Her 2011 debut Treasure Me was a Next Generation Indie Awards finalist and many of her books have enjoyed bestseller status and high praise from critics and readers alike.
She is also a mentor and adviser to other authors and wrote the popular manual for writers, Reviews Sell Books.
Christine Nolfi Interview
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Books by Christine Nolfi
Christine Nolfi Transcript
Tim Knox: Christine Nolfi is my guest today. Christine is an Award-winning, self published author who writes across many genres; a little romance, a little humor, a little suspense. She is also a mentor and adviser to other authors looking for guidance. In fact we use Christine as one of our own advisers to authors here on Interviewingauthors.com.
Christine has a background in journalism and marketing, as do many of the successful authors I’ve spoken with. She is also the adopted mother of four and one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to interview.
Very talented, very focused, but also very humble and very willing to help others succeed. So let’s get started, here then is my interview with Christine Nolfi, one of my favorite people, on today’s interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: Christine, welcome to the program.
Christine Nolfi: Great to be here, Tim.
Tim Knox: So great to have you here. You and I have been friends for so long and we’ve never even met or seen each other.
Christine Nolfi: I know. Isn’t that strange how that works? Here we are.
Tim Knox: And here we are. We have a lot to talk about today. Before we get started though if you will, give the audience a little background on you.
Christine Nolfi: I’ve been writing independently and publishing since 2006. I write a combination of comedy, romance, literary. Some people like to call it women’s fiction. I really hate that term. I write contemporary fiction and I’m about to publish my sixth novel.
Tim Knox: Now why do you hate that term women’s fiction?
Christine Nolfi: Some of my most avid readers are men. Just because a book is closer to literary why the presumption that only women read it? I don’t get that.
Tim Knox: Yeah, men can’t be literary.
Christine Nolfi: Can’t they? I think they can. I think they like an engaging story.
Tim Knox: My wife will tell you that we can be trained to do any number of things.
Christine Nolfi: That’s right.
Tim Knox: Before we get into the work let’s kind of go back in time a little bit. Have you always been a writer?
Christine Nolfi: Yes I have. I worked in public relations before I began writing fiction. I actually published my first short story in my early 20’s, which allowed me to choose what I wanted to study in college. Because I published in Working Mother Magazine Kent State let me put together my own degree, which was a lot of fun. So I did a combination of journalism and writing courses and started in PR and eventually headed into literature, writing fiction.
Tim Knox: And here you are writing men and women’s literary fiction.
Christine Nolfi: Yes, contemporary fiction.
Tim Knox: There you go. Before college when you were younger were you always a writer? I always like to hear about the stories that were written when you were five or six.
Christine Nolfi: Oh I was the kid on the street that could convince all the other kids they could fly. I was always telling stories. Wow my best friend, Bobby Cooper, had a treehouse and I’d get all the kids gathered around and we’re all going to learn how to fly. It’s a wonder I didn’t break my legs or convince someone else to break theirs jumping out of a treehouse.
Tim Knox: See I was the guy, I had a younger brother and I considered myself a mentor. You can do it. Jump! You can do it.
Christine Nolfi: That’s right, never realizing you could get somebody into some serious trouble.
Tim Knox: I figured I could get more brothers, not a big deal. So the first thing that you sold was an article.
Christine Nolfi: I sold a short story to Working Mother Magazine. They actually thought I was a middle-aged woman. They assumed writing a story about a teenager in trouble I had to be a mother writing about my daughter. I let the editor believe it. I was just thrilled to sell something at the age of 21.
Then after that I went into public relations thinking that I would have time to write novels at night. Eventually I had my own PR firm and I wrote several books, talked to editors and never quite found myself until my late 30’s after I adopted my kids. Then I began writing what I think is closer to literary but my books really do combine mystery, romance, comedy. Some of the books have been compared to the Steel Magnolia movie, which is really a combination. It brings you from laughter to tears.
Tim Knox: Exactly. So early on do you think you just weren’t writing in your comfort zone? What do you think was going on there?
Christine Nolfi: I think I was talented at public relations and kept picking up clients so there was never time to sit down and begin writing fiction. When I first began writing I was writing closer to romance, which is a great genre and I still have a lot of romance in my novels. But I wasn’t interested in writing graphic romances so I didn’t quite fit in there and then as I got a little older I learned that I could write suspenseful and I could write comedy well so I decided to start blending the different genres.
Once indie publishing took off I realized there’s no bookshelf to worry about now. I could go ahead and blend genres and not worry about where will it sit in a bookstore? The readers will pick it up. They’re walking into an electronic bookstore. It doesn’t matter how my book would fit in that traditional bookstore, which in my opinion is disappearing.
Tim Knox: I think that’s such an interesting comment and one that I hear quite a bit from self-published authors is how freeing it is now.
Christine Nolfi: It really is and I was so frustrated because I worked with several literary agents and editors in New York loved my books but I kept hearing the same thing. They were not sure where to sit the books in a bookstore and then my critique partners finally said, “You’re crazy. Just try independent publishing.” So I decided to put Treasure Me, my debut novel, in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and Publisher’s Weekly loved it. After that I thought just publish it and see what happens. I was a little suspicious of independent publishing. I wasn’t sure that it would grow the way it has.
Tim Knox: What year was this?
Christine Nolfi: This was 2011.
Tim Knox: So not long ago.
Christine Nolfi: Not long ago. The book did so well I thought oh my gosh forget about agents, forget about New York, just do this. Here I am.
Tim Knox: Here you are. Let’s talk a little about that journey. I talk to so many authors and there’s so many schools of thought here. I talk to some that, dammit, I’ve got to get an agent and do the traditional thing. I’ve read all the books. I know what I’m doing. Then others like you who have either gone down that path or really come out of the gate going I can do this on my own; I don’t need those guys.
Christine Nolfi: I think one of the tricks is you have to recognize if you want to publish independently you have to have a skillset that goes beyond the ability to be a storyteller. You will have to market. You’ll have to learn how to work with other authors. You’ll have to learn how to organize your writing time, your marketing time. Not that traditionally published authors don’t do those things, they do, but not to the degree that independently published authors must.
Tim Knox: You’re running a business.
Christine Nolfi: Yes, we absolutely are and once you’ve had several books published you have to be organized. It gets very crazy. You’re always promoting a book that has already come out but you’re writing the next book and you may be talking to readers about the book that will come out next summer. You have to juggle. You have to learn how to do that. I think the trick is finding support staff.
Tim Knox: I’ve heard that a lot too. I talk to a lot of authors who are I call them the old guard, which is probably not a flattering term but I have a limited vocabulary, but the authors that have done the traditional route for so many years and really they just wrote. Everything else was taken care of by others and now they dip their toe in the independent publishing side and they figure out, boy, there’s a lot of work to do here.
Christine Nolfi: Oh yes there is, although in fairness to traditionally published authors they’ve always worked hard. I don’t like the way it’s being presented as if we’re enemies, as if they’re on one side and we’re on the other. I think that’s nonsense. I think all authors that care about being career novelists work hard whether they’re traditionally published or independently published. They work hard.
Tim Knox: Again I’ve heard this from others, the ‘us against them’ mentality. Do you think a lot of that is being put on by traditional publishers, not the authors but the publishers?
Christine Nolfi: No I think some indie authors are a little defensive, especially people that have only published independently. I think some of those authors feel that they have to prove their worth and so attacking the other side becomes part of it. I’m going to get in trouble for having said that but you’re asking for an honest opinion.
Tim Knox: That’s what I want. Things are changing so quickly and even in the last few years that you’ve been in it, I mean independent publishing, self-publishing today is a completely different animal than it was just a few years ago, right?
Christine Nolfi: Oh no question about it. It’s much more professional. I think there was more hit or miss early on in 2009, 2010. Things like the Kindle Select program, you could run a book for free and then chances were you would get a lot of readers. There are more people that you must compete with now. There are only so many readers and more books come on every day. You have to be at the top of your game. You can’t go into this thinking I’ll just load it into the Kindle store and take off with a career. You have to look at this as a business.
Tim Knox: Right and it still comes down to the work, to the talent and the book.
Christine Nolfi: Absolutely. It doesn’t matter what sort of marketing you implement. If you are not spending a significant part of your day learning to improve your skillset as a storyteller, at a certain point your career will fizzle. You must be working on your talent as a storyteller.
Tim Knox: Let’s go back a little bit because you were really successful in PR and then you adopted how many, four kids?
Christine Nolfi: Four kids in my late 30’s. I missed a deadline. The only time I ever missed a deadline in my life and I had to run a press kit over to the president of the company’s house and his wife opened the door and out spilled seven kids from the Philippines and my husband and I had been trying to adopt for some time at that point and she gave me all the information and one year later I had four kids I had adopted from a shelter in Shabu.
Tim Knox: Wow, were they siblings?
Christine Nolfi: Yes they’re a sibling group. I have three daughters and one son and actually my youngest child will marry in two weeks.
Tim Knox: Wow so you basically had quads there.
Christine Nolfi: Yeah I went from zero to four at the speed of light. I hung up my high heels and learned how to be a mommy.
Tim Knox: That’s funny. How did that affect your writing? Were you still in PR when you did that?
Christine Nolfi: Yes, well when I found out about my kids and realized that I would be able to adopt them I decided I had to close my PR firm. I wasn’t so crazy that I thought I could actually continue in PR and somehow raise four kids who had all sorts of special needs. My kids weren’t in great shape when they got to the United States. It had a positive impact on my writing. It definitely deepened my prose. I think I have more comedy in the books now because of that. I turned into a different writer, no question.
Tim Knox: So your experience as a mother of these four children somehow affected your creative process as an author.
Christine Nolfi: Yes it brought a poignancy to my books that I don’t think would have been evident if I had not adopted the kids, no question.
Tim Knox: You’re going through this process and you did attempt to do the agent and the traditional publishing. Tell us a little about that experience.
Christine Nolfi: Gosh, the first agent I think he was a little bit over his head. I wanted him to pitch my books to Random House and they loved Second Chance Grill but I don’t think he understood exactly how to work with a large publisher so I never got a definitive answer from him about why they didn’t make an offer. The second agent was after Treasure Me finalled in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and New American Library was very interested but it was the problem of where to slot my books on a bookshelf. So when that deal fell through that’s when I decided I should just independently publish and see if I can create a readership on my own.
Tim Knox: So when you were going through that though how tense was that period? You’re basically waiting for someone to give you a green flag.
Christine Nolfi: Because I worked as a professional writer I knew not to spend time biting my nails and waiting. I began work on the next book. I think when you finish writing a novel you should always be thinking of how you’ll promote it but you should begin to work on your next book. You shouldn’t spend too much time stressing out or worrying about where this will go. There should always be that process in place.
Tim Knox: That’s a really good point. That’s one thing… I think you know Hugh Howey. Hugh said when he finishes a book he just starts writing another book.
Christine Nolfi: Yeah, he’s a professional writer. He understands you set it free in the world. You have to look at this as a flow. You’re going down the river and you should always be flowing with the next work.
Tim Knox: How far ahead are you? Are you constantly thinking of the next book or the one after that?
Christine Nolfi: Well I’m about to publish the fourth book in the Liberty series so for the books in the series it’s very easy. Actually I have so many ideas for future books I have to sit down and decide which book do I want to write next? That part’s easy but after I publish this fourth novel in the series I’m thinking about starting a new series so that will take a little more organizing. I’m doing a lot of research. Don’t ask me where that series will go. I’m not sure yet. I’ve started the research process. So I guess I’m always one or two books ahead as far as the concept phase and I never give myself too long of a break between books.
Tim Knox: Talk a little about the Liberty series. Did you say you’re three books in? Tell us what that series is about.
Christine Nolfi: It’s based on a small town, it’s a fictional town in Ohio. The books actually have a very Southern feel. A lot of people think that I’m a Southern fiction writer because of the feel of the books but it’s actually based on a small town in Ohio. You don’t have to read the books sequentially. I’m really expanding the different characters.
So for example, the fourth book that I’m about to publish is about the sister of the main character in Treasure Me. So if somebody picks up book four in this series they don’t have to feel that they missed something. They can go backwards and read book one, book two, book three. I don’t leave a cliffhanger at the end that forces you to read sequentially. I don’t like that in series.
Tim Knox: Do you not?
Christine Nolfi: No, it’s forcing the reader to start at the beginning and what if they don’t want to?
Tim Knox: I mean I would prefer to do it that way because I do read a lot of series. I love the detective type stuff and if I’m in book four and it’s referring something that happened in book one I’m like what? Where did that come from?
Christine Nolfi: And then you have to go back to book one and find out what the clue was and what you missed.
Tim Knox: Exactly. He’s his brother? When the hell did that come in? It’s like watching the Young and Restless out of sequence.
Christine Nolfi: Right. My books are in a series but you can read them out of sequence.
Tim Knox: What attracts you to the series?
Christine Nolfi: You know, I never know how to answer that question. The characters just appeared at one point in 2004 and I wrote the original draft of Second Chance Grill, finished the entire draft before I realized I had enough material for a series. Then I broke that apart, rewrote Second Chance Grill and then wrote Treasure Me even though Treasure Me was the first book I published, which confuses the heck out of readers.
Tim Knox: It didn’t start off to be a series. You just had enough material to turn it into one.
Christine Nolfi: Exactly. I wasn’t aware of that until I finished the first draft of Second Chance Grill and then went oh my gosh. These characters, each one could be a main character in a novel.
Tim Knox: What is the tone of the books? I know that you mentioned that you write with some humor and that sort of thing. What’s your overall tone do you think?
Christine Nolfi: I strive to take the reader from laughter to tears in the blink of an eye without the reader being aware. I think a lot of people pick up the novels assuming that they’re light romance reads and then they get midway through and realize that the books are much deeper than they had suspected, which that’s part of my strategy.
Tim Knox: The way that I found you was on I think your blog, your advice blog. I’ve got your Reviews Sells Books on my Kindle. You’re real free in the advice to other authors.
Christine Nolfi: Having come from public relations and understanding that a lot of people sit down and begin a novel without any idea of how the business works, I felt compelled early on to start offering tips to other writers. A lot of people work in a different career and then they reach a certain point in their life and they think, “I could write a novel,” so they go in and they have absolutely no idea of the nuts and bolts of publishing.
Having some background in PR I felt compelled to help other writers and I love it. I love when I get emails and they’re asking for tips. It’s wonderful to see especially younger writers blossoming in the independent publishing movement.
Tim Knox: Right, it’s always nice to help them out.
Christine Nolfi: Yes, absolutely.
Tim Knox: Very cool. Let’s talk a little about your process. We talked about approaching it as a business. Do you write every day? Are you punching a time clock? Are you hanging out at… I was talking to someone and their office is the Panera Bread up the street, which I just loved. That’s where they go write every day.
Christine Nolfi: I don’t understand that at all. I would be studying all the people in Panera for new character sketches. I have an office that I would have if I were still in PR. It’s on the second floor of my house. I sit down in the mornings. I always use the mornings for writing. I’m fresher, I’m a more creative person in the early hours and then I use the afternoons for my marketing, connecting with readers. I take a break midday and go to the gym for an hour. I think I’m a little bit like the Marines. I definitely keep a strict schedule.
Tim Knox: Nice and regimented.
Christine Nolfi: Yes, yes, which works for me because I’ve been writing for decades and I know that you have to have a system. You can just say when the spirit strikes I’ll sit down and write these great chapters. You have to clock in even when you don’t feel like writing.
Tim Knox: Exactly. Let’s talk a little about marketing, especially if you’re an independent author the importance of marketing and the importance of becoming a great marketers. I’ve had some authors tell me, “I’m an okay author but I’m a great marketer.”
Christine Nolfi: Oh I think I’m the opposite. I’m better at the writing than the marketing. I think if you’re publishing independently and you’re beginning you have to be aware that there’s so much advice out there and you cannot follow everyone’s advice. What you should do is find several authors who are successful in your genre or genres and see what they do. What works for Hugh Howey writing dystopian fiction may not work well for me writing something that’s more again women’s fiction, the term that I hate. You have to know what genre and how they market in that genre. You should have some awareness of that.
That’s the first thing you need to do. The second thing you need to do is… it doesn’t matter how you do it but you must find a way to connect with readers, whoever it is that posts your first reviews or if you built a newsletter list and readers respond to that. You have to find a way to be talking directly to readers versus the people that just blast out their ‘buy my book’ on Twitter and they don’t have any real connection.
Tim Knox: That’s one thing that I was actually going to ask you about is the importance of building those relationships. It seems to be a common theme among authors who have reached the position or the stage that you’re in. They spend a lot of time thinking about their readers and building relationships with those readers.
Christine Nolfi: Yes and you must do that however it works for you. For me it worked… I know Goodreads doesn’t work for a lot of authors. There seemed to be a lot of readers on Goodreads that like women’s fiction, contemporary, romance, closer to literary so it’s a great place for me to meet readers. What I’ve done is invite some of those readers who love my books into a private Facebook group and I expand that group overtime. I can go in and talk to these women about different issues. We don’t just talk about my books. I’m not there in constantly selling my books. It’s a way to engage with people that are very interested. My beta readers are all come from my reader group.
The other way I do it is I take time every week to actually engage on Twitter. There are a lot of authors that program everything in through HootSuite and they don’t actually use Twitter to talk to people, which I think is a mistake. I think if you put yourself out there and readers become aware that you will respond then they’ll talk to you.
Tim Knox: Do you think Twitter is better for staying in touch with the audience or is Facebook better or do they both have their place?
Christine Nolfi: I think it depends on the author. Some authors are very comfortable with Facebook. My Facebook author page isn’t as vibrant as my Twitter presence. I don’t think there’s one right answer. I think as a novelist you have to find your comfort level. What do you like to use? Do you like Goodreads? Do you like Pinterest? Do you like Facebook? Whatever that is really cultivate it. Don’t try to be everywhere. It’s not physically possible.
Tim Knox: You know what I think a lot of authors might have? Trouble doing that. I do a lot of entrepreneurial training and one of the biggest hurdles a lot of new entrepreneurs have is coming up with the ability to network and to get out there and talk. The shyness factor kills a lot of entrepreneurs. Do you find that the same might happen to authors?
Christine Nolfi: Yes, absolutely. You go to a writer’s conference and it cracks me up every time. You’ll find 90% of the writers hanging in the corners. I feel like you should walk through with a flashlight and just start flashing it on people. Come on, you can talk. You don’t have to be so bashful.
Tim Knox: Things have changed so much where now it’s such a social thing to be an author. If you’re hanging in the corner waiting for someone to ask you to dance you may not sell too many books.
Christine Nolfi: That’s right. If you don’t have a comfort level then, I don’t know, maybe you can take classes like toast masters or something that gives you a comfort level on presenting yourself to the public. It doesn’t matter if you’re indie or traditional. Today readers have an expectation that they will connect with writers so you have to overcome that.
Tim Knox: Yeah and that’s one of the big changes since the internet, independent publishing, that sort of thing. You think readers now have an expectation of being social with their writers?
Christine Nolfi: Absolutely and if you’re a savvy author what I’ve learned is, because I’m in the fourth book of a series, I’ve learned that if I go into a Goodreads group and I chat for a while some of the ideas that these women will give me for future books are things I haven’t thought of but they’ve read the books, they’ve fallen in love with them, they know the characters. If you’re not engaging with your readers you’re missing part of the collaborative process of storytelling.
Tim Knox: And going back to the entrepreneurial standpoint of it, the readers really are your customers aren’t they?
Christine Nolfi: Absolutely they are and you have to find ways to ensure that you’re pleasing your readers. That said, I think if you’re sitting down and you want to write a novel that’s compelling you can’t just say this is what sells so I’m going to write that. You have to write something that you’re personally interested in.
Tim Knox: So my new books about teenage vampires who also are hoarders in a silo – that’s not a good idea?
Christine Nolfi: No, probably not. The prose will be flat. It won’t be engaging. You have to interest yourself first. Another trick that you should do I think is read across genres. If you write romances and you only read romances, you’re missing out on a lot of storytelling technique. As professionals I think we have a responsibility to be reading across genres.
Tim Knox: So if you’re going to be an author of fiction or whatever it’s going to behoove you to do your research into other genres.
Christine Nolfi: Absolutely because there are different storytelling techniques in different genres. Suspense novels are written in a style that’s different than a literary novel and you should have an awareness of those different skillsets.
Tim Knox: That’s something you either have to be self-aware of or you have to…
Christine Nolfi: Cultivate it. Develop it.
Tim Knox: Yeah, that’s the word I was looking for. One thing that I’ve noticed is lately a lot of the authors that I talk to are actually looking to move into a different genre or just dip their toe into that pool and experiment. Are you finding that?
Christine Nolfi: Oh absolutely. My new series will be unlike the Liberty series. I actually have two standalone novels, The Dream You Make and The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge. Dream is very close to my other novels but The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge is much more suspenseful and I think I would like to experiment with that in this new series, going a little more into suspense, a little darker, a little closer to literary. It will not be like the Liberty series with a lot of comedy.
Tim Knox: It’s like what we were saying earlier. It really frees you up. You can do whatever you want.
Christine Nolfi: Yes you can.
Tim Knox: Do you ever worry though that if you do go out of what you’re known for and you write something in a different genre and it doesn’t work it may affect the old bread and butter over here?
Christine Nolfi: I think if the quality’s always there… I’m very concerned about my reviews. I don’t read all my reviews. I don’t have the time. But I do pay attention to are they staying high? Am I still holding close to a 5 star rating? As long as you’re ensuring the quality is there I think you’ll build a new readership and some of your older readership will follow you into new genres.
Tim Knox: I agree and John Locke did this. He was writing the Donovan Creed and then he decided he wanted to write Westerns and it seemed to work out for him.
Christine Nolfi: I think avid readers do not always stick to one genre. I think we’re underestimating. You’re probably like this. I know I am. I read across the board. I don’t have one favorite. I love to read. If it’s an engaging story I’m there. I’m reading it.
Tim Knox: I’m exactly the same way and that’s one of the perks of doing what I do. I get a lot of books. Back before I started doing this show I really liked the police procedurals. Those were kind of my thing. I’m one of those guys where I always have like 12 books going at once and sometimes they all kind of go together in my mind. But I read a lot more now and I read across more genres than I ever did.
Christine Nolfi: I think that’s true of most avid readers so if you’re a novelist, especially indie, I think you can experiment and have a lot of success with it.
Tim Knox: Exactly. Well we’ve got just a couple of minutes left. I think you and I talked earlier, we’re going to do a number of these podcasts I think because I like picking your brain. In the time we have left though can you sum up advice to new authors? The audience for this show primarily are authors who are looking to do what you have done. They’re either looking to breakthrough or grow their sales. Give us a little bit of advice.
Christine Nolfi: Okay if you’re starting out and you’ve only written a debut novel or perhaps you have two novels out. Don’t listen to all the advice that’s out there on social media. Find three authors who write in a similar vein to your work and study what they do. What do they do that seems successful? See if you can find your own stint for that. If you just try to follow all the advice that’s out there you’ll be too scared, you won’t have any focus. You have to whittle it down and look at just several authors. Spend a week or two studying their newsletters, what their website looks like, what they do on social media. It will be a springboard for your own ideas.
Tim Knox: And read their work.
Christine Nolfi: Yes, absolutely. Read their novels. I’m assuming if you’re studying other novelists in your genre you have read their work. I’m making that assumption.
Tim Knox: That’s a good assumption to make probably. Christine Nolfi, what are you working on right now?
Christine Nolfi: I’m finishing up Four Wishes, it’s the fourth book in the Liberty series. It’ll be out in September. The other three books in the series are Treasure Me, Second Chance Grill and The Impossible Wish.
Tim Knox: Fantastic. Where can the audience learn more about you and your work?
Christine Nolfi: ChristineNolfi.com and I’m @ChristineNolfi on Twitter, easy to find.
Tim Knox: Christine Nolfi, the author and mother of four. What were you thinking?
Christine Nolfi: I love kids.
Tim Knox: It’s a good thing you do. This has been great. Will you come back and let’s talk some more?
Christine Nolfi: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me, Tim.
Tim Knox: It’s a pleasure.