Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers—how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.
Today, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to interview a gifted writer who works outside my usual genre comfort zone, Nicole Winters.
As she notes on her website, Nicole’s own journey as a creator took her from being a reluctant reader herself, to being a published YA author writing for reluctant readers who “don’t love reading… yet”. Her first novel, TT: Full Throttle, was published by Lorimer in September, 2013. It’s the pulse-pounding story of a young man driven to fulfill his late father’s dream of riding in the most challenging motorcycle race in the world.
Her latest novel, The Jock and the Fat Chick, represents a first foray into YA romance.
No one ever said high school was easy. In this hilarious and heartwarming debut, one high school senior has to ask himself how much he’s willing to give up in order to fit in.
Kevin seems to have it all: he’s popular, good looking, and on his way to scoring a college hockey scholarship. However, he’s keeping two big secrets. The first is that he failed an assignment and is now forced to take the most embarrassing course ever–domestic tech. The second is that he is falling for his domestic tech classmate, Claire.
As far as Kevin is concerned, Claire does have it all: she’s funny, smart, beautiful, and confident. But she’s off-limits. Because Kevin knows what happens when someone in his group dares to date a girl who isn’t a cheerleader, and there’s no way he is going to put himself—or Claire—through that.
But steering clear of the girl of his dreams is a lot harder than Kevin thought…especially when a cooking project they are paired together for provides the perfect opportunity for things to heat up between them outside the classroom….
(I know people don’t always trust marketing copy, but I’ve read this story, and it really is both heartwarming and hilarious. I love it.)
The Jock and the Fat Chick is available right now in ebook from Epic Reads Impulse (an imprint of Harper Collins). You can get it directly from the publisher or from your preferred ebook vendor.
[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Nicole! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[NW] Thanks for having me as a guest, Stephen. I think I finally felt like I’d broken in as a writer when I signed my first contract for TT Full Throttle. But even then it still felt surreal, so I went online and bought a ball cap that said “Writer” on it and wore it around the house, mainly giggling.
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
My path to breaking in consisted of two business strategies: polish the product and polish the sales pitch.
When it came to outlining, editing and finalizing the story, education and persistence was key. I would use every waking moment around my day job as an opportunity to work on my writing. I’d carry roughly 20 pages of the novel with me all the time and looked for chances to edit (commuting to work on the streetcar, lunch hour, in line at the bank and so on). Then at night, I’d type the changes into the computer and it was basically rinse and repeat. When I needed a break, I’d read books on the craft, talk shop with fellow writers, watch films, attend professional organization meetings (like CANSCAIP and the Romance Writers of America’s Toronto Chapter), and attend workshops and retreats (like WildAcres).
Once I had the story polished, I signed up on QueryTracker and took my time researching agents, trying to find the best fit for my work. Meanwhile, I endured the arduous task of writing the query letter. Ugh, it’s the part of being a writer I hate the most. I’d read blogs like QueryShark and study good and bad examples. I’d write a draft query and story summary, then leave it for a few days and come back to it fresh, then tweak it and leave it, and repeat. After that I’d send it to my writer’s group for feedback and more tweaking. I don’t enjoy this part of the process at all, but it’s incredibly crucial and important that it’s not rushed and that it’s done right. It’s like watching Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank where the entrepreneur has a great idea/product, but is bombing in front of the investors because the pitch lacks preparation, or doesn’t match up with the product, or they simply didn’t know how to sell it. I’ve learned a lot from watching those shows.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
Stephen, if I could throw money at the query letter and one-page summary I would… I’d hire me a really good sales person, like a character from Glengarry Glen Ross, (then remove all the offensive language and swears). Seriously, I think helping my friends with their queries and summaries also helps me too. It’s so much easier to write a good sales pitch when it’s someone else’s story.
Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?
When it comes to the business side, where decisions are mainly in other people’s hands (agent, publisher, editor, etc.), I wasn’t at all prepared to feel so many highs and lows. With a regular job you pretty much know what to expect: punch in, do job, punch out, get paid. With writing, I’d hear nothing for weeks on a story submission, then I’d get a bite, then more waiting, then a contract (or rejection), etc. It’s like being on a roller coaster. I’m either sitting, waiting for the ride to begin, or it’s stalled half way up the first hill (and I have to climb off), or I’m suddenly flying down the other side.
How are you dealing with it?
At first I tried to ignore the small victories and told myself only to celebrate the big ones, like a contract, but it didn’t work. Celebrating the small victories is what motivates me to persevere. It’s letting my imagination get carried away with future possibilities and setting myself up for disappointment because it never happens like I imagine it would in my mind. I’ve learned to celebrate in the moment for what it is and nothing more, no matter how tempting it may be to daydream.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two different goals, one short term and one long term. The first is my next YA book, The Conjurer, and the second is branching out as a middle-grade author, but under a different name. In some ways, it’s like I’m breaking in all over again.
What led you to consider a pseudonym for your middle-grade writing?
Shelving my middle-grade novels next to my YA novels with a more mature content is not a great idea. By choosing to write under N C Winters for my middle-grade books it makes it easier for publishers, booksellers and branding. Of course once that happens, I’ll continue to have all my books on my website, just under separate webpages.
Speaking of your website, how can people keep up with you online?
Facebook: Nicole Winters YA Author
Facebook: The Jock and the Fat Chick
Thank you to Nicole for an interview that was both heartfelt and full of practical advice! The Jock and the Fat Chick is being released the same day this post drops (October 13, 2015) and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Coming up next on the blog: We just keep breaking in! Next up is an interview with author SL Huang.