For the past ten years, Rachel Starr Thomson has been an inspiration to me on numerous levels. I first encountered her when she was a columnist for the Amie Newsletter, a publication dedicated to encouraging teenage girls. Her articles on the Christian walk impacted me deeply during a season in my life when my steps were unsure.
After the Amie Newsletter was discontinued, I stalked Rachel on her blog—always reading but never uttering a peep. She posted writing tips back then, which fueled my aspirations to sling words onto paper and into people’s hearts. I admired—and almost envied—her fluid, artistic voice, and her courage in building a platform for herself through self-publishing quality books.
I bumped into her again years later when I submitted an article about storytelling to Homeschool Enrichment Magazine, where she served as copy editor. Shortly after my article was published, I began receiving requests from authors for help with refining their work, and I discovered that polishing sentences gave me a sense of satisfaction I’d never felt before. I realized I was suited to editing and wanted to pursue it seriously, but I had no idea how to get started. I sought advice from Rachel because I had no one else to ask, and she kindly imparted counsel that has proven invaluable. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I’m at now (editing for KP and a small Christian publisher) without that short e-mail she sent in response to mine.
Thus, it gave me great pleasure to approach Rachel on behalf of Kingdom Pen and ask her about her experiences as an author of more than twenty books, blogger of Kingdom truths, and a freelance editor for twelve years. I found myself empathizing with and learning from her comments, and I know all of you will benefit from hearing her wisdom as well. Read on, KeePers, and be sure to check out the book giveaway at the bottom of the post!
KP: You’re considered a pioneer of self-publishing. What caused you to choose indie over traditional publishing?
Rachel: I started experimenting with indie publishing back in 2006 or 2007, while simultaneously looking for an agent and a traditional book contract. I’d done so much writing over the years that I wasn’t even thinking about pursuing publication for all of it, so self-publishing was just a fun way to learn how to produce a book and put something into print myself. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent, but mostly I was just playing around. I realized it might be a real, viable publication path slowly, especially after I checked on an e-book I’d put up for free on Smashwords and forgotten about and realized it had been downloaded over 25,000 times while I wasn’t looking. Eventually “playing around” gave way to thinking more seriously about writing as a business. I much prefer the control of self-publishing, which applies to many aspects of the publishing journey, from timelines to content to career trajectory.
KP: Most of your novels are Christian speculative fiction. What has made you favor that genre?
Rachel: I think it’s just the genre that best fits my imagination. I grew up reading Narnia and Lloyd Alexander and watching Disney movies. I’ve always loved stories with adventure and fascinating settings and a strong streak of the supernatural, so that’s what I imagine and write. Nowadays I also love the genre’s ability to speak to spiritual realities while remaining firmly on fictional ground.
KP: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write fantasy with a strong Christian theme?
Rachel: Try not to preach. Write from your questions, your journey, rather than from a set of doctrines or truths you want to get across. Let the truths emerge as part of an authentic journey.
KP: You went through a phase where you quit writing for a time because you felt it was a selfish, fruitless pastime. Could you share a little of that story with us and what changed your perspective?
Rachel: When I was a teen, writing my first couple of novels, I dreamed of hitting the big time as a writer (whatever exactly that means). But I also really encountered God personally for the first time, and became aware of a calling to ministry. At the time I had a very narrow view of what “ministry” meant; it definitely didn’t mean sitting alone for hours making stuff up. Over several years, God worked on my heart to show me that my gifts as a writer had been given to me for a reason, and that he was glorified just by my using them, and enjoying them, and that I could trust him to work out the impact. I learned to write as worship, and he has kept his promises! I’m amazed every time someone tells me that one of my books has helped them learn to pray, or changed the way they see God, or restored hope in a difficult situation.
Honestly, the biggest thing I’ve learned through this whole story is that God doesn’t like to be boxed. He is lord over everything, including creativity. I love the quote from Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
KP: Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? If so, how you do conquer it?
Rachel: Sure I do! One downside to editing as my primary career for twelve years is that I kind of let the analytical side of my brain take over, so creating (especially fiction) became incredibly difficult. I’m still fighting this. My last eight novels all came while I was dealing with writer’s block. I schedule time to sit down, write to a word count every day, put on music, and just force out words. Eventually it turns into a story.
KP: Have you ever done something crazy for the sake of writing? Experienced an embarrassing moment? Penned a humorous sentence or piece that wasn’t meant to be funny?
Rachel: I feel like the answer to this question must be yes, but I can’t think of what. Although I guess it’s crazy to give up a great career for the sake of writing.
KP: Over the past year, you’ve managed to grow your e-mail list to the extent that you’ve been able to retire from freelance editing and focus on being a full-time author. What steps did you take to accomplish this? Do you have any tips for writers who are trying to expand their readership?
Rachel: I have! It’s been an incredible journey. I would be remiss not to clarify that at this point, there’s a definite “leap of faith” element still involved. I’ve retired editing to pursue writing full-time, and I believe God is going to bless that decision. Writing has definitely proven viable, but I haven’t made it work on any kind of long-term basis yet.
Even so, I followed a path that I think anyone could. Basically, I learned to think about my books as products in an Internet business, and to build a business that follows the general model of an Internet information-product publisher. That boils down to finding your audience through ads or helping them find you through SEO (I relied mostly on paid ads), getting permission to contact them via e-mail, and then using e-mail to build a relationship and (almost as a side effect) sell books.
For me, it helped that I already had over twenty titles available, so I could start selling a lot of product almost immediately meeting new readers.
By far, I saw the fastest growth when I started buying ads, particularly on Facebook. There was a huge investment and a lot of risk, but I think it’s paid off.
KP: What originally led you into the field of freelance editing?
Rachel: Ironically, I got into editing because I wanted to be an author, but I didn’t think I could earn a living writing … at least not quickly. I knew I could bring a lot of value to other authors, though, so I started advertising myself as an editor and building clientele. It was a fabulous career and I’m honestly going to miss it!
KP: How does being both an author and an editor make it easier and/or harder to write novels?
Rachel: In my own experience it makes it harder, period. Your mileage may vary, of course. Editing has made writing nonfiction a little easier because I have so much experience with structure and thinking through what content a nonfiction book needs. It’s an analytical process. But fiction is much more fanciful and requires free imagination, and that has been extremely hard to exercise with the analytical side of my brain so firmly in the driver’s seat.
KP: Do you edit your own work, or do you ask someone else to look it over? Why or not?
Rachel: Both. I do a lot of my own editing, but I do hire a proofreader and often use beta readers. I would recommend most people work with an editor; there’s a lot of benefit in having someone with experience give you feedback. But it’s important to find the right person. If you feel like your editor doesn’t get what you’re trying to do or is trying to pigeonhole you, feel free to move on.
KP: In brief, how would you describe what editors do and why they can help authors?
Rachel: “Editing” is a catch-all term that includes critique (high-level feedback), content editing, copyediting, and proofreading, so it depends on what you’re hiring an editor to do. Proofreaders will fix your typos; copyeditors will improve your sentences and make sure nothing embarrassing gets through. Critiquers and content editors take a high-level look at your work and tell you what’s working and what isn’t. They can suggest what could change and help you get new perspective on your own work. A good editor can help you find that “aha” you need to break through, and I’ve personally seen writers improve to a huge degree from working with an editor. An editor who is willing to coach you as they go is worth more than a college writing degree, in my opinion.
In closing, I would like to express appreciation to Rachel for setting aside time in her busy schedule to answer these questions and share her writing insights with us! Her books Worlds Unseen and EXILE can be downloaded for free from Amazon. To connect with Rachel, visit her website: http://www.rachelstarrthomson.com/. Or, you can catch her on Facebook and Twitter.
Ready for the Giveaway?
Kingdom Pen is sponsoring a giveaway of Abbadon’s Eve, book one in Rachel’s Prophet Trilogy. Click the widget below and login with either Facebook or e-mail to see all the possible ways to enter. The more options you choose, the more entries you get, and the greater your chances of winning!