Writing can be an isolating endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be–there are ways to connect, and author Joan Benson has made some great connections that have helped her on her writing journey.
Thanks for being here! Let’s start with the most important question: what do you write? How did you pick your genre?
My debut traditionally published novel, His Gift, is historical fiction based on a true story from my mother’s life. Because the main character of His Gift is 18, the novel is technically YA. However, many of my readers have been adults of all ages. The story resonates with anyone of any age who has dared to dream and experienced loss.
Since the writing of His Gift, I have co-authored four children’s picture books called The Cornerstone Series. These stories are written to help little ones grasp biblical truth despite anti-Christian ideologies pressing on every side.
I currently am working on a contemporary fiction novel (YA-NA) dealing with the topic of the value of human life. So, I guess you can see that I write according to the purpose I feel God has given me and which audience he has laid on my heart. This defies most marketing branding, but it seems to be who I am as a writer.
What’s the most difficult part of writing your genre? How do you work through those challenges?
For historical fiction, the hardest part was getting an innate sense of the era. My mother’s diaries gave me some direction and an idea of her voice as a teen. However, they were scant in comparison to the length and depth of a novel. I did a lot of online research in the beginning. Then, when I couldn’t locate the information I wanted, I hired library researchers at the Detroit Library to dig through microfiche and old newspapers. Finally, I was able to make an in-person visit to the actual setting of the story in Michigan. That was a thrilling adventure, and I am grateful I could do such a trip. I realize not all historical fiction authors can do first-person research.
The next challenge was using the historical details without making the novel read like an encyclopedia. All that research was to make the story sing with authenticity, not detract from the storyline.
What’s your favorite writer’s conference?
My favorite writer’s conference is my most recent. I had the privilege of God “making a way where there seemed no way” for me to attend the Greater Philly Christian Writers’ Conference in the summer of 2018. My husband had some health issues, and we also had two small dogs he would have to care for. Even still, he encouraged me to go. I met a younger writer who wanted to attend the conference, and though we had never met before, after twelve hours of road trip, the Lord knit our hearts together as only He can do. The conference was a blessing filled with learning and networking. Even more, I met my wonderful agent, David Fessenden there. Since my husband’s health problems do not allow me to travel now, the Lord used that conference to position me with an agent, a publisher, and many lifelong connections.
In addition, the Lord and I had some serious heart-to-heart talks in the wee hours of the night, even as exhausted as I was from the long and busy days. After these times in deep prayer, I was certain of the direction he wanted me to go with my future writing. It was surely a God-encountering conference for this author.
What’s your writing process—plotter, panster, or something else?
I would say I began writing as I felt the inspiration, more of a by-the-seat-of-my-pants, i.e., a pantster, as they say. As a former educator, reading specialist and writing coach, I knew the plot structure I needed before I began. However, I let the muse lead me from one element to another not knowing for sure how it would develop.
How did you find your agent? What advice do you have for new authors trying to find the right agent?
I found my agent at the GPCWC, as I mentioned. He liked my historical novel and saw promise for it when others did not. He also was willing to take a chance on me with a bare essence of an author platform in place. Some agents and editors thought people would not want to read about The Great Depression, and I’m sure some readers feel that way. However, given the Christian theme of overcoming loss, His Gift lifts the reader to see how God steps into our messes, often redeeming them and showing us His grace.
As for picking an agent, I guess it would be a matter of finding someone who likes what you do, and if he or she does, then there will be a mutual benefit and blessing. Conferences are probably the best place to meet potential agents. Be prepared with a gracious heart and your proposal ready according to the recommended standards. Then pray for God’s leading!
What’s surprised you most about the publishing process?
One of the most surprising things about the publishing process was the rigor of in-house editing despite my ability to “write clean.” My editor even told me so while we still had to make several rounds of jot-and-tittle perfecting. I also didn’t realize the impact of Amazon reviews and how important it is to get ranking immediately when the book is first launched. I learned if you are independently published instead of with a traditional publisher, there were more ways to advertise on Amazon and control the book’s exposure through KDP. Amazon has more recently added ways for traditionally published authors to develop advertising, but it wasn’t so in 2020 when my first release came out.
What advice do you have for new authors?
My advice for new authors is the same as what I was told as I began this journey. I wondered how I would know when to stop revising. It seemed like I could revise until the cows came home, and every time I reread, I could see another way to improve it. My mentor, Craig von Buseck, multi-published author and teacher, said when the story was “told,” and I had done my due diligence, stop, knowing the next book would be better than the last. Wisdom.
Other advice would be to read-read-read whatever genre you write, and then write-write-write what the Lord is leading you to write. The more you do both, the more efficient you will be. I would never advise someone to write to the market, looking for a niche in which you can publish. Write your dream, your passion, your hope.
What does your revision process look like?
Oh, the revision process is such a tangled web, is it not? I tend to revise as I write. I think that’s the teacher in me. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t leave mechanical mistakes, especially when I change one part of a sentence, but don’t revise the whole of it. Often revising as you go slows down the drafting process and many writers find it better to just get the words on the page. So, I try to “write clean” as I draft, but then go back and nit-pick both for content, plot structure, dialogue, etc. It really depends on who you are and how you think to find the best revision process, in my opinion.
Joan C Benson is a wife, mother, grandmother, and author/speaker. She has been writing professionally for over thirty years, in addition to her career as an educator, serving primarily as a reading specialist. Her debut historical fiction novel, His Gift, was released in 2020. She has been published in multiple Christian magazines including LifeWay’s “ParentLife,” and Regent University’s “The Christian Leader.” She has published devotional writings on CBN.com. Joan also contributed to children’s ministry curriculum for LifeWay Publishing for twelve years. She and her husband, Jan, live in Chesapeake, VA, with their Bichon Frise, Cupcake.
Buy links: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1649490305/