Greetings from Sarah Sundin! Today I have the joy of interviewing someone I consider a good friend—even though we haven’t met in person! Bonnie Leon and I have been critique partners for several years, and I’ve enjoyed learning from this extremely talented, experienced, and generous multi-published author.
Bonnie, how many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?
I’ve published twenty books—nineteen novels and one memoir.
My most recent title is Where Eagles Soar, it is a memoir I wrote for a woman who grew up in the Alaskan wilderness. The series, Alaskan Skies, released prior to the memoir. The titles in the series are Touching the Clouds, Wings of Promise, and Joy Takes Flight.
You were last featured on the CAN blog in 2009. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then?
A lot has happened since our last meeting. I’ve had a new series, Alaskan Skies, release, worked with a small press to revise The Journey of Eleven Moons and re-release it,and I’ve labored through my first memoir, a labor of love.
While writing the Alaskan Skies, I glided along on a peaceful publishing cloud, but the industry is changing. I cannot rest on past successes. I need to be at the top of my game with every book. And these days, being a writer is also about how to best market what I write.
I need to be flexible in the midst of the industry’s transformation. It’s been a difficult climb up the steep learning curve of marketing. Plus, I’m stepping into new genres. The memoir, Where Eagles Soar, was a whole new writing experience for me, and I’m presently working on my first contemporary novel.
The revised edition of The Journey of Eleven Moons seemed like an easy task, but when I went to work on it, I quickly learned that rewriting is more difficult than original writing. However, the end result is a much better book.
What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about promotion since then?
Mainly, that I have a lot to learn. I’m listening to the voices of those who have walked the promotion path successfully and doing my best to implement some of their suggestions.
Marketing requires chunks of time, and my life can’t all be about promoting my work. If I’m not vigilant, marketing can eat up the days, cutting into my personal life and writing life. Finding balance is a daily challenge. I am not a super human and can’t do it all. So, it becomes a matter of choices. I need to determine what helps get my work out there and do those things well.
What are the most effective means of book promotion you’ve tried?
Building a mailing list is a great help in getting the word out about new books. I use contests to stir up interest and to build my mailing list, so I invest time and money into creating a first-rate contest with each new release. I invite people who contact me to sign up for my newsletters and point out that there is a place on my website’s home page where they can do that.
I’m still a bit new to Twitter, and I’m learning how to navigate and use it efficiently. The jury is out, but I definitely see potential.
Facebook is the place where I do most of my friendly connecting. I’ve built relationships with lots of readers. For me, it’s a comfortable place to meet fans and to promote my work. But it can be a time-waster. I have to discipline myself not spend too much time there.
There are lots of marketing tools, but the bottom line is I’ve got to write. And what I create can’t be junk. It’s got to be my best work.
What are the least effective promotional activities you’ve tried?
Pinterest can be a lot of fun, but I have yet to find the key to using it as an efficient marketing tool. It’s a great place to find photos for my blogs, but I’m not convinced blogging is the best way to promote books. However, I believe my blogs have value on a personal and spiritual level, so I will continue to write them. Value can’t always be measured by number of sales generated.
What’s your favorite way to connect with your readers?
Book signings are fun, though I don’t do many of them these days. It can be a lot of time and expense for very little financial return.
I love to meet readers, and reading groups have been a boost to my spirit as well as my sales. I’ve met with several groups, sometimes in a reader’s home, church or a meeting hall, and I’ve even met with groups on Skype. Spending time with readers is always a treat.
My most interesting experience was meeting with a remote Alaskan native village’s high school class via Skype. One of my books was a class project.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I don’t know about crazy, but on my last book release I invited people to join a launch group on Facebook. I had a lot of takers and they were so terrific. We had a good time, and the group was dedicated to getting the word out. They were creative and diligent, and some continue to promote my books whenever they see an opportunity.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
I’ve had lots of fun experiences at writing conferences—all sorts of encounters with promising writers. One time, I sat down with a gal and we chatted about a variety of things, but when she asked me why I allowed myself to get so fat, I was flabbergasted and didn’t know what to say. She was well-intentioned, but I still don’t know the answer.
I met with a writer who was convinced that I couldn’t edit his work and maintain his writing voice. I asked him to give me a chance and he agreed to let me to edit one chapter. The writing was great, but needed a bit of tidying up, which I did. He read through it after I’d finished, then looked at me with a stunned expression on his face. “You did it! I can’t believe it,” he said. I smiled and felt awfully good inside.
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
It’s always exciting to get a great review from Library Journal or see a two-page spread in a magazine. Overseas sales were a surprise for me, and I love getting royalty checks because people are reading my books in places like Australia, Holland, and the United Kingdom. When preparing for book launches I’ve been invited to be a guest on some spectacular websites, do radio interviews, and give speeches. When invited to take part in a church library conference I had no idea how many church librarians would be there. There were a lot of them, sweet women and all hungry for new books. Book sales were spectacular. That was extra fun.
In the end, I believe God is involved in all of it. He orchestrates my life—personal and business.
What are your top tips for new authors promoting their first book?
- Get connected with readers and authors in a forum that fits you. Don’t be shy. People want to hear from you. Make sure to read the articles posted. You’ll find some great tips.
- Research your options and choose what fits best, remembering your target audience.
- We’re supposed to work hard, but no one can be everywhere all the time.
- Never stop learning.
- Keep writing and keep reading.
Great tips, Bonnie! Thanks for sharing!
Writing for Him,