New York Times bestselling author Lauren Layne joins Zibby to talk about her latest romance novel, Made in Manhattan. The two discuss how Lauren began her writing career by finding time to write steamy novels while working at her corporate job, when she decided to weave New York City into her stories, and her best advice for authors when building their websites. Lauren also tells Zibby about her own love story with her husband and the ways in which the both support one another..


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Lauren. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Made in Manhattan.

Lauren Layne: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: I feel like I am an expert because I am sitting here on the Upper East Side. I feel like this story is sort of happening all around me as I was reading it.

Lauren: I’m actually a Midtown girl myself. I will roam around the Upper East Side. I’m like, I think this could be, in theory, what it’s like to live here, but most of it comes from my imagination.

Zibby: We could’ve had coffee. I could’ve told you the whole thing.

Lauren: Perfect. Next one I set there. I do, actually, despite — I live in Hell’s Kitchen, which is a grittier area of Manhattan, but I always go to the Uppers for my books. I set one on the Upper West Side. Then I just keep coming back to the Upper East Side. I don’t know if it’s that Gossip Girl energy. It’s a beautiful place to set stories.

Zibby: I get it. There’s still some fascination with these neighborhoods even though it’s not very exciting. It’s just life going on as normal here.

Lauren: It’s true. I feel like there is, even for me, a little bit of glamour. Then you see people coming out of their pretty brownstones, and they’ve got their dog. Their dog is pulling at the leash. You’re like, oh, yeah, they’re people. Everybody’s just going about their life.

Zibby: The chaos inside is probably pretty similar despite the exterior. Why don’t you tell listeners a little about what Made in Manhattan is about?

Lauren: The easiest way to describe it is sort of Pygmalion in reverse. I mean reverse in that, usually, the story of Pygmalion is this guy who makes over a rough-around-the-edges lady or tries to disguise her a lady. For the longest time, I wanted to write a book where you had this very upper-class, prim woman who was tasked with taking this guy — very much, he’s got the beard and the ponytail and the jeans. He does not like suits. She has to basically get him boardroom ready. She’s trying to sell him on New York as a city as well. He’s from Louisiana. I would say it’s a fairy tale, sort of. It tends to be my MO with my stories anyway, is this fairy-tale world. There’s a lot that’s maybe not realistic, but that’s also what I love about it. It’s just a little escape.

Zibby: It is. It’s a total escape. I just loved it. I was kind of picturing the main character as the mom from Gossip Girl. Do you remember Blair’s mom?

Lauren: Yes, that is spot on.

Zibby: I can’t remember her name in real life. What’s that? Spot on?

Lauren: I said that is spot on.

Zibby: That’s how I was picturing her, blond and prim and all together. Then maybe because his name was Cain, I was sort of picturing a Dean Cain, more rugged — you know?

Lauren: I love you mentioned Dean Cain. This, I feel like, ages me because I have a lot of readers that are in their young twenties. They know all these really attractive, young twenties stars. Then they’re like, who’s your celebrity crush? I’m like, Dean Cain from Lois & Clark back in the nineties. I just loved him. Dean Cain is accurate. He’s always on my list.

Zibby: I love this idea of trying to whip him into shape when he’s so reluctant at first, this strapping, sexy guy with his unbuttoned jeans and this one-night stand or whatever’s going on. She’s supposed to make him into boardroom material. It’s a total sitcom or movie. It’s just perfect. I just loved the setup of this whole story.

Lauren: My favorite ones to write are, for sure, the ones where you can kind of picture them as a movie. That’s always the dream, to have it made into a movie. I’ll even approach writing it almost the way I would a screenplay just because I think it’s so easy to help readers picture every moment when we as writers are picturing it as a movie as well.

Zibby: What made you decide for there to be loss in her life? Wait, I’m blanking on her — what is her name? Violet. Violet’s parents have died in a helicopter accident years prior. She was raised by her great-aunt, right? Edith is the great-aunt?

Lauren: Her grandma. Then now her grandma’s since passed on. Now this Edith character is her grandma’s best friend. You know, I never really — this sounds terrible. I had an editor once tell me, she was like, “You have a lot of orphans in your books.” I’m like, I do write a lot of characters that don’t have parents. Part of that, I think, is — this is going to sound terrible because I love my own parents. I’m very close to them, but sometimes it’s easier to not have parents in the story to have to write about. A lot of times, these characters would be calling their mom all the time or getting career advice from their dad, whatever it may be. Sometimes I like to have them on their own a little bit just because it forces them to grow a little bit. In terms of this one, though, it was kind of a plot device in that I needed a reason why she would take on this challenge. Cain, like you said, he’s very reluctant. He’s not easy to get along with. I’m like, why would she be bothering with this? I was thinking if Edith was really all that she had left in the world and Edith asked this of her, she might be a little bit more inclined to sort of give up her life for several months to deal with this very reluctant man.

Zibby: It’s also kind of like — what was the Adam Sandler movie where he has the grandfather he didn’t know he had? Mr. Deeds. Did you ever see that?

Lauren: Yeah.

Zibby: There’s something a little bit about that, where someone is just plucked down into this crazy world that they didn’t expect. It’s not the same person. Just that element of it. Not that you needed a comparison. I also loved these sexual undertones, this very steamy, quiet, subdued — she’s embarrassed to admit. Not to give anything away, which I will not, but — I can’t even find it now, but the scene where he’s trying on all the clothes at what sounds like J.Crew men’s store, something on Madison Avenue. Everything is fitting him perfectly. You said something like, and then she started feeling a little warm. Then her voice was a little breathy.

Lauren: It’s so funny you say that because that actually — my early, early books were very steamy, making this one look tame. They were pure romance novel, rated R. Then my last few ones leading up to Made in Manhattan were very much PG. I knew that the story seemed like it was going to be a little steamier. I don’t know if it was me having just written these PG ones. I’m like, how do I do this again? You can kind of tell as I get more and more into it as the story goes. I’m like, oh, yeah, that’s how you can wind the steamy thread throughout.

Zibby: No, I got it. I was like, ooh, if you could lean into the book to read it. What’s going to happen now?

Lauren: Tell me more.

Zibby: So funny. You’ve written so many books. Tell me about your career, how you got started. Did you always want to be a writer? How did this whole thing happen?

Lauren: I did. I’m one of those classic kids that was the bookworm. From the second my parents — I think my mom read me Castle in the Attic when I was five. That was the first chapter book experience. Then second grade, I discovered Boxcar Children. I just fell in love so hard with books. I read everything. I was the kid where my parents were like, “Can’t bring a book to the dinner table.” We would go on vacation to Disney World. I’d be like, “One more chapter, one more chapter.” They’re like, “We got to go see Mickey.” I was a bookworm, one hundred percent. Then I thought, the only thing better than reading books must be writing them. When people would ask what I wanted to be, I would say an author. Of course, it took a little bit longer than that. I went to college. I was going to be an English major. I randomly got a poli sci degree. Then after college, I had to pay the bills, so I worked as a receptionist. Then I was actually an e-commerce and web marketing manager for T-Mobile. My entire twenties was this whole other corporate career.

The whole time, especially if I was a little bit bored at work or I was just sick of my cubicle, it was always in the back of mind. Wouldn’t it be so great if I could be a writer? My parents are in the medical profession. I was very much the black sheep on the creative side. I was like, real people don’t do that, right? Real people have a nine-to-five. I just had this whole idea of what life was supposed to be. I think I was about twenty-eight, and I just said, you know what? I’m so tired of being that woman that keeps talking about writing the book, but I had never really tried. I got my laptop. Every weekend, I wrote eight to ten thousand words, and on lunch breaks. I learned to be an early morning person. I’m like, I got to get up early before I have to do the work thing. I finally finished my first book, Only with You. I did the whole query agent thing. It was just very old-fashioned. Suffered through the book. It was pretty terrible. Tried to learn how to edit it. Then eventually, I got the agent and the book deal. Then my husband and I just happened — right around that same time, he got a job offer in New York City, and so we moved there right as I got the agent. We were taking off a little bit.

Zibby: Wait, where had you been before then?

Lauren: We’re both from Seattle. I wrote my first book in Seattle. Actually, my first two. I have one that’s set in the Seattle suburbs because that’s what I knew. Then moved to New York City. Then that just became a huge part of my brand.

Zibby: How long ago did this all start? When did you write your first book?

Lauren: I wrote it probably in 2010, 2011. Finished it in 2011. That was that summer. Actually, within days of having typed the end, it was also, coincidently, right as our lease was coming up in Seattle. We’re like, what are we going to do? Are we going to buy a house and do the kids/suburb thing? I had just finished this book. I really wanted to quit my job and be a writer. Then my husband got this job offer in New York City. We’d never even been to New York. We were like, you know what? If we don’t do it now, we’re never going to do it. Our life just took this wild turn. First of all, we crossed the country, completely unplanned, very unplanned, very unorganized. I just buckled down. I’m like, you know what? Can I have six months to try to get this writing thing off the ground to get the book deal and prove that I can make money from it? It probably took closer to a year before I made any kind of money. Eventually, it became my dream career.

Zibby: Wow. What is your timing? You’re doing two a year? What is your cadence of writing and selling and all of that?

Lauren: It slowed down quite a bit. It was for a while there when I was first starting out. This was the boom of e-books, probably 2013 through 2015. My publisher was like, “We just want more e-books.” The beauty of that is that you can get them out much quicker, or my publisher could, because you don’t have to do the printing and the shipping and the shelf space. I think I was doing four to six for a while there, which was nuts, but I also think it was probably necessary to get my —

Zibby: — Four to six?

Lauren: Yeah.

Zibby: Books a year?

Lauren: It really didn’t seem that crazy at the time. Now that I’ve slowed down and I’m just trying to get three, I’m like, oh, it’s harder than I remember. Also, I think COVID threw, the way it did for pretty much everything, it threw a wrench in things a little bit. I went through a few months where I’m like, you know, I can’t write romance right now. I can’t write these light-hearted love stories. I took a step back. I’m just now kind of getting back into that headspace a little bit. To answer your question, probably, I’m hoping to do three this year and then four next year, is my plan.

Zibby: That’s a lot. Are you writing words all day? How are you getting that many words out in a given week?

Lauren: As I mentioned, when I was doing the corporate thing, I learned to be an early riser. I never considered myself a morning person, but I was like, okay Lauren, if you’re going to have time to wash and dry your hair and commute to work, you’re going to have to start getting up at five to write the book. Ever since then, even though I don’t have to get up at five anymore, that’s still very much my cadence. I write first thing, especially if I’m on deadline. My husband’s sweet. He makes the coffee and brings the coffee. I already have the laptop open. I just write in the morning until I hit whatever the word count is. My writing program will, if I put in the target word count and my due date, it tells me, you need to write three thousand a day or two thousand a day.

Zibby: No way.

Lauren: I’m like, here we go. I write fairly quickly. I know that sounds really braggy, but I think I always have. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a fast typer. It doesn’t take as long as people think to do the first draft. For me, the part that really is the more time-consuming and the more difficult is after I’ve turned in that first draft, which takes me three weeks, maybe. Then when it comes back from my editor, that’s the point where I could spend days and days just editing chapter one. That’s the harder part for me. That looks a little different because I’m not technically even at my computer the entire time. I may be outlining or brainstorming or jotting down notes, figuring out how to finesse it. Mostly, I write in the morning. I would say most days, I’m done writing by about nine AM.

Zibby: Then what do you do?

Lauren: Good question. What do I do? It’s a lot of the business stuff that comes just with . There’s podcasts. There’s the Zoom interviews, book clubs, newsletter. I’m a big fan of websites. My husband and I launch a bunch of author websites in our spare time. I think websites are important. That’s my geeky side habit. Then lately, I’ve been trying to spend a little more time living. I was very much for a while there working kind of around the clock constantly trying to build this Lauren Layne brand. Now I am trying to teach myself watercolor. I watch a little bit more TV than I used to allow myself, and just relaxing, relaxing a little bit. The mornings are kind of nuts. Then the afternoons, it’s the easier stuff, the Instagram and the newsletter and getting back to reader emails, the more fun things.

Zibby: Wow. Could I hear the story of how you fell in love with your husband? I feel like you guys have the best relationship. First of all, he’s giving you this microphone. I feel like he’s so doting. I’ve got to meet this guy. Tell me about him.

Lauren: He’s ridiculously — he cooks too. That’s the other thing. Not only does he cook, he makes really good food. I’m like, how did I get so lucky? We met when we were fifteen in high school. We started dating when we were seventeen, also in high school. We have been together ever since. We were high school sweethearts. It’s one of those things. I’m four months older than him, but I am a grade ahead in school. When we first were properly like, let’s actually start dating, I was getting ready to graduate from high school. He was a junior. I’d already been accepted to college. We were in Seattle. I was going to college in California. I think in the back of my head — this sounds very unromantic. I was kind of like, this isn’t going to last. As long as it’s good and we’re getting along and we can manage the phone call thing, let’s just keep going. I don’t want to say it was easy in that first year, but —

Zibby: — It never ended.

Lauren: That’s sort of his joke. He’s like, “People ask, how do you do it? I’m like, you just keep going.” We just kept dating somehow. I feel really lucky. He’s a great guy.

Zibby: It’s so funny. What’s the secret to have a long marriage? Just not breaking up.

Lauren: He’s a comedian. He has a joke where he’s like, you don’t break up. It’s simple. People want marital advice. That’s how you do it. I’m one of the lucky ones that found one of the really good ones when he was fifteen. I snatched him off the market.

Zibby: I’m interested in your — wait, first, what is the name of the program you use that calculates your word count? That’s interesting.

Lauren: I use Ulysses. That is a Mac-only program. I would also say I’m pretty sure Scrivener, which is a common —

Zibby: — I’ve heard of Scrivener.

Lauren: I think Scrivener does that as well if I’m not mistaken. Ulysses is great. Every project, I open it up. I know that my first drafts are usually sixty thousand words, which is short. I usually write my first ones pretty short. I put that in. I put my due date. It’s fantastic because then I don’t have to worry. If I have a lot of time, it may be like, you need to write forty words today. I’m like, I can do it. Most often, I wait until the end. I tend to do bigger bursts. I would also say I’m not one of those people — I like to get on this soapbox when I can. I think there’s this common misperception, especially for new authors, that you have to write every day. You have a lot of very, very successful writers that advocate for that, like Stephen King and Nora Roberts, all these huge names, James Patterson. That is their routine. They write a little bit every day. That’s how they do it. I subscribe to that as well, but I don’t do that. I go many, many weeks where I won’t write a single word. Then when inspiration strikes, I may write ten thousand words or eighteen thousand words in a day. If anybody’s out there thinking they have to write every day, you don’t have to. You can write in bursts if you want. That’s my strange rhythm.

Zibby: What is your secret to getting to this whole market? You allocate your day to, as you said, the book clubs and the social media and all the stuff. There is so much of a huge business component in marketing of the project. First is just the production of the project. Then it’s the marketing of the product. How do you do it? What is the secret sauce? What do you think?

Lauren: I feel like this is an easy answer. It’s harder now than ever. I feel like every author probably thinks that whatever period they’re in is the most difficult. The romance in particular is just so saturated. Books usually come out on Tuesday. Me as a reader, if I go on looking for a rom-com or something light, there is just so many choices. I’m like, oh, my gosh, if I’m having this, then you know readers are having this same issue. Where do you start when there’s twenty new options every single week? I’ve been back and forth. I actually took a social media hiatus for a year and a half, which was nuts. I full-on shut everything down. I just wasn’t on social media, thinking, can I just focus on the books? That’s sort of the idea. If you build it, they will come. I am back on Instagram now. I think it really is just writing the best book possible. Yes, you do have to do some amount of marketing. I’m not one of those people who thinks you can just completely live in a cave and never send a newsletter and make it.

I’m a big fan of prioritizing the stories first. If that means that I go months without sending my newsletter or doing an Instagram Story because I’m in the writing cave, I allow myself to do that because I think it makes the books stronger. Then I’m an advocate for being okay doing things differently, not different for different’s sake. In a world where so many things look exactly the same — our Instagram feeds look the same. I’m not on TikTok. I tried TikTok for a hot minute. The TikTok, there’s the trending audio and all those things. Anytime I can say, if that’s what everybody else is doing, how can I stand out even a little tiny bit just to somehow make yourself memorable? That ramble, I would recommend, figure out what you can do to make yourself memorable. How can you stand out from other authors in your genre? No matter what genre we’re writing in, whether it’s children’s books or fantasy or sci-fi, thrillers, romance, there’s thousands. In romance, there’s millions of other authors trying to do the same thing. How can you build your core audience?

Zibby: So interesting. I love that. I feel the same way sometimes. There are just so many books. I try really hard to promote as many books as I can to help with curation or whatever, but it can be overwhelming. On the other side, there are still so many other people who have great books that haven’t even been published. Sometimes I’m like, maybe there’s just too much supply. There’s this overabundance of supply. There’s not enough demand for — there’s too much. Yet there’s still so much more production possibility. You don’t want to ever have people stop writing all these books. I want all the great books to come out. I want people to keep reading. Are people reading enough? Maybe people are just reading less. Maybe I shouldn’t even worry about it.

Lauren: That could’ve come straight from my own head. I have the same thought. There’s so many books. I just wish there were the good old days. I sometimes let myself go back there to back when I was in my teen years and I would go to Barnes & Noble or Borders back in day. There would just be a couple shelves of romance. I would know my favorite authors. There would maybe be six new releases a month or whatever it was. I think it was probably easier. I try to remember the flip side is that there were so few authors that were getting a chance back then. There was the gatekeepers and all these different things. Whereas now that we do have the beauty of self-publishing, yes, that means there’s a lot more competition, but it also means that there are so many stories that can make it into the hands of readers. I try to focus on that. I’m like, you know what? It really does come down to the stories and the readers. I really believe that there are these pockets of readers that will love what you’re writing. We don’t all have to be number-one New York Times best-sellers in order to be successful. It’s just finding, who are readers that like what you are putting out there on a consistent basis?

Zibby: I love that. That’s so great. Yes, loyal readers.

Lauren: It sounds really Zen right now. Catch me again. Sometimes on release week, I’m like, I’m not doing as well as so-and-so. I hate when I get in that mindset. I have a whole notebook of ways to reframe whenever I get that sense of discouragement.

Zibby: You should write that article. Can you write that up?

Lauren: I should.

Zibby: I have this little website called — not website. I have a Medium publication called Moms Don’t Have Time to Write. We have all these essays by authors a lot of the time. You should write that. You should totally write that. I want to read that, personally.

Lauren: I’m adding to my to-do list right now.

Zibby: You can do that after your morning writing Friday or something.

Lauren: Perfect.

Zibby: What’s your next book going to be about?

Lauren: My next book, I’m returning to my roots a little bit. Made in Manhattan was a little bit steamy. I’ve got a book out in July called You Again. You Again, I don’t know where it came from. It’s the steamiest thing I have ever written. I’m like, I hope my mom doesn’t read this one. I would describe it as a classic love story. It’s just a guy and girl in New York. They meet at a bar. They just keep running into each other at their workplace, a mutual friend’s wedding. They’re complete opposites. They don’t get along. Spoiler alert, opposites attract. It was just fun. I think there’s a lot of pressure sometimes, or I put pressure on myself, to write these really high-concept books where it’s like Pygmalion in reverse or something that’s movie-pitch worthy. Sometimes I just, like I said, I want to write the love story. That’s what I sat down to do. It flew out of me. That one is out in mid-July. Don’t know when exactly yet. That’s just a fun romance. It reminds me of almost a really steamy Hallmark movie type of thing where it’s a little bit simpler. There’s not a ton of side characters and plot and danger stuff going on. It’s just two people living in New York.

Zibby: Love it. One last question on the marketing side. You said you do a lot of author websites. What do you think it’s important for authors to include in their websites? What characteristics?

Lauren: Somebody hold me back. I could go on forever. The short version is you really only need six pages. You need your homepage, your books page, your contact page. You need to have an individual book page template. Each story that you write needs its own book page. That is probably my biggest, not pet peeve, but that’s one thing that I see a lot of people doing. They’ll put all their books on one page and just call it books. You want to have an individual page so that on social media or your newsletter you can link to each one individually. That’s my biggest bit of advice, and then a newsletter. I think I named five. I might be forgetting one. In terms of strategy, focus on what your readers want. I see a lot of authors will go in there with this grand vision of what they think makes a great website. I’m sure it’s beautiful. I know for me, the number-one page on my own website is just my reading order. It’s literally just a white page with black text of my books in order. That’s what the readers want.

I always encourage them to pay attention. Pay attention to your data because you can get free Google Analytics. You’ll be able to see which pages your readers want. Make sure that that’s easy to find. It’s really kind of as simple as that. Then on top of that, I do love the idea of branding a little bit, what we were just talking about in terms of what makes you different. Why would somebody want to read your book instead of somebody else’s? How can you convey that on your website? For me, it’s a lot of New York pictures because I have this very fancy, upscale, fantasy New York brand. If yours is small town, make sure that that says that on your homepage so that somebody coming in can say, yes, that’s what I am looking for, as opposed to just a list of your books, which is great, but if nobody’s ever heard of you before, chances are they’re not going to go through and click on each one. They want the highlight reel. Who are you? What can I expect from your stories? I could go on forever.

Zibby: This is another thing you should do. This is really great. I might be, actually, offering some classes called Z Classes. I have a publishing company and a website and podcast network and blah, blah, blah. I want to launch some classes soon. I feel like you should teach a class in author marketing. It’s so important. Everyone is obsessed with this right now. I don’t know if you want to talk after this, but I want to take your class. I want to listen to everything you say as an author myself.

Lauren: It’s so funny you mention you’ve got all these things going on, which I had kind of known because I’d done my research. I’ve followed you for a while. My husband, actually, he saw this. I had it on the calendar. He went to your website. He knew more about you than I did before this podcast.

Zibby: I’m telling you, I love this husband of yours. I have a young husband too, much younger than a couple months. It’s my second husband. He’s six years younger. We’re all in New York. We should all meet up sometime, have a drink, talk book marketing, and all the stuff.

Lauren: I love that.

Zibby: And my husband cooks.

Lauren: I can find out if Upper East Side — you can tell me if I’m even remotely close. I’m probably really creepy, now that I think about it. Sometimes I’ll cruise down 84th Street or whatever just looking up at all the brownstones with my notebook trying to figure out what’s going on in there.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, you have to come over. I have to take you on a tour of my friends’ houses or something. I’ve lived here my whole life. I know a lot of people. All right, we’re going to do fun stuff, if you want.

Lauren: Perfect.

Zibby: Thank you so much. This was really fun. I actually learned a lot. That was great. I shouldn’t say actually. I learned a lot. It was great. Thank you for Made in Manhattan. Really fun.

Lauren: Thank you so much for having me. I had the best time.

Zibby: Say hi to your husband.

Lauren: I will.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Lauren: Bye.



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