Greetings from Sarah Sundin in California! Today I have the joy of interviewing Susan K. Marlow, author of twenty books for children and teens!
Susan, what are a few of your latest titles?
The Circle C Milestones, a YA historical series for 12 and up includes these new titles: Thick as Thieves, Heartbreak Trail, The Last Ride (new), and Courageous Love (November 2016).
You were last featured on the CAN blog in 2012. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then?
That it is possible to write to a deadline! Before 2012, I usually wrote the book first then got the contract, but when I started getting contracted for entire series, that was a different story. But God has shown me it’s possible to do this and still stay sane.
What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about promotion since then?
With limited time and resources, I have learned I can’t do it all. I’ve made decisions on what kind of promotion works best for me and my books. I can now say “no” to myself when opportunities come up that I did in the past but now are too much work for too little results.
What are the most effective means of book promotion you’ve tried?
For my audience, vendoring at homeschool conventions has been the number one way of promoting my books. I not only get my books in front of readers, but it’s also a great way to network with homeschool booksellers. I’ve connected with these eclectic, “gypsy” bookstore owners. They stock my books and attend conventions I can’t attend. Some even hand-sell my books to their customers. Homeschooling parents network with each other, and this method has resulted in the word spreading even outside of conventions.
I have also had some positive results from putting brochures into homeschool convention bags. However, it’s almost impossible to track this unless a reader tells you that’s where they learned about the books. Long story short: all of my promotion efforts focus on the homeschool market/conventions. I have not found another promotional method that matches this for effectiveness for me (but I am a former homeschooling parent myself). I let my publisher take care of the other, wider CBA market.
What are the least effective promotional activities you’ve tried?
I have found a “drive by” book signing (where you stop by bookstores and offer a signed copy to pique their interest so they’ll maybe stock your book) to be the least effective (and most time-consuming) of any method I ever tried. Back in 2006, I had one book. There was no social media, and bookstores were still going strong. When I think of the time, stress, and gas I spent hunting down bookstores in strange cities on the other side of the country, I shudder. More than once, my GPS led me to bookstores that did not even exist. “There’s gotta be a better way!” There is today. Sip a cup of chai in front of your social media sites and connect with folks who will spread the word about your book.
What’s your favorite way to connect with your readers?
Through my main character’s blog, CircleCAdventures, where fans and “Andi” interact, share fan-fiction stories, and help me with character names and titles. They even share prayer requests. I also run contests and giveaways on Andi’s blog. Readers can comment anonymously or with pen names. Sometimes it’s draining, though. I get a little guilt-ridden when a fan contacts me and asks, “When are you going to put up a new post?”
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
“Guess the Horses” or “Guess the Gold.” Sounds innocent, but it’s not. I sell historical adventure ranching books (and gold rush books). I would put about 60 plastic horses (or vials of gold) in a jar and often run guessing contests. The closest guess would win a book, a plastic horse, gold, etc.
Two things can go wrong with this crazy idea. 1) Vendoring at a convention that doesn’t allow children in the vendor hall. (Think about that for a minute. Homeschooling. Children. Not allowed in the hall?) Kids love this contest. No kids. No contest. 2) A hall with lots of kids roaming everywhere, crowding around, blocking the tables. It’s not easy to sell books when the kids are chattering and hanging out, waiting to see who wins. It was always fun, but I don’t do those contests any longer.
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
I never expected He would open the doors to ministering to the homeschool community in such a huge way that can impact so many young lives! I stand amazed, honored, and grateful to Him.
What are your top tips for new authors promoting their first book?
First of all, look for your niche audience. You can’t do everything, and that means you can’t promote your book to everyone on the planet. You will go crazy, especially in this day of so many promotional opportunities. I’ve made peace with myself about whom I’m promoting my books to. I don’t tell anybody in my church about my books. If they ask me, I’ll share, but most people are totally surprised to learn that I’m an author. I’ve chosen a specific promotional route to put my energy and dollars into.
When you find your special audience, focus on doing everything you can to engage them. Note: this costs money. The first year or two of my personal book marketing, I claimed a loss. Substitute-teaching financed my marketing expenses.
Lastly, don’t lose heart. Be patient. My first book was published in 2005, and I didn’t discover my niche until probably 2009 or 2010. I have no idea how my first book even got promoted! (Well, maybe a few of those drive-by book signings took root.) I sure didn’t know what I was doing. First-time authors have a huge advantage in this social media/networking age.
Thanks for the great advice, Susan!
Writing for Him,