Susan May Warren, Giveaways, and Sky Diving! Oh, My!

Susan May Warren is the Christy, RITA and Carol award-winning author
of over forty-five novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill and Summerside
Press. Two-time Christy winner, RITA winner, she’s also a multi-winner of the
Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Carol award. A seasoned
women’s events speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around
the nation and the author of the book, Conversations with a Writing Coach. She
is also the founder of, a craft and
coaching community for novelists.

* * *
You have written a lot of novels. You also co-own the successful My Book Therapy for writers. How do you
keep it all together?
Keep it all
together? Ack! What does that look like, really? If it means I’m supposed to be
OUT of my pajamas before noon, have pre-thought-out crockpot meals on the
table, laundry that is not rotting in the washer and a made bed…well…you’ll
have to catch me between novels, or MBT projects. Because I’m sort of an
all-or-nuthin’ gal.
When I write, I’m
all in, huddled under what my children call my “thought” blanket. I claim no
responsibility for my words to the outside world while under this shroud. And
when I’m working on MBT, I’m all in, helping writers craft amazing stories.
(probably too all in, because working with me can sometimes be like
getting a blast from a fire-hose, but I’m working on that.) Here’s what I think: You gotta do what you
love, be passionate about that, and if you have to, hire a cleaning lady (and
let your hubby cook)!
Tell our readers about the Christensen Family
The Christiansens!
Oh, how I love them. They’re a crazy, love big and live life outloud family who
*might* be a little like my family. They live in the north woods of Minnesota,
run a resort and try to figure out faith while living life (that often goes
wrong). They make mistakes, but they love each other through them. Right now, I
just finished book #5, The Wonder of You, and am working on plotting book #6,
the final book. It’s a little touch of Lake Wobegon—all the men are
good-looking, all the women heroic.
And it has the
overtones of small town Cheers, where everyone knows your name. Which means
that when you get into trouble, the entire town knows about it! The series
follows each one of the adult children through their trials and triumphs of
falling in love and finding their way in the world. (And oh, I feel sorry for
Ingrid, their mother!) The next book hits the shelves in February 2015—Always
on My Mind
, a story about Casper, brother #2, who just can’t get the wrong girl
off his mind…
I recently took a great class from you about
branding, that it’s not just your tag line, but the commonality readers will
find in all your works. I loved that, because it carries a writer into farther
fields. Can you elaborate for our readers?
Sure—as a
novelist, your brand is YOU. Or at least, your voice, your stories, your truths
that you put on the page. When someone picks up your novel, they are relying on
you to fulfil the promise you made in every other book they’ve read by you (and
for first time readers, you are cementing that promise in their minds). It’s
more than just place, or characters, it’s the FEELING you leave in your
reader’s mind. Just like John Grisham leaves a different feeling than Nora
Roberts –but both keep the promises (justice. Romance.)
Think about what
feelings you want to leave for your reader. I came up with words—Family.
Romance. Fun. Connectedness
All my stories
have some element of these pieces. This is my brand—when you pick up a Susan
May Warren novel, you’ll get a story about family, a strong romance, a lot of
fun story elements and a sense of connectedness to each other, the world, and
even God. So, if you’re a reader, ask yourself—how do your favorite authors
make you feel as you put the book down. Does that feeling make you want to pass
the book along, and go back for more? (Probably!) If you’re a writer, ask
yourself the same question, and then figure out what feeling would make someone
pass YOUR book along. 
Leave a comments to be entered
I learned some very fun and little-known
facts about you from your publisher, that I know our readers will love. Will
you tell us more about these? Especially the football letter and the skydiving!
>>Susan May Warren takes her research very seriously—from riding a
mechanical bull, to skydiving, to surfing and parasailing, to recently enduring
one of the coldest-ever Minnesota winters just to get the details correct for
her upcoming Christiansen Family novel, Always on My Mind. But her
proudest achievement is the varsity letter she earned . . . in
Well, I really did earn a letter in football. Sadly, not for my amazing
skills on the field, but OFF the field as the manager for our state-winning
team. But, since I was the manager that year, I got a letter also, which is SO
fun when I mention to my sons that BOTH their parents were on state-winning
football teams (my hubby’s team won state also), and earned letters in
football. So, they have a double football legacy. 
As for skydiving—well, I wanted to write a sky-diving scene in a book, and sometimes you just
have to do something crazy. I am afraid of heights, but this was different,
almost like flying. Absolutely breathtaking. I highly recommend the experience!
My newest book is about a crab fisherman in Alaska, on one of those
Deadliest Catch boats…I’m thinking I need some hands-on research…
Leave a
comment for Susie and be entered in a drawing for a basketful of Susan May
The Christiansen
Family series
Journey to the remote Minnesota lodge
of Evergreen Resort and see where faith and family meet real life in Take a
Chance on Me, It Had to Be You, When I Fall in Love,
and Evergreen.

An empty nest has Ingrid
Christiansen dreading the upcoming holidays, but her husband, John, couldn’t be
more excited about this new season of life. He even has a surprise trip abroad
planned. He’s sure she’ll love it. What’s more romantic than Christmas in

Before he can stop her, however, Ingrid agrees
to spearhead a major church project. Then their faithful dog, Butterscotch,
needs emergency surgery, draining their savings. And then—because disasters
strike in threes—an unexpected guest arrives, dredging up old hurts.

As a beautiful blanket of snow transforms the
north woods into a winter wonderland, a deep chill settles over John and
Ingrid’s marriage. With the holidays fast approaching, their only hope of
keeping their love evergreen depends on turning the page on the past and
embracing a new chapter of their future.

What Do You Think About Giveaways?

No, it’s not Christmas in July, or June for that matter. I’ve simply got a snarly ball of thought wadded up
in a corner of my brain, kind of like the horking gob of Christmas lights when
you pull ’em out of storage. Let’s unravel it and see what we find. I apologize
in advance if it happens to be mouse droppings.
All the trendy kids are doing giveaways lately.
Even my editor asked if I wanted to do one. Of course I said yes. If my
publisher wanted me to ride a pony backwards through Times Square in a bikini,
I would (sorry for the visual). But honestly, I’m not super convinced giveaways
are effective. Oh, they’re fun and sparkle like disco balls, but how much bang
for the buck does an author really get?
That’s assuming, of course, that the giveaway is
of value. No one really wants to win my grandmother’s dentures, even if they
are signed by Johnny Depp. So…
What constitutes a valuable
Recently I won a Nook from a blog giveaway.
Wowzer. Value city, dude! I certainly struck the jackpot. But not everyone can
afford to deal out electronics like candy. In researching the giveaway trend, I
came across some basics that should go into choosing a geegaw to award a lucky
  • Branding (item should reinforce
    the author’s niche)
  • Worth (don’t stick the recipient
    with something stupid you pulled out of a junk drawer)
  • Unique (in a positive
    way…something they’re excited to tell others about)
  • Memorable (long lasting &
    durable to remind recipient of you/your books)

Do giveaways sell more
From what I’ve read, the answer is no. So why do
a freakin’ giveaway in the first place? Because it’s a way to get your name out
there in the public realm, more so than if you don’t do a giveaway. And if your name is seen on Twitter, Facebook,
the inscription on the cover of your book sitting on somebody’s coffee table
who won it, the more chances a victim person will eventually
want to find out what the hype is about and they’ll finally buy a book. It’s
not necessarily the giveaway in and of itself that will sell you, but the
cumulative name recognition.
Convinced? Apparently I am, because I’m doing a
giveaway this week over at Writer
Off the Leash
. Stop by and give it a whirl. You just might win!

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas…professionally, however, for the past 10 years. Her latest release, A HEART DECEIVED, is available by David C. Cook. You can find her at: 

Imprisoned by Your Fans ~ Tess Gerritson

Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D’Innocenzo)

As appeared on Murderati December 2010

The amazingly multi-talented Steve Martin (actor/writer/comedian/musician) doesn’t need me to leap to his defense. But that’s what I felt like doing, claws bared, when I read this article in the New York Times a few weeks ago:

In the history of intellectual chatter, the events of Nov. 29, 2010, at the 92nd Street Y will be archived under disaster. Or comedy.

That night, a conversation between Steve Martin, the writer and actor, and Deborah Solomon, who writes a weekly interview column for The New York Times Magazine, resulted in the Y’s sending out a next-day apology, along with a promise of a refund.

Mr. Martin, in Miami for a book event, said in an e-mail on Wednesday that Ms. Solomon “is an outstanding interviewer,” adding that “we have appeared together before in Washington, D.C., in a similar circumstance to great success.”

But Sol Adler, the Y’s executive director, saw it differently. “We acknowledge that last night’s event with Steve Martin did not meet the standard of excellence that you have come to expect from 92nd St. Y,” he wrote in an e-mail to ticket holders. “We planned for a more comprehensive discussion and we, too, were disappointed with the evening. We will be mailing you a $50 certificate for each ticket you purchased to last night’s event. The gift certificate can be used toward future 92Y events, pending availability.”

What was Steve’s big mistake that night? What terrible misbehavior did he engage in to so enrage his fans? Simply this: he had the audacity to be himself and talk about his latest book — which is about art. The audience came expecting to hear the wild and crazy guy they knew from his film and TV career. They wanted to hear tales of glitz and glamor and movie stars. They wanted their trained monkey. They didn’t want the Steve Martin who talks about art, which is what he is clearly passionate about, and what his book is about.

When he didn’t deliver exactly what they expected, this audience was so disappointed, so incensed, that they pitched a tantrum worthy of spoiled brats and demanded their money back.

Now, if this were an audience who paid big bucks to hear Lady Gaga sing in concert, and instead had to watch her read the Manhattan phone book in a monotone, I could understand their disappointment. When you pay for music, you expect music. When you pay for dinner, you expect food.

This audience came to hear an interview with Steve Martin, and they got an interview. But the man is known to have many facets; he is not just a wild and crazy guy, but an author who wanted to talk about his latest book. A book about a serious topic. Over the years, through his comedic movies, Steve Martin has been branded as a funny guy. But that branding has locked him into such a tight cage that if he dares step one foot out of that cage, the public cracks their bullwhip to drive the prisoner back to where he belongs. In the cage for wild and crazy movie stars.

This, fellow authors, is the downside of branding. Every time you write a book that reinforces your brand, you have welded in another bar of your cage. Once that cage is locked and sealed, you’re going to have a hard time getting out of the thing again.

Only a few authors have been able to do it successfully. John Grisham has managed the feat, occasionally releasing a sentimental novel between his usual legal thrillers. Stephen King has escaped branding, too, partly because he has regularly produced non-horror, literary fiction throughout his career.

For most of us, though — writers who aren’t as prolific as King, or who don’t wield the clout of Grisham — a large part of our success is tied up in branding ourselves. We start off wanting readers to think of us as the crime thriller or romance go-to gal. It’s only later, when we get a hankering to try something else, or when our chosen genre starts to lose its audience, that we realize that being branded isn’t always such a good thing.

My own brand has skittered around through my career. First I wrote romantic thrillers, then medical thrillers, then science thrillers, then crime thrillers. With an historical thriller thrown in. The one part of the brand that’s stayed constant is the “thriller” part, and that’s allowed me a bit of leeway. Readers will forgive you for moving between sub-genres. But try making a really big leap — say, from serial killer novel to sweet sentimental novel — and your audience is going to howl. The way they howled at Steve Martin.

If you truly want to slip out of that cage, you may have to do it in disguise with a pseudonym. Which means starting over again as a newbie writer trying to find your first audience. Or you’ll have to find an understanding publisher. Or you’ll have to publish it yourself as an E-book, an option that more and more authors seem to be leaning toward.

Good luck to you. May you escape the wrath of fans who’ll never forgive you for craving a little variety in your art.

A Supermom in Search of a Cape

Suzanne Wesley is a writer and a graphic artist. She is also a wife and a work-at-home-mom to two wonderful little girls; ages 5 and 3. For over 12 years she used her skills by working outside the home, dragging her two sleepy girls to daycare every morning, all the while secretly wishing to become a full-time freelancer. And now—ta da!—her wishes have come true. Suzanne started her own design company called Suzanne Wesley Freelance Writing and Design.

Welcome to Novel Rocket, Suzanne. I see you’re an interviewer yourself. What’s one of the most surprising or insightful answers you’ve ever received for one of your questions?

I’d say one of the most surprising answers I’ve gotten was when questioning a non-profit client wanting to revamp their branding.
 It was our first meeting, and I was asking my contact questions about their existing branding. She replied something like this, “We’ve considered rebranding before, and the last design concept presented to us was actually very good, but the board voted not to use it because the design firm’s name was Bare Naked Design.” Ouch. I instantly felt bad for that design firm, but I knew what my client was saying. Their firm’s name was likely meant to imply simplicity, modernism, lacking-fluff and that sort of thing – but it also harbored a double-meaning that is a bit risqué. In Midwest America, and with a non-profit full of Christians on the decision-making board, risqué was not the right way to appear. So despite their good work, their own branding had sunken this firm’s success.
Branding is a hot topic among writers as well, so that’s a great heads-up for those of us who are still in the throes of developing a brand.

Besides interviewing, you design book covers as well. My personal fave is Tahn by L.A. Kelly (I think Dog-eared design did that one). What are your thoughts on cover design and can you share one that you’ve created?

Great cover design is what drives me to pick up a book in the first-place and make the decision to purchase it or not. If a design doesn’t look professional, I’m often already over-looking it for something else with a more appealing design. And there have been times that I’ve been loaned books or read books recommended that had uninteresting covers that turned out to be wonderful reads. It’s just the way I am … and the way I suspect the average reader is too, so this is definitely worth analyzing!

My first cover design was for author Jerri Lynn Ledford. ‘Biloxi Sunrise’ will publish in the Fall of 2011 and is the first book in a series of 3 (or more) books. I tried to keep a gritty background texture that appealed to both the author and I, but added more layering, more drama … and a bit of a southern twist by using the Spanish moss covered trees that are prevalent in the Biloxi, Mississippi area. I also achieved the feel of a sunrise via the lighting that is filtering between the trees, and the rich orange color that it fades to, without being cliché and too cute. I’ve left myself plenty of room to continue the design through the rest of the series and I can’t wait to continue it.
Beyond book covers I also perform other marketing-related design such as: bookmarks, postcards, posters, web ads etc.

Of all the design services you offer, which one makes your heart pitter-patter and your fingers itch to dig in and have at it?

I know I’ve just admitted that this cover was my first, but it has been a goal of mine to do book cover design since the mid 90’s when I was in college. Everything leading up to now feels like it has been preparation. I live in Terre Haute, Indiana, and being close to my family was important to me. There are no book-publishers nearby to perform design in-house … so, first I cut my teeth on yellow-page ads as an intern at a local small business, and then I spent a little over a decade honing my skills on what work was available in my area, which actually happened to be for a pretty well-known company named Sony DADC.
I learned the ropes preparing files for CDs and DVDs from artists around the globe and later moved on to work in their marketing department where I could actually design more and use my writing skills. For over a decade I learned the ins and outs of pre-press, templates of all kinds, branding and corporate design needs in general. It was a good job, especially for my neck-of-the-woods, but corporate cut backs deleted the position and I was suddenly on my own. Luckily, I had been researching freelancing ever since I was pregnant with my now 5 ½ year old, and for the last two years I have used what I’ve learned for a growing client base of businesses small and large … and lately for authors too! Fulfilling a dream I’ve had for a long time.
I understand that you’re willing to negotiate on cost for those in need without skimping on quality. How does this affect your profit margin?

When I negotiate, I don’t just negotiate the fees/costs. What I offer most frequently is to discuss actual needs in order to help clients pick a solution that will fit their budget. Often that solution is a bare bones version of the same thing or another design option that is more affordable.

I occasionally work at a reduced hourly rate or towards an agreed-upon fixed budget but what occurs more often is that I help to create a lesser design-package that will get them faster to what they really want.
An example would be when designing with someone who is very budget-conscious, I express that they need to give me as much information at the front-end of the design process as possible. The better informed I am about their needs, their intended audience, other designs that appeal to them – the more on target I can be the first draft I provide. This reduces the amount of time I spend, and in turn allows me to reduce the cost. If someone is willing to pay for one or two initial options using comp photos instead of more options using purchased high-resolution photos – that saves me time and money, and I’m willing to pass that savings on. Due to my background doing pre-press, I can sometimes also give money-saving tips on print costs or photo pricing. I also offer pdf/digital marketing design that can help some clients avoid print costs entirely.
And yes, working at less per hour makes me have to take in more work. Which in turn takes away more time from my family, and definitely more time away from my writing – which has taken a beating when I am at my busiest with the design business. So, I am definitely more willing to negotiate when I am not busy then when I am.

I love to help people. I enjoy the design process from start-to-finish and I’ve met some amazing people I never would have met otherwise. I am so thankful God blessed me in this way, and He takes care of my needs. Whenever I start to worry, a new opportunity seems to always appear … and frequently those are thanks to the people I was able to bless with a reduced price without skimping on the professionalism of the design. Being a freelancer has taught me to be more dependent on God than ever. I work hard, but He is definitely the one making things happen.
Besides being supermom and running a design business, you’re also a writer. What are you currently working on?

Lately I’ve been dabbling in short stories and articles, shorter pieces that I can finish faster. Right now it frustrates me that my design frequently takes a front seat and the writing tends to get shoved to the side. A dear new friend, Dineen Miller, who is also a writer and designer I met through the ACFW, educated me that in her experience this is just my ‘design season’. For now, my writing is in its learning/secondary status phase. While I design full-time, in the background I’m learning the ropes and making connections, squeezing writing time in when I can. God will open doors for my writing when that season of my life is here too – I’m sure of it!
Any parting words of wisdom for Novel Rocketeers far and wide?

Figure out what you want or need on your pieces ahead of time. Even if this is just the text, barcodes, etc. it is very helpful to your chosen designer. Seek out examples of work that you like, or be very descriptive about your audience or genre and the ‘feel’ you want your piece to have. Knowing the dimensions or being able to point your designer to a contact or web site to find them is also VERY helpful to speed up the process and ensure there are a lack of issues when your design goes to print or to publish digitally.
I love doing what I do, and I’d love to help you do more of what you love.
To find out further details or to contact Suzanne, visit her website at