A Posture To Learn: J.P. Miller’s Self-Publishing & Work for Hire Journey
In this episode, you’ll also hear:
- What work for hire writing is, and how J.P. got started with it
- How researching diversity taught J.P. to notice commonalities among people all over the world
- The dangers of signing contracts your heart tells you not to – and advice on getting the right kind of help with publishing
- How to stay motivated and pursue your calling even when you don’t feel like it
- Tips on staying humble and accepting constructive feedback
- J.P.’s advice on defeating self-doubt
Be sure to read all the way to the end for important info and links!
Are you called to bring something fresh and new to the marketplace? That was the case for J.P. Miller, even though she came to realize it slowly over time. The type of story that she enjoyed reading just wasn’t there – at least, featuring people of color. So she decided to do something about it, and her “yes” took her on a journey that she never imagined. This journey even led her into a space where she gets to do something new – called “work for hire” – which could also be something you could explore as an aspiring author.
But there were also some tough moments in the journey for J.P. Like when she entered the world of self-publishing, not knowing what she didn’t know. Today, she offers words of wisdom to inspire you – but also words of caution, to make sure you protect your heart and your mission as you move forward.
Celebrating Diversity & Finding Commonality
Everyone has something that they feel in their heart God is calling them to do. For J.P., that thing turned out to be writing stories about African American people and events, stories that show the many things African Americans have contributed to the United States.
Growing up in Asheville, North Carolina in the 1960s and 70s, J.P. was an avid reader of adventure stories. But there weren’t a lot of books in the libraries with characters that looked like her. Even many years later, when she worked as a director of youth programs with the Department of the Air Force, she realized the available stories about African American people were still limited. While celebrating Black History Week and moving into Black History Month, she noticed that it was always the same people being discussed over and over again.
Someone had to step up and write the stories about the little-known events and little-known people in the African American community that had contributed to this country. That was what got J.P. into writing, and now it’s her mission – to bring those stories to life, both for young readers and for many older people as well.
This mission was also what led J.P. into the first project she worked on as a published author working for hire. Work for hire means publishers contact her with story ideas they want her to write, and for J.P., that’s typically in the educational market.
That first project began when she was contacted by Hachette, UK, for their Black Stories Matter series. The series features people of African diaspora from all around the world, with over 60 biographies and a number of mini biographies in the four books.
The series challenged J.P. to reexamine her perspective. “Sometimes as Americans or African Americans, we compartmentalize, and we think we’re the only ones that went through certain things,” she says. “But as I wrote this book and learned about people in Jamaica, Africa, and other countries, I saw that we were going through the same thing.”
Through her research, J.P. discovered many commonalities among people of African diaspora worldwide. For example, she learned that Great Britain’s Black History Month is in October, and that at the time of Montgomery’s bus boycott, similar boycotts were also taking place in Great Britain.
That’s an important lesson for us to remember: the world is bigger than our own country, and there are more commonalities than we often realize.
The Call To Write
As a child, J.P. says the closest she came to pursuing writing as a child was in high school. Her civics class had a break in the middle for lunch, and she would always come back late after the break. Her teacher, Mr. Livingston, would make her write sentences – but she used the time to make up stories.
It wasn’t until J.P. was an adult that she received the true call to write, but once she did, she never turned back. It started with a contest for Essence Magazine. A co-worker suggested they enter the contest together, but while J.P. wrote a story, the co-worker never did, so J.P. never sent in her entry. Instead, she set it aside.
Then, many years later, she had an angel visit, telling her she was supposed to write. Specifically, she was supposed to write children’s books that would highlight the heritage of African Americans.
J.P. says that’s the thing that keeps her going now: “I know that was a call. And even when I get tired, and when I feel like stopping, I hear little whispers saying, ‘You can’t stop, because it was a call.’”
Maybe that’s where you are right now: you know what you have isn’t just an idea, but that it’s truly a call that God has on your life. When that happens, we have a responsibility to answer that call. Even in the face of obstacles and opposition and moments of overwhelm, we still have to move forward, because it really comes down to an act of obedience.
Self-Publishing Challenges: Who You Work With Matters
According to J.P., half of the battle is just saying yes. Then, once you respond to God’s call on your life, doors start to open – sometimes doors you weren’t even trying to open. While it does take hard work, J.P. is living proof that, for the most part, if you’re prayerful and try to do what God is leading you to do, the path is going to open for you.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be all sunshine and rainbows. J.P. learned firsthand that many people don’t realize at the time of deciding to write a book just how much work is going to be involved. It requires a lot of studying and practice behind the scenes – more than a lot of readers realize.
And, contrary to what some people believe, self-publishing is not an easy shortcut to publishing success. J.P. self-published a number of books before her work for hire books. The experience taught her that self-publishing requires humility and learning how to take advice from others. And it also requires caution, because there are predatory self-publishing companies out there.
Unfortunately, J.P. found herself in what she calls an “entanglement” with one such company who only sought to make money off her – not once, but twice. “Everything within me told me not to sign another contract with that company,” she recalls. “And I was so eager to get my book out there and get my name out that I signed. And that was the one that really caused the headache, and I had to end up buying my rights back from that company.”
J.P.’s story highlights how important it is to choose the people you work with very carefully. Make sure you really understand the terms of the agreement and what you’re getting into, and research the company to see what you can find out about them. We’re in a great time where we can find lots of information online, so do your due diligence to see what you can find out about this company before you sign on the dotted line.
If you don’t understand the contract that is proposed, J.P. recommends hiring an intellectual properties attorney. Many self-publishing authors want to save as much money as possible, but this is an expense that could very well save you money in the long run.
J.P. also recommends joining Authors Guild for more guidance and support. For a fee, you’ll get to interact with many published and self-published authors, and also get access to monthly webinars, legal advice, and more.
And finally, listen to that small voice inside you. No matter what stage of the publishing process you’re in, if you know in your heart that you probably shouldn’t sign on the dotted line, please let J.P.’s story be an encouragement to you to walk away. Because a lot of times, we think it’s going to work out – or at least, we want to believe that it’s going to work out. But when we get those nudges, often it means God is trying to save us from something He knows about and we do not.
Staying Motivated When You Don’t Feel Like It
Even with a clear calling, we all experience moments when emotions get the best of us and we’re not feeling inspired. J.P. acknowledges that throughout her publishing and work for hire journey, there have been moments when she felt like giving up: “There were some moments that I felt like quitting. And there were some moments that I did quit in my mind, but I didn’t quit in my heart. And as long as you don’t quit in your heart, you can rest. You have to rest, and just get yourself back together.”
During those times, J.P. has found that having a solid support system makes all the difference. And while her family has been a great source of encouragement, the greatest support professionally has been a critique group she’s part of.
Regardless of what genre you write and what social media platforms you use, J.P. recommends finding a critique group of your own. Within these groups, you can receive helpful feedback on your work – and offer it to your fellow writers – but above all you’ll encourage each other.
Especially if you’re trying to go the traditional publishing route, the writing and publishing process is very difficult So it’s important to have people who will hold you up and let you know that you’re doing great, and will encourage you to keep going.
Ultimately, it takes a combination of different resources to keep you inspired and motivated. At times it may be a critique group that gives you the most encouragement and support. In another moment, it could even be listening to a song or watching a YouTube video. Hard times are going to come, so it’s a good idea to put together a toolkit of different things you can rely on that keep your spirits up and keep you encouraged.
The C.A.N. Podcast Tour
Within our own Christian Authors Network Facebook Community, J.P. was one of the first to jump on an offer we put out to help our members get on podcasts. She explains that she did so because she realized she needed to work on the marketing element. Her work for hire contracts were taking off, and she knew she needed to stay ahead of the “snowball.” In the past, for her self-published work, she’d created a nine-page media kit, but times have changed since then, and that’s no longer necessary – or preferred.
Much of the useful marketing knowledge J.P. has gained throughout this time has to do with presenting herself in a clear and professional manner. It’s not always an easy process, and has required her to listen and accept constructive criticism. But in order to have the best opportunities, you have to put together the best possible package. And because J.P. has taken feedback well, she’s made great progress – both in terms of her marketing materials, and also in terms of confidence.
What’s more, learning more about marketing has helped her go the extra mile for the companies that have hired her, as she’s able to get the word out about her upcoming books more effectively. Doing this doesn’t bring her more money – work for hire pays a set fee regardless of how many books actually sell – but J.P. sees it as supporting someone else’s goals, believing that God rewards those who look out for others’ interests, not just their own.
That’s a great reminder for all of us: ultimately, we’re serving God when we’re willing to support others’ goals and dreams. We may not receive a reward from those exact people, but we are planting seeds. And at some point, we are going to harvest those seeds.
Like J.P., you may remember when you were called to write. Maybe you can go back to that specific moment in your mind when you got that tug, that angel visit – or however God spoke to you – that told you you needed to write. But you still haven’t said “yes” to that call, because you’re doubting yourself or your skills.
If that’s you, J.P. knows how you’re feeling. It is scary. So her advice is to start small: Try reading other books to get a feel for how they’re written, and jot down some of the ideas you have for your story. Then find a community and get plugged in, and don’t be afraid to say that you’re new, because everyone has to start somewhere. Instead of trying to show off what you think you know, be in a posture to learn from others – and you’ll grow.
J.P. knows that it’s scary to step out on faith, but she’s also seen that faith is enough to carry you through, step by step, until you see it all come together.
Janice (J.P.) Miller is an award-winning author who has been published since 2013. Growing up in Asheville, NC her weekdays were filled with school and sports. Her weekends with church. In between, Janice loved to read. She had an unrelenting thirst for books about African American people and culture, but few were to be found in the 1960s and 70s. After retiring from the U.S. Forest Service in 2015, Janice dedicated her life to writing stories of the African Diaspora in children’s literature. She enjoys writing the types of stories young people desire and parents and educators yearn for while playing an active role in tearing down cultural barriers.
Connect with Fellow Authors and Learn about the Podcast Tour: http://christianauthors.net/fbgroup