I recently had the opportunity to interview Author Melanie Nowak. She is amazing and funny and is a great writer. She has a number of books out and has great advice to offer other authors.
Here is the interview:
Hi Kaylee – thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview. I am always happy to share my experiences and connect with other authors and readers!
First tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am a happily married wife and mom. My husband and I have been in love for 27+ years and are proud to have two wonderful teenage sons. Being nature-lovers through and through, we always dreamed of moving from Long Island NY into country woodlands, and we were lucky enough to be able to make that dream come true. We recently bought a home on a peaceful mountaintop surrounded by NY state forest – a perfect atmosphere for writing, among other things!
What is your favorite book?
I love fantasy, horror, and paranormal stories, and have many favorites! I think I would have to say that Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles hold the most special place in my heart, because the book Interview with the Vampire was the first story I ever read that was told from the perspective of the vampire. I read it as a young teenager, and the way that Anne captured emotions and described surroundings was mesmerizing to me. I really connected with her story and characters. I was lucky enough to meet with her since writing my own books, and tell her what a wonderful inspiration she has been to me. (Not going to lie – I may have cried a little, LOL)
How many books have you written and published so far?
At this point I have published 29 titles for my ALMOST HUMAN series. There are 6 full novels (2 trilogies), which are quite long and were later broken up to also be published as 21 novellas. The first trilogy of novels is available in an Omnibus Edition as well.
I have recently released another novella UNITING VAMPIRES – part 1 of my next upcoming novel, VAMPIRESS REIGNING. There will be two more novellas coming out this year. Then all three of those novellas will be combined for the release of the full novel, due in October.
ALMOST HUMAN ~ The First Series
Part 1: Captivating Vampires
Part 2: Tempting Transgressions
Part 3: Venomous Revelations
Part 1: Persistent Persuasion
Part 2: Telling Tales
Part 3: Battles and Bliss
Part 1: Ecstasy Unleashed
Part 2: Stakes and Sunshine
Part 3: Evolution of Love
ALMOST HUMAN ~ The Second Series
BORN TO BLOOD
Part 1: Vampiress Rising
Part 2: Exceeding Expectations
Part 3: Coping with Chaos
Part 4: Vampire Vertigo
DESCENDENT OF DARKNESS
Part 1: Determining Desires
Part 2: Undying Devotion
Part 3: Emotional Maelstrom
Part 4: Crossing the Line
DESTINED FOR DIVINITY
Part 1: Home of the Bloodthirsty
Part 2: Enemies and Allies
Part 3: Vicious Survival
Part 4: Divining Destiny
ALMOST HUMAN ~ The Third Series
Part 1: Uniting Vampires
Do you write digital books or print ones or both?
My full novels are all available in ebook and paperback format worldwide. The novellas are exclusive to Amazon’s KU program.
Do you have a publisher or are you a self-publisher? Why did you choose this method?
I began writing in 2003 and spent a few years trying to get published by traditional methods. I researched the whole process, got my copy of the “Writer’s Market” guide, and learned how to write query letters, a story synopsis, and put together proposal packets, trying my best. I got over 200 rejections without anyone ever reading my books. You know what they told me? “No one wants to read about vampires anymore – Anne Rice has done it to death!”. This was right before Twilight came out – shows what they knew!
I went back to school for my Masters Degree to be a school librarian, so I could share my love of books and research. A professor mentioned Amazon’s new e-book device, the Kindle, and I learned that Amazon was accepting previously unpublished e-books for the Kindle debut. I decided to publish my books on Kindle, so I could have closure to move on, feeling like I’d done something with them. Although the books were “done”, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking “but what happened after that?”. I had ideas to begin a second trilogy for the series.
The books went live on Kindle in July 2008. I directed family and friends not to review them, because I wanted to see how they were honestly received by the public. After 4 months (of nail biting and waiting for any sort of response) I received my first review from a stranger clear across the country, and it was a 5 star!!! After that, more good reviews started trickling in, and the books started cultivating a fan base.
I began getting e-mails from readers asking when the series would be out in print, because people wanted to buy them for friends without Kindles (ebooks weren’t a well known format back then). I contacted agents & publishers again. This time I had great, verifiable sales numbers to show them, but there was still a bad stigma attached to independent publishing, even though my books had never been in print. Publishers also didn’t like that my books were not purely ‘romance’, ‘fantasy’, or ‘horror’, but a blending of genres, making it hard to classify. They didn’t want to take a chance on a new unknown author, and some wanted me to make changes to the story I was unwilling to make.
I decided not to be discouraged. If I couldn’t find a publisher, I’d learn how to do it myself. I wasn’t concerned with being a ‘big name’ author, I just wanted Kindle readers to be able to have the print copies they wanted. I put my degrees to good use, learned every in and out of publishing I could get information on, and I founded WoodWitchDame publications. I handle every aspect of creating, publishing, marketing and distributing my books independently. It is not the right path for everyone, but for me, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made! The ALMOST HUMAN series is now celebrating the anniversary of being 10 years on Kindle and 8 years in print!
I’ve gotten some offers from traditional publishers now that the series is getting more popular, but I have not accepted any yet. I’m a bit of a control freak, and enjoy doing everything myself. Until I receive an offer that is considerably better for the series than what I can do for it myself, I’m happy to keep complete creative control.
Do you write under a pen name?
I write under my own real name. I don’t like the idea of pretending to be someone I’m not – I like to connect with readers on a personal level whenever possible. I have worked very hard and poured my heart and soul into these books. I am proud to have my name on them!
How do you market and promote your books?
I’ve only tried paid marketing techniques a few times, and not seen results worth the money. The best marketing of all is word of mouth! I’ve always included a page in my books asking readers to leave reviews online and tell their friends if they enjoy my work. I’ve always included my email address as well, encouraging them to contact me if they’d like. I try to be creative and find new ways to reach readers whenever I can, and I always encourage those who love my books to help me spread the word.
Before social media was even a thing, I was finding people interested in my genre and talking up my books on AOL chatboards, LOL. Eventually that gave way to MySpace, Amazon forums, Kindleboards, and now Facebook. I also like to attend conventions, and bookstore and library events whenever I can.
What inspires your writing?
My writing is very emotional and character driven. Each of my characters has been taken from the seed of something within myself. Vampires are a great outlet for feelings of loneliness, or being outcast, and exploring religion and spirituality. They are also a wonderful metaphor for addiction and abuse. I have been lucky enough in my life never to have been sexually abused or addicted to drugs – but everything that goes into making up the personalities for my characters, how they feel and react to things, has come from some little grain of dealing with something in my own life – magnified. At some point in my life I have totally identified with and “been” these people. Even if it didn’t outwardly show – this is how I felt and wanted to react. Giving voice to these personas is very cathartic!
As far as inspiration for the mechanics of my vampires are concerned, I’ve always been interested in bats. Vampire bats have a anticoagulant in their saliva called “draculin” (named after Count Dracula!) that keeps blood from clotting. I had the idea that such a thing would be useful for vampires as well – and what if they had something to keep the victim calm, like a drug?
I always wondered about a vampire’s ability to put victims in thrall. In old movies, vampires are always able to hypnotize people, and it’s never really explained. People are just ‘under their power’. I always wondered – how does it work? I put that question together with the anticoagulant/drug idea, and took it further. What if vampires could inject their victims with venom, like a snake? Only the venom would not be deadly poison, but a narcotic combination of drugs that kept blood from clotting, kept the victim calm and even willing, and also could mark territory for the vampire – leaving a psychic-aura mark that other vampires could see. The vampire could then use the existence of this ‘drug’ in their victim’s system, to put them in thrall as well.
The idea of venomous vampires seemed so logical to me, that I assumed for sure that someone else had done it already. I began searching my library for a book like that, so I could read it! This was in the early 90’s and there weren’t very many vampire books around at that time. I never found what I was looking for, and I filed the idea away. It never occurred to me to write it myself.
I’m a huge fan of the T.V. series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Joss Whedon is a genius! That said – in 2003, towards the end of the show, I started disliking some decisions the writers made. I understood their vision, but I also saw many missed opportunities. I would have done things differently.
That started me thinking of my own storylines and my own characters, incorporating my venomous vampire idea. None of this was written down, just daydreamed during housework. Then one day I realized that a lot of the ideas I had were really good, and it depressed me to think that it would all just be forgotten. So, I sat down one night at the computer to write out a few things so I wouldn’t forget and could look back at them one day. The scenes just came pouring out and before I knew it, I’d been up writing almost the whole night! That’s when I realized that I had a real story to tell, and wanted to write it all out from beginning to end. That is how my ALMOST HUMAN vampires were born.
What would you say is the biggest mistake you have made as a writer?
I think my biggest mistake, especially in the beginning, was being too sensitive to criticism. Let’s face it, bad reviews suck, and I’ve had my share. Difficult as it is, if you are going to bare your soul to the world, you have to learn to have a thick skin and be able to accept criticism as gracefully and logically as possible. Sometimes, harsh criticism is simply a matter of opinion and you have to know that not everyone likes every book. Sometimes a bad review is just someone with hatred to spew for reasons we can’t know… However, it is also important to be able to re-read a bad review (once you are done crying and cursing) with a true desire to learn from it. Sometimes a reviewer brings up a good point that should be taken under advisement for future writing, or even corrected if possible. My story is my own vision, and I won’t change that to try and fit what I think readers want – that will accomplish nothing but losing my voice as an author, but I am always willing to try and understand a reader’s point of view. I am lucky enough to have good reviews that vastly outnumber the bad, but I am constantly learning and honing my craft as a writer. No one should feel they are above some constructive criticism.
What is your biggest success so far?
That greatly depends on how you define success… I’ve sold over 30,000 books, but I’ve never made a best-seller list. (That’s okay – I’ve never chased one.) My ‘pages read’ in Amazon’s KU program are consistently high, but I’ve never won their monthly award from the pot. (That’s okay – I’m glad people are reading my work!) I’ve been the smallest name at a convention, but I’ve still earned my place there alongside some very popular authors. I’ve spotted my books “in the wild”, as a stranger read them in an airport or by the pool at a hotel – that is a really cool feeling!
Personally, I feel my greatest success has been hearing from readers who write to tell me that I’ve helped them in their real lives. I’ve received emails about how my characters have helped guide readers through difficult times. I received an email from a woman dealing with her husband’s military deployment, telling me that my books were the only thing keeping her sane because she was so very engrossed in my world and could forget to worry for a while. (That email inspired me to join Operation ebook Drop, which is sadly no longer operational, but was a platform to send ebooks free to soldiers overseas to read during their down time – I gained many grateful readers that way and was happy to hear their stories as well.) Another woman wrote to tell me that she read my books every night while visiting her baby in the neonatal unit at the hospital, and my character Cain’s faith in God helped her to remember her own. I’ve connected with many readers who just want to let me know that my stories make them forget their troubles and that my characters are like real friends to them when they feel alone.
I began reading as a child to escape bullying and to have friends in my books when I felt like I had none in life. To know that my books can touch other people and make them feel better, the way books have for me in my own life – that is my greatest success of all.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Decide why you are writing. Is your ultimate goal to be on a bookstore shelf, or to tell an amazing story? If you just want to write but aren’t as emotionally connected to it, that is an entirely different path from someone who wants to truly express & share feelings and ideas; the difference between writing articles or informative observation pieces, and writing a novel. If you are passionate about your writing and want to share your story with readers, here’s my advice:
1st – If you have a story inside of you yearning to be told, then be unafraid to really give in to it and write your true thoughts and feelings. You cannot write while worrying about who might read it or what they will think. First, be true to that inner voice and write the story that you want to write.
2nd – Edit – a lot. You’ve poured your heart out onto the page, now you need to look at it with a critical eye for grammar, story structure, and continuity. Understand the story structure of different genres and where your story will fit. It’s alright to blend genres, but labels such as YA and Adult fiction need to be discerned more carefully. Sex and language are not the only determining factors between YA and Adult. Also consider the complexity of plot, reading level of the vocabulary used and the intellectual focus of the story as it relates to age. Do not write “down” to your readers – it is important to be sure they can follow the plot and understand the story, but don’t be afraid to write something that will make people stop and think. Proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation is so important that I have to say it again. If you’re unsure about something – look it up! EDIT!
3rd – If you want to share your story, you will find a way. Independent publishing isn’t for everyone – neither is Traditional publishing. You have to figure out what is right for you. Large publishing companies will be hard to reach without connections. It’s not impossible (but close). Be aware – larger publishers often want you to edit your work to fit their image. Getting traditionally published is HARD. Even if you have the best book ever, getting the right people to read it will be even harder than writing it – you have been warned. I was rejected over 200 times without anyone even being willing to read my manuscript! There are many small presses that are more open to accepting new work without many changes, you just have to find the right one for you. I did some research and found that the small presses that were open to publishing my work, did not feel like a good fit for me, so I opted for Independent Publishing. Whatever publishing path you feel is right for you, do not give up!
Independent publishing is also a good option to keep your story true to your own vision – but be prepared to put in the effort. If you do not work hard to help your target audience find your book, and if your book is not of professional quality when it is read, your sales and reputation as an author will suffer. Make sure your book is the best it can be, and then find a way to help others find it!
4th – Believe in yourself and be strong. Publishing Independently can be frustrating and difficult at times. You need to have patience, a very thick skin and an incorrigible spirit. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to gain an audience who appreciates your work. Your audience deserves a professional quality book, and when you are working independently it is often more difficult to see your work with a discerning and unbiased eye. Almost all books get a negative review at some time or another. It is important to truly analyze the review to see if there is criticism in there that can help you improve. Decide whether your story came across as you intended. If it seems that it did, and the reader just didn’t enjoy or agree with it, then that is their prerogative. If the reader seemed to miss your intent, then perhaps it wasn’t clearly expressed in the writing and you should consider toning it a bit.
5th – Decide how you will define your success. If to you, success = money, quit now, LOL. To me success is the feeling of accomplishment and the swell of excitement I feel when someone tells me my book really resonated with them. In my experience, take care of the emotional success and the physical success will follow. I concerned myself with telling a good story, putting in tons of work to research certain elements, refine and edit it to the best of my ability, and learned what was needed to publish and promote it. I make myself accessible to readers and view it all as a labor of love. Through that sincere effort, I have earned more loyal readers to my series than I’d ever expected. Now writing is my full time job and I can actually pay my bills with it!
What is one thing you want your readers to know about?
To my current readers: I feel so blessed that you have found my books and felt the story and characters connected with you in some way! I am truly thankful to each and every one of you for taking a chance to try the work of an author you did not know, and I am so happy to have you taking this journey with me!
To all of the prospective new readers out there…I write my story because I have such love for it, but it’s hard for me to describe to others. If you want a story that may start out seeming familiar but then takes you down a rabbit hole of imagination to be different from all the other vampire books out there, with characters who resonate with emotion and a story that keeps you thinking, even after you’ve read the last page, then you may enjoy my ALMOST HUMAN series. I hope you’ll check it out!
What is the best way for readers to find you?
I love to connect with readers on social media – please like my page and feel free to send me a friend request!
Personal Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/melanie.nowak.127
Professional Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Melanie-Nowak-Author-of-the-Venomous-Vampire-series-Almost-Human-222988781051662/
Readers can find my books in many ways. The ALMOST HUMAN series is available in paperback in bookstores worldwide – if it’s not on the shelf, ask for it!
Many online retailers list my books as well. You can visit my Amazon Author Page at: https://www.amazon.com/Melanie%20Nowak/e/B002BRGYWS/ref=la_B002BRGYWS_st?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_82%3AB002BRGYWS&qid=1519527951&sort=review-count-rank
You can learn more about the series and read free sample chapters on my website at: www.MelanieNowak.com
Thank you, Kaylee, for allowing me to chat and share my experiences. Best of luck and happy reading!
Thank you Melanie for your interview and advice.