Historical Novelist Robin Maxwell: What New Writers Need to Know

by Pamme Boutselis

Historical novelist Robin Maxwell

Historical novelist and screenwriter Robin Maxwell believes, “If you want to write, you have to read. You have to read and you have to love reading.” When Maxwell wrote her first book, “The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn,” she had no idea what she was doing in spite of her experience as a screenwriter.

“But I had read a lot,” said Maxwell. “Every writer I know is a huge reader.”

At the time, she was told that there was absolutely no market for historical fiction; the 36 rejection letters she received for her first book reinforced that premise. Still, she persevered and her persistence paid off. If there is one piece of advice that Maxwell can offer writers it’s this: Be persistent.

“You really have to love what you do. You can’t live without writing – it’s like breathing, like eating. There’s so much rejection but you have to be persistent.”

While it’s a tough industry and particularly for new writers, Maxwell said that we need a steady stream of new voices. Now the author of nine historical fiction books, she says she’s glad she didn’t know then what she knows now about how difficult the process can be in getting published.

“If I had known what it was like maybe I wouldn’t have done it. It’s so damn hard,” said Maxwell. “You have to develop such a thick skin. As a screenwriter in Hollywood, I thought I knew rejection, thought I had a thick skin. I’d sometime get 5 or 6 rejection letters at a time.”

She persisted though and her most recent book, “JANE: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan,” is the first book she has written in many years without a contract. She wrote it on her own terms with the approval of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate and later sold the novel to a publisher. The book, which debuted in mid-September 2012, tells the tale of Tarzan through Jane’s eyes and has received enthusiastic response from advance reviewers including New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak and Jane Goodall.