Writers@Work: An Interview with Jerry Jenkins
October 17, 2017
Note From Rochelle
Yesterday, I attended a women’s Business Owner’s Success Summit—and was once again reminded about the power of intentional connection and accountability. I spoke with several of my close colleagues, and they both challenged and encouraged me. I left knowing that these women were in my corner—and I felt inspired to keep moving forward with both my work and my writing.
How about you? Do you have someone in your corner, reminding you how much the world needs your message? If not, consider joining my fall group coaching program. Each week, I’ll offer tips and tools to help you move forward with your writing project. But more than that, you will receive encouragement and accountability from me and the group members. (And maybe a kick in the butt when you need one!)
Check out the Write-A-Thon Group Coaching page to learn more.
And if you want to chat about how this might help you, set up a 20-minute consultation with me!
Today, I have a big treat for you: an interview with bestselling author Jerry Jenkins. He said something on his website that makes a whole lot of sense: “Never make it your goal to write a bestseller,” he says. “Relentlessly pursue being the best writer you can be every day, telling that one meaningful story that lights you up. If you do that, you’re a success; your part is done. Every other factor — the market, the sales, the reviews — is truly out of your control.”
Read more from Jerry Jenkins below!
Writers@Work: An Interview with Jerry Jenkins
By Rochelle Melander
First, let me say welcome. I’m delighted to have you on the blog!
Thanks, Rochelle! Honored to be here.
I read your bio and have to agree with it—I know you only as the “Left Behind” guy. But you’ve written more than 190 books across several genres. Can you talk about how you got started writing?
I’ve actually been a professional writer since age 14. I showed up on the doorstep of a neighborhood weekly newspaper in the Chicago suburbs and said, “How are you fixed for sportswriters, because I am one.” I think they were amused by my brass and said they’d try me out on a local high school football game. I was a big kid and looked older than my age, but they had no idea I was too young to drive and would have to have my parents take me to and from the game.
They paid a dollar per inch of copy that made it into the paper, so I started making six bucks here, 10 bucks there, and the occasional 15 or so. I was heavily edited and coached and had a quarter million clichés to get out of my system, but they said I had a knack for writing. Mark Twain said he could live two months on a good compliment. I’ve lived more than 50 years on that one. At 19 I became sports editor of a suburban daily. At 25 I was editor of a national monthly magazine, and at 31 I ran a major book publishing house. At 40 (with about 90 books published) I went fulltime freelance. Left Behind released about five years later and the series has sold more than 62 million copies. I still have to pinch myself to be sure my career has not been a dream. I’ve loved every minute of it.
Tell me a bit about some of the various books you’ve written.
My first 17 or 18 books were nonfiction, several of them as-told-to autobiographies of professional athletes, coaches, a general manager, and Christian leaders (evangelists, singers, etc.). My first big break came with my fourth book, Bad Henry, with superstar baseball player Hank Aaron. That opened the door to similar projects with Walter Payton, Meadowlark Lemon, Nolan Ryan, and several others. The highlight of my career was being asked to assist Billy Graham with his memoir, Just As I Am.
My first novel, Margo, became a 13-book series (The Margo Mysteries), and I was off and running with fiction. About two thirds of my total titles are novels for children and adults.
You’ve written in many genres—and I’m guessing some are fiction and some are nonfiction. How do you tell whether an idea is worth pursuing as a book (instead of a short story or blog post)?
I’ve found that an idea feels big to me if it keeps working on me. If I talk about it a lot to my wife or to one of my grown sons and it seems to expand with each telling, I start believing it has legs. I find out if anyone agrees when I start pitching it to publishers.
National Novel Writing Month is coming up soon—that crazy month when people write a 50,000-word book in 30 days. With 185 books to your credit, no doubt you’ve written some of them at record speed. What tools do you use to write good books quickly?
In truth, while I am a fast writer, I urge my 2,000 or so online writing students to not try to emulate me in that regard. Speed or number of titles means nothing if the quality is not there. They should work at whatever pace best ensures that. As for NANOWRIMO, I’m cautious about that too. The value, it seems to me, is to show writers that they can produce more copy than they ever dreamed – and more quickly than they thought. But I also strongly counsel that a novel written that fast will require a lot more than 30 days to then shape into something publishable.
Many writers struggle with the pressure to write, work, and on top of all that, stay active on social media. What’s your advice for developing a presence on social media—but still finding time to write?
I’m not a big fan of this emphasis on platform when it trumps writing quality, but I can’t deny it’s the world we live in. Agents and editors and publishers tell me that the first thing they check is the size of a potential writer’s tribe and their social media presence. Naturally, I believe more time should be spent on book manuscripts, but the reality is that a writer hoping to break in must compartmentalize and devote an hour or two a day to building that platform.
The problem, of course, is that people with gigantic platforms and little to say are still attractive to publishers, who need to have some guaranteed winners to stay afloat.
What’s the most helpful, inspiring, or interesting book you’ve read recently?
Hooked /write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go (by Les Edgerton, Writer’s Digest Books). Just great stuff. I try to read everything there is about writing, and this one stands out.
Do you have a final piece of wisdom you’d like to leave for our listeners?
Be grateful. We have so much and are so privileged to be able to write that we should never forget how needy and impoverished most of the rest of the world is. And remember: All writing is rewriting.
Jerry Jenkins has been steeped in the craft of writing for more than 40 years. With 21 New York Times bestsellers (seven debuting at #1), 186 books, and over 70 million copies sold, he has become one of the most commercially successful writers of our time. Jerry’s writing has appeared in Time, Reader’s Digest, Parade, Guideposts, and dozens of other periodicals. He also served for many years as a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest. Be sure to read Jerry’s massive and helpful blog post on How to Write a Book https://www.jerryjenkins.com/how-to-write-a-book/