Greetings from Sarah Sundin in California, where we’re welcoming cooler temperatures. I have the joy of interviewing multi-published nonfiction author Jan Kern today. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Jan at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, where she serves on the faculty. She has a true heart for following God’s lead in her writing, covering difficult but crucial topics—and now following Him into an uncertain transition period. As so many writers are in transition nowadays, you’re sure to be inspired by her example.
Jan, how did you get into writing?
I’ve always loved books and playing with words. As a little girl I wrote to Mr. Walt Whitman at Whitman Publishers and asked how I might become a writer. He wrote back saying I should study hard in school and write often. And no, at that time I didn’t realize that Walt Whitman had been dead for more than half a century, but I’m grateful for the kind soul at Whitman Publishers that took time to write to a little girl.
I did study hard and write often. As a young mother, I wrote for various newsletters, taught writing to adults and homeschoolers, published devotions and articles, and participated in a book compilation. My first paid piece was a short story written for Focus on the Family Clubhouse that I had pitched to an editor at Mount Hermon’s conference. And then it went from there to proposing other articles and books.
How many books do you have published?
I currently have five published books, including a women’s devotional and a nonfiction series for at-risk teens on tough issues.
How did you get your first book contract?
I initially pitched an idea for a Christian nonfiction book for teens struggling with self-injury to many editors and an agent at Mount Hermon. I received a lot of interest, so after the conference I wrote the proposal and, working with my new agent, landed a series deal with Standard Publishing. Now that I’m on faculty behind the scenes at that conference, I know that editors and agents see conference attendees, especially repeat attendees, as likely to be more serious about their craft and career. I believe that’s true and might have contributed to gaining that first contract.
I’ve heard and experienced the same thing! I can’t recommend conferences highly enough—especially Mount Hermon. Jan, what has helped you promote your books the most?
The simple and personal things: Being available to make connections not based in a person buying my books but in a genuine interest in who that person is and the real questions they are asking about their life; listening, caring, getting to know an individual’s unique story—whether through social media or in person after a speaking event; and trusting God for the opportunities to reach markets that I would never think of.
What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book? How did that change what you do with marketing now?
I think the biggest assumption I made is that as authors we need to go full steam and apply every idea we hear about to market our books. Steady engagement in marketing is essential, but I found that it’s more sustainable and healthy to choose a solid selection of avenues that would be most effective for a particular book or series. To augment that, I like to keep up with a few favorite newsletters and blogs that help me learn what is working well in the current market and that inspire new creative avenues for upcoming projects. This is especially important as I’ve been making a big transition in my writing.
Tell us about this transition.
I enjoyed a successful run as a new author with my teen/young-adult nonfiction, which included some encouraging awards. You’d think that would keep me moving forward, but during what I hoped would be a short break after an intensive deadline schedule, I realized that God had stopped me in my tracks. He was prompting a new direction. At first, that felt very vague, and it threw me into a season of transition that has been both difficult and wonderful. Difficult because during a transition things are often unclear and uncomfortable, and wonderful because I felt confident that the best direction for my life and writing would be where God was stirring and leading my passions. Perhaps a risky career move, but it felt riskier to ignore his leading.
What did you do during this transition to prepare for what’s next in your writing and marketing?
As an author, it became important for me to also engage in life outside of writing. Part of that included seminary and credentialing in life coaching and then stepping into new ministry and career opportunities—particularly those where I could connect genuinely with women.
Alongside of this, I began to lay the foundation for shifting my reader audience to women. This year, I am rebuilding my websites and focusing page content and social networking on the topics that have become important for me to bring to women. I also have had the opportunity to layer in speaking and retreat offerings. I like that all of these are dovetailing naturally in my marketing efforts.
Any advice you’d like to offer to writers in transition?
Be okay with taking some time to stop, breathe, and pray as you listen to God to discover where he is taking your life. Notice I didn’t say where he is taking your writing. I believe your writing and your marketing will be more life giving to you and to others if it
flows out of living your life authentically and well. I think checkpoints throughout our life are important. Ask: Am I caught up in a whirlwind of activity powered by expectations and that don’t match who God has created me to be? Also, seek out those who can come alongside you as you sort out your questions and where you believe God may be taking you. Talk together. Pray together. And then move forward.
Thank you for sharing with us, Jan!