Secrets of Successful Authors: Featuring Danyelle Ferguson

I met Danyelle Ferguson at the Johnson County Library writers’ conference last year, where she taught a fabulous class on how to use music to inspire creativity. Her many books are evidence of her enthusiasm and dedication. Here she shares what makes her writing come alive.

What makes your books and writing unique?

No matter if I’m working on a nonfiction project or my next sweet romance, I base part of the projects off of personal experiences. My thought is that if I feel a connection to the characters or the message I’m writing for self-help books, magazines, etc., then my readers will as well. I also like to interject a lot of humor into my projects. Some of it may be ha-ha funny, but often it’s real-life experience funny, like discovering your toddler took off his diaper and used the contents as finger paint . . . all over his bedroom walls and himself. Singles may think that’s totally gross, but parents crack up every single time because they have experienced it too.

My sweet romances are a bit different from other romance novels in that the characters aren’t constantly being pulled apart with a big “we’re together” at the end. I love to write romances that reflect what it’s really like to find the right guy and fall in love. Do my characters have challenges and conflicts? Yes, along with a past of failed relationships (because don’t we all until we find our soul mates?). The story conflicts have more to do with challenges outside of hero and heroine’s relationship and how those conflicts affect them physically, change their perspectives, help them grow closer as a couple, as well as personally.

How did you find your writing niche?

My first nonfiction book – (dis)Abilities and the Gospel – came as a request from parents of children with special needs. My hubby and I cofounded a nonprofit for an autism preschool our son attended. After publishing articles about being a special needs parent, I was invited to present at parent support groups and disability conferences across the USA. One question parents often asked was how I helped my son attend church services. At that time, there weren’t special needs ministries or even anything available on the subject. Our family had a lot of success in this area (after consulting with lots of amazing special education teachers and working closely with our congregation leaders), so it spurred a series of articles and led into the book I coauthored with Dr. Lynn Parsons.

Now in my fiction writer life, I definitely chose my genre. I’m a readaholic. In fact, when I’m in reading mode, I devour 3-4 books a day. I can read almost any genre . . . as long as it has a good love story. I enjoy writing about characters who are as real as my circle of BFF’s, who have flaws and face real-world challenges, but also a story filled with humor, friendship, and yes, love. There absolutely must be some fabulous foot-popping kisses!

How do you balance writing, speaking, online platform, other work, church or community service, and family? How do you organize your time?

Oh my goodness. Finding balance is an ever-evolving process. I am a mama to four munchkins, one of which has autism and is graduating high school this year (ACK!). Each of my munchkins go to a different school, which means coordinating four totally different schedules & activities. I do all the normal mama stuff (chaperoning field trips, volunteering for booster clubs, attending concerts & sporting events). I also volunteer for a local homeless shelter and organize a regional church youth camp for 220 girls each summer. I get overwhelmed and stressed out easily, so here are a few things I do to find a good life balance:

  1. My first answer if asked to do ANYTHING is to say I need to review my schedule and get back to them. Otherwise I tend to say yes to everything because I enjoy helping others. When I’m back home, I talk over the project with my hubby, look at our schedules and deadlines realistically, then give it 24 hours to mull over before I reply. This has helped me to only volunteer for activities where I felt I’m needed the most or that my kids really truly want me to be present at.
  1. Carpooling is a life-saver! Each school year, I set up general carpooling so I only make 1 trip to each school a day. The same for any activities the kids participate in. Even when I’m the one doing pickups, I use the time wisely. If I’ve been working all day, then I use that time to rejuvenate – watch a quick Netflix show, file my nails, grab a Sonic drink or catch up on social media and emails. If it was my designated laundry/cleaning day and a shorter work day, then I bring my laptop along and work while waiting for kids get out of school.
  1. Time Blocking. I’m a list maker. Writing down all the things I need to do helps to get it out of my head and relieves some of my stress. It’s helpful to review the list, figure out how much time each item needs, then I block out sections of my time each day for various projects. Some days I only work on two projects. Other days I can get several smaller projects marked off my list. But if I know when I’m planning to work on the to-do list items (even if it’s the following week), it helps to keep the stress in check.
  1. Set your priorities. My family always comes first – and each year has different big “Don’t Miss This” events. I’m generally able to get a good idea of when those events are at the beginning of the school year during parent nights, then I fill in any speaking and traveling from there. This year is a big year for my son who is graduating, so I turned down a lot of events because I wanted to be home for as many “lasts” as I possibly could. Next year, I’ll do more traveling and probably take along my daughter to fit in as many college visits as possible. Have you ever seen the visual of the jar, rocks & water? If you fill the jar with water first, then try to add the rocks, the water pours out and it doesn’t work? But if you fill the jar with the rocks first, then add in the water, you only add in what you can actually handle. I find that to be true for me at this stage of life. If I start with my family, then I can fill everything else in around that and am happy with the results.

Why do you think readers buy your books?

The first time they purchase one of my books, it’s always because there was something about the back cover blurb that intrigued them. Every. Single. Time. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that. If your friend raves about a book, you’ll Google it, read the blurb and if you find it intriguing, then you buy it. If you’re searching for a new author, you read the blurb, maybe the free sample of the first couple of chapters and if you feel a connection to the characters, you purchase it.

I’ve attended so many events where people pick up my disabilities book because they have a friend who has kids, nieces, cousins, grandkids or friends who have disabilities. At a multi-author holiday signing, a lady stopped by our booth asked if any of the books had strong women as characters. The other authors pointed down the row and guided her to my books. Each reader has different types of “voice” they gravitate towards. My writing voice has humor and sass but also respectfully delves into challenging topics. For example, in my fiction novels, I have subplots about autism weaved through Sweet Confections, and in Love Under Construction, one of the subplots is the heroine’s work she does with the local women’s shelter. My sweet romance novels tend to be longer because I love to weave in family ties, valuable friendships, their work, both professionally and in the community. I feel like it gives my characters and their stories so much more depth.

What helps your business succeed despite competition?

I like to keep everything as personal as possible. From sharing my favorite recipes to asking my FB followers for feedback on cover designs to asking for their best wedding disaster stories, I try to include my readers in my life as a writer. I don’t like to do big giveaway promos to build my newsletter into the 10’s and 100’s of thousands. I feel like those lists are artificial because it was all about the freebie the reader hoped to win. A lot of those emails never get opened or there’s a high unsubscribe rate. I do maybe 3-4 giveaways for my existing Facebook & newsletter followers for fun and to build relationships. My newsletter and Facebook group is constantly growing, but it’s also authentic. I have high response rates and interactions with fans. That’s what my readers love and also why they tell their friends about my books and social media pages.

I also don’t bombard my followers with newsletters every week. Sometimes readers get so overwhelmed by overflowing inboxes, just like I do. I generally send one monthly email, then when I have a new release coming out, I send 2-3 additional newsletters: one a week before with all the excitement of the upcoming release, another on release day, then another a week later with some fun reader reviews & comments from my FB page.

I majored in business and marketing in college, so I do a lot of research and make sure to use my marketing time wisely. When I started doing blog tours, I researched all sorts of reviewers, who their circle of readers were, what countries they were located in and oh so many more criteria. Then I analyzed all the data before pulling out my top round of reviewers, making sure I had a good balance of international market as well as in the USA and that there were as few cross-over followers as possible. The reviewers then reviewed on their blogs, Amazon and Goodreads, but I also cast a HUGE net for new readers to discover my books.

How do you find new readers?

I’ve found new readers come from a few sources.

  1. Word of mouth. Readers who enjoyed your book & shared it on social media or while they were chatting with friends is the absolute best referral of all!
  1. Marketing promotions. Putting my books on sale & coordinating that sale with various promotion services internationally is a great tool for new reader discovery. I only do sales on my books twice a year. And my latest book never goes on sale for at least 9 months to a year after the release date.
  1. Personal appearances. Attending conferences (readers cons, writing cons, disability cons, etc) and making personal connections is very effective. I’m naturally an introvert, so when I attend conferences, I pull out all my hidden extrovert powers and put them to good use. My hope is to always find some new friends who I click with and can develop a more personal friendship after the conference when I’m not so stressed out.

What have been some keys to your success? What have been your biggest barriers?

The #1 key to my success is how supportive my hubby and family are. They ask me about my projects, help with household chores, and celebrate all the successes with me. Every writer needs a cheerleader – I have an entire team! Also included on that team are some BFF writer friends and readers who message and email me about their love for my books. Seriously, readers underestimate the power their messages & reviews have on authors. If you truly enjoy something someone created, please let them know!

My biggest barrier is time itself. I mentioned earlier that family always comes first. That means some years I have four books come out and others only one. It’s hard to not have a consistent publishing schedule my readers can count on, but thankfully they have been very understanding. =)


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Books:
Upcoming Release:
Once Upon a Wish: A Destined for Love Romance – Europe series, coming May 30th, 2017
Indulgence Row Series:
Sweet Confections (Wonderstruck Books, 2014), RONE Awards 2015 Best Contemporary Sweet Romance
Love Under Construction (Wonderstruck Books, 2016)
Short Stories:
A Christmas of Hope (Wonderstruck Books, 2015)
Nonfiction:
(dis)Abilities and the Gospel (Cedar Fort, 2011), received the 2011 Bronze Quill Religious Book Award
Project Journals:
For the Love of Stitches (Wonderstruck Books, 2016)
For the Love of Sewing (Wonderstruck Books, 2016)
For the Love of Reading (Wonderstruck Books, 2016)

Visit Danyelle at www.danyelleferguson.com.