Ten writers for children. All with something to say.
That said, I admit that Marshall Cavendish treated me like a queen. They were always willing for me to have a signing at the American Library Association conferences and, when I won the Pura Belpré Honors, they paid for my plane ticket and put me in the best hotels. They even threw a banquet for the Belpré committee when Diego: Bigger Than Life won. (I am talking in past tense because Amazon.com has bought Marshall Cavendish Children's Books and I don't know what they will be called yet.)
Still, I promote my books: This blog, Facebook, my website (www.camenberniergrand.com) school visits, signings, conferences...and teaching at the Whidbey Island MFA (I tweet for them) doesn't hurt.
I befriend and support librarians and independent booksellers. But what I support the most is my fellow writers. I try to be there for their signings; I buy their books; and I promote their books everywhere I go. I do this because I care for them and their books. But you know what? Those blessings and many more have come back to me.
I do not have as many productive ideas as Christy and David have shared, but shortly before ROAD TO TATER HILL (which is set in the North Carolina mountains) was released, I did do a thorough search of all the independent book stores in the state of NC (not my home state), with the idea that they might be my best opportunity for book sales. Who doesn't like to read a book set in a place familiar to them? Before the actual release, my husband and I planned a road trip through NC, stopping at as many "indies" as possible. I always had to bolster myself before I went inside, armed with some ARCs of the book and postcards I'd had made with the book cover on the front and a nice review and the ISBN on the back. I introduced myself as an author (stating Delacorte Press/Random House as the publisher, so they would know it was not self-published), left a postcard, and, if the manager/owner seemed particularly interested, I left an ARC, as well. When the book was actually available, I followed up with a mailing (the same postcard), which I hoped would be a good reminder. I don't really have a way of judging how successful this was, but my book was nominated for a SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Assoc.) award that fall.
Another very successful effort was getting in touch with the current professors of Children's Literature at Appalachian State University, not only my alma mater, but also located in the very vicinity of my book's setting. I gave two professors copies of the book, which they read, enjoyed, and subsequently used in their curriculum. They invited me to speak to their classes, not only that semester (Fall 2009), but every semester since! One of the professors nominated the book for the NC Battle of the Books List (which it is currently on) and has also helped to spread word to NC librarians and teachers, resulting in many school visits.
Patience is a word to keep in mind. When a book is launched, we (especially new authors) think we have about three months for the book to take off and catch readers' eyes. After that, the publishers move on to their new lists and can't afford to do more to promote a book from a previous list. And it's sad that to be considered for major awards, books have to be noticed within their year of publication--especially hard if they are released late in the year! However, I've found that my readership is growing now in the third year since publication, and I am receiving even more letters from readers as time goes by. Thank heavens those state reading lists give a little more leeway, but usually not more than three years.
Ten years after publication, my first co-authored book, BROKEN DRUM, was picked up by Scholastic Book Fairs--very unusual! And because it had been out a long time, Scholastic decided to give it a new look/cover and a new title, DRUMS OF WAR, which ultimately gave it new life. A year later, they licensed a second co-authored book, REBEL HART. Now BROKEN DRUM has been optioned for a film and is currently under development with the hope it will be released within the 4-year window of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.
When my first books came out, I was hesitant to do much marketing on my own, fearing that I would appear too pushy. But with publishers' limited marketing dollars, if I don't get the word out about my books, who will? Vicki Palmquist of Children's Literature Network said to think of marketing as "giving information to people who want to know about your books," and that has helped me feel less like a used car salesman.
A few marketing ideas I've tried include:
* Finger puppet ghost/postcards for my book The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories. These mailable cards included book information on the reverse side. They were expensive to produce, but I was able to fund this idea through a career initiative grant that I received from a local literary agency (free money to promote my books!). I sent cards to children's bookstores across the country, gave cards to my publisher to distribute at bookseller conferences, and handed them out at book signings. Did they create a huge difference in book sales? I don't know. But they were a unique advertisement for my book, something that people would hopefully want to keep (at least for a little while), and that's what I was striving for.
*Free teaching guides/extension activities for most of my books. Teachers, librarians, and booksellers can find coloring and puzzle sheets, a readers theater script, writing projects, cross-curriculum tie-ins, and party ideas (such as "13 Ways to Host a Hilarious Haunted Book Party") ready to download at my website. Remembering my own experience as a teacher, I tried to make all of these activities fun and practical (easy ideas are going to be much more appealing to a busy teacher than an idea that is going to involve lots of time). Once again, I don't know if these activities sell a lot of books, but when I visit a school, frequently I'll see the library lined with projects that have come directly from my website.
* Press releases. Sending press releases to various media has resulted in plenty of free publicity for my books. A friend who writes press releases for the state of Minnesota gave me some excellent pointers: include brief anecdotes or "sound bites" that could easily be fit into an article, include your contact information and a photo, and keep it short enough to fit on one page. I write a standard press release for each new book of mine, and then make minor tweaks to tailor it to each outlet where it's sent (when I send it to my local paper, I highlight that I live in the area; if I send it to my alumni magazine, I'll highlight my school connections). Numerous times papers have printed these press releases word-for-word. Reporters, like teachers, are busy, and the more you can do to make their job easier, the better.
*Pumpkin carving. With marketing, I try to take advantage of my strengths. I'm not aggressive, I'm not a technological whiz, but I'm a good pumpkin carver. For many of my books I've carved a related pumpkin which I've brought to book signings. The pumpkins are great conversation starters and sometimes lead to book sales. Pumpkin carving might not be your hidden talent, but maybe you are a skilled musician, photographer, seamstress, baker, etc., and you can find a way to combine your unique talents to highlight your unique book.
This round our topic is marketing and the timing is perfect. Our School Garden! is on the shelves, and I have two more books publishing in the fall. It's time to roll my chair back from the drawing table and hand sell some books.
First, if I just swivel 180 degrees to face my computer, there is marketing work I can do before leaving my studio.
• Design a book announcement to mail out to all my contacts.
• Create a book specific Facebook page, and invite FB contacts to "like" this page. Here is a trick my publisher Philip Lee told me: if I find other FB groups and organizations who might be interested in my book, I can "like" them and create a hyperlink to my FB book page site, so then any new book information I post will keep showing up on their sites. The circle widens!
• Research and find more contacts. My recent books have non-fiction angles, so I can explore these themes to locate target audiences. For The East-West House I developed contact lists of art museum bookstores; Japanese garden gift shops; children's museums; as well as blogs about Japanese culture, Mid-century Modern design, sculpture, and being biracial. To keep generating sales, this process must not end. A friend recently suggested I check out the origami crowd, too. For this new book, Philip Lee has been busy connecting with schools that have gardens-- thousands in California alone.
• Create activities for events. I like to provide an extra little something to take away with the purchase of a book. I also include downloadable activities and lesson plans on my website so teachers and parents will want to use my books.
• Set up events to connect with my readers. Contact schools, libraries, conferences, and other venues for presenting, selling, and signing books. For my last book I planned a book launch event that was successful beyond my dreams. Lee & Low featured my how-to tips in an interview: http://blog.leeandlow.com/2009/11/11/how-to-plan-a-successful-book-launch/
Next, I close my studio door, leave seclusion behind, and meet my public at an event. For The East-West House my best sales venues have been at art museums and Japanese cultural events. These are where I hone in on my most interested audiences. I have done family presentations at art museums where I am featured. While attendees create art projects, I sign books. At Japanese cultural events, I sit in a crowded auditorium, behind a table, behind a stack of books. I am definitely an introvert, but I try to put myself forward and make eye contact with passers-by. If I can engage in a conversation, I can often sell a book. I share my enthusiasm for the story and discuss the process I used to create the art. This direct one-on-one connection with my reader has been very powerful.
Ask these questions: Who are your readers? Where can you find them? How can you connect with them?
Here are some titles on marketing a fellow children's book author suggested:
1001 Ways to Market Your Books: for Authors and Publishers by John Kremer, Open Horizons
Guerrilla Publicity: Hundreds of Sure-Fire Tactics to Get Maximum Sales for Minimum Dollars by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, and Jill Lublin, Adams Media Corporation
Speak and Grow Rich by Dottie and Lilly Walters, Prentice Hall
Money Talks: How to Make a Million as a Speaker by Alan Weiss, McGraw-Hill
Having a book come out is weird. Of course, the excitement is there: I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT! But then you sit back and realize: Crap. I have a book coming out.
When it comes to children's books, marketing simply means GETTING THE WORD OUT.
If you are one of those authors that the publisher decides to throw lots of money behind, marketing probably means a book tour. I am not one of those authors. For me, marketing means doing whatever I can to make sure people hear that I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT. I live in the middle of nowhere. But I have an internet connection. So I post on Facebook, both as myself and on a writer page for S.A. Bodeen. On that page, I'm careful to keep everything book-oriented, and I post links to reviews and other things relating to my books. I recently started a Twitter account @1turducken , which will also be strictly book-related.
But here's the thing...
In 2008, my first YA novel The Compound was released. I got starred reviews, was a Flying Start in Publisher's Weekly, was named an ALA Quick Pick, was up for the Audiobook of the Year ( Neil Gaiman won, but I have the same cool medal he does) and thought, "Wow, the word is out!"
And then not a lot happened. A few months later my agent called to say that Scholastic wanted the book in their fairs and book orders. He was on the fence about it, but for me it was a no-brainer. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and Scholastic book orders were the only way I ever got books of my own. I told him that we had to do it. And then something happened...
In 2009, The Compound started appearing on master lists for state reader awards. A lot of them. For both middle school and high school ages. I started getting a lot more requests for school visits. Scholastic renewed their contract and also picked up my next novel The Gardener.
Apparently, it took a year or two, but the word got out when people started reading the book. It won the 2011 Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award three years after it was published. My most recent royalty statement showed the book is selling more copies now than it ever has, and I'm currently writing the sequel that I never thought I would .
So, my take on marketing?
In the end, I think the best thing is to write a good story, get it in the hands of readers, and have them start talking about it. In the end, that is the best, and most lasting way to get the word out.
At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Right now, I'm working on the draft for the sequel to my YA novel The Compound. I just saw the contract the other day, and it has a delivery date of Sept 30. I honestly never look at deadlines. Why? Because I always get things done way before they're due. I have no idea how I do that because I am the BIGGEST time waster on the planet.
Each day, I always plan to get my writing done early. I have my coffee, go for my run, come back and eat and get ready to write. But sometimes I check the television first. Usually Channel 244, SyFy. If they're having a cool marathon, say Battlestar Galactica or the X-Files? Yeah. The writing isn't gonna happen. And sometimes, I know my DVR is full of new episodes I haven't watched yet. The Walking Dead. Once Upon a Time. You can't let those wait for days...
Yes. I am a tv junkie. It most likely stems from growing up with an antenna on the top of the house that gave us only two television stations, three if the wind was blowing just right. And my parents always got to choose which shows to watch. Which means, in the here and now, the little kid in me exalts at having 300 channels and all day to pick what I want to watch.
Maybe I'll grow up one day....
Until then, I'll get the writing done. When I'm finished watching reruns of Lost, that is...