Here it is, everyone--the interview you've been waiting for. Christina Berry graciously found time in her busy wedding-planning schedule to answer a few questions for us. I know you'll glean as much from her answers as I have. A special thanks goes out to the very special Christina, who no doubt will become one of our generation's superstar writers... and frankly, already has! So without further ado, here's the interview!
When did you start writing? Did you ever had a moment when you just "knew" you were called to write fiction?
Buried deep within my closet, one might find some angst-filled poetry from my teenage years and a very spooky seven pages of the novel I started in high school. Though I was in love with the idea of being a writer, it wasn’t until I finished college and stayed home with my first child that I actually decided to write a book. Truthfully, my mom told me we were going to write one together, and being the obedient daughter I am …
My mother, Sherrie Ashcraft, and I began writing in the summer of ’99. We figured the accountability of having a co-writer would make us actually do what we’d always dreamed of but never put action to. It took a long road of learning how much we didn’t know, tons of re-writing, brooding over rejections, making connections, pitching at conferences, and directional prayer to make our writing salable.
In the summer of 2006, when Mom was busy caring for her dying mother-in-law, I got the itch of a new story idea. Undiscovered was written by February 2007, edited by June, won second place in the 2008 ACFW Genesis Contemporary category, and was renamed The Familiar Stranger, contracted by Moody Publishers in October, and released in September 2009.
One decade from naïve first scribbles to debut novel! I have a moment like that every time I write, to some extent or another. Not that it's easy! But I love the physical touch of my fingers flying across the keyboard, the cursor moving across the screen, having captured a moment, or made a deadline I set, or cracking myself up with character's line.
What has been the biggest challenge thus far in your writing career, and how did you overcome it?
Truly, the biggest challenge right now has been the market. Buyers have moved away from the grittier, darker stories I'm drawn to. Many people want to escape into a better world when they are reading. I've overcome that--or am attempting to--by tapping into another part of my creativity and have started a few cute romances.
What current project(s) are you working on?
I have a wonderful co-author--you can find her first book under the name Angela Ruth (Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho)--and we've put together a novella collection of classics retold. We definitely have modernized the stories, while keeping the bones and themes of the original novels.
Describe an average day in your life. How do you fit in time to write?
For one short year after my (then) youngest was in school and before becoming a foster parent, I would write or market from 9-2:45 with a short lunch break. The last few years have been more sporadic, with email and online marketing in the morning, then phone marketing, editing, and writing. After dinner and once the kids are in bed, I usually log 1-3 more hours of work time.
I’ve found I’m most productive at actually writing when I play games with myself. For instance, I might write down all the chores I have to do on one side of a paper and my word count in hundred word increments on the other. For every hundred words I write, I complete any chore. In a few hours, I’ve made good progress on both lists. Many writers hate to “interrupt” their writing time like that, but my brain seems to process better with frequent breaks and words spill out when I set back down at the keyboard.
Of course, if I get a call to substitute teach, I don’t get much done that day! I'm really looking forward to being married (ONLY 23 DAYS TO GO!) and being a full-time stay-at-home mom with dedicated writing time. My beloved values my writing and wants me to follow my dreams, so I might get a better "average writing day" soon. :)
How important is marketing on the author's part once a book is published? What things did you do to market The Familiar Stranger?
Extremely important! No one knows your book better than you. Thus, you are the perfect person to be telling people why they should buy it. However, once you've done your 100%, the rest is up to God.
Here's a long list of all I've done:
In November 2006, my mother (who is my co-writer on other projects) and I launched our website www.ashberrylane.net and asked our friends and family to subscribe to the infrequent, humorous Ashberry Lane Newsletter. Technically, this marketing effort began before I wrote a single word of The Familiar Stranger, but it laid the foundation for my current marketing.
We set a goal of getting 1,000 subscribers before one of our books made it to print. We hit that, gave an iPod Shuffle to a lucky librarian from Queens, and are pushing toward 2,000 now. We've recruited from real world, shoutlife, facebook, and conference contacts. Having access to so many interested readers and the building of momentum over the years has been priceless. I can’t imagine starting at ground zero in the midst of all the release date hoopla! (Come sign up at www.christinaberry.net now to get your chance at a cool prize!)
My focus has always been on making one reader at a time, whether it be the woman who waited with me as our snow tires were removed at the tire shop, or the checker in the grocery store. Pretty much just looking at me sideways will earn you a business card.
I also did a 61-day, 90+ blog tour with almost every single one having new content. There is no doubt I put every thing I could into the marketing, but my sales have been less than stellar. Surprisingly, a year and a half after the book's release, I'm doing more book clubs/speaking engagements/signings than ever!
Who are some of your own favorite authors?
Most of my favorite authors have voices I never dream to come close to: Nancy E. Turner, Jane Kirkpatrick, Leif Enger, Francine Rivers, or Randy Alcorn, to name a few. The writers who really influence my stories are ones who examine the real grittiness of life like Roxanne Henke, Bette Nordberg, and James Scott Bell.
Tell us more about the editing service you offer.
I love, love, love helping an author get to the next level in his or her writing. A wonderful free-lance editor did that for me, so I feel like I'm passing it on. So many editors are very expensive. Editing is a time-consuming process, so they no doubt are worth the money, but I wanted to offer an alternative for writers who couldn't afford the usual edit. I work with partial manuscripts as well. If someone can only afford to have 50 pages edited, the comments and tools I offer should be usable throughout the rest of the manuscript. I pulled the following from my webpage at http://christinaberry.net/editing.aspx
$35 for a Trial Critique of the first fifteen pages--this allows us to see if our professional relationship will be mutually beneficial
$2 a page for Full Manuscript Critique, with a credit for the Trial Critique*
Critiques include both line editing and substantive edits
Your choice of paper or electronic copy
Detailed comments, illustrations of writing principles, and recommended resources that will take your writing to the next level
I'm thrilled every time one of my past clients finds an agent or signs a publishing contract!
What advice would you give to the unpublished authors reading this blog?
Read craft books
Join a critique group
Attend writing conferences
Be open to criticism. One always has room to grow!
Best piece of advice for those of you who've been writing for years and have yet to get published: start a new novel. I'm a stubborn girl—just ask my parents. My mother and I reworked and reworked a co-authored story for eight years, each time putting our newly acquired writing knowledge/skills to use. We were determined that it wouldn't end up in a box in the closet or shoved under the bed. I still love that manuscript, but it wasn't until I took the advise of others far sager and experienced with writing to start a new novel that I finally made my first sale.
Write with purpose, whether it is a letter to a friend, a blog entry, or a full-length novel. The Lord says we will be held accountable for what we’ve said, so let’s make these words of our count for eternity!