Author Brenda Novak ~ Interviewed

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak has three novels coming out this summer-WHITE HEAT, BODY HEAT & KILLER HEAT. She also runs an annual on-line auction for diabetes research every May . To date, she’s raised over $1 million. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.

What two or three things would you do differently if you were starting your publishing career today?

I would join a writers group first thing. The networking and support of being part of a large group, all actively seeking publication (or working to stay published and build a career) is invaluable. I wrote my entire first novel by myself, completely unaware that these writing groups existed (naïve, I know-LOL). The manuscript for OF NOBLE BIRTH (published in November 1999) came in at 800 pages-well beyond the market, which was a mistake I wouldn’t have made if I’d started networking sooner. Then I found Romance Writers of America and realized that all the market info I needed was readily available through them (also realized I needed to trim that first book down to 400 pages, which is what I did in order to sell it)-as well as opportunities to meet agents and editors.

What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?

Achieve balance between my work life and my personal life. As a writer, you can work from home, which is fabulous. That makes you more available to your family. And yet…the work is never done. There’s always something you can be doing to promote your work (doing all the social media, preparing content for your web site, dreaming up a new contest or promo item), or sell something else (a book in a different genre, a short for Amazon or whatever). It’s tough to know when to call it a day and focus on something else. Fortunately, I have five kids that sort of force the issue. But I’m worried about what will happen when they all move away. Maybe I’ll sit at this desk 24/7. LOL

What is the best writing (or life) advice you have ever heard or wished you had followed? Why?

The best writing advice I’ve never heard has been attributed to Nora Roberts (I’m not sure if she was the first to say it, however): “You can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix blank one.” This gives you permission to write without editing before it ever hits the page, and that’s so important to getting those pages out there, where you can refine them.

The advice I always give to new writers is very simple: Believe. If you truly believe, you’ll do whatever it takes to research the market, learn the craft, finish the book, get it out there, etc.

What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn’t write?

Love ignites my passion. I’m a true romantic at heart. Last night I watched A WALK TO REMEMBER (for the millionth time) and realized how excited I get over two people falling in love. I especially enjoy seeing love create a metamorphosis in people who were previously angry or bitter. It’s such a healing balm.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

I have three books coming out this summer-WHITE HEAT, BODY HEAT and KILLER HEAT. These books revolve around a private security contractor based in L.A. called Department 6. The operatives specialize in undercover operations here in the U.S. and take on some pretty challenging and dangerous cases. For instance, in the first book due out July 27th, two operatives (Rachel and Nate) have to infiltrate a dangerous cult located in the middle of the Arizona desert, where they are completely cut off from outside help.

We are all about journeys…unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

Highlight: Finding Romance Writers of America and all they can offer to an aspiring romance novelist.

Lowlight: Learning my first manuscript, OF NOBLE BIRTH, was twice as long as the market would bear and would need to be rewritten.

Highlight: Finaling in the Golden Heart after rewriting OF NOBLE BIRTH and securing a reputable agent, who sold the book to HarperCollins.

Lowlight: Being orphaned before the book ever came out (which means my editor was fired and I was cast adrift).

Highlight: Meeting my current editor, Paula Eykelhof, at a regional conference and selling her a contemporary manuscript for the Superromance line.

Lowlight: Not being able to place another historical.

Highlight: Building a readership in Superromance and crossing over to Romantic Suspense with TAKING THE HEAT.

Lowlight: Nothing comes easy. Lots of hard work to build a career writing both.

Highlight: Three new RS books coming out this summer and three more on the way for next summer!

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Of course! I don’t think I’d be human if I didn’t have doubts. There are times when I think I’ve lost my touch, or that everything I write is drivel. Writing is an emotional business, filled with highs and lows (a bad review/a new sale; a difficult manuscript/a Rita final, etc.). I try to do my best to keep it all in perspective. I think it helps to be grateful for the good and to remember that “into every life a little rain must fall.”

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wish I’d known about those who take advantage of the unpublished. Before I found RWA, I met up with a literary agent who told me that I had “promise.” He said that I just needed a professional editor to refine the work and then my book would be ready to submit. Not surprisingly, he had just the gal. So he charged me $75/hour and his editor took a whole year to go through my manuscript. When it was finished, it was no more fit for market than before, which meant I’d wasted $5000 at a time when my family desperately needed the money. It was one of those “live and learn” experiences, but definitely an expensive wrong turn on my part.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

I’d have to say my editor, Paula Eykelhof, has been the biggest influence on me. She’s such a warm, moral individual, who has always encouraged me to make my books deeper and richer. I think it’s her feedback that has help shape my career and even the types of books I’ve ended up writing.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn’t have to be one of your books or even published.)

I’m particularly proud of the Christmas novella I have coming out in an Superromance anthology this November (“A Dundee Christmas” in THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING). I’ve written other Christmas novellas, including “On a Snowy Christmas” in THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, which is up for a Rita this summer, but they all turned out to be stories set at Christmas. I think “A Dundee Christmas” is my first true Christmas story, and I love it.

Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.

This one is easy for me! When my son was diagnosed with Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes, I wanted to do something to fight back. I dreamed of raising a million dollars for research. I even felt this driving need, this urgency and couldn’t get it to quiet down and leave me in peace, despite the fact that I had more than enough on my plate already. I had five little kids, was just launching my writing career and had no time or resources. But then I came up with the idea of inviting my publishing contacts and fans to help raise money. I launched Brenda Novak’s Online Auction for Diabetes Research at six years ago. The first year, we raised only $35,000, but that figure has grown steadily from year to year and…drum roll, please…this year we broke the $1 million figure I’d dreamed about from the beginning.

I know this would not have been possible without my writing career, because it’s fellow authors, industry people and loyal readers who’ve made it happen.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

Having a career to call my own gives me the biggest buzz. When I married, I expected to be a stay-at-home mom, always providing support for my husband and his business. That I’ve created a successful business of my own is a wonderful feeling and has provided so much joy and fulfillment-and opportunities to travel and meet people I never would’ve met.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I’m definitely a pantser. If I outline, I feel as if I’ve already told the story and get bored with it. I believe my subconscious writes the book before I do, if that makes any sense. So if I use my intuition and am careful as I go, I typically don’t have to do a lot of rewriting-and yet I can let the story carry me away and go with the creative flow.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

The fan mail that touches me most deeply are the letters and emails I get that tell me my book carried them away during a difficult time in life (while they were going through chemo, while they were taking care of their aging grandmother, etc.). Those really make all the effort I put into my books worthwhile.

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you’d share with us?

I think have a fabulous web site is the best marketing tool available. It takes a great deal of work to keep the content changing and to make it reader interactive, but I’d recommend being creative in the use of a web site as the best marketing tool available today.