Interview with Author and Publisher, Vivian Zabel

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Picture of author and publisher, Vivian Zabel, holding her novel, Stolen

Vivian Zabel, holding her novel, Stolen

Many years ago, on GEnie, I got some pretty sage “writing advice” from author Tom Clancy. Lots of writers were eager to ask Clancy questions like, “Should I get an agent or just send my work straight to the publisher?” Or “How do I find an agent?” Or “What’s the fastest way to get published?” His answer was short and pointed: “Just write the damned book.” If you haven’t got a product to sell, you need to work on that before you work on selling it.

Fast forward a few years, to when I met Vivian Zabel on Neither of us had yet published a novel or an anthology.  In 2005, Vivian and I published an anthology of short stories, called Hidden Lies. We each chose the stories we wanted to include; Vivian edited; I did layout; her granddaughter and I created the cover. It was a labor of love and a leap of faith. It was also a taste of just how much hard work goes into producing, publishing, and marketing a book. I knew, when Vivian decided to edit an anthology of poems, that she’d been bitten by the bug. I tip my hat to her – I honestly don’t have the patience, and being a publisher is not on my list of life goals. But what really leaves me awestruck is the fact that she started this business later in life – after retiring from a long, rewarding career as a teacher!

Now, to give you a tiny bit of background, 4RV Publishing has, in less than six full years, published about 65 books, including my first children’s picture book, Trockle, and my second easy-reader chapter book, A Puppy, Not a Guppy. It is a traditional, royalty-paying publishing house; small and scrappy, but run by an honorable and determined woman who surrounds herself with good people who share her vision – her goals. Read on, because it only gets more interesting from here…

I asked Vivian, “At what point did you decide to start a book publishing business – what inspired you and drove you to do it?”

“I decided some type of publishing company was needed to help bridge the gap between the ‘big’ houses, which are almost impossible to get in to, and the self-publishing and/or vanity presses. I knew from experience that the need existed, and I had the bright idea that I could actually do the job. October 2007, 4RV Publishing LLC became a registered business in Oklahoma. Good writing and excellent illustrations inspired me and have kept me going.”

“You didn’t start this just to make it easier to self publish your own work, now, did you?” I know the answer, but I couldn’t resist teasing her.

“Even my work has to go through the acquisitions process–anonymously like everyone else’s–and I have been rejected. That’s one of the things that keeps all of us in the company honest.”

I wondered about Zabel’s goal-setting process, if she has one. “Do you formulate ‘SMART goals’? If so, how would you describe yours? If not, what do you do to keep your focus and stay on track to meet your goals?”

“SMART? Really? If I were really smart I would have minded my own business and not taken the hugest risk of my life by starting a publishing company.” Vivian grinned. I know she’s braver than I am. “I keep my focus by insisting we put out quality books. My goal is to have books with my company’s name that my grandchildren or great-grandchildren could pick up without me grabbing it away from them in embarrassment. My great staff helps keep me on track, and my desire to keep good books available for readers of all ages. I don’t know how to explain myself well in this regard. I just know what needs to be done and then do my best to do it.”

Corporate America might be appalled by that answer, but it seems to be working. Zabel has an unwavering vision, and commitment to it. “One of the books you published, Confessions of a Former Rock Queen, won the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award in fiction. That’s a pretty big deal, isn’t it? Was that an explicit goal? If not, what OTHER goals led to the achievement?”

“My goal is always to have quality books, but I can’t say having a book win the Oklahoma Book Award in fiction was an explicit goal. The award was icing on the cake, to use a cliché. Confessions of a Former Rock Queen was a well-written book from a unique and knowledgeable author. It was supposed to be the first of a trilogy. Kirk Bjornsgaard was a part of the rock scene and knew it well. From his experiences and research he wrote believable characters and plot. The main goal with this novel, toward the end, was to get it ready and released before the author, a victim of cancer, died. Less than a month after he held his book in hand, he passed away. BUT we met that important goal.”

“I remember that. It was such a bittersweet moment. He got to see his book, and hold it—with your help, he knew that he’d met his goal before he died – but he didn’t know about the award, did he? As I recall, his wife and daughter accepted on his behalf, right? So what do you have planned this year – any new entries?” I asked.

“This year, we have entered four books in the Oklahoma Book Award for 2012 (for books published in 2011). Each book should be a strong contender, but not because we decided before publishing it that it would be. We published each one because it was a book that the world should have the privilege of reading. We have two children’s books: Why Am I Me? by Wayne Harris-Wyrick and Strangers in the Stable by Jim Laughter; a science fiction novel in the fiction division, Time Pullers, by Horton Deakins; and an excellent nonfiction entry with Conscience: Breaching Social Amnesia, by vehoae.”

“Excellent! Good luck – I’ll be eagerly watching for the results. Vivian, what advice would you give to aspiring writers who say that their goal is to get published?”

Zabel thought for a moment. “I would suggest they make their goal to write the best story or novel or whatever to be the best possible work. Of course, nowadays anyone can be ‘published’ with self-publishing and companies who charge writers to have manuscripts printed; however, to be truly published takes several steps: First, know your craft. In other words, know how to write. Second, read, read, read in order to recognize good and bad writing. Third, write, edit, revise, revise, revise revise, using editors who are willing to be truthful and tough. And finally, be honest enough to accept criticism and use it to improve.”

I’m surprised she didn’t mention her pet peeve, to add: “Follow directions. Read – and follow – the publisher’s guidelines.” In other words, don’t submit cat care articles to a dog magazine; don’t type your manuscript in an Old Gothic typeface; don’t print it out on pink, scented paper and mail it in a box with magic brownies – in short, do it right.

“What advice would you give others,” I ask her, “who say their goal is to start a publishing business?”

Vivian shakes her head. “I would advise them to get their heads examined. If they still want to start a publishing business, they should be sure they have enough financing to keep the business going at least five to ten years without a profit from the business itself.

Then if they still want to start the business, they need to learn everything about it from editing to illustrating to formatting to distribution to printing to publicity. Even if the individual doesn’t do all the jobs, he or she must know how the jobs should be done. Of course, even so, ‘things’ will happen, and the person will discover on-the-job training obstacles. But, oh, the thrill of holding a finished book…”

Yep, bitten by the bug, I tell you. And very, very brave. I had one final question for Vivian Zabel: “What is your ‘life goal’?”

“My life goal is to leave this world and people who come in contact with me directly or indirectly better than before I existed. I want to be someone that others believe to be honest, ethical, and a person of strong faith.”

You’d better have another up your sleeve, Vivian. You’ve achieved that.

Please visit these 4RV Publishing sites to explore all the great books and authors and staff of 4RV Publishing:

4RV Bookstore:

4RV Web site:

4RV Newsletter:


To get to know Vivian a bit better, please drop by her personal blogs:

Vivian Zabel web site:

Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap:


And if you have any questions, I imagine she’s lurking… feel free to leave them in the comments here, and I’ll make sure you get answers.

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About Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri lives in Texas and claims to channel the spirits of Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry and Erma Bombeck. She has known since fifth grade that she wanted to be a professional writer. Holly is a technical communicator whose imagination is allowed free rein in her short stories, children's books, and poetry. You can visit her personal blog, "It's All a Matter of Perspective," at

About Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri lives in Texas and claims to channel the spirits of Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry and Erma Bombeck. She has known since fifth grade that she wanted to be a professional writer. Holly is a technical communicator whose imagination is allowed free rein in her short stories, children's books, and poetry. You can visit her personal blog, "It's All a Matter of Perspective," at


  1. i love her work,…read most of her books and this is a great interview

  2. Business…good business always starts with a solid business plan..from that you work hard and take care of it and it will be successful

  3. Good to see you two are doing so well. I’m still having writers block…but am achieving my goals in the knitting world. 🙂 Will keep following you!
    Bianca Boonstra recently posted..Where has this month gone?My Profile

  4. Hi nice interview. I liked your tips and articles nice story.
    PR Company recently posted..Why UsMy Profile

  5. Great interview, Holly.

    Ten years isn’t that much, Vivian. At my age ten is huge.

  6. Holly & Vivian what a wonderful interview. It’s incredible to see how 4RV has really come along. I agree that revisions and editing are necessary, so as an author I take into account all the suggestions and try to improve. Sorry I’m late posting though, I’m on a stretch of days at work. My son, Joe, likes the books I’ve gotten him from 4RV and to have a 5 year olds thumbs up of approval is what it’s all about. Here’s to another 10 years, Vivian.


    • Thanks, Steph, for stopping by.

      Yes, you do very well with the editing and revising, and the results show in your books.

      I’m glad Joe approves of the 4RV books he’s seen. That’s good to know.

      Another 10 years? Do you realize how old that would make me? Uh, 10 years older than now. Uh-huh. *need to train a replacement*
      Vivian Zabel recently posted..Aftermath of a miracleMy Profile

  7. I think it is important to try getting the young generations interested into the artistic side of life because without art (and beautifully written books) this world would not exist.

  8. I am not a writer but read that and really enjoyed it from a perspective of starting a business around a passion and having the confidence to keep driving it. It’s inspiring to hear about someone who understands a gap in the market and moves in to fill the need. And as someone who enjoys the creative process I can definitely relate to the satsfaction of putting a lot of effort into something and having the finished product in hand. It’s very interesting and well written, Holly.
    Todd Kruse recently posted..ASP2My Profile

    • Am working with the school newspaper Wingspan. That’s probably going to be the best newspaper I’ve worked with ever. Lol Definitely fun anyway. I know I’m not much of a writer but have a very strong sense of art. It is great to watch others succeed and imagine how you can be a role model of trying to show people what’s right.

  9. So how do I find an agent?


    And sometimes someone is lucky enough to have more courage than sense! What an adventure.

    • Authors don’t have to have an agent to submit with 4RV. We have two or three authors who do, but it’s not required.

      There are many “agents” available, but not all are are legit and/or ethical. So, if you really want one, search and research carefully.

      Yes, this has been an adventure.
      Vivian Zabel recently posted..Three important happenings in OctoberMy Profile

  10. Great interview, ladies. Every book I’ve read from 4RV has been wonderful. It’s why I wanted to pitch a book to Vivian at the Muse Conference. It’s obvious how much time and effort goes into their books and I’m happy to think I’ll become part of such a fabulous team.

    Wishing you the best,

    Cheryl Malandrinos recently posted..Guest Blogging Today at Cafe of Dreams!My Profile

  11. Many of our clients are writers and we understand the struggles of today’s publishing world. This is a great story of hope and determination.
    Bridge Social Media recently posted..Round 3 of SPIRITED contest starts today!My Profile

  12. Love the post, and love the advice to “just write the !!! book.” Writing and submitting is hard enough — the work that goes into publishing is mind boggling. Hats off to you, Vivian.
    Margaret Fieland recently posted..Interview with Dana Pratola, author of “The Covering”My Profile

    • As I said at the beginning, I needed my head examined for starting a publishing company. However, I started it and want to see it continue. I like the staff of editors we have, our authors, our art staff, and the people who support us in other ways, especially book buyers.

      However, it takes more than just writing a book to create a publishable one. It is hard work indeed.
      Vivian Zabel recently posted..Three important happenings in OctoberMy Profile

  13. Very impressive and moving piece. Vivian (love that name!), I don’t know you personally, but I am totally in awe of the work that you are doing. The honesty and dedication of your work really make it an example to follow.

    Holly, thank you for sharing this.
    Neeraj Sachdeva recently posted..Week 6: The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night Time (4.4/5)My Profile

    • Thank you, Neeraj. When I was a child, I didn’t like my name, but as I grew older, I realized it was unique. Either it began to fit me better, or I began to fit it.

      As far as my work, I have to live with me, and I couldn’t if I didn’t put out the best work possible and if I weren’t honest. Yes, I make mistakes, but I can’t deliberately harm someone else.
      Vivian Zabel recently posted..Three important happenings in OctoberMy Profile

  14. Great interview. Your story is amazing. I don’t know how you do it!
    Karen Cioffi recently posted..Finding Children’s Story Ideas: The Ongoing QuestMy Profile

  15. Great interview, Holly and Vivian!

    I like the way Vivian repeated “revise” four times. It is important to revise our work again and again for it will bring your work closer and closer to perfection.

    From what I heard, Christopher Paolini, the young author of Eragon, spent a month planning the story; then a year writing the draft by hand; then writing the “real” version; then showing the final manuscript to his parents after another year of editing.


    Gloson recently posted..How I Got 3000 Visitors from a Single Tweet by a Power UserMy Profile

    • Revision is the other half of writing, something many writers don’t understand. However, a good writer becomes an excellent one through revision.

      I have to do the same thing with my writing. I may be a fair writer with a first draft, but with each revision, I improve.
      Vivian Zabel recently posted..Three important happenings in OctoberMy Profile

    • Being a successful, published author is not for the impatient, is it, Gloson? 🙂

      (Psst, everyone…Gloson’s young, but he is already an internationally acclaimed poet, songwriter, social media expert, performer, and all around fun kid.)

  16. My team will probably shoot me for commenting, but there’s no authenticity in withholding praise:
    to Holly, for an excellent interview;
    to Vivian, for providing the fertile ground and all that has sprouted.

    In a frenzied era of change agents’ proclamations, 4RV stands firm, as far as I can tell. Looks like you’re not pandering to the “big” houses, nor disrespecting the vanity space. Instead, you’re simply filling a need.

    Imagine that as a business model. Hmph! Who do you think you are? 😉

    Got this on Evernote, I see some interesting titles to investigate, later.



    • Thank you, Mitchell. I’m glad our stand is apparent. Hey, wouldn’t most authors jump at the chance to be with a “big” house? However, we can offer service to those who can’t jump or haven’t been invited to jump.

      Hope you find some titles you like.
      Vivian Zabel recently posted..Three important happenings in OctoberMy Profile

      • “[W]ouldn’t most authors jump at the chance to be with a “big” house?” Maybe. Maybe not. Frankly, I wrote Trockle for my son, first and foremost. Trockle wanted to be shared with more kids – special kids. But he did not want to be shared by someone who didn’t understand him or know what he looked like. What are the odds he’d have found another publisher to be his “Granny” and an illustrator who so thoroughly “got” him? Or envisioned his mother with such respectful accuracy? I mean, seriously – I think Trockle landed right where he and I most wanted him to be. So maybe he won’t find his way onto five MILLION bookshelves (though that would be amazing and very nice) – he’s found his way under a lot of appreciative kids’ beds, and their parents don’t seem to mind telling his story over and over…
        Holly Jahangiri recently posted..An Engraved Invitation to the Writers of Creative Copy ChallengeMy Profile

        • Trockle deserves to be on a million bookshelves, and people who haven’t discovered that are maybe blind? Anyway, Trockle will always live with me.
          Vivian Zabel recently posted..Three important happenings in OctoberMy Profile

          • I just delivered him into the loving hands of a woman who will be auctioning him off (like one of those bachelor things, for charity) this weekend, to benefit an animal rescue organization. She’s promised pictures – I’ve promised blog posts. 🙂 Wish our little monster well as he goes off to try to help critters less fortunate than he!

    • Mitch!!! You are always welcome here, and you just let me know if your team gives you any grief – we’ll whoop up on ’em! (Sorry, Mitch, we kind of plan to do that, anyway, but you know it’s all in fun and good sport and we love you, right?) You may not succeed at today’s goal – but you can always come here for 😉

  17. Excellent interview. Thank you, Holly, and thank you, Vivian! I’m very happy to be a 4RV author, and best of luck on the nominated books!
    Laurie Boris recently posted..Invisible TV CharactersMy Profile

  18. Terrific interview. Holly, what great writing! I wonder if you’ve had experience in newspapers? I’m honored to be part of 4RV and have the utmost admiration and respect for Vivian. I pray there will be many more years of success for all involved. “;o)

  19. Great post! I think Viv has achieved her goal too. She does a wonderful job at being a teacher- whether or not she’s retired. I vote a like to this page. Hehehe

    • Dear Holly and Vivian,
      Thank you for doing this interview. Vivian’s success with 4RV Publishing helps people realize the power of setting goals, surrounding themselves with people with similar goals, and faith that they can achieve them. It’s also good that she has gatekeeper guidelines to furnish the steps of quality control along the way. I am honored to be a part of the 4RV Publishing family. Good luck to both of you! Do something to celebrate you today!
      Joan Y. Edwards
      Joan’s Elder Care Guide 4RV Publishing – June 2015

      • Good morning, Joan!

        2015? But… the world needs a good Elder Care Guide NOW!

        Sorry – distracted me there for a second. Congratulations. 🙂 And it’s nice to see a publishing schedule that’s got us anticipating releases through – is that a TYPO? 2015, really? Nice.

        Thank you for dropping by to read this – I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and surprising Vivian yesterday. Some pieces just flow so easily – this was one.
        Holly Jahangiri recently posted..The Art of Persuasion – Part 3 of 4My Profile

        • Dear Holly,
          Thank you for your vote of confidence. Vivian’s going to release it sooner if possible. I’ve had many people ask me for it already. You’re right, the world needs a good elder care guide now. They will also need it in 2015. I figure there’s something God wants me to add to it that’s not there yet.
          Thanks for surprising Vivian. It’s good for her to get recognition for her work. It’s good to see her company soar.
          Thanks for you neat sense of humor!

          Joan Y. Edwards
          Joan’s Elder Care Guide 4RV Publishing Release June 2015

        • Yes, 2015 is the tentative release date for Joan’s book, that’s how full the schedule is for the company. We can only put out books when the money is available to do so, and we have sooooo many good ones to do.

          If at all possible, Joan’s Elder Care will be out sooner, but we’re beginning the editing process soon.
          Vivian Zabel recently posted..Three important happenings in OctoberMy Profile

    • Vivian is a teacher, through and through. One who genuinely likes kids. Literacy matters to her, and so do the “reluctant readers” of the world, whom she seeks to entertain as well as educate. Many of 4RV’s children’s books have a special appeal to boys, and most would appeal to both boys and girls.

      I’m glad you “Like” us, Angelica! The “Like” button here is called “POST COMMENT” and you’re welcome to hit that as often as you like. 🙂
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..The Art of Persuasion – Part 3 of 4My Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Angelica and Joan. I slept late this morning and awoke to so many more comments. I’m so honored.
      Vivian Zabel recently posted..Three important happenings in OctoberMy Profile

  20. Awesome interview. I’ve worked with 4RV almost since the beginning, and I am impressed with 4RV’s ethical approach to publishing and how many new artists and authors get to refine their skills in the real publishing world.

  21. Well, I doubt THAT, but I enjoyed writing this post, Vivian. And I thank you for doing the interview on such short notice.
    Holly Jahangiri recently posted..The Art of Persuasion – Part 3 of 4My Profile

  22. Thanks for posting this interview, Holly. Yes, you added some things that you knew already, but that helps make the interview probably more interesting than I really am.
    Vivian Zabel recently posted..Three important happenings in OctoberMy Profile

  23. Kim Worthen says:

    Small companies and businesses CAN have a big impact!

  24. I’m really impressed that Vivian submits anonymously to her own company, and takes her lumps if she doesn’t meet its standards. That’s honorable.
    Cheryl recently posted..Do-overMy Profile

  25. I love how her own work has to go through the same process. What great quality control!
    Larry recently posted..Help Us Reach OUR Next GoalMy Profile

  26. I couldn’t have read a better blog tonight Holly 🙂

    Vivian has always seemed like the wise merchant in my neighborhood, probably because of the banter between you two on FaceBook and your blog. I’ve ordered two books from 4RV Publishing–if she were cast for a part in “Transformers”, she’d be Optimus Prime!!!


  1. […] interview originally appeared as “Interview with Author and Publisher, Vivian Zabel” on The Next Goal. About the Author Holly Jahangiri is a professional writer with over […]

  2. […] To learn more about Vivian Zabel, read the delightful interview on Holly Jahangiri’s The Next Goal blog from October 21, 2011: […]