Tawni O’Dell is the New York Times bestselling author of five novels including Back Roads, which was an Oprah’s Book Club pick and a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection. Back Roads is currently in development to be made into a film by Michael Ohoven, the producer of the Academy-Award-winning, Capote. She is also a contributor to several anthologies including Becoming Myself: Reflections on Growing Up Female. Her works have been published in over 40 countries.For this segment of our Author Interview Series, we asked Tawni what inspired her writing, how she found an agent, as well as a host of other questions. Here's what she said:
WHAT INSPIRES AND INFLUENCES YOUR WRITING THE MOST?
I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid. That’s a lot of years. Throughout it all what’s inspired and compelled me to want to write is my own love of literature. Whenever I read a great book, I’m inspired anew to want to tell my own stories through the written word.
DO YOU HAVE AN AGENT? IF SO, HOW DID YOU FIND HIM/HER?
I’ve been with my current agent for fifteen years who was introduced to me by my previous agent when she left the business. I found my first agent after writing my first novel when I was twenty-two through querying dozens of agents using literary agent reference guides (this was back before the internet existed.)
WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THE PUBLISHING PROCESS?
How difficult it is to make a living as a novelist. Even if your novels are published by major houses, even if you have a bestseller under your belt, even if you get fantastic reviews and have devoted readers, there’s no guarantee from book to book how you’re going to fare financially. It’s a tough road. As my agent puts it, with each new novel, you’re starting a new business from scratch. If you want to be a novelist, your main motivation needs to be your passion for writing.
DO YOU MARKET YOURSELF? WHAT (SPECIFICALLY) DO YOU DO TO BUILD/MAINTAIN YOUR READERSHIP?
Marketing myself is the worst part of being an author. I’m not a very confident person and I’m not very outgoing. (I think this is true of many novelists. Our vocation is a solitary one and you have to have the kind of personality that makes it possible to spend a lot of time alone and inside your own head.) I’ve always found it next to impossible to say to people through any medium, “Hey, I’m a writer. A really good one! Read my books!” I do have a Facebook fan page and a website which are necessary marketing tools nowadays. I also do a fair amount of speaking events at schools, universities, libraries, literary festivals and for various women’s groups which I enjoy doing.
BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THE INDUSTRY, WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER WRITERS?
Along with talent, perseverance is the most important quality a writer needs. Don’t give up on yourself, your work, or trying to find a publisher. I wrote five novels during the course of thirteen years that were never published. And although it was painful to go through all that rejection, the fact was they weren’t very good. Yet I needed to write them. Those five novels were my classrooms where I learned to be an author.