Beth Ciotta

Beth Ciotta of Brigantine, whose work has been published by Harlequin, St. Martin’s Press and other major houses, will share her secrets at a workshop Feb. 1 at the Brigantine branch of the Atlantic County Library.

Marjorie Preston / For The Beachcomber

What aspiring writer hasn’t dreamed of becoming the next J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or John Grisham?

Success at that level is rare, reserved for the 1 percent of literary lotto winners. But you, too, can join the ranks of published authors, says award-winning Brigantine novelist Beth Ciotta.

All you need is passion, perseverance — and a plan.

Ciotta will share her secrets at a workshop for adults titled “Writing Commercial Fiction: From Concept to Publication” 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1 at the Brigantine branch of the Atlantic County Library.

The former professional singer and actress — familiar to locals as one of Brigantine’s friendly librarians — did not start writing in earnest until she was in her 30s. Since then she has published 28 novels, and has another on the way. She continues to succeed despite changes in the print industry and traditional publishing.

“When I started in 1993, it was a whole different world,” said Ciotta, who lives on the island with her husband, two dogs, and a cat.

“If you wanted to write in any genre and be published, you had to sign with a traditional publisher. Nowadays, that’s not the only choice, and not even the first choice for some writers.”

With the rise of e-books, digital books and self-publishing, writers can be just as successful without a traditional publisher, she said.

Of course, it all starts with that light bulb moment: a great idea. But the process of writing is as individual as the writer.

“I can tell people about my own process, but what’s important for people to know, so they’ll feel welcome, is that there is no one right or 'golden' process. For example, I’m a slow, organic writer. Even though I outline, a book only comes alive as the characters come alive. And then that propels me forward.”

Discipline is essential, Ciotta stressed. On deadline for two books in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit, she took her work with her when she evacuated.

“As they say, you have to put your butt in the chair. You have to keep at it,” she said.

Ciotta is best known for romantic fiction (“All About Evie,” “Marry Poppins” and “On the Naughty List”), and has made occasional forays into other genres including the paranormal, historical mystery and steampunk. Her work has been published by HQN (Harlequin), St. Martin’s Press, and Berkley/Penguin, among other major houses.

She collaborated with bestselling author James Patterson on a romantic novel, “The Weekend Wife,” for Patterson’s Bookshots series. She also writes for her own independent imprint, BC Ink.

Ciotta’s favorite writers are among the superstars of the romance category, including Nora Roberts, Jude Devereaux, Johanna Lindsay and Catherine Coulter. Romance remains a hot genre, she said.

“I think it helps that there are so many different subgenres. Romance runs the gamut from very sweet — meaning no sex on the page — to sensual to erotic. Then there are the subgenres, like contemporary, supernatural, Victorian and historical Western.”

She is not immune from the insecurities that seem to be an occupational hazard for writers.

“Every writer I know, no matter how successful, struggles with that, the inner critic, the one that says you’re not good enough or the work isn’t good enough,” she said.

She cited a line from Nora Roberts, who once said, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”

The bottom line, said Ciotta, is to pursue your dream — with your heart, your soul, and your butt in the chair.

“If you want to write, if you have the burning desire, you should do it.”

Stay informed! Sign up to receive top headlines from Atlantic County delivered to your inbox.