Sunday, August 7, 2011

What I've learned from my first 3 historicals

When I first came to publishing an editor told me to "enjoy the learning process." I was so ignorant about the CBA then. I was without an agent, didn't have internet access here in the woods, had never been to a conference, had no writing contacts, and hadn't entered any contests. I was only marginally aware that these things existed. I simply knew that if I was ever to realize my dream of publication it would take a miracle. Since then it's been quite a ride. The door did open miraculously for me and I signed with a CBA publisher, Revell/Baker Books in 2008.

Often readers and friends ask what I've learned along the way. While every author's journey is unique, I can tell you what's been true in my own experience and what the Lord is teaching me. Since He's an infinitely personal God, my lessons are specific to me and my own writing journey. My struggles may not be your struggles, nor my joys your joys. But here are a few highlights...

*All writing, as Emerson says, is a gift of God. I write the stories God places on my heart and have found that they're not standard CBA fare. But I remain true to the vision He gives me. I work as hard as I can on each novel and leave the results to Him.

*Critique partners are truly valuable. I didn't have a CP till my third published novel. Now I realize how much harder I had to work to get those first two manuscripts into publishable shape.

*Know your history. During the editorial process, questions will be asked of you regarding the history you've included in your manuscript. It's almost like a test. You need to be able to explain or document anything you've included. Oftentimes editors aren't historians but you, the author, should be able to back up your handling of history.

*Good editors are allies, not enemies. Trust them to know what works and what doesn't during edits. They're usually right. Mine are:). Often you're so close to your story you can't see it objectively.

*Bestseller lists don't tell the whole story. Big box stores like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, as well as other accounts, don't report to these lists. Bonnet books really do sell twice as many copies, be it Shaker, Quaker, Puritan or Amish, according to a Baker Publishing Group marketing executive. Stories set in the 19th-century American west and those about mail-order brides are also said to be top sellers. Oftentimes lists are made because of an aggressive marketing campaign. But a book can become a bestseller simply by word of mouth long after release day. More importantly, many overlooked books leave a lasting impression on readers' hearts. Only God knows the good your words do.

*Reviews are a two-edged sword. And they're simply one person's opinion, as an author friend reminded me. I've seen books I love given very low ratings and books I think aren't quality writing on bestseller lists. But then, that's just my opinion;) Some authors never read reviews, others check them daily. As time goes on I think less and less about them.

*Conferences really are important. I went to my first ACFW conference the month after my first book was released. Since I didn't know a soul, I found myself tapping a lot of people on the shoulder and introducing myself, quite a feat for someone who is naturally shy. Many of these people have since become dear writing mentors and friends. The focus of the annual ACFW conference is truly Spirit-driven. You'll feel so honored and blessed to attend. It's worth every cent!

*There's a world of contests out there. I think contests are helpful for unpublished writers in terms of name recognition and agent/editor contacts, etc. But I'll never forget my shock when I learned published writers nominate themselves for awards! My publisher and readers enter my books for the Carol and Inspy Awards and I consider this an honor and blessing. But I don't pursue contests personally.

*Don't shipwreck your family or your faith for your writing dream. You may achieve short term success but long term misery. Heaven's version of success is very different than ours. Being taken captive by social media (Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, etc.) and being preoccupied with stats and lists can spell disaster to your loved ones and the Lord. Time is a gift we need to use wisely and something I'm still trying to manage well.

*Take writing breaks. This is especially important when finishing a manuscript. Put it in a drawer, tell your beloved characters goodbye for a couple of weeks and work on other things. Your perspective will be restored and your book will be better in the end.

*Be gracious. Sending handwritten thank you notes and/or flowers to your editors, agent, writing mentors and others, plus cards/gifts to readers and those who've been helpful to you is so important.

*Be thankful. Writing is play to me but publishing is hard work. When I'm tempted to return to my sane, ordinary life, I remember that there are thousands of writers who would love to take my place. I've been given a tiny sphere of influence for a short period of time and it's all about God's glory, not mine.

*Treasure your readers. Author Robin Jones Gunn brought this home to me during a retreat several months ago. She spoke about our little flock of readers and how God has entrusted them to you as an author. Be gracious and giving of yourself, your time, and your resources with the ones the Lord brings into your life. My readers have enriched my life in countless ways and I'm so thankful for each one of them!

What are you learning in your own writing journey, whether you're unpublished or published? If you're not a writer, what has God been teaching you in the areas He's called you to minister?

Please stay tuned for more reader pics and a devotional post on Wednesday...


  1. Thank you so much, Laura, for sharing what you've learned on your writing/publishing journey! You are such an inspiration to me, and I'm so glad God allowed us to be friends through blogging! :)

    I so agree about leaving your characters for a while on occasion, although I confess that sometimes it's easy to get caught up in other things and neglect coming back to them! And I agree that having an outside opinion, as hard as it can be to face sometimes, is very helpful!

    As for my own writing journey, I hope I've learned that as much as I've felt that back-story is necessary for certain books, perhaps it is indeed best to pull the reader in right from the start through action. ;)

    And it's interesting... I haven't yet gone back to edit my first manuscript, but as I've started working on the second I've found that it's wonderful to know my characters so well from their roles in the first book that back-story dumping hasn't been as much of an issue, if that makes sense.

    Oh, and I've learned from my work on my first manuscript that having a writing schedule and having a writing companion to share the journey with you (thank you, Amanda!!!) can make a big difference in actually putting words on paper. :)


  2. Thank you for sharing this Laura, I especially love what you said that we may never know what our words did in the hearts of a reader. Or rather what God did with our words. It gives a completely new perspective to watching all those lists and hoping your book ratings will go higher. I appreciate the post today! I look forward to seeing you in just a few weeks!! :)

  3. such a wonderful post Laura. I took ever word you wrote to heart and even wrote down all your points for future reference. Thank you for sharing this :)

  4. Lovely and gracious and so inspiring, Laura. I love when authors talk about what they've learned on their journey. It helps newbies like me a lot. I think what strikes me the most is your perspective. It's on God in every aspect of your life. I find it's easy to get wooed away by other things...even other really 'good' things.

  5. Amber,
    Love reading your insights here and all that you're learning along the way. Plus I lit up like a Christmas tree when you reminded me that you and our dear Amanda are partners in the journey! Having a godly companion is so HUGE and can help in countless ways:)

    Backstory has always been a tricky issue for me, too. I tend to break the rules using it but sometimes that's okay. I'm so glad you're finding it freeing in book 2 to know your characters in such a way that you only build on that knowledge and don't have the info dump worries. I'm trying to navigate that in book 2 of my new series which I've just started. And like you, I'm finding it so interesting to continue loving and growing those people from book 1!

    Even though you stay very busy with family and school, etc., I sense your love of writing and feel you'll always make time for it and return to it after a time away. Persistence is so key.

    And I want to thank you for the wonderful review I came across this weekend - bless you for that! And thanks a million for being part of the Revell blog tour:) I look forward to holding your own book in my hands someday!! God is so good to give us fiction and, like you said, bring us together through the creative world of blogging!

  6. Casey, Counting down with you to St. Lou!! I just bought a new suitcase as my old one was busted beyond repair on the Philly trip. So guess I'm on my way:) It will be amazing seeing you in person at last! I wonder if we'll even recognize each other at first?!

    Thanks for sharing your writer's heart here, too:) I've finally gotten to the point in publishing where I've admitted I really don't know how things work and just have to rest in Him. It's very freeing and keeps me from that continual striving to do things my way or worry myself to death over things beyond my control. Publishing is largely out of an author's control as there are so many variables at play. I simply need to write the best books I can.

    Anyway, happy writing, beading, and enjoying summer to you today:) And thanks again for the wonderful review!!

  7. Hannah, That's so humbling you did that. Bless you for taking the time. Likewise, I learn so much from you and others, too!

    I wrote this post with you and unpublished, about-to-be-published writers in mind since I normally don't blog much about writing itself. I wish I'd had a mentor when younger and applaud you, Casey, Amanda and others who seek out writers/authors and make those contacts. It really helps tremendously!

    I look forward to following you on your journey - and Casey, Amber, and others here - and see where the Lord takes you with your writing. It won't be a boring ride:)!!

  8. Thank you Laura for sharing what God has been doing in your life! I am really drawn to working with middle school students at my church. My own personal middle school experiance wasn't very good so at first I didn't understand why God kept pulling me toward working with these students but I truely do love working with them each and every week. I call the middle school girls "my girls" because I love just getting to know them and letting them know I love them and am here for them and to remind them what an amazing God we have. Middle schoolers are so much fun, they are at such an age where they are searching and looking in life and I just want to be there for them and love them.

    By the way I just finished TCL. I absolutely loved it!! You are such an amazing writer, I completely fell in love with the story and your characters. The book has certainly earned a place on my favorite books self!!

  9. Kav,
    Don't let this post fool you:) I blog about these things to stay grounded as it's a daily struggle. And those weekly devotional posts I do? They're mostly for me - to remind myself of my absolute need for Him every minute. It IS easy to get wooed away from our first love even within the CBA. Thank you for your honesty. I've even found that writing can be an idol - an issue I've struggled with since I was very young. Hard to keep things in their proper place at times.

    I love Isaiah 26:8 and have this quote by my hero, George Whitefield, by my desk:
    I desire to make mention only of the Lord's righteousness... Like a pure crystal, I would transmit all the light He poureth upon me... I would have Jesus all in all.

    Thanks so much, Kav, for your thoughts - and the beautiful review you did.

  10. Cassie, As a Mom of 2 middle-schoolers - well, one will start high school this month - your words mean so much to me! And you've said something so very important - you want to be there for them and love them. Let me tell you, that's exactly what middle schoolers need - your time and heart. It's not an easy group to work with and many people don't feel called to do that. So consider yourself special and appointed!!

    Like you, my middle school years weren't the greatest either. But sometimes I see that the Lord uses that to give you a heart for those girls like you have, by helping them NOT have the experience you had at that age. Hope that makes sense. Anyway, I'm so thrilled to think of a godly influence (you) working among tweens and young teens!

    So you've finished TCL!! Bless u so much:) I'm so happy you liked Roxanna's world and it came alive for you. You've given me a gift this morning. And I promise to write faster:)

  11. Hi Laura. :)

    I know I will recognize you!! I had the chance to meet Amber this summer and I would have known her anywhere!

    I have such a gift in preparing for a future in publication, because I have the example of so many people before me and I think I will be better prepared for it someday if God wills. :)

    And you are MORE than welcome. I'm enjoying Lael's story again too. :)

  12. I'm not really a writer, but as a curious reader who has questions of what a writer's life is truly like, I found this interesting. How did you finally get internet access?
    And also, I asked my library to stock your latest book. They said they would look into it. I think they're making the building larger anyways, so what better time is it to request they carry a book?

  13. Adrienne, Bless you for requesting they order TCL! I pray they honor your request. I know with budgets tightening for libraries, it may take a while but hope it comes through. I so appreciate your actions! Please let me know how it goes. In the meantime, you're in all the drawings this month:)

    It was quite an ordeal to get internet access here in the woods. Many people on our road are still without. We had to file a formal request with the phone company and also the Better Business Bureau 2 years ago after the dial-up connection wasn't working. High-speed internet wasn't an option here until very recently because this is such a rural area. Not many cell phones/cell companies have service here either due to the woods. After we put a request in, we had to do a lot of calling and writing and persuading until we convinced the phone company to dig a ditch and install a line, etc. It was a lot of work on their part and after about 6 months, we did get a connection. A few months after that my first book came out.

    I'm thankful now that I was offline until recently and could just enjoy the joy of writing:) I'm afraid I'm not a wireless kind of gal. Thanks for asking and for taking time to read this very long post. I don't often post about writerly things but thought some of you might find it helpful. Bless you.

  14. Casey,
    Another thing I didn't mention here is that a lot of times writers get connected because of their connections and who they know:) It really is very helpful.

    And I don't think I could mistake you for anyone else even in a crowd of 600 or so, either!!

  15. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Laura. I appreciate them all.

    One thing I've learned along this journey is about myself--I've found that year after year writing is one thing I can't get enough of. It's not always easy - okay, it's rarely easy - but it's my passion. What a blessing!

  16. Passion is the word, Debra, and it's a wonderful one!! I feel the same and writing is the one thing I've been consistently passionate about my entire life. So you could just say we're wired to write:) So glad we're in this writing journey together!!

  17. Great list, Laura. You are an amazing, humble woman.

    The main thing I've learned so far is not be in a hurry. To let God's timing work everything out.

  18. Hmmm...I think what I've learned is how much I have to learn.

    The other thing I have learned is that I have to schedule writing or it doesn't happen. And learning to be satisfied with short bursts and I'm learning to write a bit faster.

    I'm learning is critique groups are so valuable but I need to turn off the "inner critic" during the rough draft period. It really slowed down my writing!

    And there's just something about a face-to-face group that is terrifying at first, but I think so good for the writer. We might cry for a bit first if we get a negative crit in email, but its something quite different face-to-face. I think it has helped me divorce myself from my work and learn to be more gracious.

  19. Eileen, Such wise words about waiting (and something I know from experience, too). Thanks for hightlighting that here. Waiting on God involves trusting Him. If we could only see His heart we would rest in the waiting. I'll admit I'm not very good at that sometimes. Bless you for this.

    I smiled at the word "humble" - a word I love. The Lord sure has a lot to say about humility! Not long ago I was feeling pretty humble and immediately came across a quote that said when you're feeling humble you are NOT;) I've never forgotten it. God has a great sense of humor:)

  20. Julia,
    Scheduling writing is so key, esp. when you have littles. I used to write and read during nap times and while nursing:) Those are such sweet memories now. What you're doing is great discipline, as is the humbling aspect of critting via email and especially groups. Rejection or criticism is such a huge part of writing, especially publishing, and we need to toughen up. I think a lot of sensitivity stems from wounded pride and this helps me get over myself.

    YES, turning off your internal editor is vital for that first draft. Editing and polishing are much better times for that critic to appear. Mine appears when I read now and it drives me crazy. I do wish there was an on and off switch!

    I had to chuckle at your saying about learning how much you have to learn;) Just yesterday I admitted that I don't know a thing about publishing as it's all so out of my control. Just when I think I have a handle on it, something happens to upend my "knowledge." So I just give it all to Him as He certainly has it all figured out:)

  21. Laura ~ when I think of an author who treasures his or her readers, you are the first who comes to mind. You are gracious, interested, compassionate and friendly and you truly bless those who read your books and follow your blog :)

    Thank you for the respect and honour you give to us all - it is quite unique, my friend!

    BTW do you think I could wait to read TCL? Read it over the weekend and am mulling over it with much pleasure :) The Bible verse that permeates your story? Yes, that is our marriage verse and on our wedding invitation so it was all especially meaningful to me.

    Love and hugs xo

  22. I wanted to let you know. While at the dentist, I had my copy of TCL and when the dentist assistant asked about the book, I said I was reading it and she asked about the author and I replied I knew her. You wouldn't believe the shock, awe, and wonder at that. Your beautiful book and name led right into my own career and the fact I knew so many authors they had read at some point. I have a feeling you'll have 2 new readers.

  23. Winter, Bless u for telling me this!! I read it with a smile and chuckle! I'm always amazed that people view authors in such a golden light. If they could just see me in my flip flops and t-shirts and jeans at our little country store;) Fishing fifty cents out of my pocket to buy hubby a paper...

    It is unique how we are brought together. And I'd love to have some new readers. I never thought bringing a book to a dental office would be a great advertisement - but it is! I often read there myself! Bless you:)

  24. Rel, Love learning that Ecc. 4:12 has special significance to you as a couple. It's certainly a beautiful, powerful verse. Now it has more meaning to me, too:)

    Well, that book barely got off the boat and you were turning pages:) Bless you for that! I think reading a book quickly, even a 400 pager, really immerses you in the story in manifold ways. I do that with Liz's historicals and then am always very sad to finish.

    Many thanks for your gracious words here. The Lord is so good to enable us to reflect His kindness and compassion. I take away so much from you and my readers on a daily basis. Truly, it's a continual feast!!

  25. I just read this post about all you have learned as a writer. It was very interesting and such good advice! I think I will go back later and read it all over again. I am a published writer in Sweden, (I write Christian teen fiction) but I know I still have lessons to learn. I actually don't know any other authors in Sweden so I'm glad I can at least read your blog :) I haven't read TCL yet, but I'm SO looking forward to it!

  26. Hanna, So happy to see you again! And to learn you're an author yourself:) I know you have a very important ministry writing for teens. That's wonderful! And if anything I say helps, I'm thrilled! I wonder if it's very different publishing in Sweden? Or maybe it's very similar. Books are books, after all, and the writing and editing process defy international boundaries.

    I hope TCL blesses you when you have time to read. It sure was a joy to write - I keep saying that but it's so true. Right now I'm about to turn book 4 in and have started book 5 of my series. I'd love to hear what you're working on. Maybe you are in the middle of writing or have a new released. Whichever it is, I wish you God's very best!!

  27. Well, I had written a comment and blogger wasn't working so it went off in cyberspace somewhere! LOL! So here's take two!

    I haven't been on this writing journey very long, as far as writing an entire book. Since I was a child, I have written short stories, but nothing as "grand" as a novel. I feel that God has brought me to the decision to do so and it certainly isn't easy with the many hats I wear- as mom to three younger children, homeschooling them, involved in music ministry at church, and you know- keeping house! Nonetheless, I'm here on the journey, and little by little accomplishing what I think the Lord has guided me to do, probably never to publish publicly, but that's okay. I'm just shooting for actually finishing a longer length book! I've learned that time opens up itself if I plan carefully and also if I let things go- you know, it's okay if I just sit outside and write while watching over the kids playing or leave the load of laundry in the dryer for a few more minutes. I've learned that whatever words I write are from Him alone- because I've struggled with depression for the past 8 years and fibromyalgia longer than that; thus, my thinking at times is foggy at best. I've learned that writing is FUN and I need it to be fun! I will not write, at this point in my life, when it's a struggle. For me, it's not worth the angst. I worry too much as it is! LOL! I've learned this will be a long road for me, more than likely, and that's okay. Now, this is most certainly not the "well thought out" comment I had previously written, but just a rabbit trailing quick one! :-)

    Thank you for sharing what you've learned. I have taken your list to heart and find much wisdom in it! It's such a blessing to hear your heart, and see how you've extended your hand of friendship to others. Thank you!

  28. Sweet P,
    Thanks for your persistence! It's so good to see you again:) Blogger is so stubborn sometimes and I'm so sorry. It seems whenever I leave my longest, most thought out comments, they are deleted or won't go through for some reason and I can never repeat what I've said the first time. It means a lot that you would do it all again here!

    I'm so glad you're finding writing to be fun - it really is such a joy, especially when you have the right perspective like you do. I love that you fit it in around your daily life and all that is important to you, even those things that we wish would go away sometimes but don't (like laundry and house stuff:)! When I feel the most stressed or overwhelmed I ask the Lord to give me writing time and He does. He's so faithful.

    So many readers here have the same type challenges with health, even mental health, and I really empathize, and am sure others do, too. I think we writerly types feel things very deeply for the most part and so life can be extra challenging for us. It's wonderful if we can take that and make something beautiful of it with our writing. Like you, I've found myself writing stories since I was just a kid. Writing has always been the great escape for me:) Research even says it's great for many things that ail you! But we knew that, of course;) I'm thinking you could say that about your music ministry, too. That sounds heavenly.

    It's so good to get to know you here. Praying for you and your littles:) I sense your enjoyment of the blessings in your life when you talk about them. And that overflows and blesses others like me!

  29. I don't know for sure, but I would guess the publishing of books in Sweden is pretty much the same process as in the US. My fourth book was released June 15th and I'm in the middle of writing my fifth. Normally I would recommend my website,, but since it's in Swedish I guess it would pretty much be "all greek" to everyone here :)

    Anyway, I've been really stuck in my writing for some time now, not knowing how to move on. But your post reminded me I needed to pray about it and when I woke up this morning I had all these ideas of what to write! So thanks for the reminder!

    So glad to hear you're writing a fourth and a fifth book! I'm sure looking forward to these new releases!


  30. Hanna,
    So glad you've been blessed with that needed inspiration! Prayer really unlocks creativity for me, too. I don't know how those who don't pray do it! Your site is really neat, even if I don't read a word of Swedish! It's great to meet you here and learn more about you and see how God is working in the world. Prayers with you, Hanna, as you write! And thanks so much for your enthusiasm about future books. That sure blesses me!!

  31. I tried to post yesterday, but blogger was down. :( Work has been absolutely crazy this week, so I didn't have a chance to post before now.

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Your graciousness is just wonderful.

    Lesson I am learning right now. Hmmmm, have you ever been in the middle of something, know there's probably a lesson there, but you're not certain exactly what it is yet? Yeah, that's definitely where I am right now. There's something going on in my life right now, that has my heart fluttering. :) You may very well end up with a private message on facebook with a full explanation at some point.

    Hanna, I just want to say your website is just lovely, and your books sound wonderful. For anyone else who is interested Google Chrome automatically translates websites into English.

  32. Michelle, I'm absolutely delighted to hear your dear heart has a bit of arrythmia (sp?)!! That bodes well, I'm thinking/hoping/praying;) And YES, I have been in more than a few situations where I feel I'm supposed to be learning something but am not sure just what. Being a slow learner (and a blonde), I always ask the Lord to help me learn it the first time so I do not have to repeat it!

    So glad you're here. Blogger was down, that's for sure, as I was thrown off myself. Bless u for persisting:) I expect to check up on your heart condition at some point in the near future!!

  33. Laura, this is exactly what I needed to read today for my journey in writing. Thank for being so candid.

  34. Hi Anne,
    So glad you found it helpful. I don't often post about writing/publishing as there are so many writing blogs out there, so it's rewarding to know that:) I wish you His very best! And thanks so much for stopping here! That blesses me.