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Debut author Johnnie Donley shares her journey to publication

Author Johnnie Donley
Johnnie Donley

Johnnie Alexander Donley writes stories of suspense, intrigue, and romance set in World War II. Her debut book, Where Treasure Hides, won the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest for Historical Fiction in 2011. A history enthusiast, Johnnie has also edited nonfiction manuscripts and textbooks. She is a founding member of the Central Florida chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. A longtime Florida resident, Johnnie treasures family memories, road trips, classic movies, shelves of books, and her papillon Rugby.

Her debut novel, Where Treasure Hides, is published by Tyndale and is available through

Learn more about Johnnie on her website:

Below, Johnnie answers some questions about her path to publication.

How many complete novels have you written so far?

Where Treasure Hides is my second complete and polished novel, but the only one published. It’s about my fourth if you count very rough drafts.

Years you've been writing:

This is always such a hard question. I’ve been writing off and on practically all of my life. After I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2003, I dreamed of becoming a novelist. From that experience, I learned that I actually could put together a story and develop characters. However, it wasn’t until 2007, when I attended my first major writers conference (and had quit my full-time job) that I was able to devote the necessary time for research and writing.

First thing you ever had published:

Two poems, “Have You Seen This Child?” and “On I-70,” both published in the Nebraska English Counselor in the early 1980s.

In a paragraph or two, describe what the road to novel/book publication was like for you.

At first I didn’t know which road to follow, nonfiction or fiction. But as I prayed and became more knowledgeable about the publishing world, I felt God pushing me toward fiction. Though it took several years to get a contract, I never thought of giving up. Winning the Writer of the Year and Best Novel awards at the 2009 Florida Christian Writers Conference and the 2011 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest in Historical Fiction helped keep me going when I became too discouraged. These awards were affirmations that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing – writing novels.

Do you have an agent? How did you acquire him/her?

Tamela Hancock Murray with the Steve Laube Agency represents me. When Tamela signed me on, she was with a different agency. I met a colleague of hers at the 2010 Florida Christian Writers Conference, and she passed my proposal along to Tamela.

Late one afternoon, Tamela gave me a call and offered representation even though she hadn’t yet read the entire manuscript. I managed to stay calm mainly because I was so stunned. Happily, amazingly stunned. That manuscript hasn’t yet sold, but thankfully we’ve had better success with my second project.

Are you a fan of writing contests? Why or why not?

I love writing contests and find them to be very helpful. My first entry into the ACFW Genesis contest didn’t fare very well, but the judges’ comments were extremely helpful. The second time I entered with a different project, the opening pages of Where Treasure Hides, and I won.

Last year I was named a Bronze Medal Finalist in the My Book Therapy Frasier Contest with a contemporary romance.

At the same time I entered the Frasier, I entered a historical project in the Touched By Love contest sponsored by Faith Hope Love. Two judges loved it; the third had issues which she was not shy about sharing. That third judge and I now have an email friendship which has proved more valuable than a high score.

It’s never easy to read negative comments about a beloved story. But the vast majority of judges know what they’re talking about. I try to learn from their critiques even if I disagree with them.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out?

I definitely wish I hadn’t waited so long, but that’s something I can’t change. I wish I knew more about the marketing and social media aspects of publishing. I’m learning, but sometimes feel like I’m late to the game. Even so, I have met some incredibly kind and encouraging authors, bloggers, and marketing experts in just a few short weeks.

Three books on writing/publishing you'd recommend:

The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success by Stanley Williams, Ph.D. Though primarily written for screenwriters, the advice works well for novelists, too. It’s a hard book to get through, but worth it.

Unleash the Writer Within: The Essential Writers' Companion by Cec Murphey. This is such an encouraging book for writers.

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy. The advice on structuring a novel with three disasters and an ending is especially helpful.

How is being published different than you thought it would be?

Since it’s been less than a month since my novel released, I’m still breaking out in giddiness at odd moments. The best part is reading comments and reviews from people who don’t know me and who love the story. I get teary-eyed and am so grateful to God for blessing me with this dream-come-true.

What are two pieces of advice you would give to writers who are desperately seeking publication?

Attend a writers conference. The major one for inspirational fiction is the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. But there are many others. The expense is worth the professional contacts you can make with agents, editors, and other writers.

Join a critique group that will help you grow as a writer. I am very blessed to be part of two online critique groups made up of talented and kindly-tough partners. I owe each of them so much for their input into my stories.



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