Dianne, how did you get into writing?
As an eighteen-year-old college student, I landed my dream job writing for my hometown newspaper in Johnson City, Tennessee. When Billy Graham held a crusade in Knoxville in 1970, the newspaper sent me to cover the event, which made national headlines with the visit of President Richard Nixon. Through the influence of my friend and mentor Dr. Sherwood Wirt (founding editor of Decision magazine), the crusade executive committee chose me to write a commemorative book about the crusade. Billy Graham in Big Orange Country was my first book—at age twenty-four.
My eleventh book releases in March. I Don’t Chase the Garbage Truck down the Street in My Bathrobe Anymore! Organizing for the Maximum Life throws a rope to the desperate who are drowning in disorganization. It offers practical strategies to organize space, time, and family chaos while encouraging personal renovation—purging interior garbage (negative thinking, inferiority), and submitting fully to Christ, gateway to balance and abundant living.
Cabbages and Kings—Reflections on Living Abundantly in Christ (2012), is a collection of devotional-style articles suggesting attitudes and habits for a joy-filled life: confronting fear, anger, and discouragement; moving past failure and guilt; putting love and forgiveness into practice. Another project is underway: Help! I’m Stuck and I Can’t Get Out! The Maximum Marriage Maintenance and Repair Kit gives relationship principles learned during my forty-eight years of marriage and a guarantee that couples will celebrate their golden anniversary. Yes, that’s a bold promise!
My best-known book is Twice Pardoned, the life of Harold Morris. It was the first book for Focus on the Family Publishing and number one on the national Christian best-sellers list in 1986. It’s still available on Amazon.
How did you get your first book contract?
My first contract was with Thomas Nelson Publishers, and the Lord used a series of events to make that happen. A small printer did the Billy Graham book. Vietnam hero Clebe McClary saw the book and asked me to write his story, Living Proof. He decided to self-publish, although editors at Thomas Nelson Publishers had shown interest in the manuscript. Later an editor there contacted me about ghost-writing Rexella Van Impe’s book, The Tender Touch.
I love looking back, seeing how the Lord worked step by step. I had met Dr. Wirt when I attended the School of Christian Writing in Minneapolis, sponsored by Decision in 1969. We reconnected the following year at the Knoxville crusade, and he recommended me to the executive committee to write the crusade book. That led to writing the McClary book, which led to the Thomas Nelson contract. Clebe connected me with his high-school friend, Harold Morris, who at the time was serving a double-life sentence in Georgia State Penitentiary for armed robbery and murder, after being convicted by the false testimony of two companions. After his miraculous parole, I had the honor of writing his story. It was all the Lord’s “networking.”
What has helped you promote your books the most?
Speaking events, media interviews, and book signings have been my primary approach. I’m learning from other authors. I had no idea how much support was “out there” until becoming a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA) and Christian Authors Network (CAN) last year. After pretty much “going it alone” as an author, I’ve been overwhelmed by the encouragement and knowledge these authors so willingly share. I feel like a student, absorbing and applying what they’ve learned from their successes as well as their challenges. I’m so grateful for opportunities that have come through AWSA and CAN, including writing guest blogs and being introduced through author interviews such as this one. What a blessing to be among wonderful, praying friends who share the calling to declare God’s praise!
What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book and how has your approach changed?
My early publishing success in the 1980s was all the Lord’s doing. The publishers handled most of the marketing. My “wrong assumption” was that would last forever! Twice Pardoned was a best-seller before publication with a pre-sale of 85,000 copies. I spent the next fifteen years out of the publishing loop, taking care of parents (mine and my husband’s) and getting our two kids through high school and college. When I resumed my career, much had changed. I was surprised to learn authors are required to have a plan to introduce the new “baby” and help it grow. In my younger days as a journalist, I enjoyed promoting myself. Now…not so much. But I’m giving it all I’ve got. My journalism background prepared me well. I’m experienced and comfortable writing press releases and scheduling media interviews. To introduce my new baby (the organization book), I’m launching a publicity blitz including radio/television/newspaper interviews, social media announcements, book signings, and speaking engagements—everything I can do without a financial investment. I’ll let you know how that goes!
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I haven’t tried any crazy gimmicks, but I can tell you how the Lord turned an impulsive whim into an amazing opportunity. Soon after joining AWSA last year, I heard about the annual conference in St. Louis. Initial response: there’s no way I can afford to go. I’d been praying about attending a writers’ conference where I’d meet a few publishing representatives. Then I learned the AWSA conference preceded CBA’s International Christian Retail Show—where I’d meet many in the publishing industry. The Lord led me in that direction. I applied for and received a media pass to attend ICRS. Since dozens of celebrities had crossed my path during my journalism career, I was in my comfort zone interviewing renowned authors including Carol Kent, Karen Kingsbury, June Hunt, Clay Crosse, Stephen Arterburn, and Richard Blackaby. The only downside: writing the articles and submitting to publications would be time consuming. On an impulse from the Lord, I called a local Christian radio station (WHCB-FM, Bristol, Tennessee, where I’d been a guest several times talking about my books) to see if my recorded interviews would be of interest. The answer: yes. Last September I began hosting a weekly program, “At the Library,” featuring interviews with Christian authors from many genres. A radio host! I love God’s surprises!
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
I laughed with delight at a recent speaking event. Many years ago the Lord gave me an unexpected ministry mentoring younger women one on one, teaching biblical marriage and parenting principles. Investing in their lives has been a joy. Being passionate about memorization and application of God’s Word for life transformation, I helped several young women get started by making them a Scripture memory kit—a small box (covered with Contact paper) containing envelops with verses, divided by category: awesome God, praise, guidance, obedience, strength, hope, faith, fear, anger, wholesome mouth, holiness, and victorious walk. After making half a dozen kits, I decided in 2001 to self-publish the kit, 104 verses in a small spiral-bound format: Walking in Victory, A Two-Year Scripture Memorization Plan. One of the women I had mentored about fifteen years ago attended a recent speaking event and brought a surprise: the boxed Scripture memory kit I’d given her for encouragement as a young wife and mom. Her kids are grown and her marriage still flourishing. I gave her the new version, fully aware the format doesn’t matter. God’s Word is powerful—whether wrapped in Contact paper or a fancy spiral binding.
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
Name recognition is an author’s best marketing tool. My journalism career kept my name prominent in the East Tennessee area, and Twice Pardoned gave me national recognition. When I published Cabbages and Kings, the Johnson City newspaper (where the articles were originally published) did almost a full-page layout with feature and photos. I’m sure the timing—a few days before my book signing at LifeWay Christian Store—contributed to setting a sales record for a local author. I’m still in awe over the opportunity to host a weekly radio program (www.whcbradio.org) reaching portions of five states. I suspect the Lord’s up to something concerning name recognition.
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Even before writing the book, I knew in my heart Twice Pardoned would be a best-seller—but not before publication (pre-sale 85,000 copies). It sold over a million copies and was published in several languages—thanks to Focus on the Family’s marketing and the blessing of God. When a friend of mine returned from a mission trip to Romania, he shared this story. After learning he was from Johnson City, Tennessee, a young woman who served as an interpreter said she had just read an amazing book that had impacted her life. It was about a man who had been in prison, and it was written by an author from Johnson City. He told her we were friends. She gave him a gift for me: a copy of Twice Pardoned in Romanian.
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
Prayer! Writing is a calling from God, and he delights in giving us ideas and directing our plans. As the Lord suggests ideas, I make notes of people and organizations to contact when I have a new book or a special event. At speaking events I have an email sign-up sheet for those who want to follow my writing/speaking ministry. Of course, being a journalist, I take advantage of media opportunities to announce book releases and signings. Social media is an awesome tool for spreading the word.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
1. Be professional. Do your best work. Respect deadlines.
2. Be grateful. This is a new day in Christian publishing. Getting an open door with a traditional publisher was difficult before the economic crisis, and it’s more complicated now. Appreciate this opportunity and express your gratitude for those who work with you throughout the publishing process. The best way to influence your own future is to become known as an author who’s pleasant and cooperative.
3. Be responsible. Do your part. If you’re serious about writing, you must have a website. Even if you aren’t tech savvy, learn to navigate social media. Start a blog. Take advantage of opportunities to write a guest blog for other authors. You also need to have printed promotional materials available—a tip sheet and business cards. Build your speaking platform. Be passionate about promoting and marketing your book. This is time-consuming, but it’s an essential part of building your business. Talk with other authors and see what they’re doing. Give it your best and trust the Lord to fulfill his purpose in your life.
4. Be careful about believing your own PR. As authors and speakers, we’re required to promote ourselves and present our best, keeping in mind our Father gets all the glory. I learned a huge lesson many years ago while my husband and I were serving as volunteer youth leaders at our church. During a week-long revival, we planned a “youth night” and served pizza before the service. Attendance exceeded our expectations, and friends offered much praise for all the work we’d done. I sensed pride settling in when a sweet inner voice reminded me, “I just needed someone to order the pizza.”
Thank you, Dianne. For more from this dynamic author, visit her website at www.diannebarker.com.