Monday, October 17, 2011

How Long Does It Take to Break Into Publishing? - Interview With C.J. Darlington

Antiquarian bookseller and award winner C.J. Darlington is the author of Thicker than Blood (Tyndale) and its sequel Bound by Guilt. She can be found on her site, blog, and Twitter. Today, she was kind enough to stop by and share her journey as a writer, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and her marketing strategies for promoting her work.

What’s your writing background? What inspired you to begin writing?

There has always been something about stories that’s fascinated me. I’ve loved to read since I was a kid and would bring home bags and bags full of books from the library. I think God placed the love of reading in my heart, and he sparked the desire to write when I read stories like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, I too wanted to tell stories about hurting people on their journeys of faith.

Actually, I explored painting and music before writing, and while I enjoyed both (I thought I was going to be a painter as a teenager), when I started writing stories I realized with my painting and my music I was always trying to tell a story. But writing a three minute song and filling a blank canvas didn’t give me the satisfaction writing fiction did.

When I was fifteen I started the story that would become my first published novel Thicker than Blood. Around this same time was when I began to read writing how-to books from the library. I’ve probably read hundreds of them over the years and learned a great deal. I never had any formal training in writing, just reading enough novels and those how-to books gave me a wonderful foundation.

You’re a relatively young author to already have published an award-winning novel (and its sequel). Tell us about your journey to publication.

Well, it was a long one! From idea to publication, it took fifteen years for my first novel to hit the shelves. But during that time I was growing as a writer, and a person. I re-wrote Thicker than Blood numerous times. When I was twenty-three I saw an ad in Writer’s Digest magazine for a contest sponsored by the Christian Writers Guild called Operation First Novel. The prize was publication by Tyndale House and $50,000. I thought, hey, why not? I made the deadline for entries my deadline for finishing the book. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally I found out that my novel was one of 20 semi finalists! I was thrilled. To have that nod of recognition that I wasn’t spinning my wheels was huge. Turns out the book didn’t win, but it gave me the encouragement to start submitting it elsewhere. I did a lot more revision but was met with rejection.

Discouragement began to seep in, and I wondered if perhaps I should set Thicker than Blood aside and start submitting my next book (which I had already written). But one night while lying in bed I had a spark of inspiration I now know had to be from the Lord. I thought, “Why not enter this new and improved version into this year’s Operation First Novel contest?” I did, and the waiting game started again. A few months passed and I heard I was one of four finalists! They would announce the winner at their annual writers conference in Colorado Springs. I was shocked when Jerry Jenkins named Thicker than Blood the winner in 2008. That’s how I connected with the fantastic folks at Tyndale House, and I was blessed they wanted to publish my second novel Bound by Guilt too.

How long does it generally take you to write your books?

Ha! It took fifteen years for Thicker than Blood. For Bound by Guilt it was a lot faster, but took something like four years. Now keep in mind that I’m not a full-time writer. I usually only write in the evenings and one day on the weekends, so I’m not as prolific as some. Hopefully I’ll be able to speed up the process as I go, but we’ll see.

What was your biggest lesson learned writing Thicker than Blood? What about Bound by Guilt?

For Thicker than Blood it was persistence. I really had to choose not to give up, even when it seemed like I’d never be published. As far as the actual writing of that novel, early on I struggled with dialogue and action scenes. I had to learn how to picture a scene in my head and really slow it down on the paper to make it read right.

Bound by Guilt taught me to write the story of my heart. I had desired to write some of the scenes in the book for many years before I actually wrote them. Letting them percolate that long helped me write them better. When I first started brainstorming ideas for a second novel I did a little exercise in which I asked myself the question, “What I really want to write about is ____” and then I had to fill in the blank. In my novel writing journal I wrote down my response. I forgot I’d done this and only later, after I’d beaten around the bush many times in my plot brainstorming, did I realize I eventually settled on the very idea I’d wanted to write about in the beginning. I think God often will give us the desire to write a certain story, and then we talk ourselves out of it (ask me how I know!).

What’s your platform and marketing strategy?

I’d been involved actively online for years before I was published, so I did have contacts through industry professionals and other writers through my work at TitleTrakk, which helped me promote my books. Overall I just try to be as real and natural as I can be and take advantage of every opportunity I can. I do my best to stay on top of trends and stay socially active on sites like Twitter and Facebook. I think readers really enjoy interacting with the authors they read. I make myself as accessible as I can be along those lines. I also utilize every marketing tool I can. People haven’t yet measured the effectiveness of book trailers, but I paid to have one made for each of my novels because I figure every marketing avenue, whether it be print, visual or whatever, is important to at least explore. I try new things whenever I can but ultimately must remember that unless I have something to promote, all the marketing won’t do me any good.
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