Interview with Wendy Wax, Author of The Accidental Bestseller


“The names have been changed to protect the innocent,” jokes novelist Wendy Wax about her new book The Accidental Bestseller. “It’s not a roman a clef, but I admit that parts of it are somewhat autobiographical. A few people may think they recognize themselves, but the real life experiences at its core are actually compilations of my own and other authors’ agonies, ecstasies and observations.”

The novel centers on a writer who, with her editor gone and her sales in a slump, discovers how merciless the business of book publishing can be. With the help of three writer friends, whose own successes range from modest sales to international renown, she faces daunting personal and professional setbacks as she struggles to pursue her dream. Wendy notes “I’ve intensified the difficulties, thrown in an empty nest, a cheating husband and taken a whole boatload of liberties, but I still see the story as a realistic look at the challenges confronting many published authors.”

In The Accidental Bestseller, Wendy explores the depth of women’s friendships and the emotional bonds that tie people to their families, their friends and their work. The writing itself proved somewhat cathartic for Wendy, mostly because, like her protagonist, she at one time contended with the emotions and stress involved with switching publishers. She also ended up sharing other attributes with her character. Each lives in the Atlanta area, has written numerous novels, maintains strong friendships with other women novelists, is married, has two children, and enjoys spending time in the mountains of northern Georgia.

A native of St. Petersburg, Florida, Wendy has come a long way since her days at Sunshine Elementary School. As a child she read voraciously, was a regular at her local library, and became fast friends with Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. Her love affairs with language and storytelling paid off beginning with her first shift at the campus radio station while studying journalism at the University of Georgia.

After returning to her home state and graduating from the University of South Florida she worked for the Tampa PBS affiliate, WEDU-TV, behind and in front of the camera. Her resume includes on air work, voiceovers and production of a variety of commercial projects and several feature films. She may be best known in the Tampa Bay area as the host of Desperate & Dateless, a radio matchmaking program that aired on WDAE radio, and nationally as host of The Home Front, a magazine format show that aired on PBS affiliates across the country.

The mother of a toddler and an infant when she decided to change careers, she admits it was not the best timing in terms of productivity. “I’m still not certain why I felt so compelled to write my first novel at that particular time,” she says, “but that first book took forever.” Since then she’s written six more books, including Single in Suburbia and THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER. Her work has been sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club. Her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

Wendy lives with her husband John and her baseball-crazy teenage sons in the Atlanta suburbs where she spends most of her non-writing time on baseball fields or driving to them. She continues to devour books and is busy producing Accidental Radio, a new feature on her web site.

You can visit her website at www.authorwendywax.com.


Welcome to The Writer's Life, Wendy. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?


I was a journalism/broadcast major in college and after graduating I worked in radio, television and film both in front of and behind the camera. I worked for the Tampa PBS affiliate, on a number of feature films, and as a voice over and on camera talent for commercial and corporate projects. The most memorable of these was my stint as the host of a live radio call in show on WDAE Radio called, Desperate & Dateless.


In 1994 while at home with a newborn and a two-year-old, I was looking for a creative outlet and decided to try my hand at writing fiction. Looking back, I wonder that being a full time mother, which is the hardest job I’ve ever had, and the fact that I knew nothing about writing fiction, didn’t deter me. It did, however, slow me down.


It took me three years to complete that first novel, find an agent, and sell it. (This seemed like an eternity at the time; it was only after being in publishing for a while that I discovered how slowly things can move!) Love Talk, which drew on my experiences as host of Desperate & Dateless, came out in 1997. Each book after that also took years. It wasn’t until my youngest started school full time, that I became more productive.


In the intervening years, I’ve been published by Kensington, Bantam (7 Days and 7 Nights, Leave It to Cleavage (my favorite title of all time!), Hostile Makeover, Single in Suburbia) and now, Berkley. The Accidental Bestseller is my seventh novel.


Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?


The Accidental Bestseller is about four writers who meet at a writers’ conference, support each other through the joy and pain of getting—and staying—published, and ten years later end up taking on the publishing industry to save one of their own.


Mallory St. James is a workaholic whose novels support her and her husband’s lavish lifestyle. Tanya Mason juggles two jobs, two kids and a difficult mother. Faye Truett is the wife of a famous televangelist and the author of bestselling inspirational romances; no one would ever guess her explosive secret. Kendall Aims’s once promising career is on the skids—and so is her marriage. Her sales have fallen and her new editor can barely feign interest in her work.


I had wanted to write about a group of writers, especially a critique group, for some time. No one understands what you’re going through like someone else who’s on the same path. Your family and non-writing friends may know and love you, but they don’t necessarily relate to the unique highs and lows that are a part of writing a novel and staying afloat in the publishing business.

The Accidental Bestseller is about that bond between writer friends. It’s also as true a look at what it is to be a working writer in today’s publishing industry as it was possible for me to write without straying into nonfiction. (Which is something Mallory, Faye, Tanya, and Kendall have a slight problem with!)


What kind of research was involved in writing The Accidental Bestseller?


Gathering information that will help make the characters and their lives feel real is always an interesting exercise. Generally, the more characters the more varied the research.


In The Accidental Bestseller all four main characters are writers, which I have some experience with. But there’s also an editorial assistant, an editor and a sales director within the fictional Scarsdale Publishing that needed to feel real. I was a little dismayed to discover that after a decade in the business I actually knew very little about the inner workings of a publishing house. Fortunately, my agent was once on the editorial side and was not only very helpful, but gave me some real insider things that I was able to use. Some of what I learned I had long suspected (this was not the reassuring stuff!) and in my acknowledgments I thank my agent for sharing her editorial experiences and inside knowledge—‘even though I now know all kinds of things that I kinda wish I didn’t.’


One of the main characters writes inspirational romance and is married to a famous televangelist, so I did a good bit of reading about megachurches and television ministries. I also talked to several friends who write inspirational romance, one of whom is a minister’s wife.


I also spent time in a really cool breakfast place called Skyway Jack’s in St. Petersburg and read about their legendary speed cooker, which inspired the fictional Downhome Diner where one of the character’s works as a waitress.


How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?


The publisher typically asks for the author’s thoughts and I know some authors who provide pictures of certain design elements they like. I’m not very visually knowledgeable, so I have a hard time expressing these things up front, but I do have very visceral reactions to what I see.

The cover for The Accidental Bestseller, which I think is fabulous, was a huge and wonderful surprise to me. All my input was centered on the fact that the book was about writers and set in the publishing industry. I had no idea how that might be captured effectively. Fortunately, the art department had a clearer vision and focused on the end product—a great beach read! All I had to do was say, ‘I love it!’


Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?


Getting published was not the most difficult part of my personal journey. Although it took about three years to actually write a first book, find an agent, and then see the book sold, that was far less difficult than some of what came later. Every once in a while someone appears on the scene and rockets to the top of the bestseller lists, but the vast majority of writers spend years honing their craft, writing book after book, sometimes moving from agent to agent and publisher to publisher building a career and trying to reach the widest possible audience in the best possible way.


Not everyone wants to hear it, but although making that first sale seems like an end goal—the final destination--it’s really only the beginning step on a very long and sometimes uphill road.


For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?


I actually wrote this book before my agent put it out for sale, but that sale took place over a year ago.


Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/she is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?


My agent is Stephanie Rostan of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. While I understand it may still be possible to sell category without representation, I think an agent—a good agent—is necessary to sell single title or mainstream to a major publisher. Certainly an agent is necessary to make sure the work is shown to editors who are actually buying what you write and to insure that you’re work is read in a timely fashion. An agent is also crucial to negotiating and interfacing with the publishing house once an offer is made.


Do you plan subsequent books?


Yes, I just finished revisions on my next novel for Berkley. It’s called Magnolia Wednesdays and is due out next March.


Are you a morning writer or a night writer?


I’m definitely the sharpest and most creative in the morning, preferably first thing. I try to save clean up and critiquing and business-oriented work for late afternoon and evening.


If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?


Hmmmm…I’m kind of enjoying blogging and visiting different sites. What I really wish is that promotion weren’t as important as it seems to be and that everyone would just fall madly in love with my work and buy everything I ever write! (I know, I know, but it’s a lovely fantasy don’t you think?)


How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?


I have been hearing pros and cons about self promotion since I joined my first writer’s group. As I said above, I wish it weren’t necessary. I’d much rather put that additional time and energy into writing. The thing is, you don’t always know what produces results and what doesn’t—when I worked in broadcasting years ago that was true of most advertising. You want to do all you can to help your work reach an audience, but it is difficult to sift through the possibilities and know what’s worthwhile.


The virtual tour of blog and reader sites seems like a great way to reach out to people online. I’ve also created something I call Accidental Radio, which is airing on my Website at www.authorwendywax.com It’s short, interesting audio recordings of bestselling authors sharing the accidental moments that changed their lives. Ann Brashares, Stephanie Laurens, Linda Lael Miller, Matthew Pearl, Emilie Richards, James Grippando and Wendy Corsi Staub are among the authors who participated.


Offline I’m doing a number of talks and signings and I really enjoy talking to book clubs.


Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?


Just keep in mind that getting and staying published is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

In The Accidental Bestseller, I used writing quotes that I found meaningful to begin each chapter. One of them answers your question far more eloquently than I could. It’s by James Baldwin who said, “Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck—but most of all, endurance.”


Thank you for your interview, Wendy. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?


Thank you! I’d love for readers to stop by my Website at www.authorwendywax.com for more information about The Accidental Bestseller and to ‘tune in’ to Accidental Radio. The Accidental Bestseller is available at bookstores everywhere and from any online bookseller. I hope you’ll pick up a copy and then email me via my Website to let me know what you think!

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