4 Writing Careers: A Retrospective

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Since 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of our agency, I thought you would enjoy a behind-the-scenes peek at some little-known details. Among my ruminations about the agency’s past are my first clients. Looking back on their careers is an instructive exercise; it displays certain truths about a writing career that benefit us all to keep in mind. So here we go…

A trio of wannabe writers who were friends and young moms came to me through the recommendation of an established author who had been mentoring the group. Here are their first-book publishing experiences:

I recall being at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference when I received a message to call an editor at WaterBrook Press. I couldn’t imagine what business issue was so demanding that it couldn’t wait. I made my way to the pay phone (this was 20 years ago, after all) and called the editor. To my delight, I discovered she wanted to offer a contract for a beautiful gift book on marriage that Joanna Weaver had written entitled With This Ring. In short order after that offer, Joanna also received a contract for a series of children’s books from David C. Cook. She and I were exuberant about such a grand beginning to her writing career.Having a Mary Heart

Our jaws would have dropped if we had realized Joanna’s next book, which also was published by WaterBrook, would sell more than a million copies. Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World still sells tens of thousands of copies each year of its sixteen years. This, I must add, was Joanna’s first, full-length manuscript.

After writing Mary Heart, Joanna’s writing dreams were put on the shelf for five years before she was able to take them down, dust them off and write her second full-length manuscript. Joanna has written a total of three full-length books. Each one was agonizing for her, a perfectionist, to write, but each is rich with spiritual insight.

Cindy Coloma and I met at Mount Hermon, and I recall that she was pregnant with her third child. Despite being in the later months of her pregnancy, she climbed to the cross, which is up a pretty steep hill from the conference grounds, but is a sunrise Palm Sunday tradition. Cindy seems to slip through life with grace and makes everything she does look easy, just like climbing that hill.

I received news of Cindy’s first sale over the Christmas holidays and remember returning the Tyndale House editor’s call making the offer from my mother’s home, where we were deep into Yuletide celebrations. I also remember the next summer attending the International Christian Retail Show and having several editors and marketers from Winter PassingTyndale request a meeting with me. They wanted to ask more about Cindy because, as one of them said, “She’s a very special, very talented writer. We want to be a part of building her career.” To newbies Cindy and me, we were pretty gaw-gaw about such praise.

Her first novel, Winter Passing, went on to be a Christy Award finalist and a Romantic Times Reader’s Choice Finalist. But Cindy didn’t stop there. Here’s an abbreviated list of the awards her books have won: Beautiful (2010 Christy Award Finalist for YA and 2011 Revolve YA Tour Book of the Year); The Salt Garden (2004 Library Journal’s Best Genre Books); Song of the Brokenhearted (co-author Sheila Walsh) (2013 ECPA bestseller); Orchid House (2008 ECPA bestseller). Pretty nice, eh?

The final young mom in the trio is Tricia Goyer. Tricia’s writing trajectory started out very differently from Joanna’s and Cindy’s. While Tricia’s two friends were busily writing away on contracted book after contracted book, I couldn’t sell any of Tricia’s many projects. For a couple of years, her job was to rejoice with her friends, work hard on new ideas…and get nowhere. She worked faithfully and remained unremittingly happy for Joanna and Cindy. Perseverance and optimism mark Tricia’s career.From Dust and Ashes

Finally I snagged a contract for her with Focus on the Family co-writing Mealtime Devotions. That book was re-released in 2013 as Whit’s End Mealtime Devotions, showing it still has lots of life left in it. Shortly after that sale, I placed her WWII novel, From Dust and Ashes, with Moody Press. And Tricia was loping off into her prolific career.

Since then she’s: become a USA Today and ECPA bestselling author; published fifty-three books (both fiction and nonfiction); and is a two-time Carol Award winner, as well as a Christy and ECPA Award Finalist. In 2010, she was selected as one of the Top 20 Moms to Follow on Twitter by SheKnows.com. Tricia is also on the blogging team at TheBetterMom.com and other homeschooling and Christian sites, has adopted seven foster children and is homeschooling all seven. About once a week Tricia writes me an email with the subject line “Idea.” That missive will consist of at least one very good book idea that Tricia has dreamed up. Keeping up with Tricia could leave one breathless.

I also have to mention, as I reminisce about clients who have been with me since the beginning, a client I plucked from the slush pile. Early on in the agency, I read manuscripts while sitting on the porch swing at the front of our house. I recall swaying gently on the swing, reading the first chapter of a novel from some fellow named Dale Cramer. I was enjoying the story immensely when I came to a line that made me burst out laughing because it came as such a surprise but was delivered with perfection. I knew I had to represent this author.Sutter's Cross

Dale Cramer’s novel, Sutter’s Cross, was a challenge to sell. Editors didn’t seem to appreciate how very good it was. Then, after about a year of searching for a home for it, in one week, two publishers took a shine to it. Bethany House ended up publishing it, and Dale went on to write six more best-selling novels, winning two Christy Awards and having two novels receive designations as Publishers Weekly’s Best of the Year and Library Journal’s Best of the Year.

Fun facts about Dale: He’s an electrician by trade, doesn’t have much of an education, and didn’t start to write until he became a stay-at-home dad in his 40s and took an online writing course. His sense of humor is Southern and wicked, and he is a stunningly fine writer.

While it’s fun for me to reminisce about the first buds of each of these author’s careers, lessons abound here for other writers. Among them:

  • No two careers look alike.
  • None of us can guess a career’s trajectory.
  • Hard work + talent eventually pay off.
  • The sweetness of bringing a book idea to fruition never wanes.

What other lessons do see in these brief descriptions of four writing careers?

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