Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Interview with Jane Kirkpatrick

Jane Kirkpatrick is internationally recognized for her 20 published books, 17 of which are historical and often set in the American West. Several of those books have been Book of the Month and Literary Guild selections. Jane is the Keynote Speaker for this year's Northwest Christian Writers' Renewal conference.

1.     Where do you find inspiration?

A cartoon I have posted in my office says: "Inspiration couldn't make it today. She sent me instead. I'm a dry scratchy cough."  So I can't wait for inspiration to appear, I have to invite her. Music inspires me as does the landscape. I read poetry. The words of others inspire me - prayers and scripture. Since most of my work is drawn from actual historical characters, I read old journals and diaries, books about early settlement, visit small city and county museums, historical sites, listen to story-tellers speaking of their families and  always alert to something strange that I can thoroughly explore.

2.      Practicing and perfecting craft is key to becoming a great writer. What tips or practices have you incorporated into your daily writing to improve it over the course of your career?

A huge help for me was suggested by my first editor Rod Morris (now at Harvest House). He suggested I read Structuring Your Novel by Meredith and Fitzgerald. They have a practice that I call "the work before the work." They suggest answering three questions: what is my intention? What is my attitude (what do I feel deeply about) and what is my purpose in writing this story/essay/poem etc. (or how do I hope a reader will be changed)? I may write three or four pages responding to each question but then get it down to once sentence each. I post those three sentences on the top of my computer so when I struggle I can look at them and find a way to move forward. I also usually end my writing for the day in the middle of a sentence so I know right where to pick up the next day. I also get into the "zone" by reminding myself to" enter and live the story" and thus silence the harpies who would tell me that the work I do isn't worthy.

3.      Could you offer one nugget of writing truth you’ve discovered that might apply to all writers, whether novelist, children’s writers or freelancers?

Feel deeply about whatever you write and risk the pain of that depth trusting that you're not alone.

4.      Many writers find it hard to “sell” family and friends on their writing career. Could you share a bit of your experience? Did you ever face this dilemma? What would you suggest to a writer facing pressure to pursue a “practical” career?

Ah, that's a big one. When I first began writing I had another career that brought an income in so my family didn't give me a hard time about writing...besides, I chastised myself so much better than they might have. I'd say things like "who told you you could write?" or "You're spending all this time and surely it could be better spent on something that made money." Or "Angie Hunt has published over 200 books in her career. What's wrong with you?"  I discovered that to do away with the guilt of spending time that might otherwise be "better" spent, that I became a morning person, setting my alarm for 4:00am and committing to being writer-ready by 5:00am. I gave myself two hours. No one else was up then, I would only have been sleeping otherwise so I had less guilt about using the time that way. Others have told me they dealt with the time challenge (and lack of support therefore) by keeping a similar commitment to write three days a week for 30 minutes or write after the kids were in bed or during lunch hours. In my writing classes people are amazed at the powerful things they can write in thirty minutes. To respond to the "Who told you you could write?" I'd remind myself that it wasn't my job to write the great American novel nor to win awards nor even to get published. My job was to show up, to assume the position of a writer and to tell the stories I'd been given the best way I knew how and to trust that I wasn't alone in the telling. As for that Angie Hunt rant, I'd remind myself that like Angie I worked to tell stories that touched the human heart and that each of us has a gift expressed differently.  I think if we give worth to our work that in time others will come to see it has value as well. Sometimes family discounts are work when what they are really experiencing is a feeling of separation, as though they are less important to us than the story. So I do make a special commitment when I "re-enter" as I call it, to be present with my husband and family and not give the impression that I'd rather be writing.

5.      Is there anything currently published that you wish you had written?

Interesting question! I wish I'd written Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy or Sandra Byrd's To Die For or Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible or Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird or Marilyn Robinson's Gilead or anything by Mary Oliver, Frederick Buechner, or Madeleine L'Engle. I can reread those works many times and still find new insights and inspiration. I know I'm not them as a writer but I so admire their work and yes, I have to silence the harpies who suggest that I not bother to write if I can't write as they do. It's that "gifts differing" again.

6.      What is that one project you would love to write but haven’t yet?  

There's a ranch in Central Oregon, the Imperial Stock Ranch, the oldest still working ranch in the region. Three women played a major part in that ranch but each had tragic trials. I'd love to explore their stories but I'm still looking for the hopeful ending. I'll call it The Imperial Women and I think it would be much like a female Legends of the Fall. Of course, I'm also working on a project now that is my current favorite, the story of the first black woman to bring a law suit in Oregon in 1851 -- and win. It's working title is The Peace of Encircling Hills. As I said when I heard about it...."now there's a story."  I just hope I can tell it well. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Interview with Terry Whalin

Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor and his magazine work has appeared in more than 50 publications. A former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 books through traditional publishers in a wide range of topics from children’s books to biographies to co-authored books. Several of Terry’s books have sold over 100,000 copies.

1.     As an acquisitions editor, what do you look for in manuscripts? How important is  a unique sense of voice?

Great question. For any manuscript, I'm looking for solid writing. From my years in this business, in a short time, I can tell if something is pulling me into their work or not--whether nonfiction, fiction or even children's books. The next factor that I'm looking for is passion about their topic and a connection to their reading audience.

Every writer has a unique way of telling their story and that "should" show up in their writing.

2.     Could you tell us a little about the progression of your publishing career and your current role?
I was trained as a newspaper journalist at one of the top j schools in the country, Indiana University. I planned to work for a newspaper but I made a personal commitment to Jesus halfway through my sophomore year. You can read the story of that life change at: When I graduated from college, I made a left hand turn out of college into linguistics. I'm certain my journalism colleagues thought I was nuts to leave writing. I spent 17 years with Wycliffe Bible Translators and 10 years in linguistics.

Over 20 years ago, I returned to my writing in the magazine area and began writing for magazines. I still write for magazines and have written for over 50 publications. My first book was published in 1992 and I've written more than 60 books for traditional publishers--children's books, youth books, biographies, how-to, co-authored books, Bible studies, devotionals, etc.

About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to work inside a publisher as the acquisitions editor at David C. Cook. then I spent three years acquiring fiction at Howard Books and now I work as an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing.

Since 2003, Morgan James has published over 1500 books. 30% of our books are Christian and about 30% of our authors have literary agents. Our books have been on the New York Times list 19 times (which means we sell many books inside the brick and mortar bookstores).  As an acquisitions editor, I'm charged to find nonfiction, fiction and children's books to present to our publication board. We receive about 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books--so it is a major deal if you receive a contract from our pub board.

3.     What would you say the greatest need is right now at Morgan James?

The continual search at Morgan James is for high quality nonfiction, fiction and children's books. We are known as the entrepreneurial publisher and our stance in the marketplace is considerably different from any other publisher. One of the best ways to understand our distinctions is to study the comparison chart on our website at: This chart clearly shows the difference between Morgan James, traditional publishing and self-publishing in a variety of basic categories.

4.     What is the biggest mistake you see writers make in their submissions today?

The biggest mistake that I see on a consistent basis is where authors have submitted something which is incomplete. By incomplete, it does not include their mailing address, email or best phone number. We need all of that information in the submission for two reasons:
1) we acknowledge every submission with a letter that we send to the author in the mail. Yes, it is old fashion but it shows that we cared enough to respond and 2) we need your mailing address if our publication board ultimately decides that your book idea is one of the 150 books a year (out of 5,000 submission) where they want to issue an acceptance letter and a book contract. You can't issue a contract without a mailing address.

The old saying is true: the devil is in the details and unfortunately many authors leave out some critical details in their submission.

5.     What would you say are the biggest myths in publishing?

There are many myths in publishing but here's a couple which come to mind:

1. Every author needs a literary agent. Not true since only 30% of our authors have literary agents and it is very hard for beginning writers to get a literary agent to represent them. Also I know a number of bestselling authors (you would instantly recognize their names) who do not have literary agents. It's a myth that you have to have an agent. In fact, for many authors, they aren't ready for a literary agent.

2. Writers only write. Most beginning writers dream of writing day in and day out. Yet the business of publishing demands that writers spend part of their time on other areas such as building their own presence with their target audience or marketing or social media or public speaking or ????. The work of being a writer is much more than simply excellent storytelling (which is a critical part of the process).

6.      E-books, POD and e-readers have altered the publishing landscape. How do you envision the publishing realm continuing to change over the next 5-10 years?

Yes, Ebooks have changed the landscape but not as radically as many people believe. People consume books in many different ways and you want to be in as many of those different formats as possible. Ebooks are still only 25 to 30% of the overall market. That leaves 70% to 75% of the market to printed books. There is all this fear that the printed book is going to disappear but that is a myth. 

Authors have an exciting number of choices and ways to get their words into print. The challenge is for them to make good decisions and not get sucked into some scam. By scam I mean fall prey for these ads that say "Get your book published for $500." Yes that is possible but how are they defining "publish?" Don't tell me your book will be on 19,000 online bookstores. Look at the production numbers of self-published books for 2011: Also understand that "Author Solutions" which published over 47,000 titles appears with names like CrossBooks or WestBow or Voices of Guideposts or ???. Authors need to be educated about what they are doing before they jump into such waters.

Also at the end of the day, good writing is going to rise to the top and be what will excel and be published. Writers need to work at their craft and learn to tell good stories. That will be true five or ten years from now as much as it is true today.

7.     What’s been the most rewarding experience in your publishing career?

It's how God uses my writing and my teaching in ways that I never know. Occasionally I get a glimpse at the results. For example, recently I heard that a first time author used the contents of my Book Proposals That Sell, to write a book proposal and a publisher gave them a $50,000 book advance.

Or someone will contact me years after I've taught a conference or a workshop about the profound way my teaching changed their life. That is the most rewarding of experiences. Rare but rewarding.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Switching Writing Gears

Life takes us many different places. We learn, grown and move. We make choices that take us one direction or another. The pursuit of a writing career can be quite similar. 

If you follow this blog with any frequency, you know I’ve been writing novels and a non-fiction book. The latter is still very much on the table but these past couple of weeks I’ve decided to follow a new path – freelance writing.

Now, obviously, many a book writer has started as a freelancer or written freelance material to supplement book sales. It’s not like I’m standing at the edge of some unexplored frontier. At this point in time, I believe broadening my horizons, honing my writing skills and stretching me with freelance opportunities is the best choice for my long-term writing career.

What This Means

You will immediately notice the blog will take on a decidedly “freelance” turn. While I won’t ignore the book world entirely, I will focus on opportunities available to freelance writers – content, blogging, press releases, articles and more. The number of freelance writers seems to be growing daily but the opportunities are just as plentiful.  I’ll be following trends, offering insight and hopefully together we’ll discover new avenues for publication

What This Doesn’t Mean

I’ll still offer industry interviews with faculty from local writer’s conferences as well as (hopefully) other freelancers further along in their career, who can share insights and advice to those of us new to the game.

It’s my strong desire to make this blog a regular stop for readers and to offer content that is useful and encouraging. That won’t change.

I’m looking forward to sharing this new path with you and hope you will join me for the ride. Maybe we’ll learn some things together.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Interview with Beth Adams

This week Beth Adams visits the blog in advance of the NW Christian Writers' Renewal next month. Beth is a senior editor at Howard Books, focusing mostly on fiction. Previous she worked at Guideposts and Random House, and has degrees from Princeton and New York University. She works out of the main Simon and Schuster office in New York.

1. What’s been the most rewarding experience in your editing career?

Oh goodness. Every book is a special experience in some way. It’s so satisfying  to see a project go from a raw manuscript to a finished book. But beyond that, I can’t pick. This one is too hard!

2. What keeps you engaged with a story? What does “story” mean to you in the big picture?

I stay engaged in a story when there’s a compelling question that drives the story—when there’s something I need to know. I’ll keep reading to find out what happens. You can do this with any genre, even ones where there’s a pretty standard plot formula.

3. What are two of your all-time favorite books, fiction or non-fiction? Why?

This one is too hard too! I can never pick!

4. What are the primary reasons manuscripts fail to grab an editor’s interest?

Most of the books that cross my desk seem… good enough. Good enough is fine, but I’m looking for a book that stands out. I’m always looking for something that takes the book up a notch, makes it really stand out, that gives us an angle to sell it. Basically, I’m looking for a hook. A book that catches my attention will have that.

5. E-books, POD and e-readers have altered the publishing landscape. How do you envision the publishing realm continuing to change over the next 5-10 years?

 think e-books will continue to become a larger part of the market every year. This creates enormous opportunities for writers and publishers, and I think we will continue to find ways to capitalize on this more and more. I don’t think paper books will be going away anytime soon, but ultimately, readers are going to pick whatever format works best for them, and that’s progress. As long as they’re reading, I’m happy.

6. What one piece of advice would you offer an unpublished writer?

My best advice is to read a lot, and write a lot. I guess that’s technically two pieces of advice, but they’re closely related. Read so you know what else is out there, what you like, what you love, what works, what doesn’t. Read because it broadens your horizons and teaches you things you didn’t know. And it might just change the way you think about writing. And write. Do it a lot. Do it every day. Write things that you want to publish and things that you never think you can get published. The more your write, the better your craft will become, but it only happens through practice. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Interview with Jesse Florea

Today is the first in a series of interviews leading up to the Northwest Christian Writers' Renewal, May 17-18, at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, WA. My first guest is Jesse Florea, editorial director for youth publications at Focus on the Family, for Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. magazines. He co-hosts the biweekly "Official Adventures in Odyssey" podcast.

You can learn more about the conference here.

1. How in the world did you ever decide to pursue a career in publishing? Why children’s stories?

Up until my sophomore year of high school, I pictured myself as a junior high teacher. But that year I took an introduction to journalism course and fell in love with writing. I started writing sports stories for my local weekly newspaper in Louisville, Colo., and continued to cover high school sports for 26 years (all through college and even during many of my years with Focus on the Family). As far as children’s stuff, I’ve always have a passion for children to know what and why they believe in Christ. Kids need to have a firm foundation of faith before their teen years when they’re bombarded by the media, friends and peer pressure. My position at Clubhouse and Club Jr. lines up perfectly with how God made me. I always say I haven’t worked a day in my life, because I’m having too much fun.

2. What do you see as the one thing lacking from submissions that cross your desk?

Engaging child characters. The best children’s writers respect children and challenge them in their writing. They don’t write “down” to the audience. They don’t have Mom or Dad or grandma swoop in and solve every problem. Many stories I see don’t give children that respect. Whereas books in the mainstream marketplace do. Strange, huh?
Also, I need humor!!! Kids love to laugh. Studies show that children laugh more than 300 times a day, compared to about 20 times a day for adults. Help kids fill their laugh quotient by writing humor.

3. What types of stories or articles are you seeking right now? How far in advance do you plan each issue’s material?

For Clubhouse, we need personality stories of ordinary kids doing extraordinary things for God. Takes research and interviewing, but totally worth it. Quizzes, especially humorous ones, would also be great. Clubhouse Jr. needs Bible stories and rebus stories. Or write a rebus Bible story—it’s a win-win. We work five months ahead but plan eight months ahead—even longer for Christmas and Easter where we get lots of stories.

4. What advice would you give a writer trying to break into a children’s magazine?

Study the publication. Know the voice, style and length of stories it publishes. Also, Sunday school take-home papers are a great way to start. I sold my first two children’s stories to Sunday school take-home papers. Try your writing out on kids. One of my writers pays his son to be his editor. Any story that he sells to Clubhouse, his son makes 15 percent.

5. If you could write any story in the world, what would that look like?

I’m a huge sports fan, so it’d probably be something related to Christianity and sports. Recently, I’ve been blessed to work on a few of these types of projects. I helped write a Jeremy Lin biography during the height of Lin-Sanity last year. And a book I wrote on New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera just came out in April. Plus, I did a Playing With Purpose: Baseball book with a couple of friends that highlighted the good guys in that sport.
Maybe one day I’ll branch out and write fiction . . . but right now that scares me.

Monday, April 8, 2013

It's Conference Season!

That's right, if you're up for some learning and some schmoozing with other writers, agents and editors. 

I'm focusing on conferences happening in my neck of the woods, Washington. We're blessed to have some fabulous conferences throughout the year. Here is a sample of what to expect:

SCBWI Western Washington Regional Writers' Conference, April 19-21

This is one of the most fun and informative conferences around for those of us who write for kids. Year after year, the regional advisers exceed my expectations with the quality of the faculty and I always make at least one or two new writing friends. From First Pages sessions to illustrator-only sessions and beyond, this one is not to be missed---but naturally, I WILL be missing it this year.

Northwest Christian Writers Renewal, May 17-18

If you write for a Christian audience, then this conference is for you. One of the best bangs for your buck of any conference in the region. Two days are filled to the gills with teaching sessions, critique feedback, fellowship and fun. I've met some of my best friends at this conference and highly recommend it. You'll be hard pressed to find any size conference that offers such a whirlwind of activity in such a short time. 

Upcoming conferences:

I'll highlight these in a future post. You might want to get these on your radar now:

Pacific Northwest Writers Association Summer Writes Conference, July 25-28
Oregon Christian Writers Conference, August 12-15
Whidbey Island Writers Conference, October 25-27

The bottom line for attending a writers' conference? First, it's all about the people. Reach out to fellow writers and form new friendships. Don't just focus on the editors and agents. You never know, you may discover the perfect critique partner. Second, decide what you want to achieve far in advance of the conference itself. This way you don't head there without vision or return home feeling like a failure. 

Happy Conference Season!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Writing Parent

Finding time to write can be difficult enough. You have a full-time job. You have other responsibilities inside or outside your home. And that's BEFORE children come along!

How in the world do you find time to write as a parent? 

Whether you're at home with your kids, getting them each day for school or caring for a newborn; or if you leave each day for work, then come home to wall-to-wall kid time and family duties, you know the drill.

"I have to squeeze some time to write. Somewhere between changing diapers, helping with homework and making dinner. Oh, then there's the laundry."

Finding time to write is not as easy as it sounds. Sure, fifteen minutes sounds doable enough but once those kids are in bed, and you finally have some time to unwind, motivation may be a pipe dream.

How can you maintain motivation amidst your day-to-day parenting adventures? Here are a couple of suggestions:

* Utilize work breaks and lunches - Personally, this has been one of my most productive times to write. If you hold a full-time job outside the home, give it a try.

* Carry a mini-recorder so you don't lose any thoughts while driving or have forgotten a notepad.

* Shut off the Internet after the kids go to bed and hit it hard for at least 15 minutes. When there is finally quiet in the house, you never know how much you can accomplish.

* Schedule one night a week to write. I take one night and go spend anywhere from 3-5 hours writing at a coffee shop or the library. This is dedicated time where you can ensure no distractions, at least not from your kids.

What secrets have you found to finding time to write?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Transforming Your Writing Life in 2013

How was your 2012? Did you accomplish all your writing goals? Most of them? None of them?

No need to fret, it’s a new year and that means new goals and the opportunity to reap success. What that success will look like is totally up to you. It will take dedication, hard work and passion.

Are you ready for it?

Will this be the year you finish a manuscript? Are you working on editing a completed manuscript to submit to an agent an editor?

Are you waiting to hear back after querying agents and are unsure of your next project, but know you need to keep those creative juices flowing?

Do you have a deadline looming with an editor for your first, second or tenth book?

Or are you standing on the precipice of finally jumping into this writing life with both feet?

Dive in, the water's fine, my friend.

I've determined that 2013 is THE year my writing life moves forward. I'm taking steps to make certain it happens. Obviously, some things are out of your hands. All you can do is what you can do.

It can be as simple as steadying yourself to begin querying, complete a book proposal or send off that final revision to an editor. Whatever it is, you CAN succeed this year. Take the step. Or the plunge.  But do it. Do SOMETHING today.

You never know what this year will bring. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A New Year, A New Vision

It’s been awhile coming but I’m climbing up on the blogging horse again. While I won’t say that life has settled down – really, does that EVER happen? – I do think now is prime time to crank up the blog.

I’ve spent some time re-imagining what this year on the blog will look like. I’m hoping to offer more useful content, conduct more interactive dialogues, comment on the happenings in the publishing world and don’t forget those interviews!

It’s my sincere desire that you’ll visit this blog and connect with me. I realize there are a gazillion writing-focused blogs out there and many of them are well worth your time. Heck, I read them as well.

I’ve incorporated a new vision to my writing for 2013 as well. I’ll be writing new stories, of course, but I’m calling this the “Year of Revision and Submission” because that’s where I’m at in my writing career. I’m still pre-published (besides a devotional) but believe this will be the year I take the next step.

To that end, I’ll be attending at least one writer’s workshop and probably one or two conferences, in addition to the popular WriteOnCon in August. I’ll also be reporting on interesting articles, my take on the publishing business and many other things.

I’m looking ahead to a great year and wish you all the best in your writing life and beyond.
God bless.