I begged her to give it a try and finally, she did. She read it in one night and sold it a month later. Perseverance pays off. Don’t give up and just keep writing.
Aspart of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kaira Rouda.
Kaira is a USA Todaybestselling and award-winning author and is known for her small press novels Here, Home, Hope, and The Goodbye Year. Kaira has written for national and regional magazines; had her own society column in Columbus, Ohio, for more than a decade; built a national real estate franchise; and published a business book for women entrepreneurs with Wiley. Her forthcoming book out May 2019 is The Favorite Daughter. She lives with her family in Laguna Beach, California. For more, visit KairaRouda.com.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Like many people, for as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. When I was in third grade we had to write a letter to the person who you wanted to be when you grew up. I wrote a letter to Robert McCloskey, my favorite author, of my favorite books Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal. Mr. McCloskey wrote me back noting he was an illustrator, not an author, but “good luck with that.” Very inspiring, right? The fun thing is I still have his letter in a scrapbook, and despite his less than stellar encouragement, I knew what I wanted to become. But it took me a while. After a career in marketing, four kids, and a nonfiction book for women entrepreneurs, I finally did what I encouraged entrepreneurial women across the country to do for themselves: put your passion into action. It’s never too late to live the life of your dreams. I published my first novel, HERE, HOME, HOPE, in my mid-forties. That’s a long time from third grade: but boy, does it feel good.
What was (so far) the most exhilarating or fulfilling experience you’ve had as an author?
The most exhilerating experience was the phone call from my editor telling me that BEST DAY EVER had been selected to lead a new imprint. This was my first traditional publishing deal and I had no idea, really, what that meant. I found out. They published my book in hardcover, featured it on a two story banner at the Javitt’s Center in NYC for Book Expo, sent me to the American Library Association meeting in Chicago, and well, just amazed me every step of the way. Every step of the way with BEST DAY EVER has been a dream. It was even on the “octagon” at the front of all Barnes & Noble stores nationwide. Pinch me.
What was the craziest, weirdest, wildest experience you’ve had as a bestselling author?
Events are tricky. Book events are even trickier. It’s tough to compete for reader’s attention when there are so many things happening every day, every night that compete with book events. Even though I realize that, my most poorly attended bookstore event happened at a store in Louisville, Kentucky. One man showed up, sat in the front row with a Vietnam Veteran baseball cap, arms crossed in front of him. I gave a shortened version of my typical talk — this was for Here, Home, Hopeand part of a 22-city tour — and thanked him for his service and for attending. He peered out from under his cap and said, “Sign your book.” I explained the store would like him to purchase it first and he scoffed. So I signed my name.
He grabbed the book and checked the signature. “I can read it. I’ll buy it. I don’t buy books from authors who scribble.”
And then he was gone.
What is the greatest part about being a successful, bestselling author?
The greatest part of being an author is seeing someone reading your book, or even better, buying your book at a bookstore or airport. Seeing your work out in the world, and hopefully, bringing the reader entertainment for a few hours, well, that’s the best. I remember standing in the domestic suspense section when a mom and her 20-something daughter slowed down. The daughter pulled Best Day Everand the mom told her she’d heard good things about it. I couldn’t help but blurt, I’m the author! It was surreal.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?
I tell this often to aspiring authors: don’t give up and just keep writing. My story is one of perserverance, hard work, and not losing sight of my dreams. I know that it’s hard to with rejections piling up, and I’ve been there. Likely will be again. But if I had stopped trying, stopped writing, I wouldn’t be here now.
BEST DAY EVER, my most successful novel to date, was a fluke. My agent had suggested I write a sweet women’s fiction series and I’d turned in the first book of the series to her. While I was waiting for her feedback, BEST DAY EVER popped into my head and I just had to write the story. And I did. By the time my agent had edits for the women’s fiction book, I had a full manuscript to send her.
But she didn’t want to read it! She told me she didn’t like domestic suspense, or first-person male narrators. I begged her to give it a try and finally, she did. She read it in one night and sold it a month later. Perseverance pays off. Don’t give up and just keep writing.
Which writer or leader has had the biggest impact on you as a writer?
Right now my answer would be Nancy Pelosi, serving as speaker of the house for the second time. She is the most accomplished female leader in the history of our country and in this, the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, it’s a poignant moment. (I should note, my husband just was elected to congress, so we’ve been engrossed in our nation’s politics.) Seeing her in action this week has been an honor. As for writers, I have to default to my southern literature roots — I’m a Vanderbilt University grad — and say Shirley Jackson and Eudora Welty. The Lottery is haunting, poignant, and important.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author?
Rejections galore. From literary agents, to editors, you name it, I’ve been rejected by them. But the fact is, you learn more from failure than success, as long as you don’t give up. And then, once you are published — whether you choose self-publishing or traditional — your book comes to the market. And so do negative reviews. Guaranteed. So I guess the hurdles are constant, you’re not going to please everyone, and you are assured at least one, one-star review. Consider them a badge of honor, a sign you’ve made it, and carry on.
What are the 5 things you would tell your younger self who was just starting out on their writing journey?
1. Don’t worry. I’ll admit, I’m a worrier. So when it comes to my book babies, there is no end to things to fret about. At some point though, the book is in the world and it’s up to readers. But, do pay attention to the details, no matter the publishing path you choose. You are your book’s best advocate. The cover of The Favorite Daughter you’ll see when it releases in May is vastly different than the original cover. I love my publishing team for being flexible, going back to the drawing board, and making the book shine. I’m so excited for it to be out in May. I’d tell my younger self: Your dream came true.
2. It’s your story. Only you can tell it. Sometimes, as an author, you can get too many cooks in the kitchen. And that can be stifling. And creativity sapping. Find a developmental editor you trust. Hire a publicist you trust if you can. Put your best foot forward, but trust your gut. I told you above about Best Day Ever. I knew it was good, a trusted reader told me she loved it. So I pushed for it and it sold. My younger self wasn’t as sure of her story, it was just forming. We’ve got this I’d tell her.
3. Keep writing. Don’t let anybody or anything give you an excuse to stop. It doesn’t have to be everyday, or on a regular schedule, just write. During my husband’s congressional campaign, life got crazy. I wrote during the primary but it was all-hands on deck a few weeks before the election. Same thing leading up to the general, and now, life has been even crazier. But finding a couple of hours is doable, it is. Even with four kids, even with a full-time career, even during a political campaign. This is your life’s passion, I’d tell my younger self. Keep at it.
4. Keep dreaming. At every age, have a dream that fuels you. I still have many things to accomplish, I hope, in life. To my younger self I’d remind her that life is a journey, enjoy each moment. Take a deep breath and smile. You’re going to be OK.
5. Don’t be competitive with other writers. Be supportive. This is a unique business, a unique profession. It’s tough, filled with ups and downs. But remember, you, as an author, are a brand. Your brand outlasts any one novel. So be kind. Don’t take negative reviews to heart. Feel sorry for the one-star people. And build a community with fellow writers online and in person. I have. And this would not be half as rewarding without them.
What are you most excited to work on next? Most excited to read next?
I’m writing my next book and for me, this is the fun stage. I’m a “pantser” meaning I don’t outline, I just sit in front of the computer and my characters speak to me. It’s messy, fun, surprising and just the beginning of what will become a long process of drafts and revisions and the like. But now, in its possibility state, this is my best book yet.
I’m an avid reader, but when I’m writing, I don’t like to get other people’s characters into my head so my TBR pile is growing rapidly beside my bed.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I wouldn’t consider myself a person of great influence but equal pay and equal rights for women is my passion. Women are 51 percent of the population in the US, and yet inequities abound. Among other charities, I am a volunteer with the Tahirih Justice Center, helping women and girls flee viiolence, and on the Southern California Committee of the Human Rights Watch, shining a light on human rights violations around the world. We need to be a kinder, gentler planet, build community and find common ground. Women are natural community builders.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I have a free download for Authors interested in branding. It’s called Real You for Authors and it’s available on my website. It’s based on my 25 plus years in marketing — and I hope it helps!
Thank you so much for these great insights!