By Iola GoultonI'd like to welcome Australian author Buffy Greentree to Australasian Christian Writers today. I've recently read Buffy's first novel, After the Winter, which I've reviewed over at Iola's Christian Reads. However, it did open up a bunch of questions about Buffy and her writing. I've interviewed her about her books on my blog, and today's she is visiting us to talk about her writing. Welcome, Buffy.
How do you categorise your writing?When I started writing, I didn't want to write 'Christian' novels, in that I didn't want to write specifically for Christians most of the time (though some of my books obviously are, like the theology book I've drafted up on the liberal/conservative divide).
However, in all of my books, no matter what the story, I aim to show the world as it really is. My worldview holds that there is a divine being with a plan for humanity, whether we follow it or not. I believe that there are consequences to sin, humanity is made up for mind, body and spirit, there is life after death, and eventually right will win out (even if that only happens in reality at the second coming). So I termed my work 'Christian appropriate'.
However, the more I write, the more obviously Christian everything is becoming. I try to make it all sound normal, but I have to acknowledge that not everyone thinks it's normal to expect God to act, or prayer to be effective, for there to be spiritual gifts or the need for repentance before moving forward. I've gotten away with it in some books, such as After The Winter. None of my secular readers have said anything about the strong message on repentance and forgiveness through Christ at the end as it was period appropriate.
However, other works I have a bit more trouble with. My first YA trilogy that I would love to get traditionally published is very blunt about how the world really is. My poor main character is a non-Christian to begin with but basically has to realise that believe in God or not, she is still going to have to deal with the spiritual world, it's just much easier to be on God's side. I'm also curious to see how Virtually Ideal goes, as the main character is not your typical 'Christian character' (she's a bit irreligious to begin with), but then the introduction of prayer and God later on might put off non-Christians. So I'll just have to see.
What do you see as the main differences between fiction written for the Christian market compared with the general market?Honestly, I think all Christian writing should be accessible to the general market, but that's because I differentiate between Christian writing and writing for a Christian market. As C.S. Lewis said, the world does not need Christian writers, it needs good writers who are Christian.
For me, writing as a Christian should come down to which attitudes/actions of the characters are rewarded and enforced, and which lead to negative consequences. All books should accurately reflect the Christian worldview, whether or not the characters call on the name of God. For example, I believe Christian romances should be less focused on characters saying Christian things such as, 'Just trust in God and it will all work out.'
Instead, it should be a demonstration of our message in a realistic manner: character does this, leads to negative consequences. Character does that, eventually leads to positive consequences. You may not even mention God in the whole thing, but all the results are a true reflection of Biblical promises. This can be seen brilliantly in C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles. He doesn't have to mention God for his message to get across, and it wasn't marketed as a Christian book.
What is the hardest part of getting a book written, edited and published?When I first started, I thought getting through to the end of the first draft was a huge, almost impossible task. Now I realise that's the easiest part!
The editing stage is something I'm still learning about. Even after bringing out three books, I realise my self-editing skills are not what I want them to be yet. Three edits minimum is my new standard. First, my structural edit might involve pulling the entire book apart and rewriting it, a very scary concept for me. Then for the third draft I'll consider each and every sentence to find the best expression, and finally the fourth draft is a polish. I admit that After The Winter has not gone through as many as it should, but I'm working on Virtually Ideal to be better.
Then there is publishing. There is just so much to learn. Really, you need to start researching about both traditional and self-publishing as soon as you start writing the book. You need to create your platform, build up a strong support network of beta readers, editors, and reviewers, learn about the market, work out about doing book launches, understand how Amazon and other marketplaces work, learn sales strategies, as well simple things like book formatting and cover design.
Even if you get a publisher, knowing these things will help you write a better, more marketable book. Now that I've got three books out, I think I'm starting to get the hang of it, possibly. I still haven't done a large book launch, or really done a marketing push. I'm waiting until I have a good body of work so as to get maximum effect for my efforts. And so far it's only taken me two years of focused effort.
How is self-publishing different from working with a publisher? What made you choose the self-publishing option?Eventually I want to be a hybrid author, with some works self-published and others traditionally published. Once you've learnt all the skills for self-publishing (which takes years) and you've built up your audience (which also takes years), self-publishing allows you to get work out much faster. So it's great for topical books and to start building up an audience while a traditional publisher considers some of your other work. It also allows you to publish works that might otherwise be seen as 'unmarketable'. I knew I was going to do some contriversial Christian works that most publishers wouldn't touch. But I also knew that they had value and could change people's lives. So I'll bring these out myself.
However, unless you have built an amazing platform, a traditional publisher will have a larger reach. Also, you don't have to pay for anything up front, and you might even get paid! Yes the royalties are less, but overall for one book you usually come out ahead. Consider that when you self publish you have to pay for good quality editing, formatting and book cover design, all of which is a minimum of $2,000 and can go up much, much higher. With just one or two books, you're never going to make that back. The most successful self-published authors either already had a large platform (such as bloggers who have thousands of followers), or have brought out twenty books.
Also, a publisher will challenge you to make sure your work is really up to standard. It's so easy to self-publish that it's very tempting to bring out something before it's ready. So unless there is a good reason not to use a traditional publisher, I think you should always try.
What advice do you have for someone seeking to write and publish a novel?Remember that writing is a talent, and like every other talent it takes time and dedication to master. Start practicing early, frequently and with resources to help you improve. Be prepared that your first million words are going to be pretty lame, and that it will take years to develop all the necessary skills, usually about a decade. But you have to start somewhere, so the sooner you get those million words out of the way, the faster you can progress.
And as part of all that, take the time to learn as much about publishing and marketing as possible, because once you've finished the book is too late. I'd suggest planning on about two years of building a platform and audience before you can expect any returns. If you need any help about how to start thinking like a writer, why not check out the first in my writing series: The Five Day Writer's Retreat?
For more advice, updates, laments and hymns about writing, check out my blog at www.100firstdrafts.com, and all my books can be found as ebooks and paperbacks at Amazon—just search for Buffy Greentree. (Luckily there's only one of me.)
That's great. Buffy, thank you so much for visiting today.