Greetings from Sarah Sundin! What an honor to interview PeggySue Wells today. A popular speaker and radio host, this multi-published author of both nonfiction and fiction is brimming with humor and energy. I know you’ll enjoy her interview as much as I did.
PeggySue, how did you get into writing?
As a kid, my favorite aisle in the store was stationery – all those gorgeous pens and inviting paper with endless story possibilities. In college I was a modern dance major until I blew out both knees and the specialist said I would be lucky to walk. The other major in the college catalog that made my eyes light up was journalism and I took to it like a horse to sweet feed. In college I won the best feature award, best news story award, and my personal favorite, most misleading headline that year in the state of California.
Newly married, I was the head reporter for our small-town newspaper until I came home to raise and school my seven favorite children and do the occasional freelance project.
Armed with the caulk gun, one day I called my best friend and the only other person in town with a traveling husband. “Ants are coming in my second-story window, trailing across the bedroom, and disappearing somewhere in my bathroom. Someone should tell me how to be the wife of a frequently absent spouse.”
She laughed and we commiserated. About twenty minutes later she called back. “I think you should write that book and I would support you.”
Mary Ann Froehlich and I co-authored my first published title, Holding Down the Fort.
How many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?
Published are a couple dozen books including a couple bestsellers, an audio finalist that came in second to Keith Richards’ memoir read by Johnny Depp, and several co-authored projects including a parenting book with June Hunt titled Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries because I write well with others.
Fiction titles are Für Elise and, under my pen name, The Patent. Most recent nonfiction titles are Rediscovering Your Happily Ever After, and with Theresa Flores, Slavery in the Land of the Free along with USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller The Slave Across the Street.
How did you get your first book contract?
For Holding Down the Fort, I compiled a proposal and sent it to my top ten Christian publishers. As a new author, I figured I’d let the big ones have first go at the book. Bethany House responded because the delightful fiction editor had a traveling spouse. She got it. Bethany also published our second book, What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Say, which sold, according to Bethany, “a stellar” 50,000 in the first year. When the twin tower tragedy happened, I wondered what this homemaker in Indiana could do. What grace to receive a message from Bethany House that they had sent a truckload of that title to the rescue personnel and survivors of 9/11.
What a blessing, PeggySue! What has helped you promote your books the most?
For me promotion is done best by my publishers. I am delighted to do interviews, speak, write blogs, or whatever else I can do to partner with the publisher to promote the book.
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?
I came into the industry when writers did the writing and publishers published and marketed. There has been a marked shift so that authors market as well as write. Someone once said that if you publish a book, people will flock to ask you to speak but that has not been my experience. Once I spent a good sum of money for a publicist that another successful writer recommended but that was a dismal flop.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I found a talented artist that creates exquisite sea-glass jewelry and offered it on my website as a companion for my novel, Für Elise. The story takes place on the island of St. Croix and has sea glass woven in. “Keep a piece of paradise with you,” was the idea. The jewelry sold at my resource table when I spoke but despite blogs, tweets, Linked-In, Pinterest, and Facebook marketing, not one piece sold on my website.
And it’s gorgeous jewelry too! What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
At book signings, the most common question I receive is “How did you get published?” and “Where is the bathroom?”
At a large bookstore, I set up to speak with the help of two of my teen daughters. Just before we began, as usual, I made a trip to the ladies room. My daughter, who likes things to be just right, glanced down and noticed she had dressed with two different shoes. Aghast, she dashed to the bathroom, grabbed the top of the one closed stall door, and swung her mismatched feet under the door into the stall.
“Mom, look what I did!”
There was silence for a moment until the voice in the stall replied, “I’m not your mother.”
Then there was the sound of the toilet flushing and my daughter fled before the occupant could see who had worn two different shoes and announced it to a complete stranger. I found my teen helper hiding out in the children’s section with her feet tucked under her.
Another time I was speaking at a writers’ conference. Two of my daughters – now professional writers themselves – accompanied me to the conference. Getting into an elevator, an attendee crowded in with us, looked at my teen daughters and said, “I love to see expiring writers.”
I assume the woman meant ‘aspiring’ writers, but not even missing a beat, my daughter replied, “That would be my mom.”
Nothing like a daughter to keep you humble! Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
Getting in touch with WBCL’s Mid-Morning has been one of the best venues for marketing. They have been kind to interview me each time one of my books released. You’ve heard of surprise parties? Well, I am the surprise producer for WBCL’s Mid-Morning. And co-host or better described as sidekick.
For a couple decades I’ve been a regular guest as my books released and I’ve been around the studio often enough that someone must have thought I worked here and gave me a desk and an official title. Then people started handing me projects to do, mail to open, and authors to schedule. They showed me how to run the studio board. When host Lynne Ford set a vase of flowers and a package of dark Ghirardelli chocolates on my desk, I stayed.
The story began twenty years ago when my family drove from California to live in Indiana. I was six weeks from delivering my sixth baby, and we traveled with five children, a dog, and a rabbit in a box with newspaper – yellow journalism. Once here, this extrovert didn’t know anyone, so I turned the radio dial until I heard fun folks and uplifting music at 90.3 and they became my first Indiana friends. Now Lynne and I do weekly and monthly programs on Mid-Morning as a place to connect, belong, and laugh until milk comes out your nose. The best part is getting to introduce authors and their books to our listeners.
As a Californian myself, I know the lure of Ghirardelli chocolate! Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
I am completely thrilled that The Slave Across the Street (Theresa’s story, my writing) has been an audio finalist, USA Today bestseller, and a three-time Wall Street Journal bestseller. An interview on WBCL’s Mid-Morning radio talk show featuring Rediscovering Your Happily Ever After resulted in an invitation to return quarterly to host a one-hour show encouraging single parents. Last spring, the radio invited me to be their program’s producer and co-host. Who knew?!
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
For too long I tried hard to be my best imitation of other successful authors. It was a lot of striving and frustration. God has taught me to align my heart with His, focus on God first, and listen as He guides. My dream is to be successful as a writer to support my family and have a steady relationship with a home publisher. The Lord reassures me that I can fully trust Him and follow His gentle lead to the exact future He knows is best for me. In all circumstances, God is teaching me something about Himself. Whatever is over my head is under His feet. What appears to me to be impossible is actually HIMpossible.
Ooh! I love that word! What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
Don’t hold back on your project, retaining something for the next project. Your readers can tell if you wrote full blast, full out. Pour your best into your current manuscript and God will supply more abundantly than you can imagine for your next title. Treat others with grace and respect. Be the authentic you that God created you to be.
Great advice, PeggySue!
Writing for Him,