I have no doubt you have heard of the author Brenda Novak. She has written over sixty books, sold millions of copies worldwide, topped the New York Times and USA Today Bestsellers lists and won award after award, including The National Reader’s Choice award, The Write Touch award and the Beacon Award for Published Authors. In fact, you probably have at least one of her books on your shelf right now. But did you know that, not content with merely taking the world of literature by storm, she also has started her own Global book club, as well as a monthly subscription box? Me neither, but that’s how I got the chance to chat with Ms Novak.
If you aren’t already aware, I am a dedicated Bookstagrammer. Basically, I take pretty pictures of my favourite reads and nerd out with other book worms around the world. Geeky I know, but it’s a great community (if you aren’t already a part of it, definitely give it a look, and me a follow!) and you get to meet so many amazing people. Enter Brenda Novak. I was approached by her wonderful daughter Alexa to publicise ‘The Professional Readers Book Box’ and of course, I jumped at the chance. They sent me February’s Valentine’s Day themed box, and I am truly in love (wait until the end of the article for a quick run down and review of the box as well as a chance to win one of your own!). But not content with merely discussing the box, I chanced my arm and requested an interview with Ms Novak herself, and amazingly, despite her insane schedule, she agreed!
So grab a cuppa, kick back, and enjoy….
Let’s start with a brief introduction…who is the team behind Professional Readers Box?
I’m a New York Times Bestselling author of over sixty books. I curate these “professional reader” boxes each month with my daughter, Alexa Novak.
For those of us unfamiliar with the Professional Readers Box, can you explain a bit about it?
The Professional Reader Box is a subscription box that brings two autographed books to your door each month–one big name author and one up and coming author I’ve hand selected–along with other reader-related items.
It would be remiss of me not to ask a couple of writing related questions, while I have the ear of the Legendary author that is Brenda Novak! You have written over 50 books, and sold millions of copies worldwide, tell me, what was the biggest hurdle you faced to getting your first book published, and how did you overcome it?
Getting the time to research and write was probably my biggest hurdle. I never dreamed I’d be a writer, but when I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while I worked as a loan officer, I quit my job to stay home with them myself. I still needed to figure out a way to help provide for the family, however, so I was looking for something I could do at home. My sister had given me a good book–Jude Devereux’s KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR, and I loved it. I remember closing that book and thinking, “I wonder if I could do this!” I started right away, and spent the next five years researching the Victorian area (the time period of my first book, OF NOBLE BIRTH) and teaching myself the craft of writing. Meanwhile, I had two more children to give me a total of five, so you can see why getting the time to learn and create was a hurdle!
What is your writing process? Would you plan your book out before writing it, or is it more of a stream of consciousness style process?
I’m more of a “pantser,” which is the name bandied about among writers for someone who doesn’t plot. I start with the conflict of a story–something I think would be very interesting to explore–and then I decide what kind of characters would be most challenged by that conflict. The plot grows out of the characters.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
When I first started writing I had THE GREAT IDEA. It was based almost entirely on a title that popped into my head one day—OF NOBLE BIRTH. This title lent itself to a very specific theme: whether one is noble or not depends on the heart and not the pedigree. That was the message I wanted to deliver, and I knew the best backdrop for a story with such a message would be a historical setting where the caste system was firmly in place, so I decided that my book would be a historical romance set in Victorian times,
but I soon realize that was NOT the only idea I would ever need if I wanted to make my living as a published author. In order to build my career, I needed to write another story, and another, and another. In other words, I had to develop my imagination, turn it into a deep well of ideas from which I could draw time and again.
I didn’t know how I was going to do this but, fortunately, our brains are very adaptable. The more I demanded that my imagination deliver IDEA NUMBER 2, the harder it began to search. Before long, my mind turned into a “sifter.” It sifted through everything that came my way, every conversation I overheard, every funny anecdote I was told, every movie I saw, every newspaper article I read, every true crime show I puzzled over until I could pull an attitude from one character I’d come to know via a TV show, mix it with a situation my mother had mentioned the week before last, throw in some of my personal experience and…I was off and typing.
Have you ever suffered writer’s block? If so, how did you get beyond it? If not, what is the secret to writing over 60 successful books without suffering from it?
I don’t really believe in writer’s block. But there are days when I get stuck, when my story seems to be turning to drivel or I can’t get it to hold any emotional tension. That’s when I know something is wrong. I’ve taken the story where it wasn’t meant to go, for lack of a better way to describe it. Fortunately, there are ways to get myself “unstuck.” Experience has taught me to mentally step away from the manuscript and look at it from a macro perspective, always asking myself, “Where did you go wrong?”
I start from the beginning and check the story as a plumber might check a series of pipes for leaks. I feel my way along, testing the story to see if it’s still “holding water.” I read, consider, read, consider and read some more until I find the “break” or part that isn’t in harmony with my intuition. Sometimes I do this by reading the manuscript aloud to my husband and asking for his input. Then we both look at the reasons my story isn’t coming together. Maybe I’m forcing my characters to do something these types of characters would never do. Maybe I’m ascribing a certain trait or pathology to my villain that just isn’t ringing true. Maybe I’ve veered too far away from my “core story.” It’s a bit of a hassle to go back, and definitely risks some unraveling and rewriting, but if I take the time to do this I almost always find the point that’s troubling my subconscious and interrupting my ability to proceed. Then I can fix it.
What advice do you have for young, aspiring writers?
Over the years, I have often been asked what piece of advice I would offer someone who is just starting out in publishing. I have always said I can boil it down to just one word, and that hasn’t changed even after 50+ books and nearly two decades. Believe. It’s really that simple. If you truly believe in yourself and your talent, you will be motivated to actually sit down and write the book instead of only dreaming about it.
You will be driven to seek out any help you may need (research or craft-related) to make it the best you can create. You will follow through with marketing ideas until you sell it (or self-publish it), and you won’t give up if you don’t immediately reach your goals. Belief drives the entire engine—especially through the rough spots.
Ok, back to the Professional Readers Box…What Inspired you to create this service?
Once I started my online book group on Facebook, I wanted to “add value” to becoming a member, and I did that through developing various programs. We have a Book Buddy Program, a monthly reading challenge, a commemorative pin for anyone who has read more than fifty of my novels, etc. The book boxes are just one more fun thing we offer to make it even more enjoyable to belong.
How do you go about curating each box? Do you pick a theme and then choose your book, or is the box built around a selected title?
I choose the books first. I fill out the schedule a year in advance. Then we choose items that will either go with a generic reading theme (like March’s box, which is all about reading in the tub and includes a pretty robe), or we focus on one of the books (like we did when we created our Whiskey Creek box). Sometimes we even focus on the closest holiday, like we did for our October, November and December boxes.
If an author or a business would like to collaborate with you on a box, is that something you would be interested in? If so, how would they go about arranging that with you?
Sure! I’d entertain submissions/ideas. We are very picky about what goes in our boxes, so it would have to fit with the theme and be of a certain quality, but I’m always interested in taking a look at new ideas and collaborating with others. There’s a contact link on my website, so I’m easy to reach.
How do people subscribe to the Professional Readers Box?
There’s a store right on my website at http://www.brendanovak.com. People can save a few bucks by signing up for a yearly subscription, or we have monthly subscriptions available. We even sell individual boxes, although it’s best to get a subscription because we sell out well in advance, and a subscription is the only way to guarantee getting one.
Some invaluable writing advice from a true expert! But what of the box I hear you ask? Well, each box contains at least one book, often autographed, and a selection of bookish goodies chosen around that book. My box, being Feburary’s, was all about Romance. Along with two amazing books, All We Know by Jamie Black and The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak herself, I got some handmade chocolates from All things Chocolate in Georgia, powdered donuts (which as an Irish lass I have never actually tried this American treat, but I will definitely bee seeking them out again in the future), socks which say, ‘If you can read this, bring me chocolate’ (excellent advice), a beautiful wooden sign which reads, ‘It doesn’t matter what the question is, chocolate is the answer’, a date suggestion kit, and a make your own valentine’s card kit. All of these goodies came beautifully packaged in peach coloured tissue paper and frankly, it was an awesome Valentine’s day gift to receive through the mail. I couldn’t recommend the box enough, and the next one looks even better if that were at all possible. You can check out how to order your own here.
It gets better though, you could win your own Professional Readers Box! Just head to my Instagram to find out how to enter the giveaway!