I'm one of those "born writers" - one who started writing short stories and poems soon after I learned to read and write. Throughout my childhood, relatives, friends, and teachers encouraged me as a writer, and I always dreamed of penning books. My love of writing led me into a journalism career, where I served as a newspaper reporter and columnist for thirteen years. I loved that career, but my dream of becoming an author never faded, so I was elated when my first novel was published in 2004.
I have had eight books published - one nonfiction spiritual devotional book, and seven women's fiction novels. My next novel - Lead Me Home - is slated for release by Zondervan in July 2013. My other recent titles include Coming Home, which was a 2012 Target Stores Recommended Read; Dreams That Won't Let Go, The Someday List, and my nonfiction book, Who Speaks to Your Heart? Tuning in to Hear God's Whispers.
How did you get your first book contract?
After writing my first novel off and on for three years, I landed my first book contract via my work as a journalist. In 2003, I wrote an inspirational column about a local woman who ministered to women, and her story was picked up by a national Christian magazine. An acquisitions editor for Revell Books saw the article and wanted the woman to write a book proposal about her ministry. She asked me to help with the process, and the editor asked to see anything I had written. I hesitantly pulled my manuscript off the shelf and sent it to him, and a few months later, Revell offered me a book contract for Speak to My Heart.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
My promotion efforts have evolved over the years, as social media has become more of a presence. Initially, in 2004, my website and electronic newsletters were my primary vehicles of promotion. Those tools are still important as foundational pieces, but I also make a point of participating in blog tours, staying in touch with readers via Facebook and Twitter, and even participating in speakerphone chats with book clubs around the country.
What mistakes did you make with the marketing of your first book?
My biggest mistake was believing that if I purchased tons of print and web advertising, my books would fly off the shelves. I spent quite a bit of money on advertisements (beyond what my publisher was doing), without the skill or strategic planning to know what to buy and when. I realized by the time my second book was nearing publication that while it's important to have an advertising presence in print publications and online sites, it's much more effective to build relationships with media representatives who can help promote your work, and with book retailers and readers whenever possible. That personal connection makes all the difference.
What's the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
One of the most interesting was a book signing tour in hair salons throughout the Mid-Atlantic region - from Washington, D.C. to North Carolina in the summer of 2009, to promote my novel Worth a Thousand Words. That book featured a character who owned a hair salon, so I thought it was fitting to do a tour of salons. The tour was well received, and gave me an opportunity to meet women who might not otherwise be interested in reading or buying Christian fiction.
What a clever idea! What's the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
My first novel, Speak to My Heart, featured a character named Melvin Gates, who was a church deacon and a person who had failed his "secret" daughter. During a book signing at a church, a gentleman walked up to me and pointed at his nametag, which read "Deacon Melvin Gates." He told me that the story in the book mirrored his family's journey, and he bought a copy of the novel. When I signed it, I declared in writing that the book was NOT his family's story and wished him well.
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
I think the most important thing I've done is to stay abreast of marketing trends, such as social media, and also just to focus on being myself when I'm on those forums, versus focusing solely on the books. Since my heart and mission as a writer are reflected in my books, I try to reflect that same ministry in all of my social media interactions - sometimes without mentioning my books specifically. My hope is that by sharing hope and encouragement, those who are inspired by my posts and tweets will feel compelled to see how those messages are delivered in my books as well. I also think being supportive of other authors and their writing ministries has helped, because inevitably, we have helped cross-promote each other.
Did you see God open any doors in the promotion of your books?
A woman who read my novel Watercolored Pearls on a plane ride to visit her dying goddaughter called me out of the blue and invited me to serve as a speaker at a Christian women's retreat she was hosting in Riviera Maya, Mexico. I shared a message about what it means to be a "pearl in progress" with the women who attended the amazing retreat. This introduced my book to a national audience of women I might not otherwise have met, and I was included in all of the promotions leading up to the retreat.
What do you find works best for you in promoting your work?
What works best for me is to be consistent. I try to consistently post on my social media pages, and maintain regular contact with the media, bloggers, book clubs, and readers who continue to support my work. This is effective for me, because I'm not just "showing up" when it's time to promote a new book. I hope my readers, media supporters, book retailers, and others know that I sincerely appreciate and care about them as individuals, not just when I need their help to sell books.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
- Understand that you are the best person to tell your book's story, even if you have a marketing team behind you with your publisher. Work hand-in-hand with the publisher to craft a solid marketing plan, but be prepared to do more on your own than their budget allows, becuse this is your "book baby," and you have to make it shine.
- Appreciate that writing and publishing books is a marathon, and know for sure that you're in this because you love the craft and the process of publishing, versus doing this for the often-elusive fame and fortune.
- Determine what your mission is as an author and keep that in mind when multiple marketing and promotion opportunities cross your radar. Pursue those that best fit your mission and goals and reach the target audience you most want to touch.
- Enjoy the blessing of being published! As my agent, Steve Laube, once told me, know that whether your book is read by 1,000 or 10,000, each of those readers is a person who has the potential to be transformed or altered in some way by the experience your book has provided. That means you've made a difference.
Great advice, Stacy!
To learn more about Stacy and her books, visit Stacy's website.
Writing for Him,