Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Jill's Publication Story

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

My entire childhood, I had a dream. I wanted to be a fashion designer. Why? Well, I was obsessed with making or remodeling my clothing--anyone's clothing. My mom used to get on my case for taking things from storage and cutting them up without first asking permission.

The Fashion Designer

I loved haute couture and prêt-à-porter. Haute couture is high fashion, those one-of-a kind creations that sit in museums or are loaned to movie stars to wear to the Academy Awards because they're worth $60,000. Prêt-à-porter is ready-to-wear, fashion that the regular people can afford. My favorite to design was evening wear. I loved the idea of a hand-beaded gown, and I made all my fancy dresses for homecoming, prom, and even my own wedding. But I'll be honest. I also loved the attention I got from making my own clothes. I'd tell people, "I made this," and they'd be so impressed. Or my mom would tell people, "My daughter made that," and I'd feel so good about myself.

I chased this dream all the way to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. And after graduation, my husband and I moved to Los Angeles where he could pursue an occupation in film. Two unpleasant jobs and five years later, I wanted out! Fashion wasn't quite what I'd built it up to be. And working where I did was a bit like that book/movie, The Devil Wears Prada. I've never been a very good suck-up, and to succeed in fashion, knowing how to work people is a big help.

So I got out. I had two kids and played around with starting my own businesses for a while. I designed wedding gowns, created a handbag business, and designed jewelry. All that was a lot of work for pennies. Plenty discouraging.

The Motivational Speaker

So I was home with my little ones, which gave me lots of time to think. My husband was a youth pastor then, and I helped him with the teens. One day we took our leadership group down to Saddleback Church to see what they do, and Doug Fields gave the message. He urged us to "tell our story." This really hit me hard, and I left eager to do just that. I had such an interesting childhood growing up in Alaska, and I'd made so many mistakes, I thought I could tell my story in hopes that hearing it might help teens. I spoke for free a few places, but wasn't really sure how one gets invited to speak. I took my kids to MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and learned there that sometimes speakers are hired because someone read an article the speaker had written for a magazine.

I could do that, right? How hard could that be?

The Magazine Writer

So I looked into writing articles and found out how challenging it really was. But I was determined, so I wrote and wrote and wrote. But I couldn't simply write one article and sent it to twenty magazines because every magazine had its own submission guidelines and style. Some wanted nonfiction at 1500 words, some wanted nonfiction at 750 words. Some wanted fiction at 2000 words. Some wanted fiction at 500 words!

I worked and worked and worked.

As I was working on all that, two other things happened. One of the girls in our youth group loaned me a novel, which I read and thought, "Whoa! What's going on here?" in regards to some of the content. Now, I love YA books that are real and deal with brokenness and sin and what it's like to be a messed up, imperfect teenager on this planet, but I don't like books that glorify sin and ignore the consequences of it. I had read a novel as a teen that really messed up my view of love and I'm still working through the damage that book did to my heart and mind. Life has consequences--good and bad--and I felt if YA authors were going to be real about the temptations in life in their books and doing what feels good, they had a responsibility to be real about the consequences of life as well. Anything else was unethical and potentially damaging to young readers who are looking for truth in the world, not lies dressed up as truth.

 Anyway... so that happened, and I was deeply pondering it all.

The second thing that happened was a new Harry Potter book came out. I think it was Goblet of Fire. And I saw on the news that some Christians were burning copies of the book, which they had deemed evil. This annoyed me. The Harry Potter books might be about "witches and wizards" but they're really about good and evil and how everyone must choose between the two. And here were some Christians missing the point, entirely. I am a Christian, and I believe there is a place for correction and a place for peaceful protest. But with this situation, I felt like there were a lot of people who hadn't even read the series getting all red in the face about it. It wasn't honest or fair. It wasn't loving or respectful. It was a bandwagon. A so-called "plank in the eye."

That's how I felt, anyway.

The Novelist

Well... that got me thinking. I love novels. Why didn't someone write a really cool book for teens that all Christians would like? ( Yeah... I was SO TOTALLY naive. I have since learned the hard way that no one likes every book, Christians, especially.) But I decided to write my own teen novel. One that would deal with real life issues but wouldn't ignore consequences or the existence of a loving, creator God. I wanted Christian teens to see how they sometimes look through the eyes of a nonbeliever, and since I had some experience in that realm, the book was just a tiny bit autobiographical. That book was what would eventually become The New Recruit.

And that's how I got started writing fiction. And it was so much fun!

The Conflicted

I struggled for a bit, shortly thereafter. I had started out wanting to be a motivational speaker. That's why I was learning to write articles. I wanted to allow my testimony to change lives. And here I'd dumped that plan for writing a story about a spy kid. Was I being completely self-absorbed, or what?

I confessed this to my pastor, and he reminded me that Jesus used stories in his ministry. Think about Nathan, prophet of King David, who used a story to convict King David of his sin of stealing Uriah's wife, then killing Uriah. And it worked! That story hit home and David was changed. Stories are powerful. They can go places nonfiction cannot go.

My pastor also asked me why I felt like my calling in life shouldn't be something I truly enjoy? I didn't know. I guess something about telling my life story felt pious and lofty--worthy of pleasing God. But for some reason fiction felt selfish because it was so much fun. My pastor corrected my thought process. He wasn't going to tell me what to do, but he did say that God gives us talents and desires, and there is no reason not to make a living at something we love, if that is at all possible.

So I took some time to think and pray, and I knew overwhelmingly what I wanted to do. I wanted to write that spy kid book! I wanted to finish it and see what happened.

At that point, I went ALL IN!

When a writer’s conference came to town, I signed up. I just KNEW that when the agent heard about my brilliant story it would be "Move over JK Rowling, here I come!"

Yeah... God humbled me really quickly. And he used literary agent Steve Laube to do it. (Thank you, Steve!) Steve gave us all a change to pitch our stories, and taught us how to do just that. And when my chance came, I babbled on and on, unable to describe my story succinctly. Steve was very nice, but he rejected me. I went up to my hotel room that night and cried. The reality check was a brutal shock. But I realized something. I hadn't respected my dream. My book wasn't even done! No wonder I couldn't describe it very well. No wonder the agent couldn't understand what I was trying to sell. I barely understood it!

I mean, I'd been sewing clothes since I was nine. I could tell you the life stories of a dozen fashion designers. I'd gone to school for five years to prepare to work in the fashion industry. I did work in the industry, for two separate companies, and then I started my own business. I knew fashion. I had put in the time to excel in fashion. So what made me think I could take two months, write half a book, and get published?

My ego, that's what.

But I was a tough cookie. And I really felt like this was where I was supposed to be. But believing wasn't enough. I needed to work hard! And I couldn't believe how much I had to learn. When I got home, I did everything Steve Laube and the other conference speakers had recommended. I finished my book. I edited it. I joined a critique group. I read all kinds of books on the writing craft. I read my competition. When I finished the book, I put it aside and wrote another book. And I saved up for Mount Hermon, a larger writer's conference.

I also kept on writing articles. In Stephen King's book On Writing, he'd had over 100 rejections before he sold his first piece. So I told myself that I should expect at least fifty rejections before I was allowed to freak out. And I sold my first article to Brio and Beyond Magazine in 2006 after only about ten rejections. I was a published author!

In the spring of 2007, I attended the Mount Hermon writers conference. I got my first and second requests for fulls on The New Recruit at that conference. It was pretty exciting. I took James Scott Bell's fiction mentoring clinic, which was a wonderful experience. I also met Jeff Gerke there. He's the fellow who taught me what genre I wrote. It was called Speculative Fiction. I was relieved to discover this because I'd been starting to worry that all the books I'd written were too random and that I didn't have a brand--something I kept hearing throughout the conference that I needed. But Jeff cleared all that up.

I knew then that I was a young adult spec fiction writer! Whoo hoo!

Some things happened in my life over the next year. Both my submissions that I'd gotten through Mount Hermon were eventually rejected. My husband got a job in Oregon and we moved. But once I was settled in our new home, I remembered that Jeff Gerke did freelance editing. So I paid him to edit my little spy novel to find out why I kept getting rejections. I learned a ton from that edit!

I could not afford to attend Mount Hermon that year, so instead, I went to the 2008 Oregon Christian Writers Summer Coaching Conference. There weren't a lot of editors looking for YA fiction that year. But guess what? Jeff Gerke was going to be there, representing his new company Marcher Lord Press. They weren't publishing YA, but I submitted my manuscript to Jeff anyway, to see what he thought of my new fantasy novel, which I had tentatively titled Bloodvoices. I just wanted to glean a little Jeff Gerke wisdom, if I could.

When I got my manuscript back, Jeff wanted to meet with me. He'd written, "Why does it have to be YA?" on the feedback form.

So I met with him.

"Is it done?" he asked. "All the way done?"

"All the way," I said.

Turns out Jeff had been looking for a fantasy novel to complete his fall 2009 releases. He liked what he read of mine so far and wanted to read the full.

So I sent Bloodvoices to Jeff and waited. Not too long after I was sitting at my computer, and Jeff sent me an email that said, “Do you happen to be by a phone right now so that I can call you?”

That email pretty much floored me. I’d been rejected enough to know that editors didn’t tend to call up an author to say no thanks. I figured Jeff wanting to talk on the phone was a good thing. I ran and told my husband to keep an eye on our daughter, then emailed Jeff back, and he called right away.

He wanted to publish my book! We talked about that a bit, and he said he’d email me the contract. I couldn’t sit still. I was so excited.

I pondered very briefly if I should submit the book to anyone else. I had always wanted to be traditionally published, and Marcher Lord Press was a brand new POD publishing house. If it had been that alone, I might have turned down the offer. But I believed in Jeff Gerke. He knew his stuff, and so I decided to sign with him, more than this new press. That turned out to be a pretty good idea.

The Published Author

I started writing in 2004. I received my first offer in the fall of 2008. I'd respected my dream, put myself through four years of "writing school," and now I was going to have a book published.

How cool was that?

By Darkness Hid came out in April 2009. Jeff changed the title of the book, concerned that with the vampire craze, readers might be disappointed to read a book called Bloodvoices and find no vampires. By Darkness Hid won several awards, which led to my signing with an agent, which led to my publishing other books with Zondervan and Bethany House. And I'm still at it.

Some closing thoughts on pursuing publication:

It helps to define your goals. Do you want to be published? Does it matter how? Do you want a traditional contract and to have your book sold in bookstores? Or do you think about self-publishing? If you don't know, that's okay, but it's a good idea to think about it and figure it out. Goals are easier to work toward if you know what they are.

If writing is your dream, respect it. Learn what you need to learn. Practice. Work hard and don't give up!

Make other writing friends. You need writing people in your life!

Learn to take constructive criticism. Also learn to know when it's okay to disregard criticism.

Be realistic. It's wonderful to have dreams, but you also might need to pay bills someday. So think about what else you might like to do in case you have to be bi-vocational for a while. Because after eighteen published books, I still don't make enough money to support myself. If it wasn't for my husband's income, I'd have to get another job to support my writing hobby. That might seem kind of sad, but that's what it sometimes means to have a career in the arts, hence the term "starving artist."

Enjoy it. If writing isn't fun, then maybe don't force yourself to do it for a while. (Unless you have a contract, then you need to learn discipline.) Also, remember, even if you're not getting published, you're still creating stories, and you are improving yourself in the process. You're investing in a wonderful skill. That in itself is a fabulous undertaking, so don't make light of it. You're an amazing, talented, creative person who has something to say. Keep on finding new ways to say what you must, because there are people out there who need to hear the stories that only you can tell.


  1. I find it especially interesting how your author journey evolved. God provided the right people at the right time to guide you to where you are today. Seeing that is easy with hindsight, but not so in the moments between. Your story encourages me to trust God's timing, even during those times when nothing seems to be going right.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I'm loving these posts!


    1. Thanks, Ann. You are so right about how it was difficult to see how things were progressing at the time. It was very frustrating to be continually rejected. (Just because I published my first article after only ten rejections, I received many more rejections on my novels. Many!) Trusting God's perfect timing will really help you when discouragement starts to set in. Because it will... LOL

  2. This was really interesting, Jill. Hearing your struggles makes me appreciate more than ever this site, which taught me what my genre was and so much about the publishing industry and its requirements. I'm so thankful my mom met you at a ladies retreat a few years ago, or I'd still be in the dark!
    I also should let you know that I love all of your books, but especially By Darkness Hid. That one has a special place in my heart. :) Thank you for sharing your story with us!

    1. I'm so glad my story was a help to you, and especially this website! And that we met your mom too! <3

      I just finished reading By Darkness Hid to my kids for the second time. It's been a good five years since I first read it to them, and my daughter didn't remember the story at all, so it was fun to see her reactions. It was especially fun that when the book was done, they both yelled, "Read book two next!" I'm so glad that series entertains so many, including my own kids. That's really fun. :-)

    2. Yes, indeed. I found the magic very fresh and engaging but especially loved being able to view magic through the lens of my faith rather than as a threat to it. Plus, By Darkness Hid was one of the few books to genuinely surprise me with a plot twist, so it's impossible for me to forget.

    3. I remember that plot twist and how my mouth nearly fell off my head when I read it!

  3. As somebody who always knew I wanted to be a writer, I found this so interesting, Jill. I've heard bits and pieces of this over this year, but I've never seen it laid out like that.

    Even though I've always known I wanted to be a writer and I've stuck with that, I could relate to you wanting to be in fashion and then ultimately walking away from it. I too discovered that being a writer wasn't what I thought it would be. (Which was living in NYC, writing whatever I wanted, and sending it off to my adoring editor.)

    I decided to stick with writing, that the pieces of the job I don't love are worth it because of how much I love the rest.

    1. Nothing it quite how we expect it to be, is it? That's why it's so great if people can do internships or special classes to give them a glimpse. But even if you do like me and spend nearly ten years on the "wrong" career, it's not a waste. That journey taught me so much! And had I never chased after it, I would have always wondered, "What if . . . ?

  4. Thanks for the post. It has been interesting to hear about your writing journey. I totally get what you mean when you open a book that looks good and then you come across that one scene and you're like ahh the book is ruined. And you are like why... why did they add that. That is partly why I am writing myself (to make the reading world a safer place not to scar people that is).
    - Book Dragon

    1. I agree. The reading world needs to be cleansed. Good for you for taking action on that!

  5. This post was encouraging. I've started another WIP yet again, and am driving myself absolutely nuts. My hopes for publication are rising. I want to be traditionally published, so that anyone can see my writing. It's good that you kept your focus on helping young teens in your writing. I really want my writing to bring people to Christ, and for them to see that anyone can have redemption if they ask. :) You guys have really made a writing impact. Keep up the good work. :)
    P.s. I also want to read your books. I haven't read one yet, btu they look really intriguing. :)

    1. You really need to find her books, they're great! Replication and the Blood of Kings trilogy are my favorites. :) Try your library, that's how I've been able to read most of them.

    2. Yeah, Replication stood out to me. :)
      I will! Hopefully my library will have it.

  6. I love other authors' stories of how they started but very rarely am I able to find them! I like how you didn't give up and that reminds me not to give up either and that how you start doesn't mean that's how you're going to end up. I'd like to self publish my own books one day and inspire others to follow and trust God no matter what, maybe even save other lives through my words. Thanks so much for your story, Jill! I also thought I'd add that Sir Gavin Lukos from Blood of Kings inspired one of my minor characters in my trilogy. :)

    1. I can't wait to read your books, Sarah! I bet they will be really touching and inspiring. Don't give up on what you feel a calling for. God will never lead you in the wring direction. :)

    2. I agree with LHE; I want to see your books in print, Sarah! What made you choose self-publishing, may I ask?

    3. I guess I wanted full control over my stories, and I'm rather independent so that had to do something with my choice. :) Thanks so much for the encouragement, Olivia and LHE! You guys can always make me smile! I will certainly let you know when I reach the publishing point. :)

    4. Oh yeah! I don't feel like I can really decide when my book will be perfect for getting out in the world. :)
      I'm so glad I can make you smile. :D

  7. What an awesome story, Jill. And a testimony, really. I'm so glad you decided to write!

  8. Jill, I am so touched by reading your story - this is so encouraging! I've started on my fiction journey this past year and it's so much fun. I guess I'll keep my copywriting going after I'm "published" because it pays the bills. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Mrs. Jones! I loved your guest post that one time. You were very encouraging! :)

    2. Thank you hon, : ) so sweet of you!

  9. This is so cool. I really want to get published, and I hope that when I start trying, I'll be as perseverant as y'all.