Greetings from Sarah Sundin in California. Today I have the joy of interviewing novelist Sharon K. Souza. I met Sharon at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in 2009, the year she and Kathleen Popa won the Mount Hermon Writer of the Year Award. Sharon’s writing receives much praise, and her group blog Novel Matters promotes taking our fiction to loftier heights. Definitely a blog to follow.
I’ve always had an artistic bent. When I was younger, it was expressed through drawing and painting. I can’t remember back far enough to remember when I didn’t draw. I did a very small amount of writing in high school and in my twenties, but I began seriously writing in my mid-thirties. Besides learning to write novels, I had a number of non-fiction articles published and worked on three non-fiction books with another author, all published. But writing women’s fiction is definitely my niche. I love it, and I feel it’s where my writing shines.
How many books do you have published?
I have three published novels, including a new release, Unraveled. My other published novels are Every Good and Perfect Gift and Lying on Sunday. I also have a Christmas novella titled A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown, which has been made into a full-length play.
How did you get your first book contract?
I attended my first major writing conference in 2004. I met some editors who liked my work, and that was very encouraging for me. In 2006 at that same conference, I pitched a novel to Jeff Gerke at dinner one night and was offered a two-book contract the next week. It was very exciting.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
I’m still learning about ways to promote my books, especially since I went independent with Unraveled. I hired a publicist when my second novel was published, and from that experience I learned the importance of hiring the right publicist. I haven’t hired a publicist this time around, but I have a friend who has some great ideas about how to promote Unraveled, which in part deals with human trafficking.
Something I’ve had good success with is marketing my novel to libraries. I’ve built a large nationwide database that I continue to add to, and will soon begin an aggressive campaign with Unraveled. It’s great to follow up with a library I’ve targeted and find they’ve purchased multiple copies of my novels. On most sites I can even see how many times my books have been checked out.
What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book?
My biggest mistake was assuming the publisher would do more to market my novels. That was an important lesson, but I had so much to learn then. It took a while to learn the various ways to promote a book (social media, blog tours, TV and radio interviews, book signings, speaking engagements, etc.). More important, it took time to build a reader base. That’s growing, thankfully, but I still have a long way to go.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
I was invited to do a book signing at a very New Age bookstore. I didn’t realize what type of bookstore it was until I got there, and I’m not sure they realized my novel was a Christian novel. My husband went with me that day, and we took turns browsing the shelves. I was blown away by some of the titles, and I spent time praying outside a curtained room, where Tarot cards were being read over a woman. It was a really weird day.
Is there something you did that helped with marketing your books?
I always have postcards made of my new releases and mail them to everyone on my list. Vista Print is a relatively inexpensive way to go, and the postcards look great. It generates a lot of interest.
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
In 2008, my former agent approached me about blogging with five other authors whose work was similar to mine. Out of that came Novel Matters. The six of us have been blogging together since January 2009, and it’s been an awesome experience. Most of us didn’t know each other when we began blogging, and we’ve only all been together one time, when we spent five days together at Mount Hermon. We bonded so deeply that week and have become close, close friends. We support and encourage each other, pray for each other, and read each other’s work. But our friendship goes beyond our writing lives. That seemingly capricious idea from our agents was truly a God thing. Our blog has helped us all promote our books, but that’s only one of the benefits that came from our alliance.
What do you find works best for you in promoting your work?
I wish I had a strong, definite answer, but I really am still learning. It’s easier to say what hasn’t worked all that well for me – things like blog tours and book signings. Building a base of readers who like my work is the most important thing I can do. I’m asking them to get the word out about my books to their spheres of influence, who will get the word out to their spheres of influence, and hopefully the ripple effect will begin to grow. I’m also trying to find ways to reach book clubs. I love having book clubs read my books, especially if I’m close enough to speak to the group when they discuss my book. For those groups that are farther away, I would be happy to have a Skype conversation with the group.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
The thing I learned after I signed my first book contract was that it was not time to coast. It’s work promoting your books, and with the publishing industry in turmoil, nothing is guaranteed. Continue to work as hard after you sign your contract as you did before. Never stop working at improving your craft. Cream really does rise to the top.
Thanks for that important reminder!
Writing for Him,