I first met Larry Dane Brimner at one of the Carolyn P. Yoder Alumni Retreats at Highlights in Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania. Larry will be giving a workshop on book promotion this spring, April 26-29, 2015, and I’ve asked him some key questions.
Brimner signing a book for fellow author Gwendolyn Hooks
Larry Dane Brimner (LDB): About the fourth or fifth time my Calkins Creek editor, Carolyn Yoder, asked if she could give my contact information to this or that writer wanting to know how to get school visits or to land one’s self on a conference program, I quipped, “I really ought to do a workshop about this for Highlights Foundation to save myself the repetition.” She responded, “You know, you should.” Thus began planning for “Capturing the Spotlight: Getting the Gigs.” Thank you, Barbara, for asking me to share some workshop details with your readers.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): Who is the workshop for?
LDB: “Getting the Gigs” is for writers and illustrators with a first book coming out or those with many books under their belts who want to do more in the way of promotion and, coincidentally, earn money while they’re doing it. A lot of writers—even those with mega-awards—rely on speaking income to support themselves in the early days of their careers and beyond. It is also a workshop for anyone planning to have a book published at some point in the future. I know a lot of folks who believe that if you write one book, you’re financially set for life. The reality is that 5% or 10% of a $15.00 book doesn’t amount to a living wage when, on average, most titles sell only between 2,000 and 5,000 copies. Other revenue streams are necessary if one is to pursue one’s art, one’s love.
TWM: When should an author or illustrator start thinking about promotion and publicity?
LDB: While it shouldn’t occupy all of your time and detract from the creative process, you should be thinking about promotion and publicity even as you’re researching and writing your book. Definitely think about it when you sign a contract and get a publication date. Ideally, a year before your book’s publication date, you’ll have a month-by-month strategy outlined (a.k.a., “a business plan”) so that when the big day arrives you will have already created buzz. As much as it pains me to say it, buzz sells books. Celebrity sells books.
TWM: Is it ever too late to promote your book?
LDB: Never! In fact, book promotion is an ongoing activity. You need to be “a relentless and unashamed self-promoter,” as one writer/speaker I know puts it. A writer or an illustrator should never promote only one title, assuming they have multiple titles to their credit. When I am invited to speak about Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for the Rights, I always manage to mention Birmingham Sunday, Black & White, and We Are One. If I’m at a conference, I’ll probably figure out a way to mention even earlier titles, like Subway: The Story of Tunnels, Tubes, and Tracks. You see, you didn’t ask me about any of those titles, but I managed to slug them into the conversation without it appearing too self-serving. And that’s another detail, while promoting yourself and your books, you never want to appear too self-serving or too desperate. Also, you never want to be a pest.
TWM: Do book signings at bookstores really work?
LDB: In my personal opinion, no—at least, not unless you’re J.K. Rowling. Come to the workshop, and I’ll tell you a personal story. To think as a new author/illustrator or even an established mid-list author/illustrator that your name alone is going to draw a crowd into a bookstore is unrealistic. On the other hand, a children’s bookstore near where I used to live would have a “cattle-call” signing. That is, they would set aside a Saturday and schedule a dozen or more authors and illustrators into the shop in groups of four or six at different times during the day, but clustered so that one group-signing led into the next one. This allowed us to “cross fertilize”: someone coming to get an autographed book from one author, might see another person’s book and become a fan. A reader coming to get books from one group of authors might stay over into the next hour. It cut both ways. Another benefit of group signings is that the bookstore is much more likely to advertise the event. I have always said I can waste time much more effectively than sitting in a bookstore an hour or two, hoping someone will come in and purchase a book. I usually say no to individual bookstore appearances. I will almost always say yes to cattle-call signings.
TWM: What’s the deal with blog tours—do they work?
LDB: Unfortunately, there’s no way to really tell if blog tours work. On the other hand, to use an old Hollywood adage, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. (Actually, there is. Writers and illustrators who work in the children’s book field need always to be aware of their audience. You are in the public eye. What you do and/or say, especially in this internet age, can come back to bite you in the butt. Think before speaking. Think before acting.)
TWM: One tip—what is the best thing to do?
LDB: Get a hi-res (high resolution) copy of your book’s cover as soon as one is available, make a postcard of it, and send it to every contact you have. Carry them with you to pass out to people you meet at the market or, in my case, at the post office. Give them to your neighbors. I was actually standing on line at the post office when the gentleman behind me commented about my package, “That looks like a book manuscript. Are you a writer? Are you published?” (It wasn’t a manuscript. It was actually a complimentary copy of a book I was sending to a school.) Before he got out of the post office, I’d dashed to my car, retrieved a postcard, and handed it to him. Did he purchase a copy of the book? Perhaps not, but perhaps he did. This is the problem with so much promotion—there’s no way to track it. On the other hand, one school librarian I’d sent a postcard to commented that it was helpful to have the image of the book before her as a reminder to order a copy. (Since she was a district librarian, this resulted in about twenty-six copies of the book being ordered.)
TWM: One tip—what is the worst thing to do?
LDB: Do nothing at all, expecting your publisher to do it.
For more about the Highlights Foundation workshop, “Capturing the Spotlight: Getting the Gigs,” click here>>>
About Larry Dane Brimner
Larry Dane Brimner received the Carter G. Woodson Book Award and the Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Award for Black & White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor. His biography of Bayard Rustin, We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin, was a Jane Addams Book Award winner, while Birmingham Sunday was an Orbis Pictus honor book and given a Eureka! Gold Award by the California Reading Association. He taught at the high school and university levels in California for twenty years and makes his home in San Diego and Tucson.