Davalynn Spencer here, still full after last week's great meal and
all those leftovers. Today Focus on the Family author Jeanette Hanscome joins me with a few tips on learning to be brave while being true to one's
Jeanette, tell us how you got into writing?
My therapist made me do it. Can you believe that? He was so demanding! He also made me attend my first writer’s conference.
Then he laid on just the right guilt trip . . . I mean asked the question that changed everything: “Jeanette, what will you say when you are standing before God and He asks what you did with the gift of writing that He gave you?”
How do you argue with that?
Deep down, I had wanted to try pursuing publication for years but never had the courage. The fear of God and my counselor, along with knowing that someone thought my writing was worthy of appearing somewhere other than in my journal, gave me the kick start I needed. A couple months later, I submitted a personal-experience piece to a magazine for visually impaired teens and they accepted it.
How many books do you have published?
Since then I have written hundreds of articles, stories, and devotionals for teens and adults, and three books for Focus on the Family. Unfortunately, those three books went out of print.
Right now, I am writing a book for 8-12-year-olds with blind 9/11 survivor Michael Hingson. The story follows his experiences growing up, as well as the training of his guide dog, Roselle, who he escaped the World Trade Center with. The book will be released early next year.
How did you get your first book contract?
I got my first contract through a meeting at Mount Hermon that I thought I had completely blown. Lissa Halls Johnson was representing Focus on the Family and I heard her say they were looking for a writer to join a team of authors on a series called Brio Girls. We made an appointment to talk about what they were looking for and I walked away feeling like I’d said all the wrong things. But she had invited me to send some samples of my work, so I followed through as soon as I got home. A few weeks later, she asked me to write sample chapters as a try-out to join the series. Then I heard nothing for years and years. Okay, months. Just when I had accepted that Focus must have gone with a more experienced writer, I got a call from Lissa officially asking me to write for the series. I wrote two Brio Girls books then Want More? Joy for their Brio Devotional series.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
The truth? I stink at promotion. I couldn’t even sell Girl Scout cookies as a kid. But I do have a lot of friends and a pretty big family, all of whom get extremely excited when I write something new and can’t wait to buy my book for all their kids and grandkids and hand them out to coworkers. Obviously, I can’t rely on this alone, but it has taught me the importance of community. I have learned that my readership begins with those closest to me and expands from there.
What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book? Did those mistakes cause you to change? If so, how?
I was so clueless about marketing when my first book, Good-Bye to all That, came out that if the series hadn’t been advertised in Brio magazine I might have only sold to family and friends. I had grown up on the idea that bragging about oneself was tacky and I didn’t want to be tacky. Like most newbies, I also assumed my publisher would do the marketing. When I heard other authors talking about marketing ideas I realized, oh, I need to start doing some of that too. I started out with things that felt safe, like passing out bookmarks and sending copies to local bookstores. Since then, I have learned that marketing and bragging are two different things, and that it is very possible to promote a book without appearing obnoxious.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I don’t know if this would be considered crazy, but it was pretty fun. My devotional book Want More? Joy came out right before a trip to the Mount Hermon conference, but not quite soon enough to order copies to sell in the bookstore. I was so disappointed! I did, however, have my free author copies. I decided to take a few and give them to fellow teen authors, friends who had teenagers and a few others who might spread the word. The recipients enjoyed receiving a book for free that they weren’t expecting and I got some practice in being a bit bolder with this new release than I had been in the past.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
When my second book came out, a friend from my critique group remembered how shy I’d been with my first book and insisted on helping me get the word out. I’d had a signing at one Reno store because a friend of a friend owned it, but I’d also had a baby that year so I was caught up in mommy stuff in addition to the thrill of a first book. Kaydie insisted on setting aside a Saturday to take me to every store in the area so I could talk to the store owners and give them some promo material. (They were homemade. I found them recently and couldn’t believe the store owners took me seriously. But what sweet memories.) I assumed she would stand by my side through the entire process. Instead, as soon as we walked through the door, Kaydie headed in another direction. “Go ahead.”
At first I felt totally abandoned. Wait, wasn’t this her idea? But as soon as I got through the first terrifying introduction, I recognized what a huge favor she had done for me. It was so scary but in the end it felt wonderful. I’m sure the initial look on my face when Kaydie ditched me at the door was hilarious though.
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
After the experience above, I found that it helped to stay in touch with my local book store owners so they knew about my next book.
Did you see God open any unexpected doors in the promotion of your books?
A surprising door opened after my third book had been out for over a year. The host of a radio show in Canada called out of the blue and wanted to interview me for a program he was doing on joy. He just happened to stumble upon the book and contacted me through my website. I love it when God sends an opportunity that I didn’t pursue in any way.
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
one point in my career, I feared that I might not have the right
personality for the writing world. I felt I was too easily intimidated
and afraid of the sound of my own voice to get anywhere. I saw other
authors approaching editors and promoting their work with confidence, and
thought, I will never be like them. Whenever I tried, I came across as
an idiot. I admitted this to my dear friend and mentor Ethel Herr, who
recently passed away. She reminded me that God does not expect me to be
like other people, He expects me to be who He created me to be. I could
never put it as beautifully as she did, but she basically encouraged me
to strive to be the best version of me and let God be my confidence—that
that is when I will make the best impression. I don’t know if I ever
told her what a difference that made. I applied this to my promotion
efforts as well; instead of trying to do what everyone else is doing, I
stick to efforts that match my personality and style.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
Get people you know excited about your book, knowing they will probably be your most loyal readers. I also suggest getting out in your community, not just so you can promote your work, but so you can become known as someone who has something to offer. Then people will want to buy your book.
Resist the temptation to make everything about, “My book.” Let your friends, fellow authors, and readers get to know you—who you are, what you care about, what drives you to write, and what God has done and is doing in your life. Show interest in your friends and those God brings into your life. Work professionally and graciously with everyone involved in the publication of your book. I truly believe that such things are promotion in themselves. This might seem simplistic, but in many ways, our first contract doubles as a first impression with readers, industry professionals, and those who have to deal with us on a daily basis.
Watch what seems to work for other authors, but more than that, seek God’s direction. He may want you to do something completely different and uniquely designed for you and your book.