Friday, April 21, 2017

Go Teen Writers LIVE: Episode Two

Hey all! Shannon here. Everyone had their doughnuts today? Friday is doughnut day around these parts.

Once you've got your doughnut in hand, settle back and click that PLAY button, because it is my absolute pleasure to bring you the second episode of Go Teen Writers LIVE!

If you were selected to ask a question for one of our episodes and you don't see your question featured this time, rest assured it's coming! We have several episodes going live over the next two weeks.

And remember, if you'd like to ask Stephanie, Jill and me a question, simply participate in the writing exercises as they become available, and use the Rafflecopter below each exercise to enter the drawing. We've been so impressed with your writing, friends. Thank you for choosing to write with us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Power of Routine

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

You know the drill.

No questions required.

You have done or seen this many times.

You know what comes next.

You know what to do.

That kind of knowledge creates the ease that comes from having a routine. It makes hard things second nature.

The word "routine" is a French derivative of the word route. A routine helps you know the way to get somewhere or achieve something.


routine [roo-teen]

- a customary or regular course of procedure.
- commonplace tasks, chores, or duties as must be done regularly or at specified intervals; typical or everyday activity.
- regular, unvarying, habitual, unimaginative, or rote procedure.
- an unvarying and constantly repeated formula, as of speech or action, repetitious.

- of the nature of, proceeding by, or adhering to routine: routine duties.

Did you know that your mood, resilience, and performance are greatly determined by your daily actions? How you spend your time can affect your entire day. The choices you make when you sit down to write are a big deal.

If you start by procrastinating, by the time you finally do get to work, you're often working with an underlining tension. You know you're behind, so you feel anxious when you should be in the zone! And this anxiousness often makes it more difficult to get into the zone. So you've not only sabotaged yourself, but now you're struggling to get the job done as well.

It can be really difficult to reach your daily word count goals when you first have to overcome obstacles, distractions, and all kinds of random "surprises" that interrupt you from your work. Wouldn't it be best to at least try to set yourself up to succeed?

I'd like to suggest coming up with a work routine. Once you have a routine, if you repeat these actions each time you sit down to write, they should help you get into the zone and be more productive. The routine will train your brain to focus more quickly. It should keep you from getting sidetracked and help to make your work become second nature. A habit.

You might be thrown off by some of the words in the definition above. Words like: unimaginative, repetitious, or rote procedure. I in no way mean to imply that your writing craft should be these things. Not at all. I am suggesting that you create a routine to set yourself up to do your best work.

Charles Duhigg says in his book The Power of Habit, that once you're in a routine, "the brain can almost completely shut down [and you'll] have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else."

That would be creating a wonderful work of fiction.

The goal is to move on autopilot. Remove all distractions, get to your writing space, sit down, and start creating. This will likely involve some trial and error. Some things will work for you, others won't.

Here is what my current routine looks like. I'm still perfecting it. But I think this will be very helpful.

1. (Ahem.) Visit bathroom so I have no reason to get up from the chair once I sit down.
2. Gather my necessaries. (Full water bottle, map from story, any notes I need for the scene, etc.)
3. Put cell phone of vibrate and leave it in the living room where I cannot hear it. (I will get up to walk the house at least once an hour to stretch my legs and arms, so I can peek at the phone then for emergencies.)
4. Remove all snacks and candy from my desk. (Snacking keeps my fingers busy not writing, so I instead choose to bribe myself with food. When I complete my first writing goal, I may have X. Second writing goal? I may have lunch, etc. I sometimes even set the snack on the other side of the room where I can see it. Ex: A Cadbury Creme Egg, glimmering on the distant dining room table, can be a great motivator.)
5. Close the internet--or at least close out of Facebook and email. Turn off that Facebook notification that pops up on my computer even when I'm not on Facebook to tell me someone did something. (Talk about a distraction . . . )
6. Read through my plan for the scene I'm about to write/edit.
7. Walk laps around the inside of my house until I come up with the first sentence I want to write.
8. Sit down and write that first sentence, then keep on going for a thirty-minute word war with myself. The "time race" will help me keep on task (and hopefully also keep me from biting my fingernails, another thing that keeps my fingers busy not writing.)
9. When I finish the word war, I may get up (if I want to) and walk a lap around the house to stretch. But if I'm into the scene, I can go another thirty minutes.
10. Every hour I must get up and walk a lap around the house (and stretch my arms) to keep me healthy. If I'm in the middle of a scene, I'll work on the next line in my head so that when I sit back down, I'm ready to type.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, share in the comments. If not, do you see how one might be helpful?

Monday, April 17, 2017

What is it like to be an author?

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.

If you read our publication stories last week, maybe, like me, you noticed a common theme that being a published writer was not Jill, Shannon, or I thought it would be like.

I imagine this is normal for most, if not all professions. Maybe you've even found it's true for events like going to college, having your driver's license, or getting your first phone. You thought you would feel a certain way, or have some kind of specific freedom, but the experience is different.

In my post last week, I made the statement, "I had spent all these years learning how to get published, but I didn't know a thing about how to be an author." Melanie left a comment asking, "Any advice on how to be an author?"

I had already planned to talk today about life as an author but I had really struggled with the post, honestly. I wrote a thousand words that bounced all over the place. Until Melanie asked her question, I just couldn't figure out how to approach what being an author is like. So, thank you, Melanie!

***Quick note about my use of the terms "writer" and "author" throughout this article. I chose to use writer when talking about being pre-published and author when referring to someone who is paid for their writing.***

The Writing

The obvious piece of being an author is the writing. This is the reason we wanted to be an author in the first place, our love of writing and stories. As we did all our striving to write a book that was good enough for others to want to read, we kept thinking, "Wouldn't it be amazing if I could get paid to write stories?"

It is amazing. I feel grateful nearly everyday that writing stories is my job.

But what does the reality of it actually look like? I've said it before that when I originally imagined my life as an author, it meant living in NYC, writing when I felt like it, sending my finished manuscript to my editor, and then starting on the next one.

It's certainly not that, so what does the writing piece of being an author look like?

Selling your ideas: One thing that surprised me about being an author is the need to sell my stories. My first taste of this came in the form of describing the story I had already written to agents in a way that I hoped would convince them to represent me. Then later, it was trying to describe my story in a way that would excite editors enough to ask to read more of my book.

I thought after I received my first contract, my days of trying to sell my story were over, when actually they were just beginning. I needed to learn how to sell my novel to potential readers, whether it was on my website, on social media, or in person at signings or my day-to-day life.

Maybe you've heard the hardest book you sell is the first one, but I don't think that's true. With every book you want to write, you have to convince your agent and your publisher that this book is worth their investment.

Juggling projects: Another piece of the writing life as an author that surprised me was the need to juggle projects. Before I received my contract, I had trained myself to stop chasing shiny new ideas and focus on one manuscript until it was completely finished. This discipline served me well for learning how to finish a book.

My first contract was for a three book series, and since I hadn't planned on the book being a series, I had two books that needed to be written from scratch. As I was writing book two, my editor got back to me with content edits for book one, and they were due in a few weeks. So I set aside my draft of book two and made the changes she requested to book one.

Then I got back to working on book two, only to have my agent ask me to put together a few more contemporary YA ideas that she could pitch for after this series released. Again, I paused work on book two to brainstorm new ideas. Then while I was editing book two, the copy editor sent me line edits for book one, and again I had to stop to pay attention to those.

Sometimes (often, it seems) when you have a deadline you have AN AMAZING STORY IDEA and you want to go run after it so badly. But you can't because you're lucky enough to be an author, and you have deadlines.

You're not just writing stories: In addition to writing stories you love, you now have lots of other things you need to write. Including, but not limited to:
  • Your author bio: Before I became published, I always thought authors had assistants who did this for them. Nope.
  • Back cover copy and a hook sentence: Back cover copy is self-explanatory, but a hook sentence is your book boiled down to a sentence or two. Like for The Lost Girl of Astor Street, mine is, "When her best friend is abducted during the spring of 1924, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail will hunt for answers amidst the corruption that strangles Chicago, but she will have to decide just how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the truth when her amateur sleuthing skills lead her back to her own front door." If you're traditionally published, these things often get tweaked or rewritten along the way, but you're still responsible for providing it. If you're self-published, obviously this is up to you unless you outsource it.
  • Story synopsis: When you're pitching a book, whether to agents or editors, this is often the first thing you're asked for. Even if you've written multiple books for them. My editor likes me to turn in 2-3 page synopses. Not everyone in the publishing house is able to read every book, so sometimes this is all they have to familiarize themselves with your story as they put together marketing campaigns and sales copy.
  • Social media posts: Content for Twitter, Facebook, or wherever you like to hang out online.
  • Blog posts, articles, and interviews
  • Website copy for your author site
  • Classes: I teach at several workshops throughout the year, and those all involve writing out my talks.
  • Emails: With my agent in Portland, my editor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and my closest writing friends living everywhere from Calfornia to West Virginia, I write a lot of emails. Writing good emails is also important for asking for favors, like endorsements or help from other authors.
With that lengthy list of not-stories to write, you might be asking, "If I do all that, how will I have time for writing stories?"

It's not about finding a balance, it's about identifying seasons

I spent the first few years of my career chasing balance.

I wanted to balance writing with marketing, and my career with parenting, and I frequently felt like I was failing at all aspects of my life.

As I prepared for my debut novel, Me, Just Different, to come out back in July 2009, I was completely unprepared for how much of my time launching a book would take up. I was a real grouch about not being able to find time to write. 

Somewhere along my journey, I started to understand that balance wasn't going to happen. That not everything could be a priority all the time.  I learned to identify seasons when different aspects of being an author became my highest priority. 

When The Lost Girl of Astor Street released in February, for about three months my focus during my work time was marketing. I said yes to every interview, every opportunity to promote the title, and I set a date for when I got to start writing again. Whenever I felt grouchy because I missed writing, I could look at my calendar and say, "This is when my promotions schedule clears up enough that I can start writing again." At first, I would only allow myself to write for 25% of my work time, and then I made myself shut things down so that I could take care of all the marketing work. But eventually I was able to go back to the split that I like, which is about 50% writing and 50% "other stuff" like social media.

A few other surprises I experienced when I became an author:

Money is inconsistent: For most authors, it takes several successful books before checks start showing up on any kind of regular schedule. Even then, a lot of publishers only pay out royalties 2-4 times a year. Indie writers get paid much quicker, of course, but they're also fronting the money for cover design, editing, formatting, and so forth.

Being published doesn't cure insecurities: Every writer I know has similar insecurities to what they had before being published. Sometimes, if you've had a book do really well, insecurities only grow. (What if they don't love the next book like they loved this one???)

Being a writer is like being a small business owner: Not many writers or artists go into their craft for the love of the business. I'm an author because I love writing. But because I make an income from it, the government views me as a business whether I do or not. I pay taxes, have inventory, hire professional services (web design or hosting, etc.), and other businessy things. Some writers are an official business, with a staff and everything.

Few writers stay with one publisher or agent forever: I had very idealistic notions about finding the perfect agent, who would then find me the perfect editor, and then we would all live happily ever after when I hit the bestseller lists.

The truth is, I hardly know any writers who are still with their first agents. And even if you're lucky enough that your editor stays at the same house for several years, there are lots of reasons that authors and publishers part ways. 

Nobody cares about my career like I do: When I was an unagented, unpublished writer, I imagined that having one or both would feel like I was on a team. There's some truth to this. I adore my agent and my editor. Both of them care about me and my career ... but neither of them care about my books as much as I do.

If my book fails, my agent and editor both have other authors they're working with. They can just cut me from their line. I, however, am stuck with me.

Nobody makes sure I'm writing as much as I should be. Nobody reminds me to blog, network, or forces me to use Facebook Live. Nobody makes sure I'm take care of myself so that I don't burn out. While my agent certainly cares about my career, and while my publisher wants me to succeed, ultimately nobody cares like I do, because nobody is stuck with me like I am.

Even though being an author is different than what I imagined it would be, I absolutely love it and can't imagine walking away. Does anything on this list surprise you? Are there questions I left unanswered?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Shannon's Journey to Publication

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

It's been eye-opening for me to read Jill's and Steph's journeys to publication. Whenever I hear someone's story, I'm floored by all the different roads we took to end up on the same shelves.

Growing up, I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a missionary. I wanted to be an astronaut. I don't know that I ever said, "I want to be a writer" but I do know that I've always been a storyteller.

I won writing awards as a kid, but I was very social and writing is such a solitary endeavor. Throughout much of my high school career, I didn't do much more than journal. I wrote things here and there, but aside from a few poems, I didn't pursue publication.

College was much the same. I stayed busy, moved around, did some theatre. It wasn't until I was married and my priorities had shifted that I considered writing as a career.

Telling Stories at Home

My journey to publication began on a dark and stormy night (well, maybe). It was November of 2008, and my baby girl was just shy of three months old. She was a beautiful little thing, but she wasn’t nearly as good a sleeper as her big brother. I had stumbled into a work-from-home job that was a fantastic stroke of luck, but it was all numbers and accounting and though it helped pay the bills, it was not doing a thing for that creative heart inside my chest.

I really wanted to go back to theatre, but I was apprehensive about the time commitment--away from my husband, away from my kids. We were leading the youth group at our church and the thought of missing out on all of that was enough to make me sob. Remember, I'd just had a kid. I was a ball of goo.

So, as I wandered the house with my tiny insomniac, singing and rocking, I actually said the words, "God, why can't I tell stories from home?"

And then I realized: I can tell stories from home.

I’d started writing a few novels over the years--they're unfinished and around here somewhere, I'm sure--but there was something different about this moment. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up an immeasurably valuable nugget: I was learning to be patient with myself.

Maybe it was the gauntlet of parenting, or the sheer lack of sleep, but whatever it was, I knew I had the ability to be patient through the brainstorming process.

That night, I walked and I walked, and I sang a bit, but mostly I thought and thought and thought. Before the night was over, I had a handful of characters and a fairly good idea of just what I wanted to say and where I wanted my characters to go. I had a mental outline and that was enough.

So, I sat down to write–and yes, that’s how I do it. I’m not a big plotter and sometimes that works against me, but I’m learning. Still, by February of 2009, I had a first draft. It was awful, of course, but I was proud of it.

That Time Twitter Really Was The Answer

2009 was full of parenting and editing whenever I could. I enlisted the services of an editor--not to edit, but to read and give me his honest opinion on what he read. He was fabulous and encouraged me on my road to publication.

I found a group of writerly souls to bond with, Inspire Christian Writers, and I committed to attending Mt. Hermon Writers Conference the following year. I even queried a few agents. I got a big round of chirping crickets though, and decided to hold off until after Mt. Hermon.

I continued editing, continued reading about the craft, keeping the conference ahead of me like a crunchy carrot. The time rolled around, and I was devastated when I had to pull out. My gorgeous cherub still wasn’t sleeping and things had actually gotten worse. Leaving her just wasn’t realistic.

So, now it’s spring, 2010. I’m several drafts into my novel and no real goal in sight, except landing an agent. But, the idea of sending out query letters and getting only silence in return was gut-wrenching.

And then Twitter! Yup, I said it. Twitter happened to me.

Agents were tweeting. Oh, yes they were. They were tweeting their likes and dislikes, their rants and raves. They were giving the world–and more specifically, writers–an idea of what they were looking for.

I started to pay attention and I got more specific about who I queried. And, I branched out a bit. I started looking for agencies that didn’t specialize in Christian Fiction. The reason for this is simple: the agents I was attracted to most on Twitter weren’t with Christian agencies. Maybe those guys weren't tweeting? I don’t know, but after just two mainstream queries, I got a bite.

Agents and Submission and My Dream Publisher

In August of 2010, Jason Pinter of The Waxman Agency in NYC (gasp!) requested my full manuscript. Of course, we had just moved and our internet wasn’t even fully operational, and I really wanted to rewrite my Afterword, but it didn’t matter. I had gotten a request! So, I scrambled and got it to him the next day. The day after that, he offered representation.

Voila! I had an agent.

We made a few tweaks to my manuscript, re-titled it, and started the submission process that fall. We queried a handful of mainstream houses and one Christian house. We had some great feedback, and some interest, but it wasn’t until we submitted to Thomas Nelson that we had a hit.

I had always been partial to Nelson. One of my heroes, Ted Dekker, was on their roster, and they had a reputation for knowing how to do Christian Fiction that was outside the box. And my book definitely felt different than most of the books on the Christian fiction shelves.

And then, THEN!

I heart you Jason Pinter, but then, my agent left The Waxman Agency. So, here I am, on submission with my dream publisher and I’m left in a lurch. My agency was great and kept me on, but I was in limbo as to which agent I’d be assigned and whether or not they’d even like my manuscript. It was an agonizing few weeks but the speed bump led to one of the most important professional introductions I'd ever have.

I was paired with super-agent Holly Root, and in the spring of 2011, Thomas Nelson made an offer. FOR THREE BOOKS! That’s right. My night wandering the house, babe in arms, was the start of my dream publisher acquiring a YA trilogy from ME. A mom. A wife. A youth pastor. A really bad bookkeeper and an actor without an audience.

Angel Eyes hit shelves in May of 2012. Three and a half years after a dark and stormy November night when I decided to write a book.

Learning To Be An Author

One of the things you'll notice about my journey, is that the first book I'd ever completed was the one that got me on the shelf. It's an exciting thing, you guys--I won't lie. But I want you to know that because of that, I did a lot of my learning AFTER I was officially a published author.

See, I had very little experience with the book community. Outside of my local writers group, I hadn't attended a conference or entered many contests. I was new to the whole criticism and review side of the industry and I had zero friends who wrote YA. Not one.

And while certain things came very naturally to me--I'm a rock star at edits--I struggled with the emotional ups and downs of an industry constantly in flux and a Christian market that had no idea how to handle young adult fiction. Even now, five years after my first book hit the shelf, Christian bookstores aren't sure what to do with it. And while my experience with Thomas Nelson was fantastic, they were going through a massive acquisition process that I understood little about but has entirely changed the landscape of Christian fiction.

It was a lot for a new author to process, especially one who'd just agreed to release a book every six months. Something I survived, something that forced me to grow, but something I absolutely won't do again.

If you take away anything from my story, I hope it's this: Deciding to write a book was the easy part. Learning the craft was and continues to be a process--some of which comes naturally to me and is a task I enjoy immensely. The career side of the whole thing takes a different skill set, and when you get impatient and you get frustrated and you think you'll never see your books on the shelf, remember that timing is everything. While you wait, do what you can to prepare.

If I could go back and do it over again, I'd hit more conferences. I'd make more writing friends. I'd practice taking feedback. For reals, there's nothing like learning as you go. It was a hard way to do it, but it certainly accelerated the process and I have very few regrets. I'll learn from my mistakes and I'll grow. I hope you'll do the same.

It will be different for you than it was for me and for Jill and for Steph. We all have different journeys and I hope our stories have encouraged you and have given you a glimpse into a vitally important and constantly shifting career that is both rewarding and challenging.

Keep writing, friends.

Your stories matter. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Jill's Publication Story

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

My entire childhood, I had a dream. I wanted to be a fashion designer. Why? Well, I was obsessed with making or remodeling my clothing--anyone's clothing. My mom used to get on my case for taking things from storage and cutting them up without first asking permission.

The Fashion Designer

I loved haute couture and prêt-à-porter. Haute couture is high fashion, those one-of-a kind creations that sit in museums or are loaned to movie stars to wear to the Academy Awards because they're worth $60,000. Prêt-à-porter is ready-to-wear, fashion that the regular people can afford. My favorite to design was evening wear. I loved the idea of a hand-beaded gown, and I made all my fancy dresses for homecoming, prom, and even my own wedding. But I'll be honest. I also loved the attention I got from making my own clothes. I'd tell people, "I made this," and they'd be so impressed. Or my mom would tell people, "My daughter made that," and I'd feel so good about myself.

I chased this dream all the way to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. And after graduation, my husband and I moved to Los Angeles where he could pursue an occupation in film. Two unpleasant jobs and five years later, I wanted out! Fashion wasn't quite what I'd built it up to be. And working where I did was a bit like that book/movie, The Devil Wears Prada. I've never been a very good suck-up, and to succeed in fashion, knowing how to work people is a big help.

So I got out. I had two kids and played around with starting my own businesses for a while. I designed wedding gowns, created a handbag business, and designed jewelry. All that was a lot of work for pennies. Plenty discouraging.

The Motivational Speaker

So I was home with my little ones, which gave me lots of time to think. My husband was a youth pastor then, and I helped him with the teens. One day we took our leadership group down to Saddleback Church to see what they do, and Doug Fields gave the message. He urged us to "tell our story." This really hit me hard, and I left eager to do just that. I had such an interesting childhood growing up in Alaska, and I'd made so many mistakes, I thought I could tell my story in hopes that hearing it might help teens. I spoke for free a few places, but wasn't really sure how one gets invited to speak. I took my kids to MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and learned there that sometimes speakers are hired because someone read an article the speaker had written for a magazine.

I could do that, right? How hard could that be?

The Magazine Writer

So I looked into writing articles and found out how challenging it really was. But I was determined, so I wrote and wrote and wrote. But I couldn't simply write one article and sent it to twenty magazines because every magazine had its own submission guidelines and style. Some wanted nonfiction at 1500 words, some wanted nonfiction at 750 words. Some wanted fiction at 2000 words. Some wanted fiction at 500 words!

I worked and worked and worked.

As I was working on all that, two other things happened. One of the girls in our youth group loaned me a novel, which I read and thought, "Whoa! What's going on here?" in regards to some of the content. Now, I love YA books that are real and deal with brokenness and sin and what it's like to be a messed up, imperfect teenager on this planet, but I don't like books that glorify sin and ignore the consequences of it. I had read a novel as a teen that really messed up my view of love and I'm still working through the damage that book did to my heart and mind. Life has consequences--good and bad--and I felt if YA authors were going to be real about the temptations in life in their books and doing what feels good, they had a responsibility to be real about the consequences of life as well. Anything else was unethical and potentially damaging to young readers who are looking for truth in the world, not lies dressed up as truth.

 Anyway... so that happened, and I was deeply pondering it all.

The second thing that happened was a new Harry Potter book came out. I think it was Goblet of Fire. And I saw on the news that some Christians were burning copies of the book, which they had deemed evil. This annoyed me. The Harry Potter books might be about "witches and wizards" but they're really about good and evil and how everyone must choose between the two. And here were some Christians missing the point, entirely. I am a Christian, and I believe there is a place for correction and a place for peaceful protest. But with this situation, I felt like there were a lot of people who hadn't even read the series getting all red in the face about it. It wasn't honest or fair. It wasn't loving or respectful. It was a bandwagon. A so-called "plank in the eye."

That's how I felt, anyway.

The Novelist

Well... that got me thinking. I love novels. Why didn't someone write a really cool book for teens that all Christians would like? ( Yeah... I was SO TOTALLY naive. I have since learned the hard way that no one likes every book, Christians, especially.) But I decided to write my own teen novel. One that would deal with real life issues but wouldn't ignore consequences or the existence of a loving, creator God. I wanted Christian teens to see how they sometimes look through the eyes of a nonbeliever, and since I had some experience in that realm, the book was just a tiny bit autobiographical. That book was what would eventually become The New Recruit.

And that's how I got started writing fiction. And it was so much fun!

The Conflicted

I struggled for a bit, shortly thereafter. I had started out wanting to be a motivational speaker. That's why I was learning to write articles. I wanted to allow my testimony to change lives. And here I'd dumped that plan for writing a story about a spy kid. Was I being completely self-absorbed, or what?

I confessed this to my pastor, and he reminded me that Jesus used stories in his ministry. Think about Nathan, prophet of King David, who used a story to convict King David of his sin of stealing Uriah's wife, then killing Uriah. And it worked! That story hit home and David was changed. Stories are powerful. They can go places nonfiction cannot go.

My pastor also asked me why I felt like my calling in life shouldn't be something I truly enjoy? I didn't know. I guess something about telling my life story felt pious and lofty--worthy of pleasing God. But for some reason fiction felt selfish because it was so much fun. My pastor corrected my thought process. He wasn't going to tell me what to do, but he did say that God gives us talents and desires, and there is no reason not to make a living at something we love, if that is at all possible.

So I took some time to think and pray, and I knew overwhelmingly what I wanted to do. I wanted to write that spy kid book! I wanted to finish it and see what happened.

At that point, I went ALL IN!

When a writer’s conference came to town, I signed up. I just KNEW that when the agent heard about my brilliant story it would be "Move over JK Rowling, here I come!"

Yeah... God humbled me really quickly. And he used literary agent Steve Laube to do it. (Thank you, Steve!) Steve gave us all a change to pitch our stories, and taught us how to do just that. And when my chance came, I babbled on and on, unable to describe my story succinctly. Steve was very nice, but he rejected me. I went up to my hotel room that night and cried. The reality check was a brutal shock. But I realized something. I hadn't respected my dream. My book wasn't even done! No wonder I couldn't describe it very well. No wonder the agent couldn't understand what I was trying to sell. I barely understood it!

I mean, I'd been sewing clothes since I was nine. I could tell you the life stories of a dozen fashion designers. I'd gone to school for five years to prepare to work in the fashion industry. I did work in the industry, for two separate companies, and then I started my own business. I knew fashion. I had put in the time to excel in fashion. So what made me think I could take two months, write half a book, and get published?

My ego, that's what.

But I was a tough cookie. And I really felt like this was where I was supposed to be. But believing wasn't enough. I needed to work hard! And I couldn't believe how much I had to learn. When I got home, I did everything Steve Laube and the other conference speakers had recommended. I finished my book. I edited it. I joined a critique group. I read all kinds of books on the writing craft. I read my competition. When I finished the book, I put it aside and wrote another book. And I saved up for Mount Hermon, a larger writer's conference.

I also kept on writing articles. In Stephen King's book On Writing, he'd had over 100 rejections before he sold his first piece. So I told myself that I should expect at least fifty rejections before I was allowed to freak out. And I sold my first article to Brio and Beyond Magazine in 2006 after only about ten rejections. I was a published author!

In the spring of 2007, I attended the Mount Hermon writers conference. I got my first and second requests for fulls on The New Recruit at that conference. It was pretty exciting. I took James Scott Bell's fiction mentoring clinic, which was a wonderful experience. I also met Jeff Gerke there. He's the fellow who taught me what genre I wrote. It was called Speculative Fiction. I was relieved to discover this because I'd been starting to worry that all the books I'd written were too random and that I didn't have a brand--something I kept hearing throughout the conference that I needed. But Jeff cleared all that up.

I knew then that I was a young adult spec fiction writer! Whoo hoo!

Some things happened in my life over the next year. Both my submissions that I'd gotten through Mount Hermon were eventually rejected. My husband got a job in Oregon and we moved. But once I was settled in our new home, I remembered that Jeff Gerke did freelance editing. So I paid him to edit my little spy novel to find out why I kept getting rejections. I learned a ton from that edit!

I could not afford to attend Mount Hermon that year, so instead, I went to the 2008 Oregon Christian Writers Summer Coaching Conference. There weren't a lot of editors looking for YA fiction that year. But guess what? Jeff Gerke was going to be there, representing his new company Marcher Lord Press. They weren't publishing YA, but I submitted my manuscript to Jeff anyway, to see what he thought of my new fantasy novel, which I had tentatively titled Bloodvoices. I just wanted to glean a little Jeff Gerke wisdom, if I could.

When I got my manuscript back, Jeff wanted to meet with me. He'd written, "Why does it have to be YA?" on the feedback form.

So I met with him.

"Is it done?" he asked. "All the way done?"

"All the way," I said.

Turns out Jeff had been looking for a fantasy novel to complete his fall 2009 releases. He liked what he read of mine so far and wanted to read the full.

So I sent Bloodvoices to Jeff and waited. Not too long after I was sitting at my computer, and Jeff sent me an email that said, “Do you happen to be by a phone right now so that I can call you?”

That email pretty much floored me. I’d been rejected enough to know that editors didn’t tend to call up an author to say no thanks. I figured Jeff wanting to talk on the phone was a good thing. I ran and told my husband to keep an eye on our daughter, then emailed Jeff back, and he called right away.

He wanted to publish my book! We talked about that a bit, and he said he’d email me the contract. I couldn’t sit still. I was so excited.

I pondered very briefly if I should submit the book to anyone else. I had always wanted to be traditionally published, and Marcher Lord Press was a brand new POD publishing house. If it had been that alone, I might have turned down the offer. But I believed in Jeff Gerke. He knew his stuff, and so I decided to sign with him, more than this new press. That turned out to be a pretty good idea.

The Published Author

I started writing in 2004. I received my first offer in the fall of 2008. I'd respected my dream, put myself through four years of "writing school," and now I was going to have a book published.

How cool was that?

By Darkness Hid came out in April 2009. Jeff changed the title of the book, concerned that with the vampire craze, readers might be disappointed to read a book called Bloodvoices and find no vampires. By Darkness Hid won several awards, which led to my signing with an agent, which led to my publishing other books with Zondervan and Bethany House. And I'm still at it.

Some closing thoughts on pursuing publication:

It helps to define your goals. Do you want to be published? Does it matter how? Do you want a traditional contract and to have your book sold in bookstores? Or do you think about self-publishing? If you don't know, that's okay, but it's a good idea to think about it and figure it out. Goals are easier to work toward if you know what they are.

If writing is your dream, respect it. Learn what you need to learn. Practice. Work hard and don't give up!

Make other writing friends. You need writing people in your life!

Learn to take constructive criticism. Also learn to know when it's okay to disregard criticism.

Be realistic. It's wonderful to have dreams, but you also might need to pay bills someday. So think about what else you might like to do in case you have to be bi-vocational for a while. Because after eighteen published books, I still don't make enough money to support myself. If it wasn't for my husband's income, I'd have to get another job to support my writing hobby. That might seem kind of sad, but that's what it sometimes means to have a career in the arts, hence the term "starving artist."

Enjoy it. If writing isn't fun, then maybe don't force yourself to do it for a while. (Unless you have a contract, then you need to learn discipline.) Also, remember, even if you're not getting published, you're still creating stories, and you are improving yourself in the process. You're investing in a wonderful skill. That in itself is a fabulous undertaking, so don't make light of it. You're an amazing, talented, creative person who has something to say. Keep on finding new ways to say what you must, because there are people out there who need to hear the stories that only you can tell.