Award-winning novelist Gail Gaymer Martin instructs writers on how to master the necessary skills required to construct a believable story that meets and exceeds the standards of the Christian market.
What piece of advice have you received over the course of your career that has had the biggest impact on your success?
Write from your passion. If your heart isn’t in a book, it won’t happen. Writing is a lonely and difficult process, and what keeps a writer going is the joy of seeing words put together to form a book that can touch people’s lives in many ways. As an author of Christian fiction, each of my books deals with life issues and how faith and hope can get us through the worst situations. If we don’t have the fire of passion in our work, it is only ash.
What message do you find yourself repeating over and over to writers?
Be patient. Unpublished authors are sometimes so eager to see their books in print they aren’t willing to pay the price—which often means years learning and polishing the craft, finding the right agent and publisher, addressing the right audience, and being willing to persevere. A surgeon learns and grows as he studies, interns and finally begins his career. Performing brain surgery doesn’t happen by reading a book. It happens with hours and years of learning the techniques and craft. So does writing. It’s a process that takes time and patience.
What’s the worst kind of mistake that new writers, freelancers, or book authors can make?
One of a new writer’s worst mistakes is trying to mimic someone else’s style and not waiting to find his own voice. A writer’s voice is what makes him distinctive. It’s what causes his work to stand out from other people’s stories or articles. Who was Erma Bombeck without her delightful humor? Who is Stephen King without his diabolic twists on life? Learning to write is learning to find your voice as a writer. Without it, you are doomed to sink into the writer’s abyss.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without in your writing life?
My husband … and my computer are invaluable. I can’t imagine writing a novel on a typewriter. The revisions, the edits, the process would take such a toll on creativity that I’m in awe of those who had to write that way, but most of all I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without the support and love of my husband who has taken over most of the household duties (cooking, grocery shopping, and laundry) so that I can spend so many hours behind the computer. He has wonderful skills in brainstorming ideas and proofreading my work as well. He’s my webmaster, my newsletter formatter, and my right- and left-hand man … and as a romance writer, I’m thrilled that he’s romantic, too.
What does a typical day look like for you?
When I’m on deadline, which is most of the time, I write eight to ten hours a day, six days a week and after church on Sunday. I begin the morning with email and devotional time, and then begin working until dinner and sometimes later. I try to take a break mid-day for exercise, which consists of a treadmill and recumbent bike that make my lovely Victorian bedroom look like a fitness center. Often in the evening, I sit with my husband; but I’m doing line edits or on the computer in the den, doing research. Writing is consuming.
If you could change one thing about publishing, what would it be?
My titles mean so much to me and I wish that authors were always allowed to use their own titles. I work the title into my story so it’s a nice woven thread—and so often my thread is snagged by a title change. It’s frustrating, although I do understand it’s done for marketing and nothing more. I’d also like approval of my book covers. Some publishers do this and some don’t.
In what way (if any) has your writing/publishing life changed in the past 5 years?
Writing cannot be stagnant. An author must strive to grow as a writer and to perfect the skill, so I hope that my writing has improved since my first novel was published. I believe it has. Each year or so, I ask my editors what they see as my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and I’m not usually surprised. I’ve learned what I’m good at, and usually know where I need to improve. I have taken this advice and used it to become a stronger, deeper writer of fiction.
Do you have any advice for new writers on fostering a strong author/editor relationship?
One thing a writer needs to understand is the editor knows what’s best. An editor has the experience as to what works for the publisher and for marketing. They know what readers like and don’t like and they aren’t in competition with the writer but are there as a support. I listen to what my editor has to say, and I though I don’t always like the suggestion, I weigh it and usually realize once I follow the change that it has resulted in a better book. A writer and editor relationship is a partnership. When a writer feels strongly about an issue, then fight for it, but learn to give and take. Fight for what’s important and give on the little things. While the old saying a squeaky wheel gets the grease might be true for wheels, editors can toss the wheel away and get a new one that runs much more smoothly. Never think it can’t happen, because it does.
What do you see as your biggest publishing accomplishment?
I have three things that stand out in my mind as accomplishments. In 1998 I sold a novel in one year from the time I began writing fiction to the sale, and the novel was the first I’d written, which is very rare. Second, in ten years I contracted and wrote forty novels, resulting in more than two and half million books in print. Finally, I sold Writing the Christian Romance to Writers Digest, which I couldn’t imagine ever happening. I’ve been very blessed.
Any final thoughts?
Becoming a writer has opened other doors for me that I hadn’t even considered. Besides teaching writing at libraries, book fairs and conferences across the U.S. and even an opportunity to present a workshop in London, England, I am a popular inspirational and motivational speaker at women’s events for churches and civic organizations. Touching others with laughter and tears through both the spoken and written word is a dream come true.
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Find out who reads Christian Romance and why Christian authors choose to write it.
Find out more about Writing the Christian Romance.