Greetings from Sarah Sundin in California! For some reason, I feel I should use Elizabethan English, but I’d fail so I won’t try. Today I’m pleased to interview Bob Hostetler, multi-published author of many classic titles you’ll recognize. His most recent book delves into Shakespeare and the King James Version—and today he’s sharing some of the delightful ways he’s used his topic to connect with readers.
Bob, how many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?
The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional is my 45th book. It’s a one-year devotional that draws from the two greatest works of English literature—the King James Version of the Bible and the works of Shakespeare (which, by the way, were created in the same period, same country, same city, and just a few miles from each other). Each day’s devotion pairs a quote from Shakespeare with a verse from the Bible, offers a short reading based on the pairing, and finally a question to help the reader apply that day’s truth. Each reading concludes with one or two “factoids” about the Bible, Shakespeare, the Bible, the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages, and more.
My recent releases also include The Red Letter Life (17 Words from Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical, Purposeful Living), The Red Letter Prayer Life (17 Words from Jesus to Inspire Practical, Purposeful, Powerful Prayer), and the historical novel, Northkill (which is based on an incident in my family’s history and was coauthored with a distant cousin, novelist J. M. Hochstetler).
You were last featured on the CAN blog in 2013. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then?
Since then? You’re assuming I’ve learned something since 2013? Oh, okay, maybe I have. One lesson I have learned—and continue to learn—is that “the bottom line” isn’t the bottom line. That is, writing is not primarily an earnings game . . . at least, not the way I do it! It is a giving game. The more I give, and the more ways I give, the more rewards I enjoy, and most of them are not monetary. I admit, I often wish for more monetary rewards, but the bottom line (there it is again) is that the greatest rewards are things like friends made, lives touched, ministries helped, and more.
I love that attitude! What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about promotion since then?
That one’s easy: “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2). Otherwise known as, “It never hurts to ask.” A few years ago, I wrote a favorite author of mine, Eugene Peterson, to ask if he’d consider reading and endorsing my book, How to Survive the End of the World, because I quoted him several times in it. One day I got a phone call. I didn’t recognize the number so I let it go to voicemail. A minute later I picked up the voicemail and it was him, calling to say he would read the manuscript. The book was published with his beautiful endorsement above the title! I’ve since had several similar “James 4:2” moments that have enlarged my faith and blessed some of my promotional efforts.
What are the most effective means of book promotion you’ve tried?
I am definitely still growing and learning in this area. But I’ve had a blast promoting The Bard and the Bible since its August 2016 release. It came out just in time for me to host a two-part book launch party in conjunction with local Shakespeare-in-the-Park productions. I attended the ICRS convention a few weeks before the book’s release and conducted media interviews about the book. I created a landing page and new blog for the book, a new Twitter feed, and I use social media as creatively as possible to interest and inform people about the book. I wrote blog posts related to the book. I worked hard to make sure as many honest reviews as possible have been posted to CBD.com, Amazon, BN.com, and Goodreads. I’ve been conducting speaking engagements related to the book and attending book festivals.
What creative ideas! What are the least effective promotional activities you’ve tried?
I guess my YouTube book trailers would qualify as an answer to that question. I’m no great filmmaker, but I started a YouTube page and created short book trailer videos for several of my books. They were fun to do, but they haven’t made much of a splash.
What’s your favorite way to connect with your readers?
Social media is great, and I probably have the most day-to-day interaction with readers on Facebook and Twitter. People often tell me they look forward to the humorous things I tweet twice a day, so that’s kind of cool. But my favorite way of connecting with readers is at speaking engagements, when I get to interact in more depth with people. Many of my best friends today are people I’ve met at speaking opportunities.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I don’t think it’s all that crazy (but then I’m far from the best judge of the line between sane and insane), but as the release of The Bard and the Bible approached, I shopped for a full, high-quality “Shakespeare” costume. It was harder than I thought, but I eventually found an amazing shop near my high school in Cincinnati, and with their help, “For my part, I am so attired in wonder,” as Benedick said, that I’ve appeared as “the Bard” at Shakespeare performances and book festivals. I hope to add Renaissance Fairs in the future, but that’s been a harder door to open.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
It may not be all that funny, but I did have to smile when I found my table at the “Books by the Banks” book festival at Cincinnati’s downtown convention center. I was dressed as Shakespeare and the festival staff had set up my book table next to a Mark Twain lookalike and impersonator (who also does presentations as Charles Dickens). We may not have been the most popular authors at the festival (after all, “Super Why” was there), but we swapped stories and had a great time. And I enjoyed the many strange looks I got on my way to and from my car, a block away from the convention center.
That must have been hysterical! Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
I already mentioned Eugene Peterson’s generosity in endorsing one of my books, but that’s the sort of thing that springs to mind—the kindness of fellow readers and authors, like Leonard Sweet (another of my favorites, who has endorsed several of my books) and David Teems (whose music and writing I enjoyed well before we became friends).
What are your top tips for new authors promoting their first book?
Don’t be a nuisance but get out there. Keep at it. Don’t get discouraged. And keep a box or two of books in your trunk; you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to give or sign or sell a book to a new reader.
Great advice, Bob! Thank you for sharing with us.
Writing for Him,