I really appreciate how 24 Carrot Writing reminds us to pay attention to both parts of our split personality – writer and author. I’ve focused primarily on my author side in the past year, with my debut picture book, PUG MEETS PIG (illustrated by the amazing Joyce Wan, published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster), releasing in September 2016 and a second Pug and Pig book, PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT, which came out July 25.
However, I don’t know that my writer self ever considered what it meant to market and promote a seasonal picture book, both for the publisher and the author. I think a lot of us as writers naturally gravitate toward plots that center on a holiday. Holidays are milestones in any child’s or family’s life, as well as our own. I remember holidays and traditions more vividly than the every day, whether it was choosing a Valentine for a boy in my third grade class that didn’t seem mushy (was “pease be my podner” over the top?) or “cooking” in my cousins’ toy kitchen with our hardboiled Easter eggs (until our parents found us. . . )
The inspiration for Pug and Pig’s Halloween adventure was my black lab mix’s reaction to the terrier next door dressed in a skin-tight, glow-in-the-dark Halloween costume. That’s not a story starter that works well with other settings. (However, an unexpected plus to the book has been hearing from parents of children with sensory issues that their kids relate to Pug’s dislike of his tight costume and his mask. That’s really exciting!)
But the marketing slot for a seasonal book, such as PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT, is really tight. In bookstores, Halloween books go on display after Labor Day, after Back to School peaks. Last year, I was in a bookstore on the morning of Oct. 31. Halloween was already packed up, replaced by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukah. Think of the February holidays – Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, the Presidents. The peak time for story times or presentations using these books at schools, stores, and libraries is also less than six weeks.
My local librarians confirm that Halloween books, as well as other holiday books, are checked out all year long. My kids chose holiday picture books any time of the year, too. I probably can still recite most of CRANBERRY THANKSGIVING by Wende and Harry Devlin, and that isn’t because we read it only in November. Kids aren’t particularly concerned with the calendar versus how they respond to a particular book.
A seasonal book may be more attractive for guest blog posts, because bloggers like timely and topical posts. But once the holiday is past, promotion will likely seem out of place. In contrast, a birthday book or an afraid of the dark book, or any more universal theme or experience, can be promoted any time.
I’m having a ton of fun with the Halloween book, although this is a crazy six weeks. Because Pug and Pig wear skeleton costumes, of course I hunted for a skeleton costume of my own. Finding something that wasn’t going to scare little kids turned out to be a challenge. It’s hard to find a friendly-looking skull. A skeleton apron seemed to be the best option. I start events without the apron on. If the kids are really young, I may stick with orange and purple beads.
There’s always that tension between what we write and whether there might be a market for that manuscript. “Write what you love” doesn’t always match “there’s a place for that book on our list.” I’d be interested to know how many debut books actually are holiday books. My speculation is that a holiday book is more likely marketable after an author has other books out, or if it is a companion book or sequel featuring characters in an existing book.
Come November, I’ll be focusing more on my writer self. I plan to be more organized about goal setting for writing and revising as well as my author/business responsibilities.
However, as I make my way through this hectic October, I’ve rediscovered that candy corn is a fine carrot for me. And fortunately, it’s on the shelf all year long.