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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tips from an Editor and Author: An Interview with Martin Wiles

You are both an author and freelance editor. Which one do you identify with the most? 
Since I’m mainly a devotional author and devotional freelance editor, I suppose I identify with both equally. I’ve been writing seriously since 2009 and editing for about four years.

As an editor, you see lots of query letters and proposals. What advice would you give writers in sending out query letters and proposals?
Most of the places I send query letters to state how long a writer should expect before a response is forthcoming. I personally don’t follow up with an editor unless that time has passed. As a writer and an editor, I try to imagine how many submissions and query letters they probably receive each day and also remember that I’m no more important than the next person—regardless of my list of accomplishments. At Christian Devotions, where I serve as Managing Editor, our submission guidelines tell those who submit devotions how long it may take to hear a response.

My query letter is short and to the point. I assume editors are busy people and don’t have time to read a lot of unnecessary fluff in my proposals. I am running into more and more places who use Submittable (or some similar service) to receive submissions. In these cases, a query letter is not always an option, or at the least is optional.

Telling why you are a good person to write a particular piece is also important. If I want to write a piece on counseling, I should have some experience and education in that area. Otherwise, the editor is probably not going to publish the article. So a short bio in a query letter is a good idea. The editor may want to know more about you, but they can ask if they need the information. It’s also a good practice to keep one’s bio updated on all social media outlets and websites.

I work strictly with devotional submissions, and one of the most common mistakes I see writers make is not following submission guidelines. This can range from acceptable topics, to formatting, to word length, to grammar issues. The first thing I do when receiving a devotion is check it for word length. Submissions that are over are immediately returned. So writers—of whatever genre—can save themselves a lot of trouble and increase their chances of acceptance by following the guidelines. 

For what genres do you act as an editor?
At Christian Devotions, we look for what the name states: devotions. Anything that doesn’t fit our schemata is returned. Writers who send queries are referred to the Write for Us tab on the website. At Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, I post and edit articles for their website. These come from books that have already passed through the editing and publishing process, so here length and formatting are the main areas I work with.

How does being an editor affect your own writing?
I’m convinced editing the writing of others improves my own writing skills. Of course, this requires constant refreshing of my skills. I attend at least one writing conference each year. I also subscribe to a daily email from a grammar website. Additionally, I keep the grammar handbook that I taught from handy at all times. And as one author and editor friend taught me to do, I consult Miriam Webster when I have a question. I believe to help others I must keep my skills honed.

Your bio shows you’ve written for a number of sources including devotional magazines, school curriculum, and newspapers. What led you to publish your first book, Morning by Morning?
Knowing the difficulty of being picked up by a traditional publisher—and not having the money to go the subsidy publishing route—I stumbled upon what was then Publish America. Feeling this was the only option I had at the moment, I took it. I subsequently published two more books with them: Morning Serenity, and Grace Greater Than Sin. Having something in print and having something that would outlast my lifetime were important motivating factors for me.

Publish America eventually morphed into American Star. I’ve seen tons of
complaints about them. What was your experience?
My experience with Publish America (now American Star) has been mixed. Since my writing skills were fairly developed at that time, I feel the books published by them are quality books. However, I’m afraid that wouldn’t be true with every book they publish. They offer no editing services, so published manuscripts are published as they are sent in. If a writer is going to use them, they need to have a professional edit their manuscript before sending it.

The cost of their books are sometimes prohibitive. Less pages means lower cost. While there is no cost to publish a book with them, there are hidden costs if you want your book to sell. No free marketing is included. They offer services to make the print book an e-book and to sell it in certain venues, but all come at a cost: the purchase of so many books. Shipping costs are prohibitive. Each book is charged the same shipping cost, which I assume is where they recuperate much of their expense.

While all authors should be willing to undertake the task of marketing their books—regardless of what publishing route they take—they will have to step up to a heavier degree with Publish America. I would not recommend them. As far as I can remember, I have never received a royalty check from them. Which means, no sales other than the books I’ve personally ordered and sold myself.

You work with Christian Devotions as a managing editor and with Lighthouse
Publishing of the Carolinas as an assistant editor. You are also an author with Lighthouse. What came first?
Most of my true editing work is with Christian Devotions. As I mentioned earlier, my editing work with Lighthouse involves more formatting and editing for length with books that have already been published. The author part came first, and I have evolved into the other areas as time has progressed and my relationship with both of these entities has developed.

I love the covers of the two devotional books you’ve done with Lighthouse, as well as the devotional samples I read. I’m curious about the brevity of the books in paperback. According to Amazon, they come in at 68 and 108 pages. Conference and seminar editors would usually say that’s too short a book to pitch. How does that book-length work for you?
Eddie Jones, owner and founder of Lighthouse, would disagree with those editors—except as it concerns novels, which mine aren’t. Actually, my first book with them, Grits & Grace & God, was a 365-day devotional book. The cost of producing that was more which would have made the selling price higher. His research revealed people were not willing to pay much more than $9.95 for a print book (at that time) and .99 cents for e-books. I’m not sure if that has changed. I’ve enjoyed moderate sales with the first and the second book—Grits and Gumbo and Going to Church. I don’t know that either will ever make the best-selling list, but I and the publisher are still marketing them heavily. I do my part and let God do what I can’t.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
If a person has been called to write, they need to do their best at it and do it consistently. They’ll probably never get rich, but for me that’s not the most important matter to consider. While it’s not my day job, it consumes a part of every day. I do my best and let God do the rest.

Do you have any other works in the process?
The original plan by Lighthouse was to take my 365-day devotional book and divide it into three books—two of which have already been published. And to continue the southern theme. We’ll have to see about the third. The second is still fresh off the press, so I’m not currently pursuing the third—although I have enough devotions to publish it. I continue to write devotions five days a week, which I post on my website, Love Lines from God.

That’s all for today’s interview. I hope you've learned something to help you in your writing. If you’d like to learn more about Martin’s writing, here are some links to get you started.

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