J. M. Hochstetler graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Germanic languages. She was an editor with Abingdon Press for twelve years and has published four novels. Joan is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Christian Authors Network, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, Nashville Christian Writers Association, and Historical Novels Society. She and her husband, a retired pastor with the United Methodist Church, live near Nashville, Tennessee.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Joan. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
A: I have published four novels. Daughter of Liberty, Native Son, and Wind of the Spirit, the first three books of the critically acclaimed American Patriot Series, are set during the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a retelling of the Christmas story set in modern times, is the 2009 Christian Small Publishers Fiction Book of the Year and was a finalist in the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year contest.
Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
A: The title is Falkenberg. It’s an epic medieval tragedy set in Europe during the time of the Holy Roman Empire, and it hasn’t been published. When I finished it, I submitted it a number of places and got a bunch of rejects. Meanwhile I was working on my next project, so I shelved it and moved on. I am going to resurrect it someday, though, and see if I can’t get it published. It’s a powerful story. I believe in it and I’d love to see it in readers’ hands.
Q: 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?
A: Daughter of Liberty was rejected by just about every Christian publisher and a number of secular publishers before Zondervan finally accepted it.
Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
A: It never feels good to get a rejection. With every one you really question whether you’ll ever be good enough to succeed. There were a lot of times when I felt that I’d reached a dead end and should simply quit. And there were long periods when I didn’t write or wrote only sporadically. One thing that helped me the most in persisting was joining American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). That enabled me to develop a circle of writer friends who understood what I was going through and kept on encouraging me. I also finally admitted that writing is as natural as breathing to me. I held onto faith that I was called to do what I was doing, that there was a greater purpose in my work, and that the right doors would open at the right time.
A: I really didn’t choose them—they chose me. My agent submitted my proposal to Zondervan, and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
A: I was on top of the world, that’s for sure! I told everybody I knew, and then threw a party at a local venue.
Q: What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time?
A: I made contacts with all the local news media and churches and sent out a bunch of promotional mailings.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
A: No. Although my first experience ended up not being a good one, it was a tremendous learning experience. I benefited from it.
Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
A: Subsequent volumes in my series are scheduled to release in the next few years. Crucible of War is next up and releases in 2011.
I feel that I’ve become stronger at the craft of writing and have developed a more distinct voice and style. As I’ve gotten older, I find myself thinking more deeply about life, which I think is typical of most of us. I have insights—and questions—I didn’t have in my younger days. I think that reflects in my stories.
Q: 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?
A: Attending more writers conferences would have helped a lot. It would have allowed me to make direct contacts with editors and agents while learning the craft and the business. If I’d been able to find a writers group in my area, I’d have grown as a writer more quickly. Looking back on it, I also wish I’d done more careful market research and persisted in sending out those proposals instead of setting the project aside and moving on to a new one after I got a few rejections. I’m convinced I would have gotten a contract sooner if I’d kept at it.
I made some of the typical mistakes new writers make in paying for a critique by an agent and paying another agent up-front money to take me on. Don’t ever do that! Once I joined ACFW and got on the e-mail loop, I learned a lot of things that helped me to avoid subsequent pitfalls.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
A: Founding my own small press, Sheaf House Publishers is undoubtedly the biggest one. Now I can see things from the other side of the fence, and that has informed my own writing. I also have the privilege of publishing some truly excellent authors who inspire me to work even harder.
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
A: Something in the field of art or interior design. Or maybe archaeology.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
A: I really think I have the best of both worlds. I can incorporate all those elements in my stories, and I have total control over!
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
A: By then I hope to have most of my American Patriot Series published, and I’ll be on to some projects that have been lying about for a while, including Falkenberg. And Sheaf House will be prospering.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
A: Never give up. If all the doors slam in your face, find a way to make your own door. If Plan A doesn’t succeed, try Plan B and C and D and on and on. The race doesn’t always go to the swift. But it always goes to those who persist.