We love it when the authors who publish their first books with us continue to write and graduate to a traditional contract with a major Christian publisher for their next book. This month, we caught up with one such author, C.E. (Courtney) Hilbert.

Author on the Rise: C.E. Hilbert | Deep River Books

Author C.E. Hilbert at a book signing in Summer 2016.

Courtney learned the nuts and bolts of the publishing process through Deep River Books. Along the way, she came into herself as a writer. After we published her first novel, The Wooing of Jane Grey, Courtney found a traditional publisher for her second, From Scratch. Her third, Life on the Porcelain Edge, released for Kindle on October 13 and will be available in print on November 1.

She still hold ties with DRB, though, and eagerly agreed to talk with us about what she’s learned as she’s continued to write and publish. This includes basics about the business, what it means to be a writer, and why it’s important for authors to take responsibility for book promotion.

Publishing 101

You need patience. And you need grace.

Most authors know very little about the publishing process when they start out, and Courtney was no exception. Everything was new to her, from the order of steps (her front cover was done before the interior was edited!) to vocabulary like “galley” to information about book distribution. And she was an eager student.

Most of all, Courtney learned about what she looks for in a relationship between a publisher and author.

“What I didn’t realize was that I needed a publisher that put Christ first in everything,” she says. “This was crucial to develop my writing.” Because she learned this through her experience with DRB, Courtney was careful about her next publishing choice. When she moved to Pelican Book Group, it was important to know that they, too, put Christ first. They might go about many things differently than we do—they aren’t set up to mentor new authors the same way as DRB—but their faith is still central, and the main editor for the company is good at things like praying with the authors.

But the author’s perspective is just as important, as Courtney emphasizes: “You need patience. And you need grace. You need to give it to yourself, and you need to give grace to the people you’re working with, because they are all trying to get [your book] the best it can possibly be.”

If You’re Called to Write, You Write

When Courtney was working on The Wooing of Jane Grey, she had no way of knowing she would publish two more novels over the next six years. But she did know she was called to write. And that calling, she firmly believes, has nothing to do with how successful you are or how many people read your book: “If we are called to be writers by God’s grace, you may be called to share your story with only one person.”

After all, she believes, we’re not just called to write for ourselves. “It’s beyond the catharsis of it. But you also have to be discerning. If you were told ‘no,’ it’s because your audience is one that isn’t going to be through this publisher.”

If you seek instant success as a popular author, or instant gratification of any kind in this business, you will be disappointed. More than that, you’re missing the point.

“If you’re called, you write, and you keep writing. It’s advice I got from Kit Tosello,” Courtney says, remembering words from our then-editorial director. It’s the only way to see success in your mission—whether that success includes reaching thousands, dozens, or just one.

But it wasn’t always easy for Courtney to write as she’s called. Becoming a published author gave her the validation she needed to know it’s okay to spend time doing what she loves. “Before, I would just kinda write, and maybe write here and there and not really,” she admits. “Now, I set aside time to write. I’m more disciplined and diligent. The gift of having published work is you can tell family and friends, ‘Today is a day to write.’” Yes, she knows she should have had the confidence to do so before, but she didn’t. “I used to feel guilty about it. But I’m so much healthier and happier when writing, because it’s who I am. This is a big part of who God has created me to be.”

Taking Responsibility

There’s more to authorship than writing, though. Courtney is just as diligent about her book promotion and continued growth as an author. She takes initiative with social media promotion in particular and encourages other authors to do the same:

“It is more your responsibility as the author than it is the publishing house’s. They have more titles they are pushing at once. You have one. So you need to be your biggest advocate. You need to be proactive in it and strategize. To make sure you’re putting your best foot forward … and educating yourself. I have forced myself to read at least one or two books a quarter about the writing process and the publishing process.”

C.E. Hilbert's first two novels

Courtney has learned a lot about self-promotion. “Just being on a website, just doing a book signing, is not going to sell your book,” she points out. “It’s trial and error.”

She makes a point to be active on social media, forcing herself to post at least once a week. When she posts, she is very aware that her followers (over 2,000 on Facebook, and over 700 on Twitter) aren’t just there to hear about new books she has to sell: they want to connect.

“People connect with writers because something they’ve read in the book connected to them emotionally,” she explains. That’s why readers want to follow authors on social media. It doesn’t matter the genre or whether it’s fiction or non-fiction; something about the writing drew them to want more. Courtney emphasizes this, advising other writers to remember: “It’s a balance between how much you sell and how much you’re connecting.”

C.E. Hilbert’s New Book

In the five and a half years since we published The Wooing of Jane Grey, Courtney has continued connecting with her readers both online and through her books. This month, she’ll connect through her newest book, Life on the Porcelain Edge. This one is more lighthearted than her last novel. Even its inspiration was comedic.

The book opens with “Tessa Tarrington’s life is in the toilet.” The idea came to Courtney while she was at Barnes & Noble, “killing time between two cross country races,” and saw the store’s restroom.

Yes, a public bathroom sign sparked a novel.

“I wrote the first twenty thousand words in the first weekend. It was one of those experiences where I couldn’t stop writing.” Courtney quickly adds that this is not normal for her, and “much of it got cut, but it was a really cool experience.”

The book centers on Tessa Tarrington, whose life is, well, “in the toilet.” She’s fired from her job as a ghostwriter, and her dad has a heart attack. So she moves back to her hometown to take care of her dad and become a substitute teacher at her old high school. Unfortunately, her high school enemy, Ryland, has moved home, too, and coaches the high school football team.

Courtney describes Life on the Porcelain Edge as a “very lighthearted, contemporary romance.” But still, the characters have to work through their issues, and that adds a certain depth. “The piece I really love is how Ryland has trouble trusting people because of how his deceased wife treated him. [And] Tess wants to run away, doesn’t want anyone to see anything besides her perfect preacher’s kid exterior.”

Courtney now has three published books, and it doesn’t sound like she’ll stop writing any time soon. 

Want to learn more about Courtney and her books? You can check out her website or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter