Monday, October 17, 2016

Bring on the Swag! Marketing Your Picture Book ~ by Patricia Toht with Hazel Mitchell

The months to the release of my first picture book are ticking away, and the pre-pub panic continues. But of all the things I need to do, I may have the best handle on promotional materials, due in large part to advice from author/illustrator Hazel Mitchell.

Hazel Mitchell with the real Toby

Hazel has visited the GROG before, upon the release of WHERE DO FAIRIES GO WHEN IT SNOWS?, just one of the books she has illustrated. Today she drops by to tell us about TOBY, her first book as author and illustrator. Below, Hazel reveals the promotional efforts that helped propel TOBY's terrific sales. (Read through to the end to discover just how terrific...)

Hazel: TOBY, published by Candlewick Press, is my first book as both author and illustrator. 
I've illustrated many books as collaborator, but the first "solo" gig is pretty special. In this crowded marketplace and with publishers' marketing budgets somewhat limited, I wanted to do my best to give TOBY a good start in life.

I've always tried to do some promotional giveaways with previous books - posters, postcards, bookmarks, stickers. I'd give away a copy of the book and prints of artwork, and I'd make activity sheets and booklets to give at signings. But this time, I wanted to do more.

Toby's 'Hollywood' photo
Toby (the real dog - my book is based on him) already had a good following on social media, mostly Facebook. Several months before the book came out, I started up a Twitter account for him, too, tweeting about his life and his book, in readiness of the pub date. I live way out in the sticks of Northern Maine, so it made sense to utilize social media to spread the net wide.

Encouraging pre-orders was not something I had addressed with previous books. Folks need an incentive to pre-order, and I felt that a poster or something wasn't going to cut it. I wanted something special, but not cost-prohibitive.

So I planned a pre-order "swag bag" and started to think about what I could include that would be appealing, yet within budget. 
How cute is this?!
Here's the thing - for every swag bag I sent out to someone who pre-ordered the book, I knew I could ask them to share a post or photo.  The power of the visual is everything! With the swag bag, I included a note thanking them for pre-ordering and asking politely if they could post a review at Amazon or B&N or Goodreads, too.

In return for these favors, I wanted people to feel excited about the Toby swag. As an illustrator with a graphic design background, I could design many items myself and print them at home. I'd already decided on some items that I wanted for future book signings, so I ordered larger quantities which dropped the overall cost per item. 

Collector's edition TOBY stamps
I also wanted to include a few higher cost items that the recipient wouldn't be able to get at any other event. I decided on a 'collector's edition' USPS first class stamp of Toby and a fridge magnet.




Here's what I included in the package:

• Read to a friend poster (made/printed by me)
• Toby Treats recipe sheet (designed by Elle Jauffret/printed by me)
• How to draw Toby sheet (made/printed by me)


• Coloring sheet (made/printed by me)
• Toby bio sheet (made/printed by me)
• Postcard (7¢ each)
• Bookmark (7¢ each)
• 4 stickers (44¢ for the four)
• Button (23¢ each)
• Temporary tattoo (11¢ each)
• Fridge magnet (40¢ each)
• Collector's edition 1st class stamp ($1 each via Zazzle)
• Signed bookplate (made/printed by me)
• 'Hollywood' signed Toby postcard (made/printed by me)
• Postage ($1.52)

I put everything in a good quality polythene baggie, sealed with a paw sticker, and mailed it in a good quality envelope (with a Toby sticker and rubber stamp paw print on the front).

I estimate the cost of each to me was $4.50, including S&H.

Oliver with his Toby button
I had NO IDEA how many people might pre-order! But I knew from experience that only a small percentage of people who saw my post about it would actually order. But many more would read about TOBY. I could also have limited the deal to 'the first 50 people' or similar. I also had no idea if it would make a difference! 



I posted the swag bag deal online about 6 weeks prior to publication and people started ordering before I had even posted what would be in it! 

It may seem like a lot of money to spend on a giveaway that is in no way covered by royalties per book. But that's not the point. Here's what it did for me:
It made lots of people instantly aware 
that TOBY was on the way, 
and they shared their photos on social media. 

Ava and Toby postcard
I sent the swag bags out a couple weeks before the book published. People were already sharing their pictures online and helping to raise awareness of the book (dogs wearing buttons, children with swag, etc.) More people pre-ordered! When the books arrived, another slew of photographs were posted. It was wonderful to see!

In all, I sent out about 80 swag bags. It was a lot of work for sure - time spent stuffing bags, making envelopes, mailing. But I loved sending something to people who would be excited to receive and save the goodies.

The pre-order excitement really did help with the visibility of the book - with bloggers, librarians, bookstores, and media. I invested time and effort, and roughly the cost of a small advertisement in the press, and in return increased TOBY's visibility exponentially. I will never know the number of people the pre-order promo reached, or how many it influenced to buy TOBY. But here's a concrete computation: TOBY went into 2nd printing after only 2.5 weeks of publication! I like to think that all of the hard work I've done on promotion helped toward that, and I know my publisher thinks so.

Hazel's six quick tips on swag:
1) Decide on a budget.
2) Tie it in with your book. Is there a special hook or theme?
3) If you're not an artist, find a friend who is and barter with them.
4) Search for the best deals on printing and items. Look for vouchers on coupon sites.
5) Whatever your budget, try to find a meaningful item that the reader will covet. (It could even be something homemade!)
6) Google "swag bag" online or on Pinterest for lots of great ideas.

Thank you, Hazel! What a brilliant marketing effort!

Readers, you can find Hazel's website here.
Find her "website-within-a-website" for TOBY here.
Connect with Hazel on Facebook.
Follow Hazel on Twitter.
To see the Toby Treats recipe sheet, click here.

I'll leave you with a final photo of the Toby fan in our house:


42 comments:

  1. These are fantastic ideas! And, you made me chuckle this morning- great way to start of a Monday morning :) Thank you!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Andrea! And your comment is a wonderful start to my Monday morning. :)

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    2. This is a brilliant marketing idea! Wish i was an illustrator!

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  2. Great post, ladies! Thanks, Hazel, for sharing your experience. That's amazing at the results of the printing for Toby!

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    1. Thanks so much! Hazel and Toby xx

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    2. My mouth dropped with how quickly TOBY went to second print run!

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  3. Doggone good marketing advice! Thanks, Hazel!

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  4. Hazel: Thank you for sharing fantastic ideas and tips about the pre-order excitement about Toby.

    Patty: Thank you for this excellent post. All the best to you with your picture book promotions. You are certainly to achieve success.

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    1. Thanks so much! Hazel and Toby xx

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    2. I'm trying to learn from the best, Suzy!

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  5. Wonderful ideas! Sounds like your plan worked very well. Congratulations and thanks or sharing with us!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Angie. I thought Hazel's ideas were so clever!

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    2. Thanks Angie! Bit of just winging it and seeing what worked :-) Hazel and Toby xo

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  6. Great ideas! Thank you Hazel and Pat for sharing excellent info about marketing.

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    1. Hi Charlotte! Always happy to hear from you!

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    2. Thanks Charlotte, glad it was useful :-)

      Hazel and Toby xo

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  7. That is such a terrific idea! The best promo from an author-illustrator. Thanks for sharing your tips, Hazel!
    -Romelle

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    1. Wasn't that a cool promo strategy, Romelle? I'm not an illustrator, but I've been able to pull together quite a few things using free clip art, so there's hope for those of us who aren't illustrators.

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    2. Thanks, Romelle! Hazel and Toby xo

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  8. Wonderful ideas. Thanks so much. I also love Toby's site within a site. Lots to think about.

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    1. Yes, the site within a site was another clever idea!

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    2. Thank you! I didn't want to start a whole new site, so this worked well! Hazel and Toby xo

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  9. Wow. Creative gal, there. A double blessing to write and illustrate. These are great ideas. I'm book marking! Thanks, Hazel and Patty.

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    1. I wish I could do both, Sherri! But I think even if we don't illustrate, we can either enlist help from people we know or use clip art that is either free or available for purchase. We can do it!

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    2. Thank you Sherri, hope you find some of it useful :-)

      Hazel and Toby xo

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  10. Wonderful! Toby looks like my dog, Henry, who is a bichon/poodle mix. :)

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    1. Toby is adorable! I bet your dog is, too, Kristin. You should send Hazel a photo - she loves pups!

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    2. Toby says woof to Henry! Hazel and Toby xo

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  11. Pawfectly delightful to meet you, Hazel. AND the Toby fan in your house. And to begin to know a bit about your first solo p.b. creation. I love the cover & it makes me curious to know about Toby. I bring read-aloud books to school as a volunteer so I will look for it at the Library. Thank you for creating it & for your visit today. And Kudos on the 2nd edition news! My thought for discussion is re: your spiffy list, for the non-artists who author picture books, should the artist-illustrator be someone to include/ask? At least for permission to use art from the front cover (or back if a different image..) Thanks.

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    1. Jan, I asked my publisher about printing up a postcard and they were okay with me using the cover image, but said I'd have to seek permission for any other images.

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    2. Thanks Jan, glad the cover does it's job! Absolutely, collaborate with your illustrator and promote together! (always ask permissions on any art from the publisher or your publicist, they can advise). Hazel and Toby xo

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  12. Great ideas! I'm looking forward to reading the book...and posting a glowing review!

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  13. Great ideas! I'd never thought of marketing for pre-orders. Thanks Hazel!

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  14. Wow! Some really great ideas! Thanks so much, Hazel, for sharing them with us. Just signed up to follow your blog.

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