Greetings from Sarah Sundin in California! Today I have the privilege of interviewing cozy mystery author Ellen E. Kennedy—who often goes by her very appropriate initials—EEK! All of us grammar lovers will enjoy her clever titles.
Ellen, how many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?
Four, plus “The Applesauce War,” a Christian romance novella in the Barbour Books anthology, The Farmer’s Bride. My latest titles are Murder in the Past Tense (2014) and Incomplete Sentence (2016) in the Miss Prentice Cozy Mystery series.
You were last featured on the CAN blog in 2013. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then?
I think the Biblical admonition: “not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together… encouraging one another….” in Hebrews has an application for Christian writers, too. In recent years, I’ve become involved with a writers’ group that meets weekly. The encouragement and what you might call honing of our skills has been invaluable to me as a writer. We have also formed warm friendships.
That’s one of the things I love about CAN—how we support and encourage each other. Ellen, what are the chief lessons you’ve learned about promotion since then?
I’ve learned that it’s definitely a full-time job for a writer these days, especially those published by a small publisher or who are self-published.
What are the most effective means of book promotion you’ve tried?
I think personal appearances are great for promotion. I love to give talks on mystery writing to groups. They always end up buying quite a few books. Also, frequent, really frequent, promotion on Facebook sites and on Twitter seems to help a lot.
What are the least effective promotional activities you’ve tried?
I, personally, have not had much luck with writers’ conferences in recent years. When I first started writing, I attended conferences all over the country, got myself on panels, and made some really good connections. Fifteen years down the line, I can’t seem to get my toe in the door to meet people or get on panels any more. I have a smaller promotional budget now, so I have to carefully consider which conferences to attend.
What’s your favorite way to connect with your readers?
I really enjoy that face-to-face contact of personal appearances. I love to hear opinions and suggestions from readers, to know what aspects of the books they liked, and what they didn’t, to laugh with them and to get to know them.
That’s the type of thing that readers love! What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
One fun thing was at the Malice Domestic Conference in Washington, DC, a number of years ago. At a breakfast, they gave beginning writers a chance to promote their book in one-minute intervals. I took advantage of my background in TV and radio advertising and wrote a 60-second spot along the lines of a used car dealer. I remember it opened with, “Within the covers of this slim volume you will find…” It got a big laugh and was remembered by attendees several years afterward.
Another time, I was part of a large panel of authors at an event sponsored by the Wake County (NC) library system. We were each allotted only ten minutes apiece to tell about our books. I decided to distill my favorite speech down into a short one with the slightly sarcastic title, “Ten Answers to Every Author’s Favorite Question: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’” Among the sources I cited were: ‘Back pages of USA Today,’ ‘Your Favorite Horrible Headline,’ and ‘Stealing from the Classics.’ Since many of the other writers went way, way over their time limit, I was told later that my talk was remembered with affection by the audience. Leave ’em wanting more, that’s my motto!
Great motto! What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
I was doing a book signing at Malice Domestic and a woman approached me to say, “I read on your back cover blurb that you were a born-again Christian, but decided to read the book anyway. And I actually enjoyed it!” I had to laugh about that.
I love it. Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
I had been a bit discouraged about my books’ sales recently and finally decided to stop worrying and put it in God’s hands. After all, my goal is not to make the New York Times Bestseller List (though that would be very nice!) but to provide (and here’s my mission statement) “wholesome entertainment with a Christian worldview.” I decided to keep on working and leave the successes to Him. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen my books being purchased in large quantities by libraries and have received a number of new glowing reviews. I just need to do my best and keep out of God’s way.
What are your top tips for new authors promoting their first book?
Always have handouts, something to give a potential reader—and don’t hesitate to give them to anybody you meet! Business cards—with your name, book title, a one-line description of the book and where to buy it and website address—are vital. Also postcards with the book cover on one side and a brief blurb and all other relevant info on the back. These are versatile. You can use them as handouts and you can mail them to potential readers.
Get a website. There are do-it-yourself websites that are very effective and economical—I use Weebly. Be sure to update the website regularly and announce any additions you make on social media. I have pages for my different characters in my mystery series: glamorous Lily Burns has a beauty hints page and Hester the B&B housekeeper has a household hints page. It’s been fun to put together.
Be approachable. Take time to write up a speech you can use for public appearances. Don’t tell the plot of your stories, only allude to them. Instead, tell them the funny and fascinating things you learned in your writing and research. Let them in on the ‘secrets’ of writing. For instance, I tell them about how I rode the Lake Champlain ferryboat and investigated rescue techniques in the event of a ‘man overboard’ event—to the dismay of my fellow passengers!
Don’t get discouraged. Keep plugging along and trust God. He’s the one who gave you this ability in the first place!
Great advice, Ellen! Thanks for sharing with us.
To learn more about Ellen and her books, please visit Ellen’s website.
Writing for Him,