A born and bred Texan, Donna Lee Schillinger has a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and a master’s in cultural anthropology. She served in the Peace Corps in Quito, Ecuador, and continued to work in social services for 10 years, serving several years as executive director of a homeless shelter for single, young mothers.
In 2000, Donna “retired” from social work to take care of her elderly grandparents and homeschool her daughter. She soon began The Quilldriver, a custom publisher for nonprofit organizations and traditional publisher of inspirational nonfiction books.
Award-winning editor and publisher, Donna makes her writing debut with On My Own Now: Straight Talk from the Proverbs for Young Christian Women who Want to Remain Pure, Debt-free and Regret-free.
She launched a nonprofit organization of the same name, with the mission to provide encouragement for young adults to maintain their Christian faith when they get out on their own. Visit her Web site at www.OnMyOwnNow.com. Donna lives in rural Arkansas with her husband John and children.
Welcome to Beyond the Books, Donna. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
This is my first book to write, but my third to publish. I have a small publishing company and I’m publishing my own book.
What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
Oh, well, actually there was an earlier book – two now that I think of it. About 15 years ago I wrote a country study on Ecuador for elementary school students. After two mean rejection letters, I gave up on getting it published.
Then I also wrote a book that is published on the Internet only and is free. It is a journal I wrote while working through the grief of losing my baby in 2005. It’s called Dear Hunter: Letters to My Stillborn Son and it’s available for reading at http://www.onmyownnow.com/downloads.html.
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
For sake of this interview, let’s call On My Own Now my first book. I didn’t seek a mainstream publisher at all. Since I have a small company, it just made sense to publish it myself, versus spending months trying to find a publisher and all that that implies.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
In 2001, I had a book idea, something about taking care of my grandparents, and I queried dozens of literary agents and got nothing.
That was my first inclining of how hard it is to find a mainstream publisher. And that experience actually seeded the question, “Why don’t I just become a publisher?” I’ve always been a person to find another way to skin a cat (um, figuratively speaking of course, I actually love kitty cats!).
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
I have to say that it’s not the huge thrill someone looking on might think it is. Mostly because it’s so humbling to be such a guppy in this ocean of published authors. You think you’re going to feel like a somebody, but you actually just enter into a new understanding of being a nobody. When people give me kudos, I don’t even feel worthy of them.
What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
Here’s an interesting thing: I set up a Web site – www.OnMyOwnNow.com. The idea was I would promote the book through the Web site, but what has happened is that the promotional idea eclipsed the book. And now the book is in support of the larger umbrella, On My Own Now Ministries, which I’m in the process of incorporating as a nonprofit organization. I have a monthly e-zine called Single! Young Christian Woman, and we have an annual self-improvement initiative called The Ground Hog Day experiment. This year was the first one and we’re gearing up for a big promotion of it next year. The idea, taken from “Ground Hog Day” starring Bill Murray, is that we should identify a dozen or so things that we need to get right in order to have the perfect day, and then live that day on Feb 2.
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
I am working on another book and I think to myself, maybe I should look for a mainstream publisher. But when I really boil down the motivation behind that thought process, it’s vanity and need for validation. I think, “If a mainstream publisher picked it up, I would know I’m on the right track, that I’m as good as the next guy.” That’s silly insecurity.
Reality is that there are very many wonderful books that the greater reading public never has discovered and never will. Neither best-seller status nor a contract with a mainstream publisher is proof of anything. Just look at all the Harlequin Romances!
And on the flipside, I think, “Why would I give away all the profits to a publisher when I’m going to have to do all the work promoting the book anyway?” Duh!
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
I believe things have happened in perfect timing. I am anxious to be where other authors are, but I know that there’s a lot of character development (and I’m not talking about fictional characters!) that needs to happen along that long road to wide recognition. It’s sort of something you look forward to reluctantly, like being a freshman in college with an eye on the diploma.
In publishing, one mistake I keep making is not allowing enough time prepublication. I do intend to get that right on my very next publication.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
Unequivocally, it has to be finally having found that something I love to do!
If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
That’s kind of an odd question these days. Fact is most people have about three or four careers during their lifetimes, so we actually get to make that choice a few times. One thing I did for a while that I also really loved was mediation – being the neutral third party to help resolve disputes. I seemed to be gifted in it, which is odd because a mediator has to be neutral, and I’m highly opinionated. To me, mediating was like playing a good game of chess, where my objective was to bring these two parties to resolution, without caring how it resolved.
Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
I don’t see how I could combine my writing niche with mediation. Could be possible, but I don’t have that vision. I don’t think I’ll give up what I’m doing to pursue mediation, but I am pretty set on retiring when I’m 70 and maybe at that point, I’ll go back to mediation.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
I want to be publishing about five books a year and I see myself as being progressive in publishing. That is, not just cranking out books, but ebooks, audiobooks, repurposed content, whatever is hot 10 years from now. And all with the eye of helping young Christian adults maintain their faith from the transition from Mom and Dad’s home to life on their own. By that time, I may have bylined two or three more books of my own as well.
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Part of my motivation for becoming a publisher is a belief that if someone has a strong enough desire to do the hard work of writing a book, that message deserves an audience. That doesn’t mean it won’t need to go through a dozen rounds of edits to make the message readily understandable, but the message deserves an audience nonetheless. Publishers have no right to deny an author that earned merit – they are not gatekeepers. They might be an obstacle, but they can’t keep you from entering into the hallowed ground you deserve to stand on if you have written a book.