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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On Balancing Family Life and your Writing Life: Author Interview with Jenny Proctor

 When did you actually start writing your first book? How long did it take to write your first draft? How many re-writes do you think you did?
 ​I started writing my first book in March of 2009. The first draft took three months, then I revised and rewrote for six months. I'd say I probably had four or five drafts before I felt it was publish-ready.
Who encouraged you along the way?I was fortunate to have a couple of friends who were already published and were generous with both their time, and knowledge. They never hesitated to answer my questions or validate my efforts. But mostly, it was a pretty small support network--my family and close friends, and a very real, pressing need to finish the story. The characters felt so real in my head, it felt I would be letting them down if I didn't just tell the story already!​

Prior to writing your romance books, what other published writing did you have?  
​Okay, true confession time? My first published novel was the very first fiction anything that I've ever written, save a few short stories written in college. I wrote a blog for a couple of years, if you want to count that as published writing, but other than that, that's it! I realize it's pretty awesome to publish you're first ever novel, but I think it's a double edged sword. I've been writing consistently for five years now and in that time, I think I've become a much better writer. I'll never not be proud of my first book, but it's sometimes hard to consider the very real fact that I'm doing all my growing in public. There's a part of me that wishes I'd written three or four books behind closed doors just to get some of the rookie mistakes out of the way first.

Did you attend writing conferences to help you along the way?
I didn't attend writing conference's before I sent out my book. I sort of jumped in cold turkey, then went backwards and built up my support network. Not the easiest way to do things, for sure!​

​I now attend the LDS Storymakers Conference every year, though my first time at the conference wasn't until after I'd landed my first book deal. I love being involved in the conference. This year I'm co-chairing the event, and plan to head up the entire thing in 2016. It's a conference that has grown significantly over the past few years. We have top rate agents and authors, from best-selling author Brandon Sanderson, to agents like Writers House agent Dan Lazar join us every year. It's an incredible conference--great people, and so much to learn! This year's conference is in Provo, Utah, May 15-16.

Did you pitch other publishers besides Covenant Cummunications Inc?

​I pitched to one other company that publishes LDS fiction, but Covenant was my top choice. I feel really fortunate that they were the ones that picked up the first book. So what is LDS Fiction?​

Covenant is an LDS publisher and their submissions guidelines state that you need to list the specific LDS-oriented elements of your book" in your cover letter. What exactly does that include?
LDS stands for Latter-day Saints, another way to refer to Mormons. So my novels have elements that are unique to members of the LDS church. Sometimes this means just having Mormon characters, sometimes it means characters grapple with more specific issues that are faith-related.

The one constant is that any book Covenant publishes is going to be guaranteed clean--no swearing, no sex. Period. Some might think this restrictive, but I think there is value in fiction that you can share freely with others, even your own daughters, without having to worry about what you might find on the next page.

I don't think ALL fiction needs to be this way. Some stories require a grittier telling. But I do think there IS a place for clean reads and a market for them. I'm happy to be a part of that market.

Did you research agents to represent you and your writing?
Because LDS Fiction is such a niche genre, I didn't research agents before submitting to Covenant. They accept direct submissions so it was easier to go that route. But I have been researching agents since then!

My third novel, titled Nearly Nell, is not LDS Fiction. I'd love to get it into the national market which I'll need an agent to do. Wading the query trenches is not easy, but I'm learning a lot as I go. I think there's a home out there for this novel... hopefully we will find it soon!​

What has surprised you the most about getting published other than the joy of seeing your book in print?
​You know, I was surprised at how vulnerable I felt knowing others were reading my words. They feel so much a part of me--a part of who I am, it was all kinds of overwhelming to think of others knowing my characters, reading the sentences I worked so hard to create. I was also surprised at just how LONG everything takes. Even after you GET the book deal, still. So much waiting. ​

What advice would you give someone who thinks they have the great novel in them just waiting to be told?

​If the story is just waiting to be told, then TELL IT! Writing is a skill. You get better with practice, so the very best thing to do is write, write, write. Write, and then read your stuff out loud. Read it to others out loud. Have others read it to YOU out loud. And remember, every criticism you receive is making you a better writer. It's hard and awful and sometimes it really stings to have people rip apart your words, but it's the only way to stretch and grow.

I'm not sure there is any business out there that requires a thicker skin than publishing. But the rewards can be immense. I've suffered through some bad reviews in my time, but I've also gotten emails from readers that have thanked me for writing something that changed them for the better. You can't beat that. ​
How much does social media play in your promotion of your books?

​OH, social media. I have a love/hate relationship with social media, mostly because I only have so many hours each day to spend on the laptop and it's painful to use those hours for anything other than actual writing. But it IS necessary and I think it's really important.

I have a website and a blog, and a pretty active Facebook page. Facebook is where I do most of my promotion. My publisher arranges several blog reviews, and sends copies of my books out to pertinent newspapers and online magazines for review... but beyond that, I rely mostly on word of mouth and positive reader reviews. I expect there's probably much more that I could be doing, but there's only so many hours in the day, you know?

My editor once told me the very best thing I could do to sell my first book is write a second one. Get your name out there, build a reader base. ​

Was it harder or easier to write your second book? ​The second book was definitely easier. So much of writing is learn by doing, so I think naturally, it gets easier the more you do it. Both novels also take place in the same small town, so with the second novel I was already starting with a town and setting I was familiar with. It's not a sequel, and can definitely be read as a stand alone book, but as far as keeping things clear in my head, I already knew the town, the feel of the people, and that made it easier to construct the story.

On the flip side, when I wrote my first book, I only had four kids, and now I have six. In that respect, the writing of the second book was harder. I have way less free time!

Do you have another book in the works?
I have two other novels in the works--Nearly Nell, my first national market title that I'm shopping with agents right now, and a third as yet unnamed novel for Covenant that's about half-way finished. Don't tell my editor I said that. She's getting it by Dec, or else!​

Any other thoughts on writing you'd like to add?​Just that if you have a passion for writing, if it makes you happy and fills you up and makes it easier for you to sleep at night, don't stop doing it. There are so many ways for your words to be read. Find a niche that works for you, and work at it. BUT, don't stop living your life to do it.

When I am completely consumed by my writing, the quality of it suffers. When I take a step back, play with my kids, hike in the wood, breathe, exercise, the writing comes much easier and my words are better for the diversity in my life. Real life can be inspiring in more ways than one. Though it's SO easy to, as writers, live completely inside our heads, I think we will be better writers if we don't. ​

That's it for today's interview. Hope you learned something to help you in your writing. If you would like to learn more about Jenny and her writing, here's the link to her website.

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