Being a great writer isn’t enough: You can write the next Great American Novel, but whether you’re traditionally or independently published, you’re going to have to learn about publishing and promoting books. If you’re an independent publisher, you’ll assume complete control and responsibility. You’ll have to hire editors, cover designers, and internal layout designers; learn how to purchase ISBN numbers, form an imprint, improve metadata, write back jacket copy, and determine pricing; and decide the best method of distributing your paperback and ebook. Both traditional and independent authors must promote their books and create websites, but indie authors bear total responsibility for marketing and advertising.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nina Navisky.
Nina Navisky writes novels that will spark conversation at your next book club meeting. Drawn to real-world issues because of her son’s multiple disabilities, her family dramas are rich with emotion and sprinkled with humor. Prior to writing, she received degrees in psychology and speech-language pathology, which explains why she enjoys complicating her characters’ lives with ulterior motives and communication breakdowns. For a book club guide for The Fortune Cookie Writer, visit www.ninanavisky.com.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Being a writer was not my first career path. I worked as a speech-language pathologist before I had my first child, and when he was young he was diagnosed with multiple disabilities: severe autism and intellectual disability, multiple GI disorders, life-threatening food allergies, as well as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. He was self-injurious and violent. It became clear I’d have to devote my time to advocating for him if he was to get the help he needed. When he was eleven, he began attending a residential school for children with disabilities and severely challenging behaviors. Although this school would turn out to be the greatest blessing our family could have received, there was no way of knowing that at the time. Sending him was a gut-wrenching decision. How could my husband and I let our son, with his limited communication skills, be cared for by strangers? What if they mistreated him? He wouldn’t be able to tell us.
I found myself wanting to write about severe autism, but I didn’t want to write a memoir. I’m a private person, and there are many well-written disability memoirs told from a mother’s perspective. So I fictionalized my son, and wrote about him from the viewpoint of a grandfather. I gave my protagonist his own worries, ones which made him fear he would lose his daughter and grandson. This was my debut novel. But not long after publication, I felt the itch to write again. I missed creating characters, heaping problems upon them, and helping them gain new insights. So I began to write my second book, The Fortune Cookie Writer.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
It’s always interesting when I join a book group and a reader interprets a section of my book in a different way than I intended. Whenever someone is reading my work and thinking about how a character is acting or reacting, I consider it a great compliment.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
Unless you come to the writing world as a celebrity, or as an expert with an enormous platform, toughen your skin: you will hear the word “no” many times. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times; Still Alice, 100 times; The Help, 60 times. Many quality books never get traditional publishing contracts, and some books of dubious merit do. But it’s important to remember that authors have more avenues to publication now, either via hybrid or independent publishing. For some authors, independent publishing is their first choice, because of the control it affords them and the speed with which they can get their work to the public.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I can’t say they’ve been funny. The funniest situations have arisen from doing research for my books. For my current book, I needed to know what a particular mountain in Greece looked like, so I looked through photos people had posted on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor doesn’t understand research; it hounded me to book my vacation for a long time. For my first novel, I needed to describe the sound of a warbler, so I listened to bird calls online. My husband came home and was sure a bird had flown into our house.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The Fortune Cookie Writer has just launched. It features Marissa, a dog walker and freelance fortune cookie writer. She’s been blindsided by divorce, and is determined to support her young son, Owen, who is musically gifted and burdened with a secret. The story begins when a stranger offers her a week’s pay to cook dinners for her downstairs neighbor, Rose, an elderly widow who tends to lapse into Yiddish and has no interest in unexpected visits.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
Without giving away plot points, I can tell you that Marissa discovers clues about Rose’s unspoken history: a decades-old piano, a locked case with an unbreakable code, and three hidden photos with an inscription. As Owen’s future darkens, Rose’s past is revealed — and Marissa must decide how to create good fortune for the three of them.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
Autism isn’t discussed in The Fortune Cookie Writer, but different types of disabilities are. I believe that no matter what type, people need support. It doesn’t have to be your family — the source might be unexpected — but knowing someone understands can make a critical difference.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Patience: You won’t publish your first draft, or your second or your third (at least, you shouldn’t). My second editor asked me, “Which draft is this?” and I answered, “My gazillionth.”
- Allow yourself to be awful: You will be a terrible writer some days. Everything you write will be a cliché, or, worse, you’ll be mocked by a blank screen. STOP WRITING. If you must do something writing-related, research agents to query (if you’re hoping for a traditional contract), or cover designers or editors to work with (if you’re planning to publish independently). Even better: go for a run, spend time with your family, or call a friend.
- Determine whose advice is worth taking: There’s no shortage of opinions in the writing world. Beta readers, critique partners, friends and family, agents, editors — they will all give you advice. It can be overwhelming. But remember: you can’t please everyone. What one will love, another will hate. In the end, the book will bear your name. So accept input from those who have expertise and your best interest in mind, but don’t prioritize everyone else’s opinions above your own.
- Establish a good working relationship with your editor(s): No one can edit their own work. The legal adage, “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client” can be repurposed to apply to the writing world as well. You’ll become blind to your own work after seeing it too many times, and will need fresh eyes to spot mistakes. Publishing houses know this and ensure their authors work with experienced editors. If you’re independently publishing, do not skip this step.
- Being a great writer isn’t enough: You can write the next Great American Novel, but whether you’re traditionally or independently published, you’re going to have to learn about publishing and promoting books. If you’re an independent publisher, you’ll assume complete control and responsibility. You’ll have to hire editors, cover designers, and internal layout designers; learn how to purchase ISBN numbers, form an imprint, improve metadata, write back jacket copy, and determine pricing; and decide the best method of distributing your paperback and ebook. Both traditional and independent authors must promote their books and create websites, but indie authors bear total responsibility for marketing and advertising.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study). Can you share a story or example?
It’s hard to pick one. Discipline is essential. Plenty of people talk about wanting to write a book, but very few do it. Why? Because it’s really hard. It can be frustrating, because good writing is often invisible to the reader. To quote Wallace Stegner, “Hard writing makes easy reading.” Perseverance is necessary when you’re in a creative rut, or when you’re trying to get your book published. But it all begins with craft study, because none of this matters if you don’t understand how a novel should be constructed.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
For fiction, the draw for me is the protagonist. I don’t care about breathtaking descriptions of setting, and the main character doesn’t have to be hanging off a mountain by page three. I don’t have to always like or believe the main character, but I have to care about what happens to her, or I’ll put the book down. Many people read to escape, but I read to get a window into other people’s lives. As for nonfiction, I read a variety of topics — I can’t list just one.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’m part of a movement that is bringing good to those with no voices. While it’s progress to see more individuals on the mild end of the autism spectrum portrayed on TV shows, this is not an accurate portrayal of the entire spectrum. Forty percent of those with autism are nonverbal; thirty percent have an intellectual disability; thirty percent of autistic children are self-injurious. Sleep problems, anxiety, epilepsy, and GI disorders are common comorbidities. On the severe end of the spectrum, families worry about keeping their loved ones safe if self-injury becomes severe, if aggression toward others escalates, or if bolting into traffic occurs when out in the community. This isn’t as fun to watch as a surgeon who’s a savant, so no TV show is made about it, but it’s a reality for my family, and many others like mine.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can sign up to be an early reader of my next novel or to get exclusive content at www.ninanavisky.com
You can find The Fortune Cookie Writer in ebook or paperback at:
You can also follow me on Twitter @ninanavisky
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!