My first inspirational was the contemporary inspirational novella, A Home for Christmas in SMALL GIFTS, the first Jewels of the Quill Christmas anthology (Whiskey Creek Press, available now). Wayward Angels (which contains the hero’s brother in A Home for Christmas) is a full-length inspirational women’s fiction, the fourth novel in my Wounded Warriors Series. It’s actually my first inspirational in this varied series. It’s a gritty story that will probably cause a few waves because I didn’t follow CBA guidelines in writing it—though it has received consistent 4 and 5 star reviews since its release. I was more concerned with capturing reality than making sure no one was shocked. But I do hope Christians and those who just love a gripping, emotional story will embrace it.
Michelle Therese recently gave it a compelling review that I think captures so well the essence I was striving for:
"Long story short, this story has grit and guts. It breaks all the rules. They curse, they kiss with passion (though they never actually do more than that but their thoughts are very spicy) and they are real people with insane problems.
The hero is a former music star and a new Christian. He opened a shelter for teen boys on the streets and is a real Prince Charming with a huge heart. I can't believe he actually held off until they were married based on all of the temptation out there. But that's an aside.
The heroine is bipolar and a brand new Christian (literally) who decided God was going to heal her since she got saved, so she stopped taking her meds and, boy, did she turn up the heat. I've never seen a better portrayal of someone who is flagrantly bipolar than this one. They (off meds) tend to be highly sexualized when in a manic state so you can imagine some of the antics. However, she was in a sad place because prior to being saved she was raped and the guy had AIDS and shot himself (while on top of her) so she feared being pregnant and having AIDS for most of the book.
See, I told you it was in-your-face grit. Since I work with intense people, I've seen this upfront and it isn't pretty but it's real. Even with new Christians who have horrible backgrounds. Anyway, this story kept me up until 2:30 AM and I got very little sleep last night (no I'm not bipolar thank the Lord) until I finished.
We talked about symbolism in Louise Gouge's class in Nashville and Karen did a masterful job with the pet cats. Amazing. So if you don't mind an intense read with grit and an occasional cuss word, this might work for you. At any rate, I found it fascinating. The Christian piece of the story was so much more real and deeper than many CBA novels. You hear (in their heads) their doubts and fears and struggles and its so REAL how the enemy works on them. This book has made me think about my walk with the Lord and I like that. So be warned, this ain't for Grandma unless she has major grit in mind.
But the message is clear. Faithful obedience is worth it." WAYWARD ANGELS is available in trade paperback and electronic formats [0-7599-4418-0 (trade paperback); 0-7599-4417-2 (electronic)] from Hard Shell Word Factory. Visit my website for more information: www.karenwiesner.com (Fiction).
Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.
I wrote my first book when I was 10 years old. A few years later, I started brainstorming thriller/mysteries in my head. By the time I was 16, I’d written almost a dozen books, short stories, and countless poems. Unofficially, I had my own fan club in high school and had a dozen publishing credits to my name (all poems). Eventually, I moved into contemporary romance novels—my first eight published novels were romances, with LEATHER & LACE, Book 1 of the Gypsy Road Series published in June 1998.
Ironically, I’d just made the decision to quit trying to get published when I received the call (in this case, the e-mail) that provided me with my first contract. And, strangely, my first thought was, I just had a baby. We put off having kids until my career finally launched, gave up on that ever happening, and now I have a baby and a career. It was then that I knew I had to figure out a way to discipline my horribly erratic writing method. The results of what I learned are in my first book with Writer’s Digest Books, FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
Well, “still” implies that I had self-doubts at any point. I’ve always thought that there was a market for my books, which are all gritty, realistic to the point of being starkly graphic (though never gratuitous, in my own opinion), and powerful. However, I’ve never felt any call to write Christian material, though I have been completely open to Him drawing me that way.
Even now, I don’t feel called to write Christian novels exclusively. But after years of leading me so subtly (He knows me so well; knows just what I can handle!) in that direction, the Lord gave me something of a wake-up call.
Over a year ago now, I felt strongly that I could write Christian novels without losing the realistic edge that I’m so grateful to the Lord for giving me in my writing. I’d worried that if He ever nudged me in that direction, I’d lose that. I worried that my writing would become so ‘tame,’ it would lose its emotional power. I honestly don’t see the point of writing if that emotional power isn’t there—it wouldn’t be worth it for me to continue without it. God showed me that He could use me in this way without taking away the very thing that makes writing worthwhile to me.
Wayward Angels is the first example of that. Writing it was an experience unlike any I’ve gone through before. It was like having God sit down with me every morning and guide my figurative pen. When the book was done, I also felt like I hadn’t written it. It almost didn’t feel like my own writing, and I did experience some self-doubts about it when it was released.
I worried how Christians would react, if they’d slam me left and right for it. Yet the reception so far has been beyond what I could have ever imagined. Earlier this week, I took the plunge and dared to read it myself again after so long away from it, and I have to admit I was stunned. This time I recognized my own realistic, powerful edge that I never want to lose, but I also recognized that God had been leading my hand while I was writing it. While reading it this time, I experienced in an overwhelming way His incredible ability to take a life that seems beyond redemption and turn it into something not only worthwhile but beautiful.
It’s always amazed me how He can use those who started out so far from Him—we’re so blessed by that on its own, yet He always adds to the blessings as if it wasn’t enough! I don’t doubt that I can write Christian fiction now that can both glorify Him and change the life of those who read it.
Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?
After reading Wayward Angels this past week, I thought again of how Romans 12:1 and 2 cover everything in life. When I first accepted the Lord, my every question was, “What’s God’s will here? Should I do this? Or this? Or not? What does He want me to do?” It was a constant struggle. I’ve learned that Romans 12:1 and 2 are the answer to every question every single time. What I do or don’t do beyond that isn’t the point.
The point is my submission. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God… Then you’ll be able to test and approve what God’s will is…” God’s will in every circumstance I face is for me to submit myself to Him. The question: Should I confront this person? The answer: Submit to Him, offer myself to Him. The question: Should I teach Sunday School? The answer: Submit to Him, and He’ll reveal the answer to me based on my obedience in offering myself to Him. These verses are just such a peace to me after so many years of struggling for His will.
If your authorial self was a character from The Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?
LOL, no doubt Dorothy. I’m such a homebody, my first thought in getting to Oz would be, so when do we go home?
Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?
Considering the number of genres I write in and publishers I write for (currently 7), I'm extremely disciplined. Everything is planned well in advance, and I keep tweaking my schedule to make it as productive as it possibly can be. For my novels, once a story has been brewing for a considerable amount of time and I’ve amassed the necessary research (which is done between books and well in advance of a project), I start with an extremely detailed outline, which is, in essence, the first draft of the book.
The outline can take anywhere from a day to week to work out, depending on the complexity of the book. Because of the way I’ve worked my schedule, I’m able to set my completed outline aside for a month or more, then come back to it and make sure it’s as solid as I thought before I set it aside. As soon as I’m ready, I can begin writing. In general, I’ll write 2 scene per day (regardless of how long or short—this and the outline itself inevitably prevent burnout and/or writer’s block).
My annual goal sheet can then include accurate time-tables for researching, writing, and revising outlines and novels. I also use project goal sheets, so I can know down to the day how long it'll take to finish a book. Completing a 100,000 book generally takes me a month or so. Once that “second draft” is completed, I again set the book aside for a month or so before I begin revisions. Depending on the project, revision amounts to minor editing and polishing. In this way, I alternate my time between novels in various stages of completion, and I can write at least 4 outlines/books per year.
This year in particular has been very productive for me. So far, I’ve written 3 full novels, 4 novellas, 7 proposals, 6 outlines, and will have at least 6 books published by the end of the year. As you can tell, I believe momentum is a powerful force in any career. If I stall because I have done a good job of juggling my tasks, I can only blame myself. And, lest anyone wonders, I do plan my vacations from writing carefully, too, to help avoid burnout or writer’s block.
How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?
These days, I promote almost exclusively through the promotional writing group I created in July of 2003. Jewels of the Quill www.JewelsoftheQuill.com is a group of women authors. I believe the future of author promotion is within groups. Many of the 12 members of Jewels of the Quill share a mutual geographic location (or pretty close!) so that we can assemble for booksignings and other promotional junkets.
We offer readers who love to discover unique small press books (and the occasional mass market published!) in a variety of fiction genres. Because we recognize the need to spotlight authors individually as well as promote the group itself, our group website spotlights one member per month and this includes a Q & A with her on the homepage and a giveaway for a signed copy of her book. Our newsletter, Fans of Jewels of the Quill, goes out each month to a large membership (500+ strong).
We offer our loyal readers incentives to stay with us for the long haul, such as our annual Christmas Books-Galore giveaway and our anniversary giveaway in July. Advertisements include 1/3rd page ads in Romantic Times BOOKclub featuring just 2 instead of all 12 authors, but the group is also prominently promoted in each ad we run.
Everyone contributes a little each month to advertising rather than paying a lump sum, yet there are no group membership fees. Members volunteer to create bookmarks, brochures, etc. Jewels of the Quill was featured in the September 2003 issue of Romantic Times BOOKclub. We also do two anthologies together a year as a group (published by Whiskey Creek Press)—one holiday and one “regular” with stories featuring our chosen jewels. We promote all of our group anthologies ads in Romantic Times as well as monthly anthology giveaways. Our first anthology received 4 ½ stars and was Top Pick upon release.
You’ve published non-traditionally. Can you give us some pros and cons about publishing with a small press?
First, I don’t believe it’s ever a good idea to pay someone else to do what you could do yourself and quite possibly do better with some research and hard work. If an author wants to publish a work of her own which has been professionally edited, then more power to her. That said, I do believe that mass market publishing offers authors “the best deal.” Nine times out of ten that’s the top of the line choice.
If the author has a work that’s proved a very hard sell (strictly because the material is deemed a hard sell to consumers by traditional publishers in terms of subject matter or length, not because it’s poorly written), then I highly recommend reputable, non-subsidy, royalty-paying small press and/or electronic publishers. Non-subsidy electronic publishing offers writers what mass market publishing can't and/or won't—a way to get legitimately published in order to build a resume. Since for the most part, small press and electronic publishing don’t focus on what will sell, the publisher is free to accept the books that they and readers love, instead of only those which might reap financial rewards. For those who need print formats, be aware that most e-publishers now offer print formats alongside electronic, so authors can have the best of both worlds. A resume full of rave reviews, awards, nominations and good sales is something that mass market publishers look at closely.
I could quote you sheer numbers of authors who have started their careers with small press or e-publishers and ended up with a big fat contract from a traditional publisher. It’s an excellent way to show them what you can do—something that you really can’t do if you’ve never had anything published before.
With the state of publishing coming down to a bottom line of money, it’s essential to have that something extra to make publishers willing to take a chance on you. Make sure you do your research, though. Ask the authors at a particular publisher you’re interested in submitting to whether they’re good or they have solid drawbacks. You might be surprised by what you learn. It’s definitely better to hear it before than after, so do your homework first.
The downsides are obvious:
Your sales will no doubt be small, possibly nonexistent, and you truly are on your own with promotion (though you’d probably be anyway, as even most traditional publishers also leave promotion up to the authors). Most small press publishers can’t afford to do even company promotion, but the fact is they can’t afford not to either—whether they grasp that or not.
It is a great thing that many small press publishers do offer print versions of their books. Most are in trade paperback, which is expensive for the consumer, but again, traditional publishers are also going this route because trade paperbacks can’t be stripped and sent back to the publisher only to become landfill.
Some of the trade paperbacks are poorly made and the copy isn’t good. Some are beautiful. Do your homework—buy some books before you submit to a particular publisher and/or talk to their authors about this.
Some small press publishers have poor editing, that’s true, but with some there’s no difference to a traditional publisher. You will probably work harder on this count yourself. Chances are, you’ll be given multiple opportunities to provide your publisher with the cleanest possible copy before the book is published, and sometimes even after. You can ask your friends to help you or hire a professional. Most small press publishers do have a stable full of editors—some professional, some not. Again, it’s up to you to do the proper research.
Many e-publishers only offer the print option if the author pays the set-up fee (usually around $100 per book). Is this vanity publishing? I don’t think it is, considering the fact that a vanity (or subsidy) publisher will charge you and collect the money for themselves for this service. This is profit for them, so they’re definitely going to inflate the cost to you.
When you’re working with an electronic publisher who wants to help you to sell your work to as many consumers as possible, they don’t profit by helping prepare your books for print. A hundred percent of the money goes to the printer for the set-up fee. Having a print version will help sell your book, and most of these e-publishers will do their part by making sure the print version of your book is for sale as many vendors and online bookstores as possible. This also applies to small press publishers, but many won’t charge you the set-up but will absorb it into their own costs.
It’s hard to get reviews of small press published books, but it is possible and some small press published books are receiving reviews that are even better than those for traditional books. There is an advantage many times to taking chances with subject material that traditional publishers won’t touch for a variety of reasons.
The bottom line is that the lines between small press/e-publishers and mass market publishers are becoming blurrier every day. I’ve worked with both, and I don’t see much difference in the process or the outcome (although there’s definitely a lot more money involved for the author with mass market publishers!). You will be expected to know the business through and through—and can’t blame a publisher if problems arise because you haven’t done the necessary research beforehand. The authors with the most problems are though who don’t take the time to become informed about all aspects. It is your job. You can’t expect to neglect such an important task and come away without some problems. DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Don’t expect anyone to do it for you.
You will have a harder road to getting your name and work out to the buying public with a small press publisher, but I believe the advantages of working with a quality small press publisher far exceed the disadvantages. I’d rather be published, multi-published, and have readers love my work and beg for more than languishing as I wait for a mass market publisher to come over to my side enough to publish a single book.
Ask yourself what matters most to you. If you decide small press publishing is right for you, it all comes down to you doing the necessary research on any publisher you submit to. I’d also highly suggest submitting to several quality small press publishers if you can’t get noticed by traditional publishers. See where your “babies” have the most success.
My books ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING The Definitive Guide as well as WEAVE YOUR WEB (The Promotional Companion) have a ton of information on advantages, disadvantages and the best small press publishers to work with, and how to promote once you’re published. (See my website www.karenwiesner.com for more information, but also please note that I’ve ceased updates on both of these books.)
All this said, don’t look at small press publishing as “the end” of your career. Once you’ve got a fine resume to present, mass market publishers will show more interest in you. You’re only helping yourself by proving you have what it takes to make readers sit up and take notice. Another benefit is that agents (which are absolutely necessary to even submit to mass market publishers) will also be more willing to take a chance on you if you’ve got a solid resume that proves you’re worthy of closer inspection.
Many authors who start out with small press publishers can go on successfully to have a profitable career with mass market publishers. You just give yourself an incredible head start by taking the alternative route.
What was your experience with a POD publisher?
I strongly believe that people are confused about what a “POD publisher” is. First of all, POD and vanity are not synonymous. POD simply means print on demand. Isn’t it much smarter to print only the books that are going to be purchased rather than printing thousands of copies that will either languish in a warehouse somewhere or, if they don’t sell as expected, have the covers torn off and sent back to the publisher where they can’t be used and therefore will be fit only for landfills?
POD isn’t a publisher—it’s a means of printing books. Instead of large print runs, books are printed as they’re ordered. A publisher who uses POD technology isn’t necessary a vanity publisher. They’re simply a publisher that can’t afford a large print-run or the warehousing to hold the books. POD is a legitimate way of doing business. I truly believe it’s going to be the only logical way to do business in the future where our resources are becoming depleted.
In case anyone’s interested (I’m going to assume you are
My agent is currently shopping the proposal around to mass market Christian publishers. I’ll be doing the revision in November. I’m working on the revision of a probably radical idea for a book—a contemporary gothic with inspirational flavor—called The Bloodmoon Curse.
I’m also in the process of completing the outline for Book 5 of my Wounded Warriors Series, Until It's Gone.
In between these tasks, I’m brainstorming on a second volume of case files novellas for the popular Falcon’s Bend police procedural series I write with Chris Spindler (Hard Shell Word Factory).
My promotional group Jewels of the Quill will be putting together proposals for 2007 group anthologies, including the third volume of TALES FROM THE TREASURE TROVE and our first Halloween anthology. I plan to have novellas in both. So the rest of my year should be busy!
Because it matters to some, most of my novels and novellas aren’t CBA approved or even Christian (though I expect at least one of those to change in the future). In my mind, that really doesn’t mean anything, but to those who are sensitive, feel free to write to me about any of my stories at KarensQuillfirstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomorrow we’ll be discussing Karen’s non-fiction book, FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS (Writer's Digest Books).