Kathy, please tell us how you got into writing.
About twenty years ago, a friend from church asked me to help her with a conference she was running. She said I was so much help, she asked if I’d like to attend for free. “I don’t know. What kind of conference is it?” (Clearly I hadn’t paid much attention to the material I was stuffing into three-ring binders.) She told me it was a writers’ conference. “But I’m not a writer,” I said. She replied, “Maybe you are and you just don’t know it yet.” At the conference, I met people whose names were on the covers of books I had at home. I felt like I was meeting celebrities! But they were “real” people, a lot like me. And they wrote in their spare time—it wasn’t a full-time day job, as I’d always assumed. Deciding to take a shot at it, I wrote an article and submitted it to a magazine I’d never heard of until I picked up their writers’ guidelines on the freebie table. They sent me a check for $100. I was hooked!
How many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?
I started by self-publishing Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling as well as Typing without Pain and Christian Drama Publishing. In 2013 I got an agent. In January 2014, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas published my PUGS book with a new title: Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. In June of this year, BroadStreet Publishing released the first book in my new Fiction Lover’s Devotional series, 21 Days of Grace: Stories that Celebrate God’s Unconditional Love. Book 2, 21 Days of Christmas, came out in September. Book 3, 21 Days of Love, comes out in January 2016 (for Valentine’s Day). Book 4, 21 Days of Joy, comes out next April (for Mother’s Day).
How did you get your first book contract?
I met Diana Flegal at a Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. At the time, I had eight projects, all in different genres … some of my own writing and some manuscripts I’d ghostwritten for clients. Unlike every other agent I’d talked with, Diana didn’t tell me to pick one genre and stick to it. She helped me see that being a professional freelance editor was my brand, so all of the ghostwritten books as well as my books for writers and editors and even my compilation projects fit together. And when I was ready to get my novel published, we would figure out my fiction brand. She first pitched my PUGS book (the strongest in my “editor” brand) and got the contract with Lighthouse.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
I’ve been speaking at Christian writers’ conferences for years, running two networks for freelance editors, and developing a social media presence with authors and editors. But the best thing I did to promote my books was hire an assistant! I didn’t have time to keep up with my editing, my speaking, my networks, and my family commitments and also build a strong social media presence. Having someone take care of that for me enabled me to focus on my specialties. Without her, I simply wouldn’t have taken the time to do all that.
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 traditionally published book, I tried to do everything I’d heard authors talk about doing to promote their books. That took way too much time, even with an assistant. So together we created a marketing plan and prioritized each item based on criteria like how much time they took, how successful we thought they’d be, and how much we actually wanted to do them. We started at the top and just did what we had time for. The things at the bottom of the list never got done, but those weren’t the most important, so I didn’t mind.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
My assistant set up a Facebook launch party for my Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. I’d never even participated in someone else’s virtual launch party, and neither had she. But we decided to give it a try. Since I have quotes from several multi-published authors in my book, my assistant invited them each to take a half-hour segment of the launch party to be the “special guest” for that time period. We ended up splitting the party into two Thursday evenings, three hours each, to fit in all the contributing authors who agreed to participate. Those six hours flew by in a flash! I felt like I was at a party with numerous conversations going on simultaneously and me trying to chime in on all of them. It was exhausting and crazy, but also a lot of fun.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
Between special guests in the Facebook launch party, I held a contest, offering a free copy of the book to anyone who posted a humorous typo sighting on http://secretsofbestsellingauthors.com/just-for-fun. We got some funny ones! Like a Kindle version of the Bible that referred to Jeremiah as “Jeremy the prophet.” And an ad in a farm classifieds: “For sale. Truck with extra-long bed and big wench.”
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
Since word-of-mouth is the best advertising, I’m a big believer in giving away free copies of my books. Besides my friends and family, I give copies to conferences for giveaways, to conference directors and conference bookstore operators, influencers, reviewers, and people who go out of their way to help me in some way (even if they’re not writers or Christians). I also hold contests on my blog and social media. For 21 Days of Grace, which released June 1, I had a “Summer of Fun & Faith” contest. I offered several “second-place prizes,” which consisted of an autographed copy of my devotional and a copy of a novel written by one of the contributing authors. The grand prize had those two things plus an insulated picnic bag, a mini kite, pad of notepaper, specialty pens and highlighters, a mesh beach bag, Frisbee, wind sock, and ChapStick. We got a lot of entries for that!
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Since Proofreading Secrets is for such a niche market, I knew it wouldn’t show up in any brick-and-mortar stores. With 21 Days of Grace, I was excited to finally have a book on the shelves at Christian bookstores. But BroadStreet Publishing also got it into some Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, and Hastings stores. It was great fun seeing my little book in those places and getting pictures from people across the country who saw it in their stores. I’m excited to think about how God will use my book when it gets into the hands of people who don’t know Him intimately.
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
I think the most important ingredient to promoting your work is a deep passion for it, and a confidence that God called you to write it and that He wants to use it to bless people.
My Fiction Lover’s Devotionals are easy and fun to promote because they’re not just my books. They’re compilations of short fictional stories, followed by brief life applications, each written by a different author. So when I tell people how awesome the book is, I can brag about other authors besides me (even though I do have one chapter in each of the first three books). I can also rave about what a great job my publisher did of producing the devos as beautiful hard-cover gift books, with gorgeous covers, full-color interior, and even little ribbon page markers. I’m much more comfortable promoting what others have done than pushing my own work!
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
Celebrate! Don’t be shy about sharing this fantastic news with everyone you know (and even with people you don’t know, especially through social media). Your first book contract is a special gift from God, and a strong confirmation that He has called you to write this book because there are people He knows will need to read it. Rejoice in what God has done for you; don’t hide your light under a bushel.
Have fun! Don’t feel compelled to do every single thing you’ve heard authors do to promote their books. Do the things that are enjoyable for you. Then rest in the assurance that God will do things that you can’t possibly do, to make sure your book gets into the hands of the readers He had in mind when He called you to write it.
Polish what you’ve written! Work with the publishing company’s in-house editors and proofreaders to create the most professional book you can. When you get the galleys, consider hiring a freelance proofreader to catch the mistakes you can’t see because you’re so close to the writing. Do this for your readers, for your reputation as a writer, and for your Lord, who is worthy of receiving the finest work you can produce. (And carefully proofread everything that your potential readers will see, including blog posts, your website content, newsletters, and printed interviews. Typos and errors in punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling will be noticed by avid readers, and they’ll view you as more professional if all of your writing is well polished.)
Great suggestions, Kathy. Thank you so much for sharing your professional tips.