This morning we welcome to the blog debut author Jolina Petersheim. Drawing upon her Mennonite/Amish familial background, Jolina has penned The Outcast , a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter, to be released July 2013.
The morning of my conference call with Tyndale, I glanced over at the coffee table and panicked. Bolting to my feet, I stuffed a burp rag and a pacifier into a drawer – almost knocking my water bottle over in the process – sat back down and started doing breathing exercises.
Did I mention this was a conference call, not a Skype interview?
Dialing the extension Tyndale had provided, I listened to elevator music until Karen Watson, the associate publisher of fiction, picked up, followed by my agent, Wes Yoder. They briefly chatted like old friends. Karen introduced herself and her senior acquisitions editor, Stephanie Broene. As I listened to Karen’s warm, familiar drawl (she was raised in Tennessee, where I live now), the knot in my chest began to loosen.
Forty minutes later, I hung up the phone and felt as euphoric as I had after giving birth twelve weeks earlier. No contracts were signed and no promises made, but I had a feeling that my other “baby” had found a home, too.
I was right.
In the past eight months since I’ve entered the publishing process, the biggest surprise has been that Tyndale is actually composed of people. (And friendly people, too!) I guess I have heard so many horror stories about the larger publishing houses never having enough time for the individual author that, though I was beyond elated to have signed with a traditional publishing house, I had also prepared myself for anonymity.
It has not been that way at all.
Three months ago, I sent Kathy Olson, my editor, an email expressing my fear that Tyndale wanted my second book to be a sequel and not a stand-alone, since the edits for my first book had opened a new story vein. Instead of making me feel ridiculous for having sent an editor such a question, Kathy and Karen both reassured me that I was on the right path with a stand-alone book. By the end of those brief exchanges, I felt supported not only as a contracted author, but as a friend.
Horror story myth #2: Authors have no say in the title or cover choosing process.
Although my working title for my modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter set in an Old Order Mennonite Community in Tennessee was The Bishop, I knew even before the start of the publishing process that this title was subject to change.
I was encouraged to brainstorm title ideas along with the rest of Tyndale’s fiction team. We sent emails back and forth of titles that stood out to us. Over time, we narrowed the selection. The Outcast was the one that stood out the most, as it most clearly depicted the heroine’s plight and was conducive with The Scarlet Letter’s theme.
A few weeks after this, Stephanie Broene sent me a questionnaire where I was allowed to share my preference for simple book covers and my personal dislike for faces revealed on books, as I feel it detracts from the reader’s imagination.
Shortly afterward, I received a sample book cover image, which is very close to the image on The Outcast today. It did not show the heroine’s face, as I had requested, and the colors were real – almost stark – to reflect the darker, realistic tone of the book, which is very different from the quintessential “bonnet book” genre. A key element for marketing.
The only problem was, we still wanted to hook the “bonnet book” readers, but the image did not have a kapp (head covering). Stephanie Broene sent me an email, asking if I had a kapp that Tyndale could use. Though I have a Mennonite background and my husband has both Mennonite and Amish ancestors, I do not wear a kapp. (Well, maybe a baseball cap, if I don’t have time to wash my hair.)
I had to tease Stephanie a little about this, and then I found a website that sold kapps. Tyndale ordered one online, took a picture of the kapp, superimposed the image onto the other image so seamlessly, you would think the kapp was always there.
Pretty cool, huh?
Another way Tyndale has perceived me as an individual author is that they understand I am a new mother, with a child who is very sweet-natured but who does not like to sleep.
Add teething and editing to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a perfect storm.
I emailed Kathy one week before my three-week editing deadline and gave her a brief update on my progress. I had chopped a chapter during my own edits that, having read her feedback, I knew I needed to reapply as seamlessly as that kapp on the book cover image. I was slightly nervous if I could do this, along with keeping my daughter happy and my husband from starving to death (he actually made egg sandwiches for us for days, bless him). Kathy understood, as she is a mother as well, and that was all I needed to breathe again.
I returned a manuscript’s worth of edits in three weeks with eight hours to spare. It was my husband’s birthday, and I even baked a cake for him and had his family over to celebrate. The house didn’t look too shabby, either . . .
Well, unless you checked the closets and coffee table drawers.