1. First of all, thanks for visiting my blog, Jim. What has been the most rewarding part of your writing career?
Letters from readers. My favorite regarding an article on suicide: "Your article saved my life tonight." Knowing that I'm making an eternal difference in the lives of readers keeps me starting at a computer screen all day long.
2. In your role as an editor, is there something you specifically look for in the writing that is often overlooked by beginning writers?
A great article needs a great lead (opening paragraph). The author is not simply competing with other articles and books, but the thousands of other things a potential reader could be doing: another game of "Angry Birds," TV, watching the new neighbors move in . . .
Then, once they have my attention, the message and writing style has to be fresh and creative.
As far as books, most proposed books would make a better article than a book: not enough original content, the author isn't famous or infamous enough for their life story to be a book, author doesn't have a platform. And articles reach a thousand times more readers.
3. How do you balance your writing career with your editing career? What aspects do you find helpful to both endeavors? What challenges do you face bouncing between the two?
There's a great line in the film Finding Forrester. The author, played by Sean Connery, advises his student, "Write the first draft with your heart. The second with your head." Good writing comes from the heart, good editing from the head, so you have to turn off the inner "editor" while you're writing, but then be absolutely heartless in editing.
I don't find it difficult, but maybe being a bit schizophrenic is helpful. I do find it's most helpful to separate writing and editing by a few days so I come back to the piece more objectively.
4. What advice do you have for conference attendees who are curious about writing devotionals but feel they don’t have what it takes, or perhaps don’t believe it will add to their writing resume?
Devos are a great way to break into writing. A publisher needs 365 devos a year! And you learn to write tight with a very clear focus. Also, remember that devos should illuminate rather than educate. That's the biggest problem I find with submissions.
5. What are you currently looking for that you’re not seeing in your inbox?
Vista tracks with Wesleyan Publishing House's curriculum, so the best (only) way to break in is request to be put on the theme list. Writers receive thirteen topics for inspirational, practical (500-550 words) and humorous articles (250-300). Just email a request to jim (at) jameswatkins (dot) com. Then writers submit original and reprint articles that fit that theme.
What I'm not seeing--and would love to see--are short short stories (500-550 words) that tie into the weekly themes.
6. What one or two pieces of advice would you give to nonfiction writers interested in pursuing publication with VISTA or Wesleyan Publishing House? Thanks for your time, Jim!
Read the writers' guidelines and online sample copies at www.wesleyan.org/wph/inside/writers_guidelines/ It amazes me that I receive submissions from people who have no idea what we publish. They submit like they're picking lottery numbers!