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One of the most inspiring motivators for an aspiring author is to hear a successful author recount his or her publishing journey.

In this interview, you’ll hear from Angela Hunt, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tale of Three Trees, which has sold over a million copies. But Angela’s journey didn’t stop there. She’s now the author of more than 165 books and counting.

Every successful author started as an unpublished, regular person.

How did you get started in publishing?

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: How did you get started in publishing?

Angela Hunt: Being a writer never even crossed my mind as a young person because I was born into a singing family. Everyone assumed I’d be musical. My growing-up years were filled with voice, piano, choir, and band lessons.

I traveled as a professional singer for a year, but when our tour was done, my director asked me what I was going to do. I figured I’d go back to school and finish my music degree. But he said, “You know, you have a way with words. Maybe you ought to think about writing something.”

I went back to school and changed my major to English. I graduated two years later with a degree in English and still had no clue what I would do with it. I thought maybe I’d write programs for churches and stay on-site to direct those programs.

But I ended up teaching at a school that was desperate for a teacher after they had fired one. I wrote church curriculum for a year and realized that wasn’t my calling. Then I was a secretary for Cal Thomas for a year before he became a famous columnist.

Looking back, I can see how God used everything. None of those jobs were my end game, but they were all instrumental and valuable.

Finally, I decided that if I was going to be a writer, I was just going to be one. So, I printed business cards that said, “Angela Hunt Freelance Writer.” I knew advertising agencies bought writing, so I sent my business card to all the local advertising agencies. I was pleasantly surprised when one man called and invited me to bring my portfolio to his office.

I went straight to the office supply store and bought a notebook that said “portfolio” and some plastic page protectors. I included my resume and some things I’d written as curriculum. When I arrived at his office and slid it across his desk, he said, “This is empty.”

I said, “I know. It’s new.”

He laughed and gave me an assignment. I was to write ad copy for a company catalog that sold decorative fiberglass mailboxes. He gave me the previous year’s catalog as an example and said, “See what you can do.”

I said, “Yes, sir. And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to pay me.”

He replied, “Don’t worry. I won’t.”

It was a simple job because I had the old catalog as a template. I continued to get small jobs like that. If I didn’t know how to write what they wanted, I’d go to the library and look for a book about how to write radio copy, collection letters, or personality profiles.

Thomas: Many writers would have given up when they didn’t know how to write those pieces, but you learned how. Today, a Google search makes it even easier to learn how to write various pieces of copy.

Angela: Most people think they know how to write because they passed high school English. But professional writing is nothing like high school English.

Jim: When I teach at conferences, I find that most people think they can write because they’ve been writing since second grade. I tell people that writing is a profession that requires time and attention.

Thomas: It’s the difference between learning to run when you’re a toddler and learning to run track when you’re grown. It’s the same but different. To get to the Olympics, you must work hard.

Jim: that reminds me of the story of the author and the brain surgeon who went golfing. On the third tee, the brain surgeon said, “I’m going to take a six-week sabbatical this summer and write a book.”

The author replied, “That’s incredible. I’m also taking six weeks off this summer to become a brain surgeon.”  

Angela: Being a writer is like being a builder. You can build anything if you know how to use all the tools. A builder uses a saw, T-square, hammer, and nails to build anything from a doghouse to a Victorian mansion.

A writer learns to construct an effective paragraph out of effective sentences. And when you learn how to follow the blueprint of every genre, you’ll be able to build a book.

Every genre has a blueprint. For example, after five years of writing while my babies napped, I saw an ad for a contest for unpublished picture book writers.

I got a book from the library about how to write children’s picture books, and I learned that children’s books have the following parameters:

  • They are always 32 pages long.
  • They use few adverbs and adjectives because the pictures do the describing.
  • They use fewer than 1,000 words.
  • They should have a poetic quality.

I sat down and wrote a story in about 20 minutes, submitted it, and won the contest. Suddenly I was a published writer.

From there, I moved from genre to genre and grew as doors opened.

Thomas: It sounds like you won the contest and started your publishing career, but you’d been doing the hard work of writing for years in your various jobs.

In my opinion, copywriting is the most difficult form of writing because its success can be measured in dollars. The competition and challenge for authors are so high that they simply must learn the techniques of tight and compelling copywriting.

What happened after you won?

Angela: First prize was $1,500, which felt like a fortune at the time, and publication. The company that sponsored the contest was starting a new line of Christian books for secular people. I wrote the first and second books, and the second one went all the way to the galley stage, and the company axed the line.

That was how I discovered the realities of the publishing business. Sometimes you do all the work, and projects get cut. I’ve seen that happen in many publishing companies throughout my years in the business.

I wrote children’s books for several years, and then I realized that about half the middle school kids my husband pastored came from broken homes. So, I wrote a book called Mom and Dad Don’t Live Together Anymore to help them cope with feelings of loss and grief. Then I wrote books on sex and dating and books for parents on surviving the “tween-age” years.

My books grew with my kids.

I started writing mysteries and historical novels for middle school kids, and then my editor asked me to write novels for adults. So, I did.

I never had a dream to write “the great novel.” It’s always been about obeying God and walking through the doors he opens.

Thomas: You’ve written much more than one book each year. Successful authors know how to break through the psychological barriers to writing quickly. Other authors can’t quite break those barriers in their own minds and emotions, so they can only write one book every couple of years. You can’t earn a living at that pace.

How do you write so many books?

Angela: Children’s books are short, so I could turn out one a month. One year I released 11 books in various genres for adults and kids.

To me, the act of writing is like eating. I don’t have to convince myself to eat. I love to eat because I get hungry! In the same way, I love to sit down and write because I have to pay the bills.

At one conference, a man asked me what inspired me to write, and I answered, “The mortgage.”

Christian dentists work diligently as unto the Lord, and Christian writers are no different.

Jim: But you did say you enjoy the work of writing. Writers often say, “I don’t like to write, but I like to have finished writing.” I think to myself, “How painful.”

Certainly, there are days when I don’t feel like writing, but when I do write, I enjoy it.

Angela: Writing is hard work. Writing a first draft is hard for me, but fashioning it into something better is more enjoyable. Some writers enjoy the drafting but hate the editing.

How many books did you write before you had one that sold a million copies?

Angela: It was The Tale of Three Trees, which was my third or fourth book. I can’t even take credit for it because I didn’t invent the story. I’d heard the story read from the pulpit and sung as a song. There were many variations of the folk tale.

I discovered it didn’t exist in picture book format, so I wrote it according to picture-book rules. I made some crucial changes to make it unique to the way I told it. Since then, 10 or 11 picture book versions of the folk tale have been published.

It’s now published in 25 different languages, and I can honestly say God did it. It was the same with my book The Note. Someone read it and sold it to Hallmark. I didn’t even know it was going to be made into a movie until a month before the movie was released.

What would you tell a new writer at a conference?

Angela: Listen, take notes, read, read, read, and grow older. In growing older, you’ll find things to write about.

Connect with Angela at her website.

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