The journey towards becoming an author can greatly differ from person to person, so Nancy Boyarsky and Rebecca Stevenson are offering their own unique perspectives and experiences in this week’s installment of “Ask the Authors.” Have more questions for our authors? Leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter!
Could you both start off by giving us a little introduction to your books?
Nancy: My book, The Swap, was published this month (Feb. 2017). It’s a mystery featuring Nicole Graves, who will continue to appear in a mystery series built around her character. The Swap is about an L.A./London house swap that goes very wrong. Nicole, worried about her marriage, decides to arrange a house swap with a London couple so she can accompany her husband on a three-month assignment in the U.K. Soon it is apparent that this was a mistake. The Londoners never arrive in L.A. and are missing. Meanwhile, people start following Nicole, demanding information she doesn’t have. Obviously, the Brits have left something very bad behind. Worse yet, Nicole can’t get anyone to believe her. When the situation turns lethal, Nicole realizes it’s up to her to figure out what’s happening in order to save herself.
Rebecca: Healing Maddie Brees was published in September 2016. It’s the story of a year in a marriage, as married couple Frank and Maddie Brees grapple with Maddie’s breast cancer. Desperately ill, Maddie is plagued by memories of Vincent, a seventeen-year-old boy who--so it seemed--was able to heal people. She has always maintained Vincent’s healing gift was a misunderstanding, but as she relives those memories, she becomes less certain. Her husband Frank has always been unsure: Maddie’s stories about Vincent do, indeed, seem to have been real miracles. Over the course of this year, illness and memory work to test both Frank and Maddie and their commitment to each other.
What did you do prior to becoming an author? Are you a full-time author now?
Nancy: I retired early from my day job when my first granddaughter was born, so at this point I am a full-time author. I’ve finished book two (The Bequest) of the Nicole Graves Mysteries and am working on book three. I was a writer and editor all my working life. I wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, mainly about politics and the justice system. I coauthored a nonfiction book with my husband that was a New York Times notable book. I worked as an editor for several publications. My last job was as communications director for a large corporation.
Rebecca: I was an English teacher in public and private schools and a homeschooling mother before I became a writer. I think that years of teaching great literature made me want to give it a try--and also terrified me! It wasn’t until I left my last teaching job--with all of my children away at school all day--that I was able to try writing full-time.
What made you decide to sit down and officially write your first book?
Nancy: I love reading fiction, and I’d always wanted to write a novel but couldn’t figure out how to approach it. Finally, I signed up for fiction writing classes at UCLA Extension. The first night of class, the teacher handed out a single sheet explaining how to set up a mystery plot. I did take other fiction classes, but that outline was the only tool I needed. Once I had it, I was able to plot out my novel, and start writing. But The Swap was my third effort. The first two books I wrote didn’t work out. But I finally figured out a plot (based on a house swap that my husband and I did a number of years ago) that worked.
Rebecca: It was having time that allowed me to try--but even prior to that, when my children were still very young and at home, and when I was working full-time, I began putting the hours in. I had a vision for what good writing might look like in the story that was taking shape in my mind. I knew that there was no hope or help for it other than to try writing. In those days, writing was something that I eventually “got to” after the family’s needs were met and the chores were done. But in recent years, I have been able to give my full day-time to writing, and it still feels like an extraordinary opportunity.
How long did it take for you to write your first book?
Nancy: About three years, but I was working full time then. My second book was finished in about six months. The book I’m currently writing has taken a year just for the first draft.
Rebecca: This is a tricky question, as I worked on that project piecemeal for so long. I can confidently say, however, that nothing in the book now was written prior to 2009, and I finished the first draft (after one year of full-time writing) in 2013. So four years.
How did you go about finding your publisher/agent/etc.?
Nancy: When I finished The Swap, I was still working. This was in the days before online publishing caught hold, and I couldn’t get a print publisher for my book, although I came close a couple of times. I put the book away for several years. Finally, I reread it, thinking that time would give me enough distance to see the flaws in it. But I really liked the book. So I decided to self publish it. I did have to go through a rewrite to update it. When it went for sale on Amazon, I hired a publicist, who made sure I got a lot of online reviews. The people at Light Messages Publishing saw a review and contacted me to see if I’d be willing to let them reissue the book with a new cover. I was only too happy to agree.
Rebecca: I knew about Light Messages Publishing for some time, as I know some of the staff personally. I nonetheless made a brief foray into finding an agent, but quickly decided that my novice status combined with the enormity of the industry might indefinitely delay any success. Meanwhile, I had watched from afar as Light Messages published smart, successful and various projects, and I was deeply impressed by their Read Local Book Festival in Durham, NC in 2015. I realized that here were experts working hard in the publishing world, and I hoped they would give my work a try.
What is the one thing you would change about your first publishing experience?
Nancy: I’d time travel so I’d be in the year online publishing took off. It was really frustrating receiving all those rejection notices. With self publishing now inexpensive (or free if you have the skills to do it yourself) available, you always have another option.
Rebecca: I don’t know. I learned a great deal from the experience and am still learning as book promotion continues. I think I’m still pinching myself that I have a book *out there*!
What is one piece of advice you’d love to give to anyone considering writing their first book?
Nancy: Don’t give up. And here’s some more advice that will keep you on target: Take a class that will help you become a better writer or find a writing group. If you don’t have friends who are editors, hire professionals to help you finalize the book and also to publicize it.
Rebecca: It’s not romantic. Writing is not like the movies show it, or even the books. As a writer, you don’t necessarily look good, live in an interesting house with breathtaking views, or become the object of attention at dinner parties. In truth, you don’t really have time for dinner parties. No one will care about it like you do. Writing your first book–and maybe any book–is all about whether or not you believe your story should be told. If you believe that strongly enough, then you’ll get up or stay up in the wee hours for it. You will hate it and find it impossible and you will be certain that it hates you. And when you finish, you’ll be so glad–not because it’s over–but because it’s realized. You did it. You.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your first publishing experience? Are you planning on publishing another book…?
Nancy: I am definitely going to keep on writing fiction. It’s really fun! My second book, as I mentioned, is coming out this August. Hopefully, my third book will be published in 2018.
Rebecca: Most definitely. I am at work on non-fiction just now, but am actively researching for my next work of fiction. I love my job.