by Kelly Carey
My debut picture book launched in April of 2020, a little more than two years from the day I sold the book. Some folks balked bug eyed when I said the book would not be out for 24 months, but not me. I was thrilled that I had two years to learn everything I could about book marketing and put a plan into action.
I made plans. Some spot on and some ridiculous and untenable that I scrapped. I filled a huge binder with loads of information. Trust me when I tell you that I have reorganized this binder multiple times and it is still a cumbersome beast; which is a perfect description for marketing. It is a cumbersome beast.
The trick is to tame the beast. Manage your own expectations. Believe in your product. And most importantly, find infectious joy in the process.
Great, you’re thinking. How the heck do I do that?
Take it in small chunks and find a place to start that feels familiar. At one point you have probably planned a party whether it was a birthday, wedding, or family bbq. Good. If you have ever planned a party, you can plan a book launch. Let’s get started. And you can all start NOW! Whether you just signed your contract, are querying, or still working on your manuscript, today is the day to start planning your party.
Pick Your Location
While I don’t have an independent bookstore in my town, I do have wonderful bookstores within a thirty minute radius of my home. Since your launch will mostly feature your local friends, family and writing colleagues, pick a spot nearby that it is an easy distance for your guests and offers a good space for your event.
You can ask the marketing team at your publisher to help you make contact with the bookstore; however it is best if you already have a relationship with the bookseller. That means you’ve spent your pre-published time visiting your local indie bookstores, attending events, and have become a part of the bookseller’s patron base (aka – you buy books!).
Virtual flip: Your wonderful event has gone virtual? No problem. That same bookstore can host your event virtually. But you still need a good location. Your guests will not want to look at your messy kitchen! Do not pick a wall of windows as your background; while that looks lovely in person, the backlighting will be a problem. Turn on every light in the room and consider how comfortable the spot will be for you. Add some colorful and interesting props: your book, flowers, and possibly an item related to the theme or subject of your book.
Plan on attending launch events at both your chosen venue and at other venues. Watch how the bookstore manages the event. Notice how the audience reacts to how authors and illustrators present their books. What worked? What didn’t work? Create your own “best practice” guide based on what you think would work best for your presentation style and for your book.
Virtual flip: Tune in to a variety of virtual events and get a sense for how the technology works. It will be helpful to consider the event as a participant versus a speaker as you think about how you want your presentation to work. For example, do you want to hold your book and read it or share a power point as you read the book? Attending events will help you formulate the best plan for you.
Invite Guests & Market the Event
Just like any good party, your launch will be a success if folks know about it and actually come! The bookstore will market the event, but your friends, family and writing colleagues will be more excited to attend if you send them a personal invitation. I sent out evites and news of the event to my newsletter subscribers. An evite is easy and you can use emails you have already collected BUT I highly recommend that you spend the time between signing your contract and the launch to build up an email subscriber list using Mail Chimp. For more information on building an email list of fans see this wonderful post by marketing expert Colleen Riordan.
Send out your invitations about a month before your event and be sure to send out a reminder a day or two before your launch. Blast info about your event on all your social media.
Virtual Flip: When your live event has to go virtual, you’ll rely on that evite program and your newsletter platform to let everyone know the new plan.
Set Up Pre-Order Opportunity
From the moment you announce your book deal, people are going to be excited for you. You will not leave the house without someone stopping you at the grocery store, lacrosse field, or school event to ask about your book. The closer you get to the publication date, the more people will ask, “How can I get a copy?”
You will want a good answer to this question. First, invite these folks to attend your launch. But you will also want to make it easy for these folks to purchase your book. Ask a local indie bookstore to facilitate autographed pre-orders and include information in your evite and newsletter about pre-orders. This way fans that are farther away and might not be able to travel to your launch can still get your book. Send those folks an evite anyway – they will be grateful you have an option to allow them to purchase the book even if they cannot attend your launch.
Virtual flip: I used my newsletter email list to let folks know that they could pre-order autographed copies from my local indie that would be shipped to their homes. The bookstore allowed me to sign copies alone in the store to fulfill orders. Bookstores may also prefer that you offer signed bookplates that you can mail in bulk to the store rather than coming into the store. I have seen authors offer to mail individual signed bookplates if a book is bought, but your profit on each book is so small, I don’t believe this is cost effective. If the bookstore cannot help you facilitate autographed copies, I would not offer it as an option.
Make it Special for Your Reader
First and foremost, you’ll read your book at your launch. But, folks can do that on their own. You want to offer them something MORE when they are at your launch event.
I shared some behind the scenes secrets with my guests, talked to them about how the main character got his name, why the story features a blueberry pie instead of an apple pie, and why the tractor was so special. Be careful when you consider these extras that you keep your reader in mind. It might be tempting to talk in depth about your writing and revision process but that will likely be best for a school visit or a program for fellow writers. Keep your reader in mind!
Consider this. If I come to tour your home and you tell me about the trip where you found that interesting carving, or why you have so many bird pillows, or who the people are in that black and white photograph, then I will be amused and charmed. BUT if you take me to the basement and show me your hot water heater, open up the cabinet under the sink to tell me about your favorite cleaning products, and open up the closet where you stashed all the clutter before my visit, I will still be amused but no longer charmed. Keep your reader charmed!
Offer Food, Games and/or Crafts
A party with fun food, a game that gets the crowd involved, and a craft that acts as a party favor all add to a guest’s enjoyment. My book features a blueberry pie and I had planned to hand out individual TableTalk pies to guests. I used Megan Dowd Lambert’s Whole Book Approach to think about how to actively read my book and came up with a “find the cat” game kids could play as I shared the story. Finally, I scoured Pinterest to find an easy craft kids could do at the event. I recommend a very simple craft without many steps. Even a coloring page of a character or scene in your book is a crowd pleaser.
Virtual Flip: I still offered a craft during my virtual events. The publicity before the event listed the supplies needed and I reminded folks about those at the beginning of the presentation so that they had time to collect materials. A great website will be helpful for you virtual events. You can point viewers to a website where they can find activity sheets, directions to crafts, and even recipes to make their own book-themed food.
You will be nervous on launch day. Like industrial strength deodorant nervous. The best way to quell the nerves and to mitigate their negative effect, is to practice! Stand in front of a mirror and rehearse. Keep notes so that you don’t forget to mention things or lose your place. Go to the bookstore and if the event space is separate, practice your presentation in the space.
Virtual Flip: Technology can be scary and challenging. Be sure to practice on the platform of your event- Zoom, Crowdcast, Facebook Live, or Instagram Live. The bookstore that hosted my launch offered a practice session the day before and I was grateful that we knocked out some kinks. If the bookstore cannot accommodate that, consider your own practice session. Set up your own Zoom meeting with a few trusted friends and practice that tricky toggle between your camera and sharing your computer screen. If things go wrong on the day, just breathe. Folks understand that technology is finicky and while the delay may feel like hours to you, it will likely only be mere minutes for your guests. It’s all good.
Take Care of Business and Be A Good Partner
The launch is about you and your book, but be sure to notice the folks who made the book and the day possible. Mention your illustrator, editor, publisher, and agent. Thank the bookstore and tell folks why it is such a great place to visit and plug an event or feature at the bookstore. I like to mention the cafes in bookstores, special gift items that they carry, and encourage folks to attend future events.
Send folks to your website to learn more about you, print off activity guides, find recipes, and book you for future events.
You may be asked what books you like to read or what other books you recommend. Be ready to answer this question and use it to feature books by your friends! I was happy to hold up books written by my writing partners and books launching from my publisher, and I think my writing partners and publisher were thrilled that I made that effort.
The more you can prepare ahead of time, the more you will enjoy your launch day; whether it is live or virtual!
But remember, while it is your special day, you want to share the moment and more importantly, your wonderful book with readers. Keep those readers as the focus as you plan your launch party and it will be a success.
Guest post by author Kirsten W. Larson
Let me guess. Your favorite part of making a book is marketing it, right? No?! You’d prefer to sketch in your studio or type at your computer versus boosting your book on social media? Well, you aren’t alone.
But what if I told you there’s a way to make marketing your book far more fun and productive? All you have to do is form a book marketing group. Don’t believe me? Read on for the top five things I’ve learned coordinating a book marketing group.
1. Book marketing is better together — part 1.
You’ve probably seen them online: the Soaring 20s, Las Musas, STEAMTeam books. These are book promotion groups, clusters of 20-40 creators who partner together to boost their books. Why? Because it works. Imagine: you write a cover reveal blog post on your group website, then tweet a link to it. The same day 30 other creators from your group plus your group Twitter account retweet you. Then your blog post is excerpted in the group newsletter. You’ve reached a far bigger audience with that one group post than you ever could on your own.
2. Book marketing is better together — part 2
Publishing is a tough business. Publications dates can change. Reviewers can be less-than-flattering. Any book creator needs support. Book marketing groups provide a sense of camaraderie as you bring your book into the world. Group members are people at a similar point in their careers and can provide needed advice and support as you weather the ups and downs of book publishing and marketing.
3. The right team is everything.
Having the right people on your team is everything, after all, you’ll be working with these people closely for a couple of years or longer. Make sure your team members bring a variety of skills to the table — web design, graphic design, copy-editing, school visits, book-selling. These will provide valuable perspectives and much-needed skills as you divvy up the work. Also, make sure your group reflects all of our young readers who need to see both themselves and kids with different experiences and backgrounds in books.
4. Move beyond social media.
Almost all book marketing groups have a significant social media presence. Yet there is often more going on behind the scenes. Are you trying to get 50+ reviews on Amazon? Your book group could help if everyone commits to reading and reviewing each other’s books. Group members can ask their libraries to buy each other’s books. They can pitch panels of group members for events including national and regional conferences, and pitch group podcast or media spots. For many creators, pitching a group instead of themselves is far more comfortable. And any opportunities for individual creators that arise can be shared with other group members.
5. Are you leading or am I?
Even though groups make decisions together by vote or consensus, someone needs to keep the group on track, make sure decisions are made, and deadlines are met. In our group, that’s me. I post a monthly “to do” list with deadlines for our various activities and remind people of impending deadlines. I also facilitate any group voting or decision making to make sure everyone is heard.
Want to learn more about book marketing groups? The Soaring 20's Picture Book Debut Group is offering a free group marketing guide (PDF downlaod) if you sign up for The Soaring 20's newsletter. Click here to visit The Soaring 20s website and sign up for your free guide.
Kirsten W. Larson is the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane (Calkins Creek) and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made of (Chronicle, 2021), as well as 25 books for young readers. Learn more at kirsten-w-larson.com and follow her on Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest @KirstenWLarson
Click here to order a copy of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane.
Kelly Carey presents a guest interview with Jordan Standridge, Marketing Associate, Charlesbridge Publishing
Prior to the release of my debut picture book, many colleagues had warned me that the marketing work for my book would fall squarely and heavily on my shoulders. That was a bit terrifying! I was new to this rodeo and the marketing bulls were rippling with scary muscles and fuming with bad smoky breath. I dove into research, determined to be a marketing bronco buster, and then along came Jordan Standridge, Marketing Associate at Charlesbridge Publishing. And suddenly, I was no longer alone.
I have been incredibly relieved to find that Jordan has proved to be both a partner and champion in marketing my book – which is really our book! I’ve invited Jordan to join us for 24 Carrot Writing’s July Marketing Month to explain how authors can help market their book, what they can expect from their publishing house, and how to have a good marketing partnership with your publisher.
Thanks for joining us Jordan!
First, can you explain your role at Charlesbridge and how you interact with authors, booksellers, and influencers and …. well, who else do you work with?
Thanks for having me, Kelly! It’s been such a pleasure working with you on How Long is Forever?.
As the Marketing Associate for Charlesbridge, I work closely with authors. So really, anything that falls under that umbrella: I’m in touch with indie bookstores across the country, and help get events set up; I submit authors and their books for festivals, if timing and fit are there, and organize the planning leading up to it; I reach out to various outlets/influencers for publicity opportunities, and mailing out advance/complimentary copies; I pitch upcoming books at bookseller regionals/conferences, too! Basically, if you’re an author with book releasing with us, we’re going to be working together.
Many debut authors don’t know where to begin in marketing their book. What are some essential first steps debut authors should take in preparing for a book release?
As much as I am going to help get your book out there in the world, it’s so helpful to have an author to work with that is willing to put in the work, right there with me. So how can a debut author be a partner to market their book?
The more we have worked together, the braver I’ve become in asking for marketing help. For example, I came up with some classroom activity ideas to go along with the book, but I couldn’t make them look professional. I reached out to you, and the Charlesbridge team designed a spiffy looking activity guide to accompany the book. I’ve also reached out to ask if Charlesbridge would supply books for giveaway campaigns – you did! What sort of support should authors feel comfortable asking for? What support do publishers want to give? And what makes the marketing partnership between an author and publisher work?
I think the most successful marketing partnership between author and publisher is when it can be a more collaborative experience. If you, the author, have relevant kid lit/book subject contacts that would help promote the book, tell us — we’d send out copies. Are you already tight with certain bookstores, and have the event coordinators’ contact info? Pass that along. And yeah, you had an idea for a tie-in activity guide that you would then be able to use at all your events. The publisher sees the value in that material, so of course we helped bring it to life! If you have a reasonable ask, that would help sell copies of the book, the publisher will try to help make it happen.
I’ve been thrilled that you have reached out to bookstores to find me virtual gigs. What helps you get an invitation for an author? What can an author do to help?
Those essential first steps I mentioned earlier are the building blocks for this question, too.
Kelly, you’ve been not only willing, but excited, to help promote your book! Do you remember our early conversations around author events (pre-Covid-19), and you essentially said "I’ll drive to any bookstore events you set up in MA and the states that touch it." Haha. That’s dedication. I knew then that you would be awesome to work with. While I don’t expect that level of determination, I admire the spirit, and it was nice to know you gave me the green light to really go for it. When events were starting to go virtual, you adapted, and even learned all of the various platforms that bookstores threw our way. You also worked on your presentation (you had a couple, depending on what the situation called for), even offering a meaningful and easy craft kids at home could make, so it definitely made my job easier.
When you’re a debut, bookstores don’t have a backlist/sales to consider when making event decisions. However, if you’re putting in the extra work, I can better attempt to paint a picture in an event coordinator’s mind on what an event with this author will look like, what we can offer, and how that would be a draw for their community’s families. So, in short, be willing to open up your schedule and prepare!
Guest post by Author Carrie Finison
Please join me in my DeLorean as we travel back in time…
On June 7, 2019, I woke up with BIG plans for the day. My 8th grader would be graduating from middle school on June 11. My 4th grader would be in school for only another week after that. Mama had a mile-long to-do list to accomplish before the busy, distracting days of summer arrived!
But a brief Twitter check stopped me in my tracks. #NationalDoughnutDay was trending. How could I, author of a soon-to-be-released picture book entitled DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, have forgotten about this important national holiday? As I scanned through the tweets in my feed, one thing became clear. People like to talk about doughnuts. A LOT! It was a festive atmosphere and I wanted to jump in with both feet.
At that point, I had officially been on Twitter for six years, since 2013, but I rarely used it. I had joined only to participate in pitch contests when I was seeking an agent. I didn’t spend much time tweeting and didn’t have a large following. But one of my goals in advance of my July 2020 book release was to grow my connections on Twitter. And I wanted to do so in a genuine way, not by participating in many of the “follow fests” that I saw happening. Without knowing the words for it at the time, I was seeking “audience engagement” rather than numbers.
Normally, I’m a planner. I second-, third-, and fourth-guess most of the things I do. But right then, I needed to get two kids to school and get on with my day. With no time to play guessing games, I posted the following:
Then I packed up the kids and left the house.
I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe some fun pictures of doughnuts to fill my news feed? Maybe a few more followers? I was pretty surprised when I came home, checked Twitter, and found over a dozen responses to my tweet. As I started responding to them, more responses came. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to share their favorite doughnut.
I tossed my plans – whatever they were – aside and spent most of the morning on Twitter. At some point, I realized my plan to offer a critique needed some parameters, and posted a quick update:
Responses slowly tapered into the next day, as Twitter moved on from #NationalDoughnutDay. When the dust settled, I took a peek at Twitter Analytics (something I’d only just discovered) and found that, in the short timeframe of the giveaway, I had gained over 120 new followers and my tweets had earned a total of about 29,000 impressions. Maybe that’s not a lot for some people, but at the time for me, that meant a 10% jump in my followers. And, most importantly (to me) these were followers who genuinely wanted to engage with me, and who might later be interested in reading my book.
So what were my takeaways? There were some practical things I learned. Keeping track of a lot of responses all at once is tough. The logistics of doing a fair drawing from retweets can be a little complicated. Tweeting on a hashtag that’s already trending (#NationalDoughnutDay) can greatly boost your visibility. But, just as with making a delicious batch of doughnuts, some of the intangible lessons were more important:
1.Don’t rush the doughnuts! Engagement takes time.
You want followers who are interested in you and want to engage, and that means you need to take the time to reciprocate. Offer something of value and people will respond - and that doesn’t necessarily mean monetary value like a critique or a book. I think people had fun that day and valued the interaction as much as (if not more than) the chance at a critique.
2.Just add sprinkles! It’s more fun when you have fun.
This particular giveaway didn’t feel like “work” or a drain on my time because I was engaging with people over a topic we all loved – doughnuts!
3.Don’t overmix your batter! Don’t overthink it.
Probably a life lesson for me, but I’m not sure this would have gone as well as it did, if I had spent time planning it in advance. For good or bad, Twitter is a very spontaneous medium and that can work to your advantage.
Just to quickly illustrate an example of #3, let’s jump back in the DeLorean and zoom forward to 2020. This year, I planned a big preorder giveaway for DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, scheduled to launch on National Doughnut Day – June 5. However, when the day came we were in the midst of major social upheaval and protests against racism and police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and…well, it didn’t feel like a good moment for self promotion or talk of something frivolous like doughnuts. So, just as spontaneously as I had jumped into the National Doughnut Day celebrations in 2019, I pulled out of them in 2020, and waited for a different moment to announce my giveaway.
Twitter can keep you on your toes, for sure, but keeping things spontaneous and real will help you grow your audience in a genuine way – and have fun while you’re doing it!
July is Marketing Month at 24 Carrot Writing! We are looking forward to a month filled with marketing topics from critique giveaway tips to virtual launches to marketing insights from a publisher's viewpoint. So get ready for an explosion of fabulous marketing posts starting later this week!
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