My Journey to Publication

I had left the fashion industry, which was the career I’d gone to college for. And I was searching for the purpose God wanted for my life. Since my husband was a youth pastor, and I helped him with the teens, and since I had a pretty interesting childhood/life story/journey through brokenness, I thought God wanted me to be an inspirational/motivational speaker for teens. I discovered that sometimes, people hire speakers based on articles written by the speaker. I could do that, right? So I looked into writing articles and found out how challenging it really was. But I was determined, so I went for it. 

I was working on all that when two other things happened. 1. one of the girls on our youth group loaned me a book, 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. Life has consequences–good and bad–and I just felt like YA authors have a responsibility to be real about the consequences of life in their books if they’re going to be real about the temptations, you know?

Anyway…

2. a new Harry Potter book came out, and a barrage of debates within the church community flared up again as to whether or not Christians should read the books, burn them, or what. This annoyed me as well, but for different reasons. I mean, I get tired of Christians arguing and protesting every time something scares them. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for peaceful protest. But I just felt like there were a lot of people who hadn’t even read these books getting all red in the face about them.

Well… I love books. And I wanted to do something constructive. So I decided to write my own teen novel. One that would deal with real life issues but would wouldn’t ignore the consequences or the existence of a loving, creator God and one that ALL readers, Christians and non Christians, would enjoy and not fight about.

Yeah… I was SO TOTALLY naive. I have since learned the hard way that no one likes every book, Christians and non-Christians, especially.

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

I struggled for a bit, shortly thereafter. I had planned to write articles so that I could be a motivational speaker for teens and allow my testimony to change lives. And here I’d dumped that plan for writing a story about a spy kid. I confessed this to my pastor, and he reminded me that Jesus used stories in his ministry, that stories were powerful, and encouraged me to stick with it.

And then I remembered Nathan using the story of the rich man and poor man to rebuke King David. Stories could change lives. Sweet!

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!”

Steve Laube

Steve Laube

Yeah… God humbled me real quick. And he used Mr. Steve Laube to do it. (Thank you, Steve!) Steve was very nice, but I could see right away that he wasn’t going to sign me and sell my book the following week. This reality check was a shock. I cried that night in my hotel room. I’d been foolish. I hadn’t respected my dream. I mean, I’d gone to school for five years to prepare to work in the fashion industry. What made me think I could take two months, write half a book, and get published?

My ego, that’s what.

But I’m a tough cookie. And I really felt like this was where God wanted me. But I couldn’t believe how much I had to learn. When I got home, I did everything that 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 got my first and second requests for fulls at that conference in 2007. 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 that I wrote in a genre called Speculative Fiction. I was pretty relieved because I’d been starting to worry that all the books I’d written were too random. That I didn’t have a brand, something I kept hearing throughout the conference that I needed. But Jeff cleared all that up.

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 rejected. My husband took a church in Oregon and we moved.  But once I was settled in our new Oregon home, I remembered that Jeff Gerke did freelance editing. So I paid him to edit my little spy novel. And I learned a ton!

Jeff Gerke and Jill Williamson

Jeff Gerke and me

I couldn’t afford to attend Mount Hermon again, so when 2008 rolled around, I went to the Oregon Christian Writers Summer Coaching Conference. Just before the conference, I signed with an agent! I was so excited. 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. So I submitted my manuscript to Jeff to see what he thought of my new fantasy novel. I wasn’t thinking he’d want to publish it. 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. Turns out my agent was Jeff’s roommate for the conference.

Turns out all this was a total “God” thing.

So I sent my book called Bloodvoices off to Jeff and waited. Not too long after I was sitting at my computer, and Jeff Gerke 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 so. 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 the 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.

by darkness hid christy awardI started writing in 2004. This was the fall of 2008. Yep. I’d put myself through four years of “Writing School.” I’d respected my dream 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. The book won a few awards, which was really cool. The Christy Award was the one that opened some other doors. 

Now I have more books out, some with Jeff at Marcher Lord Press, some with Zonderkidz. Writing novels is still a lot of hard work, but it’s such a rewarding career.

If writing is your dream, respect it, learn what you need to learn, and don’t give up! If it’s God’s will for your life, it will happen in his perfect timing.

Many things helped me on the path toward publication.

1) Write, rewrite, and read a lot.

2) Join a critique group to get feedback on your writing and give feedback to others.

3) Be teachable. Never think you know everything. There is always something more to learn.

4) Go to writer’s conferences. This is the best way to contact editors and agents. Don’t stress about selling your book. Learn and meet new people. Build relationships.

5) Take advantage of free manuscript reviews. Most conferences offer a program where you can submit a chapter of your manuscript to an editor or agent. This amazing opportunity should always be taken advantage of, even if there is no interest in your genre. You can always ask for honest feedback on your project.

6) Consider paying for a freelance editorial review. It might not get you published. But you will learn a lot. It’s important to find the right freelance editor for your genre. Ask around to find a good fit. Click here for some that I recommend.

7) Give. Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” I spent years learning to write. I also poured my heart and time into encouraging others and supporting this industry. Critiquing others. Reviewing their books online. I didn’t do that to get published. I did it because people did so for me. When I consider how my fantasy novel came to be written and published, I see God’s hand. He heard my prayers, saw my tears, and listened to my songs of joy. I praise his name for this opportunity. May he bless you likewise in his perfect timing.