Elisabeth Naughton: Romancing the Pages

Bestselling Author Elisabeth Naughton writes full time from her home in western Oregon where she lives with her husband and three children.

Her books have appeared on every major bestsellers list, including The New York Times, USA Today’s, the Wall Street Journal, Digital Book World and IndieReader, and have been nominated for numerous awards such as the prestigious RITA® awards by Romance Writers of America, the Australian Romance Reader Awards, The Golden Leaf and the Golden Heart.

Elisabeth’s next release is BOUND; the sixth book in her bestselling Eternal Guardians series, which will be available at all major retailers on March 26, 2013.

IndieReader talks rejection, the importance of family, and what genre she’d be writing if she wasn’t romancing the pages.

Loren Kleinman: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Elisabeth Naughton: I’m what most in the book-publishing world would consider a “late bloomer.” The majority of my author friends knew they wanted to write from a young age, but not me. I was a voracious reader as a kid, but I didn’t even think about writing a book until I was in my thirties. Once I started, I quickly realized writing is not an easy job. It took me a while to get my feet under me, but after I finished that first book (which was so awful it will never see the light of day), I knew being an author was what I wanted to do with my life. So I studied, I took classes, I attended workshops, I joined online writers’ groups, and I kept working at craft and learning the business so I could make my dream of being an author a reality.

LK: Talk about your writing process. How do you define craft?

EN: Characters come to me long before story. I believe readers read for the emotional connection they feel toward characters, and if authors don’t give them compelling characters to root for, they’ll lose interest in a book. The most intricate and exciting plots fall flat without characters readers can relate to.

Once I have the basic characters formed, I then move to plot/story development. Sometimes this can be a struggle, but nine times out of ten, once I understand a character, the story evolves easily. Of course, there are always potholes in the road to writing a book, but I’ve discovered that whenever I get blocked and can’t move forward, it’s usually because I tried to force a plot point instead of letting the story grow organically out of the characters.

LK: If you could travel back in time and meet with one writer, whom would you meet with and what would you ask them?

EN: J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m in awe of his world building. I would love to just sit and listen to him talk about Middle Earth.

LK: Rejection is part of writing and publishing. Do you feel the primary reason why a manuscript is rejected is a result of quality? How do you deal with rejection, and what advice would you give writers dealing with rejection?

EN: Personally, I know a lot of phenomenal authors who were never able to sell to a NY publisher not because they didn’t write amazing stories but because NY was looking for a different type of book. There is truth in the statement that a lot of luck goes into selling a book to a traditional publisher. It’s not JUST about compelling characters and awesome plots and dazzling writing. It’s about what a certain editor is looking for on a certain day.

My New York Times bestselling novel, WAIT FOR ME, was rejected by several agents (I never shopped it to a traditional publisher) because, as they put it, it straddled genres and was too “category”. I was told no one would want to read about a woman with amnesia. Readers have disagreed. WAIT FOR ME has hit every bestsellers list and continues to sell very well. Thankfully, with the changes that have happened in the publishing world (and specifically the ability for authors to self publish), readers can decide what they want to read instead of publishers dictating what they “think” readers are looking for.

My advice to anyone who wants to be published is this: don’t give up. Work hard, learn the craft, write an amazing story, and believe in your work. If you want it, make it happen.

LK: Commas. Better to do without them then use them incorrectly. Agree or disagree? Why should writers be concerned with grammar?

EN: I have a pretty strong handle on grammar (I used to be a teacher and hold a Masters degree), but I break rules. The key is knowing when you’re breaking them and why. Because I write genre fiction, I write the way people talk. (Actually, I write the way *I* talk. People say reading my books is like talking to me, which—to me—is a huge compliment.) I’m way more concerned with the way a book “sounds” when read than on whether every comma is in the correct place.

That said…a great copy editor is worth his/her weight in gold. I would rather spend my time writing the stories readers are anxiously awaiting than worrying about commas. At the end of the day, I do the best I can (and even after all this time I still get some of those commas wrong) then turn the book over to a fantastic copy editor who puts those commas where they’re supposed to go.

LK: How important is familial support in regard to pursuing a career in writing?

EN: My family is everything. They are my biggest fans. Hands down, without their support I would not be where I am today. My husband was supportive of my dream of writing for five years before I sold. As he says, he always knew I’d hit it big. If he hadn’t been cheering me on, it would have been very easy to quit when all those rejection letters were pouring in.

LK: Complete the sentence: If I wasn’t writing I’d be…”

EN:…nuts!” I honestly can’t imagine doing anything other than writing. When I was teaching, I would drive to work and make up stories in my head based on songs I’d hear on the radio. Before I was an author, I thought everyone did this. It was only after I started writing that I realized this is a unique phenomenon. Characters are always spinning in my mind. If I couldn’t get them out through writing, I think I might go a little insane.

LK: What’s your feeling about paying for writing contests? Worth it or a waste?

EN: I think it depends on the contest. There are some contests that are worth the recognition, and having been president of a local chapter for Romance Writers of America, I know there are basic costs involved in running contests. However, those entry fees shouldn’t be costly in the digital age. Contests that charge $60 or more aren’t worth it in my opinion.

LK: What are your three favorite go-to writers when you need inspiration? Why? What do they do for you?

EN: In romance, I love Judith McNaught’s older books. She’s a master at emotional conflict. I mentioned Tolkien before. His world building always inspires me. Since I write a fantasy series (the Eternal Guardians series), I do a fair amount of world building. I know how hard it is and I’m just in awe of what Tolkien created. And lastly…though I can’t write humor to save my life, I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books. She makes writing look effortless, and when I need a pick-me up, I can know I can grab one of her books and be reenergized. A lot of times, reading outside my genre helps give me the boost I need to get back to work.

LK: If you could write any other genre, what would it be and why?

EN: I would love to write YA. I have a paranormal YA idea I’m toying with, but I haven’t found the guts to write it yet. I taught middle school for nine years, so you’d think it would come easily, but it doesn’t. I think I spent too long trapped in the teenage angst world. My brain is rebelling.

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