Q & A–A Novel Idea

Wendy Lawton

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Now take that idea, and match it with an event vehicle for reaching and interacting with your readers (blog hop, giveaway, guest post, e-mail campaign, vlog…).

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:

  1. 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!).
  2.  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.
  3. 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?

TWEETABLES:

Nothing new under the sun? Don’t believe it. Here’s a book promotion that broke new ground. Click to Tweet.

Looking for new book promotion ideas? Check this out. Click to Tweet

Five authors. Five letters. One successful book promotion. Click to Tweet

*Sorry, Books and Such blog readers—giveaways are now closed. ;)

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54 Comments

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    I think the very best part of this is the collaboration. It wasn’t about promoting any one person’s book or agenda–and there was a greater purpose behind it. Seems to me that’s exactly the kind of things God loves to shower with blessings!

  • First, I love Amanda and her heart for encouragement and service. I think that same heart exists in all five of these ladies, and that’s ultimately what made this a success.

    I would love to do cross-promotions like this with a team of friends. I love the idea of getting to know new readers that way–and as a reader, I enjoy getting to know new authors, so the idea certainly has merit.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I agree, Lindsay, this team was the perfect combination. (You can see how this wouldn’t work if you put together authors writing in different genres.)

  • I second what Sarah, Jennifer, and Lindsay all said. (Blogs need “like” buttons for comments. :) ) I love not only the getting to know new readers but especially the collaboration of writers. To work that closely with other authors would be such a blessing!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Yes, I wish we had like buttons. sometimes there’s not a lot to add but you want to give an attaboy.

  • Amanda Dykes says:

    Thanks so much for the “chat”, Wendy– such a joy to spend time with you and the Books and Such community here. :)

  • Lori says:

    I agree with Sarah about the best part being the collaboration. However, I wish I would of known about this when the giveaway was going on. It must of been a thrill to the winners to receive something so special and for the authors to pick out something special relating to their heroines.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I blush to admit that I was the winner of one of the prizes. I commented out of excitement, not realizing I was entering the contest. Happily they did not have the rule that those closely connected could not enter. :-)

      I just received my package from Regina yesterday. An inscribed book, a leather journal and a charming bracelet.

      • You know, in my culture (Jenniferland) we trade chocolate for bracelets. Just sayin’.
        ;)

      • Sorry to comment late, Wendy, (I’ve been on a mission trip) but thanks so much for sharing our story. I’m glad you liked it and glad you received the prize package! We truly love the friendship we’ve grown through this project and we love how our circle has increased to include even more friends. Writing isn’t about selling books…it’s about communicating, and The Chronicles have given us wonderful opportunities to do just that.

        Thanks for participating!

  • One thing I would LOVE to do is film some Navajo elders telling stories and air that on my blog. Or take them on a walk-about through Canyon de Chelly and ask them questions about their history. Then I’d rope some other authors who write with a Native American thread and have them do the same. Then we have a good old story circle going! And the give-away would be a traditionally woven blanket from one of the nations represented.

    Hey, a girl can dream, right?

    Thank you, Trust Chronicles Team, for raising the bar!

    • Love that idea, Jennifer! Start doing it now.

    • Lori says:

      That sounds like a good one Jennifer! You should definitely do that. I would love to hear from the Navajo elders telling stories. Navajo blankets are sooo beautiful.

      And I am not going to make any comment about Canadian chocolate.

    • I’ve always thought the synergy in ideas like this made so much sense–and sounded like a ton of fun.

      I haven’t thought about how I’d do it though. Hm. I would think it would make your publisher happy to have the authors of new releases in a season work together to promote each other. The authors win, and the house wins. Would something like that work?

      I really liked how Rel Mollet of Relz Reviewz, Katie Ganshert, Dani Pettrey, Olivia Newport, and Beth Vogt did a live video interview with guests asking questions. All four books were promoted, and the authors were able to share their thoughts on each other’s books. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’d love to do something like that down the road.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I think this is doable, Jennifer. In my old life as a dollmaker I created two native American doll editions– the first wore turquoise and silver jewelry. We traveled to Arizona and worked with a trader to have a Navajo silversmith– one of the Begays– create these for us. Later I did a doll called Cradleboard and had the cradleboards made by a Navajo cradleboard maker with woven blankets made by the women weavers. They were delighted to be part of a project.

      • Wow! I was not aware that you did Native American dolls as well. Very cool. I’d love to see them! (cough hint Facebook hint).
        I’m so VERY, very impressed that you had the cradleboards and blankets made by the Navajo artisans. Nicely done, Ms. Lawton. I’m actually choking up that you went to that level of authenticity in that project. Seriously, I’m crying. I’m SO impressed. Wow.

      • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

        You can see Cradleboard here: http://www.lawtondolls.com/html/cherishedcustoms.html Just scroll down toward the end.

    • Jeanne T says:

      I love this idea, Jennifer. Sally’s right. Start working on it. Then, when it’s time, you’re ready to roll!

    • Jennifer, I have to ask being the See’s chocolate lover that I am ~ do you like See’s? You do know that Mary See was a Canadian!
      In Kathyland, See’s is THE chocolate!

  • Larry says:

    It really is fascinating how the different members of the community here are able to work together, and build new communities and partnerships with other writers and readers.

    Wonder if the different communities have any ideas about working together? There seems to be lots of commonalities between writing subjects and genres that I’ve noticed.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I think you’ve hit on the key, Larry. For instance, if you wrote futuristic fantasy couldn’t you put together a team and do something in conjunction with Comic Con for instance– to broaden your reach?

      What this team did was think outside the box. We all need to be doing that. The important thing is to go where new readers might be found and you are right in using the word, communities.

  • First of all, I love this idea. If you can find a group of friends to do this with and make it work, it sounds wonderful. I’m involved in a multi-author hop this month, but it’s nowhere near as involved as this one. The Colonial American Christian Writers is celebrating two years of blogging with a multi-author giveaway based, which is probably easier for them to coordinate since they all blog together already. Do you think that would be as successful in gaining new readers when the participants already blog together?

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Blogging together in itself is a way of pooling readers so it seems to me this promotion will solidify that.

      Readers are always trying to find new authors– that’s why Amazon’s feature suggesting authors you’d like based on those you read is so popular. When the average writer only releases a book every nine months to a year, we need to help readers find other authors so we keep them reading and anticipating our next book, right?

  • Amanda, I especially appreciate how you bathed the entire process in prayer. Do you plan on working as a dream team again in the future?
    These are brilliant recommendations for how we can reach our readers. I’m so glad Wendy interviewed you.

    • I agree with Jenni. I love that all five of you began, continued in, and followed up with prayer.

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      Jenni, thank you so much! The prayer was such a blessing to be a part of, and was so important to help us approach it well. There’s this saying I’ve seen floating around the internet (namely Pinterest :) ) – “Have you prayed about it as much as you’ve talked about it?” So convicting to me in many areas of my life.

      As to whether we’ll work together again in the future, we haven’t actually officially talked about future events, although there’s been casual mention of “next time” in our e-mails. ;)

  • If an author writes stories set in an area near them, it would be cool to invite readers to a walking tour of the area or town where the story takes place. This would give an opportunity to highlight the buildings or natural setting that inspired the story.
    My WIP is set in Marin County and because I live in the SF bay the idea of being a tour guide for my story setting is intriguing to me.

  • Being involved in the two Chronicle events was incredibly rewarding. I was one of the “pre-published” authors, and I remember thinking how little I had to offer to a blog hop. I was surprised and honored to be invited. But, as Amanda said, those of us who didn’t have deadlines looming had more time for planning. I’ve kept in touch with several of the Chronicles readers, and they’ve been cheering me on as I get ready for my first book release in July. It’s become a community–the five of us became close, and then when the readers joined in… it was heart-changing. Trust Chronicles (and Hope Chronicles) changed the way I look at blogging and writing, making me become less story-focused and more reader-focused. What a blessing.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Ooo, Karen. You have given valuable advice here. Less story-focused and more reader-focused. Bingo!

    • Sarah Sundin says:

      How funny! Karen and I must have been posting simultaneously. We were definitely thinking alike!

      For Karen, I think the timing of this event was perfect – just over a month before the release of her debut book. It piqued interest in her story and in her as a person – her heart – and I know she’ll have a lot more people rooting for her when Mistaken comes out (Can’t WAIT!)

      • Haha! Thanks, Sarah! Yes, the timing was ideal for me, and for Mistaken. And having the rest of you rally around was such a treat. I’ve told you before, I feel a bit like a kid trying to ride her bike without the training wheels. You ladies have been holding on, keeping me from crashing! I couldn’t do this without all of you! (Or without Rachel–the safety bar on the roller coaster…I loved that image, too!)

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      “It was heart-changing.” I love this, Karen. It definitely was, for me! Now, on to the next thing: reading your book! Less than a month until release… so exciting!

  • Sarah Sundin says:

    Thank you so much for featuring the Trust Chronicles, Wendy! I was so blessed to participate and feed off the other ladies’ creativity – especially the vision of Joanne and Amanda.

    What drew me to both Chronicles was the focus. Almost every promotion we do is focused on the book or on the author. Even if the promotion itself is humble and engaging and doesn’t scream, “BUY MY BOOK!!!” – the focus is still on the book or the writer. In the Chronicles, the main focus was on the reader. The letters were written with a purpose of providing hope or leading to trust. We encouraged people to tweet/pin/post verses and messages of hope and trust.

    It was also exciting for me to introduce my reader friends to my author friends. One of my girlfriends at church grabbed me the week after the Trust Chronicles to tell me how much she missed it! And, by the way, she couldn’t wait to buy the books :) So yes, the event did work as true promotion, but that wasn’t its core purpose. Maybe that’s why it was so appealing.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      You five were such a perfect team.

    • Oh, Sarah, that is so great! I love how you said that it’s about the purpose of hope or trust. That’s really what made it so special and I think what made the readers feel like they were not just watching something happen, but like they were a part of it.

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      Oh Sarah, what fun to hear what your friend said at church! And I think you completely pegged it. The event was to offer readers something, as we so often hope our books will, too. Opportunities like this are a bit like “heart conditioning,” building the habits and mindsets we want when we’re writing our novels, too. You brought such a heart of service and generosity to this. So thankful for you.

  • Jeanne T says:

    Wow, what a fabulous idea! As has been mentioned, I love that you ladies focused on the readers, and giving to them. And that you bathed the whole process in prayer. I’m so glad you shared this. It’s inspiring for a pre-pubbed writer like me. The glimpses “behind the scenes” are fun to see too.

    Now, to figure out a couple of people who write in my genre and see what we can come up with. I need to let the ideas begin to flow. :)

  • Thank you for sharing this collaborative journey, Wendy. It offers hope and opens doors to connect the readers with the writers and authors, and deepen that relationship.
    I love the prayer focus too.
    Readers enjoy discovering a new author and traveling on adventures with them.
    In the busy world, this was a refreshing dip into a new pool. May the blessings continue to abound for God’s glory.
    And Jenni, what a wonderful idea to take readers on a walk in the area the story takes place. I’ve been working on a summer trek to fit my Lake Tahoe stories and this so close something I have been discussing with my clients up there on the north shore. An advance stirring of interest for the novels from the faithful children’s books readers. There is a tremendous interest, born out of prayer and continuing to grow through prayer.

  • I love this Q & A that you and Amanda did, Wendy. You asked great questions and when I read her answers, I thought now that’s something I’d like to be a part of. And I got to! It was such a blessing working with Amanda, Regina, Sarah and Karen. So many special memories both behind the scenes and as part of the chronicles. I hope we can do it again some day :)

  • Amanda Dykes says:

    Oh, what fun to read everyone’s comments, ideas and insights here! For those who are pre-pubbed, it really is a great way to serve right where you are. To hone that approach, and those skills, that will someday come in handy once that contract comes. The only *slightly* awkward thing (but also a little bit surreal) that cropped up for me was when a few of the readers commented or messaged me that they’d be reading my book, or that they couldn’t find it on Amazon. *Blush* ummm…. “Here’s a blog post for you while you wait?” ;) (Kidding. I didn’t really say that to them. I let them know how grateful I was for their interest, and how much it would mean to have their prayers as they join me in this journey). It really is amazing to have people– readers!!– supporting and praying for me before there’s even a book to offer them.

  • Kiersti says:

    So neat–I love the idea of renovation vs. innovation (very appropriate for historical authors too!) and the emphasis on building relationships and serving readers. What a wonderful idea to bless so many people. I hope I can be part of something like this someday!

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