We are pleased to welcome Deb Shapiro, the president and founder of Deb Shapiro & Company, a public relations, marketing and media services and consulting business focusing on authors and books. A former journalist and bookseller with an MA in children’s literature, Deb worked for nearly 15 years in book publishing, creating and executing publicity and marketing campaigns for publishing houses large and small before launching her own company. She is also an instructor at the Columbia School of Journalism’s graduate publishing course and an active volunteer with several literacy organizations. She lives in Washington, DC with her daughter. We are pleased to have her here at 24 Carrot Writing to share her marketing experience and knowledge with us.
What sparked your interest in working in publishing?
I’ve always believed that if you can read well and write well, you have the tools to succeed in life. I knew teaching wasn’t the right fit for me, so I thought that if I were involved in the process of creating good books to put into the hands of young readers, I could help level the playing field for all kids and help spark a life-long love of story and learning.
At 24 Carrot Writing, we focus on children’s literature. What is the biggest challenge children's debut authors face in marketing their books?
There is a lot of white noise out there, especially online, and trying to break through it is a challenge. But most of that white noise is created because people are doing what they “think” they should do, either because it’s what others are doing and they believe that’s what they should do too, or because they just don’t know what to do. Thinking about who your audience is, and what your strengths and interests are in relation to the book, will help you craft a plan that will be more relevant and effective, and that in and of itself can help break through. It’s also important to realistically think about who your audience is. Some books are going to gain more traction in the educational marketplace than the consumer marketplace and visa versa, and you need to be open and accepting of that because if you are, then you can better assess how best to position the book and yourself to reach that audience.
Many debut authors do not know where to begin in marketing their upcoming books. What are some essential first steps debut authors should take in preparing for their book’s release?
Patience. Patience. Patience. Rarely do books take off within the first few weeks of publication. It’s a slow build as reviews come in and are shared and the books are put into hands, read, and talked about. There is a wide and varied window of opportunity for a book to find its way. Authors need to look at the process (or the adventure) as a marathon not a sprint; they need to be strategic, thoughtful, creative and realistic in how they consider what will help readers—or the people who put the books into these readers’ hands—understand the book.
What can a pre-published author do to prepare themselves for book marketing?
Much the same as what a debut should do: be mindful of your audience and what is in your comfort zone as you consider any promotions. Your audience can see through the efforts if they are not authentic, so be true to yourself, and hard as it may be, try not to compare what’s being done for other books to what is or isn’t being done for yours. In the age of social media it can be difficult and disheartening at times, but try and remember just because you may see a lot of activity it doesn’t mean that it’s effective, that readers are responding, or that any of it is translating to sales. Focus on yourself and your book.
When you approach marketing a children’s book, be it picture book, MG, or YA, are there certain aspects or features you look for (i.e., timely theme, target audience) that shape your marketing approach?
All of the above. One of the things I love about marketing and promoting books for kids and teens is that there is no one right way to do it. What’s key is looking at each book and author and understanding what they separately and together bring to the table, and then assess how those attributes fit into any trends, timely events, etc. and then position the book and author accordingly.
What are the differences in the strategies employed to market a PB vs. a MG or YA?
In some ways not much. At the heart of the process, it’s about having a good book to work with. That being said, with YA you’re marketing more directly to the book’s core audience--the teens; with picture book and MG you’re marketing more to the people who will put the book into the readers’ hands—parents, booksellers, teachers, librarians, grandparents, aunts, uncles… Each of these adults looks at a book differently so you need to adjust how you position the book to them accordingly. For example, an educator may want to know how this book could be relevant in the classroom, and a bookseller would want to know what kind of reader it will appeal to.
In your experience with marketing books, what are some of the most effective publicity approaches you have seen?
It all comes down to my mantra about being true to the book and author and understanding the audience. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart I think is a great example of checking all of these boxes—and it started with a fabulous read. The concept of the book became the campaign—every element wove in the intrigue of the mystery involved as to who was or wasn’t telling the truth. Another example would be Little Elliot and the Big City by Mike Curato; Little Elliot is such a delightful, endearing character and he was branded through a strategic bookseller, educator campaign so by the time the book hit shelves, he was loved and recognized by the people putting the book into readers hands and they couldn’t wait to introduce him to their customers. I often see other campaigns try to mimic those that are most successful but they always fall short. Books--like authors, like people--are their own unique entity and should be treated as such. It’s helpful to look at past campaigns to see what worked, but then look to see how that element might translate and be appropriate for you.
Social media plays a large part in many authors' publicity efforts. In your experience, have you found social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, helpful in promoting a new children’s book release? Are some social media platforms more successful than others in increasing a book’s visibility and, ultimately, sales?
For the most part, effectiveness comes down to the person, their approach and their authenticity more than the platform. Authors should not be made to feel that they have to be on social media; they should only do it if it’s in their comfort zone and they feel they have something to say and something to contribute to the conversation. I will say though that when thinking about platform, think about the audience of your book(s) and see where that audience may be spending more of its time.
What are some of the biggest pitfalls you see authors experience in marketing their work? Is there anything you consistently recommend they don’t do?
Don’t Google yourself, don’t monitor your Amazon rankings, don’t compare yourself to others or compare your efforts to other’s efforts. Do communicate with your publisher, even if they don’t appear to be listening, keep them posted on what you have going on, and your ideas. Be patient with yourself and the process. Be true to yourself and your book.
Many authors team up for book events. What are the pros and cons of being part of a multi-author event?
Pros: you can be introduced to new readers through the other author’s fan bases; it can be more fun and less daunting to be with others, too. Cons: disparate or clashing personalities. It’s important to make sure that the participating authors are all tapping into a similar age-range and that each of the participating authors plays nicely in the sand box with others.
Many authors spend much time and expense having “swag” printed for their book launches and events. Do you feel that swag, such as bookmarks, magnets, postcards, etc., is worth the effort and expense, or do you feel the book can stand on its own?
It all depends on the book, the author, the swag and the means of getting it out there. If you’re creating swag, make sure it’s something useful, it represents the concept of the book in some way, is a helpful reminder to the person who receives it of what the book is about, is age appropriate for the book/audience, and that you have a plan to distribute it. If you do a lot of school visits, for example, book marks or postcards can be useful because not every student is able to buy a book, and this way you have something to hand out so that each child can get something.
A recent trend in marketing books is the book trailer. Do you believe that book trailers have a positive impact on a book’s success? Are they more effective based on the target audience, such as picture book vs. middle grade vs. YA?
Trailers have become one of the contributors of the white noise out there.
What can backlist authors do once the fervor of the launch has settled to continue to market and maintain interest in their books?
There is no general, one right answer for this one. It’s all about looking at the book, the audience, and the author to assess what will keep momentum going.
Any other final thoughts you’d like to share with regards to the marketing and publicity of children’s books?
I am asked time and again about doing cover reveals (sort of the new book trailer), and while it used to be an opportunity that could raise awareness in advance of publication, they have now been done so much that people really don’t take notice and it’s really not worth the effort to put one into place. Timing is key with so much of online efforts, and doing too much too far in advance of publication can be detrimental—by the time your book is out it seems old hat. With cover reveals and with book promotions in general, time and effort is better spent finding opportunities that will make sense for you and your book rather than looking to do something just because you’ve seen it done.
Thank you, Deb, for sharing your book marketing expertise and insights with us!
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