With nearly 20 million in sales and inclusion on the New York Times Bestseller List, Jerry B. Jenkins, co-author with Dr. Tim LaHaye of the Left Behind series, has taken the prophetic story contained within the Book of Revelations to millions of readers around the world and even brought some of those readers to a new faith. "Dr.LaHaye and I have heard from more than 2,000 people in person, via e-mail, snail mail, or phone who say they have become believers in Christ through reading these books," says Jenkins.
Besides authoring the Left Behind series, Jenkins has had a successful writing career with more than 100 books to his credit—including biographies of Hank Aaron, Orel Hershiser, Nolan Ryan and Brett Butler. Jenkins also assisted Billy Graham with his best selling memoirs Just As I Am. In addition, Jenkins writes on the topics of marriage and family life, and has written numerous fiction titles for both children and adults.
Jenkins also has years of editing experience. He has worked as the sports editor of a daily newspaper, the managing editor of a periodical, executive editor of a magazine, and, finally, as editor of Moody Magazine where he currently serves as writer-in-residence.
While preparing to begin writing the next book in the Left Behind series, Jenkins took a few moments to discuss his writing life and his recent success.
Writer's Market: While reviewing your list of published titles I was amazed by the volume of books you've written over the past twenty years. How do you maintain such a hectic pace while also writing on such a wide variety of subjects?
Jerry Jenkins: I don't sing or dance or preach. This is all I do. I don't find it hectic, if I maintain my family priorities. I have never written while my kids were at home and awake, which allowed me to write—when I did have the time—without guilt. Until 1990, I wrote only from nine in the evening to midnight. Now I write during the day when my high schooler is at school.
How has your editing experience affected your writing ability and how you promote your work?
When I arrived at the Moody Institute in October of 1974, I had already published eight or nine books. But because of all my editing experience, I've become a better rewriter and editor of my own work, doing that kind of thing to other people's writing all day.
As far as the ability to sell my work, I suppose my visibility didn't hurt and I may have gotten the benefit of the doubt. But I had already been fairly fortunate in that regard, having learned to sell on the basis of queries and proposals. I have always been able to sell my stuff. I have been turned down on ideas, but not on written work, having learned to write only after getting a green light.
Which genre is most challenging to write and why?
Most challenging is writing for kids, because naturally you must use a limited vocabulary. As-told-to autobiographies are tricky, but I've learned to catch the subject's voice and write as he would if he were a writer, rather than as I would if I were him.
What kind of research do you do for the books in the Left Behind series?
The idea for fictionalizing an account of the Rapture and the Tribulation was Dr. LaHaye's, and he has been studying prophecy and theology since before I was born. I have become, in essence, his protégé and now own everything he has written or read on these subjects. He provides a chronology of biblical events and I get the fun part of making up the stories and writing the novels.
After connecting with Dr. LaHaye through literary agent Rick Christian and deciding to write Left Behind, how did you find a publisher for the series?
I wrote and Rick shopped an early version of chapter one (which did not even include Buck, the second protagonist) among several publishers. We got solid offers from five, top offers from two, and eventually selected Tyndale.
Writer's Market: Was the entire series proposed to potential publishers or was the first book sold and then interest in a series developed from there?
Jerry Jenkins:After contracting with Tyndale, I wrote half of the first (and only, at that time) title, realizing that I had covered only one week of the seven-year period. Tyndale agreed to a trilogy. In the middle of book two, I told them it would likely take six books, and they agreed. Then we decided on seven.
When book four took us only to the two-and-one-half year mark, the publisher asked if I really thought I could finish the series in just three more books. I said I could but that it would become plot driven rather than character driven. He said, how many if you stay at the same pace? I said twelve. That's where we stand now. Book six took us to the half-way point. Six more should finish it. The story is told at the same pace, but I'm writing two a year now, rather than one.
Does Tyndale House have much input over what goes into each book?
They have that right, but Dr. LaHaye is considered the leading evangelical scholar on these matters, and the fiction seems to have worked, so they're thrilled and trust us. Of course we count on them for their part of the editing process too.
How does publishing the Left Behind series compare with finding a publisher for some of your own work?
It's the same. We pitch ideas, get a contract, and I write.
With the publicity and attention brought to you through the success of the Left Behind series, do you have a more difficult time finding that space within yourself that is required to write?
Yes. I always thought writing full time would give me unlimited blocks of time to write. But the business of writing (media, etc.) has become my new full-time job and I still must carve out the time to write.
Do you feel the quality of the writing in the later books in the series has been affected by the speed at which you have to write them?
I never rush the writing. I write at the same speed as always, but of course I have less down time between finishing each book. The people closest to the project (Tyndale, an agent, my first readers, etc.) feel each book is better than the last. I want each to be better and work hard at that.
Do you have any advice for other Christian writers who struggle to sell their work in the secular publishing market?
A Christian publisher, two Christian authors, and a story as overtly evangelical as it can be combine to produce the biggest Christian crossover success ever. The lesson is apparently to not hold back or try to soft-sell the message. Readers tell us they have fallen in love with the characters and loved to keep turning the pages, so clearly the fundamentals of fiction still apply.
Do you believe that Christian writers are at a greater disadvantage when it comes to publishing and selling their work?
The general market seems thrilled with anything that entertains and sells, so where there might have seemed to be a prejudice against Christian themes, that has been dispelled by several bestsellers (not just our own).
Chantelle Bentley is the former editor of Poet's Market.
Reprinted from Writer's Market.Writer's Market offers a complete library of interviews, articles and helpful marketing advice available to WritersMarket.com subscribers.