For those of you interested in pursuing publication, today’s guest will be a valuable way to spend the next couple of minutes. I’ve had the privilege of working with ParentLife editor, Jodi Skulley and can tell you from personal experience - she is a treasure.
She’s not only a wife and mother (to her adorable son Jack), but also works hard to put a magazine into the hands of parents hungry for encouragement, comfort, and helpful ideas to raise their children in the way they should go.
ParentLife Magazine is a part of LifeWay Christian Resources. I learned this while in North Carolina a few years ago. Being a born and bred California-girl, we don’t hear as much about LifeWay out here. Beth Moore was the first introduction I’d had to this enormous company.
As you’ll soon see, Jodi loves where God has placed her. Her heart to create a magazine that encourages and educates parents to be the best they can be is evident. ParentLife Magazine is a God-honoring publication. I wish I’d known about when I was a young mom. Their articles are fresh, insightful, and inspiring. If you know of parents with little ones under the age of twelve they need this magazine!
(I’ve been invited to three baby showers in the next three weeks and plan on giving two of the expecting parents a subscription to this wonderful magazine.)
So, without further adieu, would you please give a big round of comments to today’s Blessed Guest, Jodi Skulley.
Welcome Jodi. There are so many questions I’d love to ask you, most especially, how did you begin your journey in the world of publishing? Did you go to school for this?
My journey into the world of publishing was actually kind of accidental … although I see God’s hand in all of the details now. I hated English and grammar in high school and college but I did well in them. I ended up majoring in Multidisciplinary Studies which has nothing to do with publishing. My dad works in publishing, and after I finished college, he told me over and over again that I would make a good copy editor. I just kept dismissing the thought because it didn’t interest me … especially since I’d have to focus on grammar.
I was however, interested at working at LifeWay Christian Resources simply because I knew it was a great atmosphere to work in and it is a company with a great mission. In 2003, I was working as a secretary at a law firm when I was offered a job as a department assistant at LifeWay. I took it, eager to take my first step into the LifeWay world. Not even a year after working as a department assistant, several copy editor jobs were posted on the LifeWay job boards. I knew I didn’t want to be a department assistant forever and something told me to go for it! That’s when I was hired as the copy editor of ParentLife magazine. It was the best career move I ever made! After several years as a copy editor, I was promoted to Content Editor, which is where I am today … loving every minute of it.
What do you love about being an editor?
My favorite part about being an editor is having the opportunity to see a product come together … from brainstorming to printed magazine. It’s an amazing process and I’m so excited to be a part of it! It is such a blessing to know that the product I help create (hopefully) has a positive impact in the lives of families.
What don’t you love about it?
I don’t love the pressure I put on myself when it comes to choosing articles/topics for the magazine. As Content Editor, I am responsible for choosing article topics, queries, and submitted articles that are worth pursuing while weeding out those that might not be a good fit for our magazine or that might not be helpful to parents. When we have planning meetings, I compile a lengthy agenda with many, many choices of article ideas. The ParentLife team (and others across LifeWay) get together to narrow the choices down to our allotted space. Often, I am pleasantly surprised that articles I was unsure about in the beginning turned out so well. On the other hand, there are other times when ideas I thought would be great turn out to be not as great as I had hoped. And I tend to hold myself personally responsible for the way the magazine turns out. It’s a lot of pressure!
What has surprised you the most about your job?
I’m surprised at how much I love paying attention to details. I never saw myself as a detail kind of girl until I started editing. And now … I love it! I love finding and fixing even the tiniest mistakes … taking something good and making it even better! I’m also surprised at how much I like deadlines. I tend to work better when the pressure is on … until it gets too crazy … which is too often the case.
When it comes to a new writer, what do you think is most important for them to know when submitting to your magazine/publishing house?
One of the most important things to me is that the writer be very familiar with the purpose and target audience of the magazine. ParentLife is a magazine for parents of children 12 and under, but you would be surprised at how many queries and article ideas I get that are for parents of teenagers or parents of grown children. Know the audience and know the purpose. ParentLife’s purpose is to encourage and equip parents with biblical solutions to transform families.
Are there any red flags an editor sees that will give a writer an immediate rejection?
If I see that an article or a query does not fit ParentLife’s audience or purpose, I will reject it immediately. While ParentLife does print some articles that are not overtly Christian (such as articles on child development), I will reject article ideas immediately if I think that they contradict our reader’s Christian values or if they contradict what we know about healthy child development.
Is there anything, in your opinion, that writers pay too much/too little attention to?
Many times, I think writers pay too much attention to the way they format their articles. They spend time making things bold, italics, colorful, and attractive with page breaks and such in their Word document. However, if we publish the article, we strip it of all styling and formatting before placing it on the electronic pages we work from. I’m not sure if that’s how other publishers work, but I assume it’s probably very much the same. It is often a wasted effort. I don’t judge an article based on the way it looks but the content and message in it.
I think many writers don’t spend enough time focusing on how their articles are organized. You can have the best message in the world, but if you don’t organize it well, it won’t be effective. I’m a big fan of subheads and bullet points, but we seldom receive articles that are organized in an effective manner.
Anything specific your magazine/publishing house is looking for right now? (Types of books, articles, sidebars, etc.)
I do not have any specific article topics that we are currently looking for. We are about to begin planning our 2012 issues (hard to believe)! In general though, we look for articles that are 300 to 1,200 words in length that deal with child development; parenting challenges; faith in the family; and encouragement and help for single parents, working parents, expectant parents, blended families, grandparents, and families with special needs. With our new design, which launched this month (March 2011), we are trying to make sure articles are practical and easy-to-read for busy, on-the-go parents. Therefore, we’re huge fans of short, to-the-point, “chunky” articles!
Who has made the biggest impact on your life?
I’d have to say that my 2.5-year-old son, Jack, has made the biggest impact on my life. He has changed my world (for the better)! I knew I would love being a parent, but I didn’t realize I would love it this much. He has changed how I look at everything … including my job. He has also given me lots of inspiration for article ideas and helps me understand better what ParentLife readers are looking for.
What do you think about blogging? Do you have your own blog?
I am a self-proclaimed “blogaholic.” I wish I had more time to keep up with all of my favorite blogs, but I tend to get behind! However, I do love catching up when I get the chance. My husband and I have a family blog (http://www.jayandjodi.blogspot.com), but parenting a super active toddler keeps us from updating as much as we would like to. ParentLife also has a blog (http://www.lifeway.com/parentlifeblog) that we update five days a week! Jessie Weaver (of http://www.vanderbiltwife.com/) has taken on most of the blog responsibilities for us. She does a great job! I do some writing for the blog on occasion and so does ParentLife’s Editorial Project Leader, William Summey. I hope it’s a huge encouragement to parents everywhere and a helpful addition to the printed magazine.
Do you have a favorite scripture?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (HCSB)
Favorite thing to do with your family?
Right now one of our favorite things to do together is to curl up on the couch and together to watch a DVD. We let Jack watch a short baby/toddler DVD before bed each night. It’s the only time he usually slows down … so we take advantage of it by all three sitting together! That’s how I get my cuddle time in. After he goes to bed and a reasonable amount of chores have been done, my husband and I love to watch Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel!
Thanks so much for stopping by Inspire Christian Writers today Jodi. It was so much fun getting to know you a little bit better.
One of the most valuable benefits of Inspire Christian Writers is the critique group. It is the heart and soul of Inspire because it allows each writer to develop their writing skill via the sharp pencil and keen eye of fellow writers in the group.
Inspire Christian Writers critique model works like this:
- Manuscripts are submitted several days ahead to all writers meeting at our preferred critique location (check the critique calendar for groups meeting in your area).
- Each writer provides a thorough and thoughtful critique of submitted manuscripts using Track Changes in Word or making hand-written notes on the manuscript.
- In addition to getting the written inputs, critiques are verbally delivered at the meeting.
What a pleasure it is to help a fellow writer tweak their manuscript, learn more about the nuance of point of view (POV), tighten up the wording, provide clarity to a confusing passage, and catch the nuisance typos and wrong words. Overall giving a manuscript a fresh look.
After a critique group, I gather the copies of my marked-up manuscript and carry them home like treasures. Yes… that’s right… treasures. Treasures that help me be a better writer. Attending weekly critiques has greatly improved my writing skills. I have gained improvement by the following:
- My own work being reviewed
- My critiques of other’s work
- Listening to others critique a manuscript
- Reading the work of other writers
So if you write, I recommend you get thyself to a critique group post haste. Then watch your writing soar. You’ll soon experience the treasures too.
Ever just want to grab your protagonist by the shoulders and scream, “Who are you?”
It happened recently, one of those fabulously brutal critiques in which a friend labeled the darling of my story a cardboard cutout. The advice from my writing group, “Find out who she is before editing further.”
So I asked Hannah. Several times.
She hid in the shadows of my imagination and refused to speak.
I cried out to God, “Help me understand my character.”
In the quiet echo that followed, I knew God intended something deeper. Yeah, that’s what happens when you throw up double-meaning requests.
After several months of writer’s block, a friend suggested a great book on temperament traits, Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey. I started by taking the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. I’m a Guardian. I took it again, on behalf of Hannah, and discovered she’s an Artisan.
No wonder she didn’t possess the depth of character she deserved, our opposing behaviors vied for plot reactions. With a bit of study on my part, Hannah came into focus. To the point that she now objects when I try to force her to respond in a way contrary to her personality. Blessed freedom–for both of us!
One by one, my other characters demanded emancipation. With a virtual revolution on my hands, I delved back into the book to discover more personalities, and their interplay.
I retook the test for our Character Development Workshop, quickly, without thinking. It registered Artisan. Am I spending too much time in Hannah’s head? Or could it be God, setting me free to experience the character He’s designed in me?
For more ideas on how to know your characters–and know yourself, check out the Discovering the Character Within page.
Invite the characters of your present work into a room and ask them who the most important person in your novel is.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
If all their hands shot up at once, if some bounced off their seats, if you heard someone shout, “It’s me! It’s me!” You’re on the right track with character development.
I knew I was in trouble the first time I tried this. One viewpoint character tentatively raised her hand. The other two looked around, shrugged, and half-heartedly nodded assent. The rest of the characters grumbled about why I wasted their time calling a meeting. For a moment, my novel teetered on the brink of plot without substance. Then from way in the back, came a spark of hope. One little boy from a distant chapter—whose only job was to get the main characters from point P to point Q—sprang onto his chair, with hand bobbing up and down, he hopped and bellowed, “Pick me! Pick me!”
So, how do you get all your characters to show that kind of enthusiasm?
That question drove me to buy a book—okay, several books—and go on a character study binge. Within a few months, the cast of my novel breathed distinct, vibrant personalities. And I discovered quite a lot about my own temperament in the process.
Beginning March 21st Inspire Christian Writers will be Getting into Character.
In this unique book, Brandilyn Collins shares seven secrets used by method actors to steal the show. For each of the actor’s techniques, she provides a practical adaptation for writers, and plenty of examples from classic and contemporary fiction.
Following the lessons in her book will not only grow your writing as a novelist, it will bring life to your non-fiction work as well.
Are you ready for your characters to take on a life of their own?
Join us on March 21, 2011 and each third Monday—9:00-noon—Sunrise Community Church, 8321 Greenback Lane, Fair Oaks
To get the most out of our time together:
- Read the introduction to Getting into Character: “Why Should a Novelist Care About Method Acting?”
- Take the Keirsey Temperament Sorter
- Print out your test results (the free report will do), read, and bring to class
This study will be led by Julie Williams. Please email if you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org