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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Never Edit Your Own Book! Author Interview with Jessica Berg

What made you decide to write that first novel?
Ever since I can remember, I loved writing and sharing my stories with others. At first, they were little short stories I wrote in high school and shared with my mother (who, of course, loved them)! It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I considered writing for real.

How long did it take you to write your first book?
It took me close to two years to write my first book. Children and a full-time job put a hamper on writing hours, so I had to sneak an hour here or there to finish my vision.

How many rewrites did you do on it?
Honestly, I just did a rewrite on my first novel, A Place to Call Home! As I’ve grown in my writing craft, I wanted to tend to my book “baby,” so I went back and made some rewrites, extended the ending, and generally just gave her an overhaul.

Who helped you with the editing?
From the beginning, I had several people in my corner, helping me. The one mistake I made though, as this was my first book and I ignorantly thought that as an English teacher I could edit my own work, I did not hire an editor. This proved to be a mistake, and that is part of the reason I went back through and did hire an editor to look over my book. For any up and coming authors out there, please learn from my mistake and never edit your own work. It doesn’t work!

Who encouraged you along the way?
My family has been in my corner since day one. They encouraged me to keep going and write because I love it and it is who I am. My husband entertains our four kids so I can get some writing time, and he helps so much with creating social media posts and creating eye-catching ads.

Are you active with any writing critique groups?
No, I am not. I have a group of trusted beta readers.

You just published your second book. Was that easier or harder to write?
It was easier to write for several reasons. I not only grew in my writing craft, but the topic of my second novel is very near and dear to my heart. As a farm girl from the South Dakota prairie, I wanted to share my passion for the Dakotas and the hard-working men and women who make up the backbone of this country.

How did you go about finding an agent/publisher?
For Amber Waves of Grace, I queried dozens of agents and finally got one. However, she did nothing with my book for a year, and I had to make the difficult decision of ending my contract with her. After the allotted wait time, I started querying again (which is harder than actually writing a novel!) and got signed with Red Adept Publishing, a small publishing house.

Have you attended writing conferences?
I went to one conference a couple of years ago, and even though I did not get signed with an agent, I met several author friends who have been instrumental in my writing career as mentors and encouragers.

Tell me about your query process.
I sent out so many queries that I think I could wallpaper my house with them! Querying really is the hardest part about the writing process, but it is a necessary evil and one well worth it in the end when you hook an agent or publisher. There are good resources out there on how to write a good query. Before sending out queries, an author must educate herself/himself on the ins and outs of the process.

From the point you were offered a contract on that first book, how long did it take to get published?
I self-published my first book. My second book, Amber Waves of Grace, is the traditionally published one. For this one, it was about a year and a half. Traditional publishing is more like a marathon than a sprint, and as patience is not one of my virtues, this was a trying time. But, I am more than satisfied with the book and the attention and dedication the publishing team put to my novel.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? 
I think the hardest part of writing for me is seeing how it will all come together. I am such a “pantser” that I’ll get halfway through my writing and realize that point A doesn’t match up with point B. At that point, I have to go back and change things, which takes time. 

I wish I loved outlining, but sadly, I get too bored with it! With my murder-mystery novel though, which is contracted with Red Adept Publishing, I HAD to outline. That was a learning curve for me but well worth it in the end.

What does your editor remind you to do most often?

I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I do know that when I get my line editing back it looks as if someone were murdered with all the red!

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
The great reviews of my novels from people I don’t know. It’s one thing having your mom like your work, but a complete stranger? Now that’s something to keep the writing fire lit and roaring.

We have all experienced rejection. How have you learned to write past it?
I’m afraid I haven’t! Writing, like other art-centered work, is highly personal. When someone dislikes it or even rejects something that you have worked so hard on, it definitely stings. I have learned to decipher constructive feedback versus criticism, though, which I believe is a healthy start in writing past the rejection.

What has surprised or frustrated you the most in writing/publishing?
What surprised me the most is the power the reader has. An author can write a million books, but if readers do not leave reviews, the book will go nowhere. This ties in with the frustration question. As an author, I wish readers knew they have the power to make or break an author, and that taking five minutes to leave a review will have exponential results.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
To steal the quote, “If you build it, they will come,” the same things apply in writing. Just because you write it doesn’t mean readers will read it. Marketing, marketing, and more marketing. There are so many books out there. An author has to be vigilant with marketing and getting his/her book in front of readers. If I had realized this sooner, my career as an author would have blossomed much earlier. It is truly my only regret as an author.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
Write. Just write. Find a time each day to jot down something. It could be an idea; it could be an entire chapter. The important thing to remember is that if you write, you are an author! Way too many people feel guilty for calling themselves an author because they’ve only written one book, or they haven’t been published. Don’t succumb to this belief. As soon as you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you are an author.

What is the next book coming out?
My next book, under contract with Red Adept Publishing, has the working title, Love and Murder: A Pemberley Manor Mystery.

Can you give me a short synopsis?
Eat a crumpet. Check. Say “bloody hell” in an English pub. Check. Solve three homicides and fall in love. Not on the list, but when England dishes up bloody murder, even an American girl knows it’s time to channel her inner Agatha Christie.

American, Eliza Darcy, braves a transatlantic flight to England to partake in a Darcy/Bennet family reunion for one reason: to resolve the decades-long estrangement fracturing the bond between her father and uncle, Fitzwilliam Darcy the 7th. Eliza immerses herself in the world of the vast estate of her ancestors, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy.

After a dead body surfaces in the courtyard fountain, murder and mayhem sabotage afternoon teas and flirting with her British heartthrob, Heath Tilney. The Anglophilic mystery fangirl has every intention of keeping her snoot out of official coppers’ business, but when clues to the murder begin to merge with her investigation into her family’s rift, her inner sleuth self-activates.

With the help of her batty great aunt and Heath, Eliza works to untangle the web of lies and secrets. As corpses start to pile up faster than the clues, Eliza fears the estate’s family graveyard will swallow another body: hers.

Sounds intriguing! If you’d like to buy this book or others of Jessica’s, here are some links to get you started.

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