Four Tips on Landing and Working with a Traditional Publisher

By Jennifer Hallmark

I stared at the typed manuscript on my desk. It represented over a year of work. Traditional publishing or Indie publishing? Or vanity press? Though I was a newbie, I needed to make a decision. I knew very little about the publishing business. No, scratch that. I knew nothing at all.

I’d been writing my first novel and loving every minute of it. It sang, it soared, it was perfect. (Yes, I can hear you laughing from here)

A person from a vanity press approached me and offered to publish my wonderful 100,000 word work in progress which had no genre, no edits, and no formatting whatsoever. I’d been praying ever since I started writing for God to show me what to do. I was clueless and not ignorant of that fact.

So, when this opportunity presented itself, I went back to prayer. The only words that seemed to resonate inside of me were “Follow the traditional road.” I was a bit sad at the time. I mean, look at what the world was missing by me not putting my novel out there.

*Shaking head.*

What did I know about traditional publishing? Nada. I began to study all the types of publishing, taking online courses, reading writing craft books, and attending writing workshops, groups, and conferences. It didn’t take me long to figure out what a mistake I’d almost made. I kept following the traditional road the best I could and here I am, thirteen years later, about to release my debut, traditionally published novel.

Click to tweet: Four tips on landing and working with a traditional publisher. #publishing #amwriting @Inspiredprompt

If the traditional road is one you’d like to follow, don’t despair. It shouldn’t take you as long as it did me. Let me share four tips that will make a difference in your journey:

  1. Know the publisher. When I first started, I just sent my novels to publisher’s names I liked and gave little thought to what they wanted. I did get some helpful criticism back from several publishers but nothing else. When I finished my novel, Jessie’s Hope, I diligently studied the publisher I had set my sights on, Firefly Southern Fiction. I studied their guidelines until I could say them in my sleep. And I read several books by Firefly.
  2. Get your manuscript edited. Whether you hire a freelance editor, join a critique group, or find a critique partner, get another set of eyes on your work. I ran Jessie’s Hope through a critique group first, then had an editor friend give it a once over. I wanted it to be as polished as I could make it.
  3. Meet said editor or publisher. One way you can meet them is online. You can visit their site, read all their blog posts, and comment until they recognize you. I found out that the Firefly editor, Eva Marie Everson, was going to be at a conference near me and I made plans to go. I made an appointment to meet with her and also took all of her classes. I needed to learn what she was looking for in a more personal way.
  4. Submit your work. Finally, at the conference, I showed her a bit of my work and also explained the trouble I was experiencing in learning deep POV. She ripped my first pages to shreds as she taught me first-hand about deep POV both in our meeting and during class. She asked for a longer submission to be sent to her email and two months later told me the story intrigued her. But I had to first take a chance and submit or I would have never known it had potential.

After the good news, I started snoopy dancing. But then she had one of her beta readers read the full manuscript and tell me all the problems it had. I worked hard over the next two years and resubmitted it in 2017. She accepted the manuscript and on June 17, my dream of being a traditionally published author will come true.

Eleven and a half years after I made the decision to follow this road. I’m sure glad I didn’t know in the beginning how long it would take or I’d have probably given up.

Now which road should you take? Indie publishing has come a long way since I started writing. I believe God understood my lack of patience and desire to see my work in print and the fact that I would regret publishing too soon. He pointed to the traditional road and for me, it was the right one.

I suggest you prayerfully look into both ways of getting your work into print. (I purposely left out the third way. Don’t use a vanity press.) Do some research into both methods. Use my four tips with a publishing house that you feel a connection to and see what happens. You never know until you take that step.

In leiu of a writing prompt:

Question time. Ask me a question in the comments and I’ll try to answer it or find an answer for you.

Mantle Rock Publishing – Kathy Cretsinger

Mantle Rock Publishing, LLC, is a family owned Christian publishing company. The company is owned by Kathy and Jerry Cretsinger. When I asked Kathy for an interview, she graciously accepted, though she was quite busy at the time. If you visit their website, you’ll find a friendly, welcoming vibe. Somewhat like the feeling you get when you enter a love-filled home or a family-owned business where they know your name and truly care about you.

♦ Kathy, please tell us a bit about yourself, how and why you started a publishing company.

Kathy Cretsinger: I am a wife, mother, grandmother, and step-great-grandmother. My husband and I are both from East Tennessee. We’ve been married for 56 years, and we’re still counting. After our parents passed away, we wanted to live closer to our children. Our daughter lives in Nashville, TN, and our son lives in Benton, KY. We’re not big city people, so we decided to buy a small farm in Benton. In 2012 we published our first book. We knew of authors who were having a hard time publishing their book, and I was enduring the same thing. We started Mantle Rock Publishing to publish only my books, but other people wanted us to publish theirs. It has grown from two books to a lot more.

♦ That’s wonderful. Fifty-six years! So, Mantle Rock, that’s an interesting name. Is there a story behind it?

Kathy: There is a story behind it. Mantle Rock is between Paducah and Hopkinsville, KY. During the Trail of Tears, the Cherokees spent the winter at Mantle Rock until the ice thawed and they could cross the river. There is a big granite rock that looks like a mantle over a fireplace. The Cherokees camped in the field.

When we began thinking of a name for the company, we thought about Mantle Rock. The mantle there covered some of the Cherokees like a mantel of love covers us from God. We try to cover our authors with our love for them and their writing.

Our mission is to help first-time writers publish their book. A new author will have her book edited, and they’ll learn about the new grammar rules, how to format their book, and how to market it. All aspects of a good author. We guide them through the publishing process. Of course we do not take every author, but we do concentrate on first-time authors.

♦ How great that first-time writers will know their “baby” will be so well cared for.  Mantle Rock has published a good number of books, and some of your authors have been guests on our blog at one time. I know you can’t play favorites, but is there a standout among your published books? And/or a most surprising success?

Kathy: I don’t have favorites, but some authors pull on your heartstrings. In 2014 we published A Most Precious Gift by Jacqueline Wheelock. We worked to get it out before her sister passed from cancer. We made it by about two weeks. Jacqueline did not use Facebook, Twitter, any social media, and did not have a website. She began telling everyone about her book. Word of mouth works very well. Even today when Jacqueline goes on a trip we get an increase in her sales. My husband will come in my office and say, “Jacqueline must have traveled someplace. She’s sold X number of books.” She is our top seller today. She still doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter. She talks her book up. I’d love to have more people be energetic about their books. She’s been on Amazon’s #1 Top Seller in both regular books and Black American Romance. It’s such a good book. It still sells well today, after five years.

♦ Now, that’s a great success story and very encouraging to those who are media-challenged. 🙂 Congratulations, Jacqueline. What catches your eye in a proposal or a manuscript?

Kathy: A manuscript that is well written, punctuation is correct, and the story is one that I don’t want to put down.

♦ Right. That’s exactly the type of book I like to read. After the contract is signed, what is a realistic publishing timeline?

Kathy: At this time we are looking at a year or a little more. All of 2019 is full, and we have just filled all of 2020. If we get something we cannot resist, we will find a place next year. We want to keep it a little slower and try to get better manuscripts.

♦ That’s understandable. Quality vs. quantity makes sense. Let’s talk about compromise – how much is too much; how much is too little, on the part of either party. 

Kathy: We need books to sell. If the author won’t work on sales, they will get their rights returned. I hate to do that, but that is business. Too much? Refusing to market their books and wanting all of the commission we receive. Also not respecting our time.

♦ Good answer, Kathy. That brings your role as a publisher into focus. Your hard work up front delivers the finished product, but it’s not your job to sell that product. Your return on investment is at stake, even if that investment is labor only. Knowing this upfront can help weed out those who are not interested in doing the hard work of marketing.

♦ What is the danger you see in following trends versus following the Lord’s leading and what is your advice to writers who are passionate about their message?

Kathy: Several of our authors write feeling they have a mission to share God’s love. I also know it offends some people. I had a review on my first book. The reviewer said, “If I’d known it had so much religion in it, I wouldn’t have bought it.” That made me stop and think. Could a book be written showing God’s love, but not talk a lot about God’s saving power? Several of our books go into Clean Fiction. No preachy, but comfortable in God’s love. I’d tell any author to write what their heart tells them.

♦ Thanks for saying that. In your opinion, at what point should a writer say, this is one for self-publishing? 

Kathy: When no company will pick up your book, maybe it’s time to self-publish.

♦ What types of materials are accepted by your company?

Kathy: Christian – Romance, Romantic Suspense, Cozy Mysteries, Suspense, Historical Romance, Historical Romantic Suspense. At this time we are not accepting anymore Fantasy manuscripts, except from our contracted authors. We have three who write Fantasy for us, and we can’t take anymore.

♦ Please let our readers know how to submit a proposal to Mantle Rock.

Kathy: You can submit directly on the website, or you can send it to me kathy@mantlerockpublishingllc.com. Please email your submission. Do not send the whole manuscript but only what we ask for.

♦ Is there anything you would like to add regarding submissions at this point?

Kathy: I would add to put Proposal in your subject line. Make it as perfect as you can. Read it aloud before you send it.

♦ How can writers pray for their publishers/for publishers in general?

Kathy: Pray that they will keep God first in their publishing. Pray that we will be honest in our dealings with our authors. It’s a big world out there, and we want to treat everyone equal.

♦ I love that. What is a good metaphor for the writer/publisher relationship and how can writers strive to make that relationship the best it can be?

Kathy: The one thing our authors say about us is, “we are family.” Most of the authors encourage each other, help in any way they can, and congratulate each when an accomplishment is made. We get to know each other.

CLICK TO TWEET: The one thing our authors say about us is, “we are family.”–Kathy Cretsinger, Mantle Rock Publishing LLC #publishing #writing #CleanReads via @InspiredPrompt

♦ Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions.

Kathy: Thank you for interviewing me. I’ve enjoyed answering the questions, and I pray I have helped some writers in their journey of writing. I love working with authors, and I enjoy what I do. If anyone has any questions about Mantle Rock Publishing, I will be happy to answer them. Thanks again.

Click Photo to visit Mantle Rock Publishing LLC


♦ A special note of thanks to Kristy Horine, for the excellent questions used in this interview.

Traditional vs. Indie Publishing

I am a multi-published author. I am under contract with a small, traditional press, Pix-N-Pens, the nonfiction arm of Write Integrity Press. I currently have one book I have authored, three I have co-authored, and am contracted to co-write four more under this line. I also have one indie published book and another that barely missed getting a contract with a large traditional publisher, but in the end, it too is in the process of being published independently. So, I have some first-hand knowledge and experience with both types of publishing which I will share.

Differences Between the Two: 

Traditional publishing means that the author does not pay for any of the costs of publishing his or her book. She has a contract with a publishing company allowing them to publish the book as she agrees to split royalties with that company. It is more difficult to get a book traditionally published because the publishing company is pretty selective in the books /authors they choose. They must believe that the book they agree to publish will sell enough for them to at least recoup the money they spent on the publishing process.

There are several types of traditional publishing companies: large press, small press, and boutique presses. Large press are companies like Thomas Nelson, Harper Collins, and such. Boutique presses are usually medium-sized presses that cater to a specific niche audience. Small presses are just that—small, but traditional in that they do not require any payment of any kind from the authors they publish. These also vary in types of publishing with small press most often using print-on-demand (POD) technology.

The most important thing about traditional presses is the wording of the contract an author is asked to sign. Read your contract carefully! They all differ in many ways, including how, when, and what percentage of the royalties they will pay their authors. But even more important than the royalties in my opinion, are the rights you as the author will keep or give up to the publisher.

The book I co-wrote that was a near miss for a large traditional publisher, got picked up by a Boutique publisher but their contract stated that they would own all rights to the book. This differed from what they had told us on the phone and had we not read the contract carefully, we might have signed our rights of ownership over to this company believing the contract was what they said it would be when we spoke with them. As it turned out, it was not a contract we could sign, and we walked away from that offer. By that time, we were tired of dealing with publishers and decided to move ahead with indie publishing of that book.

With Indie publishing, the author assumes all of the responsibility and costs of publishing her book. Because of this, any person can indie publish a book, but the quality of that book will vary greatly depending on how carefully the book has been written, edited, and packaged. If you choose the indie route, I have a few suggestions.

1) Write the best book you can and make it consistent in its word count with traditional books in the same genre. (For instance, my small press requires that nonfiction books be at least 40,000 words. When I see a nonfiction half that size, I almost instantly assume it was indie published by someone who did not know the market standards.)

2) Pay for a professional editor.

3) Pay for a professional cover.

Pros and Cons of Each: The pros of indie publishing are that the author has complete control of the writing and publishing project and he or she will also receive all royalties. The cons are that usually having more than one set of eyes on a book during the publishing process makes the finished product a better book, especially when some of the people working on it are professionals.

The pros of traditional publishing are that the book is usually a high-quality product because of the many people who worked on it and usually the market reach is larger. This is true even for small presses since most small presses do make marketing efforts and the book will reach a larger number of readers than if it’s all up to just the author. The cons are that the author makes less per book and has less control over the publishing process.

So, which do I recommend? It really differs from book to book. I am extremely happy with the small press for whom I write. But I am signed under its nonfiction arm so when I wrote my first novel, I decided to go the indie route and have been happy with that too.

In the case of my other indie book, I think it would have been nice if that large traditional publisher had not decided against publishing it after six months of considering it extensively, but I really don’t know since we didn’t go that route. It may not have been a good experience after all. What I do know, is that walking away from the faulty contract offered to us by the boutique publisher was absolutely the right thing for that book.

Why didn’t I just pitch it to my small press? Again, the reason for that lay in the book itself. It is different from the other nonfiction I write for that small press and I did not think it was a good fit for them. So, yeah, there really isn’t one “right” way to publish. Much depends on the circumstances you as an author are facing and even the content of the book itself.

Click to Tweet: Interested in becoming a published writer? Know your choices up front. Here’s a look at the different types of publishing by author, Harriet Michael via @InspiredPrompt.

Writing Prompt: Story Starter! Using the above picture for inspiration, start a story. Maybe it’s going to be a short story, flash fiction, or an epic novel. We want the first sentence. 🙂

Publishing in 2019: What Do We Know?

By Jennifer Hallmark

The publishing world has changed much in the last five years and left even the experts baffled. For established writers and those just starting, the world of writing is confusing at best, impossible at times. With so much fake news and opinionated articles out there, what do we know for sure?

AMAZON is not going anywhere soon. Online shopping is growing. The writing industry has many opportunities via Amazon. From Audible to Amazon ads to Amazon’s Author Central, writers need to study and take advantage of the many opportunities offered by the largest Internet retail company in the world.

Good EDITING is crucial. Whether you are aiming to be traditionally publishing or going Indie, the competition is fiercer than ever. A well-edited article, story, or novel stands out. But Writer Beware: many who claim to be editors are either ill-equipped for their job or scammers searching for the uninformed. Check out our Monday and Friday posts on editing during the month of April for more information.

Any author, whether traditional or Indie, needs to know how to MARKET The good old days of writing books while others do the marketing for you is gone, unless you are willing to pay for it. Marketing is primarily discovering your readers and giving them a reason to buy what you’re selling. Authors need to examine social media, word of mouth, and ads, then decide how each will aid in finding an audience for their book. All three are vital for successful marketing.

The AUDIOBOOK industry is growing. More and more people listen to podcasts and audiobooks while they drive. Should your book be an audiobook and how hard is it to produce one? We’ll share the answer in a two-part in-depth article and interview about this topic at the end of the month.

WHO YOU KNOW And I don’t necessarily mean your cousin’s aunt who cleans Big Publisher X’s office. I mean, how social have you been in your pursuit of writing stardom? Each person you meet, whether a newbie, editor, reader, publisher, or the director of a writing event is a vital connection. Some will help you reach your writing goals while others will cheer you on. Or maybe you’ll cheer them on. We all need each other on this difficult journey. How you regard others makes all the difference in the world.

CHANGE is the word that most describes this year’s publishing market. Major bookstores are closing. Online stores and companies open and either succeed quickly or close. Scams and fake news abound. You can no longer believe one source. You need to research it all.

Staying in tune with the writing world is the key. No, you don’t have to know all the ins and outs of publishing. But study enough to have an overall picture in your head of what’s to come. Pick your road carefully and stay true. It makes the trip much longer if you backtrack.

Study.

Write.

Engage.

Write.

Submit.

If you persevere and grow, you’ll eventually find success. Even in this fluctuating world of print, audio, and digital…

Click to tweet: Publishing in 2019: What Do We Know? The overall picture is something you need to understand. #amwriting #publishing

Please read all of our Monday and Friday articles this month to learn more about publishing in 2019.

Writing Prompt: Kiel sat drumming his fingers on the desk. The writing course he just finished left him with more questions than answers. Where should he turn now?

Meet Jennifer Uhlarik–Managing and Acquisitions Editor for Trailblazer Western Fiction

By Jennifer Hallmark

April is all about editors on Inspired Prompt blog. So I’m more than happy to introduce Jennifer Uhlarik, managing and acquisitions editor for Trailblazer Western Fiction, the newest imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.

Trailblazer Western Fiction seeks to recapture the glory days of the Western, but with an updated feel that will ignite the hearts and minds of a whole new generation of readers. Trailblazer offers stories that combine the action, adventure, mystery, and romance of the American West, all wrapped up in the rugged men and brave women who left the comfort of life back east to discover and settle untamed lands in the West. Whether historical or contemporary, our westerns tell the stories of those who braved rugged terrain and insurmountable obstacles to make a life in the beauty and vastness of the western frontier.

Welcome, Jennifer! What a great name you have 🙂

You are the managing and acquisitions editor for Trailblazer Western fiction. What drew you to this particular job?

The job really fell in my lap. I’ve been in the writing industry as an author for years, and while I’ve had some successes selling western romance stories, I have other titles, either fully written or in the works, that are more western/less romance. Those have been a much harder sell. So as I was talking with author extraordinaire Eva Marie Everson about the difficulty in selling the more traditional western titles I have, she dropped the idea of opening a western line.

I was already working for Eva in her Southern Fiction line as an editor, so after hearing her out, I thought about it, prayed about it, and a very short time later, I felt like this was the direction God was leading me in. So Eva and I approached Eddie Jones at Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas about opening Trailblazer Western Fiction, and Eddie quickly said yes. And, “poof!” I was the managing editor of Trailblazer Western Fiction. LOL

When you first entered the writing world, did you want to become an editor?

Nnnnoooooo! In fact, years after entering the writing world…when Eva first approached me about working for her as an editor in her Southern Fiction line, it was such an overwhelming idea that I was paralyzed with self-doubt for several days. Tears were shed, friends and family had to give me pep talks, and only after a lot of thought and prayer did I know this was a direction I was supposed to go in.

What are some pros and cons of being an editor?

I think the pros far outweigh any cons. As an editor, I get to read and acquire some amazing fiction, which is always a plus. Another part I love is that I can now help other authors realize their dreams of publication. After years of struggling to find my path to publication, it’s fantastic to know I’m in a place to help others along the way. And it’s also exciting to be able to help other authors hone their stories into that bright, shiny gem that readers will love!

Cons? Well, for one, I can’t take every story. I wish I could, even just to encourage the author. But Trailblazer is small, so there’s no way I could take every story that came across my desk. And…Life is busier when I’m working with an author toward publication of their book. But in those busy times, I refocus on the pros and move right on past these minor cons!

What percentage of your authors are debut authors?

At this moment, fifty percent. However, I don’t have a set formula for how many debut authors vs. established ones I’ll take. It really depends on the story for me. Tell a great story with even a middling amount of skill, and I’ll give it serious consideration.

What submission advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Two things. First, Trailblazer is a niche market, so it’s important that you know the genre. Read western books, get a feel for the genre, and then craft a story that fits.

And second, be sure to study the guidelines and develop a proposal with all the elements listed on our submission page.

As a bonus piece of advice, keep in mind that Trailblazer (and all of the Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas lines) are moving to a Christian worldview, but not overtly Christian style of storytelling for 2020 and beyond. We are still looking for clean reads, so no gratuitous violence, language, etc. But there doesn’t have to be an overt Christian theme or spiritual arc to the story either.

What stories are you and Trailblazer interested in for future publications?

I am open to new and interesting ideas. I love the classic westerns like Louis L’Amour used to write, but I’d also love to find some contemporary westerns, westerns told in a more complex way, or westerns paired with other genres. You can read more of our vision and desires at https://lpcbooks.com/trailblazer-western-fiction-submissions/

Thanks so much for sharing, Jennifer!


Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed  with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list numerous times.

In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.

You can find Jennifer at her website, Facebook, TwitterPinterest, and Instagram.


Sand Creek Serenade

Dr. Sadie Hoppner is no stranger to adversity. She’s fought to be taken seriously since childhood, when her father began training her in the healing arts. Finding acceptance and respect proves especially difficult at Fort Lyon, where she’s come to practice medicine under her brother’s watchful eye.

Cheyenne brave Five Kills wouldn’t knowingly jeopardize the peace treaty recently negotiated between his people and the Army. But a chance encounter with the female doctor ignites memories of his upbringing among the whites. Too intrigued to stay away, tension erupts with the soldiers, and Five Kills is injured.

As he recuperates under the tender care of the pretty healer, an unlikely bond forms. However, their fledgling love is put to the test when each realizes that a much greater danger awaits—a danger they are wholly unable to stop, and one which neither may survive.

Purchase link