One of the things I love about writing is meeting great people. In this interview, my friend, Dan Walsh, gives us some real advice about the world of Christian publishing.
Dan, Welcome! Let's get started!
Give us a short bio (Who are you, hobbies, where do you live, etc.; whatever you feel comfortable telling).
Let’s see…I’m in my late 50s; I’ve been married for 38 years. We live in the Daytona Beach area and have lived in the same home for thirty years. We have two grown children; one is married the other is getting married this summer. We have two grandchildren who, thankfully, live less than ten minutes away. Since I began writing full-time in 2010, I don’t really have any discernible hobbies except for hanging out with my wife and getting with my kids and grandkids. We do like to take walks with our dogs, or on the beach which is only a ten minute drive away.
How did you become a fiction author?
Back in high school, I thought that’s what I’d be doing for my career. Life took me in a different direction after experiencing a call to pastoral ministry at nineteen. I became a full-time pastor at twenty-eight and served full-time in the same church for the next twenty-five years. I never lost my desire to write fiction, just didn’t have the time to pursue it. In 2007, with my kids now grown I had some free time on my hands. My wife suggested I take up writing fiction again. I finished a Christmas novel that year, rewrote and polished it up in 2008. I submitted it to a few A-list agents and, to my surprise, two of them loved what I sent. I signed with one and she had a book deal with a major publisher (Revell) within 2 months. My first novel, The Unfinished Gift, did very well. It sold over 50,000 copies, won 2 Carol awards and still sells well every Christmas. That began a fairly long-term relationship with my agent and Revell. My 12th and final novel with them comes out in September, another Christmas novel called Keeping Christmas.
What are you working on now?
In 2014, I could see that a major shift in publishing was underway. Many of my author friends were no longer being re-signed by their publishers, some of whom went out of business and others began a major downsizing due to all these changes. I decided I should prepare myself to become an indie publisher. Sure enough, at the end of last summer my publisher chose not to re-sign me, but I was ready. Since then, I released my first two indie books. A suspense novel called, When Night Comes, which has done very well since its release in November (sold over 6,000 copies). And I just released a new 31-Day Devotional called Perfect Peace a few weeks ago. I’m currently writing the first novel in a new trilogy. It’s called Rescuing Finley. I hope to have it ready to release by the end of June.
What are some of the challenges of being a fiction author?
I could take a long time on this one. Let me see…I guess the biggest challenge is learning how to write well enough, and tell stories with enough suspense, that people don’t want to put them down once they start. No amount of marketing skill or social media expertise can make up for a poorly written story. But once a writer hones the craft well enough, I suppose the greater challenges they will face is learning how to market and promote your own books. Writers by nature are more artistic and creative, not typically gifted in the business side of things.
Piggybacking on the question above, what was your greatest marketing obstacle, and how did you overcome it?
I’m something of an oddball. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent. I started a business from scratch when I was nineteen, then became a church planter at age 28. Until the church had grown to a certain size, I pretty much had to wear all the business hats. But I liked it and found the challenges stimulating. The problem was, I couldn’t do both things at the same time (the administrative/business things and the creative/artistic things). After leaving fulltime ministry in 2010 to write full-time, I’ve been a “kept man” being with the major publisher. They handled most of the marketing activity themselves, leaving me free to mostly just write. In the last 6-8 months, since going indie, I’ve had to learn to do both things at the same time. It’s still quite challenging, but I’m finally through the rapids and into calmer waters.
Besides the usual things authors face, has there been an unusual event that changed your perspective about being an author?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint any singular event, but I can definitely say my expectations of what it means to be a published author have dramatically changed. Before being published, I used to share the perspective I think many people outside the publishing world still have. That is, that published authors become wealthy and famous. The truth is, 95% of published authors don’t even make enough off their writing to be full-time, and only 1% actually enjoy the kind of success typically depicted on movies and TV shows (like Castle).
What marketing tips have you learned from your experiences as an author which may help our readers?
In some ways, my answer to this question would be very different depending on whether an author is under contract with a traditional publishing house (like I was for my first 12 novels), or is an indie like I am now. Most of the tips I would share would better help an indie author because, as I’ve said, when I was with Revell most of the marketing was done by their marketing or publicity departments (I just did what they asked me to).
Most of the things I’ve learned as an indie only work because I have complete control of the process behind the scenes. For example, I recently did a promotion for When Night Comes that required me to make all my e-books exclusively available through Amazon. But I was able to promote the book on a large email service that reaches tens of thousands of readers in a single day. I priced the book for 5 days at 99 cents. During the promo, Amazon let me keep 70% of the royalties. It cost me $420 to do the promo but I sold over 2,500 copies of the book in 5 days and made back over 4 times the cost of the ad in royalties. I wouldn’t have the freedom to do that before and if my publisher did something like that, I would only receive a small fraction of the sales.
In your “past lives” (think jobs you’ve had in the past you no longer have – not trying to get “new-agey” here), are there any “Do’s and Don’ts” you can list for writers when it comes to marketing? (Think Ten Commandment-style here, but you don’t have to use the Thou Shalts J)
1. Be creative and courageous but not foolish.
2. Map everything out as best you can to minimize surprises. Trust God for the results.
3. Learn from what others have done, pay attention to what has worked for them. But don’t just do the same thing. Be willing to make adjustments, as needed, in areas where your situation is not the same.
4. Don’t major on minors. I’ve found there are certain marketing activities I enjoy but they don’t do very much to help book sales. Other things I don’t enjoy very much turn out to be very effective. The goal of writing is to write a great book; the goal of marketing is sales (a very different goal). In marketing, you need to major on the things that are the most effective.
We know readers are leaders, and leaders are readers. Is there a book you’ve read in the past five years or so that has helped you become a better marketer? If so, which one was it, and how did it affect your life as a writer?
I’m sure there are some excellent books out there, but I’ve actually learned way more from interacting with other indie authors on Facebook than I have from any books I’ve read. There’s one group called Christian Indie Authors (CIA) that’s been especially helpful. I’ve asked many questions in this group and often receive exactly the help I need within an hour or two. It’s better than Google.
If you were asked to be on an editorial board for a publishing company, responsible for picking and choosing which books get published that year and which ones don’t, what advice would you give an author, based on your prior experiences?
I wouldn’t pay attention to trends, unless the publishing company was some radical new venture that could have a book on the shelves within two months of its completion (which indies can do). Most publishing houses require a year. There’s no way to know if what is trending now will still be trendy in a year. I would suggest they write a book that completely hooks the reader from the first few pages and doesn’t let up until the end. I would help them remove all the parts of their manuscript readers would probably skip. To me, the best asset for a book’s success is still the book itself. A great book is much easier to market.
What Bible scripture has impacted your life the most, and why?
Having walked with the Lord fairly closely for 40 years, it’s hard to pick just one Scripture above all others. Lately, it might be Isaiah 26:3, which says, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You. Because he trusts in You.” This is a verse that anchors my soul and serves as the key verse for my new devotional, Perfect Peace.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about you, your writing, or anything we didn’t mention?
Maybe just a way they can connect with me online if they’d like. Probably the best thing is to simply go to my website www.danwalshbooks.com. There are buttons there to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or send me an email. You can also preview all my books by clicking on the Books button, then click on any of the covers to get a preview.
Thanks, Dan! May God bless your future endeavors!
C. KEVIN THOMPSON is an ordained minister with a B.A. In Bible (Houghton College, Houghton, NY), an M.A. in Christian Studies (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS), and an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership (National-Louis University, Wheeling, IL). He presently works as an assistant principal in a middle school. He also has several years experience as an administrator at the high school level.
A former Language Arts teacher, Kevin decided to put his money where his mouth was and write, fiction mostly. Now, years later, he is a member of the Christian Authors Network (CAN), American Christian Fictions Writers (ACFW), and Word Weavers International. He is the Chapter President of Word Weavers-Lake County (FL), and his published works include two award-winning novels, The Serpent’s Grasp (Winner of the 2013 Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference Selah Award for First Fiction) and 30 Days Hath Revenge - A Blake Meyer Thriller: Book 1, as well as articles in The Wesleyan Advocate, The Preacher, Vista, The Des Moines Register and The Ocala Star-Banner.
Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24 , The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, too.
Facebook: C. Kevin Thompson – Author Page
Goodreads: C. Kevin Thompson