What two or three things would you do differently if you were starting your publishing career today?
If I was starting out today, I would do everything that I could to educate myself about the business aspects of publishing and understanding contracts, how to read them, etc. I think writers tend to be dreamers and obviously creative and even naïve when it comes to matters of dollars and cents. From my experience because I didn’t go into initial contracts fully educated on business matters that I left some things on the table that would have helped my career in the long run.
What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?
TIME is my main struggle. As a working parent who has a day job and also a writing career—time is what I struggle with. It’s important for me to keep a schedule and employ help. I now schedule my writing time, my family time, my marketing and PR time, time with my horses, etc. I find that by having my time scheduled that I don’t stress and get caught up in the overwhelm of all that needs to get done. I also have so many ideas in my head for new stories that I wish I could write them all RIGHT NOW, but that isn’t possible. Therefore, I keep an idea folder and when I finish a book I dive into that idea folder and see what still resonates with me.
What is the best writing (or life) advice you have ever heard or wished you had followed? Why?
Sit your bum in the chair and write, write, write. It works.
What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn’t write?
Rescuing brutalized/neglected horses. Horses in general fuel my passion in many ways. I love working with them, writing about them—everything about their souls works for me. If I didn’t write, I would train horses.
Tell us a bit about your current project.
My new release coming out March 15th is “Happy Hour.” This book is really a book of the heart. It’s about four women friends living and working in Napa Valley. They deal with everyday issues that many women can relate to from dealing with teenage children, aging parents, financial problems, blended families, dating after forty, etc. They get together regularly for their own Happy Hour where they lean on one another, laugh, cry, shout—whatever they need. It’s a story of friendship, family, and faith. There are some heavy aspects to the book but because I personally deal with a lot of issues in my own life by using laughter, I write humor into my stories. Life is about the journey and it’s not always fun and easy but on the flips side, it isn’t always hard and painful and that was what I wanted to convey through these women and their friendship.
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.
I could write several pages on this but I will do my best to give you the short version. I wrote for twelve years and completed a half a dozen manuscripts and about as many partials before getting picked up by a publisher. I received over 200 rejection letters during that time period, but I kept putting work out and just really sticking to it. The lows were the rejection letters, being dropped after six books for Berkley by them, and being “taken” by “industry” people who I trusted. The highs are when the first three books sold and I received that call from my agent. The first paycheck! And most of all, not long before I did receive that first contract was when my middle kid who was nine-years-old at the time saw me in tears over another rejection letter. I was really ready to throw in the towel. My son said to me, “You can’t quit. Don’t you know, Mom, that God wouldn’t have given you the gift to write if He didn’t think you couldn’t do it?” Pretty powerful. You can be assured I sat back down at my computer and wrote a new book.
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.
I think all writers experience self-doubt. I definitely do. When a new book is about to come out I anticipate but also stew a bit wondering, “Did I do my best work? Will readers like it? Does it convey what I wanted to?” All of that plays in my head. Then I have to just let it all go and trust my abilities as a writer and be grateful that I can actually do what I love for a living. I don’t have writer’s block that often, but when I do—I do something physical. I go for a walk or I go ride my horse. This takes me away from the story long enough for something to click in my brain. I give my brain the issue and then I let it go. Doing something physical gets the brain going every time.
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 had known that publishers do not spend any money on writers who don’t have the name behind them. I would not have made some of the financial decisions that I did that harmed us. However, looking back I do think some of those decisions helped me in getting my name out there.
With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?
Learn the business, read, write daily (even if it is only a page), learn all the new technologies available to writers, have a good editor proof your work, and be willing to take constructive criticism—listen to what readers tell you. They usually know best. They definitely know what they want.
What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?
My dad. He taught me the value of perseverance and sticking to your passion.
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 am actually very proud of “Happy Hour.” It’s a good book with a lot of heart and soul into it. I’m also very proud of a book I wrote sixteen-years-ago that is a big family saga. I revised it not too long ago and plan to release it under the title “The Cartel,” and writing under the name Sofia Cruz. It is a big book and the story line sticks to me to this day. I loved the characters. It’s very different from all of my other work (thus the pseudonym) but I really love the book.
Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.
To see and be involved with my Nikki Sands’ mysteries on TV (for many, many seasons). That is a goal.
What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?
When a reader e-mails me how much she loves my books. That is truly the best. It’s my goal to entertain readers, make them feel connected to the characters in some way. So when someone takes their time to send me an e-mail basically letting me know that I have done my job, it is really awesome!
Describe your special or favorite writing spot.
My kitchen table.
What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?
I start out with my “what if…?” Then I sit down with a pad of paper and begin sketching the basic idea. Then I hop on the computer and begin writing character journals form first p.o.v. After that I do a short outline and then I jump in and start writing the first draft.
Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?
I have a pretty busy/full life. There are times where I just have to write wherever I am—in my office, at my kitchen table, in my car, in a hotel room, etc. I have to write with noise around me (kids and animals). I like to write at least 10 pages a day. I really like to write with my dog Java next to me or my kitty Holly in my lap.
Plot, seat of pants or combination?
What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?
Saggy Middle can happen and when they do—I get physical to start me thinking again.
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.
I had a writer e-mail me and let me know that because of a workshop she had taken that I taught at that she had won a major writing contest and through that found a literary agent. She attributed all of that to me. She’s the writer so she really should take the credit, but I have to say that was pretty cool.
Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you’d share with us?
If I knew what worked I would tell you. Try everything. There isn’t anything that I have not tried and I am still working at it. J
Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?
Believe in yourself, write because it’s your passion (be honest about that), stick to it, and remember that in this world of writing that patience is your biggest asset. If you are not a patient person then you should probably think twice about writing.