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Welcome To SORMAG's Blog

Monday, December 03, 2007

FEATURED AUTHOR: Bonnie St. John


**Please give the readers a brief bio on you the person and the writer. **

I have been known for being the first African-American to win medals in Winter Olympics as a ski racer...and that I raced on one leg against other women on one leg in the Paralympics. After finishing at Harvard, going to Oxford on the Rhodes scholarship, working for IBM and then on the White House economic team, I became a motivational speaker regularly speaking for companies like Pepsi, AT&T and Merrill Lynch. My achievements were recognized in a White house celebration for Black History Month this year and also with a quote on a Starbucks Cup! I was awarded an honorary doctorate for my life work as a motivator and named by NBC Nightly news as one of the "Five Most Inspiring Women in the Nation."

I have always loved books. When I was little, my disabled leg prevented me from jumping rope and running with other kids so I read books on the playground. Later when I became an Olympic ski champion, I read books on the chairlift in between runs. I always wanted to write my own. When I published my first book with Simon and Schuster and my two year old daughter saw her mommy's picture on the shelf in the bookstore, I was as proud as I could be. My own grandmother never went past the fourth grade and my mother was a school teacher who got her Ph.D. I know it made her happy to see me signing books sitting next to Walter Mosely at the national convention for booksellers!


**What inspired this book?**

I got the idea to write this book when I was praying in my usual morning routine. I was appreciating how much strength prayer gave me, and the irony that I motivate people for a living with my ski stories, but I can't tell them at a corporate event how important prayer is to me. I wondered, "How many women pray who I hear about in the news, whose achievements I admire, but we don't know about it? I would like to know if they pray, how they pray, and what difference it makes to their decisions as a mother, as a CEO, or as an actress, for example." So I set out to interview extraordinary women about how they pray.


**Tell us about your current book?**

In "How Strong Women Pray," I take you with me on my spiritual journey to learn about the power of prayer in the real world. I share intimate stories from some of America¹s most notable women including Maya Angelou, Edie Falco, Barbara Bush, and Kathie Lee Gifford, as well as some lesser known yet equally extraordinary: a Hurricane Katrina rescuer, an NYPD 9/11 first responder, a soldier in Afghanistan, and many others, stories that give you insight into the actual details--where, when, how long--of the way strong women use prayer to cope with challenges in their everyday lives.

Woven throughout these stories I also tell my own story of struggling to find strength in prayer. I don't just share stories about my achievements in Olympics and the White House--I open my heart to talk unflinchingly about my life as a woman: being sexually abused as a child, stuffing down my emotions, becoming a wife and mother, needing to heal the old wounds, divorce, and redemption through prayer.

This is not an instruction book with a formula for prayer, this is journey to the heart of how prayer really works in the world. It is a celebration of all the ways women pray: lying in bed, in the bathroom (its quiet), dancing, out loud in the car, in nature, and more. This book helps you to find the way to pray that fits you and supports you as a unique child of God.


**What would you like your readers to take away from your book?**

Readers are coming back and telling me that they are renewing their spirit, their prayer life, and their connection with God! Many who had stopped praying get inspired by the amazing stories of these women and how prayer really makes your life better--personally and professionally.


**How long did it take from first word to sale? What were some of the steps along the journey? **

I got the idea and pitched it to a new agent I had not worked with before. He "got it" and suggested that I write up a few sample interviews. That took me about two months. He sold it in a couple more months. That is a very fast turnaround. My first book took over a year to get the proposal right and sell it. Once I started writing "How Strong Women Pray" it was almost two years until it was on the shelf.

The writing process began with trying to get all the interviews which was really difficult. Most people (never mind celebrities) aren't comfortable talking about their personal prayer life. I enlisted the help of many friends. At times I felt like giving up because I wasn't getting enough famous names. When I finally turned it over to God and made it about God and not about the famous names...a number of interviews came through. When things like that happened it was so clear that it was God who could do this, not me alone.

I ended up getting a new editor halfway through the process. She suggested that I write every other chapter about my personal prayer journey. That was tough! I didn't want to! She made me reach deep inside and I learned things about myself I didn't know in the process. Thank God for a great editor.

**What have you learned throughout the process of writing, pitching - and now, promoting your book?**

Do you have four hours?

One important lesson about promoting a book is that going to bookstores for
signings doesn't work very well unless you are a household name. On my first book I tried to set up signings, get morning news, send mailings,etc. For each booksigning it was too much work and money to make it work on my own.

This time around I partnered with organizations for each book signing event. For some organizations I spoke at their regular monthly or annual meeting and the bookstore brought the books on site. That way the organization is doing the mailings, the ads, and working with local publicity.

In other places we did do a signing in a bookstore, but we worked with a local organization to publicize it.


**Any exciting things happening before or during the time period while
the book is releasing?**


In conjunction with the book I launched a web-based TV and Radio Show called "Live Your Joy" at my web site www.bonniestjohn.com. We provide short videos with interviews of life coaches, celebrities, spiritual directors who made a difference for me. Come and take a look!

I was on the Today Show--a wonderful boost for the book which pushed us up to number 48 in the rankings! Other great publicity this year was being honored in the Black History month celebration at the White House and being quoted on a Starbucks Cup!


**How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly
works well for you?**


I also enjoyed making the book tour about giving back. I am stopping at Shriner's hospitals in several cities because they gave our family for free all the medical care for amputating my leg and providing artificial legs from age 5 to age 19. So going to hospitals, inspiring kids, and thanking the staff is a wonderful part of the tour. Of course we look to get publicity for the hospital and the book along the way.

Similarly I partnered with National Brotherhood of Skiers Clubs in Detroit and Chicago to help get the word out for signings and to get publicity for the book and the clubs. The NBS gave me financial and emotional support that helped me get to the Olympics so celebrating with them along the way felt wonderful!

Stories about Shriners and NBS are in the book. I liked getting the word out about the good things both groups do. I also donated a portion of the books sold at the events to the kids in the ski club and the kids in the hospital.


**What are three things you wish you'd known before you reached where you are now?**

1) That publicity doesn't always translate into hits on my web site...
(now I know I need to use other tools to make that connection.)

2) How hard it is to cross over into mainstream with a book on Prayer! But God did it...Today show and a picture in "InStyle Magazine" were just two examples!

3) To know how loving everyone would be along the way. I had a lot of anxiety about going on tour and talking about the sexual abuse in my childhood. But everything turned out great.


**What do you do to make time for yourself?**

I pray! I also am not always taking care of myself as well as I should. My weight has gone up during the bookstour. I have done 32 appearances in about 18 cities in October and November. Plus over 30 radio shows, magazine interviews, and on-line interviews. So it is draining. But I will not maintain this pace. It is important to get a book launched well so that stores re-order after the first month (They did!). I will make self-care a high priority as the book tour winds down. You can't beat yourself up and expect perfection.

The great thing has been stopping along the way to see friends and family, getting prayed over ALL the time, and giving back. Those things have rejuvenated me immensely and made the book tour more impactful. Basically, partnering with God makes all the difference.


How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)

bonnie@bonniestjohn.com
Www.bonniestjohn.com
163 Amsterdam Ave #135 New York NY 10023
212 663 1671

2 comments:

LaShaunda said...

Bonnie,

When Pam sent a press release for your book, I said I have to read this book. As a prayer I’m always wondering am I doing this right. I hear these eloquent prayers and I feel like I’ll never pray like this. Reading your book let me know that we all pray in our own way. There is no wrong or right way, just pray. I learned I’ve been praying all my life even when I wasn’t a Christian. I was talking to God and that’s what prayer is.

Thank you so much for sharing your life journey and others, I hope this book touches other readers as much as its touched me. I will continue to pray and I hope it will help others start a prayer life with God.

Thank you for the interview. Many blessings to you and may you continue inspiring others.

Pam said...

Excellent Job Lashunda! You asked great questions and pulled out Bonnie's great personality on the web....

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