Meet Focus on the Family Editorial Director Jesse Florea

Jesse Florea has worked at Focus on the Family for more than 20 years. He has written or co-written more than 15 books.

Jesse, at Write Canada 2014 you are teaching “Writing for Children.” What challenges face a children’s writer? 

Children think and communicate differently than adults. Their vocabulary isn’t as advanced. If you’re going to write for children, you have to get into their heads and figure out how to communicate to them effectively. Children love humour and creativity. They want honesty and to know the truth. Telling a story of how life was when you were a child doesn’t work because the world is a very different place these days.

Writing for kids is a skill that can be learned. Just like poetry, when you write for kids, every word should tell. That means you have to do a lot with just a few words. It takes time and a lot of self-editing. But the time is worth it, because kids are sponges and your stories can truly change and shape lives. 

Do you think an author can write successfully for children, teens, and adults?

It can definitely be done. Follow the Apostle Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22. He worked to “become all things to all people” so that he could, by every possible means, save some. That means Paul carefully crafted his message depending on the audience he was speaking to. We should do exactly that as writers. It might be hard to work on projects for children, teens, and adults on the same day. Each type of writing takes a different mindset and style. But with enough thought, practice, and study, a single author can certainly reach all those different demographics. 

You have written for periodicals and you have written books. How do these two forms of writing differ from each other?

Although I’ve written a number of books, I still attack them like a magazine writer. I break them into bite-sized chunks and write one section at a time. Writing a 40,000 word book sounds daunting to me, but writing thirty 1,300-word chapters doesn’t seem so difficult. But to answer your question, opportunities in magazines (and for online article writing) seem to be growing, while the book world is shrinking and paying less.  A typical book may only sell a few thousand copies, while a magazine story will reach tens of thousands of people. Plus, you see your stories in print much more quickly in magazines. Sure, the money isn’t as great initially. But your reach and impact can be amazing. 

Besides the length of the writing and the time commitment what are some of the key differences between writing articles and writing books?

Books are exhaustive (and exhausting) on a topic or narrative. Articles have to be more focused. A magazine-length short fiction story will have only a few characters and a pretty straightforward plot. Book-length fiction should have much more nuance and diversity of character and plotlines. In an article, you have to make your point and then have your research and other sections support that point. In a book, you can better show all the different angles before coming out with what you believe is the strongest. 

Your third workshop is “Writing a Query for Magazine or Book.” Without giving away too much of your workshop content, what is one tip for grabbing an editor’s attention in the query?

Show that you know and have studied the particular publisher or publication you’re querying. Editors are passionate about their audience. They want to work with writers who have equal passion. Instead of receiving a bland multi-query that’s sent to several publications at once, take time to craft a query letter that shows you’ve done your homework and want to work with that specific publisher. 

What is your #1 piece of advice for those who want to sell their writing?

Don’t give up and don’t take rejection personally. I guess that’s two bits of advice. Stories can be rejected for a myriad of reasons. Maybe the publisher has just contracted for a similar story or decided to take a new direction in their publishing. Often you’ll never know exactly why your story has been rejected. So if you get rejected, try somewhere else. Also, you have to trust God’s timing. Maybe you’re not ready to be published. Keep praying, keep working on your craft, keep studying the market, and keep sending out manuscripts.

Interview by Steph Beth Nickel