Today’s guest on Who are the Cat Writers’ Association? is the prolific and diverse author Allia Zobel Nolan.
Allia Zobel Nolan is an internationally published author of 150+ children’s and adult books. Her titles range from the Divine to the feline and include such varied titles as Whatever Is Lovely: A 90-Day Devotional Journal, (Harper Christian)Cat Confessions: A Kitty-Come-Clean Tell-All Book, (Harvest House),The Joy of Being Fifty+ (Workman Publishing, illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast), and more.
A former Reader’s Digest Children’s Publishing senior editor, she collaborated with the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop to publish Laugh Out Loud with 40 funny EBWW humorists. The title won a 2019 Humor Indie Award. The second version of her devotional, The Worrywart’s Prayer Book: 40 Help Me Get a Grip, God Meditations and Prayers, recently sold 1,300 in one day in a BookBub featured deal. Her latest title, What I Like about You: a Book about Acceptance, won a 2020 Children’s Picture Book Indie Award. The Evangelical Christian Publishers recently awarded Cat Confessions a Bronze Award for sales of over 100,000 (the book is currently at 141,00+ copies sold).
She is a member and past director of the Cat Writers’ Association and the proud mother of two fur-babies, Nolan Nolan and Colleen Fiona Shannon Nolan.
A little bit about my writing:
I have been blessed in that I have had quite a number of books traditionally published. With foreign editions, (the ones I know about, and the pirated ones I don’t know about), various formats of the same book, and books I’ve written under a pseudonym, I’d say I have about 150 to 175 titles in print.
Last year, in cooperation with the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, I wrote ten humor pieces, compiled 40 more from EBWW alumni, and put together my first-ever self-pubbed book, LAUGH OUT LOUD: 40 WOMEN HUMORISTS CELEBRATE THEN AND NOW…BEFORE WE FORGET.
I felt a great responsibility with this book because so many people were depending on me to get it right and get it published on time. I had six months to do it to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Workshop. No pressure.
LOL. It was kind of frightening, but exciting. One fun thing we did was to collect photos of people reading the book and made a trailer—another first for me: https://youtu.be/WWvTjuxdUx0 I even took the book to Ireland and photographed it all around Kinsale and Cork City.
Twenty of the contributors came to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s 10th anniversary, which is where I released the book and gave each writer a copy. The University of Dayton’s bookstore sold 100 copies at the event.
And here I have to interject, the book won a 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Award for humor, which, as you can imagine, really made my day, and those of the contributors. The award came from left field as this was my first foray into self-publishing and I never expected this kind of recognition on my first go-round. To read more about the award, go to the Erma Bombeck site http://humorwriters.org/
I have only experienced writer’s block once, and that was on a devotional I wrote for Harper Christian (Zondervan, FaithGirlz) and that was a book called: Whatever Is Lovely: a 90-day Devotional and Journal. The book was based on Philippians 4:8 and consisted of eight chapters with eight subchapters, each with a Scripture reference, an anecdotal example written in “tween speak,” a take-away, a life lesson and a prayer.
Half way through the book, I thought I had run out of things to say and was in danger of repeating myself. I thought about telling my editor I hit a wall and giving back the advance. But I prayed over it, and I got what I needed to go on.
Plus I took a tip from my husband: He told me to get a box of manila folders. Label one with a chapter heading. Then write anything and everything, nonstop, that comes to mind about that chapter. Don’t worry about form or spelling or run on sentences, or half sentences. Just put down what comes to mind, he said.
The next step is to repeat that same procedure for the next chapter and the next chapter, etc. This way, you are working out your writer’s block, plus you’re getting something down about each chapter that you may or may not use in the final. However, at least you have something to start with instead of a blank page. It worked for me. This book took approximately a year to write.
My bestselling cat book is Cat Confessions: a Kitty Come Clean Tell All Book. It sales are currently over 135,000 copies and it won a 2020 Evangelical Christian Publishers Award for sales of over 100,000. I refer to it as the little red book that could…and did. I never in my life expected this, but happy it happened.
I started my career as a stringer on several local newspapers, then went on to feature stories, humor, and editorial pieces. I wrote a Hers column for the Connecticut Post for a while until I got into publishing. My first book, The Joy of Being Single, with illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast, was initially a humor column published by the Hartford Courant. I pitched it to Peter Workman at Workman Publishing with one letter, without an agent, and he bought it, which is why I believe being an author was what I was meant to be.
While I continued to write books for myself, I got a senior editor’s position at Reader’s Digest Children’s Publishing (now defunct), where, as their in-house author, I wrote quite a few religious and trade titles under my own and pseudonyms. Once I got the taste of publishing, there was no going back, and after a nine-year stint at RDCP, I went out on my own. My books range from the Divine (kids’ Bible books, inspirational titles) to the Feline (cat humor, general humor) and I enjoy writing both.
Allia, how do cats inspire creativity?
Write what you know, the experts say. And I believe I know cats…at least the ones I’ve been privileged to have in my life. Since I’ve been on my own, one or more of these exquisite furballs have been by my side, on my couch, in my bed. So it seemed only natural for me to focus on them a) because they are hysterically funny; b) because each cat is unique, quirky, and their antics always gave me oodles to write about.
What advice can you share with newbies?
My advice to anyone who wants to be an author is: have patience; believe in yourself, practice perseverance (it’s your greatest asset in this business); have fun writing; savor your successes, quickly forget your rejections (everyone gets them), take risks, be unique, don’t consistently compare yourself to others; make genuine friends (not just the ones who can help you succeed), be in the moment, don’t let others’ opinions color yours, read volumes, stay genuine, be satisfied, and count your blessings.
My first foray in self-publishing
During the pandemic, when a lot of publishing was in turmoil, I took a leap of faith and decided to self-publish/republish three books. The Worrywart’s Prayer Book: 40 “Help-Me-Get-a-Grip, God” Meditations and Prayers was originally published by Health Communications, Inc. (the Chicken Soup people). I decided with the world in such a state, and because the rights had reverted to me, that I’d dust the manuscript off and republish the book, so I updated the cover, format, typesetting and put it out on KDP. In a recent Bookbub featured deal, it sold 1,300+ e-book copies in one day. Of all the books I’ve written, this is my favorite. So I was very glad to see it on Amazon again with its new look.
The second book, Why a Cat is Still Better Than a Man, was a revival of a title popular back in the day. And again, I decided, with the okay of the illustrator, Nicole Hollander (she is the syndicated Sylvia cartoonist many will remember), to republish with a new cover, several new cartoons, and revamped format. It is in soft cover and e-book. Because of the pandemic, I really didn’t get a chance to market this book. So I’m trying to get the word out about it now.
Last pandemic title is the follow-up to the bestseller, What I Like About Me, entitled What I Like About You. It’s a kids’ picture book and it won an Indie Award for Children’s Picture Books.
Right now, I have two kids’ books and one inspirational cat book in the pipeline and am happy as a clam (are clams really happy?). The cat book is about cats and eternity. I’ve had this title in my “To do” list for years, and am finally getting around to it.
Over the years, as have many CWAers, I’ve rescued several cats. The two I have now are Nolan Nolan, and Colleen Fiona Shannon Nolan. The story with Nolan is I went to the shelter to adopt a black cat, and spied the most beautiful black ball of fluff. His name? Nolan. So, I called my husband to tell him I found the perfect cat and he might just be a relative.
My second cat Colleen Fiona Shannon Nolan, got her name because I couldn’t make up my mind so I christened her with all three first names. However, I call her “Girlie Cat.”
Last year, I did something I never thought I would do: I adopted a rescue dog from South Carolina. My husband kept calling her “Here, Kitty,” as he was used to calling the cats. So we named the dog, Miss Kitty. She is very very cat-like, licks her paws, sleeps a lot, and has NOT barked since we got her a year and four months ago. Vet said people who had her (they think in a puppy mill) might have sprayed dogs with water so they wouldn’t bark. So she’s quiet as a mouse (LOL). She gets along with the cats because she is very very shy and not nervous or jumping around. She sits in my office with the cats and they provide good vibes for my writing.
If I had my life to live over again, I’d do exactly what I’m doing…only I’d have started it much much much earlier.
Visit my website: www.AlliaWrites for more info. Like my page The Worrywart’s Prayer Book and my author page, Allia Zobel Nolan Books ‘n Things.
Such a wonderful writer and a fun person!
Thank you, Brian. We think so too.
Thanks a bunch for the wonderful interview. It’s really awesome for you to take the time and effort to familiarize people with our organization and our members. God bless and thanks again.
I get a lot out of it too. Thanks for participating.
Cat writers? I’m sharing this with two cat lovers who will love this.
I love your husband’s tip about the folders. I’m going to try that. Great to know more about you Allia!
We’re always learning something from each other!
Thanks so much. Yes, the tip about the manila folders saved me, and it can really help. Thanks for commenting.
Allia is an amazing writer….. “Why a Cat is Better Than a Man” is one of my faves. One note/correction: pseudomonas is a bacteria; I think you meant pseudonyms. (danged auto-correct)
Thanks for the correction. Fixed now. (And you’re so right about autocorrect, though I still should have caught it before publishing.)
But that’s exactly why I like auto-correct: those funny corrections are entertaining!
…and sometimes a bit of a disaster.