Happy New Year from Sarah Sundin in California! What better way to ring in 2014 than by getting to know Bob Hostetler, author of numerous bestselling and award-winning books. And let’s face it—anyone whose most recent title is Life Stinks…And Then You Die is bound to give us some interesting insights!
I was raised in a family of readers and writers. My brothers and I would read cereal boxes at the breakfast table, encyclopedia volumes in the bathroom, you name it. The first time I saw my name in print was in Highlights magazine, when I was around eight years old or so, and from then on I occasionally submitted drawings and writing to various magazines. By the time I became a pastor (at 22), I was writing regularly for publication.
Life Stinks…And Then You Die, released in November, is my thirty-fifth book, and my fourth to be released in 2013—the others are Take Time To Be Holy (Tyndale Momentum), Why Church? (Outreach Publishing), and Falling in Love with God (Leafwood Publishers). My next book will be The Red Letter Life (17 Words of Jesus to Simplify and Energize Your Life), due out in June 2014.
How did you get your first book contract?
It was January 1990, and I was the editor of The Salvation Army’s national youth publications. Several weeks earlier, I had assembled a book proposal and sent it to a few Christian publishers…with a heartfelt prayer.
My office phone rang, and the caller introduced himself: Joey Paul, vice president of trade publications at Word Books in Texas. He was calling about my book proposal. He said he liked it: “It’s a creative idea, excellent writing, and looks perfect for the teen audience you’ve aimed it at."
Having inflated my ego, he then popped it like a cheap balloon. "Unfortunately, we’re under contract for a similar book with Josh McDowell. So, I was ready to send it back to you and say, ‘We like it but we can’t publish it.’"
"Oh," I said. I could have said more, but that seemed to express it.
"But—here’s where it gets a little delicate, and I hope you won’t mind if I just come out with my idea. I realized that your style would work very well for something like that. So…would you consider co-writing with Josh McDowell?"
"Hummina, hum, well—y’know, I’d be foolish to say no." I think he was a little impressed with my sophistication.
He seemed happy to hear that, but emphasized that nothing was set at that point. He promised to pursue the matter with Josh McDowell, and we exchanged friendly farewells.
Long story short (too late, I know): That brief conversation led to a cooperative writing project which culminated in the March 1992 release of Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler. It was awarded a Gold Medallion award and has since sold around 300,000 copies. And Josh and I went on to co-author a dozen more books.
It was a wonderful "break." Obviously, though I narrowly missed a kindly-worded rejection slip, the birth of my first book was partly a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I also believe it was part of God’s providential plan, because I strongly believe in the message of that book, and he has used it to bring glory to himself in ways I could never take credit for. But I also remind myself often of three qualities in my proposal that Joey Paul said got his attention.
Much that goes on in publishing is beyond my control (I cannot change the financial realities of the publishing world, for example, nor can I force editors to change their priorities to reflect mine). But I’ve learned that the few things I can control are enough. I can insist that my work always possesses the same critical qualities that gave birth to my first book: a creative idea, excellent writing and a clear market. That’s easier said than done, of course, but once done, it’s easier sold. And easier bought. And easier read.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
Other than the tremendous blessing of Josh’s reputation and name recognition, I’d say (trite though it sounds) reader satisfaction—there’s no substitute for that, regardless of whether it’s a coauthored book with Josh or one with only my name on the cover. Also, strategic endorsements. I’ve been honored to have such luminaries as Leonard Sweet, Gordon MacDonald, Eugene Peterson, and others endorse my books.
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?
A recurring mistake over the years was to view the publication of the book as more or less the end of the line as far as my task went. Huge mistake, of course. And, while I still have a long way to go, I am learning to develop and implement specific, strategic, ambitious marketing and promotion plans of my own for each book as its release date approaches and arrives and passes. That job is never done.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
A great idea that I wish I had capitalized on: When Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door was released, my brother Larry brought to the release party a large glass jar with a big cauliflower cluster in it—it looked just like a human brain. I should have taken his idea and run with it, sent jars like that to all sorts of people to publicize the book.
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
It’s not rocket science, but for many of my books I plan and book related speaking engagements that draw from the theme of the book—some of which include costumed monologues (I’m an actor wannabe).
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Several years ago I was contacted by the German publisher of some of my books, who asked me to come and speak to a gathering of 400-500 youth pastors and youth workers at their annual conference. I’d never been to Germany. I accepted and have since spoken a couple times for them, and am blessed by many friends there.
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
Social media, used wisely (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). I try to give my followers, readers, and “friends” value when I post or tweet (usually something to make them smile or laugh), and in turn am able to regularly promote my work to thousands of people around the world.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
Believe it or not, devote as much of your time to marketing and promotion as you do to writing. Banish the thought of the solitary writer polishing inspired prose in seclusion while the world beats a path to his or her door. It ain’t like that.
And ain’t that the truth! Thanks for sharing with us, Bob! Great stories!
Writing for Him,