Husband and wife writing team, Dave and Neta Jackson are authors and/or coauthors of more than one hundred books which have sold in excess of 2.5 million copies. They are best known for Neta’s award-winning Yada Yada series and their Trailblazer Books – a 40-volume series. They live in the Chicago metropolitan area, where Grounded is set.
What inspires you to write?
LIFE! Writing novels is our way of sharing things God has been teaching us through amazing people he’s brought into our life and the joys and sorrows that walk hand in hand along the journey. God doesn’t waste anything that happens in our lives—and neither do we. We find fodder for stories even in the ups and downs of everyday life.
Tell us about your writing process.
Because we are both writers (and writing partners), we brainstorm story ideas a lot—not just at the beginning of the process, but all along the way. When we sit down to write, we first try to develop a “storyline,” writing down the basic story arc from start to finish. Then we spend a lot of time developing character sketches so that when we put our characters into the story, we have a pretty good idea of what they’ll do and how they’ll react. But here’s the thing—the characters keep surprising us as we get to know them better, which means the storyline keeps changing too! Not so much the overall arc, but once we’re inside the story with the characters, we’re often surprised by what happens. (“Whoa! Didn’t see that coming!”) This is not seat of the pants writing, but it’s more fluid than writing from a fully developed story outline.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
All the time! They move in and take over the house. Because we carry many of our characters from book to book in a series, and even from series to series, they become part of our lives! They refuse to stay put, infect our minds 24/7, bother our sleep. Sometimes we wake up in the morning and have to think really hard what day it is, what year it is, what season it is, what’s going to happen that day—because our current story’s “time and place” has muddled and mixed with our real lives. In fact, we’ve sometimes caught ourselves praying for our characters when they’re going through a really tough time . . . then realize, “Hey! Wait a minute. This person isn’t real!”
Before we write a story, we try to get to know our characters very well. Our characters are often “inspired” by real people or a composite of people, which we then fictionalize. We write up a complex “character sketch” with lots of details, such as birthday, family history, color and make of car, personality quirks, weaknesses and strengths, hobbies, favorite expressions, favorite food, things that annoy them—anything that might influence the story in one way or another.
As we put our characters into situations, we try to crawl into their skin and experience how they would react to that situation, what they would say, what they would do. Some of this is impossible to know before we begin writing, because it becomes “real” in the details, in the actual dialogue and action between characters. That’s when writing becomes really fun!
What advice would you give other writers?
• Read a lot! Don’t copy other writers (you have your own unique voice), but there IS a lot you can learn by reading good writers and absorbing the flow.
• Pay your dues. I.e., don’t expect to hit the bestseller list the first time out of the gate. Write articles, write blogs, write reviews, write short stories. Just keep writing.
• Learn the industry. Publishing IS a business, which is changing all the time. We learned a lot working as editors for many years before going freelance and writing articles, then books.
• Attend writers’ conferences—absorb as much as you can from editors, agents, and other writers.
• Schedule your writing time (whether it’s a few hours every day or one morning a week) and stick to it! Don’t wait for inspiration to hit you—apply perspiration.
• If you don’t know how to start, skip the “start” and begin somewhere else. The beginning will become clear later.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Self-publishing wasn’t really an option when we started writing fiction, except for people who “couldn’t get published” any other way. Self-published books did not seem to be very respected. So we sent out proposals and sample chapters, acting as our own agents for many years. First we needed to sell a publisher on the IDEA, then support that idea with good writing (and the ability to meet deadlines!). After publishing several books, we began to build a reputation which made it easier to get contracts (though there are no guarantees!—you still need a timely idea that fits the publisher’s line).
We have had the privilege of working with a number of fine publishers, each with their own strengths. But every now and then, we haven’t been able to find a publisher for a book we felt passionate about writing—and so recently we have self-published a few novels, which have actually done quite well. Self-published books can be well-received these days (and if you have previously published with a respected publishing house, and have a core of faithful readers, that helps!)—but we highly recommend that you pay for a good editor, good proofreaders, and a good designer, as well as an agency to help with promotion. Because writing is only part of a successful book—marketing is key.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
The publishing industry has gone through great turmoil over the last ten to twelve years with the advent of big-box stores that could deeply undercut the prices mom-and-pop or even chain bookstores charged. Then came the rise of on-line stores like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes. Finally, ebooks took off while most publishers continued to declare they would never amount to much. Big publishers—like large battleships—couldn’t turn quickly enough to accommodate the changing marketplace. Most took a huge financial hit, many were bought out or consolidated, and others failed. Those that remain have probably adjusted while a few upstarts were nimble enough to adapt.
These changes emancipated many authors. When their publishers couldn’t grasp their vision or were becoming too cautious (read scared) to take a chance on an innovative proposal, authors found that it was possible to publish their own book without spending tens of thousands of dollars. Perhaps they couldn’t sell as many books as their publisher had sold with their marketing muscle, but then with ebooks, they could get 70 percent of each sale and sometimes end up with more profit than through a traditional publisher. Plus . . . they retained full control of the content, the design, and the rights.
However, one of the downsides of this emancipation has been the influx of lower quality books, especially ebooks, as untested and too often unedited writers “go to press.” You’ve heard it said that everyone has a book in them. Unfortunately, many of them should stay there or be shared only with close friends and family.
For this and several other reasons, paper books from traditional publishers will continue for a long time into the future, and they should! Traditional publishers do some things far better than any individual can do. But as authors, it is good to know that there are other viable options.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer
What genres do you write?
Fiction, Christian Fiction, Christian, Religion
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print