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Sundin #D70 ©2008 Linda Johnson Photography web (2)

Hi everyone! Sarah Sundin here, and I’m loving this fall weather. Makes me think of Christmas. Okay, so I live in California, where we have two seasons – hot and not, and my kids still talk about The Day It Snowed (back in ’98) – but let’s embrace the Christmas spirit for today’s interview. I had the privilege of meeting Myra Johnson last month at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Denver, where she

Myra Johnson November 2008 250 px

was signing her just-released first novel, One ImPerfect Christmas. Myra’s second book, Autumn Rains, releases this

month. This will be one memorable autumn for Myra.

 

 

Myra, tell us how you got into writing.

Writing stories has been second nature to me for as long as I can remember. A select group of trusted friends waited eagerly for the next installment of my “Great American Spy Novel” (think Man from Uncle) and my “All-American Teen Novel” (remember Gidget and Tammy?). The dream of writing professionally persisted into adulthood, although it remained on the back burner while I attended to home and family and several “real” (paying) jobs along the way.

Then in 1983 I came upon one of those magazine ads for the Institute of Children’s Literature. I knew it was time to get serious, so I enrolled in the “Writing for Children and Teenagers” course. Within a year or so I sold my first story, which appeared in the Christian publication Alive! for Young Teens. For many years I enjoyed success writing stories and articles for middle-graders and young adults. I even taught for ICL for nine years.

After my daughters grew up and I didn’t have my live-in inspiration for children’s stories, I decided to try inspirational women’s fiction and romance. I attended conferences and joined American Christian Romance Writers (now American Christian Fiction Writers). Friends in ACFW led me to RWA (Romance Writers of America) and the online inspirational chapter, Faith, Hope & Love.

How many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?

My debut novel, One ImPerfect Christmas, is a September 2009 release from Abingdon Press. Coming this month is my first Heartsong Presents romance, Autumn Rains. The next two books in my contemporary Missouri series for HP will follow next year, so be watching for Romance by the Book and Where the Dogwoods Bloom.

How did you get your first book contract?

My first book contract was 25 years and at least 15 completed manuscripts in the making. After countless rejections and “almosts” from editors over the years, one day in July 2008 I was skimming through my favorite blogs and happened to see Brandilyn Collins’s announcement that Barbara Scott was heading up a brand-new fiction line for Abingdon Press. Barbara had agreed to consider e-queries from anyone mentioning Brandilyn’s blog. I had my query to her within hours. A few days later she requested the full, and before a month had passed she offered me a contract! And only a few weeks later I received a contract offer from JoAnne Simmons at Barbour for a manuscript I’d submitted for Heartsong Presents several months prior. Needless to say, I was stunned to find myself the happy recipient of not one but two contracts so close together after years and years of learning, working, hoping, and praying!

Myra, I love the many lessons in your story – the value of prayerful persistence, keeping up with the market, and being ready fo when an opportunity presents itself. I love how you sent your query that same day!

What has helped you promote your books the most?

Without a doubt the biggest plus has been my affiliation with The Seekers and our Seekerville blog (see link below). The Seekers are an amazing group of fifteen writers who banded together in 2005 to support, encourage, motivate, brainstorm, and learn from each other. When our group formed, only one of us had a book contract. Four years later, only four Seekers remain on “Unpubbed Island,” which we expect to be deserted very soon. Two years ago, we launched our group blog, where we talk about anything and everything writing-related and regularly host guest authors, agents, and editors. All the Seekers have been blessed by the exposure the blog has given us – attention not only from other writers and readers but also editors and agents.

I’m also extremely grateful for the strong marketing push Abingdon has made on behalf of all the writers for their new fiction line. Social networking such as Facebook and Twitter have proen to be quite useful, as is having my own website and personal blog.

What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book?

If I’ve made any wrong assumptions, it’s that the marketing would take care of itself! I have learned so much about the author’s personal stake in being proactive about marketing. I am also learning that, while marketing is essential, I can’t let it take over my writing life. I keep reminding myself that I am a writer first and foremost, so the work-in-progress must remain my top priority. I try to trust God to take care of the PR and lead me to the opportunities that are best and right for me.

I like the “best and right for me” concept. We do need to push ourselves with publicity, but we need to remember and respect how God made us, and to keep our priorities in line.

Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?

About three months before the release of my debut novel, I sent semi-personalized e-mails to my extended family, friends, and church acquaintances. I shared my excitement about my first book and included links to sites where the book can be pre-ordered. I tried not to sound too “commercial” but just shared my heart about the thrill of seeing a longtime dream come true. The responses were all supportive, and several have led to book club invitations and speaking opportunities.

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

One door I hadn’t expected was that one of the most reputable publicists in the business is working with Abingdon’s PR department to make sure the fiction launch is successful. Even better, this publicist lives just up the highway from me and is a regular speaker at our local ACFW chapter! I’ve also been blessed by many supportive and interested friends who have provided forums for publicity and exposure that I hadn’t expected, including such things as speaking opportunities at my church and the invitation to sign my books at a Christmas open house hosted by one of our heatlh care providers.

Tell us about your book launch. The pictures on your website show quite a party!

Actually, my “launch party” was a surprise! My Tulsa-area ACFW chapter president, Gina Conroy, asked me to have some books available at our September meeting and be ready to hold a small signing. I was a bit reluctant because we always want to give our guest speakers the spotlight, but Gina assured me it would be okay. Then at the end of the program, my chapter friends produced a huge cake with my book cover beautifully reproduced in frosting. I was stunned!

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

Connect with a more experienced writer (or several) and glean all the insight you can! Expect to juggle several aspects of the publishing business at once – writing, revising, promotion, plotting your next book, checking page proofs, and writing dedications, acknowledgments, study questions, and back cover copy. Deadlines will overlap and you have to prioritize. Respect deadlines and give your editors a reason to keep you around.

The “juggling” can be a rude shock for a writer used to luxuriating in their story world from beginning to end, can’t it?

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your advice with us, Myra. I hope your experience with One ImPerfect Christmas is…um, perfect.

To learn more about Myra, please visit her at:

Myra’s website or Myra’s blog or  Seekerville blog

Writing for Him,

Sarah Sundin

Sarah’s website

 

 

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