This pastor’s wife wears biker boots

When you write a book about a world to which you don’t belong, you can’t help but wonder what the people who actually belong to that world think of your fictional version. Are they insulted? Aghast at your very nerve? Shocked, dismayed, scandalized?

Recently I got a message on my Facebook author page from a pastor’s wife. Karla Akins admitted she had bought “Pastors’ Wives” with the sole intention of reviewing it online. She planned to tell one and all how I did not get even a little bit of it right. Instead, she wrote me a lovely note. We got to corresponding, and I learned she too had written a book about pastors’ wives—albeit one with a much cooler title.

Karla agreed to a Q&A that I hope will a) tell you a little about the novel, b) show you how tickled I am at her reaction, and c) introduce you to this warm, funny and wonderful pastor’s wife.

How did you and your husband meet?

We met through mutual friends. My husband was attending a church similar to Greenleaf in your book, Pastors’ Wives. I was a lot like Ruthie in that I wasn’t raised in such a church. The character Ruthie was Catholic but I was raised American Baptist. Very, very different style of worship than what my husband’s church practiced. I was terrified that first service!

Could you share the name, denomination and location of your church?

Our church is Christian Fellowship Church of North Manchester, Indiana. It is an independent, non-denominational church. I like to describe it as a church whose emphasis is on following Jesus rather than following rules.

What are five words you would use to describe life as the wife of the pastor?

1. Challenging
2. Demanding
3. Stressful
4. Rewarding
5. Faith-building

Meet Karla Akins and her hog

Meet Karla Akins and her hog

What is the hardest thing about being a PW?

Life in a fishbowl. Constant scrutiny. It’s unsettling sometimes not to have privacy.

The best?

Helping people, families, children.

As a pastor’s wife, did you have misgivings about reading a book titled “Pastors’ Wives”? (I know I would.)

Oh yes. As soon as I saw the title I was very skeptical. In fact, I bought it with the intention of setting the record straight with a review. I thought it was going to make fun of pastors’ wives or criticize them. I figured there was no way someone on the outside could possibly “get” what life is like for a pastor’s wife and be sympathetic in their portrayal of them. There’s a show on TV right now that’s about pastors’ wives and it annoys me because the women they depict are nothing like me and my lifestyle at all, so I figured the book was going to be another skewed look. And while the characters in the the book are in a mega-church, and I’m in a small rural one, I was pleasantly surprised that the emotions are very similar. You were quite often spot on.

What did you think of Ruthie, Candace and Ginger, the PWs in my novel?

I could identify very well with all their emotions. While I’m not like any of the three women, all three have something about them I could identify with. My husband’s been on staff of a few larger churches before, so there were things that happen in the book I could truly see happening. I know what it’s like to be the wife of a staff pastor, and how your identity in those situations are pretty much non-important and that while you are pretty much invisible, you have quite a lot of expectations put upon you. The expectations are very different in a megachurch than a smaller church.

In our smaller church, I’m more of a Candace. That is, the woman behind the man, making sure things run smoothly, overseeing a lot of different departments and activities. Even though I’m an ordained minister myself, I prefer the title of pastor’s wife. I do better in that role. My husband is such an excellent pastor and is very people-oriented while I’m more task oriented.

I think the thing I most identified with in your book were the emotions these women had about feeling like they were playing second fiddle to God. I had to work through those emotions early in our marriage myself. Pastors’ schedules are grueling. And the pastor’s wife has to share her husband with so many others. When the kids were small it was pretty difficult.  This excerpt says it so well:   “What’s it like when the guy you married decides to marry God?…It feels lonely…”

One of my favorite paragraphs in your book was when Candace was trying to decide how to deal with the elder, John:

“…to forgive was to run the risk of being taken advantage of. So should she turn the other cheek? Or demand an eye for an eye?”

This is something that I find myself wrestling with at times. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a peace-maker, not a fighter, and if people see me as a pushover, then so be it.

I really, really wanted Ruthie to develop a faith, and for Ginger’s husband to make different responses. I was impressed with Candace’s backbone and confidence in her abilities. I’ve known pastor’s wives like her, and they are amazing people. However, I would find it difficult to work for someone like her.

You’re an author too! Tell us about your fabulously titled book, “The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots.”

My new release is due on shelves August 9 but it’s already on Amazon in paperback. It will also be available digitally in ebook form.

It’s about a pastor’s wife named Kirstie Donovan who gets tired of living life in a fishbowl. But when she hops on the back of a bright pink motorcycle, tongues start to wag at the conservative, century-old First Independent Christian Community Church of Eel Falls.The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots

Here’s the back cover blurb:  Kirstie loves roaring down a road less traveled by most women over forty, but she’s not just riding her bike for the fun of it. Kirstie has a ministry. However, certain church members have secrets to hide, and when God uses Kirstie’s ministry to fill the pews with leather-clad, tattooed bikers, those secrets could be exposed…and some will stop at nothing to hide the truth. Join Kirstie and her motorcycle “gang”—two church matrons and a mouthy, gum-smacking non-church member—as they discover that road-toughened bikers are quite capable of ministering to others, and faith is fortified in the most unexpected ways.

Where can we find you online?

KarlaAkins.com

http://facebook.com/karlakakins

Twitter: @KarlaAkins

Blog: http://karlaakins.com/blog

Thank you, Karla!

What it’s like to launch a debut novel in 2013

Hard, is what it’s like. Hard. It’s hard.

My first novel, “Pastors’ Wives,” debuted April 30. You already know that if I’m on your Facebook or Twitter feed because I WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT IT. My sister says I’m turning into the Amway lady, pushing dish detergent and hand lotion on increasingly weirded-out acquaintances.

It’s true. Launching a debut novel in 2013 is all about sales.

Pastors' Wives at Barnes & Noble

My friend Gerry sent me this snap of my book at Barnes & Noble. But many folks these days buy online.

You know who’s bad at sales? Writers.

Marketing a new book is a monstrous task. It’s made harder in my case because mine belongs to a genre called women’s commercial fiction, and we simply get very little traditional press. When’s the last time you saw a major newspaper review of a novel with a beach towel or flower basket on the cover?

Here’s another tricky fact: my novel is set in a Southern evangelical megachurch. Yet it’s not a quote-unquote Christian book. This is an important distinction. Christian books have their own publishers (mine is Plume/Penguin, a secular house) and their own set of rules.

For instance, characters must spend a lot of time in church. Given the setting, that’s a check for me. There can be no language or sex scenes. Um, mine has mild PG-13 content. Characters must also be or become believers; in “Pastors’ Wives,” a conflict arises when a main character’s husband becomes an evangelical pastor just as she realizes she doesn’t believe in God.

We knew all this going in, me and my team (my agents, my publisher, and a wonderful marketing company called Litfuse—I highly recommend them if you have a book like mine). So we decided to focus our marketing strategy online.

This is new for me. In 2006, when my first book was published, the marketing was all about radio interviews, newspaper reviews and personal appearances. What’s changed is how people buy books.

Check out this graph from Bowker:

Book sales chart

The portion of books bought online went from a quarter in 2010 to 44 percent in 2012. In just two years!

It’s desperate enough attracting notice in a bookstore with thousands of titles. So how do you get the attention of readers in a space whose edges you can’t even see?

One answer: book blogs. There are now thousands, maybe millions, of independent readers who have said to hell with the local paper’s weekend book review, if their local paper even has one any more—they’re going to publish their own damn opinions.

What’s more, online book marketing is far more targeted. I could sit in your local bookstore till the cows come home, but how many of its drop-in customers would be interested in my book? Yet if you’re clicking through a book blog specializing in women’s commercial fiction, you’re not there by accident. We could also target websites popular among Christian women readers who might be open to a respectful (if not “Christian”) book set in their world.

What this means for us authors is a lot of hustle—but of the kind we’re trained for, which is writing. So far I’ve written 26 online essays. I’ve participated in interviews for websites from Publisher’s Weekly to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. My online recommendations go from People magazine to Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews.

Basset hound

On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re a dog.

Do some of these sites reach millions while others a few hundred? Yep. But as the author Cheryl Tan (“A Tiger in the Kitchen”) quotes from that New Yorker cartoon: “On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re a dog.”

Meaning: a mention is a mention is a mention.

And the hustle doesn’t end with the coverage on other people’s sites. I maintain author pages on Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads. I Tweet book news. Last week I hosted my first ever Facebook live chat event. And then of course there’s the upkeep of this here site.

Also it’s not to say you can skip out on live events. Coming up, I’m part of this fun Beach Reads Night on June 7 at the Princeton Public Library, and one at my wonderful local library, both in New Jersey.

Is it exhausting? Look at me. Is it a full-time job that leaves little room for working on other projects, among them my next TV pilot and next novel? Uh huh. Will it pay off? I have no idea. But this is the reality of book publishing in 2013. And there’s no turning back.

How to approach a book agent, how to recognize a book idea, and other things I learned on a panel yesterday

Yesterday, I sat on a panel titled, “Secrets of the Book Biz!”

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I didn’t actually know any secrets, so I was relieved to learn my fellow panelists did.

Alison Singh Gee is the author of a memoir called “Where the Peacocks Sing,” about meeting her now-husband and finding out he grew up in a palace in India. She got there in great anticipation to learn it was “a total tear-down.”

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Is that a gorgeous cover or what?! I think the subtitle is important to note: “A Palace, a Prince, and the Search for Home.” Alison said that while it’s a love story and a travelogue too, in the end it’s really a woman’s search for home.

Our moderator, Julie Dam of People magazine (and author of “Some Like It Haute”), asked how our books came about. I told my crazy story about my magazine article turning into a TV pitch turning into a disaster turning into a novel.

Alison said something far more useful: that her story made all her friends lean forward. When she updated them on the situation with the loser boyfriend and the magazine job and this prince from India, they all leaned forward, wanting to hear more. That’s when she knew she had the makings of a book.

The other person on the panel was Kirby Kim, a literary agent at William Morris Endeavor. His takeaway was basically this: when you approach an agent, be ready. Write the best damn pitch you could possibly write. Sweat over that query letter. Bleed over it.

But don’t stop at the query: be ready with your work. Because if and when the agent professes interest and asks for a few chapters, you want to send him a version polished so bright he could brush his teeth off its reflection. Biggest lame-o mistake: sending an agent a draft, and then, a couple weeks later, sending another, “better” draft. That’s sure to land your ms in the bin.

How I met my book agent

I walked up to her at a journalism conference.

Books by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

How I met the agent who sold these books.

I don’t actually remember this. I could swear I cold-queried her after finding her name in the copy of “Guide to Literary Agents 2000,” which I still have on my office shelf.

No, she says, I walked up to her after she spoke on a panel about nonfiction books. I just waltzed right on up to this A-list superagent who reps some of the bestselling authors on God’s green earth, apparently, and introduced my unimpressive self.

There’s no way I would do that, I tell her. I don’t have the balls. But she insists. And she’s always right.

I do remember she said my pitch sucked.

That was after the conference, over lunch, after I had with great excitement pitched this idea I had about a reported memoir of my parents. And she didn’t actually say it sucked, because she doesn’t use that kind of language. But I got the message.

Crushed, I went back to my job as a staff writer at Money magazine. Then I did this fellowship, after which I became a Tokyo correspondent for Time, after which I transferred to Time in New York. Through it all, I kept in touch.

I mailed her copies of my splashiest stories. Occasionally, I dropped her an e-mail. Sometimes she responded; sometimes she didn’t.

Then I got a call from a publisher.

It was when I was back at what we call the Mother Ship, or Time headquarters in New York. I had written a feature story about how Baby Boomers were reinventing funerals as celebrations of their lives. A young woman called to ask if I had considered turning the article into a book.

I had not. But now I did.

I told the agent. She read the article, thought about it, and agreed it could work as a book. I can’t remember ever signing anything. But at some point, the agent became my agent.

And, at some point much later, she became my friend. More than that: she’s the big sister I don’t have, my sista from anotha mista.

That’s how I met my book agent.