Linda, you have an interesting writing journey, particularly the beginning. Share a little with us, please.
I was set to be a youth director, but when I got kicked out of seminary for marrying an engineering student instead of a seminary student, I somehow landed a job as a high tech writer, writing The F 14 Documentation Guide as my first assignment. But after my children came along, God clearly called me to write for him.
I had no idea what to do and told him so. The next thing I knew, I’d
landed at CCWC (Colorado Christian
Writer’s Conference.) That first year
there, I bought every tape from every workshop. I spent that year
listening to the words of those writers who had actually published a
book or two. A year later, I had my first two book contracts, and a year
after that, I became a regular teacher/expert at CCWC.
What are a few of your titles?
My first two books, Ryan’s Trials and Kara’s Quest, were teen devotional novels and reached tens of thousands of young people – more teens than I could have ever reached as a youth director.
That was over thirty books ago. Since then I’ve written everything from The Potluck Club novel series with my friend Eva Marie Everson, to my latest books on prayer including When You Don’t Know What to Pray. My latest title is Experiencing God’s Presence; Learning to Listen While You Pray, releasing this month from Revell of Baker Publishing Group. Experiencing God’s Presence shows how to abide in the presence of God while you listen for his voice.
Listening while we abide is certainly a life-altering concept, one we can all benefit from. Tell us how you landed your first book contract.
The first editor I ever talked to happened to be the father of seven teenagers. So when I pitched my idea about teen devotionals written like novels, he jumped at the idea and a contract was in my hand only a few weeks later.
I chuckle when I look back at this lightning-fast acceptance of my first two books. I now realize God was giving me the encouragement I needed to follow his call. But I confess, God still had a lot to teach me, especially regarding the rejections I would also receive in my career. It gave me comfort to know that we authors often follow Jesus’s footsteps into rejection, as he too was rejected by men. So, to be rejected by a few editors and publishers here and there has helped me grow in Christ.
That’s an interesting concept, Linda, following Jesus’s footsteps into rejection. Seems to make the process more bearable. Has there been anything in particular that helped you promote your books?
I love to use Internet marketing, whether social media, blogging, or webpages with great SEO (search engine optimization). I now have a Word Press website (www.GotToPray.com) that serves as the umbrella for all my prayer books. I give each book its own page on the site, complete with meta-tags and long-tailed-keywords. This way, those searching the Internet for my search terms often find my books.
This sounds like a promotion technique that wasn’t around a couple of decades ago, but you have obviously grown with the changes.
I’ve been writing for twenty-years, even before social media, eBooks, or other exciting venues that give power back to the author even existed. But back in the old days, the only PR I could think to do was to announce my latest book in my Christmas letter. Some of these books went on to sell very well and others not so much. But one thing I learned early on was the power of the Internet. I had a blog before anyone called it a blog, and worked to collect emails of anyone interested in what I had to say. One of my most effective ‘email-capturing’ schemes was to create a recipe club auto-responder for our Potluck Club readers. It was then easy to send this captured list of readers word of each new book in the six-book series.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you've tried?
I think the least successful thing I ever did was to create big buttons picturing my books for my publishing team to wear at ICRS (the International Christian Retail Show). I was heartbroken when I saw one of the publishers’ reps stash my beautiful buttons into a drawer. The buttons were a good idea, but one I should have coordinated with my publisher before presuming their sales team would be eager to wear them.
But on that note, things have changed dramatically for authors who want to promote their books. In the ‘old’ days, publishers didn’t always appreciate promotion-minded authors as our ideas often served to put more work on overworked publicists’ desks.
Happily, this trend of publishers avoiding innovative authors has disappeared altogether. My wonderful marketing team at Baker Revell is eager to help me in my promotional endeavors, lending me their time, talent, and even a bit of a budget for special projects.
So one of the first things any author should do is to sit down with their publisher’s publicist and create a marketing plan for their book, incorporating ideas and projects they can do together. Who knows, maybe my wear-a-promotional-button to ICRS idea will finally catch on. After all, it’s a new day.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
This one happened this past weekend. I was standing next to my book table, stacked high with books when a woman stopped to browse. After reading a few pages of one of my prayer books, she turned to me with a smile and said. “Wow, I love what this author is saying, but I’ve never heard of her before. Do you know anything about her?”
I laughed and said. “I sure do. I would be her.”
She was embarrassed but I laughed it off. After all, there are very few really big name authors left in the Christian market these days. Research shows that even church people are often unfamiliar with names of many bestselling authors. This means we have to work so that our readers will get a chance to discover us, like the lady at my book table who ended up buying three of my books.
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
A lot of authors hate book signings and avoid them at all costs. But I find that book signings are a great way to meet potential readers, especially when you step out from behind the book table. Smile, be friendly, and ask the store’s customers if you could take just a moment to tell them about your new book. Most people are happy to agree.
My theory is – if a book lover gets a chance to consider a good book – they are more likely to buy it. But for this to happen, they often need a direct invitation. By using this method, I was recently able to move over 40 books on a slow afternoon at a Lifeway Bookstore.
Try this method yourself and see what happens.
Did you see God open any unexpected doors for your book promotion?
One of my favorite God-surprises is that Choice Books often picks up my prayer titles and places them in secular locations like hospitals, pharmacies, and grocery stores.
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
I love speaking at conferences and events and find this is a great way to introduce an audience not only to my messages of prayer and faith, but to introduce them to me as an author. This is one reason why I founded AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association), to encourage those women authors who love to communicate their messages in various forms. See www.AWSA.com for more information.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
The best way to get your book noticed is to write a great book. The best way to write a great book is to attend writers’ conferences, and to read not only great books, but to read great books on writing. But it’s not just about the craft, it’s about the message.
Live a large life; love, laugh, push through your pain with the power of God, and explore your heart and soul in the light of God’s truth. Then, not only will you have something to say, you will be able to say it well. For nothing sells a book like word of mouth. That’s why you should do your best to write something that other people will want to recommend to their friends.
Don’t be afraid to polish your projects until they sparkle, because it’s the sparkle that will get your books noticed. But beyond all this, develop a life of prayer and seek God’s guidance. For God will not be able to promote you unless you are where he’s called you to be.
Thanks for reading today.