Interview by Alex Mellen (PWR class of 2014)
What was your first byline—the first piece of writing you had professionally published?
My first byline was for my humor column in my high school paper. (Hopefully, those columns are safely buried deep in a landfill in Michigan!) My first paid article was in my denominational magazine.
You have taught writing at conferences across the United States and overseas. What do you teach on, and what do you like about teaching online?
I’ve sort of become the “online writing” guy. I’ve been writing online since 1997 (20,000 years ago in internet years), so have done a lot of teaching on the new style of writing, setting up and developing your online presence, etc. I actually taught one of the very first college classes on “Online Communications” at Taylor University back in 1999. (And I taught writing online at Taylor for 15 years.)
I have a ton of writing resources at www.jameswatkins.com/writing/.
Your bio says you’re an editorial advisor for ACW Press. What makes ACW Press different from a traditional publishing house or a vanity press?
I help writers publish independently. There are so many scams out there that ACW Press was started by Steve Laube, who was at Bethany House at the time, to provide the highest quality at the lowest price. A vanity press will print your shopping list—for an outrageous price. My job is to prevent authors from making costly mistakes.
What should writers know about ACW Press before talking to you about it at the conference?
They will need to answer these three questions:
- Has a traditional publisher praised it but told you it was a niche market?
- Do you have a way to effectively reach that market?
- Do you have the money to have it professionally edited and designed?
If not, they’re probably not a candidate for independent publisher. However, there are lots of opportunities to get your message out. I’ll have a seminar on that!
What else does ACW (American Christian Writers) offer to writers?
Not only professional editing, custom cover and interior design, and free ISBN, but one-on-one mentoring through the process by moi.
One of your conference topics is social media. What’s your favorite social media site and why?
Currently, it’s Facebook, but that tends to trend an older audience. I really need to do more with my Instagram, which tends to reach younger people. I am on Twitter, but not only because publishers want me on Twitter.
Your recent book, Squeezing Good Out of Bad, came out about a couple years ago. What was your inspiration for it? Do you have any other book projects in the works?
Lemons! That was the inspiration as I talked with friends in person and online about problems they were facing. It’s actually a “top ten” list for dealing with lemons, based on Romans 8:28–29.
Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language came out last year. I’ve always been a huge Thomas a Kempis fan, but the language and organization makes it difficult for today’s readers. So, I’ve completely rewritten it with help from a Catholic scholar and then divided it into 90 devos based on the characteristics of Christ.
Right now, I am rushing to finish Three Questions: Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, Unpunished Evil based on the psalms of David’s minister of music, Asaph. (I decided to write something “light.” Ha!) It will be out in time for Christmas gift-giving.
Name a book or film, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing.
There’s a great line in the film Finding Forrester about a reclusive writer who mentors a young student: “Write the first draft with your heart. The second draft with your head.”
Jim will be teaching two sessions at the conference:
Why Social Media Is Essential to Publication
25 Rejection-Proof Markets