by Katie Sampias
Kathy Ide is the author of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, and Capitalization Dictionary and editor/compiler of the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series. She’s a professional freelance editor and a writing mentor. Kathy has written numerous articles, short stories, devotionals, play scripts, and Sunday school curriculum. She directs the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference and Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. She owns Christian Editor Network, parent company to The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network, Christian Editor Connection, The PEN Institute, and PENCON, which she founded.
In an insightful interview with Katie Sampias of Agape Review, Kathy Ide reflects on her spiritual rebirth, illustrious career, and beyond.
Where did your journey start as a writer? Looking back down memory lane, how does it make you feel?
When a friend from church asked for my help preparing for a conference she was directing, I gladly agreed to assist in whatever way I could. As we stuffed papers into three-ring binders, I asked what kind of a conference this was. Amused that I hadn’t been reading what I was stuffing, she said it was a writers’ conference. “Since you’ve been so much help,” she said, “you could come for free if you want.”
“But I’m not a writer,” I replied.
“Maybe you are and you just don’t know it yet,” she said with a wink.
Having been an avid reader since grade school, I wondered if this might at least be an interesting experience for me. And boy, was it! My jaw dropped as I saw nametags that matched the bylines on cherished books I had at home. I felt like I was meeting real-life celebrities! And they were sitting on the grass eating hot dogs, just like the rest of us.
In the final group session, the presenter asked everyone to stand and shout out, “I am a writer!” I remained quiet, not feeling like a writer, although I had certainly learned a lot and had toyed with the idea of putting together an article and submitting it to one of the magazines I’d picked up writers’ guidelines for. The presenter asked everyone to shout louder, “I am a writer!” This time I joined my quiet voice to the enthusiastic ones all around me.
God must have heard my whisper, because I did go home and write that article, and it was accepted by the first publisher I submitted it to! I was hooked.
Little did I know that this would be the first step in a long and wonderful journey to being a published author, professional freelance editor, writers’ conference speaker and director, owner of Christian Editors Association, and the leader of Christian Writers Retreats!
You just never know what God might do with a little act of kindness for a friend.
You mention on your website a bit about becoming born again in your teenage years. Can you expand a little on the events and circumstances that led you to become born again?
When I was sixteen, my mother told me I needed to get a summer job. Sensing my hesitation, she found an ad in the local paper for a babysitting job, handed it to me, and gave me the phone. I landed the job—and loved it. The infant was easy to take care of, and the grade-school brother and sister were a delight. The most well-behaved and compassionate kids I’d ever met.
One night toward the end of the summer, I was looking for something to do after the kids were in bed and came across a record of “The Chaplain of Bourbon Street.” His fiery preaching reached my heart. When I got home that night, I talked to the God that the preacher spoke about and did as he’d urged: I asked Jesus to come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior.
Instantly I experienced a sensation I’d never had before and have never had since. I felt as if something had come into my body and cleansed the whole thing from the inside out. Then my heart filled to overflowing with a joy and peace I had never known existed.
The next day, when the couple I babysat for gave me my last paycheck, I told them what happened the previous night. They eagerly whipped out a Four Spiritual Laws tract and went through it with me, praying the prayer at the end with me. But I knew my spiritual rebirth had happened the night before.
A lot of the writing work you do involves helping other people tell their stories either through writing or editing. Helping others in this way and enjoying it seems to be a real gift from God. How have you experienced God working on that journey of assisting others with their writing? Are there any particular experiences of helping others with their writing that stand out as being very obviously stamped with the hand of God?
So many times, as I’ve worked on a manuscript, finding ways to make the writing more polished, God has spoken to my heart through the author’s message. These are often books I probably wouldn’t have bought for myself, not being my preferred genre or being written by a novelist I wasn’t familiar with, but God found a way to get the words He wanted me to read in front of my eyes.
When one of my clients tells me they’ve landed an agent, or their manuscript got published, or their book won an award or landed on a best-sellers list, I rejoice with them as much as if it were my own writing. I am truly happy for them and their success, with no shred of envy. And when they tell me they couldn’t have achieved that goal without my help, my spirit soars! I truly love being a part of their story of accomplishing their God-given dreams. That selfless perspective could only come from the Lord.
You write in your blog about some spiritual oppression you have experienced in preparing for retreats. Does this often happen when preparing for writers’ retreats? How do you experience this and what do you do to get you through?
I put on my first Christian Writers Retreat in November of last year. Before that, I directed Christian writers’ conferences for six years. Every single time, there have been challenges. Of course, putting on such an event requires a lot of work and planning. But in addition, there’s always something that feels very much like the enemy trying hard to stop it from happening, or at least attempting to diminish the powerful effect God intended.
Financial distress is very common when planning events like these. There’s always the question of whether or not enough people will sign up to cover all the costs. That can be quite stressful and requires a big leap of faith.
Sometimes the spiritual attacks are subtle. I often find that the volunteers who are giving generously of their time and expertise to help with various aspects of putting on a conference or retreat are hit with physical, mental, or emotional challenges.
Other times, the attacks are more direct. Last spring, right before my first SoCal Christian Writers Retreat, a horrific situation with my goddaughter and her guardian spiraled me into the worst spiritual oppression of my life. At the same time that was happening, I realized we didn’t have enough registrants to cover the minimum agreed to in our contract with the retreat center. On top of that, my assistant director was having health issues and serious marital stress. I felt certain we needed to cancel the retreat. But my assistant director suggested we get together with our prayer team on a zoom call first. When we did, the Holy Spirit gave each of us the distinct message that He wanted this retreat to happen. The next day, when I contacted the facility about our situation, they graciously agreed to let us pay only for those who attended, even if we didn’t meet the minimum specified in our contract.
Everyone at that retreat told me about how God had spoken to their hearts in amazing ways. He also gave me a powerful message about how to deal with the situation with my goddaughter and her guardian—a message that has revolutionized my prayer life, not only for them but in all other areas. (You can read about that on my blog at KathyIde.com.)
The enemy isn’t happy when we’re doing things to advance God’s kingdom. But our God is infinitely greater and stronger than any opposition!
In your About Me page, you mentioned that you put together a Christian writers retreat “after a great deal of prayer for direction” and that the main focus of the retreats you organize would be “having powerful connections with the Lord.” Tell us more about this experience.
During my ten-plus years of attending and speaking at Christian writers’ conferences, I enjoyed every one tremendously, but my favorite was always Mount Hermon. It attracted the largest number of industry professionals and newcomers—and for good reason. It’s nestled among a forest of California coastal redwoods, with easy hiking paths among lovely streams and waterfalls. The conference center has been helping people come to know Christ in more powerful and intimate ways since the early 1900s, and you can feel the prayer-soaked, Spirit-infused atmosphere the moment you step onto the grounds.
When the program managers at Mount Hermon offered me the job of writers’ conference director, I was stunned. I mean, I did have the skills and experience to do the job well, thanks to many things God had done in my life up to that point. But running this prestigious conference, so beloved by so many for so long, was daunting. After a great deal of prayer for direction, there was no doubt in my mind that I was God’s choice. So I accepted the position. Poured my heart and soul into it. And absolutely loved it.
Four years later, COVID-19 hit. Which required Mount Hermon to cancel every scheduled event for 2020. As they thought about what they felt led to do when they were able to open up again, the management decided not to bring back the writers’ conference. I was devastated, as were many others in the writing and publishing community. I considered trying to put on a similar conference as a guest group at Mount Hermon, but the tremendous amount of work and the huge financial commitment made that challenge uncomfortable.
As I prayed for direction yet again, the Lord spoke to my heart. “What makes Mount Hermon so special?” As I pondered the answer, I recalled how often I had told attendees, “No matter how many big-time agents, representatives from respected publishing houses, and best-selling authors you meet here, skip at least one workshop slot and spend that time alone with God, listening to His voice. If you go home without doing that, you’ve missed the most important part of this conference.”
The Holy Spirit whispered in my ear, Let’s flip those priorities around.
I began to consider putting on a Christian writers’ retreat at Mount Hermon, where the main focus would be meeting with God to have the kind of powerful connections that the conference center is famous for. And while folks were there, they could also meet with whatever industry professionals or fellow writers the Lord brought and even attend a few workshop-type sessions. That idea got me excited!
The first Christian Writers Retreat at Mount Hermon was such a powerful experience, for myself as well as the other attendees, I couldn’t wait to do another one. So I decided to put on the first SoCal Christian Writers Retreat the following summer and a second one at Mount Hermon the next year. (Coming up this November!) Lord willing, both will be annual events for years to come.
Another amazing journey you’ve been on with your writing has been in setting up the Christian Editors Association. Has the process of founding this and managing it come also with ups and downs and/ or episodes of spiritual oppression? Would you like to tell us a bit about that and how God has helped you push through to continue with this work?
When my editing business started really taking off, I realized that while there were many organizations for Christian writers, there weren’t any for Christian editors. On a six-hour drive home from Mount Hermon one year, the Lord filled my mind with ideas for what such an organization could do. The next day I asked the few Christian editors I knew if they were aware of any groups like that. They all said, “No. But you should start one!”
Having no idea how to do such a thing, I learned how to create an email loop, called it The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network, and asked my editor friends to join. They did, then invited their editor friends, who invited more editor friends. People started asking me if they could design a logo for our group, if they could create a website for us, if they could offer online courses. Oh, yes, please! It soon became apparent that God was the “CEO” of this organization, and he had called me to get it started, then called others to help it grow.
Three years later, some of our members asked if I would create a separate organization for established, professional freelance editors so they’d know where to send potential clients who needed a specialty they didn’t have. About that time, I discovered that the URL ChristianEditor.com was available. I grabbed it—and started Christian Editor Connection.
Ten years in, we held the first PENCON editors’ conference… one of the dreams I’d had on that six-hour drive home from Mount Hermon.
Soon after, I launched the Excellence in Editing Award, where members of Christian Editor Connection judged recently published books written by Christian authors or published by Christian publishers. The teams (authors, editors, and publishers) behind those books that were superbly written and well edited were honored and promoted. I got the vision for this after seeing high-quality books that had been self-published or published by small presses languish among the plethora of books that were less well written and edited. (Earlier this year, the Excellence in Editing Award changed its name to the Editors’ Choice Award. It is now open for submissions of books being released in 2022.)
A couple of years later, two people who’d put in a lot of volunteer time helping me run these organizations suggested we form an umbrella company and bring all three organizations under it. They also recommended forming a fourth division for the online training that had become such a huge part of The Christian PEN. We called it The PEN Institute. The umbrella company was named Christian Editor Network. And the three of us formed a business partnership.
Three years later, my partners felt led by the Lord to pursue other avenues, so Christian Editor Network became a sole proprietorship. The three of us worked together to bring on directors to run all the divisions.
Earlier this year, some members of my team shared with me that there was some confusion about the name Christian Editor Network, since the parent organization doesn’t actually offer networking, like The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network does. So we renamed it Christian Editors Association.
It’s been quite a journey from that seed of an idea the Lord planted in my heart on that drive home from Mount Hermon! Over the years, we have helped several hundred people start, maintain, and grow their editing businesses. We’ve also connected numerous writers with top-level professional editors to polish their manuscripts for publication. And we’ve brought several well-written and well-edited books the recognition they deserve.
It’s great to know that you have worked with producers at Pinnacle Peak Pictures (Pure Flix). What are the films you worked on? How was the overall experience?
When I was directing the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference, I invited professional screenwriters to teach attendees how to write and sell TV and movie scripts. Talking with them inspired me to try crafting my own, which I did. I loved writing my little Hallmark-type Christmas screenplay so much, every minute I worked on it felt like I was playing hooky! But I’ve been so busy with my other endeavors, I haven’t really had a chance to pitch it to producers.
Last year, one of the screenwriters from the SoCal conference emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in proofreading scripts for Pinnacle Peak Pictures. Boy, would I! She connected me with the producer who’d asked her for a recommendation, and he sent me scripts for a TV series they were planning to present to Sony. I loved the story and the characters. I found some typos and other errors in the scripts, and the producer was deeply grateful for the opportunity to fix them before sending the scripts on. He told me if he had his way, every Pinnacle Peak script would have to be proofread by me! We’ll see about that. But it certainly was fun, and I would love to do more of this type of work. (And who knows? Maybe I’ll pitch my Christmas screenplay to them someday.)
Once again, the Lord took something I did for others—inviting screenwriters to teach at my SoCal conference—and used it to bring an unexpected blessing to me years later.
Nonfiction books, guides, magazine articles, play scripts, devotionals, dictionaries, short stories, Sunday school curriculum — you have written them all. Which of them do you enjoy writing the most?
That’s a tough question to answer. When I had a church drama team, I thoroughly enjoyed writing scripts for us to perform. When I got into writing for publication, I polished them up and sold almost every one I’d written to play publishers—then did the same with the scripts my director wrote! That was great fun.
In my work as a proofreader, I found myself looking up the same rules in The Chicago Manual of Style over and over, so I created a “cheat sheet” of the most common ones. Over the years, that list grew long enough to become a book. And when I shared it with some colleagues, they encouraged me to get it printed and distributed. So I self-published it with the title Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling. When I got an agent, she encouraged me to expand on that material, include some tips from the multi-published authors I’d met through conferences over the years, and publish it traditionally with a new title: Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors.
In my work as an editor, I’ve created numerous flyers on various writing techniques to send to my clients who need them. My agent encouraged me to compile those flyers into chapters and add tips from my multi-published author colleagues to create Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, which was accepted by the same publisher who did Proofreading Secrets.
Those two books have become my “signature” ones, and they’ve sold quite well at the writers’ conferences I’ve attended and taught at.
I think my favorite project was compiling and editing the four-book series of Fiction Lover’s Devotionals. In 21 Days of Grace, 21 Days of Christmas, 21 Days of Love, and 21 Days of Joy, I got to work with new and established authors, enjoy their short fiction stories with life applications, and even edit some of my most highly respected best-selling authors! And the publisher put the collections of those stories into beautiful hardcover gift books with debossed print and gorgeous colors.
Ever since you attended your first writers’ conference in 1989, you have come a long way. Besides directing the Orange County Christian Writers Conference and the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, you had also founded the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference. How was that experience?
After attending my local Orange County Christian Writers Conference for several years, I learned that the people who’d been putting it on were handing it over to someone who had the financial ability to keep it going but didn’t really know us. A few of my colleagues and I offered to help him, and somehow I became the director.
After directing that for a few years, I strongly sensed God leading me to organize a separate local conference for Christian writers. I spoke with the man who’d been putting on the Orange County conference, and he encouraged me to follow that dream. So I founded the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference. It flourished for four years … until 2020. That year we held the conference virtually.
Then I got the idea to do Christian Writers Retreats, and I loved that so much, I stopped doing conferences and started focusing on retreats instead.
You also write in your blog about a novel that you have nearly finished and that you have been working on for over twenty years. Would you like to tell us what that novel is about? How did you conceive of the idea for the novel? Is there a story behind how this project has taken over twenty years? Has it evolved and changed over time or has the story you always intended to write been the same? What is the Christian message that is central to the novel?
My husband is not a Christian, but he supports my faith because it’s important to me. One day, as we drove to visit my grandmother, who was dying of cancer, we talked about the belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven and how narrow-minded and intolerant that seems to unbelievers. Wanting to explain this concept to my husband in a way he could understand, I thought of a parallel that would appeal to his love of science and science fiction. “What if Earth was about to be destroyed, and somebody discovered a way for humans to live on Mars safely? If this plan was the only one that worked, would it be narrow-minded to promote it?” As I thought about this concept, characters and storylines sprang to life in my imagination.
As I worked on the storyline, more parallels to Christianity sprang to my mind. The plot is about a NASA astrobiologist who discovers a way to bioengineer people so they can live on Mars without spacesuits or ecodomes. But NASA’s administrator is intent on terraforming Mars, which would destroy any sentient—or potentially sentient—life forms that may exist there. Which brought to my mind the thought that humans often try to make God more like them instead of changing themselves to be more Christlike.
I originally wrote the story as an allegory. My main character had the initials JC, and he had twelve colleagues with names like Judith Skerritt and Simon Serene. When I shared the first few chapters and synopsis with Steve Laube at a Mount Hermon writers’ conference, he suggested I drop the forced allegory and just tell the story wherever my premise would naturally lead. Great advice! But that meant completely rewriting the entire manuscript.
I adore the story and characters in this novel now, and I really enjoy working on it. But between my professional editing business, speaking at six to eight writers’ conferences a year for about ten years, directing three conferences, writing my Secrets of Best-Selling Authors books, compiling and editing my Fiction Lover’s Devotionals, starting and growing the divisions of Christian Editors Association, and now putting on Christian Writers Retreats, along with taking care of my husband and raising two sons and helping out with my goddaughter, my novel writing usually takes a backseat.
I’m no longer speaking at conferences (not much, anyway) or working on any more Secrets books or devotionals. I have a fantastic assistant director and division directors helping with the Christian Editors Association. Retreats are much easier and less time-consuming to direct than conferences. My sons are grown (and have moved out of the house at least twice each). My editing business is still thriving, but I feel like I finally have a chance to carve out a little bit of time to work on my novel! And to my delight, I’ve found that it is pretty close to being ready for publication.
The number 21 holds significance in the Bible. For example, the Gospel of John is made up of twenty-one chapters and, in 2 Timothy 3, Apostle Paul lists twenty-one sins that humans will fall prey to during the end of days. Speaking of which, your 21 Days series of devotionals is impressive. What made you choose that particular number?
When I pitched to publishers a devotional compilation of fiction stories with life applications, most responded with confusion. Wait, is this a devotional or fiction? They couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of a devotional for readers who love fiction. The few acquisitions editors who caught the vision couldn’t convince their marketing departments, who weren’t sure whether to categorize it as fiction or a devotional, so the proposal died in a few committee meetings.
When the head of one fairly small press recognized the potential I saw, he felt passionate about it too. And he didn’t have a problem categorizing it as a devotional with a unique slant. His concern was length. Most devotionals have 30 chapters, one for each day of the month. Or 52, one for every week in a year, if they’re short. But a fiction story takes time to develop. And the Life Applications that went with each story were crucial. He asked if I could shorten my stories so 30 would fit in one book, but I told him they would suffer from that much cutting. So, he chose “21 Days” for 21 chapters in each of the four books in the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series.
Tell us about your wonderful family. How have they supported you so far in your writing journey?
When I lost my day job after thirty years in the same career, my husband suggested it might be time for me to try something new. He asked me, “What would you do for a living if you could do anything?” (What a wonderful question!) I immediately responded, “Write!” But I knew I couldn’t earn anywhere near what I’d been making in my thirty-year career, especially not right away, and we’d just bought a house based on that salary. So my hubby asked, “What would your second choice be?” (I love that he didn’t give up after my discouraging first answer!) After a moment’s thought, I said, “Well, my writers’ critique group likes what I do for them, and I really enjoy it.” He suggested I see if I could make a career out of that.
So, I went to my workers’ comp representative and asked what she thought of my becoming a book editor. She asked, “Do you have a degree in English, creative writing, journalism, anything like that?”
I bit my lip. “I went to the University of Minnesota for a hockey game once.”
She did not laugh. Didn’t even smile. She practically patted me on the head and said, “I’m sorry, but that’s just impossible.”
The minute that word left her mouth, I heard God say to my heart, “You know, impossible is my specialty.” I sensed immediately that this was something he wanted me to pursue.
As it turned out, my friend from church who’d invited me to my first writers’ conference ran a manuscript critique service. I asked her what I needed to do to get into that line of work. She handed me a manuscript. “What do I do with it?” I asked.
“Same thing you do in your critique group.”
“Seriously? And I get paid for that?”
Over the years, I learned there’s a bit more to it than that! But doing work for her critique service got me started, and it gave me the confidence to keep going.
My husband and I had to tighten our belts to get through those early years of starting a new business. And there were plenty of “feast or famine” years when some months I barely had time to breathe and other months I wondered if I’d need to get a “real job.” But even in the lean times, my husband never tried to convince me to stop pursuing my dream. He saw how much I loved working at home and how much I enjoyed working for myself—or, actually, working for God, who brought me the writers he wanted me to work with and helped me see what I could suggest to make the writing even better.
My sons put up with the belt-tightening without much griping when they saw how happy this new career path made their mom. And eventually I reached a point where I had a steady stream of work and income.
Which church do you attend? How would you describe your relationship with God?
I’m a member of the Richfield Community Church in Yorba Linda, California, which is an Evangelical Free denomination. I also have a very close group of Christian friends, who happen to be writers, and we share our lives with one another through regular texts, phone calls, and Zoom sessions. We pray for each other, support and encourage each other, rejoice with each other, and sometimes weep with each other. We get together in person whenever we can. They are my lifeline and my fellowship group.
I study my Bible every morning over breakfast, read Christian books (fiction and nonfiction) whenever I have a few free moments, and have filled numerous journals with written prayers. I pray throughout the day, seeking the Lord’s direction and wisdom in everything I do and asking for God’s abundant blessings on my family, friends, colleagues, and businesses.
With all the Christian books I get to edit, and all the Christian friends I’ve made at the many writers’ conferences I’ve been to, and the powerful experiences of deep connection I’ve made with God at my Christian Writers Retreats, my faith in the Lord and my walk with him have grown stronger in the twenty years I’ve been on this writing and editing journey than it did in all the years prior to that. He is my loving Father, my strength and shield, my defender and sustainer. My all in all. I could not even imagine doing life without him—nor would I ever want to.
Which is the Bible verse closest to your heart?
There are many! But I do have some favorites.
One is Ephesians 3:20–21, which speaks of giving all glory to God, “who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (NKJV). As a writer, especially of fiction, I can think up all kinds of amazing things! But God can do “exceedingly abundantly” more than I could ever come up with. That blows my mind.
My other favorites are Romans 14:11: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God” (NRSV) and Philippians 2:10–11: “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (TLB). These verses, combined with Romans 10:9, which says, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (NLT), give me tremendous hope and peace that my husband, and all of my family members, will someday praise God along with me and will spend eternity in heaven with me.
What would your advice be to aspiring writers who are starting out?
If God has placed a desire in your heart to write, he has someone in mind who will someday need to read what he is calling you to write. He knows when and how that’s going to happen. So, take your time, study writing techniques, hone your craft, learn from successful writers and professional editors. Connect with peers at Christian writers’ conferences and retreats. Don’t be discouraged by the inevitable challenges, road blocks, distractions, and detours. Trust in God’s plan and his timing. His path for you might not end up being what you thought at the beginning of the journey! But he will get you where he wants you to be, and he will get your writing into the hands of the people he wants it to reach at exactly the right time—for you and for them.
Thank you for taking the time to speak to Agape Review. We await with eager anticipation the publication of your novel!
Thanks. I’m awaiting that with eager anticipation myself! 😊 In God’s perfect time.