Welcome, David. Tell us how you got into writing?
I have always loved words and been good at expressing myself in written form. So when I prayed about what major to pursue in college, I sensed God saying, “How about a writer?” and so I studied journalism.
I have published six books, including my first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, which is coming out in November through Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.
I enjoy helping other Christian writers, which is why I got into editing, and why I teach workshops at writers’ conferences. After 20 years in editorial work with Christian book publishers, I distilled my experience into a book—on how to write a book! Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book: Concept to Contract came out in 2011 through Sonfire Media.
As a result of the success of Concept to Contract, I was recently asked by Sonfire to write an e-book on book proposals, tentatively titled A Christian Writer’s Guide to the Book Proposal. That’s coming out next year. We hope to make this the first in a series for Christian writers.
How did you get your first book contract?
I read a brief article in a newsletter about Thomas Barnardo, who started orphanages in England during the second half of the 19th century, and it tickled my curiosity. After a little research, I discovered that by the time Barnardo died in 1905, he had rescued 60,000 homeless children from the streets. His story is full of God’s miraculous provision, acts of faith and sacrifice, but he is almost unknown among today’s believers. That’s a shame, because he demonstrated how the church can successfully merge the gospel with social concern.
I decided that God was calling me to write a new biography of Barnardo, but I ran into the “catch-22” of most biographers: how could I interest a publisher in a biography of someone who was not well-known? (And the corollary to that, which results in the “catch-22,” is that if he was well-known, there would already be a slew of competing biographies about him!)
Figuring I had nothing to lose anyway, I pitched the idea to an editor at Christian Literature Crusade (now CLC Publications). What I didn’t realize was that CLC is an international ministry, based in the UK—where Barnardo’s name is pretty much a household word. Yes, they were interested; could I send them a complete manuscript? I finished the book and sent it off to them, and Father to Nobody’s Children was published by CLC in 1995. Needless to say, most of my other books took a lot more work to sell to a publisher.
What has helped you promote your books the most?
I have a great bunch of friends who talk up my books all the time. Most of them are authors as well, and I appreciate that they take the time and energy to promote my books when they could be promoting their own. Maybe it’s because my books are really that good, but I suspect it’s also because these people are really that nice.
Did you make any wrong assumptions in marketing your first book?
I really thought I could just sit back and let the publisher do all the marketing and promotion. I know that sounds terribly naïve, but hey, it was ’90s, and I was pretty green! I now realize that there are promotional efforts that only an author can do, and your publisher is not about to slap your hand if you do something to get the word out.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
I created a full-color, three-foot-tall display for Concept to Contract that I took to a writers’ conference in 2011. It looked pretty good, but because it had to fit in my luggage and not set off alarms at the airport, I had to make it out of cardboard and roll it up in a mailing tube. As a result, it was so flimsy it kept falling over at the conference.
What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
I went to one book signing which was a real dud. About the only traffic I had was another author who tried to sell me her book.
Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
I sent complimentary copies of Concept to Contract to writer friends of mine. Suddenly reviews began appearing on websites, tweets on Twitter, etc.
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
After writing a book on Sunday school teaching (Teaching with All Your Heart, 2002), I got several opportunities to teach Christian education seminars based on the book.
Now that you have been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
I have to take charge of the promotion of my book, and be sure that I can describe it in a concise and interesting way, especially in the proposal I send to the publisher. I have to make sure my publisher knows my book as thoroughly as I do. A marketing department cannot make bricks without clay.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
1. Develop your platform.
2. Develop your platform.
3. Develop your platform.
Wow, David, if we didn't get that, we're not paying attention. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us today.
Learn more about David through his online contacts:
Blog on Christian nonfiction writing: www.FromConcepttoContract.com
Novel site soon to be activated: www.ExplodingSpeakeasy.com
Author site soon to be activated: www.DaveFessenden.com