In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy interview Amanda Viviers, creative non-fiction author, blogger, radio presenter, co-founder of Kinwomen, and creator of the online writer’s workshop, Write Hard. Amanda shares her writing and publishing experiences, and provides generous inspiration for fellow Gracewriters.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- How Amanda approaches the demands of the writing process in the midst of a busy life as mother of young children and business operator.
- Traditional publishing versus self-publishing experiences and tips.
- What we think the writing is for, versus the work the writing needs to do in us.
More about Amanda at amandaviviers.com
Connect with Amanda on Facebook
Follow Amanda on Instagram
Find out more about Amanda’s writing retreats at www.changeyourstory.events
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, we have a special guest, Amanda Viviers. Amanda is a radio presenter across New Zealand and Australia, the co-founder of Kinwomen, a network created to inspire women to start conversations that matter, and she’s the author of 12 books.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator. I live in Brisbane in Queensland and I am the mother of four adult children. I write romance under the pen name Alison Joy and you can find all my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Belinda Pollard: Amanda Viviers is a writer, blogger, radio presenter and creator of the online writer’s workshop, Write Hard. Her writing journey started 20 years ago and her first book was published in 2009. There are so many things we’d love to talk to you about, Amanda, but today we specifically want to hear about your publishing experiences both traditional and self-publishing. Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast.
Amanda Viviers: Thank you, girls, for having me. It’s nice and sunny here in Perth but it’s quite cold. So, I’m so glad to connect in with you in Queensland and I’m excited about this morning.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic. We’ll start with the rapid fire five! Are you ready?
Amanda Viviers: I think so!
Belinda Pollard: Who is your target audience?
Amanda Viviers: I would say I have two different genres that I write to. So, I have a secular market and that’s specifically around writing and finding your voice and I absolutely love speaking to the Christian market and I have devotionals and that interweaves a faith based meta narrative that’s super important to me.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic. What would you say your main genre is?
Amanda Viviers: I would say Christian and most of my speaking engagements are in the Christian church space so, yes.
Belinda Pollard: Tends to be non-fiction?
Amanda Viviers: Yes, so creative non-fiction. When I sit in a secular bookstore, I’m definitely in the self-help section.
Belinda Pollard: Wonderful. What’s your optimum time for writing?
Amanda Viviers: I have two very small children so I would say that mornings would be my optimum time and that has changed since I’ve had kids. It would have been late at night before. But I very much love to hunt and gather and find things and once I have a sense of insight then I can’t put it down, so sometimes I just have to go and write and see how that goes. But my most productive writing is when I write every day despite how I feel.
Belinda Pollard: And your favourite place to write?
Amanda Viviers: Absolutely cafes! I love cafes. I always have.
Belinda Pollard: Wonderful. And how did you get into writing? Just the short answer.
Amanda Viviers: The short answer is I feel compelled to share stories. I’ve always been someone who’s loved stories and I can’t not tell a story.
Alison Joy: That’s great. That’s great. Amanda, you’ve written like 12 books and you’ve been both traditionally published and self-published. How did you work out which way to jump on those publications? How did you work out which ones were going to be self-published and which one ones were going to be traditionally published?
Amanda Viviers: I think I very much have been God-led. There’s that sense of it sounds a bit cliché when you say that.
Belinda Pollard: Not to us!
Amanda Viviers: No, that’s true. It’s just really allowed God to lead me and I think sometimes as authors, and I speak to authors a lot and particularly people who want to write but get really stuck, often we think about where the story will land rather than what the story needs to do in us. And I think if we allow a story to do the work that it needs to do in us, God’s the one that brings the increase. He’s the one that finds the place for it to belong and I truly believe that somebody needs your story. That every person has a story that somebody needs and I think sometimes we think of the vehicle of where that story will go rather than the person that needs the story that’s been birthed inside of us.
And I believe if there’s a desire and there’s a hunger within us to share a story, if there’s a story that’s brought insight to our own story, that God has a purpose for that. So, I kind of leave the end result in His hands and I say “yes” to the little breadcrumbs that are along the way rather than getting stuck in the “how”. I really come back to the “who”.
And when we focus on that “who”, everything else make sense.
Belinda Pollard: So, it’s almost like you’re just seeing the next little step on the path rather than the whole path. Is that what you’re saying?
Amanda Viviers: Yes, absolutely. And when I speak with people who have half the manuscript, who have an idea, who have an inkling, even those who have a whole manuscript and they’re like, “I just don’t know what the next step is.” I say to them, “Who is it that needs this story? Who is it that needs this next step?”
And I think we need to also take out of the equation that there is a holy grail of publishing because there’s not anymore. And social media has completely changed the way that we all interact with stories and often in our current landscape the highest selling books are not traditionally published anymore. The highest selling books are absolutely self-published and it comes back to really the opportunity for you to be able to find the audience that is looking for you rather than sometimes we want someone else to do the work for us. But the work is actually there and the tools are there to help us to be able to do that.
Belinda Pollard: When you do go for traditional publishing, do you use an agent?
Amanda Viviers: I’ve actually never had an agent before. In the way that I’ve worked, traditional publishers have come and sought me out I think from my self-published work. And I think there’s a bit of a fable that says that once you’ve been self-published then a traditional publisher won’t touch you but it’s actually not true. Traditional publishers have come and sought me out because of the work that I did as a self-published author and finding ways for me to be able to do the hard work of developing an audience.
There’s no traditional publisher now that will look at you unless your manuscript is that one in 200,000 where it’s something never heard of before. It’s a target audience that they’re specifically looking for. There are those stories but I think we hang our hats on those stories and the way that they’re traditionally published. Most publishers will say, “Okay. What’s your audience? Who is it that you’re writing for? How can we market through your channels?”
Whereas 15 years ago, 20 years ago when my first book was published, it was all about what they could do for me rather than now the tables have really turned. It’s what you can do for the traditional publisher for them to be able to really understand whether they can market your work in a very broadly saturated market.
One thing that is super exciting though is over the pandemic times print books have not disappeared off the market. In fact, they’ve grown. So, if you look for the stats, more people are reading than ever before and that is super exciting for authors.
Alison Joy: So, I’m interested to know, you said that you didn’t actually approach a publisher, they actually came to you.
Amanda Viviers: That’s correct. Yes.
Alison Joy: So, what had you been doing to have a publisher come to you and say, “Hey, we want to work with you.”
Amanda Viviers: A lot of blogging. My blog, particularly around the time when I was approached, my blog was getting nearly 2 million hits a year. So, there was a sense of people coming and reading my work already. I was speaking in a lot of churches and libraries and high schools and places where I had an audience of people that had a hunger for my work. And I was writing and self-publishing so I was writing every day and I think that’s the professional work of a writer and an author, that we’re actually sitting at our computer. We’re sitting at a blank screen.
I created a reel on Instagram just a couple of weeks ago and it says that everyone thinks that it’s a traditional publisher that tells you that you’re an author. People think that holding a manuscript in your hand means that you’re an author. People say that if you have a group of people around you or an agent in the little secret club, then you’re an author. But actually, an author is someone who shows up to a blank page. And if you’re not showing up to a blank page, then are you really stepping forward into the audience that’s looking for your work and the new that is coming?
And for me, a professional writer means that the minute something is published I’m down to a blank page for something else, and it’s about the discipline of writing every day and I’m speaking to myself again now! And the way that we do that, I get a journal and I write down all the ideas for each chapter on a blank page and this is my new manuscript that I’m writing right now. So, I’m constantly writing and this comes with me everywhere that I go.
Belinda Pollard: So, you write by hand?
Amanda Viviers: Yes, I write by hand.
Belinda Pollard: And do all your manuscripts come that way, initially, or is that just some of them?
Amanda Viviers: It’s most of them. I think that’s my way of writing and then I’ll take that and I’ll type it out and as I type it out that’s the next step of editing. And then it goes to an editor, a professional editor, and then it comes back to my graphic designer and then it goes from there to the next steps of what that looks like.
But whether it’s publishing for magazines of which I’ve had heaps of articles published. I written heaps of different little tools. More books that are more tools for people to be able to use whether it’s devotional or whether it’s an academic textbook like this one that’s been traditionally published.
Belinda Pollard: What’s the title of the textbook that you’re holding there?
Amanda Viviers: It’s called, “Making Sense of Stories: An Inquirer’s Compendium” and it’s a textbook published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing about storytelling for insight. And so that’s a secular audience that that’s been written for.
Belinda Pollard: And so that’s a publisher that approached you?
Amanda Viviers: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: How much creative control do you have over your traditionally published manuscripts as opposed to your self-published manuscripts?
Amanda Viviers: Sure. So, the latest one that we were just speaking about, “Making Sense of Stories,” the chapter that I wrote in that academic textbook was completely edited. In some ways, edited my voice out of it and it’s written in a way where I become the first person of my own story. So, it sounds really weird because it’s, “Amanda says,” and “Amanda says,” and it’s just not natural to how I would speak.
And the way that I spoke about spirituality. I speak about the core practice of creative process which has come from my book called, Dear Creative Self. So, in this space I can talk about spirituality and the voice of God to be able to lead and direct us in a way that we understand our creative self in the stories that we’ve created.
Whereas with the traditional publishing version of that, I’ve had to make it more open so that people can really discover their own interpretation of what that looks like. And I think that’s the risk when we walk into the secular space.
Belinda Pollard: Yes. And I guess too, even though it’s a risk, we have to trust God too, that he can maybe use that gracenote even though we’ve had to vanilla-ise it to a certain extent for the people that He wants to reach with that message through his Holy Spirit, instead of a lot of other things that He would not want.
Amanda Viviers: Absolutely. I have the most profound stories like that. Even recently I have a girl who’s been reading my work from Instagram, has found some of my secular releases and then came over to my website where I was doing a series from Psalm 119. So, every week I was publishing from the same Psalm and then she wrote to me and she’s like, “I’ve never read the Bible before but I just so want to know about God. Can you tell me more?”
So, then I’m on the back end of Instagram writing back and forward going, “Okay. This is what the Bible means and this is who Jesus is and that’s what it looks like.” And that’s our somebody girls!
Belinda Pollard: That is so exciting!
Amanda Viviers: So focused on, “Are you traditionally published?” or “Are you self-published?” or, “Who is your agent?” And I’m like, “Has God given you a story? Then who is it for and just keep it to that!” Is it a beautiful romance that brings delight and beauty and hope into a broken world? Is it a scaffold where we’re able to then go, “Okay. I need to understand myself more so that I can help others.”
Is it a university textbook? Is it a wedding magazine? It doesn’t matter. It actually doesn’t matter the “how”. We get so obsessed with the “how” rather than the “who”. And as soon as we focus on the “who” it’s God who brings the increase.
Alison Joy: I was just wondering, when you had the publishers come to you, did you actually have anything there and go, “Yes, I have this already done,” or is it something that you had to work together and go, “Okay. This is what we were thinking, can you write something to that?”
Amanda Viviers: Sure. I think there were three different times when they’ve worked in different ways. But I would say that all of them, the seed was already there before they came to me.
So, one, I had written a fictional story of a woman who went to Nepal as a missionary and she had just come out of a season where her marriage was falling apart and she was going there thinking that she was going there to help and save the children but indeed they saved and helped her. So, it kind of poured out of me. When you said before, “Where’s your favourite place to write?” often I get a whole download on an aeroplane probably because I’m a little bit like very busy and so it’s the one moment when I’m actually sitting down. But there’s not been a lot of flying lately so I have to reframe what that looks like with cafes and turn off my phone and find ways to really reflect.
For example, that story came on an aeroplane trip. So, 5000 words poured out of me in one go. It was just like “boom”. But then it had to get reframed and it was in a short fiction anthology. So, when they came to me and asked have I got any fictional work, I was like, “Actually, I’m a nonfiction writer but I wrote this.” They’re like, “This is awesome!” So that’s one of them.
The Uniting Church at the end of 2019, so leading into our pandemic year, they came to me because they’d read a lot of my devotionals and a lot of my blog writing and they asked me to write a Lent devotional for the Uniting Church. And so that wasn’t pre-written so I basically sat down over Christmas and I wrote the whole thing ready for them to publish that Easter. And that was last year, 2020.
And then the academic text was a re-writing of the manuscript that I’d already done in an academic voice. I’m studying my masters at the moment in theology and it was a really good practice of taking my nonfiction, quite a colloquial kind of voice. I like people to feel comfortable and it’s quite creative in the way that I would write and taking that into an academic voice was a really interesting thought for me.
Belinda Pollard: It’s almost like a translation into another language, isn’t it?
Amanda Viviers: Yes. Absolutely. And to then be able to see that used. So, I write alongside psychologists and really practitioners who understand the power of stories. And I had just finished writing this book, Awake: Live in Your New Story. I wrote it with a clinical psychologist, a Christian clinical psychologist.
So, I’ve never answered this question before so it’s quite interesting for me to see that the work had already been done before the invite came which was an opportunity, I believe, from God.
Belinda Pollard: I’m really interested in that book. Can you tell us just a little bit more about it?
Amanda Viviers: Sure. Ann Galambosi and myself have written this book together and it is like a workbook that helps people to understand where they’re stuck in their story. We have a business which is called “Change Your Story Events” and we create retreats where we help people to sit within their own story and to understand their story and where they’ve maybe gotten stuck. Particularly writers can get stuck as well because we’re so much in our head trying to write the story we don’t realise that we’ve heard the story or understood the story in maybe a way that there could be new perspective.
We speak from the life of Deborah in the Bible and then we go into creating space for understanding our identity of where we get our identity from. Two, how we understand our story in terms of authority and who we get our sense of authority from. Three, understanding beauty and the delight of beauty with God. Really knowing His tools and His ways for us to be able to see the world through the lens of beauty rather than what the world would tell us what beauty is. And the last thing is self-compassion. Actually understanding our own story through the lens of self-compassion.
We’ve run overseas retreats from this book in Bali. We’ve taken people there to really sit and reflect on their story, both Christian and non-Christian. And we’ve been running retreats every quarter so we’ve got one coming up in September and we take people through the book. So, it’s really exciting to not just publish but to see people interact with the book in such a way that we then learn from the book together.
Yes, it’s been such an exciting time and an interesting time because this launched last October in the midst of a pandemic when all our events have been cancelled so we like plot these little retreats and then we cross our fingers and we’re like, “Please don’t go into lockdown! Please!” And that’s just trusting God once again, isn’t it?
Belinda Pollard: He’s not surprised.
Amanda Viviers: No, He’s not.
Belinda Pollard: He’s not surprised when we go into lockdown and He’s not scared and He’s not under-resourced and He’s not wondering what on earth to do now that this has happened – which I find enormously encouraging.
Those are great ideas there. I love the things that you’ve raised.
Any particular message that you would like to give to the listeners out there today before we finish up, Amanda?
Amanda Viviers: I would just love to encourage you to show up to blank pages often. To not get stuck in thinking that it is not a worthy cause for you to show up to your own story. That it’s actually so important.
I believe your story brings healing to your own life and whatever comes out of that from the beauty of that story hitting other people’s desks and their bedside tables and their places, that’s God’s deal and He always, always, finds somebody who needs your story.
And I just would love you to know that we believe in you. If you’re listening to this place and you feel alone in your writing journey; you’re not alone. Find spaces like Gracewriters where you can feel that sense of encouragement. Come and gather with others when there’s a conference. When there’s an opportunity. It is a solo sport but you don’t have to do it alone!
Show up to blank pages often, somebody needs your story and don’t do it alone.
Alison Joy: That’s so great!
Belinda Pollard: How about I pray for us.
Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for Amanda’s time with us today and these amazing things that she has shared with us. We pray that you will give us all, as Gracewriters, the courage to show up to the blank page. The peace to submit it to you and to let you decide where it goes. And the excitement for seeing where you are going to lead us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Amanda Viviers: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you so much, Amanda Viviers. Thank you, Alison Joy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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