Greetings from Sarah Sundin on a drizzly day in northern California. As the year draws to a close, we begin to plan for the coming year. What a wonderful time to feature Dianne Neal Matthews, the author of four daily devotionals! Her newest offering, Designed for Devotion: A 365-Day Journey from Genesis to Revelation, just released, and it looks like a fabulous way to tour the Bible in 2013.
I always fantasized about being a writer but didn’t do anything about it. Then in my mid-forties, I began writing occasional articles for my church’s newsletter. When a pastor friend urged me to pursue writing professionally, I attended a writers’ conference (Write-to-Publish Conference, Chicago area). My only desire was for God to show me if writing was His will for me or my own self-centered dream. He answered clearly that week, and I’ve never doubted my calling since then.
How did you get your first book contract?
I started out writing devotions and one-page pieces for church bulletins and Sunday school take-home papers. After attending the conference a couple of years, I started discussing book ideas with editors. When I pitched an idea for a devotional based on seasons and holidays, the Tyndale House editor suggested adding historical anniversaries and pop culture trivia so it could be turned into a one-year book. He requested two weeks of sample devotions. Believe it or not, it took me almost two years to get those written and sent in. Because of that, I didn’t have high hopes. But several weeks later I got an amazing phone call–the committee had just voted to publish what would be titled The One Year: On This Day.
The most effective tool has been adapting devotions or excerpts into blog posts or articles. I do this regularly for a couple of websites, including FindingGodDaily.com and CBN.com. That allows readers to get a sample of my devotional writing and a feel for the book the excerpt came from.
What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book?
When my first book released, I’d heard over and over that publishers expect authors to market and promote their books. But looking back, I think I assumed that someone at the publishing house would tell me what to do and give me what I needed to do it. Since then I’ve discovered that the marketing and publicity departments are eager to partner with me, but I need to speak up. They’re happy to answer my questions and give feedback on promotional ideas. For my new book, Baker designed and provided bookmarks, a PDF file of sample devotions, and an e-blast geared toward Christmas. But I had to ask for each of those. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m learning to take the initiative.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
Just before I moved to Salt Lake City, a librarian friend invited me to be the featured author at her school’s book fair. When I flew into town, I saw that she had done an amazing job of promoting the event. Arriving at the school, a huge sign with my face and name greeted me at the end of the driveway. Outside the front doors, a large easel held another poster. Smaller signs dotted the walls in the hallway with info about my books. As I washed my hands in the bathroom, I noticed my face on the paper towel dispenser. I began to feel like a rock star.
Book sales seemed slow on the second morning, even though a lot of people walked by. This was the morning for women’s Bible studies, plus the building acted as a polling place that day. Once the hallway emptied, a woman strode directly toward me, obviously intending to talk. I wondered if she wanted to buy an autographed book or tell me how much she loved the one she got the day before. As I eagerly leaned toward her, she said, "Where do I go to vote?" So much for feeling like a rock star.
Very funny! Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
Getting involved with online resources has helped spread the word about my books. I’m still weak in this area and trying to get smarter about using Facebook, Twitter, etc. Some days I feel like I’ll never catch up! Just when I start to learn about one area, I hear about something brand-new.
And I don’t think it’ll stop anytime soon! Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Yes! DaySpring developed a perpetual calendar from my first book (The One Year: On This Day). With my second book, The One Year Women of the Bible, the publisher received a huge order from a company that places racks and books in businesses. Crossings featured my third book, Drawing Closer to God: 365 Daily Meditations on Questions from Scripture, as a Book Club selection. Each of these wonderful surprises came out of the blue. I’m now watching to see what God will do with the new book.
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work?
I’m beginning to appreciate the value in participating in other authors’ blogs, whether through an interview, a book giveaway or review, or providing a guest post. Each person has their own audience and circle of influence, so these opportunities give wider exposure. Thanks to each one of you who has helped me out in this way–you know who you are!
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
Get in the marketing mindset while you’re still in the process of writing the book. As you develop the content, be on the lookout for ideas that would make great articles, guest blog posts, and radio interview topics. Jot down notes about these if you can’t take time to work on them until after you finish the book. This is not something that’s easy for me to do when I’m focused on completing a manuscript, so I need to practice what I preach. My second tip would be to never stop showing gratitude to your publisher for all they do for you and your book, even if you’re feeling like they should do more.
Amen to that! Publishers receive more blame than they deserve and not nearly enough appreciation. Thank you for sharing with us, Dianne.
To learn more about Dianne and her devotionals, visit Dianne’s website.
Writing for Him,