There’s no right-or-wrong answer when it comes to the best way to publish a book. It boils down to what you’re willing and able to do. Janet Sketchley has been on the traditional and self-published sides of the aisle, and today she talks about why she picked the path she’s on.
Hello, and thanks for being here. What do you write?
I write Christian fiction, currently mysteries. The genre kind of picked me, with a suspense idea that wouldn’t leave until I started writing it. Eventually, that story became my debut novel, Heaven’s Prey, and while it’s more intense than I want to write again, it set my genre direction. My next two novels are romantic suspense, and now I’ve moved to mysteries. I’ve also written a daily devotional book and published a couple of fill-in-the-blank reader’s journals.
If you’ve written multiple books, which was harder: the first book or the following books?
First-draft-wise, the first book was easy: seat-of-the-pants and only write when the next bit’s burning in my imagination and ready to pour out. Revision-wise, it was the hardest. I had so much to learn about writing fiction, and I found it difficult to rearrange structure in a single Word file. (I have since discovered Scrivener.)
Later books have been harder to start because it’s daunting to know how much work is ahead. I want to write well, and I’m aware of how many layers and nuances need to be woven in. Still, there’s the comforting truth that I’ve done it before. Revision’s getting easier, but writing and rewriting are always work. On the most challenging days, I remind myself that it’s better than cleaning toilets 😊
What’s your favorite writers conference? What do you like about it?
Write Canada, held annually in Ontario. I’ve missed the last few, and this year’s will be online like so many others (thank you, COVID-19). I’m on Canada’s east coast, and air travel is expensive, so I’ve never made it to the larger US-based conferences on my wish list.
In its early days, Write Canada was held in a private, Christian retreat centre. It felt like three events for the price of one: professional development, spiritual retreat, and reunion with friends. It’s the one place where people may actually mistake me for an extrovert. I wish I’d picked a different question to answer, because now I’m feeling homesick—yes, I’ll attend this year’s event virtually, but I miss my friends.
Oh, I’m so sorry! Let’s get back to writing and get your mind off the sad times, okay? How do you prepare to write your books: pantser, plotter, both, something completely different?
With each novel, I become more of a plotter. Discovering the story is fun, and doing it ahead of time doesn’t make it less fun to write. I actually find my writing flow is more consistent this way because I’m not stopping to figure out what happens next or how it unfolds. And going in with a map means I can assess whether a new idea is good for the story or would derail it.
A novel outline isn’t one of those sterile, bullet-point skeletons high school English teachers want for essays. K.M. Weiland’s books on outlining and structure have been a huge help in learning how to organize my stories. With my current novel, I’ve nearly finished this level of plotting and I’m planning on actually outlining each scene. Again, not bullet-point, but I want to understand the characters’ scene goals and conflicts and discover where and how each scene will play out.
You’re an indie-published author—why did you pick that route?
My first novel was with a small traditional publisher, who then closed. One of their other authors reacquired the rights to her novels and went indie and since she was willing to share what she learned in the process, I followed her. I released a second edition of my published novel and carried on with the series.
I like the flexibility of being my own publisher because I can set prices, manage promotions, etc. And I like having final say over content and direction—of course, balanced by input from skilled freelancers for editing and cover art. Self-publishing is expensive to do well, and it means I’m doing things like my own formatting and promotion, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to looking for a traditional publisher.
What advice do you have for new authors?
Enjoy the writing journey, keep learning, keep persevering.
Make friends with other writers because you’ll need encouragement from people who understand.
Learn from those ahead of you on this road, support those alongside you, and share with those behind you.
Read books and blogs on the craft.
Listen to podcasts.
Attend conferences if you can (to learn, and to meet those writing friends).
Learn the rules so you’ll know how and when it’s okay to break them.
Listen to different authors’ methods, but don’t try to force yourself into their mold.
Use what works and ignore the rest.
Set aside time to write regularly, and write.
If you recognize your writing ability as a gift from God, submit it to Him in gratitude and pray regularly for His leading in how to use and develop it. The longing to be published—or the drive to finish your work in progress—can become an idol. Be careful to resist this and to keep God first. You are a writer, but that’s only part of who you are. Keep grounded in your identity in Him.
How did you find your editor? How would you describe the experience of working with an editor?
I found my current freelance editor through my membership in ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). So far, we’ve done one book together.
I might describe the experience as “tough love.” Definitely eye-opening to some of my weaknesses. After I sulked a bit, I felt encouraged that I was in partnership with someone who wanted the best for my story and who believed I could achieve it. Editing comments came with advice, encouragement, and even positive feedback.
I appreciated being able to send off occasional questions while I revised. Then she made a second editing pass, which left me feeling much more confident in the final version. As soon as my current work in progress has a foreseeable completion date, I’ll be contacting her again to see where I can fit into her schedule.
How do you self-edit your manuscript?
When the first draft is done, I let it sit for a while until I can look at it with some distance. Then I read it through and flag everything that jars me. I try not to “fix” anything other than simple typos or grammar but to leave myself notes and keep reading. Then I’ll go back and address each note. I’ll go through this process a few times, deepening some scenes, condensing others, sometimes adding or deleting.
My outline has vague targets for the percentage of word count and I use this in identifying areas that could benefit from extra cutting or expansion. Once I’m happy with the content, I search for words and expressions I tend to overuse. Then I’ll go back through to be sure there are enough sensory details and to see where else I can condense. I may ask for input from a trusted reader at this point, or I may submit it to my editor first.
Once the manuscript has passed the editor’s second look and I’ve made any changes she highlights, my final stage is to give it to a few eagle-eyed advance readers whose mission is to find those pesky typos that somehow always lurk.
Janet Sketchley is an Atlantic Canadian writer who likes her fiction with a splash of mystery or adventure and a dash of Christianity. Why leave faith out of our stories if it’s part of our lives? You can find Janet online at janetsketchley.ca.