Greetings from Sarah Sundin in California! Today I have the honor of interviewing Mary Hamilton, one of CAN’s newest members, an author who saw the desperate need for Christian fiction for tween boys—and filled it.
Mary, how did you get into writing? How many books do you have published?
I’ve enjoyed writing since I was very young, but it wasn’t until I became a stay-at-home mom that I pursued writing for publication. To start with, I wrote articles for some Christian magazines, and I wrote a Christmas play for the church I attended. When I turned to fiction and novels, I wrote what I knew, a Bible camp series for young teens. The Rustic Knoll Bible Camp series includes Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, and See No Evil.
How did you get your first book contract?
It was truly a “God thing.” Because the series features male protagonists, it would be marketed to boys, but one major publisher said they couldn’t sell books for boys and another didn’t think the social issues I dealt with would be popular with boys. I attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference, hoping the Lord would show me whether to continue pursuing publication for this series or move on to something else. After speaking with a couple of professionals, I believed the Lord was telling me to move on. But the last morning, I met Lynellen Perry of HopeSprings Books. She was very interested in my books and two weeks later, I had contracts for all three.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
Everyone says word of mouth sells books, and I’ve found that to be true. My family and friends have been the biggest help in promoting my books. Many of my friends and relatives have bought copies to place in their church libraries, and that has brought some exposure I wouldn’t have gained otherwise. I’ve very grateful for everyone who has passed the word.
My mom’s my best publicist too! What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book? Did those mistakes cause you to change?
I knew nothing about marketing, so I’d have to say my biggest wrong assumption was that selling books would be easy! Yes, it’s easy to sell to people who know you, but beyond that, it’s hard work. I’ve listened to all the advice about what you “must” do to sell books, i.e. have a website, and a Facebook page, blog, get on Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. etc. I’ve tried nearly everything, and become overwhelmed with managing it all. Now, I’m looking at what social media I really enjoy and cutting back to only two or three, taking the time to learn how to do them well. There really are no shortcuts to building a following and learning how to market. I’m learning to be satisfied with where I am, confident that next month, next year at this time, I’ll be even further along.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I don’t know how crazy it is, but I gave free copies of the first book to all the private schools in my area, along with a promo sheet for an author visit. Unfortunately, I received no responses.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
While speaking to a senior citizen’s group at a church, one of the men had read the book ahead of time and was pulling everyone aside telling them they needed to read it. Afterwards, he stood by my table and whenever someone bought a book, he’d ask if it was for a grandchild and tell them they needed to read it before they gave it away. I should’ve hired him as my PR man!
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
I don’t have great sales numbers yet, and I’m still new to this, but the biggest thing I can see is simply reaching out to people you know across the country. Whether it’s relatives or old high school friends or whoever, connect with them and see if they’d be willing to promote your book in their arena of influence.
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
That talk with the senior citizens was a door I thought would be closed. When I suggested it to the person who schedules their speakers, he didn’t look very interested. Later, he told me he kept feeling like he needed to let me speak, even though he didn’t think a writer of teen books fit his audience well. But it went very well. I enjoyed tailoring it to that generation.
And seniors often have grandchildren! Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
I’m afraid I’m still learning in this area. I’ve kind of been shooting in the dark, hoping to hit somewhere on the target. While I’m working on my next novel (for women), I plan to do more analysis of what seems to work and what doesn’t.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
First of all, enjoy it! You’re to be congratulated.
But realize your work is only beginning. Be selective in the advice you listen to. Discern whether it pertains more to fiction or non-fiction. And don’t think you have to do it all. Pick your favorite two arenas and learn to do them well. You’re in this for the long haul, so take your time and build a strong following. You can always add more when you’re ready.
Thanks for the great advice, especially about how advice pertains to fiction and non-fiction—two totally different marketing approaches.
To learn more about Mary and her books, please visit Mary’s website—she has fun bios for her characters and even a map of the camp!
Writing for Him,