We're excited to have debut novelist Allison Mackey present the workshop "How I Pitched and Sold my First Novel" at the Virtual Southern Christian Writers Conference on July 24-25.
I recently had the chance to talk with Allison about her debut novel, The Edge of Everywhen (B&H Kids, 2020), and about what she has planned for attendees of her SCWC workshop. (Hint: You don't want to miss it!)
How did you become interested in being a writer?
I have been a voracious reader my whole life. I started writing poetry as a child, and progressed to short stories and novels in my teens. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1991, and I had always harbored a desire to write as a career, but I never took it seriously. I got married, had children, and got busy with life, but then a part-time job in 2014 became the catalyst. I started writing freelance on a contract basis to supplement our family income, and a man we’ll call Mr. Biography hired me for a job. That’s when my focus began to shift.
Mr. B. hired me to write a slew of in-depth biographies for famous and not-so-famous authors for his project. The gentleman sent me a list of eighty names, and my assignment was to dig around the internet and ferret out the lesser-known facts of the authors’ lives and how they got started writing. This assignment had “book nerd” stamped all over it. With my degree, I could write thoughtful 2000-word essays in my sleep.
I had begun participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2011, but other than the frenzy of writing from November 1 to November 30, I hadn’t really found a way to make regular writing a year-long daily habit. But after I completed these eighty biographies, that changed. As I researched each author, I dug deep into old interviews with magazines or other media outlets. And as I read interview after interview, I began to see a clear pattern emerging. Almost without fail, I ran into this sentiment, or some version thereof, echoed by many of these famous writers when asked about their writing habits before their first big break.
“I set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. and wrote for two hours before work.” “I set my alarm for 5:30 and wrote for an hour before taking the kids to school.” “I worked the night shift, and during my two a.m. lunch break, I sat in my car and wrote for an hour.”
With each biography that I completed, I sensed a growing conviction within me, a conviction that a deceptively simple shift in my routine would actually work. I began to believe that I could do that, so that’s what I did. I got up at 5 a.m. and wrote in the mornings before work – not just limiting myself to November and NaNoWriMo. I drafted The Edge of Everywhen in 2015, worked on it for two years to make it marketable, and landed a literary agent with it in 2017. What projects are you currently working on?
It’s a common practice for publishers to look for stand-alone books with series potential, which is what The Edge of Everywhen is. I’ve always hoped for it to be a trilogy, and of course I hope Lifeway will offer me a contract for books two and three. But even if they don’t, I’ve always got a book going! I have a YA alt-medieval allegory in the works, a YA speculative fiction novel about a modern-day Philip the Evangelist, as well as several middle-grade characters percolating in my head that are begging me to write their story. Your writing workshop will be based on your experiences writing your first novel. What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring novelists?
If you want to be traditionally published, learn how to wait gracefully. It’s so easy to give up, to let rejections derail your focus, and to doubt yourself. Understand that the wheels turn VERY slowly in the traditional publishing world, and the average time between finishing the book to seeing it on shelves is three to five years. But if you have created a high-quality, well-written, marketable book and you keep pursuing agents and publishers, it is possible. What do you hope to impart to people who attend your workshop at the Virtual SCWC?
The biggest thing I’d like to impart to workshop attendees is encouragement. Sharing knowledge of how the process worked for me, coupled with some inspiration derived from other success stories, will motivate and inspire attendees to move forward with their publishing journey. What role does your faith play in your writing?
My faith in Jesus is intrinsically linked to my writing, and my sole purpose is to point readers to God, even if what I’m writing is fantasy fiction. There is a scene in “Chariots of Fire” where the main character Eric Liddell, an Olympic runner, says, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” So for me, when I create and write, I feel His pleasure, and I know without a doubt that He has called me to this purpose.
Learn more from Allison at the Virtual SCWC on July 24-25. The conference includes two keynote sessions, 15 workshops on a variety of writing topics, panels, and much more! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to register.