You’ve written your very best manuscript. You’ve managed to sell it and are working together with your editor and perhaps agent to
bring your work to market.
But have you thought about publicity?
I first learned about Blue Slip Media and its founders, Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy, when I reviewed Jenny Meyerhoff’s novel, Queen of Secrets for The Whole Megillah. Blue Slip Media is based in San Diego and specializes in publicity and marketing for children’s books.
The Whole Megillah recently asked Barbara and Sarah some questions.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you found Blue Slip Media?
Blue Slip Media (BSM): Sarah and I worked together for more than 15 years at Harcourt Children’s Books. We shared the job of Associate Director of Publicity during those years, each working a little more than part-time. When Harcourt was folded into Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2008, we sensed there might be a need for independent publicists to help authors and publicists—so in early 2009, we opened Blue Slip Media.
TWM: What can authors do to help themselves promote their books? What’s the difference between a debut author and an established author in terms of publicity?
BSM: In today’s market, authors need to be willing to work hard to get their books noticed. It’s important to network with the readers most likely to be interested in your book—whether it’s parents, librarians, teachers, or teens. I am talking about virtual networking—through social media, blogs, and the like—and in-person networking, which might mean introducing yourself to the local bookseller, librarian, or school principal. In all interactions, it’s important to be gracious, courteous, and willing to listen. Nothing hurts an author more than a bad exchange with a bookseller (“why isn’t my book prominent on your shelves??”) or being overly officious with a blogger (“why haven’t you reviewed my book??”).
The book publishing world is very small in some ways, and it can work to your advantage as well: when you give a great presentation in a classroom or library, word can spread. If you’re warm and gracious to your local bookseller, they’ll know you’re easy to work with and will let the staff know as well. This is practical advice for both new and established authors.
We always advise authors to treat their publishers as a partner. Most publishers’ marketing departments are overworked and underpaid, so give some thought to how you can help your publisher market the book. Can you supply them with a list of folks who can help spread the word about your book—your local newspaper editor, the head children’s librarian in your area, the editor of your alumni magazine? Be sure to give complete names and addresses to make it easy for them to send out the book. Is there a niche market for your book—say, train enthusiasts? Do some research to find magazines and websites that review books about trains. Established authors may already be doing this, but it’s also important to update any records if there’s been time in between books.
TWM: How do you approach a campaign targeted at the school and library market?
BSM: Schools and libraries are a strong market for children’s books. Teachers are incredibly busy. If a book has a curriculum tie-in—say, it has a strong environmental theme for Earth Day—we work with an author to create a downloadable curriculum guide with worksheets and reproducibles that teachers and librarians can use with the book. Anything that can help make their jobs a little easier is well worth the effort. It’s important that the book is appropriate for the school/library market—a story about Arbor Day or tree planting offers more curriculum opportunities than a bedtime book would, for example.
We’ve also created postcards for authors and have purchased a mailing list of grade-appropriate teachers so we can target a mailing in a specific region of the country.
TWM: Would you ever turn a prospective client away? If so, why?
BSM: At this point, we don’t work with self-published authors. The decision is primarily based on availability—we aren’t sure we would feel comfortable garnering publicity for an author if the book isn’t widely available. People still go to bookstores and libraries to find books they’ve heard or read about, so for now we’re limiting our clients to those who are published in the traditional model.
We also might decide against working with an author if we don’t feel strongly that we can do something to help his/her book. We get calls from authors who have a book that’s been out for over a year—unless there’s an unusual angle to market (perhaps an anniversary to tie publicity to, or a push to teachers if they’ve not been approached before), we might tell an author it’s not worth bringing us on board this late in the game.
TWM: What do you expect from your clients? What is their role?
BSM: It’s important to have a comfortable relationship with a client. As in the business world, we feel the most productive working relationship involves honest communication about the goals for a publicity campaign and progress once it’s begun. Good communication is essential.
TWM: Have you ever promoted a book to the Jewish market? If so, please tell us about it.
BSM: Over the years we’ve promoted many books to the Jewish market, some with strong Jewish themes, some without. There are some publications, especially the regional Jewish newspapers, that want to know about a book by a Jewish author, regardless of the subject matter. We generally find that most media for this niche area is very approachable and interested to learn about new books, though many of the publications, such as Reform Judaism Today, only review children’s books once or twice a year. We also try to be respectful of the readership for each publication. If a book features a character who is more secular than religious, we won’t send to magazine or website that’s focused on religious traditions.
TWM: Are book launch events worthwhile? Why or why not?
BSM: We do think book launch events are worthwhile. Authors who put a lot of work into planning and work well in advance have the best events. It’s a good idea to think about appealing to many levels—if you’re launching a picture book, have a craft activity, for example. If it’s a teen novel, have some snacks and possibly a drawing for a giveaway. Take pictures of your event. Invite all your friends and family. A good event can help foster a great relationship with your local bookseller. Send a photo to your local newspaper to see if they’ll run it with a little caption about your event—your local bookstore (and you!) will love the free publicity.
TWM: What are the “musts” of social media for promoting a book? How do you determine success?
BSM: I think the only “must” is a website. People need to know where to find information about you and your book, and a website can serve that purpose. Facebook, Goodreads, blogs, Twitter, etc., are only good if you make a commitment to keeping them up. As someone else has noted, it’s like receiving a puppy for a gift—you don’t just abandon the new social media venue once your book is out.
I do think there’s value in social media, as long as you remember that social media is about people, not products. You start a Facebook page to make connections and to share a common interest—not to sell your book at every opportunity. And the same is true for a blog. People will want to read a blog for news, insights, and interesting observations, and if you’re comfortable with that format, I think that’s fantastic.
As with all marketing and publicity, it’s sometimes hard to measure success in the social media environment. Is it the number of blog followers you’ve gained? Is it hits to your website? All these things may or may not lead directly to book sales, but it’s one of many factors that can lead to success. I believe everything we do, in terms of publicity, is merely a piece of a puzzle that adds up to greater awareness about you and your book.
TWM: Do authors need websites for themselves? Their books? Individual titles?
BSM: As mentioned above, I think websites are essential nowadays. Our recommendation is generally to create an author website, not one targeted to a book. You’re in this for the long haul—by tying the website to your name, it’s current for one book or twenty. Tabs are often a good way to break out books from one another, or to break out different subject areas on a website. If you are a language arts teacher and can run writing workshops and you’d like to promote yourself for school visits, tab dedicated to teachers or “school visits” might be in order.
I’d say there are five things an author must have on a website:
- Book cover and book description, including age level, price, and ISBN
- Author bio (a long version and a short version)
- How to purchase the book (please remember your local independent stores by including a link to IndieBound! Your local stores will appreciate it and will be much more likely to support you in return.)
- How to reach you (an email address or comment form)
- How to reach your publisher for more information or to obtain a review copy (clear this with your publisher first, of course!)
TWM: How can authors with day jobs promote their books?
BSM: Many authors find marketing their books overwhelming, and they turn to freelance publicity firms like ours. We always advise authors to do lots of research—talk to other authors, search websites, and think about what kind of firm would be a good match for your needs.
Other authors simply make an appointment with themselves to market their book. Once or twice a week, they set aside time for marketing–whether it’s researching niche markets on the internet, visiting bookstores during their lunch hours, creating curriculum activities to accompany their book, etc., they are devoting energy and time to marketing. It’s not easy, but it is worthwhile.
TWM: How can authors get in touch with you and at what point in the publishing process should they get in touch with you?
BSM: We recommend authors contact us about 4-6 months before publication. That’s usually when publishers are pulling together their plans for a book and we can see where there might be areas where our work could complement their efforts. Authors should visit our website to learn more about us; our contact information is on the home page.
This was absolutely one of the BEST “megillot”. Exact concise crucially helpful info. I did a print out and tacked it onto my bulletin board. Hope to use the services of these two ladies. Do they aid with books published a few years ago but still selling? Pnina
Really practical info! Much appreciated. Might need to tweak my website a bit as a result of reading this.
Thanks Barbara and Blue Slip Media!
Hi, and thank you for the nice comments! We don’t often take on books that have been out for a while. Most feature writers and reviewers want to know about what’s new or what’s just around the corner, and it’s hard to get them interested in something that’s more than a month or two old. There usually has to be a special hook–an anniversary, a news event, an award, and so on–in order for us to pull together a successful campaign.