SIDNEY – Regardless of how the book publishing business changes amoeba-like every few years, noted author Serena B. Miller said the needs, wants and desires of readers is easily readable. “Most readers just want a good book. They want something to be a good read and they will decide in what form that is.”
The 66-year-old Miller, author of “The Measure of Katie Calloway”, the club’s recent book choice, was the guest speaker at the Sidney Book and Travel Club’s Christmas Luncheon on Friday.
A crowd of nearly 90 people heard the Portsmouth, Ohio, native say that people wanting to read will never wane. How they get their reading material is constantly changing, however. She said the centuries-old method of printing hard copies is giving way to online reading, downloading books onto electronic devices, and more. It’s something that authors and behind-the-scenes people need to adapt to, she claimed.
Miller said she works on the creative side of writing putting a wide variety of ideas into words. She admitted her strengths and gave way to her self-proclaimed weaknesses. Her son, Jacob Miller, scurried about Sidney Moose Lodge banquet room setting up a book table, large posters depicting book covers, readying the podium area for his mother’s presentation, and teaming with his girlfriend for ideas in photographing the event.
Miller said some of her ideas develop from her own interests and experiences. Others, however, are pushed by publishers, but the nudge does give writers a better opportunity to be published. She has found success using both methods.
Rural Ohio upbringing
Most of her childhood was spent in an 1840s log house that belonged to her great-grandfather. She attended Ohio Valley Christian College in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
In her late 40’s, Miller began her writing career after her three sons were grown. Her works were published in The Detroit Free Press Magazine, Billy Graham’s Decision Magazine, Guideposts, Focus On the Family, Christian Woman, Woman’s World and Reader’s Digest.
After several years working as a court reporter in Detroit, she and her husband, Steve, moved back to their hometown, where he was the minister of the Sunshine Church of Christ.
After joining Romance Writer’s of America in 2001, she began submitting full-length inspirational novels to various publishers.
Miller told the group she wasn’t published in book form until age 60. The book travels took her down many roads.
“I had a publisher ask me about writing about the Amish. She figured since my name was Miller and I lived in southern Ohio, I might be part Amish myself,” she laughed.
She told that a look at an Old Order Amish settlement that had recently moved into southern Ohio near her home resulted in the book “Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio” released in 2010. Three more Amish novels followed including “An Uncommon Grace”, “Hidden Mercies”, and “Fearless Hope”.
“An Uncommon Grace” has been adapted into a TV-movie. Producers anticipate the film, starring actress Kelly McGinnis, airing in January or February on the Hallmark Channel. Miller is currently working as a script writer on a second film adaption from a book adaption of hers.
In May, she and co-author Paul Stutzman published a non-fiction book entitled “The Wisdom of Amish Parenting”.
Small women among the tall trees
Miller said she became interested in the post-civil war lumber camp era near Bay City, Michigan, and wanted to pursue a book. Her research revealed a glimpse of how women were treated in that setting.
“I saw a picture of these big, burly lumberjacks posed with this young woman with her apron on standing in the middle of these huge guys. In that setting, these women were very well-respected because the men had very few family members. Plus, they liked to eat so they liked her cooking,” Miller chuckled.
The lumberjacks inspired a historical series beginning with “The Measure of Katie Calloway” in 2010 followed by “A Promise to Love” and “Under A Blackberry Moon.”
Miller spoke of independent publishing compared to self-publishing. With large publishing companies no longer providing huge inventories of books, smaller independent companies can offer online downloads and other on-demand services. They also provide editing services and cover artwork.
Self-publishing also known as “vanity press” allows authors to simply submit their work and have many unedited books printed and shipped to them directly for distribution.
A downside to the business dealings of writing is the necessity of intellectual property attorneys. Miller and her son said prior to the session that creative maneuvering a contract can shut the creator of the work out of some money-making realms of publishing. She spoke of earning as little as 25 cents per book because of the way publishing companies distribute the cost and income financial sheet.
Publishers have also obtained the rights to the author’s work, giving them total control of its use. She spoke of one book ending up reaching the public with only about a quarter of it being her original work.
Another key to growing online sales include attractive artwork. Much of the buying decision is based on the front and back cover of a book. She encouraged the crowd to seek out an artist in addition to submitting their work.
Staying motivated to create
When asked about her techniques and motivation, Miller suggested that writing daily is necessary for her. Changing the methods of writing can shake things a bit when writers feel unmotivated. Her best tool, the old-school style of pen or pencil applied to a notepad.
“It uses a different part of the brain to do it that way. If you’re stuck, try something different.”
Miller told of different reactions to ideas that surface when she is writing. She spoke of one evening sitting next to her husband writing with her eyes closed as he read the evening newspaper. (Most of her writing is done with eyes closed as she visualizes the scene playing out in her mind).
While in a “trance-like” frame of mind, a thought popped into the picture that would change direction of the book. She said aloud, to no one in particular, “There’s a baby in there!”. She immediately had to calm her husband reminding him it was book related and nothing more.
Her husband passed away three months ago, after a long, painful illness. His last wish for Miller was for her to keep writing.
“When I write, there are four things I want to do for my readers. I want them to learn something. I want them to know they are being taken on a journey. I want them to laugh and cry. And I want them to know everything is going to be okay, that my characters are going to have a good solution. In today’s world, I think that’s important.”
Miller can be contacted through her website at www.serenabmiller.com.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.