Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Pointers from two Publicity & Marketing Experts! (Plus a Handy Publicists' Contact Sheet Provided)

Barbara Fisch (left) and Sarah Shealy (right)
Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy from BLUE SLIP MEDIA answer questions about promotions that every author should know . . .

by Eileen R. Meyer

2019 is just around the corner. If you’re like me – you may have some thoughts for new resolutions on your list. Items like “stepping up your author presence” and “enhancing your promotional efforts” are always on my list for improvement.

Many of us are at different points in our publishing journey. Some may be pre-published and looking at how to stimulate interest in a debut title. For others, you may have launched a few books into the world and you’ve learned a bit of what works and doesn’t work. Now you’re ready to fine-tune your efforts for your latest book. Based on these very different starting points, there is no “one size fits all” solution.  Rather, we each need to assess where we are, what our unique goals are, and then determine which marketing and PR activities will help us achieve desired results. And this month, we’ve got some experts to help provide guidance!

Welcome to another TAKE FIVE interview. I hope that you’ll take five minutes to get to know Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy as they share their expertise in marketing and promotions. Before we dive in, let’s learn a bit more about Barbara, Sarah, and their firm

Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy worked together at Harcourt Children’s Books for 20 years, most recently as Associate Directors of Publicity. They established Blue Slip Media in 2009.

Five Questions for our experts:

Eileen: 1. Can you tell us more about why an author should work with a publicist –or is that only for the big name authors?

BARBARA: We work with authors at all stages of their careers—from debut authors to those who are more established. Everyone has different needs. For newer authors, publicists can help with an extra push to certain areas, such as introducing their work to teacher and librarian blogs. Their publishers usually send books to a good list of blogs along with a box of other titles—so a freelance publicist can help with targeted pitches so bloggers will want to pull the book out of the stack.

SARAH: Authors are specialists at writing books, and publicists are specialists at working with the media and in crafting marketing and publicity campaigns. They are vastly different enterprises! So if an author feels he/she could use a little help with outreach, it’s worth at least chatting with a publicist to see if there are areas where she/he could help. It’s also hard for authors and illustrators to sing their own praises when approaching media. It’s much easier for a publicist to say, “This author is fantastic!” than it is for people to gush about themselves.

Eileen: 2. What are the most common mistakes new authors make regarding book promotions? 

BARBARA: There are two kinds of approaches new authors have. One is to be complacent and assume that everything is being take care of by their publisher. The unfortunate truth is that publishers cannot possibly do everything for every book—as much as they might like to. It’s just a reality that house publicists and marketing departments have too many priorities and too little time. So unless there’s an extraordinary amount of marketing attention being paid to the bookwhich does happen on a rare occasion!—authors can mistakenly believe that things will just work out.

Another approach is when authors try to do everything all at once just before pub—and then they are disappointed when they don’t have huge crowds at their bookstore launch, or front-page interviews in their local paper. Things take time to build, and it’s important to cultivate authentic relationships with booksellers, local teachers, and local librarians long before their book publishes.

SARAH: I think it’s also important to manage expectations when you’re a new author. It took a lot of years for Kate DiCamillo to get where she is! An appearance on The Today Show or having your book hit the bestseller list is rare for a debut. If you approach your marketing and publicity with the attitude that every media hit you get is an awesome step in the right direction, you’ll be pleased with your results and not frustrated by them.

 Eileen: 3. The world of Social Media can be overwhelming to an author who is already stretched thin writing and revising multiple book projects. From creating and updating a website, to maintain a presence on various forms of social media (FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more …)  what advice do you have for authors seeking to manage this untamed beast so that it doesn’t take over their writing time?

Social media can be confusing and even scary for new authors. It might feel like you have to jump in and do everything all at once. Authors know they’re supposed to do something, but it’s hard to know exactly where to start. Here are a few tips to stay sane.

Pick one area of social media that feels comfortable and stick with it. There’s no 100% perfect platform, and each one has its advantages (more on that below). But it’s far worse to just dabble in several areas. If you like Facebook, and feel like you can add some interesting content (beyond just promoting your book), then post on a consistent basis. The general rule of thumb is 1 promotional post (about yourself/your book) to 4 general posts. If you’re great at taking photos, or if you’re an illustrator, consider Instagram. Twitter is where a lot of the children’s lit conversation is happening. Pinterest is used by a lot of teachers and libraries.

The key for all of social media is engagement. You want people to respond to and share your posts. Facebook has made it a little more difficult for folks with author pages to have their posts show up in their fans’ newsfeeds. That’s because Facebook changed their algorithms so that interactions between friends are favored. They call it “people over Pages,” and the only way to get past that algorithm is to post content that your readers will want to share and respond to.

Another tip for social media is to pay attention to hashtags and how they can help your posts get seen by others. On Twitter and Instagram that is especially important—look for discussions around hashtags such as #tlchat (teacher-libarian chat),  #picturebook or #kidlit.

The key thing to remember with social media is that it’s SOCIAL. Just as you wouldn’t go to a dinner party and only talk about yourself, you want to listen as much as you are talking. Social media is a great way to gain grassroots support and friends by connecting with folks over shared interests. And to cultivate that relationship, you contribute in a positive way, and always act graciously and generously.

Eileen 4. There is such a wide array of marketing and promotional activities that an author can select for his /her book launch. From creating a book trailer, to virtual and live launch parties, and bookstore visits, to marketing campaigns targeting a particular segment of the market …. There are so many choices for how to use your limited time. How do you know which activities will yield the greatest dividends for your book and your marketplace? What factors should an author consider?

BARBARA: I think authors need to consider what the primary market is for their book. If it’s a bedtime book for very young readers, it will resonate more with parents and caregivers for young children—so authors may want to focus more on marketing to this demographic rather than teachers and librarians. If it’s a book with classroom applications, then authors might want to have some downloadables created that teachers and librarians can use.

Of course, many books cross over into both markets, and if you have the time, energy, and resources, it’s good to explore many options. But for those who are limited and want to know what the best use of their budget, we suggest starting with the primary market.

SARAH: It’s also important to think about which efforts are going to help you increase your profile and your platform. What efforts will get your name and book jacket in front of that primary market in ways that will also help build your career? If you’re writing primarily for the education market, getting reviewed by blogs and media for and by teachers and librarians gives a nice push to that market, plus you can add those review quotes to your website. If you’ve written that bedtime book Barb mentioned, can you do a pajama story hour at your local bookstore and use images from that in your social media and to post on your website? Use those publicity and marketing hits to continue to build your platform as an author.

Eileen 5. When should an author begin to work with a publicist—must it always be early in the process (6 months before publication) or will you work with an author after the initial publishing house marketing support trails off? And please share more with our readers about how they may contact you to discuss achieving some of their marketing and PR goals.

BARBARA: It’s really best to start well before pub date when you can, just because it gives a publicist the opportunity to better strategize outreach efforts. Some media outlets need 4-6 months at least, and conference and festival organizers need even longer. It’s very difficult to pick up a book after publication, though we have done so on occasion—especially if there’s a tie-in like Black History Month or Women’s History Month.

SARAH: Freelance publicists are busy, so the earlier you can get on someone’s calendar, the better. And Barb’s right about picking up on something after it’s been out for a while. Without some kind of holiday hook, it’s very hard to get publicity for an older title because you’re competing with all the new books that are just coming out. But if you’re just looking for some marketing support—like help creating a curriculum guide to post on your website, or making a promotional piece to hand out at school visits or conferences—those kinds of projects aren’t time sensitive and can be done for a backlist title.

If you’re interested in talking with an outside publicist about your book, we recommend you chat with several to find the best fit for you and your project. You need to “click” with your publicist and be comfortable with his/her approach and communication style. You should look for someone who specializes in or has good experience with children’s books specifically as the market and publicity landscape is very different for books written for adults. Ask your author friends for recommendations and look through the publicists on this list for firms to contact. Best of luck to you!!

Thank YOU, Barbara and Sarah for sharing your expertise with our readers.

You can learn more about Barbara and Sarah’s firm here:

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving Wishes ~By Suzy Leopold

Thanksgiving is a special time of the year to express gratitude as family and friends gather together to celebrate.

Why do many give thanks only once a year on the third Thursday of November? There is power in giving thanks every day. Research indicates the importance of giving thanks makes one happier, healthier, and more productive.

My list of gratitude is long. It includes: 

  1. My husband Perry, who believes in me
  2. A loving family that includes seven grands
  3. Our son who is serving in the United States Air Force
  4. Good health and happiness
  5. The freedom to make choices
  6. A garden on the Illinois Prairie that produces fresh, organic vegetables, fruit, and flowers.
  7. Opportunities to share my love of reading and literacy with young adults at Lincoln Land Community College and my [after school elementary level] reading buddies
  8. Story time at Afterwords Book Store and much more.
Airman Nathan
I'm also thankful to read, write, and create every day.

Homemade pumpkin pie
May I serve you?

Do hope you can spend some time reading and writing this Thanksgiving weekend. Grab some leftovers, a piece of paper and pen or your computer.

Perhaps you will:

  1. Create a gratitude list
  2. Write about your Thanksgiving traditions
  3. Interview family members at your Thanksgiving table.
  4. Set new writing goals

And as you write, think about how thankful you are to express yourself. 

"Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity; it must be produced and discharged, and used up in order to exist at all."

~William Faulkner
Autumn creation
Celebrate the meaning of Thanksgiving throughout the year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Look at an Indie Bookstore - What Writers Can Learn by Kathy Halsey and Patricia Toht

Take a peek with me and GROGger Patty Toht into indie bookstore life. Patty is a former bookstore owner, children's author, and now a librarian. I began my career as a teacher, transitioned to being a school librarian, and now work part-time at an indie bookstore. Welcome to indie life, a whole different world than big box stores and Amazon.
Bookstore owner Melia Wolf of Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers & me

Never Never Land, Patty's children’s bookstore in the suburbs of Chicago

Open the door to Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers on any given day. and books lovers will find the owner and staff busy with a myriad of tasks. In one week, the store hosted middle grade author Alan Gratz, David Shannon, book talked middle grade fiction to a small group of parents, former teachers, and grandparents and that was just three days of a typical week. 

As Patty explains, there are so many tasks that the independent owner takes on that are sourced out to others in national operations. A funny misconception Paty had was that, as a bookseller, she would have loads of time to read books! As the owner/operator, her days were packed with a huge variety of tasks, from ordering and stocking to helping customers to scheduling employees and paying bills. All of her reading was done at night.

 Indie Bookstore 411
Your local indie may not have the inventory of a big box store, the money to hire publicists, accountants, or a huge sales force. However, you local independent bookstore will have these unique qualities that can't be duplicated elsewhere.
  • Booksellers who are book aficionados and genre experts who can find you just the right book. For example, my indie, Cover to Cover in Upper Arlington Ohio has booksellers who are former teachers, librarians, and gamers. We know the newest picture books, YA authors personally, science fiction and fantasy for all ages.
  • Indies develop a relationship with you, know your tastes, offer discounts for frequent customers, and treat you like a friend. Relationships with customers matters to them.
  • Programs that support that local community and the schools such as local/national author visits, book clubs, a third space with is safe, writer workshops, and professional development for preservice teachers. This Thursday, Cover to Cover will host best-selling YA author Edith Pattou at theUpper Arlington Main library from 6-8 PM. 
 How Books Are Bought
At Cover to Cover in Columbus, Ohio, book sellers are always updating their orders on what books to buy. Staff members can recommend books, discuss them with the owner, and a decision is made. Staff knows that if we recommend a book, we need to be able to hand sell it. Here's another audience, children's workers may think about as they write. 
Patty shares other ways that bookstores acquire titles. (Cover to Cover also uses these three primary ways to get stock.)

• "Sometimes I met directly with a publisher’s representative.  We would flip through the catalogue and discuss the titles. Often the rep had F&Gs of picture books and ARCs of novels so I could actually see what the interiors looked like and read jacket copy. We would also discuss any marketing plans for the books, as well as book displays and special deals.
• If the publisher didn’t have a rep to call on my tiny bookstore, I thumbed through catalogues and read the descriptions of the titles. I usually began by ordering books from tried-and-true authors or illustrators and then moved onto books that seemed to be a good fit for our clientele.
• I also worked with two distributors, Ingram and Baker & Taylor. These companies  carried books from most publishers (kind of like an Amazon for booksellers). These companies were great for smaller restocks of top sellers and for filling special orders. But their discount wasn’t as good as ordering directly from publishers."
Check out all this fabulous children's nonfiction at Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers!
The  Best Way to  Promote Your Books
Before I began working at Cover to Cover, I frequented the store, driving across town to support my independent bookseller. I bought books, attended author signings, and introduced myself to owner Melia as an avid reader and writer. Its important to connect authentically and early in your writing career to really establish a good working relationship. (I'm pre-published, but I'm a big fan of Cover to Cover.)
Author Patty offers this advice for authors.

• "Stop by! Ask if the bookstore carries your book. If they don’t, show them a copy so they can read it. Let bookstore owners get to know you, love you, and love your work.
• Refer your local friends to your indie. Remind them that, at an indie, you get to hold and read actual books rather than ordering by a description. Indie sellers know what books their customers love and are very adept at putting the right book into the right hands.
• Sign stock! Customers like giving signed books as gifts.
• Have a launch party or other event! It’s fun to have special occasions to celebrate with customers." 

 I'll be recommending Patty's rhyming picture book, Pick a Pine, for this holiday season!
The holiday season is upon us. Let's support authors and independent bookstores and give some extra holiday cheer to those in our industry this year. Curl up at an indie bookstore soon!

Cover to Cover has this wonderful space for reading and lounging. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What's New at the Library? by Leslie Colin Tribble

More new books are flying off the shelves in our Children’s Library. Here’s a quick round up of some recent favorites.

The Day You Begin – Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez
I’m breaking away from my usual reviews of animal-related books with this one, but it’s so good. Of course, it’s from noted author Jacqueline Woodson, so you know you’re going to love it. The Day You Begin is overflowing with hope and wonder, and yet packed with those hurts that children experience when they feel they don’t belong.  But words, beautiful lyrical, flowing words and meaningful, simple illustrations combine to create a welcoming book that tells children that even when there are others who don’t look or sound or eat like you, that maybe, just maybe, when you begin you can fit into the world.

I Walk with Vanessa – Kerascoet
This is a wordless book about bullying. The illustrations are so simple, yet I loved the expressions the children exhibit - you know exactly what they’re feeling.  Despite the lack of words, you could engage in a lot of discussion with the child or children you’re reading this to. All kids know how hard it feels when you’re singled out but also how good it is when someone comes alongside as a friend and helper. This would be a great book to use with older kids too, when talking about bullying.

Run Wild – David Covell
I like this book for the sentiment and the abstract, but eye-catching illustrations. This book is all about the wonders of running wild through the mud and grass and sand and shore. It’s about the freedom and exhilaration of just being out exploring and even getting bumps and bruises.  As an environmental educator, I appreciate that message because I feel children aren’t allowed to be outside as much as they should be. Read this book to a child and then find a place where you can be outside, together, experiencing nature. It’ll be good for both of you.

Good Rosie – Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss
This is a dog book, so of course I picked it up. It’s about Rosie who wants a friend, but isn’t sure how to make one. What I find interesting about this book is its length – it reads a bit like a chapter book because it’s divided into nine parts.  It has 36 pages of text and illustration, so it’s definitely longer than the average picture book. The story is cute and useful for talking about friendship, loneliness and how to be a friend. The pictures of the dogs are engaging – you might just want to find a Rosie of your own.

My Pet Wants a Pet
This is a great book about wanting a pet, because really, doesn’t everyone want a pet? Personally, I lobbied long and hard for a baby musk ox, but my parents were unreasonably against that idea. The illustrations and pet/owner pairs makes you want to keep turning the page to find out how this cascade of animals will end.

Weather Girls - Aki
Weather Girls is a sweet rhyming book about young ladies ready to get outdoors in any weather, in all seasons. The illustrations of the girls are adorable and they make exploring the world around them look so much fun - and it is! This is a powerful book to share with the girls in your life, especially ones that might be timid about experiencing life outside.

There have been so many wonderful books flowing through our cataloging department into eager hands in the children's library. My list is a lot longer this these top choices, but you'll have to wait until my next post to learn about more great picture books.