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Sarah Sundin pink 1Greetings from Sarah Sundin in California, where fall is still failing to fall. Today I’m interviewing one of CAN’s newest members, Sandra Orchard, whose romantic suspense and mystery novels are hooking readers and winning awards.

CAN Sandra_OrchardSandra, how did you get into writing?

I always wanted to be a writer, but didn’t consider writing fiction until about ten years ago, soon after discovering Christian fiction. Seeing characters navigate through many of the same issues I faced, especially loss, and emerging victorious inspired much needed hope and fresh ways of looking at my own experiences. I started thinking that I’d like to write stories like these, so when my husband (in an off-the-cuff reaction to the growing piles of books around our bedroom) suggested I write my own, that was the final nudge I needed. Little did he anticipate what he’d started!

CAN Orchard bookIgnorance is bliss. How many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?

My November Love Inspired Suspense release, Identity Withheld, about a widowed, single-dad firefighter struggling to protect a woman in witness protection, is my eighth published novel. I have two more novels scheduled for release next year and am currently working on a new mystery series.

I write pocket-sized, romantic suspense novels for Love Inspired Suspense, and mysteries for Revell Publishing. Blind Trust, the second book in my Port Aster Secrets series, released in June. Each story in these fast-paced books is a standalone mystery featuring amateur sleuth/herbal researcher, Kate Adams, and former-FBI-agent-turned-small-town cop, Tom Parker. However, a deeper suspense underlies the series and their romance arcs it, so I highly recommend reading them in order. And…

The first book in the series, Deadly Devotion, is actually FREE today (Oct. 16, 2014) in E-format at all participating retailers. So…there’s never been a better day to check it out. Both men and women are enjoying the series, about which Booklist says, “Orchard infuses romance with suspense and keeps the excitement coming page after page.”

How did you get your first book contract?

Soon after winning the Daphne DuMaurier Award in 2009, I met with the then-new editor of Love Inspired Suspense and asked her if she might reconsider the winning entry, even though the previous editor had rejected it. I explained that I had rewritten it extensively and had, I believed, addressed the issues that didn’t work for LIS. She agreed, and although she didn’t contract it, she read the whole thing and explained exactly why it didn’t work for the line. I immediately applied what I learned to another manuscript that I’d been waiting to submit and she bought it!

I’m convinced teachability and flexibility are crucial to getting those first contracts! What has helped you promote your books the most?

With my trade books, having Deadly Devotion selected as the Nook Deal of the Day probably gave me the greatest exposure to date. Although…I’m hoping that having Deadly Devotion free today (Oct 16) will be an even bigger boon to promote the series to a lot of new readers. Publishing with Revell has also helped bring renewed interest to my backlist with Love Inspired Suspense (which are only on bookstore shelves for one month).

What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book? Did those mistakes cause you to change? If so, how?

I had a great launch with my first book. No regrets. Local newspapers were very supportive in profiling me. Three bookstores invited me to do signings in the region where I live. Several libraries invited me to speak. The only wrong assumption I made was that my church family and extended family would show support by attending a book signing. It just meant we brought in more books than we needed.

What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?

At the 2011 ACFW conference, the same month my first book released, my roommate (who I’d never met) came a day later than me, and staff couldn’t locate our room—reserved in my name—at the front desk, so…the conference MC, in the first general session, asked Sandra Orchard to please stand up, because I’d “locked my roommate out.” Well, for the rest of the conference, when meeting people on the elevator or at meals, I’d introduce myself as the one who locked out her roommate and then give them a bookmark, claiming it was all a marketing ploy. I found out later that “the advertisement” also made it to the conference’s recording, so it really did get my name out there. The book sold out of the bookstore the first day. (Of course, there were only 6 copies to begin with <wink>)

Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?

I try very hard to stay connected with my readers. I respond individually to every (non-spam) email and FB message I receive (and pray the response doesn’t end up in the recipient’s spam box!) I think personal responses help build a loyal readership. And I just love getting to know my readers better. I feel so blessed and encouraged by anyone who takes the time to let me know they’ve enjoyed one of my stories.

To introduce myself to new readers, the two most helpful things I’ve done have been writing short stories exclusively for my newsletter subscribers and then inviting blog readers to subscribe to my newsletter whenever I am a blog guest. The second thing was doing a “Gift Giveaway.” That is, I invited my FB fans to nominate a friend or loved one who they’d like me to mail a free autographed copy of my newest release to. This was an awesome way to bless people with a fun surprise and introduce them to my novels.

What a great idea! Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?

The invitations to speak at local libraries were unexpected and one of those led to a two-page profile, complete with large photographs, in my neighboring city’s newspaper, which helped tremendously both in introducing my novels and in helping people who already knew me to realize that this was a career, not a hobby.

It’s nice to get past the “Isn’t that cute? She thinks she can write” stage. Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?

Writing the next book. When readers finish a book, they want to know when the next one is coming. So I invite them to subscribe to my newsletter to receive notification, and I try to keep interest alive in-between releases by sharing bonus features about the books on my website and chatting on my blog and Facebook about works in progress and inviting readers’ input in characters’ names etc.

What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?

Don’t try to do everything. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. With the first book, especially, it’s good to do interviews or posts on a wide variety of blogs to introduce yourself to the widest possible audience, but not everyone is online. In-person events, such as speaking at libraries and seniors’ homes and women’s groups are a wonderful way to meet readers (who, if they enjoy your books, will talk about you with friends and relatives far and wide). And don’t feel as if you have to do everything in the release month. Pace yourself. I don’t recommend starting a blog if you don’t have one already. But do start building a newsletter list so you’ll be able to let readers know when the next book is coming (I use Mailchimp).

Great tips, Sandra! Thanks for sharing!

To find out more about Sandra and her books (including that free book!), please visit Sandra’s website or Sandra’s blog.

Writing for Him,

Sarah Sundin

Sarah’s website

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