I’ve been looking forward to this blog tour, but my time was required elsewhere and I didn’t get fully prepared in time. As part of the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a review copy of By Darkness Hid and did an interview with Jill. But as a reviewer for Marcher Lord Press, I need to be as thorough as possible in my review. So I’m doing double duty with this one. I’m still reading the manuscript and I don’t want to rush myself, so I’ll post a complete review just as soon as I finish. For now, as part of the CSFF Blog Tour, I’ll post my interview with Jill and the tour links. Be looking for the full review… I’ll have it up soon!
Interview with Jill Williamson, author of By Darkness Hid.
By Keven Newsome
Keven: Thank you so much for agreeing to do an interview for us. All of us here at The New Authors Fellowship have an invested interest in Marcher Lord Press since we are mostly made of participants of the MLP Contest. It is an honor to interview you and we’re all hoping to join the MLP family soon.
We’ll start off with some basics. But I’ve never done an interview before and I probably won’t follow the rules. So how long have you been writing?
Jill: I wrote some as a kid, but it wasn’t really my thing back then. I started writing books for teens in 2004. One of the Harry Potter novels came out, which sparked a new round of debates within the church community as to whether or not the books were bad for Christian kids to read. The whole thing inspired me to write my own fast-paced adventure stories for teens that glorified God.
I can remember my first attempt at literature was in the 5th grade and I tried to write some medieval fantasy based on this RPG Nintendo game I was really into at the time. And I also tried to write it in King James English. Why? Because that’s how they talked in the game! What was the first thing you wrote and how old were you?
I don’t remember! My mom gave me some things that I wrote when I was really little. The first thing I remember writing was an assignment in my tenth grade English class. We were supposed to write a short story. Mine was thirty handwritten pages and I was just getting started. My teacher finally made me turn it in. I got an A for effort. It was a story about some kids who came together on an adventure in the woods. I don’t think I had a plot. Just a lot of characters.
We all want to be a “rock-star” writer, but that probably isn’t possible. But when did you make the decision to attempt a career out of this thing? How’s the day job coming?
Well, writing is art, and most artists starve, right? I’ve tried to take my writing seriously ever since I returned from my first writer’s conference in 2004. The reality is that few authors make enough to live off of, especially authors with only one book available. Once an author has multiple books out there, all selling and making royalties, then they might make enough to live off of.
That said, I put in more hours a week than my husband does with his job. I wish it was all writing hours, but it’s not. I spend 80% of my time being my own administrative assistant. Email is the most time consuming. It’s frustrating trying to find a way to balance my time. I’m getting better at it, but I still have a long way to go.
My goal isn’t to make a living off my writing so much as it is to sell enough books that I will be able to keep writing more books. I’ve never enjoyed a job as much as I enjoy writing stories. I am blessed to be able to call it my day job, even if it doesn’t pay so much.
Wow. Congrats on being able to call it your day job! So what’s your typical daily routine look like?
Once my kids are on the bus, I briefly check my emails to see if there is something that needs to be addresses right away. If I’m working on a new book, I pick up where I left off. I try to write several pages a day. If I’m rewriting, I try to get through a few chapters a day. Then I try to read and critique a chapter or two for someone in my critique group. After that, I go back to my email and try to answer them all. I also try to fit in blogging and marketing stuff. Marketing stuff included designing press releases, doing interviews, booking speaking engagements, things like that.
Sometimes I spend the whole day on marketing and email and I don’t get any writing done. This is never my goal, but happens more than I like. I’m still trying to train myself to make good use of my time.
Zoë Demaré wrote a great article for us at the end of April about talking to your characters and how they develop a personality of their own. Do you talk to your characters in your head? Do they talk back? What do they say? Do some of them hate you?
I’ve never talked to my characters from the Blood of Kings series. I tried talking to my characters from the first book I wrote. It didn’t really work for me. It’s better for me to imagine that I am my characters. I kind of talk to myself, hash things out. I’ll talk scenes out in my head, then run and scribble them out on paper so I can type them in later.
Every time I read through my book trying to pull out more “weeds” from my “garden”, I cry a little at the end. Shut-up, don’t make fun of me, I bet you do it too. Have you ever cried while writing or editing? If so describe a time.
I don’t remember crying while editing my own work. I sometimes cry when I get negative feedback. I cried when I got my first full edits from Jeff. It was a daunting task to see all his comments. I read through the notes on all 400 pages of my story, laughing lots, because Jeff is funny, but also crying because it was totally overwhelming.
I closed the file and went to bed. The next morning, I went though and accepted all the changes I agreed with and left the grouchy ones until later. That way, when I went back, there weren’t so many. I pretty much know when Jeff is right. The same goes for my critique group. Most the time I’m excited to get smart, negative feedback because I know it will make the story better. Still, it sometimes hurts, especially when I have to do a major rewrite, because it’s a lot of work. But the story is always better off.
Many authors describe developing “parental” feelings and emotions over their books. How much of you goes into your story? And how much does your story become a part of you?
I’m not so much the mom with her “baby” where my books are concerned. I’m like the child writing to please God, my father. My stories are an extension of my life. I try to include things that are a part of my past or that I see in the lives of teens I know. But my gut-wrenching emotions come when I am trying to get the message right. Christian fiction has the honor of including God’s truth in its stories. That’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.
This publishing thing can be pretty exasperating. Some people work for years before they get some kind of success. In my own journey, it seems most people are turned off just by my premise… I can’t even get someone to read the book! Describe your journey and process from completing the first draft of By Darkness Hid until it was published… the highs and the lows.
By Darkness Hid was a God thing. I wrote the first draft in December of 2007. I fixed it up over the next few months and wondered what I should do with it. I went to the Oregon Christian Writer’s conference in the summer of 2008 and gave the first chapter to Jeff Gerke to see what he thought. I wasn’t trying to submit to him. I knew he didn’t want YA for Marcher Lord Press. But he’d done an editorial review for my first book and I respected his opinion. He was interested from the start, so it was all highs with this book.
Ask me about some of my other books, however…
Ok… I’ll bite. So you haven’t had much success with some of your other books. Tell me a little about your “ugly duckling” that no one really wants to spend time getting to know. What’s that journey look like?
My first novel was a Christian Agent Cody Banks-type story. I love this story!
The first time I pitched it, I did a horrible job. I didn’t know what I was doing. I learned a lot from that experience, worked on the book some more, and the next time I pitched it, I got requests for the partial. Whoo! Both developed into requests for the full. Sweet! I was so excited. But both agents ended up turning it down.
I was frustrated, so I hired Jeff Gerke to do an editorial review to see what might be my weaknesses. After his help, I rewrote the story again and sent it out. It got me my first agent, but there were still no takers from publishers. A few more years passed, and I recently opened it again and took a look. There were several problems with the story. So I’m rewriting it yet again. And I plan to pitch it at the two conferences I’ll be attending this summer. We’ll see if it goes anywhere. It’s called The New Recruit. I still think it’s a wonderful premise and that I have a great marketing proposal. The question is, can I find the right publisher? I have no idea. But I keep trying. J
What would you say is the most frustrating thing about trying to get published?
Knowing when to put down one story and pick up another. Which one is the one? They all seem like good ideas, right? How am I supposed to know which one to pour my time into? And I’ve already poured five years of my life into this one particular story. Why doesn’t anyone want this one? My teen readers seem to love it…
Can you point to any one thing or advice given to you that made the difference to finding a publisher?
My story was complete and edited by my critique group and rewritten. It was done. When I got my sample chapter back from Jeff Gerke at OCW, I saw he wanted to meet with me. The first thing he asked was, “This is really done? Like 100% done?”
Yep, it was done.
Now, I’d thought my first book was done “enough” about eight times. I opened up that same book a few weeks ago and now I’m totally rewriting it…again! It still wasn’t done! As I look at it now, I’m embarrassed that I sent it to publishers. That’s why you should write more stories. Sometimes you just fall in love with your own book. But love can be blind. The more you write, the easier it will get to see when it’s really done and when it needs more time and attention.
I’ve spent months going over and over, again and again, with my manuscript… polishing and repolishing. It doesn’t seem to me that a published author can have the same luxury. Has writing changed for you since being published? In other words, do you spend less time polishing or outlining? Do you rely on your publisher to pick up more slack? Or does your publisher just expect more of you?
Yeah, this last year was scary. Book one came out in April and I was wearing my marketing hat. I tried to take the marketing hat off and put my writing hat back on, but marketing was important and it took over. As the months crawled by, I started to panic. I knew I had a big book to write. Plus, what if people hated it? It was a lot of pressure. Jeff teased me that I was having Amy Tan syndrome.
I would have loved another two months to edit book two down. It didn’t need to be quite as long as it is. But there was no more time. I wasn’t totally happy with it, but I had to be.
There is nothing the publisher can do to pick up the slack. It’s my book. I had to write it. The longer I took, the less time Jeff had to edit it. If I couldn’t get it done, it wouldn’t have been able to come out in April 2010. It would have had to wait until October 2010. I work pretty well under pressure, though. I’m a bear to be around, but I can get it done.
I wonder how authors like Ted Dekker can write six books a year. I can’t even imagine. Well, I bet he makes enough money that he can pay someone else to wear his marketing hat. And his administrative assistant hat. Still. Six books in a year. Ug.
Let’s get a little existential. Put on your thinking cap, relax on the couch, and let’s dig deep into the psyche of your being. What is your purpose in being a writer?
To write stories that entertain, honor God, and inspire others to want to know him more.
By Darkness Hid did not come by accident. It too has a meaning and a purpose. When a reader turns that last page of your book and puts it down, how do you hope that reader has been changed by your book? How will By Darkness Hid change the world?
Well, I hope that readers will wonder, like Achan wonders, if God is really there and if he is the one and only God. I also hope that readers start to ponder if God has a purpose for their life and that they’ll trust him to point them in the right direction.
MLP holds its authors to a high standard of faith. How is your faith important to your writing?
My faith is what makes my life worth living. If I write stories that are void of my worldview, I lie to my readers. My faith is a part of who I am. If I’m listening, God directs my paths each day. I want my writing to be an offering to God, so I try to listen and write what I feel he is putting on my heart.
For me pride is always the monster under the bed, waiting for me to stop being vigilant so it can creep out and jump on my head. Being called to be a writer doesn’t help much, so it continues to be a struggle. Do you ever struggle with pride when someone asks for an autograph, you see your book climbing the lists, or you get a good review?
Sure. It’s hard not to get pulled into all this stuff. Though I think it’s funny when teens want my autograph. Negative reviews hit me the hardest. I try to instantly remind myself that I didn’t write this book to please anyone but God. But it’s hard to read those critical thoughts. It’s also hard because this was my first book. I’ve heard many authors say that they watched the Amazon rankings on their first book too. Many say they no longer read their own book reviews. Hopefully I’ll grow out of caring so much about every little thing.
How do your friends and family smack you around and help you “keep it real”?
God continually puts people in my path that pull me away from the computer. He wants me to be with people—real people, not my characters! There is so much more to my life than any book I write. Thankfully, my husband is a youth pastor. We have a big church family and teens and our own kids. Lots of people to keep me grounded in reality.
Now, for a few questions The New Authors Fellowship really wants you to answer. Did you enjoy the MLP Contest? I assume you were involved.
I thought the MLP Contest was a brilliant idea. But I wasn’t too involved. I was having my Amy Tan-mental breakdown over book two and writing like a mad woman when this contest was going on. I tried to keep tabs on the main contest. I read the final three entries all the way through. I voted for This Side of Eden.
What entries were your favorites? “All of them” doesn’t count. So really, which ones were your favorites? And why? (Remember, most of us on this blog are MLP survivors. Your choices are Winter, I am Ocilla, Alpha, A Gift With Which to Serve, The Watchers, and Hall of Secrets. You can go to the blog webpage and click on our names to refresh your memory.) No, seriously… you have to answer this.
*wince* I’m sorry! I don’t know any of these entries! Were these in the main contest of the premise contest? I never got a chance to look at the premise contest.
Ouch. That hurts. Yeah, we were mostly in the premise contest. Have you heard any news about this contest returning in the future?
I haven’t. I think Jeff would like to do it again and again. I think he plans to. It likely depends on his schedule.
We’ve all been waiting patiently on Jeff and we know he’s swamped right now. But will you go remind him to go read our submissions? Just ours will suffice. In fact, if you know where the pile is, can you go fish ours out and put them on the top?
LOL I will tell him. He needs a clone.
The publishing industry seems to be headed for a reformation. What do you feel is the future of publication? How can authors better prepare for the coming changes to the industry? How can we get ahead of the curve?
As far as writing goes, do the same thing. Keep writing books until they are well done. Then write another book.
In the meantime, you can also put on a marketing hat. Make yourself a free website. Mine is a WordPress blog. If you can, buy your domain name—for the name that will be your author name. I own http://www.jillwilliamson.com and I forward it to my WordPress URL. The longer you have a website, the better chance it will have of showing up at the top of search engines when people come looking for you.
If you like them, join a social media site like Facebook and start making friends. Blog, if you like to. All of this online presence is part of your platform. The bigger your platform is, the easier it will be for you to promote your book when you have one.
MLP uses a hybrid traditional/POD model for publication – a model being used more and more by other small publishers. Are there any benefits and/or drawbacks to getting involved with a publisher like this? Is this the future of publishing? Or is this simply the Plan B after a big publisher has said no?
The benefits are that these publishers often publish first-time authors. You get a lot of input with your book. Jeff gives me the freedom to try pretty much anything in regards to marketing. He doesn’t have a page count cap. So he doesn’t care if the book gets long. I have a book that I can sell to people. It is in libraries across the USA. I am able to enter contests. I can speak at schools and teach at writer’s conferences. I have a growing fan base. All this is good stuff that should help me when I try to publish another book or series.
The biggest drawback is distribution. With few exceptions, bookstores will not order my book. So it is sold primarily online and to libraries.
When you work with a small press like this, there is no initial print run. Your potential word of mouth is based off the number of books you sell. So, if in a traditional publishing house, they might do an initial print run of 5000 copies. That means that 5000 copies exist where people could buy them and talk about them. With the POD method of printing. There are no copies until someone buys them. In your first month, there might only be 30 copies sold. A month later, 120. Three months later, 300. So the potential of word of mouth starts out much smaller. And it takes time to grow.
I urge authors to take caution when considering a publisher like this. I signed on with Jeff Gerke because of his reputation in the industry and his skill as an editor. He also had an award-winning cover designer. And his contract was very fair. If you are considering a publishing house like this, ask yourself: Who will edit the book? Who will design the cover? Is this a good contract? Will the book be too expensive for people to buy? Also, go online and investigate the publisher’s other novels to see how they look on Amazon.com. Are the covers professional? Do they have reviews online? Do they get professional reviews from Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly?
As to the future of publishing, I don’t know. I think we’ll see many more small publishers crop up. With Lightning Source and Lulu, anyone can be a publisher. But I don’t think these houses will take the place of traditional publishers. My guess is that big publishers might try to buy up any successful small companies. That’s usually what happens when a small company does well. *shrugs*
Our blog is a blog written by unpublished authors for unpublished authors. Our goals are to attract attention to our books, and encourage other unpublished authors to do the same and to endure the process. With that in mind, what would you like to say to us and our readers?
Keep doing what you’re doing. Write, write, write. Go to writer’s conferences and meet people. Read, read, read. Read books in your genre and books on craft.
It’s wonderful to have a group like this. Eventually, one of you will get published. Then another one. Then another. It’s so exciting to write together, learn together, grow together, and succeed together. I love my critique group. They are dear friends.
Readers, if you love these books, tell your friends about this site. Spread the word. That will make this site grow, which will help all of these authors in the long run.
And finally, my last question is: If you could be any kind of tree in the world, what kind would you be and why?
I would be a weeping willow. I just think they are lovely. They dance and sway, yet they sometimes weep. So much characterization in a tree. I love it!
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. It has been a real pleasure. I can’t wait to become a part of the MLP family… just as soon as you get Jeff to read my book! 😉
Thanks for having me here! God bless you all in your lives and writing endeavors.
By Darkness Hid – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0982104952
Author Web site and blog – http://jillwilliamson.com/
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson