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BOOK MARKETING: “The Very Un-novel Problem,” by Lorilyn Roberts

Last updated on January 9, 2023


I began my presentation with the following statement: “You have no platform. You are not famous. You are not an expert in any particular subject. You have no fancy initials after your name. The reality is nobody cares about you or your book.”

As depressing as this might sound, it’s how I began my presentation to the First Coast Christian Writers in Jacksonville, Florida, in the fall of 2009. But I ended my comments with the following observation:

“If you were to present Jesus’ marketing plan for the Gospel, it would probably go something like this: Jesus had no internet, no TV, no blog, no books, and no public relations people. All He had were twelve disciples whom He loved and on whom He had to depend to spread the Gospel around the world.

“God was able to use those flawed human beings to bring ‘The Greatest Story ever Told’ to a world way beyond what they could have envisioned, both then and into the future. If God can do that, our books can reach those for whom they were written. We don’t need to overstretch our wallets, but neither should we sit idle. We should pray hard and seek His will not only in our writing but also in our marketing. Ultimately, God will get our book out there if we are good stewards of the gifts He’s given us.

I wonder what the marketing people would say today if we told them our marketing strategy was to have twelve people talk about our book to everyone they met and that was all. We had no money to spend either. This is just a thought to ponder as I think about how difficult it is to market.

On December 30, 2009, I wrote a blog, “Marketing a POD book in 2009: Reflections on What Worked and What Didn’t.” I shared what I had learned and my determination to “keep on keeping on” for what I believed God had called me to do—to market my Children of Dreams memoir the best way I knew how. I believed I had written a book that others would want to read if they knew about it. That is the key and the stumbling block for many Christian authors. You can find this blog.

The John 3:16 Marketing Network would emulate what Jesus taught His disciples, enabling them to share the Gospel despite persecution, opposition, and hardship. At its heart, the John 3:16 Marketing Network would be one Christian author helping another Christian author, and ultimately, advancing HIS WORD around the world. It’s different from what is currently being done, but let me give some background first.

In 2009, I attended a well-known Christian writers’ conference in Florida. Before the conference, I worked diligently to complete Children of Dreams, an inspirational and spiritual book about the adoption of my two daughters. Throughout the book, I compared their adoptions to God’s adoption of us. I spent three months writing Children of Dreams and six months revising and editing it. An English major did the first bit of editing. The second round of editing was done by a high school English teacher. Then I had a professional editor who read it and loved it so much that she critiqued it some more. She also gave me tips on how to improve my writing for the future. Before the final version was printed, I had a friend with a Ph.D. in communications take one last look at it. She offered a few more suggestions.

Twenty-two people from different walks of life read Children of Dreams. Some I didn’t know personally. Several volunteered when I asked for help from the church’s reading group (which I had never attended). I begged some people. Some sweet souls offered to read Children of Dreams because they knew my children and wanted to read their complete story.

All those who helped in the early drafts are acknowledged in the “forward” section of the book. I graciously accepted the advice given and looked at every note and comment. I swallowed my pride and learned how much I didn’t know, but I also realized how blessed I was to have so many willing to invest their precious time reading the pages.

It is time-consuming to read a book and evaluate what you like and don’t like. I don’t take it lightly when anybody gives me his thoughts, even when I don’t agree. At least he is thinking and processing my words, and usually, if the comments are given in kindness, there is something I can use. It might give me an idea I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.

After months of going through this process, spending a few hundred dollars making review copies, followed by additional editing, I believed I had a good book to present to an editor at the conference. I expected further revisions. I had attended this conference on three previous occasions and figured someone would recommend more changes. I even spent $50 and bought an eBook about proper etiquette at a writer’s conference—to make sure my heart was right and I wasn’t setting myself up for failure.

I sent my submission ahead of time as per the requirements of the conference. The critiqued submissions from the editors were to be returned to the authors after lunch on Friday.

The conference started on Wednesday. Lunchtime arrived on the anticipated day and nervous participants lined up to receive their packages. Each person in front of me received his submission. The volunteer looked everywhere for mine but couldn’t find it. She reassured me that some were still out and to check back later.

I did not receive my critiqued submission until the following day when I insisted they find it. I looked at the notes jotted down by an editor of a well-known publishing house. His only comment was: “This doesn’t meet our needs. You might consider submitting to a magazine.”

I walked away upset but kept it to myself. I was okay with the thought my book might not be what he wanted, but to tell me to submit it to a magazine was an insult. Children of Dreams was 235 pages filled with twists and turns and unbelievable complications. There was no way he could have read my submission and gotten that impression.

Because of the long delay in receiving it, there were no openings left to meet with another editor. I stared at the sheets with all the appointment slots filled. I wondered how I could have paid such a huge sum of money to attend the conference and invested so much emotionally into my book and then not even have an opportunity to meet with anyone. Devastation might come close to describing my emotions.

I scrambled around to sign up with editors and agents who had slots to open up when people scratched appointments. I eventually met with three agents and two editors. Each time after the perfunctory greeting, I showed the listener my completed and bound book (if you are not a published author, you must have a finished manuscript before an agent or editor will talk to you).

Two agents asked me, “Do you have a platform? Do you have a mailing list?”

“No, I don’t have a platform. But I do have a website, and I’m willing to do whatever you ask to get my book out there.”

One agent replied, “Come back and see me when you have one thousand people on your email list.” I thanked her.

Another agent told me to send him a proposal. I returned home and spent three weeks typing up a proposal and mailed it to him. He emailed me back to the effect, “I’m not sure when I’ll get around to reading it. If you haven’t heard from me in a month, ring me up.” I never bothered.

During the conference, I tried to show my book to anyone who would look at it. “Is it a memoir? Oh, nobody is publishing memoirs right now.”

I am glad that isn’t a long tradition. Otherwise, my kids would never have known about the incredible Christian witnesses of such folks as George Meuller, Martin Luther, J. Hudson Taylor, George Elliott, Corrie ten Boom, John Wycliffe, John Huss, and Johannes Gutenberg. I felt the Red Sea parting in front of me when people thought my book was only a memoir.

I never liked it being identified that way because memoirs are usually about dead people, and I am still very much alive. Besides, anyone who read Children of Dreams would strongly attest to the fact it is far more than just a memoir. Far be it for me to convince someone of that, especially when no one wanted to read a word.

One blessed editor did give me “the time of day.” He was someone I had met at a previous conference. I wasn’t going to present it to him because I knew it wasn’t the kind of material he was looking for, but I was discouraged. It turned out he was interested and even read a page or two. I felt like my year’s labor was validated by someone who appreciated my passion. He ranks high in my opinion of what an editor should be.

When our time ended, I reached over to grab my book, but he asked if he could take it with him. I was thrilled. Although nothing ever materialized from that meeting, I later received a personal letter from the president of the organization thanking me for God’s testimony in the lives of my family. It wasn’t the endorsement I had hoped for, but I appreciated the fact that he took the time to write me.

I returned home still determined to publish Children of Dreams. I had vowed early on not to use Print on Demand (I think the Bible says we shouldn’t take vows). I had previously published a beautiful children’s picture book, The Donkey and the King, as a POD book, and while I never regretted it, I learned from that experience how difficult it is to market a POD book. I wanted Children of Dreams to “get out there” and receive the exposure it deserved.

I was also tired of the prejudice that POD authors receive. I wanted to be taken seriously. After all, I had done multiple rewrites and had many people read it. I had done everything I could humanly speaking to make it one of those books that resonate with inspiration, hope, and redemption.

When I returned from the conference I did not let my disillusionment with the Christian publishing world dissuade me from looking at the secular market. I went to the bookstore and bought one of those expensive marketing guides and searched for what was hot.

Unlike the Christian market, secular publishers were seeking memoirs and publishing them. As I methodically put together my list of possible publishers, I began to wonder, “Why am I doing this?”

I had to wait till the summer to submit it to the XYZ Publishing Company. Another company only accepted submissions during the winter. As I examined the various requirements for submitting queries or manuscripts, my frustration mounted when it seemed like I couldn’t submit Children of Dreams anywhere right away.

“Why don’t I just POD publish it and work my behind off to market it?” I thought. Besides, I’m fifty-four years old. I wrote Children of Dreams first and foremost for my daughters. I wanted them to know what I went through to adopt them, and ultimately, to see God’s hand in all of it. I wanted them to know it was God who brought them out of depravity to a new life where they would know love and security—and most of all—their Savior. While I spent years knocking on doors that might never open, I might die. Then they would never know their story.

I prayed about it because, until this point, I was resistant to POD. Was it my pride? God made it clear to me to publish it POD. I have never regretted it. Not because I’ve sold tons of books—I haven’t. But because God has taught me so much I would never have learned otherwise.

My book was published on April 30, 2009. If you read the article I posted in December 2009, I share some of the things that worked and didn’t work. There were a lot of things that did nothing but cost a lot of money. I won’t repeat them here (see my previous website reference).

I gathered reviews on Amazon and many other websites. As of this writing, I have thirty-seven reviews on Amazon with five stars. I received five stars from the Christian Book Review, Midwest Book Review, Allbooks Review, and the FaithWriters Seal of Approval for Outstanding Read.

While I was marketing Children of Dreams, I realized how much I loved what I was doing and enrolled in graduate school to work on my Master’s in Creative Writing. I couldn’t find a good local Christian critique group, so I started one. I feel blessed that someone was willing to help me in this endeavor.

Where there is a will, God provides the way. I continue to remind myself, that I must be the best that I can be, not for my glory, but for the one that gives me the opportunity. To whom much is asked much is given.

Fast-forward to 2022. Children of Dreams has been published for many years now, and people still read it. I give it away as an e-book to anyone who asks, and thousands of sold and free copies have been downloaded from Amazon. Do I regret taking the marketing path that I pursued? Absolutely not. While the John 3:16 Marketing Network is no longer active, the Christian approach we used still applies today, although much harder because of all the free books available.
Despite that, I believe God will help each of us to sell books if we commit our hearts to Him and to His Good Work.


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Lorilyn Roberts