else in life can you say this about?

Being PRO means you can join the PRO e-mail list, which is like a little waiting room outside your publishing career. You can chat with the other ladies in the waiting room and share ideas about how to get in to see your publishing career grow faster. Some of the ladies in PRO with me were Harlequin Medical Romance author Janice Lynn, YA author Diana Peterfreund, and romantic thriller powerhouse Allison Brennan, who got published first and was incredibly helpful to the rest of us.

And then there was Vicki. I first noticed her because she posted hilarious messages about trying to write sexy romance while her husband worked long hours and she kept up with two toddler boys at home. I identified with this: I was trying to write sexy romance while my (current) husband worked the night shift at a factory and I kept up with one toddler boy and held a freelance job copyediting medical articles during his naps. Vicki and I really had our eyes on each other when we discovered we’d both queried the same agent at the same time, and we started e-mailing every day for updates. (She got the agent; I didn’t.) A few months later, we’d grown close enough that we started exchanging manuscripts. I absolutely loved her writing and knew she wouldn’t stay in purgatory much longer.

I attended my first RWA national conference in 2005. I’d just sold my first book to Simon & Schuster two weeks before—a YA romantic comedy called Major Crush. I met Vicki in person for the first time. And I had the honor of sitting next to her when she won the Golden Heart—the most prestigious award for pre-published romance authors—for a book that would become her first sale a few months later. Then, at the 2010 conference, we were both finalists in the important award for published romance, the RITA. (Vicki has been a finalist two more times since then, and well deserved.)

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Jenn and BFF Vicki at the Golden Heart Award Ceremony at the 2005 RWA Conference
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J & V at the 2010 RWA RITAs Awards Ceremony

And now, though we live a thousand miles apart and rarely see each other outside that once-a-year conference, Vicki and I are critique partners and best friends—all because I loved her writing, just an e-mail at first and later a whole book. Being a woman today is stressful. We work and mother and love, and we’re more aware than ever that we need to take care of ourselves too, which can just add to our stress. It sure helps to discover a friend who is going through something similar, and seems to be reacting to it the way you do, but whose jokes about it are even better than yours.

The funny thing is, I think I would feel this way about Vicki even if I hadn’t been a writer and had never met her in person. I look forward to reading her manuscripts like they’re candy. Ahhh, four hundred pages of a hilarious heroine, a hot guy, great sex, and poignant observations on surviving womanhood in this world with your head held high. I feel this way about Jennifer Crusie, who doesn’t know me from Adam’s housecat, and YA author Rosemary Clement-Moore, whom I rarely see. Show me a book by one of these ladies and I will drop everything to read it. This kind of rapport with a reader—and not a RITA—is the pinnacle to which I now aspire as a writer. I hope Playing Dirty will strike that chord with you.

I know it did with Vicki. I have never been more gratified as a writer as I was when she e-mailed me repeatedly about how much she loved Playing Dirty, and then asked permission to show snippets of it to her friends, and then bought an at-home iron-on fabric transfer set so that she could mail me a pair of panties featuring her favorite quote from the book. That, fair reader, is friendship.

4. You will know a true friend when she makes you panties.

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Friends make friends commemorative underwear. It’s a thing.