That's the kind of friend Anne Shirley longed for, and that's the kind of friend I found in author, speaker, and woman of God Cynthia Ruchti. We met while serving on faculty at the Quad-Cities Christian Writers Conference a few years ago. I've only seen Cynthia in person a few times since, but I'm delighted to introduce my forever-friend to the CAN audience today. She has many wise insights to share.
Cynthia, how did you get into writing?
I always considered writing recreation rather than a career choice. I trained to work in a chemistry laboratory and did so for the first seven years of marriage, working part-time after our kids were born. But I longed to be home with them while they were young and laid aside my job at the lab and its income. Purely to keep my mind agile while making homemade baby food and creating clever birthday parties on a budget, I enrolled in several correspondence courses in creative writing. I sold an article here and a newspaper column there, enough to convince me of the joy of storytelling and the power of words to alter the flow of the human heart.
How many books do you have published?
I have short pieces in two anthologies, am part of two novella collections—Family Fiction’s Readers’ Choice A Door County Christmas and Cedar Creek Seasons, am one of four authors in a devotional collection titled His Grace is Sufficient…Decaf is Not, have two novels currently on the shelves—the Carol Award finalist They Almost Always Come Home and the April release When the Morning Glory Blooms, and am anticipating the July 2013 release of my first full-length nonfiction project from Abingdon Press Christian Living—Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices, as well as another novel from Abingdon Press in 2014—All My Belongings. I’m also included as one of the authors in the Guideposts Mornings With Jesus 2014.
Wow! I'd say you've been busy! Can you tell us a little about some of your latest titles?
Cedar Creek Seasons novella collection released this past September. It’s part of the Romancing America series from Barbour Publishing—four sweet but touching and humorous romances set in the charming town of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, which boasts the last standing original covered bridge in the state. And April 1st of this year saw the release of When the Morning Glory Blooms, a book that has lived in my heart for more than twelve years. I’m overjoyed that it’s now “born” and is resonating with readers.
Can you tell us how you got your first book contract?
I met Barbara Scott, who at the time was the acquisitions editor for Abingdon Press’s brand-new fiction line, at the ACFW conference in 2008. I pitched They Almost Always Come Home to her at the conference. She asked to see the proposal, which I sent her the day I got home from the conference, since it was ready to go. Two hours later—I’m not kidding—she emailed me to say she was enthralled and wanted to see the whole manuscript, which I sent within minutes because it was ready to go. Within a month of the conference, I had an agent and a contract. Yes, I know how deliciously rare that is!
You'll have to put a "Results not typical" warning on that story--but it's a great testimony to your writing. What has helped you promote your books the most?
It’s almost cliché to say “word of mouth,” but that remains our strongest ally in getting word out about our books. I often speak for women’s events and women’s retreats. When an audience hears your heart through your speaking, they’re more likely to pick up a book. It’s that other cliché—They have to know you care before they’ll care to listen. Because I write women’s fiction and weave storytelling into my speaking, they’re a natural fit for one another.
I think the other key for me is making both the material and the marketing relevant to the reader. Even in small details like Twitter posts, I work hard to make sure the majority of them somehow meet readers’ needs. I like to pair a project’s theme with magazine and blog articles where I can with that same flavor of offering the reader something of heart-value.
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?
My circle of influence for my first book was relatively large, but mostly other writers. I wasn’t as attuned to how to connect my first novel with the readers for which it was intended, although some of those readers were my writer friends. It was a slower process getting the book recognized outside that beautiful circle of writers who knew and supported me. It surprised me, too, that They Almost Always Come Home is still selling three years later. With my current novel, I’m making more intentional efforts to reach out to those who read the first novel and to the places where readers gather. Because of the themes within When the Morning Glory Blooms, I’m making connections with Teen MOPS and pregnancy resource centers, and even following some blogs of teen moms talking to teen moms.
What was the most inventive gimmick you've tried?
For the Door County Christmas novella collection, we had a friend who runs an online tea company create a specialty tea that was mentioned in the book. She packaged it in single teabag sizes with the book cover and contact information on the foil package for giveaways. Our Cheery Cherry Christmas Tea was a big hit and drew people to the book table. They came for the free tea and left with a book! It wasn’t cheap, but four authors splitting the costs helped. And our tea lady donated the first 200 tea bags in exchange for books for her family. This may have been a gimmick, but it turned out to be well-received and effective.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
It’s one of those “I can laugh about it now” moments. I had a book signing at a wonderfully supportive local Christian bookstore slated for a Saturday in mid-November, just in time for Christmas purchases. Thursday of that week, I had emergency gall bladder surgery. I laid low on Friday, but showed up on Saturday morning at the book signing because an author friend had arranged to travel four hours one way for it, and the two of us were the only traditionally-published authors of the six advertised for the mass signing. I didn’t want to disappoint my friend, the bookstore manager, or the customers who’d seen the store’s advertising.
God was good to keep me upright and fairly coherent, but when I look at the pictures from that signing, I think to myself, “That girl should be in bed!”
I think you win the Dedicated Marketer star for that one! Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
I have both an in-house publicist and an outside publicist working on When the Morning Glory Blooms and my non-fiction which releases soon—Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices. What a blessing! They help me think through strategy. They add their own contacts to mine. And I took their advice to beef up and trim down my website with a fresher look so it’s easy for people to find my books and link to booksellers directly from the website.
I looked at your refreshed website earlier this spring, Cynthia. It's gorgeous! Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Constantly. I think it’s as true in marketing as it is in so many other areas of life. If we delight ourselves in the Lord, He responds in remarkable ways to bless us unexpectedly. A couple of years ago, They Almost Always Come Home was an editor’s pick in a national magazine. After a reader finished When the Morning Glory Blooms, she marched down to her church’s women’s retreat, beelined it for the booth representing a large and very effective ministry of grace and help for unwed moms, and told the coordinators they must get this book for all their volunteers and staff and hand a copy to every unwed mom they work with! Whether that happens or not, a door was certainly pushed open by one of God’s servants.
Now that you've been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
Doing something about marketing and promoting every day, even if it’s a small task, will keep it from becoming overwhelming (although this interview was turned in just under the wire because I was overwhelmed). Sometimes it can’t be helped. Release month is intense no matter how prepared and organized you think you are. What works best for me is to not focus all my attention in one spot but to put as much creative thought into promotion as I do into creating the story itself.
When it’s obvious I care about readers, they’re far more ready to respond. I also try to make connections with those you comment on blog interviews, not just thanking them, but listening for ways I can give added value in my response, something to know they’re heard and appreciated.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
It’s not about you. It’s about the book and how it can connect with readers. Many of us are naturally uncomfortable promoting ourselves. The good news is we don’t have to. We promote the books. We shine a spotlight on the stories. There’s a verse in Ephesians 6 that at first glance might not seem at all related to having a book contract, but I think it deserves more than a glance: "And having done all, to stand" (Ephesians 6:13).
Write with grace. Wait with grace. Work on grace-filled marketing. And having done all you can, stand firm and watch what God will do. We tend to shake and tremble (or crumble) at each challenge along the way. But God urges us to do our jobs, then stand firm. Another version of that verse words it this way: “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out” (Ephesians 6:13-18, The Message).
I love the idea of grace-filled marketing, Cynthia. And we can all use a reminder to stand firm and watch what God will do. Thanks for taking time to answer these questions at such a busy time in your writing life.
For His glory,