Marketing. What are my thoughts on marketing a picture book? Where do I start? What would I tell an author who has a debut book coming out? That’s a loaded question, so I apologize in advance for the long post!
#1: Start Early
We all know it takes about two years (give or take) for a debut picture book to be released once it’s acquired. Those two years are precious - use them wisely! Spend that time growing your network.
One way is to go to as many author events at bookstores as you can. And here are four whys:
- You’ll meet other writers and illustrators - not just the event’s host, but friends of the creator and more.
- You’ll meet the booksellers, which will make it easier to schedule events when your book is out (it helps if you purchase books at the stores during these events - they do notice who buys books).
- You might meet educators who are fans and friends of the author for whom the event is scheduled - and these book-loving educators always enjoy meeting more (future) authors!
- You might learn a thing or two (or twelve) about presenting at book events.
Another thing to do is to get on social media - and grow your virtual network. There are pros and cons to all of the different social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, etc), but my preferred platform is Twitter. As a picture book writer, my direct audience (children 0-10) is not on social media. (This is different if you write YA - I can’t speak about interacting directly with your readers.) I love Twitter because it’s a great place to connect with educators, bloggers, booksellers, parents, and other writers and illustrators.
How do you grow your network when your book is still two years away?
Follow people in the industry and see what they tweet and what they talk about. Twitter is like a worldwide cocktail party where everyone’s invited - and anyone can join in on any conversation at any time.
Follow educators like Pernille Ripp, Margie Myers-Culver, & Melissa Guerrette. Follow bloggers like Jen Robinson, All the Wonders, & Mr. Schu. Follow bookstores like Porter Square Books, Vromans, & Octavia Books. Follow writers like Tara Lazar, Phil Bildner, & Linda Sue Park. Follow illustrators like Girllustrators, Don Tate, & Debbie Ohi. Follow organizations like IndieBound, American Library Association, & SCBWI.
But what do you tweet and share?
If you have a blog (which you don’t NEED to have), tweet out those links. Read blog posts and articles that the above people write and tweet - and share the links that resonate with you. If someone you know sold a book or has a book birthday, congratulate them! And tag people. Positive vibes and good will go a long way.
And just maybe, when you start connecting with people on Twitter, they might click on your name and website (more on that below) and they’ll see you have a book coming out yourself. Your book is now on their radar. You’ve planted the seed.
#2: Prep for Launch
Make sure you have a solid and easily navigable website. There are lots of resources out there regarding what your website should have. Look at other writers’ websites and see what you think will work for you. I use Wix to design mine, but there are lots of options. My chosen website categories are as follows:
●Home - the landing page.
●Books - a list of all of my books (each with a sub-page dedicated to that specific book).
●Stuff for Kids - a kid-safe page with fun stuff.
●Schedule & Appearances - a list of everywhere I’m going (and a map of everywhere I’ve been). Make sure to keep this up to date so your fans can follow you.
●Author Visits - a place where teachers can connect with you to bring you to their schools (remember, teachers call them Author Visits even if writers call them School Visits - so make sure to speak their language, since they’re the ones who will be looking at your site).
●Resources for Writers - my 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books - AKA the link I send to people when a Facebook friend tells me their cousin wrote a picture book and do I have any advice for them?
●About - a page with my bio, headshots, how to contact me, an interview archive (which will soon include this link), and social media links.
●Blog: I do have a blog to which I try to post at least once a month.
Other things I’ve done pre-launch include:
●Newsletter: I have a newsletter (sign up here!). Some people say they’re critical. For a picture book author, I’m not sure. But it doesn’t hurt to have one and post to it a few times a year, especially when you have big news.
●Book Trailers: I've created all of my own book trailers, often along with songs I've written and recorded (on my phone, nothing super fancy - but technology today is awesome).
#3: The Book Launch
If you’ve been patronizing and networking with your local booksellers, hopefully you’ll have an opportunity to schedule your book launch at one of them. Invite everyone you know. Jarrett J. Krosoczka once described his debut book launch as similar to a wake, but where no one died. More people will show up out of the woodwork than to a wedding.
Some people create Facebook events for book events (I sometimes do), but for a book launch, especially your debut, it might be worth sending out an actual (online) invitation to your email contacts in addition to friends in your online social networks.
Regarding swag, I’ve had fun making some. If you’re lucky, your publisher may make some of their own and share with you. It also doesn’t hurt to ask if they’ll reimburse you for making your own.
- I created ‘Collector’s Cards’ in lieu of bookmarks for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, Pirasaurs!, and The Case of the Stinky Stench - as they serve the same purpose for a picture book.
- Rodolfo Montalvo and I made posters and stickers for Dear Dragon, while Penguin made some post cards.
- Sterling made Tote Bags, Pins, and Magnets for the Lady Pancake series.
#4: My Book Is Out. Now What?
The best advice I received (from author Jen Malone and probably others) is: Do what you like.
How do you know what you like? My answer to that is: Try everything.
Store events, library events, conferences, group events, solo events, school visits, school book fairs, nErDcamps, farmers markets, karate studios (if your book is about ninjas), etc. - do them all. Determine what you like and what you don’t - and then continue doing the ones that appeal to you.
If you’re fortunate (or there is a conference in your area), your publisher may invite you to do a signing (ALA, ILA, NCTE, ABA, BEA - if you don’t know what these are, look them up and learn them).
Keep sharing on social media. If you’ve developed relationships with bloggers, see if they’re interested in interviews (or even giveaways). You can also set up Goodreads giveaways (these are often done pre-launch).
There’s no magic bullet to a book’s success. My trailers on YouTube have a few (under 5) thousand views - nowhere near viral. I’ve still got a few boxes of Pirasaurs! collector’s cards in my basement. Who knows if my Twitter network has affected sales (it’s impossible to really tell)? I’ve been to events where nobody showed up.
Keep in mind that much of the sales success of your book is almost entirely out of your control. The reality is that for a book to do really well, the publisher has to seriously get behind it. The publisher’s marketing and publicity teams need to be excited about it to feature it at the bookseller expos which will in turn get their salespeople excited about it so it gets into bookstores and get their school & library teams excited about it to share it at education conferences and so on.
I don’t write that to discourage you from doing marketing. If the publisher only has moderate expectations, YOUR marketing push could help exceed them!
If you market your behind off, there’s a good chance your publisher will notice. It might make it easier to get your next book through acquisitions (remember, sales and marketing teams are at those meetings). It might mean they’ll give you a bigger marketing and publicity budget on your next book - and maybe your second book will get a bigger push at all of those expos and conferences.
And with that network you built, those connections and friendships you made, and all those lessons you learned along the way - you’ll be that much more prepared for your sophomore effort.
And don’t forget the most important thing is still: write a good book.
Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. He’s written a 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books, which is free and accessible on his website.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.
Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.
Find more information about Josh at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on twitter @joshfunkbooks.