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.