Good day from Sarah Sundin in northern California, where the fog is almost making it feel like winter. Today I have the privilege of interviewing Donn Taylor, a man with a diverse and impressive list of achievements. Donn led an infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, holds a PhD, taught college-level English literature, writes poetry – oh, and he has two published novels. I told you it was impressive.
I’ve published two novels and one poetry book. The first novel was The Lazarus File, a suspense novel about spies, drugs, and airplanes in the Caribbean, published by the now-defunct Panther Creek Press (www.panthercreekpress.com). The second novel is Rhapsody in Red, from Moody Publishers, a light-hearted mystery set on a college campus, including satire of the college scene and political correctness.
How did you get into writing?
The drive to write seems to be part of my genetic code. I was raised in a home that thought literature was important. When my brother and I were in grammar school, my father read us large chunks of the Mark Twain canon. I began writing music at age fourteen. Two years later I entered college as a music major, studied piano with an instructor on leave from Cincinnati Conservatory, and played some of my compositions in her recitals. But at age eighteen I got interested in poetry–the Romantic poets, of course–and began writing poetry and some very bad short stories. Since then, writing is just something I have to do, though there have been long periods when job and family requirements pushed it far into the background.
How did you get your first book contract?
While I was laboriously teaching myself to write a novel (changing from tech writing and academic writing), I read chapters of The Lazarus File to a Woodlands Writers’ Guild critique group. A well-published lady named Guida Jackson heard me read two chapters (one included a detailed drug-smuggling flight from Cuba into Arkansas). A bit more than a year later, she founded Panther Creek Press and asked if she could publish the book. She did not have to ask more than once.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
Influencers and word of mouth, Web site, bookmarks, and gumption.
What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book?
My first book was The Lazarus File, published by a regional royalty-paying press. It had no publicity department, so authors had to do their own promotion. I didn’t necessarily make any wrong assumptions about this, but I learned that it was really tough going for an author to promote his own book without the wide contacts a national publisher can provide. Every sale I made was by the sweat of my brow.
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
I think the influencers were probably the most helpful.
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
At the ACFW conference in Nashville, I shared a table with Terry Burns at the book signing. At the time, he was an author with no stated intention of becoming an agent. When he did become one, I sent him a proposal and became his first sale.
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
I wish I knew. I think gaining influencers through ACFW helped, and I think my unusual bookmarks also help. But I can’t help believing that the publishers hold most of the cards.
What are your top tips for aspiring writers with their first book contract?
I’m not far enough along to give much advice, but here goes: Between the contracting and the release date, get your influencers set and (with your publisher) work out a schedule of events for the first six months of the book’s life.
Great advice, Donn! I also met my influencers through ACFW, and they have truly been amazing.
Writing for Him,