Author Highlight: Interview With Hildred Billings

Hildred Billings Interview with A.O. Chika

Q: Hi Hildred, I just want to say that I loved Kiss and Tell. What gave you the idea for the book?

Hi! Thanks for having me and saying how much you loved that particular book. I honestly don’t remember what gave me the idea for even most of the books I’ve written. I’m one of those obnoxious writers who will pick up groceries from the store and have a brand new story plotted out by the time she makes it through the check stand.

But one thing I have been challenging myself with is taking old and true tropes from typical M/F romances and seeing how they translate in the lesbian romance world. The whole “hire a fake girlfriend for a function! Whoops! They’re actually in love!” trope is one of my favorites. I mostly love enemies/friends to lovers and forced proximity tropes the most, although I don’t always write them.

Q: You write a lot of books with Cynthia Dane, I was surprised when you mentioned that you and Cynthia are the same. What made you choose to write with a pen name (or two?)

Yes, most people don’t know that Cynthia is me and I am Cynthia. But it’s not a secret. It always makes me laugh to have readers ask me how we work together so well. I mostly just reply, “We spend a lot of time together.”

People also always ask how this whole co-authoring with myself thing began, but it’s not that uncommon in the writing world. Lots of us have multiple pen names for different reasons. The most common explanation is that sometimes we want to write completely different things while keeping branding integrity intact.

I started publishing under my own name five years ago. Hildred (here I am, talking in the third person!) mostly writes lesbian romances but also fantasy. I’ve decided that my main brand under Hildred going forward will be main female characters who happen to be LGBT. However, especially five years ago, there was little money to be made in F/F fiction, and I needed this to be my day job. So in 2014, I launched Cynthia Dane as an M/F billionaire romance author, and “she” made me enough money to allow me to keep publishing lesbian romances on the side under Hildred! 

Flash forward two years, and I can’t help being myself. Throughout Cynthia’s stories were these characters Eva and Nadia, and they were having massive lesbian drama in the background. I actually had some readers ask me if they were going to get a resolution to their cat and mouse games! I decided to write their story, but wanted some way to differentiate a lesbian romance from my usual M/F romances that I had hinged my brand on. So, I brought in Hildred, the lesbian romance brand.

Long story short (too late,) Hard to Get took off and paid my bills for months. I decided to write more under that partnership, and now the co-authorship is the crux of my marketing plan, if you can believe it!

(Fun fact: Cynthia wasn’t my first pen name. I have another, now defunct, lesbian erotica pen name that lasted from 2013-2016.)  

Q: As a successful author and businesswoman would you say writing in the LGBT category was a good decision or are there any negatives to writing in two different categories?

I don’t think there are any negatives to writing in two categories. Lots of authors spread themselves around like butter in the writing world, because after a while you get bored of writing Yet Another Billionaire Romance (no matter how much you shake them up) or, dare I say, Yet Another Lesbian Angst-Fest. It’s good to have different genres to go between to keep creativity as fresh as possible.

I do think, however, it’s important to separate “LGBT” when talking about book marketing and profitability. The F/F world is extremely different from M/M. Gay Romance is a world I’m not familiar with other than “It can make you pretty good money.” F/F, on the other hand, has a cynical history of being the stepchild in that it doesn’t make hardly any money unless you got at it “hard.” This has definitely changed in the past few years. 3-5 years ago, I didn’t have a hope in hell of making enough money to pay my bills writing F/F. Now, however, the audience is slowly growing and I think that if you have a love for the genre, then it’s not a bad time to try it out. However, it’s definitely not a “get rich quick” genre, and I think most of its readers are happy about that.

The one thing I will say about the lovely F/F readers is that they are loyal. I tell fledgling F/F authors that if they can grow their loyal audience, then they’ll be okay. Because lesbian romance readers will follow you wherever you go, if possible, and that is NOT something I could say about other genres I’ve written in.


Q: What made you decide to create your own publishing company – Barachou Press?

This was my full-time job from the beginning, even when I barely made enough money to pay for stock photo costs, let alone the $50 needed to get a DBA in my state. (My DBA is Barachou Press.)

When I came back from teaching English in Japan, I couldn’t get a job here in the States, but my student loans were about to come knocking on my door. Around that time I heard about KDP and decided what the hell? What do I have to lose? It’s always been my dream job to be a full-time author, and being indie means I get to make all the decisions, both good and bad. The kind of books I love to write is not the kind publishers salivate to have.

Another fun fact: Barachou is a portmanteau of two Japanese words, bara (rose) and chou (butterfly.) They represent the two major symbols used throughout my fantasy series, because at the time I thought I would debut as a fantasy writer. Whoops. I’m only getting around to that now.

Q: This is a cliche question, but I have to ask, Who is your favorite author? What’s your favorite book(s)? Mine is Nora Sakavic’s All for the Game Trilogy

I don’t really have a single favorite author, and I don’t have a favorite book. It all changes from month to month. But the authors I keep going back to are Amy Tan, Jacqueline Carey, and Sylvia Day. Right now I’m really big on Kevin Kwan and his Crazy Rich Asians series. (The second book is better (cough))

Q: What book or series was the toughest to write?

Out of my coauthored books, Hard to Get seriously had me pulling my hair out at times. I had to take actual passages and quotes from other Cynthia Dane books to recreate their timeline. It was fun at first, but by the end, I was happy to just publish it and forget about it forever! (Uh oh, it took off in success. Whoops. That’s how it goes every time.)

Q: How do you handle negative reviews?

I don’t read them. Seriously. I glance through a new release’s reviews on Amazon for the first couple of weeks to get a feel for the general reaction of my biggest fans, and by then I’ve moved on to my next writing project. Sometimes I have to go to the page and see I’ve been dinged (especially after a big promotion) but I don’t read them at that point. I feel that the reviews are more for the readers and helping them find things they want to read. I take everything with a grain of salt.

Q: You’d probably answer that all of your books are your favorite, but which of your books would you say is your favorite and why?

Honestly, by the end of most of the books I write, I’m content to ship them off to boarding school and only see them at Christmas for the rest of my life. I have a very mama bird investment in that I’ll sit on them for a few weeks and then kick them out of the nest forever. Bye! You have to get brutal with your books when you write like I do.

But I do have my absolute favorite books, yes. I think the best book I’ve written yet is Love, Yumi under Hildred. Under Cynthia, it would be Dom Vs. Domme. I did very different things style and plotwise with both, and I was so into writing them that I recall it being like a fever dream. (Sidenote for Cynthia fans: Kathryn and Ian will finally be getting married in 2018! I, uh, hope?)

Q: You’ve written a lot of books, I’m SOOOO envious, How did you get into writing and publishing your books?

I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I wrote my first full-length novel at 11. It wasn’t good, of course, but I spent most of my teen years hashing out my style, voice, and “getting the crap out” as I put it. I started doing NaNoWriMo in college and it really helped to build up my writer’s muscle.

I’m meant to be an author. I knew my calling in life when I was a kid, and while my parents and teachers encouraged me to explore writing, they made it clear it was not a full-time career and I needed a backup plan. Well, I never did have a backup plan. So, here I am! Making it work! (Take that, student adviser!)

Q: What is your writing process like?

I write and publish quickly, both because I can and because it’s a requirement of making it in this business. I’m lucky that I don’t need outlines (I always go off-grid anyway when I try to use them) and I can write about 5,000-10,000 words a day, depending. Like I said, once you flex your writer’s muscle, you can get a lot done!

I start with a loose idea of where I want the plot to go and what kind of characters I’m working with. Usually about halfway through I know exactly where we’re going and follow through to the end. Then we edit. Somewhere in there, my designer gets my cover to me (or I already had it) and we publish. I don’t know when I’m going to announce my release date until we start the final proofread, and then it’s about a week away – so my readers get a nice surprise, and my ARC readers start juggling their schedules 😉

For a full-length novel, it’s usually a 8-10 week process. The current book I’m readying to release later this month I started writing… I don’t even remember. It must have been early last month, when we were doing the final edits on BOUND. Usually when I’m in the final edit phase, I either catch up on side projects or start on the next main project. I have time set aside that I MUST use to write, no matter what kind of deadline I’m on otherwise. It helps me keep a steady stream of releases in the pipeline.   

Q: Have you ever thought of mentoring upcoming authors?

That’d be nice, but I simply don’t have the time. Luckily, there are many great resources and author communities out there for the future bestsellers of the world to ask their questions and get advice. If I have time (see: procrastinating), I answer them too!

Q: I love your book covers! Who’s your designer?

Aren’t they great! I’ve been using Jenna of Satyr Designs for all of my co-authored projects, with the exception of Crash & Burn. That one was designed by Anna of Cover Couture.

Jenna has done other covers for me and has a very distinct style. She did the covers for BOSSED: By the Billionaire and The Billion Dollar Contract Shorts. I love her clean but bright style.

I know a good design when I see it, but I’m hopeless at creating them myself. So I’m more than happy to put a good chunk of my budget into the perfect cover. Since, regardless of what you may have been told, readers totally judge books by their covers.

Q: Many authors have a problem with marketing their book, as both the author and publisher of your books,l do you have this challenge also? What book marketing advice do you have for authors and publishers?

Marketing sucks, especially now when you need more and more money and you’re like me and most of your money goes back into your bills and taxes. One reason I’m happy to go back to F/F full time is because it requires much less marketing than, say, contemporary straight romance.

I only have two things to suggest: one, know when advice is outdated, because what worked six months ago no longer works today. And two? Trial and error. Every author has different experiences with “secret sauces” and you won’t know yours unless you start experimenting.

Ultimately, however, it comes down to having a book even worth marketing. Without a good story with a strong blurb and eye-catching cover, you’re SOL. This ain’t 2011 anymore.

Q: Totally unrelated, but OMG you lived in Japan, I hope to visit there someday. Tell me about your Japan. What did your like and dislike, most importantly how was the food!

Yes, I’ve lived all over Japan for school, work, and just because it’s my second home and I keep going back there. I started out in rural Shikoku and branched out to both downtown and suburban Tokyo, and even the Japanese Alps. As much as I genuinely love Tokyo, however, I have to say that the Chubu (Nagoya / Gifu) area was the homiest place I’ve lived in Japan.

Whenever people ask me “how’s Japan?” I’m usually responding with “it’s really ***** hot!” Most people who have never been there don’t realize they get quite tropical weather AND it snows like crazy in the winter.

As for food… well, this is always awkward, but I don’t care much for “food.” I’m a super picky eater with a very uneasy stomach due to genetic reasons. I grew up in a soyless household. Guess what most Japanese food is comprised of? That said, I get by. You’ll usually find me in Mos Burger. Or First Kitchen. Because the colloquial name is “fukken” and who doesn’t want to tell their friends “I’m in Fukken?”

Also, I’ve never had sushi. I prefer noodles to rice.

Q: Do you have any upcoming books you’d like me to promote on my blog, I’m a fan!

Thank you! Right now I have three lesbian romances on the docket, two of them with Cynthia in the mega-rich lesbian world. (Maybe we should come up with a world title for those books? Hm!) The first is WITH THIS RING, and will “ring” in Cynthia’s project that deals with arranged marriages and how they go in different directions depending on the characters. In this book, a down-on-her-luck former heiress agrees to marry an acclaimed designer. For just her money, of course.

The second is my special end of the year Christmas project. Every year, “Cynthia” compiles a very special Christmas novella featuring vignettes of her previous years’ characters. This year we’re doing something with all of our F/F couples. We’ve already got the first scene up on Cynthia’s website ( so go check it out! The project is tentatively titled ‘TIS THE SEASON and will be out in its entirety in December, just in time for Christmas.

Under Hildred, I currently have a lesbian romance set in Tokyo coming out chapter by chapter on Search for AS ALL OUR FIRES BURN to join Miwa and Sayuri on their slice of life foray into love and romance. I’m uploading a new chapter every Monday.

Thank you for having me!

Want to read some of her books?

With this ring by Hildred Billings and Cynthia Dane
LOVE Yumi by Hildred Billings  Hard to get by Hildred Billings and Cynthia DaneBound by Hildred Billings and Cynthia DaneThe Butterfly Compendium by Hildred Billings

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