Marti Pieper here, newly returned from the Write to Publish Conference at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Today, I'm excited to share with you an interview with novelist Carla Stewart. Carla is one of the authors we previously featured here on our CAN blog. But I'm happy to introduce her again today because she has some creative and helpful insights to share as well as a brand-new release. Welcome, Carla!
How many books do you have published? Five.
What are a few of your latest titles? Chasing Lilacs, Broken Wings, Stardust, Sweet Dreams, and current release, The Hatmaker’s Heart.
There will be interruptions. Count on it. And it’s a myth that writing will get easier as you’ve written more books. With each new one, the blank screen and first draft terrify me all over again, and I wonder why I ever thought I could be a writer. I’ve also learned that it’s an incredible blessing to be able to write novels, and that it’s all worth it in the end.
I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who faces that first draft with fear as well as faith. What are the chief lessons you've learned about promotion since your 2009 interview?
Promotion will take ALL of your time for the month or two surrounding the release of a new book. While I plan the book launches and book signings, there have been many God-given speaking engagements and divine encounters that I didn’t orchestrate. Early on, I thought it was all up to me. Since then I’ve learned that, as a human, I have neither the resources nor the imagination to come up with a steady stream of creative ideas. When I surrendered this shortcoming, God began to put people and events in my path that I hadn’t even imagined.
Someone told me early on to never turn down an opportunity. This is still great advice when it comes to writing articles or speaking, but sometimes I do turn down group signings that take a large chunk of time or have an entry fee with not much hope of a return on the investment. There’s a balance and discernment about whether an event targets readers who will like my books. It is rare for me to say no, but I have on occasion.
The last thing is that I’ve learned is the value of spreadsheets and keeping all promotion contacts, articles, appearances, etc. in one place. I can tell at a glance what I need to focus on each day and not let things slip through the cracks.
Speaking to groups and doing special events. My book Stardust has the backdrop of polio, so I’ve enjoyed speaking to Rotary groups who have a mission to eradicate polio worldwide.
Special events that go along with the book theme have worked well. Last year, three different groups hosted me for a ladies’ tea where the guests were invited to wear hats and gloves going along with the sixties theme in Sweet Dreams. Each event, in turn, has brought new readers and additional speaking opportunities my way.
I love that kind of intentional connection. So playing off of that, what are the least effective promotional activities you’ve tried?
Book signings are rather hit or miss. I’ve sold as few as two books a time or two. They seem more effective if I target an area where I have a fan base and send invitations (post cards) ahead of time.
What’s your favorite way to connect with your readers?
For cyber connections, FaceBook, but I really enjoy speaking at luncheons and talking with readers in person.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried?
It’s not something I do, but my husband. He carries copies of my debut book in his car and hands them out to people at the golf course. I’ve received thank you notes and many new fans as a result. Go, Max!
Ha! I could see my husband doing something like that. It sounds like Max is great publicist! What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
I attended a large event where several dignitaries spoke first, followed by a short break (with punch and cookies). I was the next speaker, but the organizers couldn’t get people gathered back into the room (they were really good cookies, apparently!). When I spoke, no one could hear me above all the chatter in the background. As I tried to speak louder, I got a scratch in my throat and couldn’t stop coughing. Someone provided me with a cough drop, and I gave an abbreviated version of my talk. I could have recited the Gettysburg address, though, and no one would have known. Later, I made one-on-one contact with those who were really interested in books.
Wow. Who knew cookies would become such an obstacle? Carla, did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Absolutely. Although I do initiate a lot of the promotion, I’ve had numerous opportunities to write articles and speak that were a result of letting Jesus take the wheel on the success and promotion of my books. It’s very humbling.
What are your top tips for new authors promoting their first book?
Savor every moment with your debut release as it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Keep clippings and pictures of all the events you do and make a scrapbook to remember the excitement.
Concentrate on two or three social media outlets for your major promotion. It’s impossible to keep up with them all, and it will dilute your efforts if you are bouncing back and forth trying to do too much. Besides, it’s exhausting! Where are your readers more likely to hang out? Start there.
Whether or not you have a newsletter, begin gathering names for a list for the day when you do put one out. I take a small form to events for people to put their name and email. I use those slips of paper for door prize drawings and then take the slips home with me. I’m not a good example of how to do this as I have a Tupperware container full of contacts and am just this summer starting my first newsletter. I’m glad I have all those names, though J
The last thing is be generous with helping others, providing books for charities, and doing giveaways. If the Holy Spirit prompts me to give a book to someone or attend an event at my own expense, I’ve learned to be flexible and generous. The blessings I receive back are always more than what I’ve given.
Thank you so much for sharing such thoughtful, creative answers, Carla. I appreciate all the time you spent to share with us.
To learn more about Carla Stewart and her books, please visit Carla’s website.