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Author Laura Novak explains the ins and outs of writing an eBook

By Mary Thurman Yuhas

new Laura Novak imageLaura Novak worked in the news business for more than 25 years before turning to her first love ─ fiction. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and a Diploma with Honors from the University of Leningrad in the Soviet Union. The following year she earned a Master of Science from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University where she was selected as the David Jayne Fellow by ABC News. She worked for the network in London and New York for four years before taking flight for the West Coast where she started as a writer/editor at KCBS radio in San Francisco. From there, she became an on-air reporter at KFBK radio in Sacramento where she sat alongside a guy named Rush Limbaugh. Moving back into television, she reported for the CBS, NBC, and Fox TV stations in San Francisco and Oakland. Her specialty was crime stories, and she was dubbed the ‘blood and guts reporter’. Those days provided some good fodder for material now appearing in her mystery series! Following the birth of her son, she wrote for many years for “The New York Times” on health, business and the arts. If she is not swimming or writing with a cat nearby, she is usually recycling anything in her path.


LitVote: After all your years in journalism, your books, Finding Clarity, and Murder at the Mailbox, are fiction. What inspired you to write them?


Laura: “Murder at the Mailbox” is built around a real medical case that a doctor tipped me off to, as well as stories I found in the news and the public record. They were all so outlandish they begged to fictionalized. I had a great time creating a madcap mystery weaving all of these elements together. And it was natural for me to ferret out real stories because of my career as a journalist, first as a TV news reporter, like my protagonist, Clari Drake, and then as a print reporter, including many years writing features for The New York Times. Finding Clarity,” and “Murder at the Mailbox,” have mysteries at their roots, but they are also social satires and commentary on Berkeley, California. I get a lot of feedback that I have tapped into the soft white underbelly of life in this fabled city.


LitVote: What did you learn after writing your first book?


Laura: The long form is naturally much harder than daily journalism and even feature writing. As a journalist, at some point, you have to stop and turn in your copy to an editor. With a novel, new material can come your way. You have new experiences all the time and life is full of fodder. It’s difficult to know when the story is finished or when all the elements have come together and it’s time to put the pen down.


LitVote: When we talked, you said, self-publishing is so much easier than it was. How so?


Laura: When I launched Finding Clarity in 2011, indie authors were riding the crest of a big new wave. Many of us were putting chapters up on Scribd for feedback. We were selling books there and a few other places. Then Amazon launched Kindle Select which provided a number of services in exchange for exclusivity. There was all sorts of excitement about free give aways and how to handle promotions. But to get to that point, authors needed to format and upload. The words Mobi and ePub entered our lexicon. I recall watching Youtube videos on how to format for Kindle. It was a nightmare converting a Word document into something these online stores could then publish.


Fast forward to this summer when I formatted, “Murder at the Mailbox.” The real game changer for indie authors is an application called Vellum (,http://180g.co/) created by two guys who worked at Pixar and left to start their own company, 180g. Now, formatting is easy and gorgeous. Vellum generates files that can be uploaded directly to Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo and Google Play. Books no longer have to look like typed xerox copies. Vellum has totally changed the eBook game.


LitVote: Do you recommend self-published writers use an editor?


Laura: Self publishing still carries a stigma, but it doesn’t have to. Some of us choose to spend the time building our own team and producing our own books. And that takes a lot of energy and effort. Others would rather spend that time trying to find an agent who then has to find a publisher. And that’s fine too. But to turn out a respectable product as an indie author, yes, you must hire good editors and cover designers. I hired a developmental editor out of New York who has worked with some big names. And my copy editor is a former colleague of mine from our days at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, as well as, “The New York Times.” He just retired from there in fact. Our timing to work together on, “Murder at the Mailbox,” was perfect!


LitVote: What is the best way to find a book cover?


Laura: I used the same designer for both my books. She is a very skilled and seasoned designer who does much more than book covers. We work well together. But if an author doesn’t know anyone, then that author needs to become a journalist and dig and dig and ask everyone until they come up with names and referrals. Or they can contact me on my website and I can share the names I have.


LitVote: For those who have completed their manuscript and are just beginning their self-publishing journey, what do you suggest they do first?


Laura: Step away from the book. Step away from the book! Take some time away – literally a few months if possible – and move on to the next project. Then, return to it and see all the things you didn’t see the first 100 times around. Then, when you really feel you are done, hire a developmental editor to see the holes in the manuscript that you can’t find. When that is done, hire a copy editor. They are two very different disciplines. And, in fact, the copy editor should probably take two spins on the book. Then, pursue a cover designer. And then, by all means, investigate Vellum. It really is the game changer for formatting a beautiful book.


LitVote: How do you market your book?

Laura: I promote it on Facebook and Twitter and even Instagram. And I rely on the kindness of friends and strangers to help share the news.


LitVote: Any advice on what not to do?


Laura: Distraction is a writer’s worst enemy, so it’s important to get quiet and do the work. I never talk about what I do. I just do it. Yet paradoxically, if we aren’t alert and available to new experiences, then we don’t gather new material. It’s a delicate balance.


What are your plans for the future?


Laura: “Murder at the Mailbox” is the first in a series I’ve planned. It takes place at Halloween on the most famous street for that holiday in Berkeley. My next book, of which I’ve completed about 25 percent takes place at Thanksgiving and involves, what else? Food. Berkeley is deeply rooted in the food culture of the Bay Area. We can’t converse about this colorful city without including its amazing culinary scene.

Laura Novak’s web site: lauranovakauthor.com

Mary Yuhas, is a journalist and has contributed to Sun-Sentinel, USA Today, China Daily USA and Washington Times among others, creator of Baby Boomers the first reality blog and the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother, featured three times on Scribd.




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