An interview with Eleanor Gustafson and Marti Pieper
Welcome back to the CAN blog, Ellie. How many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?
I have five published novels. The ones still in print are The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David and Dynamo.
I checked out your website, and both books sound intriguing. Ellie, you were last featured on the CAN blog in 2012. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then?
There’s far more to publishing books than just writing them. That’s the easy part. Then comes careful self-editing to get a good grade from the publisher. My big learning curve with Dynamo was point of view. Then, the whole marketing business. A lot to learn there, and I’m still a social and technology neophyte.
What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about promotion since then?
- Do it, whether you feel like it or not.
- If you can afford it, hire a publicist. I can’t, so am stuck with my own devices.
- Watch for interview opportunities. (Thank you, Sarah Sundin, who set up this one.)
- Post a blog regularly, but not necessarily on books or writing.
- Do extensive research on publicity and marketing resources that are available today. CAN is one of them. Dig deep and make a plan.
- Go after reviewers. A hard job. Many readers may like your book but may need to be nagged into writing and posting a review.
- Start early in the process—well before your book is published—to lay the groundwork for publicity.
Wise advice. Thank you! What are the most effective means of book promotion you’ve tried?
Personal selling works reasonably well, but that’s a limited market. I carry copies with me practically everywhere and am quick to pick up or promote interest at church or conferences—wherever. I do well in Christian book-signing venues but fail dismally in secular settings. I am comfortable with getting in people’s faces to start a conversation and have had some great ones. When anyone comes in sight, I’m on my feet and move in on them. I also wear a red hat. Gets noticed.
I have learned to carry books with me as well, but maybe I need to try the red hat idea. What would you say are the least effective promotional activities you’ve tried?
My Big Bomb was an author event at our local library, selling my biblical novel, The Stones. Despite every effort to engage, the only copy I sold was after the event, to a Christian employee of the library who had already read the book and wanted one to give away. I don’t speak the right language with secular audiences.
Last winter at a Florida Christian retirement community, I set up two discussion groups, one for those who had not read Dynamo and another, more in depth, for those who had. The first group consisted of a man who had actually endorsed the book, plus two women for whom the event was simply “something to do” and who had no interest in buying a book. The second group ended up with the same man, plus my husband and me. The discussion, though, was super! You just never know.
What’s your favorite way to connect with your readers?
By far—face to face, or at least by email. I love discussion groups and/or reading selected excerpts.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I have been signing books. My hook to draw attention to The Stones is a handful of questions on the life of David. If people answer correctly, they get one of David’s “chocolate stones.” If not, I tell them they can cheat by looking in a Bible or asking someone else. Most trudge off to seek an answer. (Chocolate has a strong pull!) They return with smiles, give the proper answer and claim their prize. But one man’s response tops them all. He said, “I Googled the answer.”
As you said, chocolate is a strong pull. What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
Whitaker House (my publisher) had set me up for a TV interview. At the airport in front of Security, I skidded to a halt, suddenly conscious of their impending disapproval of the penknife in in my jeans pocket. Should’ve put it in my luggage. What to do? I found a large, potted plant near the door, looked around surreptitiously, and “planted” the knife next to the stem. Went through the line smiling. Returned next day, retrieved knife—damp and dirty—and left the airport smiling. Cathy of Whitaker House said, “Thank God we didn’t get a call from the county jail having to post bail for you!”
A discussion event in a church not well-versed in the Bible turned out to be one of my best discussions—despite a bad case of hives!
I’m glad you didn’t have to answer that question by reporting on a night spent in either jail or the hospital–or both! Have you seen God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Big door, but I have no way of knowing if anything actually came of it. Last winter I attended the CAN/Munce-sponsored bookseller event in Hershey PA. After a brief speech at the CAN breakfast, I had the great joy of giving away seventy-two copies of Dynamo, first to the breakfast attendees and then to every bookseller I could find. My thanks to Karen Whiting and the Whitaker House folk who set this up for me.
What are your top tips for new authors promoting their first book?
Don’t expect the world to bow before your book. You’ve worked hard, your publisher produces a beautiful volume, but most people don’t read, and those who do may not be interested in your genre or subject. Discouraging, yes, but apart from big-name authors, a writer’s lot is not a happy one (to paraphrase a Gilbert and Sullivan song). Don’t expect huge sales—but work hard at making space in the reading world for your book. And keep writing and learning and putting into practice things that do work.
Solid, practical advice. Thanks so much for sharing with us, and blessing as you move forward with your work.
For His Glory,