Saturday, April 25, 2009

Changing Expectations: An Interview with Cindy Wilson





Tell us a bit about yourself and your novel. How have your expectations changed since you set out on the journey to write a publishable novel?

First of all, I just want to say how much I appreciate being asked to do this interview. I love reading about other writers, but not always the great well-known, and well-established ones. I like to hear about new writers, those just in on the game, and hear about their journey to publication. So it means a lot to me that I get to share my journey with other people. Besides that, I love your blog! (Not sucking up, just saying…)


Anyway, I am a wife and a mother of two of the sweetest little girls you’ll ever meet. I feel endlessly blessed to be able to stay at home with them during the days and also utilize that time to write. My novel is titled Through It All. It’s contemporary inspirational fiction. In Through It All, a terrible loss and heartbreaking prophecy lead Shannon Montclaire on a challenging course to return home and battle with the trials of her waning faith. There is a strong Christian theme, including redemption, forgiveness, trust and, of course, a bit of romance (can’t leave that out).


It’s amazing how much my expectations changed as I walked the journey to publication. While I always wanted to write to tell a good story and reach people, I used to do it with an entirely different motivation. I didn't begin writing Christian fiction until I became a Christian less than four years ago. Prior to that I had written half a dozen manuscripts and was working with a secular agent, trying to find a publisher. Then it all changed. Telling a good story was still important, but it became all about reaching people. Making a difference in someone’s life far outweighs making millions or becoming a bestseller.




What's the spectrum of what is labeled Christian Fiction in the bookstore, and where does your book fit in? Are there any particular rules or guidelines for Christian Fiction and your genre within it?


It’s amazing to me how broad the spectrum is of what is labeled Christian fiction. I’ve read many books that simply outline a vague belief and then continue on to tell a story. Others, without a doubt, are written from a very strong Christian point of view and it’s made clear in the book. You can find many Christian books in secular bookstores because there is a larger audience for them now, but also because there are many books that can cross over and appeal to readers that don’t typically read books in the Christian or inspirational genre.


As far as particular rules or guidelines, the biggest is the obvious. Write from a Christian worldview. If you look at guidelines for just about any Christian publisher, they are going to specify how important it is to give your characters Christian values or at the very least, have them striving toward or learning of a Christian lifestyle. For well established authors, you may not see as big a theme regarding this, but it’s important for us new writers.


Other guidelines are similar to secular publishing houses. Word counts, writing style, even submitting queries or manuscripts. It’s just as challenging as a Christian writer to get your foot in the door.


Who are the main Christian publishers and what lead you to go with Oaktara? Why do you think your book is a good fit for that particular publisher?

Major Christian publishers include Zondervan, Bethany House, Waterbrook, and Tyndale. There are many more and I’ve been hearing lots about new, small presses that are up and coming such as OakTara.


I was lead to OakTara in an unusual way. After writing my first two Christian novels, I took the first step toward publishing by trying to find an agent. It was a challenge and initially I didn’t receive a lot of interest. I’d been considering submitting directly to a publisher, but knew that most publishers did not accept unsolicited manuscripts. There were a few, however, that suggested a Christian manuscript service and mentioned they read proposals off manuscripts that were accepted to the service. I used The Writer’s Edge and was encouraged when they accepted my manuscript. I heard back from a few publishers but none that really sounded right to me. Nearly a year later, I heard from OakTara. They requested my entire manuscript and thus began a very interesting journey. The first book I contracted with them is not the one I spoke of earlier. But I felt strongly about Through It All being the first novel I published. So, after getting in contact with OakTara, they agreed to contract it as well.


I can honestly say, in the beginning, I thought very little about how good a fit my book was for my publisher. I was shocked at first, because I’d gotten a contract. Amazed, second, because I felt as though I was starting to live my dream. And then…well, I have to admit I was doubtful. I’d dreamed of getting published since I was a young teenager. But I’d dreamed of getting a contract with a huge traditional publisher with a wonderful advance (and attaining all this with an agent). And here I was, agentless, being offered a contract by a relatively new publisher whose major target audience was on-line. This was, to me, almost like self-publishing (minus the fees) but it was hard to see it any other way than, “This is not what I expected.” (And by the way, OakTara is not a self-publisher.) I had to pray a lot and try to leave behind all my prior expectations. I had to try to discern if this was the path God was leading me on. It felt right, albeit very scary, so I went for it.



If a writer was interested in getting published with Oaktara what do you think they could expect in terms of a contract, editing, marketing, and the like?


OakTara is very open and up front about their target audience, their print on demand approach, and their marketing strategy. So if you are interested and have the chance to look at their Website, you can learn a lot. They were quick with my contract and have answered any questions I’ve come up with so far. I have not started the editing process yet, but I expect new information on that soon.


Marketing was (and still is) probably my biggest concern in this part of my journey. Clearly most publishing companies expect new authors to help market their books. But because OakTara is such a small company still, I know doing more on my part will help. They help with the press release and have branched out to offer books at major on-line retailers, such as Amazon.com and CBD. OakTara books are featured in CBD (Christian Book Distributors) catalogues as well, which is huge because they’re a major retailer in Christian fiction. In addition, OakTara helps to place books in regional bookstores around the author. I’m expecting more information on this part of publishing once I get past the editing.




What's your experience in the blogosphere been like?


It’s been wonderful! Had I known how many friends I was going to make and how much I was going to learn, I would have started blogging (or at least reading blogs) sooner. I kept hearing from agents and publishers and other writers that it didn’t hurt to write a blog. That it might help establish a bit of a platform. I finally gave in at the beginning of the year, mostly just expecting that people might stop by and comment once in awhile. That I might be able to talk about my book and someone out there might be interested enough to buy one when it came out.


This is not what happened at all! I’ve been able to “meet” other writers and learn and grow because of them. I’ve been able to share what I know with other people. I get to hear about their journeys with writing and tell about my own journey. It’s been amazing. The people are amazing and their blogs are amazing! The Adventures in Writing blog is one such blog. I love seeing the diversity of posts. No wonder people say blogging is addicting!



What observations or advice do you have for writers?


As far as advice strictly for writing, I always like to say do your research. Improve your writing by reading other books in your genre. Strive to be better. Join a critique group or find someone you trust to read your writing. You will grow from this! You can learn so much from other people, particularly other writers who are in the same boat as you.


Writing in general is such an amazing thing. It takes so much discipline and heart to really write. Not just a short story here and there or a poem every once and a while, but a committed kind of writing. Where you write nearly every day. Where you dedicate set amounts of time in order to produce something specific. Aspiring authors are following their dreams and they’re doing so to reach others. What an awesome endeavor! If writing is your dream, follow it with every ounce of passion you have in your body. You never know when or where something you write will make its mark. Stay straight on that path!




Oh, one more thing, and this is for Anthony ... How do you write a sex scene for a Christian book, based on your reading and/or writing experience?



…I have to laugh (and admit I’m slightly embarrassed) because I wasn’t expecting this kind of question. It does, however, pertain to writers who are interested in writing for the Christian market. I mentioned earlier that publishers have specific guidelines. This topic is one of the things they have guidelines about. Some are more lenient than others but you’re not going to find too many sex scenes in Christian books.


I don’t put sex scenes in my novels. Not because I know it won’t be allowed (okay, well also because of that) but because it doesn’t appropriately represent me, what I write, and what I believe. That said, I love a little romance. I love establishing a relationship between characters. These kinds of emotions show their vulnerability and represent realistic needs and wants. Love exists in real life, relationships are important. Plus it’s just fun to get the giddy feelings of a happy love story. So, there’s hand holding and kissing and…well, I won’t give it all away. Once my book comes out you can see for yourselves!


Thanks so much for the interesting questions!




Comments and Questions:


Cindy would love to take your questions and comments.


Also, I would love to hear about alternative options from you, and by alternative I mean anything that does not limit an author to one of the biggest publishing houses. Why would you or wouldn't you change your expectations from what you started with when you first set out to write?


12 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh, Dave, you're killing me!

    (O_O)

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  2. Dave, first of all, your post looks great! And it's easy to read, so good job (I see you figured it all out, so I'm glad!)

    Second, I MUST compliment Cindy. She is one of the kindest friends I've found here in the blogosphere. Without hardly knowing me, she offered to beta read my novel, MONARCH, and she did so quickly and sent me a lovely review with helpful advice. She also sent me the manuscript complete with her editorial remarks. I haven't looked through it yet, as I'm waiting for all my feedback first, but I'm impressed. Once again, thank you, Cindy!

    I loved this review. It really helped me see what the journey can be like, and that it is possible to attain our dreams. I don't expect to attain mine anytime soon, but the path there is so wonderful, and everything I'm learning is invaluable.

    I am a Christian, but don't write Christian fiction. Cindy's quote - Telling a good story was still important, but it became all about reaching people. Making a difference in someone’s life far outweighs making millions or becoming a bestseller - really made me stop an think.

    I'm not writing to try and be a bestseller, but to share my characters and themes with as many as I can. I often wonder what my underlying themes are, and realize that many times I'm not making it clear enough how I feel about the importance of being a strong, reliable, honest person, is. That's usually what I'm trying to say - that crime and selfishness never pay in any form, and that love and respect for others wins all. That sounds so cheesy, but I think at the root of it all, that's what I end up saying.

    So, Cindy, what is your advice to Christians not writing obvious Christian fiction? Any advice on showing those themes without sounding preachy or, well, overtly religious?

    Sorry for the long comment. Your interview just inspired a lot in me. Thank you!

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  3. Great post Dave,

    I'm helping my father write a Christian memoir right now. It's the story of a family(mine) with nine kids who adopt three more. There were some unbelievable challenges along the way. I'll keep you all posted.

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  4. i loved this interview! cindy...great to get to know more about your journey. i'm glad you're one of my blogging friends. :)

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  5. Thanks again, Dave. As far as your last question about alternative options...well, I feel like my expectations change all the time. First I expected to find an agent. Well, that happened, but that didn't lead me to publication. Then I began writing Christian fiction and found a publisher. But that wasn't a larger well-known publishing house like I'd expected. Another change. Now I am having to change my point of view and realize that it doesn't stop at writing a book, there is marketing and a lot of extra work on the part of the author. That's been a big adjustment as well.

    I don't doubt I my expectations are going to keep changing as my journey continues. A writer's best friend is flexibility. I am trying to remain open to anything, even if it means it will take longer for me to get my books out into the world than I originally thought. And I am willing to stretch myself as long as I don't compromise who I am or what my message is about. Thanks again!

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  6. Lady Glamis, you're so sweet. And I loved reading Monarch! I've never been a beta reader before, what an experience.

    You asked about Christians not writing obvious Christian fiction. I feel as though your beliefs will be reflected in the theme of your manuscript the most with your characters. Their values and morals will show through by what they do and their reactions to certain situations. You can compare a Christian novel with a general market novel that has the same plot, the same conflict and the difference will show through by the characters choices. In this way, you're not sounding preachy or even overtly religious, but you are leaving a reflection of what you believe.

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  7. Excellent interview Cindy! It's been great getting to know you in the blog world!

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  8. Thanks for all the comments everybody. And if you are new to this blog you should know that I will keep checking comments this week, especially since I see that Cindy posted a link to the interview on her blog today.

    Doug: What a great story. I will look forward to hearing more about it.

    Lady Glamis: One of the things I love about following your blog is the way people support each other. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should see that video you put together for your blog followers.

    I'm glad to hear that Cindy has been a helpful and supportive part of your process. This aspect of how writers get books written goes undetected and under-reported in writing magazines, but in your comments you make it so clear. Thanks for that.


    Cindy:

    Thanks so much for your open and honest words. You have such a great writing story. I look forward to hearing how your journey continues.

    I especially liked hearing about how you changed your expectations and how you have focused on telling a story that is true to you and reaches people. Very cool!

    Cindy's Blog:

    If you don't already know, you can get to Cindy's blog by going to the followers section of this blog. Also, you can go to cindyrwilson.blogspot.com.

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  9. What a great interview! Cindy I love your honesty and I can't wait to purchase Through it all. What are your plans for those secular novels you wrote? Maybe you could doctor them at some point in the future to reflect you new found faith? I'd love to hear more.

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  10. That's a cool question, T. Anne. I actually modified one of the secular novels I wrote into a Christian novel (though I ended up changing a lot). It's one of my favorites now, and will be published after Through It All. There is another I'd like to work into a trilogy that I think might appeal to both the general market as well as the Christian market. So many possibilities!

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  11. When I hear trilogy, I think fantasy. Is it a fantasy or a different genre all together?

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  12. Looks like I'm probably late to the party here, but thanks for a great interview. Very thought provoking.

    As a Christian writer I'm personally not down with the label for the simple fact I don't believe in a distinction between "Christian" and "secular." Every piece of art/communication has a worldview. Self-exiling ourselves in a sub-category when no one else feels the need doesn't really work for me.

    That said, the gatekeepers will be more hostile and the gates higher for explicitly Christian writers. And as Cindy says, Christian publishing has become so crossover-powerful in its own right, that I think going that route is actually (ironically) becoming a great way to erase the Christian/secular distinction AND find a very wide audience. That goes for signing with the big publishers for sure, but it's at least as true, maybe more so soon, for web-based shingles, which really is the wave of the future, IMHO.

    I'm rambling. Like I said, thought-provoking piece.

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