A warm greeting from sunny Florida, where fall means cooler days, shorter nights, and (as my teenage daughters say), choosing the flip-flops with the wider straps. Today, I have the privilege of sharing an interview with fellow Florida author Crystal Bowman. I first met Crystal when we taught together at the Florida Christian Writers Conference, and I’m delighted to share her words of wisdom today.
I started writing when I was 10 years old. I loved writing poems—some funny and some serious.
My first professional writing opportunity (decades later) was an offer to write lyrics for children’s piano music. That was in 1990. and I am still writing for the same composers.
How many books do you have published?
Around 75—mostly kids’ books, but also three nonfiction books for women.
Wow! I’m impressed. What are a few of your latest titles?
My Grandma and Me—Rhyming Devotions for You and Your Grandchild (Tyndale, 2012)
Lily’s Easter Party—The Story of the Resurrection Eggs® (Zonderkidz, 2013)
My ABC Bible (Zonderkidz, 2012)
My ABC Prayers (Zonderkidz, 2012)
God’s Big Promises for Kids (Standard, 2012)
God’s Big Ideas for Kids (Standard, 2012)
Would you tell us how you got your first book contract?
I met with the children’s editor at Zondervan, and we talked about some of their needs in the children’s department. He said they were looking for someone to develop a series for beginning readers, and when I shared that I had years of teaching experience with young children, he was impressed. He was also impressed with the fact that I had self-published a book of humorous poems for kids and sold 12,000 copies on my own.
That’s wonderful encouragement for those who have self-published. You must have learned some early lessons in marketing and promotion. What has helped you promote your books the most?
Doing school programs and speaking to MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups. That is what helped sell my books in the past 2 decades, but now it’s all about online marketing. I’m trying to do more online marketing, but it is very time-consuming and harder to measure the results.
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 shocked when my beginning reader series with Zondervan went out of print after only 5 years. I thought it would be in print forever (a little bit naïve I guess!). The sales were good—but not good enough to keep reprinting.
So many of us can identify with that magical thinking, can’t we? What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
One time when I was speaking at a mother-daughter event, I thought my talk was a little too blah, so I decided at the last minute to have an imaginary friend with me named Beatrice, and I talked to her during my presentation. The girls loved it, but after the program I invited them to my book table to meet “Beatrice” which turned out to be a little awkward. I never tried it again.
I love that story! That one might be hard to top, but what’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
One time at a book signing, I thought a little girl was with her grandma, so I said, “You have a very nice grandma.” And the woman replied, “I’m her mother.” Wow—so embarrassing!
Ouch. I’ll make a note of that so I don’t do it myself! Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
In the 1990’s-2000’s author programs were really a big deal in the schools. We were living in Michigan at the time, and I did tons of school programs. I could reach a lot of kids in one or two days. I sent book order forms home with the kids and sold a lot of books that way. I still do a few school programs, but the schools just don’t have the funds anymore—even though I don’t charge much. I also live in Florida now, and the school system is much different. I have been in a few Christian schools, but that’s about it.
Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Oh yes, many times. I could share lots of stories, but one time I was at a MOPS group, and after my talk I sat by my book table. One mom came and sat right next to me while the others were still having discussion at their tables. She looked at me and said, “Something you said changed my life!” She shared some details, and I was so humbled that God could use my words in such a powerful way.
Now that you’ve been writing a while, what do you find works best for you in promoting your work and why?
I have to keep doing what I have been doing. I speak at a lot of MOPS groups and still do a few school programs now and then. I also teach classes on writing for children at writers’ conferences and try to attend a convention every year. Networking with other authors is critical, as well as online marketing—blog interviews, websites, Facebook, etc. I was slow to get involved in online marketing because I knew it would eat up a lot of my time, but you must have an online presence or you are invisible.
What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
• Work with your editor! Editors have been in the business and they know what needs to be done. You have to think of yourself as part of a team. Your editor might see things from a different perspective, and you have to trust your editor. You don’t always have to agree with his or her suggestions, but if your editor sees a need for something to be changed, then change it until you are both satisfied.
• Do as much as you can to market your book and don’t expect others to do it for you. Also, don’t expect too much help from friends and family members. They will all want an autographed copy of your book, but free of course!
• Revise, revise, revise.
• Writing is hard. If it were easy—everyone would do it!
Thank you so much, Crystal. I enjoyed learning more about you and your work as well as your marketing wisdom, and I’m sure our readers did, too.
Grace and peace,