In this episode, recorded live at the 2019 SoCal Christian Writers Conference, Renae Brumbaugh Green shares her journey of going from unpublished homeschool mom to bestselling author of 30 books.
When I met Renae Brumbaugh Green years ago, she was a beginning author with stars in her eyes. Today, she is the bestselling author of over 30 books.
## How does a writer go from zero to 30 published books? How long does it take?
I Interviewed Renae at the Southern California Writers Conference and asked her to share her story.
How did you get started writing?
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: How did you get started, and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Renae Brumbaugh Green: My first piece was published when I was in fourth grade.
I had to go to school on my birthday, and I wasn’t happy about it. I wrote a snarky protest poem and put it on my teacher’s desk. It read:
I have school on my birthday,
The most important day of the year.
I have school on my birthday,
And that’s no reason to cheer.
I should have my school district sued,
I guess they didn’t hear.
I have school on my birthday,
The most important day of the year.–Fourth-Grade Renae
My teacher called me to her desk, and I thought I was in trouble. She said, “This is good. Can I put it in the school newspaper?”
I always wanted to be a writer, but it felt out of reach for me. I thought it was for other special people.
I went to college on a music scholarship, and about halfway through, I decided I’d rather major in English. I had always written. I preferred taking essay tests because I didn’t have to study that hard. I just had to write and sound like I knew something.
Early in my twenties, I took an Institute of Children’s Literature class, which was an early version of an online course that wasn’t online. It was through the mail.
I wrote for fun, sent a few query letters, and waited for the rejections to come back through the mail. After several rejections, I just figured publication wasn’t for me, but I continued to write.
I wrote all the time, and I kept those pieces in a box in my garage.
What was the first piece of writing you sold?
Years later, when I was going through a difficult time in my life, my friend, who was a published author, read a few of those pieces and said, “You need to go to the Mount Hermon Writers Conference.” She offered to go with me, and we went.
When I arrived at the conference in 2007, I was terrified. I saw authors whose books I had on my shelf at home, who were speakers and attendees like me. I felt like a complete imposter.
While I was there, I sold my first article to Charles Stanley’s In Touch magazine. I had brought a few pieces from my box in the garage, and In Touch bought one of those articles.
Thomas: The first piece of writing you sold wasn’t a book. It was an article. That’s important.
Many authors want to “go big or go home,” and they’re focused on selling a book. But publication usually begins with being faithful in the little things, such as writing a blog post or an article.
Renae: That’s right. While I was at the conference, I accidentally attended Kathy Ide’s Fiction Mentoring Clinic. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had brought a couple of chapters I’d written in that children’s literature class.
Since I had sold the article, I had a little courage to send more things out. I sent a book proposal for that children’s fiction to Barbour Publishing. They said, “We like your writing, but we’re not interested in this book. We will keep you in mind for other projects.”
I thought they were just being kind, and I didn’t think I would hear from them again.
How did you start blogging?
At the conference, I also learned that if you want to be a writer, you have to start a blog. After the conference, I went home and Googled, “what is a blog?” and then I set up a basic blog on blogger.com.
Thomas: In 2007, blogging was new and shiny.
Renae: I wrote daily on that blog, and my mom and my cousin would read my posts.
But writing daily started getting a little stressful. I realized people weren’t really interested in what I was cooking or eating. To make it easier on myself, I started blogging through the book of James in the Bible. I started with James 1:1 and wrote daily devotions on my blog.
The cool thing about blogging, even if no one is reading, is that it establishes a discipline. The blog was a reason to write every day. A few more friends started reading, and then a few of their friends joined them. Someone I didn’t know told me I should turn it into a book.
I knew so little about the publishing industry, but I had the Christian Writer’s Market Guide. I sent a query letter to every publisher in the Christian Writer’s Market Guide who published devotionals. I thought I was writing devotionals, but I was actually writing an expository study.
Of the 12 publishers I queried, only Chalice Press and Discovery House replied, saying they’d like to see more.
I wrote a proposal and sent it to both houses. Discovery House rejected it, but Chalice Press wanted to publish it. I didn’t know how to respond. I was thrilled and shocked. This all happened within three months of attending that conference, but it doesn’t normally happen that quickly for most people.
How many years had you been writing before you got a contract?
Thomas: How many years had you been writing before you got a contract?
Renae: I’d been writing for 20 years, so I wasn’t starting from scratch. I had been honing my craft, but I hadn’t been submitting it for publication.
I signed the Chalice Press contract in August, and later that year, I heard from Barbour. They told me they were going to start a series of 24 mystery books for girls. The Camp Club Girls series would feature six characters, and each character in the series would have a different writer, but Barbour didn’t know who the writers would be.
They sent a mass email to many writers and asked us to audition if we wanted to write for the series. They gave the premise of the book and asked us to write chapter two. That was our audition. Since I didn’t know how to write chapter two without a first chapter, I wrote chapter one and then chapter two.
I sweated, obsessed, and prayed over that manuscript and then sent it to them. Three months later, they emailed to say they wanted me to write for the series, and they wanted me to write book one. That was a huge deal because book one is always the hook for a series. It sets the tone and creates the characters.
They told me about the six characters and asked which one I wanted to write. That started me on the road to writing children’s fiction.
Thomas: After you had published your nonfiction book and your children’s fiction, what did you publish next?
Renae: The mystery book for girls came out before my nonfiction with Chalice Press. Chalice wanted the book to be 40,000 words, which was about twice as long as my manuscript. I had to figure out what to add because, in my mind, it was finished. When I filled it out to 40,000 words, it became a better book.
Thomas: That’s an important point about turning blog posts into a book.
It’s important to keep your blog posts on your blog. I know your publisher made you take them down, but that is a huge mistake, in my opinion.
If you look at the bestselling books that started as blogs, almost without exception, the blogs stay on the website. When you turn a blog into a book, you don’t copy and paste the blog posts into a manuscript. The blog might be the starting point, but you add information when you create a book.
The draw for book buyers is the extra material in the book that isn’t in your blog. The book is also a nice package for your reader.
People disagree with me on that, but I point to the movie industry as an example. When Hollywood makes a movie based on a book, the first people in line for the movie are the readers who love the book.
Saying that people won’t read the book because they already read the blog is like saying people won’t watch the movie because they already read the book.
Renae: I think we understand that now, but in the early days of publishing, we didn’t know that.
Thomas: Publishers used to be very intimidated by blogs, just like record labels used to be intimidated by radio. Record labels used to think, “Who will buy our records if music is free on the radio?”
But the artists who were played the most on the radio ended up selling the most records. In the same way, publishers have slowly adopted a similar mindset about blogs. They realize blogs don’t compete with books.
Which book was your bestseller?
Renae: That Camp Club Girls book came out in June, and I was on a mission trip with my kids. I had checked my Facebook, and one of the other writers for the series, Janice Thompson, had sent me a message saying, “Congratulations.”
I replied, “For what?”
She said, “Your book is on the ECPA bestseller list.”
I said, “That’s nice.”
I didn’t know what a big deal it was, but Janice told me that people work for years to get on that list. I felt a little guilty because it had not taken me years, but it was all God’s doing. Even though it doesn’t happen that way for most people, I felt it was God ministering to me during a difficult time in my life to let me know I mattered to him. He was lifting me out of a hard place in my life.
Without going into detail, I’ll tell you I was a pastor’s wife for 22 years, and I was Renae Brumbaugh. I’m no longer a pastor’s wife, and my name is Renae Brumbaugh Green. I wrote a booklet that talks about what God taught me on that journey. It’s called God is Divorced.
Thomas: Many people have the misconception that bestselling writers can easily focus on writing without distractions. But in truth, life still happens around the writing. Parents and children get sick and have issues.
How did you experience writing during that dark time?
Renae: Writing was an outlet. It was a place I could hyper-focus on something I enjoyed doing.
I was homeschooling my kids as well, so I would get up at 4:00 AM and write until 6:00 AM before anyone else was awake. If I was really into it, I’d let the kids sleep and keep writing.
Thomas: Most people are always free from 4:00-6:00 AM. It’s a great time to establish a writing routine.
Did you make sacrifices for that time, like going to be earlier?
Renae: I put the kids to be at 9:00 or 9:30, and I’d go to bed when they did. But I also took naps.
How did you start your own publishing company?
Thomas: Waking up at 4:00 to write leads to a lot of books. How did you start a publishing company?
Renae: Many years later, I was remarried. I had published a book, and we were expecting a check from the publisher. That check was going to be our Christmas money. But the check didn’t come.
I didn’t want to make the publisher mad and be pushy, but by February, I sent some gentle emails asking if they’d sent the check. I finally heard back that Family Christian Bookstore was going through bankruptcy and closing. If they didn’t pay the publisher, the publisher couldn’t pay the author.
Many authors started talking about self-publishing, and my husband and I thought maybe we should try it.
Thomas: Some publishers had effectively loaned Family Christian Bookstores money by sending them inventory before they paid. When Family Christian Bookstore couldn’t pay, it rippled through the industry, all the way down to the author.
Did you ever get paid?
Renae: Yes, but at that point, we didn’t know what would happen in the publishing industry, so we looked into self-publishing. We are both musicians, and we started kicking around ideas, thinking about publishing whatever we wanted, even our music. It was more silly than serious, but one night we were sitting in bed, and I opened my laptop and started a website on WordPress.com.
We wanted a musical name for our website, but all the good musical words were taken. So we started looking at music-related words in other languages. Armonia is Spanish for harmony, so we named our website ArmoniaPublishing.com.
Within a month of starting our website, where we were going to publish whatever we wanted, four different people, who didn’t know each other, called me to say, “I have a book I’m supposed to write, and God has put it on my heart to ask you to help me.” All four of them were parents of a child with special needs, and we already had that passion. My stepson is 25 and autistic. He will never be able to live independently, so that’s something that was in our hearts.
After the fourth person asked, we figured God was trying to tell us, “This is the direction to go.” It has been a delightful journey.
Armonia publishes fiction and nonfiction. Our nonfiction is often the story of a parent or sibling of a special needs child. Our fiction includes characters who have special needs.
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