Q & A–A Novel Idea
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
We’re always looking for fresh promotional ideas for books but, unfortunately, there’s very little “new under the sun.” That’s why I perked up when I discovered a brilliant multi-author project–The Trust Chronicles. I asked my client, Amanda Dykes, to tell us about this innovative week-long promotion that showcased not only five outstanding historical authors but their unforgettable characters as well.
Q: Amanda, can you tell us about the promotion?
A: To quote the header of our Trust Chronicles posts:
The Trust Chronicles is a blog hop and collaborative project between 5 historical romance authors. Our desire is to bring you lasting hope through these letters, grounded in trust in our Lord, and written from the fictional viewpoints of each book’s heroine. Each day during the week of May 13-17th, a new Trust Chronicles post will go live, complete with a letter and a new giveaway for that blog post. Click here to read more about the project and enter to win* the one-of-a-kind Trust Chronicles antique keepsake box, containing each heroine’s letter, hand-inscribed by the author, and a special keepsake to accompany each letter.
Here’s how it all came about:
Back in August of 2012 I received an e-mail from my friend Joanne: Would you be interested in a blog hop?
Historical writers, she said. All writing from their story’s heroine’s point of view. What a creative approach to the hopping-of-blogs!
Count me in, I said.
The wheels in our collective brains began to turn:
“What if we invite these other authors to jump in?”
“What if we do giveaways to go along with the blog hop?”
“What if we all have a common theme to serve readers? Some thread of truth to stitch the event together, give it a foundation?”
“What if—and is this cheesy?—we send a journal around in the mail and hand-inscribe it?”
And so the Hope Chronicles (predecessor to the Trust Chronicles) was born.
Six months after The Hope Chronicles, we were ready for another round. Brainstorming commenced once more, resulting in The Trust Chronicles. This time, instead of the handmade journal, we’d use an antique wooden box full of hand-written letters and carefully chosen keepsakes.
Q: How did you put together your team?
A: Joanne and I contacted three other historical romance authors we knew. These authors spanned a variety of settings within the historical romance genre, which gave the project some neat dimension. Between the five of us, we occupied every level of publication (from pre-published to multi-published). I think that’s one of the things that’s given the Chronicles events a unique feel. It wasn’t the actual status of publication that bound us together, but rather the common desire to reach and serve readers. The Chronicles collaborators are: Regina Jennings, Karen Barnett, Sarah Sundin, Joanne Bischof and me.
Q: Why is the team approach that many times more effective?
A: A week-long event takes months to plan, and the gifts of every person involved. What a joy it was to discover some of each other’s loves and talents beyond writing in this! We did everything ourselves, or enlisted the help of family members. This included: artwork, sewing, graphic design, web design, chart-making, writing, formatting, photography, video, prize-bundle making, giveaway form-creation, blog button making, Pinterest pin-making and board creation, Facebook event creating, tweeting… all the while striving and encouraging each other to remember why we were doing this.
On a logistics level, collaborative efforts like this are great because each person pulls in his or her own audience. There is some overlap, but we all encountered new readers because of this.
The various places we occupy on the publication journey meant that some of us had more connections already established with readers, while others of us didn’t have deadlines looming and had more time to devote to the planning. Everyone had something to give—and these ladies gave with all their hearts!
There’s another side of group projects that shouldn’t go without mentioning: the blessing of the relationships built. An event like this requires a lot of communication, which made for many opportunities for us to also pray for each other, for writing projects, for family matters that arose along the way.
Q: What kind of response did you have?
- Numbers: For the grand prize giveaway, we had right around 300 entries. Many of these signed up for our author newsletters, which is such a neat way to continue the connection started with this event. All told, the five blog posts had hundreds of comments collectively.
- Depth: the conversations that sprang up within the comments throughout the week had such an edifying bent. Reader stories were shared that highlighted incredible ways the Lord has worked in these readers’ lives. We got a few behind-the-scenes messages, too, saying that the event had blessed and touched people. This was our greatest hope.
Q: Why is this so innovative? What did you do that is breaking new ground?
A: Oddly enough, I think it had less to do with “innovation” and more to do with “renovation.” The Chronicles events harken back to the eras we love to immerse our readers in. The major “innovation” here… was snail mail. Hand-written letters. Treasure boxes. Wax-letter seals. Hand-made items and hand-drawn illustrations within the journal. Authentic postcards pasted in from the era. A journal of cherished thoughts.
In a conveyer-belt, lightning-speed world, we wanted to offer readers something truly one-of-a-kind.
So we slowed down, laid aside our keyboards, pulled out our pens and paper… and wrote.
These things allowed us to give readers an experience. Not just words on a screen- but something to engage in. Something they could be an integral part of.
Heading into the week of the Hope Chronicles, we weren’t sure what to expect. We’d poured months of preparation into it—sent a journal travelling the country, documented its journey from state to state online to start piquing interest, staged photos of ourselves grinning with it as proof that it really did make the rounds—but would anyone care? Would they be interested?
The comments that flooded in humbled us. E-mails flew back and forth behind the scenes between us, each day amazing us with the way readers seemed invested on a heart-level. It became a family of sorts, travelling from blog to blog together throughout the week and sharing our hearts. A community, much like the one here at Books and Such.
Behind the scenes, we did a few things to anchor our approach in service. One of them was that we had a prayer calendar, with a different prayer focus each week leading up to the event. We’d have a week devoted to each author and her agent, editors or future editors, readers, family, marriage. We’d have a week devoted to the Chronicles readers.
Q: How can authors look to their books or characters for inspiration?
A: Look at your character’s inner arc or character journey. Where did they start out, and where will they end up? Try to encapsulate that concept with one word or phrase. (For us, it was “Hope” and “Trust”). There you go. There’s the starting point for your event.
You’ve got a foundation, and a vehicle… now spin them to set them apart (for us, that was the snail mail element). Really, give it an all-out brainstorm, and see what unique angles and threads emerge. Keep going until you get the “aha” moment.
Remember, everything you do online identifies you, becomes part of your author brand. Looking to your books and your heart for writing when planning an event like this will help keep your online interactions aligned with your author brand. See if you can find a way to serve your readers in a way that shows them you’re thinking of them. Not trying to get something out of them, but that you really, deliberately, thought of them while planning this.
Q: Any other advice for writers as they consider creative approaches to marketing?
A: Three things come to mind:
- Be willing to learn something new. Prior to this, I’d never made a video slideshow with music or uploaded a video to use on websites. I’d never built a website with tabs halfway down the page. My second language is story, not html! One of the Chronicles authors was new to Pinterest, but created an account and started pinning like the wind so that she could be a part of our Trust Chronicles group board (and now has done a beautiful job creating boards for her novels, too!).
- Follow up. Carry through. You’ve done this to create unique connections, and hopefully lasting ones. For those who’ve opted-in to your newsletter, subscribed to your blog, followed (Twitter) or “liked” (Facebook) you… continue to provide opportunities to converse. Continue to seek ways to bless and serve them through your words—whether it’s your next manuscript, or your next 140-character tweet. Remember, you did all of this for them, not just to get something from them. Keep that going. It’s a good thing.
- Make it Matter. Why do all of this? It’s fun, yes. It’s a new way to connect with readers and introduce them to our work and other work they might enjoy, yes. But… on a deeper level… why?
That’s where this, our purpose statement, came in:
As five historical fiction authors that span a century of settings and every stage of publication, the common thread that ties us together is our desire to offer hope from the Master Author, our Lord and Savior. Our goal is to join together as storytellers and to connect with each other and our readers in a meaningful way through the Hope Chronicles event.
Can you see why I found this idea so compelling? It pulled together five authors and their readership, it introduced their characters and it focused on story. This was one promotion that made me want to go deeper– to read these books. Bravo, Amanda, Joanne, Regina, Karen and Sarah!
Got any questions for this marketing dream team? How could you do something story-based to promote your book whether published or not-yet-published? How could a nonfiction writer adapt this kind of multi-author approach?
Nothing new under the sun? Don’t believe it. Here’s a book promotion that broke new ground. Click to Tweet.
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Five authors. Five letters. One successful book promotion. Click to Tweet
*Sorry, Books and Such blog readers—giveaways are now closed.