Hello from Sarah Sundin in California where some of us are actually praying for rain. Today I have the privilege of interviewing Jolene Philo, who turned her experience with a critically ill child into blessings for others by ministering to parents of special needs children through her blog and her books.
Jolene, how did you get into writing?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but for many years thought it was no big deal. About twenty years ago, I began writing stories about my dad for my children. He was in a nursing home because of multiple sclerosis and unable to communicate with his grandkids. I wrote the stories so they could know him as I remembered him from childhood. People would read the stories and suggest I get them published. But I knew how hard it would be for an unknown writer to publish a story about an unknown father. I finally took them to a writers’ conference, hoping an editor would tell me to take them home and just write them for my family. After all, I was busy teaching full time and raising kids. I didn’t have time to be a writer. But the editor said I should try to get them published. Eventually, God provided a part-time job, so I started writing for magazines, Sunday school papers, and the like.
How many books do you have published?
Two so far. A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Critically or Chronically Ill Children was released in September 2011 by Discovery House Publishers. Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child with Special Needs was released in November 2011.
How did you get your first book contract?
Remember that editor who encouraged me to try to get the stories about my dad published? I met her at another conference, and we brainstormed book ideas. When she heard the story of our son’s surgery at birth and time in the NICU, she suggested writing a proposal for a devotional book for parents of kids with medical issues. The editor was Judith Markham at Discovery House Publishers, and the proposal became my first book.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
Because the audience for my books is primarily parents in their 20s and 30s who stay at home to care for their kids, Facebook, Twitter, and my blog have been effective means for promoting my book. These parents go online for information and socialization, so it’s a great way to reach them. Word of mouth has also been a huge help.
I wish the subtitle of the first book said, “Devotions for Parents of Children with Special Needs” instead of “Devotions for Parents of Critically or Chronically Ill Children” because it really resonates with parents caring for kids with any kind of special need. One look at the subtitle of the second book shows that the mistake caused a change in wording.
I agree. As a mother of a child with a “minor” special need (a limb deficiency), I would have overlooked the first book but picked up the second book. Jolene, what’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I really haven’t tried anything crazy. This topic doesn’t lend itself to craziness. But I did have one mom tell me the first book should come with a warning not to read it on an airplane. She began crying so hard, she had snot coming out her nose. It was so bad she had to stumble down the airplane aisle to the bathroom, her eyes and nose streaming. Very embarrassing!
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
At a book signing, I shared a table with another author who promptly lit a scented candle because she said it put people in a buying mood. Being allergic to scented candles, I spent the entire signing putting distance between me and the candle. Since then, one of my conditions for book signings is NO CANDLES!
I guess that candle put you in a buying mood–a Benadryl-buying mood! Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books? Other than lighting candles?
Yes, I interviewed about fifty families and about twenty-five professionals for the second book and sent them complimentary copies. They are very enthusiastic about it, and enthusiasm sells books.
Did you see God open any doors in the promotion of your books?
The fact that I’ve learned enough computer skills to set up two blogs and increase my internet presence is nothing short of a miracle! As soon as I joined Facebook (only because our daughter was starting college and the dorm mom recommended parents join to see what their kids were up to), I saw its potential to reach my audience. I started connecting with former elementary students, now young adults, and immediately had an audience of young people the age I needed to reach.
What do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
Connecting to parents who are well connected to different facets of the special needs community is a great way to promote my books. Many of the them have been guest bloggers at the Different Dream blog. Their friends read their posts and pass them on. This helps penetrate a hard-to-reach, pre-occupied audience of parents.
What are your top tips for writers?
For those still seeking a contract, my top tip is to build a writing resume. Write for devotional magazines, Sunday school papers, local or regional magazines, whatever is available. If you do that well, you’ll have an impressive list of clips and references. Even though you’re looking for a book contract, you won’t look like a rookie to editors.
For writers with their first contract, I have three tips:
- Cultivate a good relationship with your editor. Listen to his/her advice. Remember the editor is more experienced than you. Accept advice unless it undermines the message and purpose of your book. They do know what they’re talking about.
- Ask lots of questions very politely. Listen to the answers and incorporate them into your writing.
- Bake and send cookies to the editorial team when you receive a contract and when the book is released. This has done more to create a family feeling with my publisher than I could have imagined. I did it the first time because I was so grateful for their investment in me, and it really touched them. Both my editor and the head of the book publishing group asked for the recipe.
Thank you, Jolene, for some good and practical tips! I’m praying your writing will encourage and support these deserving parents.
Writing for Him,