This past October, I launched two new picture books into the world: Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? These were my 18th and 19th picture books, so I came to the table with experience, but it had been several years since my last launch, so in some ways I felt like a debut author all over again. I’ve learned so much about book marketing during the past year, and I’m happy for the opportunity to share some of my insights and experiences with you today. Here goes:
1. Build a Plan...
I’m a small business owner, and I was a project manager and a corporate trainer earlier in my career, so developing and implementing plans comes somewhat naturally to me. The plans I developed for my book launch looked less like a business/project/training plan, and more like a menu of ideas, or a particularly robust to-do list. I started formulating my to-do list soon after I signed my book contract, about a year and half before my two latest books launched.
2. ...But Be Flexible.
My to-do list included things I actually got around to such as, “update my email contacts,” “create and purchase bookmarks and refreshed business cards,” “write an article for my local SCBWI chapter’s newsletter,” “consider starting a new blog feature called ‘Birth Stories for Books,’” and “propose workshops for targeted organizations such as the local parent/child preschool cooperatives’ annual conference.” My to-do list also included several things that I haven’t (yet!) gotten around to, such as “write articles for targeted early childhood and/or early literacy focused publications,” “host a Goodreads giveaway,” and “design and order refreshed signage for book events.” Those things will happen. Eventually.
3. Take Pause to Reflect and Reorganize.
My to-do list seems to grow, not shrink, as time goes on and new ideas occur to me. Each week I take pause to evaluate the tasks I’ve completed and identify the tasks I aim to complete in the coming week. I write a weekly “goal report” from the prior week and a “goal plan” for the coming week, and I share this summary with one of my critique partners. This singular task, although time consuming in its own right, is one of the most important things I do to help me stay on track. It’s also what helps me remember that I need to keep submitting new work if I want more of my books to make their way into the world, and it’s the tool that’s helping me think about how I will transition some of my marketing attention to my next release, scheduled for spring of 2021.
4. Variety is the Spice of Life.
I incorporated MANY different things into my book marketing efforts. If an opportunity presented itself, and I could fit it into my schedule, I tried to find a way to work it to my plans. I thought less about whether or not the opportunity would result in book sales and more about whether or not the opportunity sounded fun, or opened the door for me to learn a new skill, or gave me the chance to make a new friend, make the world a better place, or simply feel good about being a part of it. The truth is, it’s hard to tell if any one event or activity genuinely moved the needle in terms of book sales, but I do know that the experiences enriched my life, and for that I am grateful.
5. Don’t Overdo it. It’s Okay to Say, “No.”
Adding book promotion activities into an already full life can be enriching, but it can also become overwhelming and exhausting! I really got into the marketing swing of things, and as much as I enjoyed all of the activities and experiences I engaged in leading up to and during the launch of my books, I will likely be more discerning next time around. By discerning, I don’t mean that I will choose to focus only on those activities that are certain to result in book sales, but I will give myself permission to decline some opportunities, even if I can find an opening on my calendar. Sometimes, the best thing to do with an opening on your calendar is to relax and give yourself time to rest and recharge. Or write!
6. Connect with Your Community.
One of the best parts of being a member of the kidlit community is to actively engage as a participant in said community. I’m so happy that I ramped up my level of involvement with my local SCBWI chapter and that I attended a wide variety of launch events for friends, old and new. Many of these launch events were book launches, but I also attended album launch parties, open mics, and art exhibit openings. I’m so glad that I did. These events were as enjoyable as they were instructive. I highly recommend engaging fully in the artistic community in your local area.
7. Broaden your Definition of Community.
One of the things I’d like to do going forward is broaden the communities with which I engage. For example, the “Birth Stories for Books” feature on my blog currently focuses on interviews and guest posts with fellow book creators. I’d like to expand my reach on this platform to include other creative folks, such as songwriters, performing musicians, fine artists, and other makers. I’d also like to step outside of the author/illustrator/editor/agent bubble I’ve somewhat limited myself to on social media, and explore opportunities to participate in other interest-based communities. For example, I follow and/or participate in Twitter conversations such as #AskAgent, #PBPitch, and #PBChat, and I actively participate in a storytime-focused professional learning community created by and for youth librarians on Facebook. I suspect there are similar opportunities that bring together early childhood educators, parents of young children, and unique subsets of parenting groups, such as parents who are potty training or homeschooling their children. I’d like to explore other opportunities of this nature that might exist (while also being mindful of not getting too bogged down, over-engaging).
8. Make Friends. Build Relationships.
The main way I try to stay inoculated from getting “too bogged down, over-engaging” is to focus on building authentic relationships. I may not engage as widely or as actively as might be possible, but I do try to engage authentically. Book sales come and go. Friendships last forever; or so I hope.
Some of my book-launch-related friendships have developed into collaboration opportunities. I made friends with several different performing/recording musicians along the way, two of whom I had the pleasure of collaborating with to create the songs that back up my book trailers. I also made friends with “pirate-people,” “cowgirl-people,” and “potty-people” (such as the authors of other potty-themed books, potty-training consultants, and fellow potty-humorists). I’ve done collaborative give-aways with some of my fellow “potty-people,” and I hope to do more of this sort of thing going forward. Just recently I received the cutests photos from one of the mamas who won one of the collaborative giveaways. The joy I received from these photos is priceless.
10. Have fun!
This is probably the most important tip I can share. Book promotion is, or can be, all-consuming. By and large, I would say, if it’s not fun, take it off the list. You tried it. Great. Now move on. Find another avenue to connect with your readers. Give that a try, and keep trying out new ideas until you find the ones that align with your idea of fun. I love hats, costumes, themed decorations, and silly props. I laugh Every Time I audibly flush my little toy toilet at book events. Seriously, I do. I love my poo emoji speaker. I think it’s a hoot to give away pirate’s booty at a book event for a book entitled Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and I love when people notice that I display my bookmarks in a roll of toilet paper. So, even when I’ve participated in a book event that wasn’t as well attended as I’d hoped, or didn’t attract the right audience for my particular books, I still feel like I came away with a win if I had fun. Laughter goes a long way to re-filling my creative cup.
11. Bonus Tip!
I realized as I started writing this article, that I had many more things that I’ve learned about book marketing in this past year than I could possibly share in one blog post. So what’s a writer to do in this situation? Keep writing, of course! I’ll be sharing more tips about my book-launch learning experiences (and how I’ll incorporate these learnings into my next launch, in spring 2021) on my own blog … soon! Come visit me at www.dawnprochovnic.com. I’ll aim to have a companion-post up sometime in April (and I’ll comment below when I do).
Thank you so much, Tina and the Grog Blog team, for inviting me to share what I’ve learned about book marketing with your readers. Your blog has been so helpful to me over the years, and it’s an honor to be able to share my experiences with others, in return.
Dawn Babb Prochovnic, MA is an author, educator, speaker, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language education and early literacy consulting. She has authored multiple children’s books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (West Margin Press, 2019), and The Nest Where I Like to Rest (Abdo, 2012), an Oregon Book Awards finalist. Dawn’s story, First Day Jitters, was published in the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, a keepsake collection of 25 read-aloud stories for children celebrating all things Oregon (Graphic Arts Books, Hardcover/2016, Paperback/2020). Dawn’s next book, Lucy’s Blooms, about the magic of childhood firmly rooted in unconditional love, is due for release in 2021. Dawn lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and a collection of crazy hats. If you ask what her favorite color is, she’ll usually say, purple. Learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com or follow Dawn on social media: Twitter and Instagram: @DawnProchovnic and Facebook: @DawnProchovnicAuthor.