Interview with Donna Lee Schillinger, Author of On My Own Now

A born and bred Texan, Donna Lee Schillinger has a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and a master’s in cultural anthropology. She served in the Peace Corps in Quito, Ecuador, and continued to work in social services for 10 years, serving several years as executive director of a homeless shelter for single, young mothers.

In 2000, Donna “retired” from social work to take care of her elderly grandparents and homeschool her daughter. She soon began The Quilldriver, a custom publisher for nonprofit organizations and traditional publisher of inspirational nonfiction books.

Award-winning editor and publisher, Donna makes her writing debut with On My Own Now: Straight Talk from the Proverbs for Young Christian Women who Want to Remain Pure, Debt-free and Regret-free.

She launched a nonprofit organization of the same name, with the mission to provide encouragement for young adults to maintain their Christian faith when they get out on their own. Visit her Web site at Donna lives in rural Arkansas with her husband John and children.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Donna. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’m a wife and mother and I have a small business, The Quilldriver – Works with Words. I started writing in 2001 as a way to make money from home while I was homeschooling my daughter and taking care of my elderly grandparents. I started with feature writing for a local newspaper and moved to custom publishing for nonprofits, then I added book publishing in 2006. I also do English/Spanish translations.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

On My Own Now is about strengthening young women’s faith and preventing the screw-ups that can brand us for life. I draw on my eclectic past and use gender-reversed Proverbs with real-life applications to wave the red flag of caution for young women, warning against the pitfalls of a post-modern, sexually casual, consumer-is-king society that is indelibly scarring youth with cynicism, sexually transmitted diseases and bad credit.

I was 40 (just a few years ago) and I was reading Proverbs. When I was a teenager, I used to read Proverbs religiously (no pun intended). I latched on to some key verses, but to be honest, I didn’t really believe that most of the Proverbs applied to me and my life.

In retrospect, when I realized how much my errant youth could have benefited from some straight talk from the Proverbs, the first thing that occurred to me was that I needed to find a way to convey the importance of the Proverbs for a regret-free life to my own daughter, who at the time was 10. The idea grew from a sort of Proverbs scrapbook from mother to daughter in to On My Own Now, the book and the organization.

What kind of research was involved in writing On My Own Now?

This is actually a very interesting question for my book. I did have some light research, fact checking, finding sources for things I had remembered from my psychology classes in college, etc., but the most important source I used was divine. Before selecting Proverbs to be included in the book and then before beginning to write commentary on each one, I prayed a simple prayer that the Holy Spirit would take over and use me as a scribe of sorts to convey spiritual truths in spiritual words. I know this prayer was effective because I often would sit down and read the proverb and say, “Hmm. I’ve got nothing!” So in faith I would just put my fingers on the home keys and just listen. Then an hour later, I would sit back and say, “Wow! That’s good.” If I found myself laboring to write a commentary, it ended up being cut from the manuscript.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

As publisher, I could have had a lot, but I know design is not one of my strong points, so I just hired a young designer and said, “Show me what you’ve got.” I did make the choices about the cover that usually belong to the publisher to make. And I wrote all the cover copy, of course, except for the endorsements!

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

The waters have been smooth enough, but the problem is I have no sail. I’m like a row boat out on the water. I have to wait for the wind to blow me. The rest of my wordsmithing is pretty much a full-time pursuit, so I have to squeeze in time as I can find it to write and promote my book. It’s a familiar catch 22, I can’t make a living as a writer (yet) but it’s hard to find time to write because I’m busy making a living!

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Well, I’m publishing it and to be honest, I didn’t contract with myself. That might be a mistake. I probably shouldn’t trust myself so much! You know what they say about doing business with family, surely it’s even more dangerous to do business with yourself.

From the time I finished writing until April Fool’s Day 2009 (my release date) has been approximately 18 months.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Obviously, I don’t have an agent, and I don’t think an agent is necessary. I think there are plenty of small presses that might even prefer not to deal with agents. If your dream is being published with one of the big houses, an agent is essential.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Yes, my next project is editing an anthology called Purity’s Big Payoff/Premarital Sex is a Big Ripoff. The format will be a two-faced book (my new Quilldriver imprint!): on one side, the cover will read Purity’s Big Payoff. When turned over and flipped upside down, the cover will read Premarital Sex is s Big Rip-off. Think in terms of an instruction manual written in both English and Spanish, where one side is English and then the book flips upside down and other side is written in Spanish. Thus the last page of the purity book is immediately followed by the last page of the premarital sex book, but upside down, and vice versa.

Each half of the book will begin with an introduction by me. The intro to the purity book will include discussion of scriptural references to abstaining from sex outside of marriage, as well as the practical benefits of overcoming the strong cultural norm of premarital sex. Then up to 10 selected essays will follow, telling personal stories about how the essayists were victorious in this spiritual battle and have reaped practical benefits in their lives as a result. In the introduction of the premarital sex half of the book, I will tell my motivation for this project, and how important I believe it is for people who have suffered the results of secret sin to share their heartaches with young adults so that they can understand who is harmed in sex outside of marriage and what the very real ramifications of disobedience to God’s will in this area are. There will also be some discussion of the concept of recapturing one’s purity despite past sexual experience. Then up to 10 selected essays will follow, telling personal stories about how the essayists have experienced negative consequences from sex before marriage, and hopefully how God has restored the writer and even given them beauty for ashes.

I still need about three more essays on purity. Let me hear from you if the white of your wedding dress (or your bride’s dress) was symbolizing something.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

Morning. I’m a night owl, but for writing, I need the light of day.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

That’s an excellent question. When you say “money is no object” it puts me in mind of the expensive things I know are out of my budget, like full-page ads in magazines where my target readers might be, or hiring a publicist. But the fact of the matter is that other than being chosen as Oprah’s book of the month, there is no sure bet for becoming an overnight best-seller. And that’s the one thing (I would like to believe) money can’t buy.

I guess I would just do a media blitz with full-page ads and Internet video ads. They say this sort of mass marketing isn’t very effective anymore, but I’m yet to see what’s any better.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

For most of us, self-promotion is very important. There are those lucky few, like the author of the Twilight series, who just get to sit at home like the hermit all of us writers at heart wish we could remain, but most of us have to be major self-promoters to gain any recognition. I think that’s the most bitter pill for a writer to swallow. I am not comfortable doing it and I hope I never become comfortable doing it, though it would be nice to not be uncomfortable! I’m shooting for that num feeling.

Offline, I really haven’t done very much promotion. I have a book tour scheduled for October, but I am yet to figure out how that’s going to work. I’ve done one local radio show. My heart isn’t in it!

Online, I’ve done a little better behind the shroud of the Internet. I set up a Web site – And here’s an interesting thing: the idea was I would promote the book through the Web site, but what has happened is that the promotional idea eclipsed the book. And now the book is in support of the larger umbrella, On My Own Now Ministries, which I’m in the process of incorporating as a nonprofit organization. I have a monthly free e-zine called Single! Young Christian Woman, and we have an annual self-improvement initiative called The Ground Hog Day experiment, and more big plans coming down the pipeline.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Part of my motivation for becoming a publisher is a belief that if someone has a strong enough desire to do the hard work of writing a book, that message deserves an audience. That doesn’t mean it won’t need to go through a dozen rounds of edits to make the message readily understandable, but the message deserves an audience nonetheless. Publishers have no right to deny an author that earned merit – they are not gatekeepers. They might be an obstacle, but they can’t keep you from entering into the hallowed ground you deserve to stand on if you have written a book.

Thank you for coming, Donna. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

You can order On My Own Now: Straight Talk from the Proverbs for Young Christian Women who Want to Remain Pure, Debt-free and Regret-free through local bookstores and online booksellers (the biggies). The best deal – 25% off retail – is on my Web site at

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