Kevin: Welcome fellow CAN author, Billie Montgomery Cook!
Billie, it’s great to have you on our “show.” Tell our readers how you got involved in writing?
Billie: I’ve always been interested in writing, at least the concept of it, because I’ve always been interested in reading. My 12th grade English teacher was the first to see something of a writer in me and seriously talk to me about it. I was a History major in college which demanded a lot of writing, and there was the time a History professor of mine used a great deal of a term paper that I had written as a chapter in his book! Things began to change for me when I became a stay-at-home Mom in the early ‘80’s. A dear friend gave me a journal as a way to “gather my thoughts.” Those thoughts evolved into the first plays that I ever wrote which became the basis of our church’s drama ministry. When my daughter was in middle school and coming home with the horror stories of that age, while looking for books to help her, I began to write her a letter that kept getting longer and longer. By the time she reached the age of 16, the letter to her became my first book, THE REAL DEAL: A Spiritual Guide for Black Teen Girls (Judson Press). I’ve also started an historical fiction trilogy about my home town (GEORGIANA SCOTT: A Free Child of Portsmouth) which I hope to finish now that I’ve retired. In April, my latest book, SISTERS OF SCRIPTURE: Mentors in Womanhood (Judson Press) was released. I’m really excited about the kinds of conversations that women will have using SOS.
Kevin: How many books do you have published?
Billie: I’ve published 3 books, 2 traditionally through Judson Press and one on my own.
Kevin: What are a few of your latest titles?
Billie: The latest is SISTERS OF SCRIPTURE: Mentors in Womanhood (Judson Press), released April, 2015.
Kevin: How did you get your first book contract?
Billie: My first book contract which was and is with Judson Press came as a result of going to writer’s conferences, listening carefully, doing my research combined with a healthy dose of recognizing the obvious. To explain, while attending a few writer’s conferences, I would always hear that one should approach trying to find a publisher the same way one should try to find a job: send out query letters on a daily basis to as many publishers as possible. That sounded like too much work me and a bonus to the post office! But I also heard at those same conferences that one should go to bookstores and see what was being published and by whom which I did and that proved valuable. At one point, my husband pastored two churches (at different times) that were affiliated with American Baptist Churches and Judson Press is the publishing arm of ABC. After thumbing through one of Judson’s catalogs one day while waiting in his office, I realized that they had the market that I wanted to reach. I sent them a query letter and the rest is history.
Kevin: What has helped you promote your books the most?
Billie: I suppose my best promotion has been word of mouth. I’m involved in quite a few things in my church as well as in my community so women spreading the news about my books have proven to be a blessing for me.
Kevin: 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?
Billie: My wrong assumptions were probably the same that most first time writers make: thinking that the book would sell itself! Realizing how crazy that was helped me to grow up and understand that marketing is key and that every author must market their work in some form.
Kevin: What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
Billie: The gimmick wasn’t mine but I once shared a book signing table at a bookstore in Atlanta with a young, first-time fiction author who had stated on a radio show that if 20 people bought her book by Noon that day, she would come to her book launch party in the nude! She got a lot of traffic with people coming to see her and talk to her (she was fully dressed) but she didn’t sell a single book. I sold about a dozen books to those same folks and even sold one of my books to her mother! It was one of the best, most interesting and craziest book signings I have ever had.
Kevin: What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
Billie: The REAL DEAL had been out for a few months and I was just beginning to do book signings and appearances and still quite new to author status. I was in East Orange, NJ at a college friend’s bookstore waiting for a group of teen girls coming from a church in Newark. I was nervous and really excited. As I walked through one of the aisles, I heard a girl gasp and say really excited, “There she is!” I stopped and looked around to see who she was talking about only to realize that it was me.
Kevin: Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
Billie: Probably being open and available as much as possible. I did quite a bit of traveling w/ the REAL DEAL.
Kevin: Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Billie: YES! When I wrote the REAL DEAL, I never imagined that the book would be so popular with adult women. I felt strongly that they would purchase it for their daughters, granddaughters, nieces, students, etc., but I never thought it would resonate so strongly with women. That has been a real blessing and eye opener for me. The second “door” has been the vision that Judson Press had for the book that has carried and continues to carry it to places that I never could have imagined.
Kevin: Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
Billie: I still have to say word of mouth, woman to woman, small groups, conferences and workshops. The one-to-one with the writer up close and personal continues to work well for me.
Kevin: What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
Billie: The most important tips I would give:
- Understand that the publisher sometimes has a broader vision for your book than you as author.
- Do your homework on the publisher BEFORE sending that query letter!
- Trust the publisher’s marketing team’s expertise because they know their audience/market.
- READ the contract carefully. For a first time contract, will it be ‘money or ministry’?
- Be available and open-minded to God’s will for the book!
Kevin: Thanks, Billie, for your advice and time, and may God continue to use and bless your writing ministry!
C. KEVIN THOMPSON is an ordained minister with a B.A. In Bible (Houghton College, Houghton, NY), an M.A. in Christian Studies (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS), and an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership (National-Louis University, Wheeling, IL). He presently works as an assistant principal in a middle school. He also has several years experience as an administrator at the high school level.