(Published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel)
I first met Emily Belden after she spoke on a women’s panel for the Printers Row Literary Festival this year in Chicago.
Alongside three other women authors, she discussed the challenges for a woman author, the stereotypes that come along with being labeled “chick lit,” and how modern culture has shifted the plot lines of a traditional romance novel.
So, I bought her second book, Hot Mess, happy to support a fellow writer and maybe learn a thing or two.
I didn’t realize I’d become such a fan, buying her first novel Eightysixed: A Memoir About Unforgettable Men, Mistakes, and Meals before I turned to the last page. And now, I impatiently wait for her next book, Husband Material, to drop in 2019.
Emily’s writing is like talking to your best friend as you sip on a cocktail in the back corner of a dark bar while she shares stories straight out of her diary.
To put it simply, she writes the kinds of book you’d turn off Netflix for.
Her newest novel, Hot Mess invites you to a VIP seat in the world of fast-paced fine-dining.
You meet leading lady Allie Simon, who dates one of the most sought-after, up-and-coming chefs in the industry. Out of good faith, and a whole lot of lust for her good-looking boyfriend, Allie invests her life savings into a new restaurant to support his career.
But when he goes missing a few weeks before the opening – on a drug binge, no less – she has to figure out whether to walk away from the biggest financial mistake of her life or throw herself into a career she never expected to save her own.
So, what’s her book about?
Hot Mess has food, drugs, addiction, sex, and reveals what makes a high-end restaurant succeed. The book satisfies like a six-course meal.
It’s an indulgence without the guilt.
This Harlequin/Harper Collins author began her career with a blog. I highly successful food blog called, “Total E-Bag” that gained a huge following in her hometown of Chicago.
But something in her gut told Emily it was time to go big.
And now, after two published books and one ready for print under a powerful publishing house, she’s done just that.
I was curious to know more. Thankfully, Emily took time out of her busy schedule to answer questions on how she transitioned her writing from HTML into a hardcover book deal.
I read you were a hostess and server for a short time. What made you turn a small job in the hospitality industry into your culinary blog, “Total E-Bag”?
The owner of Acadia, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the South Loop of Chicago contacted me to see if I could help take jackets during their winter opening. I figured that couldn’t be hard and the cash tips would be bountiful. I was right on both. While there, I learned so much about fine dining. I had to dress up to work there, I learned all the industry terms, I ate a delicious “family meal” every night, I had crushes on all the bartenders, I learned all the whos-who, etc. There was so much food for thought—no pun intended—that I knew I needed to do more with it. Also, fun fact: this restaurant makes a cameo in Hot Mess as the design inspiration for the imaginary restaurant in my book.
What was your process of organizing your blog posts to create your first book, Eightysixed: A Memoir About Unforgettable Men, Mistakes, and Meals?
I would come home almost every night and write a post. At one point, I started to notice this could be a story, the way you look at your life at times and think, “This could be a movie!” My blog was already chronological and people were following it religiously so it didn’t take much to reach that critical mass and decide to reconstruct it as an actual memoir, instead of just singular, compiled entries.
Was it harder or easier to write a novel versus a memoir and why?
This novel was incredibly easy to write. It was just a matter of putting my fingers on the keyboard and three months later, it was done. Other work I’ve written, such as the second novel that HarperCollins purchased from me, Husband Material (Fall of 2019), was much more difficult and slow going. It took me nearly a year and a half to write and I definitely did not hit the mark on my first draft. I’m much more comfortable with it and excited about it now. But it was nothing like the experience of writing Hot Mess.
After you finish a book, what comes next?
Finishing the draft is imperative. A lot of budding writers will contact me for advice and say they are almost done or they have an idea and want to know next steps with getting an agent. To that, I have to say, pump the brakes! Finish the draft, know it inside and out, then begin the process which starts with deciding if you want to self-publish, try your hand with an indie publisher, or go for the gusto: agent and big publisher.
Once you decide, do your research. Understand the lay of the publishing land, figure out who is the best match for your project, then query them exactly as they describe. Then, be patient! And also, double check you’ve got your thick-skin on because there is a lot of rejection and self-doubt along the way.
A lot of people think authors just show up for book signings but obviously, this is not the case. What is your hustle after the book is published?
Thankfully, (HarperCollins) is fully staffed with a publicity department, marketing department, art department, etc. So, the PR and marketing teams work together to develop a plan for me and my book. My life has been scheduled out since February 20, 2018, and I’m constantly at signings, symposiums, conferences, book clubs, etc. Aside from that, I do my best to promote my own work where and when it makes sense. Social media (specifically Instagram) has been very good to me!
What is your day-to-day life like? What fills up your day when you’re not writing?
Writing at this level is a full-time job for a lot of reasons. During the day, my nine-to-five is the business aspect of being an author. I’m doing interviews, answering questions, reviewing cover art, prepping speeches, etc. I also freelance for a few clients (copywriting) and I have a dog, who likes to go on about a hundred walks a day.
What time of day do you write, for how long, and what are you working on?
I write at night. This stems from when I was twenty-four-years-old, working full-time, and trying to finish my memoir, Eightysixed. I had no choice. I was busy until 5 pm, then I’d work out, go on dates, see friends, etc. The only time to myself was often 10 pm or later. Many nights I’d stay awake until 3 am knowing I had to catch a bus at 7:15 the next morning. I have never re-adjusted to being able to write when the sun is up, even though I can now. I just feel more creative at night, I suppose. Or, like, it’s okay to have a glass of wine at that hour versus 10 am.
What is important for writers to know before getting into the hustle?
It’s a labor of love. Things are rarely quick or easy in this industry, and they may never pan out the way you envisioned. For example, books get retitled and the cover art isn’t up to you. Keep an open mind and a positive attitude. If you love writing like I do, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that you feel alive with every word you type.
What are you doing now that you didn’t expect after getting a publishing deal?
Film! A top Hollywood producer found me in an article that came out after Hot Mess was out and we are now in a shopping agreement to sell the film rights to a studio. In the contract, I will be a co-producer and a consultant on the script and casting. This is a dream come true and an exciting next step.
What is most challenging about being an author these days? What is the most rewarding?
The most challenging is the busy schedule. My weekends are usually full with commitments, which makes it hard to do regular stuff or even just work on my deadlines. The most rewarding is also the schedule. I absolutely love talking to people who are big fans of the book and my writing. Going to a book club of twenty people who read the book and can’t wait to talk about it with me gives me life!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you to all who have read my books. To a writer, you’ll never know how amazing that feels. And for those of you who haven’t yet, I can’t wait to hear what you think.