Greetings from Marti Pieper and not-so-snowy Mount Dora, Florida. We can only dream of white Christmases here, although some towns, including ours, brings in snow for at least one day during December. Regardless of where you live, I hope you’re warm, healthy, and eager to receive some book marketing wisdom from author and speaker Anita Agers-Brooks. I had the privilege of meeting Anita at the International Christian Retail Show last summer, and I’m excited about introducing her to the CAN readership today. Let’s get started with our interview.
Welcome, Anita! How did you get into writing?
As a child, I wanted to be a writer, but I hid that secret until I was in my forties. It wasn’t until late 2008 that I attended my first writer’s conference.
Sometimes it take a while to see our dreams fulfilled. How many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?
I’ve now had two titles published, First Hired, Last Fired: How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market, and Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over. I’m working on a new project now. My agent and I have discussed a list of titles I want to write with selling potential, so my goal is to publish a book a year.
That sounds fantastic. Can you please tell us how you got your first book contract?
After I attended that first conference, I realized I had a lot to learn, so I took a spiritual and a practical approach. I prayed over Matthew 25:27, asking God what bankers He wanted me to invest my talents with, but I also set a goal to read 100 books on the craft and business of writing. After eighteen months of study and practice, I had two book proposals completed, one for fiction, one for nonfiction.
A few weeks after I finished my proposals, when a literary agent asked to see my work, I was ready with both. Six days later, I was invited to be their client as a nonfiction author. My agent sold my first book within two months.
Your story shows a willingness to learn, lots of hard work, and a special touch from the Father. I’d say those are all important ingredients in an author’s success. Now that you have some books out there, what would you say has helped you promote them the most?
Speaking events and social media are the mechanisms with the most impact, but I believe they only work because the motive of my heart is geared toward souls, not sales. This comes through when I speak in person or write online. I genuinely care about helping the hurting, and I’ve heard over and over that my inspirational messages matched with practical insights are what makes people want to read what I write.
As a nonfiction author, you’re the heart of your message, and you’re clearly doing a great job of communicating that, Anita. 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?
With my first book I was afraid to make a wrong move, so I tried to do everything rigidly, and not wanting to inconvenience or offend anyone, asked for little help. I wasn’t really myself. I’ve found by relaxing, letting my guard down, and simply being authentic to who I am, people are much more responsive. I’ve also discovered the power of the ask. It’s okay to let others help. Many people are honored to play a role in spreading a message of hope and encouragement.
Great advice. So what’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I can’t really think of a crazy promotional gimmick I’ve tried. If anything, I’ve been too conservative in the past. I think I still need to let my inner whacky out.
Well, when you do, you’ll have to get back to us. Let’s try this question instead: What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
I think the funniest thing has happened a couple of different times when interviewers have mispronounced my maiden name, Agers. It’s sounded with a hard G, but some forget to ask in advance, and there have been a couple of funny flubs.
I’ve also had two different interviewers mess up the title of my latest book. One called it Getting Through What You Can’t Get Through, and another said, “Tell me about your new book, Getting Over What You Can’t Get Over.” I think I snorted on the air.
Sometimes authors need copious amounts of tact, don’t we? Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
Creating my rack card bookmark/tip cards has given me an unobtrusive way to let people know about my book without sounding pushy. Because there’s takeaway value on the card, instead of feeling pressured, people thank me for the gift. Anytime someone shares their woes, I share one of my cards.
That’s perfect. Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Recently, I attended a Women of Faith event. I’d met the founder of WOF at ICRS (the International Christian Retail Show) previously, and when I reminded him, Steve asked about my latest book. The next thing I knew, he grabbed his phone and said, “Let’s do a video and I’ll put it on my website.” Three minutes later, he’d plugged my book like crazy and promised to place it online. But when I looked up, there was a crowd of women waiting, many who wanted to know where to get my book, and congratulating me on my unexpected interview opportunity.
Just two hours later, I found out Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over had been picked up by Choice Books, and they were putting it on their racks nationwide. That was a pretty miraculous day for me as an author.
I would say so! Now that you’ve been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
- The first and best promotion is my title. No matter how good the content is, if your title is blasé, readers will be apathetic about picking your book up. Listen to yourself and others. Is there a concern, theme, or common complaint you often hear? If you can come up with a title promising a solution (as long as your content keeps the promise), many will be eager to buy a copy of your book—and tell their friends.
- Involve as many people as you can during the writing process. People naturally cheerlead when they feel like they’re part of the inner circle.
- Never assume someone is too busy or too big for an endorsement request. Even if they say no, if that’s the worst thing that happens, you’ve had a great day, but you’d be surprised at how many people remember what it was like when they were starting out and are willing to help a serious writer.
- Assist as many people as you can. Zig Ziglar got it right when he said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” I will add, however, you must do it with pure motives, not just to get something—that’s not helping, it’s called manipulation.
- With both of my books, I made oversized bookmarks that double as tip sheets out of rack cards. On one side, I use cover art from my book, and on the other I list my 7 Quick Tips for…. I’ve given over a thousand out at speaking engagements, trade shows, to social workers, doctors, counselors, and chaplains. I’ve left them in hospital waiting rooms, restaurants, hotel rooms, or anyplace else where someone might pick one up. Every autographed copy of my book I sell has one inside. I’m sure some get thrown away, but because there is a practical list of bullet point helpful tips, many people keep them, and several have asked for multiples to give as gifts. Since I pay an average of .15 each, it’s a fairly inexpensive way to make a nice impression, and keep my title in front of more people.
These are fantastic ideas. Thank you for sharing! Now, what are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
- Expect life to get in the way of your writing, and plan some extra time as a cushion for it. Also, don’t skimp on Sabbath rest. An empty cup has nothing to offer others.
- Don’t wait until your book is finished to start your marketing efforts. Keep an ongoing list of ideas as they come to you, and do at least one thing a week, while you’re writing, to prepare for the big release. Maybe it’s making a flyer. Maybe it’s contacting someone about an endorsement. Maybe it’s asking someone to help you plan a launch party.
- Start a spreadsheet to monitor interview requests, responses, and the dates you give them. Make sure you include the name of the program, the interviewer’s name, phone number, and email address. With each new book release, it will save you a lot of time by having a central location to begin the query process and will provide the details to remind an interviewer you were a past guest.
- Create a briefing book. I doubt any of us can remember everything we wrote in our books. On my iPad, using Keynote, I made a cheat sheet PDF with common interview questions, relevant information I like to provide in my answers, and bullet points of important themes, scriptures, story examples, quotes, statistics, etc. Most radio interviews are done on the phone, and having this information at your fingertips makes you sound confident, savvy, and clear to the listeners tuning in.
- Never forget the power of prayer. Knee time is the most important time I spend during any part of the writing, publishing, and marketing process.
I wish I’d had these tips as a newbie. I appreciate you sharing your heart and your wisdom.
To learn more about Anita and her books, visit Anita’s website.
For His glory,