Good morning. Davalynn Spencer, here, and absolutely thrilled to be introducing our encore interviewee, Janet Bly.
Years ago when writing was merely one of my unrealized dreams, I intersected with Janet and her husband, Steven, through the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys for whom I worked. The Blys graciously offered guidance and suggestions – via that nearly extinct method of communication called hand-written letters and postage stamps. I’ve never forgotten their generosity of time and their heart for Christian authors.
So welcome, Janet. Please tell us how many books you have published.
Thirty-five fiction and nonfiction, authored and co-authored with my late husband Stephen Bly
What are a few of your latest titles?
Wind in the Wires, Book 1, Trails of Reba Cahill Series; Down Squash Blossom Road, Book 2, Trails of Reba Cahill Series
You were last featured on the CAN blog in 2013. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then?
These are tough times for many writers to sell enough of their books to make a decent profit or to manage to break even. If you believe you’re meant to pursue this craft and ministry, write and publish anyway.
Such encouraging words, Janet. Thank you for your unique sense of persistence.
Do you have any suggestions about promotion since your last interview with CAN?
In everything you do, make sure you’re aiming at your target readers—not other writers and not readers in general. Get very specific. If a marketing choice doesn’t gain ROI (return on investment), drop it and try something else. There are lots of choices. Go with what works for you.
What are your most effective means of book promotion?
- Almost Monthly Bly Books News via email.
- Speaking at weekend retreats with a book table display allowed. One-time luncheons don’t give you long enough opportunity.
- Giveaways on Goodreads.
- Making sure to personally reply to anyone who contacts me about anything connected to books, especially Bly Books.
- Including a list of “13 Ideas for Promoting Bly Books” with every book order.
- Book table at Christmas Craft Fairs.
Are there any promotional activities you’ve tried that were ineffective for you?
Bookstore signings, as a rule. However, there is some value in even the least productive—i.e. the advertising itself provides some notice to potential readers and connection with bookstore staff is valuable. A few folks sign up for the newsletter in order to win a prize. A few books sold. And if you take pictures, you can post them on social media for an extra splash.
Do you have a favorite way to connect with your readers?
One-on-one at writing seminars or family conferences or women’s retreats. Love meeting and talking with them in person. Second best—email contact or on Facebook.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
Gave away a beach bag full of prizes that each related to a scene or character in my Down Squash Blossom Road novel … i.e. Calvin Klein Escape perfume, Big Hunk candy bars, beach toys, rubber snake, Model-T car kit, picture of Doris Day, etc. Also included gift certificates to the sponsoring bookstore and coffee shop.
Such a great idea!
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
We set up our own book signing two-weeks tour in several western states with over-all okay results. However, at one of the coastal California stops, not only did no customers show up, but the owner of the store left immediately after our setup and a curt “I-could-care-less-who-you-are” kind of greeting. We were totally alone in the store for several hours, feeling very awkward and foolish and deserted. I think we were used as bookstore sitters while the owner ran some errands.
Definitely funny – in a sad sort of way.
Have you ever seen God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
One time my late husband, Stephen Bly, was speaking at a church on behalf of a Moody Bible Institute-sponsored Family Living Conference and caught the attention of a staff member of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family program. He was later interviewed by Mr. Dobson concerning his cowboy version of the things every dad ought to do. Eventually that recorded session led to another boosted sales on both our How To Be a Good Dad and How To Be a Good Mom books to over 50,000 each.
What are your top tips for new authors promoting their first book?
- Determine to keep it simple, focusing on a sampling of activities with which you feel comfortable and you can afford.
- Do as many free things as you can.
- Start with your local resources—contact bookstores for doing workshops, libraries for readings, gift shops, newspaper press releases and TV interviews, book clubs, etc.
- Give away as many books as you’re able, to readers who are most apt to provide reviews and word-of-mouth enthusiasm.
- Advertise in the less spendy regional type newspapers that might attract your target readers.
- Remember that buyers usually have to see and hear about a new product or author an average of seven times before they’re nudged to commit and put up money for it.
Thank you, Janet, for these great tips.