Interview with Deborah Raney

Author of over 40 books, including first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title.

An unpopular admission in this strained political climate is to say, “I’m a republican.” Right? Well, try an even more alienating thing to say on social media: “I’m a Christian.” Watch how fast the unfollows rack up. Even more disturbing is how quickly the nasty comments come in. In fact, the only two times I ever got blasted on Twitter, were both times that I mentioned being Christian.

Well, imagine now if you are a Christian writer in today’s marketplace. See, I tend to think it would be easier to secularize (is that a word??) your work, and justify it to yourself. You could say something like, Just because I’m a Christian, doesn’t mean my writing has to be, right?

My latest interview subject, the prolific Deborah Raney, set out to make some money to send her children to college. She wrote two versions of her first story, one inspirational (Christian—with praying and more overt use of the name Jesus), and one secular. Turns out, the Christian publisher offered her ten times the advance, so she went with them. Deborah says now that she’s so glad it turned out that way because, not only did she get to stay true to her beliefs, but also she has touched countless lives by creating inspirational content.

I’m so honored to interview Deborah Raney, and have learned so much. Won’t you join me in learning from this successful, forthcoming, gracious author? I have a feeling you’ll want to take some notes that will help you improve your craft along the way!

Camfield Legacy Series

LW: Can you introduce yourself to my subscribers? (Where you’re from, how long you’ve been writing, what you like to do in your free time).

DR: I grew up on a farm in Kansas, married my husband Ken and moved to New York. We lived there two years before moving back to Kansas. Then three years ago, we moved to Missouri to be closer to our two daughters and 7 of our 13 grandkids. Our two sons and their families live in the Dallas area. And that answers the question of what we like to do in our free time: grandbabies! They are such a joy!

I started writing almost 30 years ago as a way to put our four kids through college. I’ve now written 40+ books and still thoroughly enjoy my career as a novelist. I also love teaching at writers’ conferences across the country.

LW: You’ve published volumes of books over the years. Many of my readers have yet to complete their first manuscript. Can you discuss your writing process?

DR: If you’d asked me that after my first novel was completed, I’d have said, just start writing and follow the story. After a few books, it became much more complicated than that. A few tips that might help:

            • Write about “real” people. Make your characters as real as someone you actually know, and make most of them very different from yourself. (The characters in my first several novels were all ME! But that’s BORING!)

            • I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer so I do still “follow the story,” not knowing how it’s all going to turn out until it’s finished. But stories still have to follow a bit of structure—beginning/middle/end, the 3-act play structure, etc. If you read widely, you’ll probably write this way instinctively.

            • I begin my writing day editing what I wrote the day before, then I dive in to the next scene. About one-third of the way in, I stop and re-read from the beginning, then do the same two-thirds in to catch inconsistencies or places where my characters do things contrary to the personalities they’ve developed as the story continues.

            •The best piece of advice I could give is to always be reading a book on the craft of writing, attend a writers’ conference if possible, and read WIDELY, especially in the genre you are writing in. Finally, just keep at it! I’m a slow writer and it takes me almost a year to finish a full-length novel, so I have to prepare for that going in.

LW: Your books are considered inspirational. Have you ever considered changing things up and writing secular stories? Can you talk about why you would or would not do that (In particular, I’m guessing since you’re with a literary agency that doesn’t represent secular work, that might be tricky. Can you touch on that if you’re comfortable)?

DR: I actually wrote two versions of my first novel. One for the secular market and one for the inspirational. The two versions weren’t that different, but my characters prayed more specifically and “in Jesus’s name” in the inspirational version. I really wrestled with whether I wanted to “preach to the choir” or “be a light in the darkness.” Honestly, my decision in the beginning was made for me when the Christian publisher was offering me almost 10 times the advance on royalties as the secular publisher! Since I was writing to put kids through college, we needed the money! But looking back, I’m VERY grateful the decision was made for me. I like having the freedom to share my faith through my characters, and while I’ve had a few reviews that condemned my praying characters, mostly I’ve had good feedback about how my stories strengthened the reader’s faith or encouraged them through a situation they were struggling with.

Knowing what I know now about the secular market, I’m grateful for the inspirational market which honestly gives me more freedom, not less. (And I know of more than one writer who was REQUIRED to add explicit sexual scenes to their secular books, and even one who had an editor sprinkle curse words into their manuscript!)

Some of my books have stronger spiritual content than others, but I’m grateful to have the freedom to follow God’s leading if the story warrants more explicit FAITH content.

LW: How does it feel connecting with readers who enjoy following your work?

DR: Oh, my goodness! If not for being able to connect with readers, I’m not sure I’d still be writing! I’m an extrovert—kind of unusual for a writer—so I thrive on the social aspects of being a writer: reader mail, social media, teaching at conferences, etc. Those connections fuel my writer’s engine! I’ve also learned so much from my readers and I take their comments and reviews to heart.

(On editor critiques): “Their job is to make (the story) better, and they don’t have time to gush over every pretty phrase I created. Mostly they are going to tell me what’s WRONG with my book.”

~Deborah Raney

LW: How do you handle negative reviews and general criticism of your writing?

DR: The first time I got a one-star review, I cried for three days! I was sure my career was over, that I was a hack and a fraud, and that not only did the reviewer hate my book, but she hated me, as a person, too! I quickly got over that after writing half a dozen novels. Most of my novels have at least one one-star review, and that’s okay. There are many reasons for one-star reviews. Sometimes the book just hit all the wrong buttons for the reader, sometimes it’s because the reader is turned off by the faith element (or convicted?), and occasionally, it’s simply jealousy from another writer. But I try to learn from those reviews. Sometimes they have a good point and I try to improve my writing with the next books. You DO need to learn to have a thick skin when you’re a writer.

This is especially true when you’re working with an editor! I have learned to trust my editors, and also to realize that if they bought my book, that means they think it has merit. But their job is to make it better, and they don’t have time to gush over every pretty phrase I created. Mostly they are going to tell me what’s WRONG with my book. I’d much rather it come from an editor early enough that I can fix the problems than having it come from a reviewer or reader!

(On query letter quality): “if you’ve written a fabulous novel, the agent won’t care that your synopsis is less than stellar.”

~Deborah Raney

LW: Landing an agent is harder than ever. Can you talk a little about how you landed your first agent, and provide some advice or tips for making a query or synopsis stand out?

DR: I’m probably not a very good one to speak to this since I agented myself for the first nine years I was writing, and then an editor from my very first publishing house opened his own literary agency and was hungry for clients, and happily took me on. The competition IS much stiffer nowadays, but as my agent (Steve Laube of the Steve Laube Literary Agency) always says, the writing will speak for itself. I can testify that just because you can write a great novel, doesn’t mean you’re good at writing synopses or cover letters! But if you’ve written a fabulous novel, the agent won’t care that your synopsis is less than stellar. Most editors and agents have told me that they read the sample chapters first because no matter how great the idea or how compelling the synopsis, if the writer can’t write, those things don’t matter!

LW: Was the first book you wrote, the first one that got published? If not, did that first one ever get published?

DR: Yes, my first novel had three contract offers. I almost hate to share that because it’s not the way it usually works. I was very fortunate to find a publisher and editor who were willing to take me under their wing and teach me SO much that I didn’t know about writing a novel. That said, I do have one and a half novels sitting on a floppy disk somewhere that will never see the light of day. Those were written after my first one, but just didn’t work for a variety of reasons, mostly because I was trying to find out what my style was and who I wanted to be as a writer.

LW: If someone has never heard of Deborah Raney, which of your forty books would you recommend they start with to really acquaint themselves with your writing, and why?

DR: What a GREAT question! My favorite and most award-winning novels are A Nest of Sparrows (my personal favorite and a RITA Award finalist) and Beneath a Southern Sky, a RITA Award winner. I still love both books and recently completed the Camfield Legacy series that includes Beneath a Southern Sky, After the Rains, and Breath of Heaven. I really love the whole series!

LW: Who are your favorite authors? (This can include who inspired you in the early days, all the way up to what you’re currently reading).

DR: My inspiration in the early days came from Eugenia Price, Catherine Marshall, and even Janette Oke. Interesting that they all wrote historical, and I definitely prefer writing (and reading) contemporary. Nowadays my inspiration comes from my contemporaries, Angela Hunt, Robin Lee Hatcher, Ann Tatlock, Lynn Austin, Elizabeth Musser, and SO many others, along with newer writers, Tamera Alexander (who has been my writing critique partner for more than 20 years, and has become a dear friend), and Courtney Walsh, Katie Powner, Christina Suzanne Nelson, Melissa Tagg, and many, many others. There are a WEALTH of great novelists writing today!

“I also recommend that writers find two or three platforms they enjoy and don’t worry about the rest.”

~Deborah Raney

LW: Can you talk about how you use social media to expand your readership? Which platforms have been the most helpful, and which haven’t worked as well as you’d hoped?

DR: I learned early on that social media is a way to connect with readers, but not necessarily a way to sell books. I also recommend that writers find two or three platforms they enjoy and don’t worry about the rest. I use Twitter very minimally and don’t enjoy it AT ALL. I love Facebook and Instagram and concentrate all my social media time on those two.

LW: How many more stories does Deborah Raney have in her?

DR: I told my husband that Breath of Heaven was the one book I wanted to finish before I died. That happened this past summer and I’m still kicking. 🙂 And I’m excited about a new contemporary series I’m working on that will be at least 3 books, possibly 4. I won’t think too far ahead beyond that, but I have NO plans to retire at this point. I LOVE the work God has given me to do!

LW: What are you currently working on?

DR: The series I’m working on now is about Airbnb proprietors and their guests. The idea came when Ken and I flew into a conference near San Jose, California, then rented a car and drove the Pacific Coast Highway (the gorgeous Highway One) all the way up to Seattle. We stayed in Airbnbs along the way and met so many fascinating people and had so many varied experiences (almost all positive!) that I wanted to explore some characters like that in a novel…and then realized there were so many stories, it’d have to be a series.

I would also love for more readers to discover Breath of Heaven (and of course, also read the first two books in the Camfield Legacy series, Beneath a Southern Sky and After the Rains.

Deborah Raney Family Picture

Thank you, Deborah, for the enlightening interview! I have no doubt that my subscribers (not to mention ME!) can learn a lot from your wisdom, transparency, and experience.

To learn more about Deborah Raney, check out her website, or follow her on Twitter and  Instagram.  

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