Sharing the tips I've learned about writing and publishing.
Writing with a Plan: An Author Interview with James Flerlage
made you decide to take on the challenge of writing a novel?
the past eighteen years, I’ve written articles and columns for magazines, trade
publications and newspapers. It was my wife, Kristine, who pushed me into
writing fiction. She not only encouraged me to set my goals higher, she became
my toughest critic and greatest champion. She also manages the day‐to‐day
operations of our company, DreamScapes Publishing Ltd.
long did it take you to write this book?
research for Before Bethlehem started in 2004. The book itself took about three
years to write (the writing process was accomplished over weekday nights,
weekends and vacations). I started several novels over a fourteen‐year
period. Up until now, this is the only one I’ve chosen to publish.
many rewrites did you perform?
me, rewriting a novel is an evolutionary process, done in fits and starts, and
in the case of Before Bethlehem, rarely from beginning to end. There were
dozens of rewrites on small sections, and in the cases where entire chapters
were thrown out, even more. Scenes where the prose sounded more like a research
paper were eliminated entirely. With the character of James, keeping his voice
consistent so that it reflected the thoughts and words of a fifteen‐year‐old,
proved to be the most challenging part of the writing process. Between final
content edits, line edits, and proofs, I probably went through the book from
beginning to end at least forty or fifty times, if not more.
helped you with the editing?
a ton of pressure to produce a quality product, particularly for first time
novelists. The pressure intensifies if you choose to launch the title on your
own, which is why I invested so much time and money in editing. My current team
consists of six content reviewers, one content editor and two copyeditors. The
bulk of the book’s investment was in editorial services. Steve Parolini (www.noveldoctor.com)
serves as lead editorial consultant for all my projects.
you give me a short synopsis on the novel, Before Bethlehem, for my readers?
Bethlehem offers the eyewitness account of 15‐year‐old
James, son of Joseph bar Jacob, and the dangerous and heartrending choices his
family must make in the days leading up to Joseph's relationship with Mary, and
the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Before Bethlehem is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book Recommendation,
under Fiction and Literature. A detailed synopsis of the book may be found at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book‐reviews/james‐j‐flerlage/before‐bethlehem/
or in the January 1, 2014, issue of Kirkus Magazine.
other books been started and stopped along the way?
thrillers, historical fiction, general fiction and non‐fiction.
to writing this novel, what other writing credits did you have?
high school, one of my poems was selected for publication in a national
literary magazine; one of my essays earned me a full academic scholarship. Over
the years, I wrote hundreds of pieces for magazines, trade publications and
newspapers, mostly on the topics of business and technology. I have authored complex
proposals, case studies, professional trade blogs, marketing content, and ghost‐written
several articles. I have another article coming out in the February 2014 issue
of Chemical Engineering magazine, titled, “Three Insights for Managing
Engineering Data in Facilities.”
did you decide to self‐publish?
part of a multi‐year research effort on the publishing
industry, I attended conferences, consulted with several authors, agents,
acquisition editors, and publishing industry veterans, subscribed to industry trade
magazines, and watched various insider blogs on publishing. (The aforementioned
took a tremendous amount of time and investment; I burned vacation days,
frequent flier miles, and personal income, all while holding down a demanding
full‐time job.) In the end, it was a business
decision fueled by royalty percentages, intellectual property rights, and the
desire to write for multiple genres.
do you write?
set aside time each week to write, usually in the evenings and on weekends. I
travel for work, so I tend to write when I’m on the road. I prefer the
background noise of coffee shops and bookstores.
you do an outline first?
is a fluid process that changes with the needs of the novel. I typically
outline the whole book, including the characters, plot synopsis, scenes,
setting, dialogue goals and research needs, in a Moleskine journal (I keep one
for each book idea… there are about fifty in a lockbox). Since most of my books
contain a major research component, I have to set goals for reading, note
taking, and writing.
you do individual character development before doing the plot?
thrillers (which haven’t been released) have a myriad of characters, so I
outlined each major and minor character before I outlined the plot. I follow a
specific characterization exercise, which was given to me by a creative writing
professor. I spend a great deal of time on character development (I have to love
them or I’ll get bored).
type of publicity do you do to promote the book?
is a twenty‐page marketing plan for Before Bethlehem,
made up of multiple components with budgets, milestones, and performance
metrics (my MBA concentration is in marketing). Promotion is just one aspect
that involves social media, blogging, and publicity.
has worked best for generating sales?
have found that well‐publicized promotional giveaways drive
readership, and subsequently, sales.
do you know now about writing/publishing that you wished you had known sooner?
your time on the craft and your money on editorial services. Invest heavily in
cover design and back‐cover copywriting services. Focus on the
product – the rest you can figure out as you go.
this a stand‐alone book or are you planning a sequel
based on other Biblical characters?
never intended to publish Before Bethlehem, so I’m wrestling with next steps
with the help of my friends, family, spiritual directors, and editorial team.
Although this book was supposed to be a one‐off, dozens of
readers have asked me to continue the storyline. It is likely I will write a
is the best advice you’ve been given about writing?
the movie, Finding Forrester, William Forrester (Sean Connery) tells Jamal
Wallace (Rob Brown), “The first key to writing is to write – not to think.” It
is imperative that you dedicate time to write.
have you learned about writing that you would like to pass along?
not fall in love with your first drafts; be ready to slash and burn. (I cut
forty thousand words out of Before Bethlehem, and revised it so much that I was
both exhausted and burned out by the project.) Set money aside for professional
editorial services. Editors often become close friends and confidantes – choose
advice would you give anyone embarking on the journey of becoming published?
Fail often and miserably. Failure and criticism are essential paths on the
journey to success.
Learn how to edit your own work. Self‐Editing for
Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, is an excellent resource.
Study what editors and readers look for in both authors and commercial‐quality
writing. The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner, is another excellent
No excuses. Finish your book. It’s great to talk about your novel‐in‐progress
at cocktail parties, but getting it done is a crucial step to building
confidence in yourself. Completing a novel is one of the greatest blessings of
my professional life.
else you would like to share?
was educated in a small school district in rural Kansas. All of the teachers I
had in grade school and high school were caring, skilled, compassionate, and
deserving of all the recognition I can muster. Because of them, I developed a
lifelong passion for learning, writing, and an appreciation for the arts. Take
a moment to reflect on a teacher that made a difference in your life and make
time to thank them.