Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Tenacity Interviews - Jill Eileen Smith

Welcome Jill Eileen Smith, author of the exciting upcoming series on the Wives of King David. Lots of buzz about her books, and for good reason! Let's delve into Jill's tenacity today and find hope and encouragement for our own writing journey!

Jill Eileen Smith is the author of the Wives of King David series - a biblical fiction trilogy - Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba with Revell, a division of Baker Publishing House. Michal releases March 1, 2009. Jill has more than twenty years of writing experience, ranging from articles and short stories to reviews and blogs. Her writing has placed or won prizes in several writing contests. In addition to homeschooling her three sons, Jill has taught piano and women’s Bible studies. She enjoys baking, traveling, scrapbooking, and the antics of her two lovable cats. She lives with her husband and sons in Southeastern Michigan.

1) How long have you been writing? By this, I mean seriously writing with intention for publication – include the years of struggle before publication.
Twenty years in all, though I didn’t seriously consider publication until I dove into my first novel – maybe 18 years ago. My first serious letter from an editor at Harper & Row came two years later with the suggestion that I refocus my current story and submit again. While I didn’t pursue that advice at the time, that same editor, Lonnie Hull Dupont, now with Revell, bought the story she inspired 16 years after the fact. During those waiting years, I wrote about 8 novels, a few novellas, short stories, articles, and loads of blog posts. The year The Wives of King David series sold to Revell, I nearly quit seeking publication. I’d suffered so many rejections, come SO close to a sale, to committee and even to pub board, all with the same result. I was discouraged beyond measure and could not keep going if God had other plans for me. I spent much time in prayer and begged Him to either open the door wide or shut it so completely that I would know it was time to quit. I penned my prayer in a journal and forgot about it. God later answered my prayer in a way I never would have imagined!

2) Tell us about your first sale.
My agent, Wendy Lawton, signed me for Michal in Feb. 2006. We both knew it would be a tough sell, and after over a year of trying, she told me we would have to shelve it for a while. In the meantime, I’d written a suspense novel that she planned to shop around at ICRS that summer (2007). In July, around the time of ICRS, I felt the intense urge to pray. I asked the Lord if He was ever going to use The Wives of King David series. I had loved the series for so long—had I wasted my time, nearly 20 years of my life? In my praying, I had this fantasy of an editor coming up to Wendy at a conference or ICRS and asking if she had any biblical fiction. (Since we had shelved the book, I knew Wendy wouldn’t push it.) The next month I received an email from Wendy. Did she have the latest copy of Michal because Lonnie Hull Dupont at Revell wanted to see the full manuscript! Turns out, Wendy was at a conference in Oregon and sat next to Lonnie. Lonnie mentioned to Wendy that Revell was going to look for a work of biblical fiction. My fantasy prayer had materialized! Is God amazing or what? Wendy sent Michal to Lonnie who loved it and took it to committee and by October I had an offer! Those three months were the longest of my life!

3) How difficult was it to find an agent?
I’ve actually had three agents during the course of my career. It’s important to find a good fit with your agent. I enjoyed the first two—they were wonderful people and I’m sure they are a good fit for other clients. But God led me to meet Wendy in 2005 at an ACFW Conference and that meeting started our relationship. She didn’t sign me until about six months later, so it’s important to remember that just because an agent doesn’t say an immediate “yes” doesn’t mean it’s a permanent “no.” It’s important to maintain a good rapport with editors and agents. You never know whom you might end up working with. As for difficulty—I’ve had a lot of rejection letters from agents too. I think it’s important to meet your agent in person if you can. It made all the difference for me.

4) What were the top three obstacles you encountered on the road to being published?
1. Not knowing the craft—I attempted to break in before I really knew how to write a novel. I hadn’t studied story structure or written more than one novel. I didn’t understand characterization, showing vs. telling, POV, etc. I was pretty green.

2. Not knowing the industry—my only knowledge of publishing was Sally Stuart’s Market Guide. I knew no one in the industry, not editors or agents or published authors. I didn’t know a thing about networking or how to meet the needs of editors as well as how to write with a reading audience in mind, rather than just writing for myself.

3. Not having a support system—I wrote for several years without any support from other writers. I also hadn’t prayed much about my goals of publication and learning to write better. So I began to pray and God led me to an online Christian writers’ group (CWG), which led me to ACFW (then ACRW) back when we were less than 100 members. ACFW is where I met my agent, my editor, and have made lasting friendships. I have learned what I needed to take me to the place where I was ready to be published.

5) There is a difference between tenacity and being “bull-headed”. How have you been able to move your dream forward without turning agents/editors off?
Graciousness. I think every author needs to learn to treat others as they want to be treated. Don’t react in anger or be quick to respond to perceived offenses. Double and triple check emails, especially those where you are upset or trying to be funny. Emotion does not transfer well in an email, so careful wording is important. Don’t waste your editor’s or agent’s time with things beyond business unless they invite such interaction. Don’t abuse your author friendships—remember to respect their busy schedules. Bottom line, Jesus had it right when He gave us the Golden Rule. Being gracious allows us to be persistent without being bull-headed.

6) What advice do you have for a writer who is facing “no” right now? Can you be tenacious and content at the same time?
The hardest thing to determine is whether God is saying “no” or saying “wait”. God’s waiting room is a very tough place to be. If an author is hearing God say a clear “no” to a project or even to seeking publication, that author will only be content and at peace when he or she listens to the Lord’s leading and lets it go. If God is saying “no” and we stubbornly push ahead anyway, we aren’t going to be happy. God will not bless our efforts either. But if God is simply saying, “not yet” or “wait,” then we can know that the issue isn’t that we’re on the wrong path, but rather, we’re on a path that is longer with more twists and turns than we expected or perhaps wanted. Contentment comes when we keep surrendering our longings to the Lord, and then continue to do the work He gave to us—and to do the work tenaciously.

Are you in God's waiting room right now? Take heart, keep moving forward, doing what you know to do.

I bid you good writing.

1 comment:

Koala Bear Writer said...

Love the series idea--I've always been fascinated by these women. Also love the advice about "no" maybe being "wait"--God's timing is always perfect. Thanks.