I’ve always been impressed with this quote by Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
That has certainly held true for me as an author, though I can’t say it’s been easy to walk this road. When I first started writing, plenty of agents and authors in the Christian book industry were advising authors to “write your passion.” Now, almost six years later, I rarely see that advice proffered, and if I do, I smile quietly to myself.
Because it is most assuredly not the way to get picked up fast. When I wrote my Viking historical novel, God’s Daughter, it had several strikes against it from the get-go (things I didn’t know until I started querying it). In the Christian industry at that time, they wanted historicals set in America. Although mine was half-set in North America (Newfoundland area), half of it was set in Greenland. Secondly, it was about Vikings, and I could count on one finger the number of Christian authors who’d tackled that people group (Michelle Griep’s Undercurrent). Finally, my book wasn’t considered romance, since the main character was married. And to be honest, if you want to get in the Christian publishing door as a debut author, you are going to want to write romance.
Not that my novel had no romance. It had plenty of it. But it was more accurately a love story. Since it is first-person point of view, we are in my main character Gudrid’s head as she deals with emotional issues and baggage from her past. So while the love story was highly realistic (and broached issues I see women struggling with all the time), it didn’t fall under that unmarried romance umbrella that spans most of Christian fiction.
It was an uphill battle, to say the least, and one I nearly lost. I almost shelved my book forever after receiving numerous “we can’t market this” rejections. Rejections that verified the writing and the story were solid, but I’d followed the wrong passion. I needed to align my passion with the industry to get in the door.
And yet I knew it was a story that needed to be told. Most people don’t realize that Vikings came to North America long before Columbus. It’s also not as well-known that Vikings converted to Christianity. My main character historically fell into both categories–Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir sailed with her husband to North America, and she was a Christian. I had to get inside her head and view the world through her eyes.
And Gudrid’s head was a complex place to be. She struggled with feelings toward other men–men who filled the gap her husband left wide open. She struggled with maintaining her Christian perspective in a world populated with pagans, and she had no Bible to cling to. She struggled with deaths that relentlessly occurred all around her.
After submitting it nearly everywhere, God began opening my eyes to the fact that I needed to self-publish my novel. The timing was right, the book was ready, and my followers were hungry to read something I’d written.
So I took the plunge and self-published, working with my brother, my crit partner, and my beta readers to get the novel as close to a traditionally published book as possible–from cover art to formatting. It’s still not perfect, but I am thrilled with the end result and the enthusiastic response I’ve gotten. Many of my reviews point out that though Viking fiction isn’t a genre they would have picked up, they’re very thankful they did. They also say it’s unlike other Christian novels out there and that the characters stick with them.
I plan to work my vision for married main characters into every one of my books, no matter what genre. Right now I have a contemporary Appalachian mystery out on submission, and the main character is a married (newly pregnant!) woman. My follow-up Viking novel, Forest Child, will also have a married main character–Gudrid’s sister-in-law, Freydis.
I think Toni Morrison’s advice is crucial to authors. It may not get you on the fast track to publication. But nowadays, you don’t have to wait in endless lines to get published. You can put in the time and effort and publish a product you can be proud of–one that truly does reflect your passion and is that book you always wanted to read.
Author Bio: Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Sixteen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling her three children. Heather is the ACFW West Virginia Area Coordinator.
You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert–Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. Her Viking novel, God’s Daughter, is here on Amazon and Smashwords.