"SundinGreetings from Sarah Sundin in California, where we’re actually praying for rain for a change. Whether we’re enduring ice storms or drought, medical issues or family drama, we all need to pray. Today’s featured author, Jackie M. Johnson, has made a name for herself with books on prayer and comfort. In addition, Jackie uses her experience in working for a literary agency and for a publishing house to coach aspiring authors.

"CANJackie, how did you get into writing?

I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was in junior high. I loved to read and enjoyed spelling class in school. I was constantly writing ideas and jotting down notes to myself on napkins, or scrap paper or anything I could find just to capture an idea before it was lost. I still do that today.

"CANHow many books do you have published?

I’ve been blessed to have three books published by traditional CBA (Christian) publishing houses. My books include: Power Prayers for Women (Barbour Publishing, 2007), When Love Ends and the Ice Cream Carton Is Empty (Moody Publishing, 2010), and Powerful Prayers for Challenging Times: Finding Hope When You Need It Most (Revell/Baker Publishing Group, 2012).

How did you get your first book contract?

My story is a bit different from most writers. Since I am also a freelance marketing copywriter, I sent resumes to some of the major Christian book publishers to ask if they needed freelance help for marketing writing. One publisher saw my cover letter and resume and called to ask if I would be interested in writing a book for them on the topic of their choice. It would be a work-for-hire basis (meaning that I’d receive a flat fee and no royalties). As a writer who had never been published, it sounded like a good opportunity for me; it was a way to get my foot in the door and get a first book deal. However, it wasn’t that simple. They were also giving the same offer to four other potential writers, and whoever wrote the best sample chapter would get the deal. I submitted my sample chapter. A few weeks later, I was notified that I was chosen to write the book! Thankfully, the topic was one I enjoyed: prayer. It was an unusual opportunity, but it worked for me.

What has helped you promote your books the most?

Social media has been instrumental in getting the word out to people about my books. I’ve been able to reach readers around the world through my blog, A New Day Café, and by posting regularly on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also tried Facebook advertising; it’s low cost and you can customize the audience you want to reach. Radio interviews have also been instrumental in promoting my books.

What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book? Did those mistakes cause you to change?

As a new writer, I didn’t know that the author was also responsible for book promotion. I thought the book publisher did most of that, so I didn’t do any promotion with my first book—at least in the beginning. Then, I learned that I had a role to play so I started to learn about marketing my books. I had postcards printed and sent them to some key target markets. I arranged to speak to a woman’s group and other groups interested in prayer. That’s also when I started to learn more about marketing books through social media.

What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?

Well, this was totally unintentional. A few years ago, my Dad often operated a booth at gun shows in Minnesota where local collectors and enthusiasts would buy guns, coins, and other memorabilia. At his booth, my Dad displayed guns, coin collections—and right next them—a few of my books on prayer. He is proud Dad! One day I was in town visiting him. My brother had just picked me up from the airport, and we drove to the gun show to pick up my Dad. As I was standing next to his booth waiting for him to finish the show, a woman came up to his booth and picked up my book. She looked at my photo on the back of the book, and then looked at me, and said, “Is this you?” I said, “Yes.” Then my jovial Dad announced, “Special one day only appearance by the author!” And he had me sign books right there at his booth at the gun show! I took it all in stride. My Dad told me that many women have bought my books—or husbands have bought them for their wives—at the show. You just never know what undiscovered markets may emerge!

Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?

Yes. My first book, Power Prayers for Women, was picked up by Choice Books (a distributor). In addition to book stores, the book was also available across the country in non-retail locations like Walmart, airports, grocery stores, and the like. I learned that the success of a book is often related to the distribution strategies. To date, the book has sold more than 215,000 copies.

Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?

For me, the word “variety” has been key in book promotions. I’ve done radio interviews, written articles, done blog tours, sent postcards and more. I’ve had success with maintaining a blog and social media. And, I’ve done Facebook advertising.

What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?

Read your contract thoroughly and be sure you understand what you are signing. Remember, in publishing, everything is negotiable. Be sure you have the best contract possible. That’s where your literary agent comes in; he or she is there to negotiate with the publisher for the best deal for you. One thing I learned is that if you want to have input into your book title and cover images, be sure that information is in the contract.

Thank you, Jackie! Great advice!

To learn more about Jackie and her books, visit Jackie’s website or Jackie’s blog.

Writing for Him,

Sarah Sundin

Sarah’s website

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