Author Spotlight Interview: Nikky Kaye
In the latest of our series of author interviews, we got to chat with the delightful Nikky Kaye, author of heartwarming romances like Happy New You and No Excuses. With a loyal and ever-growing legion of fans, Nikky delights thanks to her unique turn of phrase and quirky characters; and we’re thrilled she took the time to sit down with us.
HG: Okay, so who is Nikky Kaye? Where does she come from? When you get up in the morning and look in the mirror, who do you see?
NK: Who am I? I hadn’t realized we were going to get existential off the bat! Well, the boring details are: I’m a 40-something Canadian woman with ex-pat parents and twin boys (currently 8-years-old). I try not to look in the mirror when I get up, because usually I’m trying to get the boys to school! I’m ambitious, anxious, complacent, guilty, creative, addled, frustrated, sleepy, grumpy, bashful–oh wait, those are dwarves! If I were more mindful (which I ought to be) I’d look in the mirror in the morning and do Stuart Smalley-type self-affirmations. Instead, I have a tendency to recognize some of my strengths, but not others – and the same with my weaknesses. Isn’t that true of everyone, really?
I was born and raised in Edmonton, Canada – although I’ve lived in Vancouver, Toronto, Philadelphia, Paris and Oxford…
HG: So, how old were you when you got bitten by the writing bug?
NK: Writing bug… Hmmm… I was a precocious reader. My father used to tell a story about nearly driving off the road when I picked up one of his textbooks on ancient Greek architecture and started reading it aloud from the back seat–when I was three. I was the kid spending her allowance on Jane Eyre at the university bookstore after school–at the age of six, lol! I enjoyed creative writing in school, and got a part-time job writing theater reviews for a daily newspaper in Grade 12. But not once did I consider a career as a writer. My goal was always working in film.
HG: Did you do anything in film? Writing, or acting, or directing?
NK: In high school I worked on some local productions and did some short films. I didn’t have the money to go somewhere like USC, so I decided to do Film Studies at my local university and then look for other opportunities. My parents were University people, so it never occurred to me NOT to go. I ended up taking some time off from undergrad to work on a couple of series (and features and commercials), both at home and in Vancouver. But production is a tough lifestyle, working 14-16 hour days… Ultimately I stuck to the academic route, but I specialized in industry stuff rather than strictly critical analysis. While doing my first graduate degree across three different departments, I ran a media research center in the business school. And since I was one of a few people who specialized in certain things, I ended up doing sessional work, teaching mass communication, television studies, etc., before I went off to a PhD program in the US.
HG: So, when did writing happen?
NK: Wedged into that time, primarily at the end of undergrad (we’re talking 1999ish), I decided to try writing romance. I was a big reader of it, especially Regency historical. I joined RW-L (ah, good old listservs!) and was very determined to make it happen. I wrote three books that first year, while still going to school full-time and holding down five part-time jobs (including being a film critic for a local newspaper). I was very lucky in that when I sent out queries (with International Reply Coupons, back then, lol), I had immediate interest from editors. Ultimately I had everything being considered, and I managed to get a powerhouse agent!
HG: How did that go? That was long before the days of self publishing.
NK: Ultimately, my voice was “too quirky” for category romance at that time (which is what I was targeting). And then I moved to the States for a PhD program, and I was lucky if I could read for fun, much less write. We ended up moving back to Edmonton, and I was mostly working from home after that. My husband suggested that I try writing fiction again, since I had more time and freedom to do it. I wrote a few chapters on a few different kinds of books, then got derailed again by having twins. It wasn’t until 2015-16 that I really wanted to write again, but I wanted to write a non-fiction book. I wrote that and self-published it in spring 2016. That process revived my love of writing, and I decided to try “romance” again to see how my voice might have changed with a dozen years of life experience. Although, I planned to write erotica.
HG: How HAD your voice changed? And how did erotica go?
NK: Well, the first “sexy” book was a novella called Once Should Be Enough. I wrote it without really understanding the current market at all; it was just a story in my head.
When I was writing it, I thought I was writing erotica (I was later told that it wasn’t). And it was the first time I’d ever written in first person, so that changed things a lot.
Overall, my voice was… um… I guess more humorous than before? More sardonic? Earthier? Sassier? I’m not sure how I would describe it. I’m probably not the best person to describe it, regardless.
HG: I think I read that one, actually. I liked it. You definitely have a unique voice. How did that do?
NK: Considering that I didn’t really know much about what I was doing… not too bad for a first foray? I made a spreadsheet of about 100 bloggers and contacted all of them. I had some innate idea of how to position it. Where ultimately I ran into trouble was due to basic newbie problems: doing my own cover, not fully appreciating Amazon’s puritanical (and somewhat arbitrary) rules, and confusion over how to categorize it. I wrote a sequel to it several months later. And I plan to write a third part and put it all together later this year. Anyhow, it was written on instinct. I wasn’t particularly self-conscious with it, or thinking about the market and stuff like that. Maybe there was something authentic in there that readers liked.
HG: So, what happened next?
NK: I wrote something else (Do It Yourself). Again, no concept of niche or market–just an idea I had. I was writing again because it was FUN. But with only those two novellas, I went to a conference and did signings. I had swag made, branding, and apparently carried myself as though I knew what I was doing. Well, okay, I don’t think I had actual swag at that time, but my table was definitely coordinated. One of the props got a lot of attention–it was a bright pink dildo in a display case, with a little hammer and sign that said “break glass in case of emergency.” People loved it. The only problem was that when I took it in my carry-on back home, the TSA people were very suspicious. “Why is it under glass, ma’am?” “Um… it’s a museum piece?”
HG: So you’ve written a fair amount since then.
NK: I tried a couple of shorts (again, just ideas, no targeted niche). Around that time I cold-emailed a few big name authors who were doing what I THOUGHT I wanted to do. One of them referred me to their publicist, and the publicist read my stuff (presumably) and decided to take me on. I worked with her from October 2016 to August 2017.
Trying to do the math… In 2016 I wrote/released two novellas and three shorts. In 2017 I wrote/released a novel and six novellas. In 2018 (first six months, anyhow) I wrote/released two novels and three novellas. I think. It’s far, far less than I planned or wanted to write and publish. I got bogged down in all sorts of things… That’s the biggest problem I have. I’m almost down with getting the novels to hit – it’s just wrangling life so I can write the damn things!
HG: So tell me about your writing routine. How does it work? From planning, to execution? Do you have a routine? A place to write?
NK: Routine is something that I struggle with. I have ADD, so I’m fabulous at working on a dozen things at once but never finishing them. My husband travels quite a bit, which makes me a married single parent at times. Then we also travel as a family (and on my own), too, which screws up routine. I discovered that I was writing better (or at least more efficiently?) once I started using a mechanical keyboard and a monitor, rather than just my laptop. We have an extra flat that I set up as a home office/bolthole, so I can go and write there in peace and quiet. I have a hard time focusing at home. Either the kids distract me, or thinking about other things I need to do, or blah blah blah.
I also write relatively slowly, which doesn’t help. I’d maybe feel better about things if I was writing 5k/day consistently. My kids made “Mummy working” in Lego a couple of years ago, which made my husband nearly fall over laughing.
HG: So, what’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
NK: Writing advice or publishing advice? They can be very different…
HG: The readers would love to hear examples of each!
NK: Okay, keep in mind that any of my advice is to be taken with a whole cellar of salt. I’m not successful in any sense, other than the fact that I have written some books enjoyed by readers.
- Trust in your voice, or at least don’t try to stifle it. You can learn marketing and craft, but if you have an intrinsic authorial voice then lean into it. The most trouble I’ve had is when I’ve tried to be someone else, or tried to write more generically. I was so frustrated by the market at one point that I wrote a parody (working title “Tropapalooza”)–but it still ended up sounding like ME. I primarily write contemporary romance right now, but I also dabble in Regency romance, PNR cozy mystery, and literary YA–but it’s all still my voice. Which leads me to…
- Be authentic. Be yourself. Maybe this sounds silly, but I’ve always made a point of using my pen name online, in forums like Reddit, Dirty Discourse, kboards, or wherever. Much of the reason for doing that is that I never wanted to post anything that I would be ashamed of or want to hide behind anonymously. That’s a personal choice for accountability, obviously, but I’ve never tried to be anyone else. The tone of my newsletters is the same now as it was for my first nine subscribers. I try to be as honest and transparent as possible with other authors, readers, pretty much everyone.
- If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it (title, cover, blurb, positioning, anything). “But-but-but… my readers will be so confused!” Well, they’re already your readers. They either already have the book and can’t re-download it, or won’t mind the change. Either way, the goal should be to find new readers, not simply appease the fans you already have. I went to a revelatory conference last fall, and decided to regroup—all my books are getting new titles, new covers, and cohesive branding (for the first time!). It’s exciting and scary and makes me want to throw up—but like I said, if it’s not working, don’t be afraid to change something. Or, in my case, ALL the things.
Packaging is absolutely key. But contrary to what some people say on EA (for example), there is some element of luck to all of this. You can sacrifice a unicorn. A virgin. A virgin unicorn. But it won’t make your book a unicorn. There are so many different elements at play.
HG: A steep learning curve!
NK: Indeed. And we’re wearing roller skates! My own stubbornness has definitely gotten in my way. But I promised myself that I wouldn’t write anything that I was ashamed of or that I wouldn’t enjoy reading myself. I invest too much in all ways to write something that I wouldn’t want to claim as my own. But pinning down angles and tropes and trends and all that is tricky, while still trying to be true to my voice and my own warped integrity. It’s one of the reasons I use my pen name online in forums and such.
My most “successful” books are the ones I wrote at the beginning, on instinct and without obsessing about the market. I got a lovely PM from someone at EA recently and it really encouraged me.
I just need to find a way to lure in unsuspecting vic—I mean, READERS. Life’s too short to not be true to my own voice. Ultimately, that’s my brand and that’s why people buy the second book. I have readers who have been with me from the beginning, the first nine people on my list. Because they like my voice. Because I write real people and “hilariously cringe-worthy” romance. Because I write sex scenes that will make you laugh and funny scenes that will make you cry. I guess that’s just me.
We’re also excited to share with you the cover of Nikky’s upcoming new book, which you can read about here!
Thanks so much to Nikky for taking the time to speak to us – and if you liked the sound of her books be sure to check them out!
Also, remember that as a member of Hidden Gems, you can read free books every day, whether they’re romance or from one of 15 other genres. Sign up today to read and review as many (or as few) as you chose!