Faculty Interview: Rachael Phillips

Interview by Nathan Sturgis (PWR class of 2014)

You started writing later in life, after, according to your own words, “the church secretary demanded newsletter articles at gunpoint.” What sparked your interest in writing after that? What kept you writing?

After a year or so of writing monthly newsletter articles, I received a flyer in the mail about a writing workshop at nearby Bethel College (Mishawaka, IN). Perhaps there I’d find out whether my friends’ compliments on my writing were kind rather than accurate. I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop (which included Jim Watkins!), where we newbies were encouraged to get our work published. Less than a week later, my hometown newspaper published a blurb encouraging readers to send in local stories. I sent in a column about taking a walk in my neighborhood, and it was published with requests for more. The editor also asked if I’d ever reported the news. No, not even during high school!

“But would you like to try?”


“Sure”—that became the by-word for my unplanned writing career. Soon I was taking writing classes at Bethel College and publishing my homework ☺

What was your first byline?

My first byline was a poem about a sunset that I wrote in sixth grade, placing second in a statewide poetry contest. It was published in the Columbus, Indiana, newspaper, The Evening Republican.

What is your favorite piece that you’ve written?

I have enjoyed writing for the Amish Inn series (six-going-on-seven books). Writing the first, Secrets of the Amish Diary, was especially fun. I also still laugh when I read “Dam It All, Anyway,” a short piece that won me the 2004 Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award.  

How has being a church’s music director affected your writing?

One of my romances features a classically trained church choir director who collides with a tone-deaf football coach-turned-drama-coach (novella In Tune with You in the collection Cedar Creek Seasons).

Music has always played a big part in my life, particularly in my worship, and that influence inevitably shows up in my writing. I usually lead the American Christian Fiction Writers choir at our annual conference.

In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?

In my humor class, I want to encourage writers to use specific techniques that will increase the humor factor in their fiction and nonfiction. And I want us to have fun!

In my cozy mystery class, I want to discuss the important elements of cozy whodunits, how to manage them, and how to keep readers turning the pages.

What tips would you give for new writers, just starting out on their own?

Be open to the adventure God has for you—a writing journey that will both test and bless you. When you run out of creativity, go to the Creator, who has more than an ample supply! I also agree with Anne Lamott: Write, even if it seems horrific. Bad writing can be edited and improved. No one can improve zero writing.  

What books have influenced and shaped your life?

First and foremost, the Bible, which I’ve studied on a regular basis since I was 18. As a child, I read Louisa May Alcott’s books, Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries, as well as the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden series, all of which shaped my mystery writing. As an adult, I love Agatha Christie mysteries.

Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water, which I bought secondhand for a quarter, continues to influence me. Best quarter I ever spent!

Erma Bombeck’s and Dave Barry’s hilarious columns and books prime my humor pump! 

Please name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about it.

Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, the story of her spiritual journey to Christian conversion. Lamott is anything but conventional (her parents were fervent atheists), so her writing leads me in unfamiliar, provocative paths. She also taught me that humor can be profound—an important lesson for a Christian humorist.

Rachael will be teaching two sessions at the conference:
Cozying Up to the Cozy Mystery
But I’m Not Funny — Helps to Up the Humor Level in Your Writing


Faculty Interview: Cindy Sproles

Interview by Nathan Spurgis (PWR class of 2014)

What inspired you to start writing devotionals?

I needed to dig deeper into the Word. I began writing devotions to deepen my relationship with God. That was it, plain and simple. Before I dared write FOR God I knew I needed a deeper relationship. Since we are responsible to the Father for what we say and teach, I wanted to be sure I my doctrine was sound. I needed to learn and grow in spirit and in knowledge. Devotions were the perfect way to study the word. My early devotions were only meant for me. As I grew in my conviction to be a Christian writer, devotions became the perfect outlet to learn to write well. Devotions required me to write tight, concise, within a word count, and to convey a full story and application of the scripture within that word count. I still teach at conferences, that if you want to learn to really write well, learn to write devotions.

Currently, you are the co-founder of ChristianDevotions.us and the executive editor. You are also the managing editor for Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, which are imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, a publishing company you founded as well. How did all of those writing opportunities come about?

Well, first of all, I only served as very small part of the founding of these things. They are the brainchild of Eddie Jones. Eddie and I met at the Blue Ridge Conference and became friends. We never imagined God would call us into a ministry together. So, along with our spouses, we simply said yes to what we felt God was calling us to do.

Christian Devotions came first and through that desire to spread the Word of God and open doors for new writers to gain their first publishing credits, God blessed the work. In 2008, when the publishing industry began to crash alongside the economy, Eddie and I made the announcement we would begin a publishing company. Large publishers told us to our faces we were crazy. Houses were closing; editors were out of work. The industry was crumbling. But for us, God continued to impress the importance of obedience. With a bold trust, we responded to those individuals, “God never calls us to retreat. He calls us to advance.” And so we did. In the midst of professionals shaking their heads and waiting for our demise, we advanced in faith, launching the first three small devotionals out of Christian Devotions. (Just an FYI, that first little 30-day devotional sold, and sold, and sold for five years. It still sells — which to us is confirmation of the task God called us to do.)

As the work grew, we felt it best to separate the publishing from the 501c3 of Christian Devotions, so Eddie and his wife, Bennie, took charge of Lighthouse. Though the two ministries are now separated, we still consider LPC an arm of the ministry of Christian Devotions.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Outside of writing, I’m an encourager. If I can follow this dream, so can others. My special love is to encourage others. My belief is, regardless of who you are, if you feel the burning passion to write, then that is probably a gift God has blessed you with. It’s up to you to develop the craft and skill. Learn to write, be patient, and realize that even for the best of writers, this is a slow industry. Genres and their popularity appear to be attached to a large “wheel of fortune” wheel that slowly spins. Today may not be your day, maybe not tomorrow, but if you persevere, your slot on the wheel will work its way to the top — your time will come.

And it’s important to remember, your arrival may not be as a published author, rather your work may be meant for the person sitting next to you. Writing is deeper than being published. It’s about changing lives with the words you are guided to craft. When you wait upon the Lord, He will give you wings as eagles — and you will soar.

You have also published a best-selling fictional book, Mercy’s Rain, and have a second book being published soon. How did your experience as a devotional writer impact your fiction?

Without a doubt, writing devotions has taught me to write tight and concise. I believe every writer should learn to write devotions. They require you to find strong words, keep within a word count, and make a clear and concise point in a very short space. Writing devotions prepared me by teaching me to tell a story precisely. When I began fiction, the story fell into place much easier.

Is there any specific type of book you will be looking to acquire at the Taylor University Professional Writing Conference?

I’m looking for deeper devotionals, something other than a niche devotional. I want devotions that take us into the Word without preaching and without TRYING to force them into a niche. Think the depth of Oswald Chambers and that great little devotional Streams in the Desert. There’s a reason these books are around 30 or 40 years later. It’s because they address scripture with an application that can apply daily and to everyone. I want a devotional like that — one that gets us back into the Word the way we need to be. As far as Christian Living books. I want a good story. Good directional material. No memoirs, and we have enough books on cancer and autism. We’re looking for good work that addresses current issues from a strong Christian worldview and again, without preaching. We’d love to see it cross the lines from Christian Books to secular and guide non-believers.

In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?

First, I want conferees to approach their writing with a teachable spirit and a willing heart. I want them to learn that writing is a gift and not an entitlement. It requires hard work and practice. I want them to learn to wait on the Lord rather than rush into self-publishing out of desire to be published over using good business sense.  Second, I’d love to pass on the importance of practicing and honing the craft. Our first works are rarely our best, and we don’t achieve best by writing one piece and assuming it’s perfect. If I can teach writers that the work is what makes the piece good, then I’ve taught them something valuable and something that will help them not only push to publication but keep moving through manuscript after manuscript.

What books have influenced your life?

On learning the craft: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

Influence on life:  Red Letter Prayer by Bob Hostetler. Experiencing God by Henry and Richard Blackaby

In fiction: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Please name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about it.

The Pawn by Stephen James (talk about telling a story — Stephen can weave a story with characters that leap from the pages. I learn tons about storytelling from reading his work.)

Cindy will be teaching two sessions at the conference:
Say What? Knowing the Lingo
Turning Personal Experience into Parables

Faculty Interview: Bob Hostetler

Interview by Nathan Sturgis (PWR class of 2014)

What is something you have learned as an editor that has affected your writing?

Writing and editing are different skills and tasks, of course: same genus, different species. But one of the major takeaways of my editorial experience is to write to a specific target audience, always. As the editor of a teen magazine years ago, I had two school snapshots taped to my computer monitor—two kids from the church I had recently pastored. Everything that went into that magazine was targeted to those two kids. I figured if the article or art or layout was perfect for them, in particular, it would be appropriate for others, in general.

How has being a pastor affected your writing?

It might be easier to answer how writing has affected my pastoring, but I’ll do my best to answer the question. For most of my writing, having a pastor’s heart helps me to achieve the right tone—less didactic than conversational, not preaching but identifying with the reader and sharing encouragement.

You’ve coauthored a few books with Josh McDowell and others, both fiction and nonfiction. What is that process like?

Every coauthored project—and I’ve done more than a dozen—is different. For Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door, it involved me first-drafting some chapters and sending them to Josh for revision, and him first-drafting others and sending them to me for revision. For Right From Wrong, I flew to California every month for about six months and spent a week at a time across the table from my coauthor, asking questions, picking his brain, and then returning home to write until the next trip. For Josh McDowell’s Handbook on Counseling Youth, he shipped me seven thousand pages of research and said, “See what you can do with it.” One of the most important things in coauthoring is to make sure (in writing) that each person’s role is clearly defined and carefully followed.

What was your first byline–the first piece of writing you had professionally published?

The first time I saw my name in print was in Highlights for Children, when I was eight or so. But my first byline was as a fifteen-year-old in my denomination’s national teen magazine. I think I was paid five dollars for it! (My older brother shook his head when I showed him the check, bemoaning the fact that I could no longer claim amateur status. I said, “So I guess I’ll never compete in the writing olympics, then”).

What is your favorite book that you’ve published?

I suppose you also want to know who my favorite child—and grandchild—is, right? Okay, since I am asked this question fairly often, now that I’ve published fifty books, I will give my usual answer: the NEXT one.

What books have influenced your life?

Oh, dear, there are too many to list. I think My Side of the Mountain (Jean C. George) was the first book I fell in love with. Mere Christianity (Lewis) and Evidence That Demands a Verdict (McDowell) guided my early thinking as a Christ follower). Heart Talks on Holiness (Brengle), The Renewed Mind (Christenson), and The Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer) influenced my early spiritual life. Mr. Jones, Meet the Master (Marshall) molded my preaching. Hand Me Another Brick (Swindoll) and Spiritual Leadership (Sanders) molded my leadership. With Christ in the School of Prayer (Murray) and The Divine Hours (3 vol.) by Phyllis Tickle changed my prayer life. And The Contemplative Pastor (Peterson) and The Pastor as Minor Poet (Barnes) shaped and transformed my pastoral ministry.   

Name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing.

The word pictures and story-telling skills of Peter Marshall, the great preacher and chaplain of the U.S. Senate (and subject of the book and film, A Man Called Peter) strongly influenced my writing (and preaching) voice in my teens.

In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?

Let me boil it down to a story told by novelist Bill Crider, who tells of doing a book signing with several other writers. One of them came up to him afterward and said, “You don’t remember me, but I was at your session at a writers’ workshop a couple of years ago, and you’re the reason I got published.” He was flattered, of course, and asked her what he had said that inspired her. “Oh, it wasn’t anything you said,” she answered. “But after listening to you, I figured that if you could do it, so could I.”

Bob will be giving to keynotes at the conference:
If John Had Not Written
Read, Pray, Write
and will be teaching one session:
First Verse: Four Tips for Beginning Poets


Faculty Interview: Lawrence Wilson

Interview by Nathan Sturgis (PWR class of 2014)

As a former editor for Wesleyan House Publishing, what is something you have learned as an editor that has affected your writing?

The greatest lesson was that authors have to write for readers, not for themselves. So often we write what we want to say, but readers buy books because they want to learn something or solve a problem for themselves. You think of the reader’s needs first.

How has being a pastor and a pastor’s kid affected your writing?

I think being a pastor has given me a greater insight into the struggle people have to live the Christian life. It’s made me more compassionate. Many writers gain that insight through other means, but for me it came by seeing and hearing the problems that people face every day in their work, marriages, raising kids, and facing illness. I try very hard to be helpful and encouraging as a writer, never judgmental or didactic.

What was your first byline–the first piece of writing you had professionally published?

It was a brief article, maybe 600 words, for a Sunday school take-home paper called Vista. It took me weeks to gather the courage to submit the article, and I was fortunate to have my very first submission accepted. That really encouraged me to keep writing. I had a long dry spell after that, but that early acceptance kept me going.

What is your favorite book that you’ve published?

Of the books I’ve written, it’s Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering. There’s a good deal of my personal journey in the book, and it was an opportunity to think through some of the difficult experiences in my life. Of the books I acquired at Wesleyan, my favorite is The Ultimate Blessing by Jo Anne Lyon. She writes about such interesting exploits in directing a global relief organization, and powerfully makes the point that God himself is our ultimate blessing — not the things he provides.

What books have influenced your life?

I really have a hard time narrowing this down to a small list, but among the most influential have been C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, The Scarlet Letter, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, and The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke.

Name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing.

I love the Father Dowling mysteries, and anything by Ralph McInerny. Few writers have a clearer, simpler voice paired with such an expansive vocabulary. I think reading McInerny’s work is what finally made the concept of voice clear to me. His stuff seems breezy, but it’s actually very clever, erudite, and tightly written.

As an acquisitions editor for DustJacket Books, what kind of books are you looking for?

We’re a publishing services provider, so we help authors in any genre get their books into print. I’m interested in authors who have a very clear sense of their message, their audience, and have at least the start of a platform–because I think they’re the most likely to be successful in the publishing venture.

In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?

I hope conferees will come away with a stronger sense of who they are as writers. Not everyone will be — or needs to be — an NYT best-selling author. But if you know what you’re trying to say and to whom, you can do something meaningful with your words.

Lawrence will be teaching two sessions at the conference:
Write Grace: Impacting Others Through Your Words
Write from the Heart: Finding Your Voice, Refining Your Message, and Moving Others to Accept Truth

Faculty Interview: Chip MacGregor

Interview by Nathan Sturgis (PWR class of 2014)

As the head of MacGregor Literary, what led you to your current position as a literary agent? What other jobs have you had in the past and how did they prepare you for your current position?

I’ve spent most of my adult life in publishing. I was an editor and senior editor at a couple of publishing houses, and eventually was named a publisher at Time-Warner. I worked as a literary agent for several years at another agency, then started my own agency eleven years ago. Having worked as a writer, editor, and publisher have all informed how I represent an author.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Finding a great, fresh voice and helping him or her get published. Still the most fun thing I do.

You are also an author of more than two dozen books. What is something you’ve learned as a literary agent that affected your writing?

I’ve learned to remind myself that I have to focus on my audience. The more I do that (or make sure the authors I represent do that), the better the results.

You’ve coauthored several books with other authors. What is that process like?

I collaborated on a bunch of books as a writer, and as an agent I have kept collaborators busy by helping them find projects they can work on. I have always liked collaborative writing, but it’s not for everyone. You have to be able to mimic another person’s voice, understand their points, give shape to the story, and figure out what to leave in and what to cut out. The best part of the job is that you learn so much about new topics. Each book is a new learning experience.

What was your first byline–the first piece of writing you had professionally published?

A letter to the editor when I was a child — to my local newspaper. In fifth grade I created a school newspaper, since our little school had never had one.

What is your favorite book that you’ve helped publish?

There are too many to count. But I’ve always been proud of the books I wrote, including 40 Ways to get Close to God (and, for the writers who are reading this, check out Step by Step Pitches and Proposals, which isn’t artistic, but has proven itself a helpful resource to authors who are trying to figure out how to create a book proposal.

Is there any specific type of book you will be looking to acquire at the Taylor University Professional Writing Conference?

No . . . but that’s not unusual. Normally I’m looking for great voice more than I’m looking for a specific type of book or genre.

In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?

There is value in writing, not just in getting published.

What books have influenced your life?

Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus, Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, Frederick Buechner’s Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God, John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Please name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about it.

Tom Bodett’s The End of the Road. You may only know him as a guest on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” or as the voice saying “We’ll leave the light on for you” with Motel 6, but Tom Bodett’s novel is funny and charming and brilliant. It’s a great book to see how to tell an interesting and touching story.

Chip will be teaching three sessions at the conference:
The Perfect Nonfiction Book Proposal
The Perfect Fiction Book Proposal
Finding and Working with an Agent

Faculty Interview: Katie Long

Interview by Alex Mellen (PWR class of 2014)

You’re the communications coordinator for Wesleyan Publishing. What does this entail?

My job has morphed in the past year to include editorial responsibilities such as editing, author relations, etc., marketing responsibilities, and executive assistant responsibilities. I enjoy working with authors to develop their marketing plans for their books and being a part of the creative process of making a book.

You’re also an alumna of Taylor University’s Professional Writing program. How did your major prepare you for working in the publishing world?

All of my Professional Writing classes prepared me for my job now by equipping me with skills that have benefited me in the many roles I have had. The diversity of classes taught me a wide range of information that has been very helpful.

What made you choose Taylor University?

I met Dr. Hensley at a writers’ conference and was convinced that Taylor would be the best place for me.

What has your job taught you about developing a writer’s platform? Briefly, what strategies and skills do you hope to pass on to conference attendees?

A writer’s platform is now one of the biggest sellers for most publishers. It is so important for writers to understand that most of the marketing for their book comes from them. I hope to teach people how to build their platform now and make them look more marketable to publishers.

Name a book — nonfiction or fiction — that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing.

A book that I just finished recently is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. This book taught me that the gospel can be shared in many different formats and stories. C. S. Lewis was a master at weaving images of God’s love with his stories, so much so that it can catch you off guard. It taught me that, as we write, whether fiction or nonfiction, we are charged with the task to always be reflecting the love God has for us.

Katie will be teaching one session at the conference:
Your Writer Platform (Yes, You Need It)

Faculty Interview: Rebekah Blomenberg

Interview by Nathan Sturgis (PWR class of 2014)

As a graduate of Taylor University, what made you choose that school for your degree?

I chose Taylor because of the Professional Writing department. I sat in on one of Dr. Hensley’s classes as a junior in high school and informed my parents that this was the degree I wanted. I didn’t even consider another school after that.

You currently work as a line editor for Annie’s Publishing. How did the professional writing program prepare you for your current job?

My college degree taught me good writing habits that I apply in every manuscript I work on. It also taught me that every single word of a manuscript is important. You have to pay attention to the literal meaning as well as connotations. I also apply this attention to detail to each manuscript.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love the idea that I’m improving the work and enhancing the author’s voice. There is great satisfaction in knowing that your work makes something better.

What led you to your current position with Annie’s Publishing? What other jobs have you had in the past, and how did they prepare you for your current position?

I started at Yellow Pages Group in Indianapolis out of college. They honed my attention to detail, and there I learned about house styles (your publisher’s grammatical preferences). From there, I moved to a reporting position with the Decatur Daily Democrat, where I learned Associated Press style and the importance of publishing accurate facts. After that I became a copy editor with Annie’s, where I applied Associated Press, Chicago, and the house styles to all of their publications. My work on their cozy mysteries impressed the director of fiction, and she asked if I wanted to join the fiction team. I’ve been full time in fiction since November 2016 and enjoying every minute of it!

In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?

My goal is to pass on the basics of good writing that I learned in college and have picked up in the field since then. I will also give attendees resources that they can reference after the conference to help them in their writing.

What books have influenced you throughout your life?

Listen, no one has time for the exhaustive list, but I’ll try to narrow it down. Top of my list has to be the works of Tamora Pierce, who has been my favorite author since middle school. These days I tend to mentally edit her actual writing, but her character casts always feature strong, capable females, and she always includes life lessons that I think are extremely important for her young audience. L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series has to be one of the best I’ve ever read in terms of 3D characters and historical accuracy. I could go on, but I always come back to these books.

Please name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing.

We are responsible for a lot of society’s moral code, and we need to be responsible about it. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are always cast up as classics–and I love them as much as the next bibliophile–but I realized a few years ago that they’re not examples of healthy relationships. Additionally, the characters in them (especially Wuthering Heights) are actually pretty terrible under the beautiful writing. I learned from this that it’s easy to romanticize unhealthy relationships under pretty words and lots of drama. I don’t think this is bad in and of itself if the readers recognize it, but a lot of readers don’t, as evidenced by the recent Twilight craze. This is a technique used by a lot of authors, and one I strive not to let through in the manuscripts I edit. I think in general a lot of things get through in books and subtly become less objectionable in the reader’s subconscious because of the way they’ve been conveyed. I believe it’s something writers and authors need to be vigilant about when writing.

Rebekah will be teaching one session at the conference:
How to Write Good Well

Faculty Interview: Estee Zandee

Interview by Alex Mellen (PWR class of 2014)

What was your first byline—the first piece of writing you had professionally published?

It was a book review, published on a Christian book review site that is no longer available. I wrote several more of those quickly after.

How old were you?

12 years old.

How did you get such an early start in the professional writing world?

It’s my mom’s fault. 🙂 But seriously. My mom is a freelance writer of 15 or more books—I lose track. Anyhow, I think she noticed that I liked books and reading, and the book review gave her the opportunity to reinforce my writing skills. Two years later, my mom negotiated an agreement with me which resulted in my submitting to a teen book-writing contest. That’s really when I fell in love with writing and editing.

How did attending Taylor University expand your skills and opportunities?

One of the most unique things about the Professional Writing program is that it teaches students a variety of writing styles and skills that apply to so many careers. At graduation, I had a binder full of feature articles, business pieces, creative writing, reviews, and scripts. And most of them had been published. The publishing industry can be a challenge to get into, so having a such a list of real-life experience goes a long way.

Second, I believe college in general teaches students how to learn. That skill helps you no matter what you do in life. Knowing that you can face a challenge or an assignment completely outside your comfort zone and come out the other side all the better is encouraging and inspiring. Learning is something that we have to do, not only to grow our skill sets but also to curate our character.

What advice would you give to teen writers eager to see their names in print?

I’d say go for it. There are so many opportunities available to them no matter how young they are. There are competitions, magazines, and publications that are looking specifically for their young voices. I’d also remind them that it’s a misnomer that writing is a solo task or a lonely activity. We all need editors and proofreaders to craft our writing to its full potential, so share your writing and have it edited before submitting.

How did you get your job at Zondervan? What does your work there look like from day to day?

When I first started looking for jobs, I sent a lot of emails to publishing professionals whom I had met and made personal connections with. I offered to take on freelance work or help them out with their slush pile and, if it was professionally appropriate, I requested to intern with their company. That led me to a hybrid publishing company where I took on a full-time position. More networking and a reference letter helped me land my position with Zondervan.

Are you acquiring at this conference? What can writers ask you about in a one-on-one session?

Company policy limits acquisitions to agented authors. For authors represented by agents, we acquire nonfiction adult books. But I’m more than happy to be a sounding board for authors looking to polish their pitching skills and looking for an editorial perspective on their book concept.

One of your conference topics is “From Proposal to Publication,” during which you’ll look at all the steps to publish a book. Do you have a favorite part of the process? If so, why?

I love the acquisitions stage and concept development. If everything’s working smoothly, there can be a lot of excitement at that point—the author is nervous but proud to be presenting their idea, the agent is gung-ho about it, and the acquiring editor is enthralled by the potential of the project. Ideally, the chemistry is on point. And then there’s this dynamic, collaborative dialogue between author and acquiring editor where they brainstorm and ideate together to refine the book concept and take it to the next level. There’s this clash of perspectives and a gentle pushing-each-other-forward to solve challenges creatively or try something unorthodox. Sometimes the book that was contracted is a far reach from the book that arrives on the store shelf, but the ultimate hope is that it’s so much better.

Name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing or editing.

I think it changes depending on what I’m reading or what I’m working on. Lately, it’s been Essentialism by Greg McKeown. That book helped me think through the kind of professional I want to be. It doesn’t talk about writing specifically, but I found several of the principles to be so helpful to the development of my career, my work ethic, and to the craft of writing.

Right now, I’m reading Grit by Angela Duckworth. Maybe even more than other professions, writers have to be gritty and hopeful, with a clear sense of what they want to do with their skill in order to achieve success, so I’ve found this book fascinating and insightful.

Estee will be teaching two sessions at the conference:
Telling it Slant: Developing a Marketable Nonfiction Book Concept
From Proposal to Publication

Faculty Interview: Jim Watkins

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:

  1. Has a traditional publisher praised it but told you it was a niche market?
  2. Do you have a way to effectively reach that market?
  3. 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 giving a keynote address at the conference:
The Ten Creative Commandments
and teaching two sessions:

Why Social Media Is Essential to Publication
25 Rejection-Proof Markets

Faculty Interview: Lin Johnson

Interview by Alex Mellen (PWR class of 2014)

What was your first byline—the first piece of writing you had professionally published?

My first published manuscript outside of work was an article in Moody Monthly magazine.

How did you first get involved in the editing and publishing world?

Less than two years after college, I took a job as a Sunday school curriculum editor in a denominational house. After I left that job, I wanted to get published in other places, so I took the Write-to-Publish Workshop at Moody Bible Institute. That course led to networking with church-resource editors at Victor Books, who hired me to both write and edit on a freelance basis. From there, my name got passed along to other editors.

What motivated you to move toward teaching writing and helping writers with tools like the Write-to-Publish Conference and Christian Communicator?

One of my spiritual gifts is teaching. My degree in Christian education prepared me to teach well, and I enjoy doing it. So teaching writing was a natural progression as I moved into the publishing field. It’s a way to give back what other people invested in me, and it’s also a way to get well-written manuscripts for the magazine I edit.

How long have you been the director of Write-to-Publish?

I was assistant director for 10 years through when Moody Bible Institute owned it. I’ve owned it since 1993 and have been directing it since the following year.

How do you balance writing, editing, and running a conference as a full-time freelancer?

Ha! I can’t remember when my life had balance. I tend to overschedule since many jobs take more time than I estimate, so I’m almost always bumping against a deadline. Rather than working on several projects at once, I tend to work by the deadline, focusing on one job until it’s completed.

What are you looking for in terms of subject matter and writing style as you take pitches or manuscripts for Christian Communicator at the conference?

I’m especially looking for how-to articles on writing craft (except fiction) and growing a freelance career; reviews of recent, recommended books on writing, speaking, or publishing; and short, humorous anecdotes for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Becoming a Communicator” column.

What else can writers ask you about in a one-on-one session?

I’m open to answering questions about writing, publishing, and freelancing. I can also give quick feedback on a nonfiction or curriculum manuscript, but please don’t bring poems.

One of your workshop topics at the conference will be review writing. What are some benefits to writing book reviews, especially for writers just getting started?

Reviews are a good way to hone your craft since you need to say a lot in a few words. You learn what’s important to focus on and to cut extraneous words. Plus reading the book increases your knowledge or gives you a “vacation” break from your schedule.

Name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing or editing.

Creative Bible Teaching by Lawrence Richards was a textbook in a college Christian education course. Although it focuses on teaching, it also provides the basis for writing curriculum, which is my specialty.

Lin Johnson will be teaching two sessions at the conference:
Writing Book Reviews
Finding Time to Write