Niki Burnham is the author of five teen hits -- ROYALLY JACKED, SPIN CONTROL, STICKY FINGERS, SCARY BEAUTIFUL and, most recently, DO-OVER. Also the author of six popular romance novels, she goes by a more adult name for those: Nicole Burnham (her two online homes may be found at www.nikiburnham.com and www.nicoleburnham.com). In 2005, ROYALLY JACKED was named to the New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age” list of recommended reads. And, previously in 2004, it was named an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers. The book even appeared as a Teen People Pick in TEEN PEOPLE magazine. Niki’s latest teen novel, DO-OVER, is the follow-up book to ROYALLY JACKED and SPIN CONTROL, using her sardonically-funny heroine Valerie. Niki shared the following candid interview ...
1) Niki, thank you so much for this inspiring opportunity to share your newest award winner (no doubt!) and other life details. What motivated you to create Do-Over?
“Thanks for asking, Sara. Do-Over is about Valerie Winslow, an American teenager living in Europe. I've written two previous books about her (Royally Jacked and Spin Control), and she's such a fun character that I wanted to see what happened to her next.”
2) What is the book's central plot?
“Valerie's parents are in the midst of a divorce. In Do-Over, Valerie is faced with the idea that her dad—with whom she's very close—is going to begin dating. Valerie's boyfriend—whose parents haven't argued a day in their life—doesn't think it's a big deal. For Valerie, however, this is a very big deal. So naturally, this leads to strife between Val and her boyfriend. The book also involves strudel, skiing, and a German disc jockey who's into Snoop Dogg.”
3) Your books do mix unusually fun, funny, and fairytale elements (not all “F-words” are naughty!). They also attract loyal fans. Does this book fall into the romance-comedy category your books have become known and loved for? Where can fans buy your book right now?
“It's definitely romantic comedy. The book is widely available; readers can find it at Borders, at Barnes & Noble, at independent bookstores, and online at Amazon.com and the like. If it's not on a bookstore shelf, the store should be able to get it quickly at no additional charge. Bookstores do this all the time.”
4) Terrific! It is fascinating you write romance-fiction for two ages – teen and adult. Not all authors are so diverse. Where do you get your inspiration for your books' characters?
“I wouldn't say that I get ‘inspiration’ for characters. Writers who write only when they're inspired generally don't produce much. That being said, I'm thinking about my books all the time—creating characters in my head, then using their specific traits to create and drive stories. Some characters get written about, while some are in the back of my brain for future projects. It's the same thing many people do in their line of work – mental problem solving, even during off-hours.”
5) You are clearly a natural book-writer. Has Simon & Schuster contracted you to produce future books?
“I have a book coming out from Simon & Schuster in late May 2007 called Goddess Games.”
6) Can you share a description?
“Girls from different backgrounds—a driven athlete, a born-again Christian, and a Hollywood brat—must learn to live together when they take summer jobs at a posh mountain resort in Colorado. There are both serious and humorous elements to the story, so it will appeal to those readers who enjoyed my books about Valerie Winslow. It's also a longer book, since it follows three protagonists through their summer adventures.”
7) It sounds very in-depth and juicy. How many published books did it take before you were able to support yourself financially through book writing?
“This is a tough question to answer. I have books at various stages of production at any given time—one or two might be on the shelves, one at the publisher, another being written—so it's hard to specify a date or number of books at which I could support myself, because income comes in chunks for each book at various production stages. For those who wish to write, I would advise them that there's no magical number of books sold at which they can count on becoming financially independent. Income from books can—and does—vary wildly.”
8) Do you think having a literary agent is necessary for most authors to become as successful as you? Why or why not?
“I personally believe it's imperative to have a good agent. Publishing contracts are complicated beasts. I'm an attorney, yet I still have an agent. So that should tell you something! But the kicker here is that a writer needs a good agent. It's far better to have no agent than a bad agent.”
9) Very clever -- so how do you market your books and which ways work best?
“I think marketing is something best left to professionals. My publisher has a marketing department that's been very enthusiastic about my books, and I have a professional who handles my website design and maintenance. These professionals are far more effective than I could ever be on my own. That being said, I do spend quite a bit of time on the bulletin boards at my website (www.nikiburnham.com) answering reader questions. I regularly grant interviews to various media outlets. As often as possible, I also do call-ins or visits to book clubs/teen groups who are reading my books. That's my contribution to marketing.”
10) What advice can you give aspiring authors and writers?
“Put your rear in a chair and write. Forget everything else. Don't get ahead of yourself and think about who'll publish your book or how much money you might (or might not) make or what Aunt Mary will say. Write. Many people who consider themselves writers never actually get around to the writing part. Hate to burst anyone's bubble, but writing is hard work. It's isolating work. But if you love the process, it's also immensely rewarding. I think reading—and reading broadly—is important, too. I hear a lot of would-be authors talk about how they're planning to write a book, but they don't have the time or inclination to read. The best writers are people who read.”
11) I wholeheartedly agree. Thank you so much, Niki, for sharing all fascinating insights!
“Thank you, Sara.”