Greetings from Sarah Sundin, recently returned from a literary agency retreat in Monterey - where I got to hang out with Becky Melby! Becky's warm humor and gentle spirit shine as well in person as they do in her delightful stories.
I started writing when I was eight, but my big break didn't come until fifth grade when my teacher tacked my bunny poem on the hall bulletin board. I knew right then what I wanted to be when I grew up. Still waiting to grow up, but I still know what I want to be! I had several poems and short stories published over the years, and then in 1992 my good friend Cathy Wienke called to say she'd just literally thrown a book at the wall because of its predictable plot and unrealistic dialogue. "We should write our own," she said. And so we began. It took us nine months to write our first story. After half a dozen rejections, Barbour Publishing replied that they were interested in Far Above Rubies for their Heartsongs Presents line. Only one small problem - our manuscript was 75,000 words and their word limit was 50,000. What we'd anticipated as a painful surgery turned out to be a fun and freeing experience. We had a lot of laughs over unneeded words and rabbit trails as we chopped - a great lesson in self-editing.
Cathy and I went on to write eight more Heartsongs and a novella together. This year, my first full-length books, the Lost Sanctuary series, releases. Tomorrow's Sun and Yesterday's Stardust are already out, and Today's Shadows releases in December. I've also had the joy of working with three amazing authors - Cynthia Ruchti, Eileen Key, and Rachael Phillips - on two novella collections. A Door County Christmas released in 2010, and Cedar Creek Seasons just arrived on our doorsteps in September.
I picked up Cedar Creek Seasons last week and can't wait to dig in! How did you get your first book contract?
Cathy and I used Writer's Market to find publishers who were looking for contemporary Christian romance submissions. We sent out eight or ten simultaneous submissions, and Barbour Publishing wrote back and said they were interested. We were fortunate to begin writing when Christian fiction was just becoming popular. Thank you, Janette Oke and Carol Johnson!
What has helped you promote your books the most?
I send out an email newsletter for each new release, but the most helpful is probably Facebook. Along with posting about blog interviews, I also feature pictures and anecdotes from research trips.
What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book?
Cathy and I were pretty ignorant about our role in promoting our first book. We assumed promotion was our publisher's job, so we didn't do much other than a few local signings. Since then, I've learned so much about developing a community of readers and interacting with them through social media and speaking engagements.
What's the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I haven't tried anything crazy...yet. I did host a book launch at the restaurant that inspired Tomorrow's Sun. The building was built in 1843 and has eighteen-inch stone walls. It is also, according to local legend, the residence of at least one ghost. As far as I know, no one stayed away out of fear.
What's the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
While Cynthia Ruchti and I were in Door County, Wisconsin doing book signings for A Door County Christmas, we stopped at a cute little Christmas shop. October is pretty much the end of the main tourist season at the tip of Wisconsin's "thumb," but that didn't stop us from handing the owners a copy and talking to them about our Christmas book. They wondered if there was a chance they could have a few books for next season. Could we spare a dozen? (You bet!) As I went out to the car for a stack of books, Cynthia kept talking. When I walked back in, the owner asked apologetically, if they could possibly have another dozen!
I'll be heading up to Green Bay on October 20 to meet Cynthia for another book signing and promoting Cedar Creek Seasons. Praying we run into another store owner who wants to inconvenience us by asking for two dozen books!
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
This is an answer in progress, as it's something I've just started. I was asked to speak at a local library about Tomorrow's Sun, which was set in a neighboring town. I made up a Powerpoint presentation (73 slides!) with a lot of "Then and Now" pictures of the setting of my story. The slides held the group's interest and prompted great questions. At the end I was asked if I would be interested in keynoting for a much larger audience in a different city. Now I'm working on a similar presentation for each of my books. Even though Cedar Creek Seasons is a contemporary collection, it is set in the history-rich town of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and part of the charm of the town is what happened there in earlier eras.
Did you see God open any doors in the promotion of your books?
A decade ago, just the thought of speaking in public terrified me. Over the years, God brought me to the point where I'd actually prefer public speaking to a root canal. But He didn't stop there. I'm actually starting to look forward to these opportunities to talk about my books and the inspiration behind them.
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your books?
In spite of all I've learned, it still boils down to writing a story engaging enough for readers to talk about. And the more excited I am about the story, the more I talk.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
Anything you can do to develop your platform before that first book releases, the better. Where do your potential readers congregate? Does your hero or heroine raise Shar-Peis? Collect salt shakers? Scale mountains? Visit blogs centered around those interests, leave comments, and get to know the people who hang out there. When appropriate, mention your book. Start the buzz and get people looking forward to that release. And don't forget that your enthusiasm for your project is contagious.
Great advice, Becky!
To learn more about Becky and her books, please visit Becky's website.
Writing for Him,