Tell us, Jesse, how did you get into writing?
As a sophomore in high school, I took an introduction-to-journalism course where I fell in love with writing. I started writing for a weekly newspaper covering high school sports.
And I kept writing high school sports stories for the next 26 years for three different publications in Chicago and Colorado. I started in the periodicals department at Focus on the Family around 20 years ago and am currently editor of Focus on the Family Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. magazines.
How many books have you published and what are some of your titles?
I’ve published 19 books. The latest ones are Devotions for Super Average Kids, Book 2 that I co-authored with Christian comedian Bob Smiley (it hits shelves June 1). And last fall, The Case for Christ for Kids: 90-Day Devotional came out that I worked on with Lee Strobel.
How did you get your first book contract?
This is a little embarrassing. It happened because I play basketball at the YMCA a few mornings a week with a bunch of Christian guys. Greg Johnson, who’s the founder and president of WordServe, asked me if I wanted to write a book. I said, “Sure.” That book was called Young Believer 365, which has since been retitled, One-Year Every Day Devotions. It’s sold over 50,000 copies. Everybody talks about how business is done on the golf course, but sometimes it’s also the basketball court.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
Several of my books have been published through Focus on the Family. Because I’ve worked at Focus for over 20 years, it’s been a blessing to excerpt and allow the Clubhouse readers to experience some of the material. Tyndale also does a great job promoting its One-Year line of books. Radio interviews have been pretty cool, especially with a book that profiled a number of Christian baseball players. I was able to do interviews with stations on both coasts and in between.
What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book? Did those mistakes cause you to change? If so, how?
With my first book, I didn’t realize I had to do any marketing. In fact, I still don’t do much. All of my books have been co-written, usually with a big-name author or personality. It’s been great to have them do the marketing, while I can concentrate on biblically sound and exciting content.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
No crazy promotional stuff. But I did write a book on Jeremy Lin in one week, so ZonderKidz could get it out at the height of Lin-Sanity. That was awesome! And because of all the media coverage, it marketed the book for me.
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
The radio interviews have been a blessing and a surprise. I did a live interview before a San Francisco Giants-Colorado Rockies game on a big San Fran station. That was nerve-wracking, but the host was very knowledgeable and friendly.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
Build your platform any way you can. I write freelance for several publications in my target demographic and offer free material to online publications that can link back to the book titles. Speaking at churches can also be a great way to get the word out, even if it’s volunteer. When you can get in front of people and share your passion for your project, it’s contagious and people will want to buy it.
Thanks for sharing your tips with us, Jesse.
Be sure and check out Jesse’s work at the following online locations: