Friday, 27 May 2011

Your Cut-Out-and-Keep SCBWI Marketing Session

Rather than pontificating at random for a few hundred words (as per usual), I thought I'd do something a bit different with the blog this week. I'm running a discussion session this evening at the SCBWI retreat about marketing and I thought I'd lay out my agenda and thoughts here. That way anyone who isn't coming gets a chance to participate too! If you are attending the retreat, you might want to wait until after the session to read this, as I'll be covering some of this material as part of the discussion.

  • What is marketing? What forms can it take?

    This is hard to answer definitively, because marketing constantly mutates, adapting to new forms of media. I work in the marketing department of a large UK brand, and our campaigns are often divided into Above the Line and Below the Line. Above the Line refers to mass campaigns which use traditional broadcast media like TV, newspapers and magazines. These campaigns have a wide reach, but are necessarily pretty generic. Below the Line is all about targeting individual customers and getting them to make a purchase, so it tends to be shorter term and you need to be very clear who your customer is.

    Publishers do very little Above the Line marketing, especially for children's books. Even the adverts in magazines or in public locations etc. are highly targeted – take a trip on the tube and see how many adverts there are for books that aren't crime, thriller or chick-lit (almost none).

    Any marketing budget that a publisher allocates to you is too precious to be spent Above the Line, it has to be used to reach consumers who have a strong chance of buying your book. This is the beauty of web advertising and social media - you can track a user from reading a tweet all the way to buying your book on Amazon. Below The Line marketing delivers measurable results.

    Of course, many of the newer forms of internet marketing blur "The Line." Is viral marketing targeted or does it just float around from person to person like a dandelion seed? And what about Twitter, which is fast becoming a massive broadcast outlet for assorted brands and public figures?

  • How much marketing will a publisher do and how much is an author expected to do themselves?

    The general rule of thumb here is: the more money your publisher has spent to acquire your book, the more marketing budget they will allocate to it. You can see the blizzard of publicity that The Emerald Atlas is attracting at the moment. You may also note the crazy auction price it achieved at Bologna last year…

    It's every writer's dream to get a six-figure book deal, but be careful what you wish for. I'm working on a project right now with a multi-million pound marketing budget and the pressure to deliver is intense. If you have a big advance, failing to meet your publisher's sales projections might mean that you never get another chance.

    The short answer to the heading question is – expect to do a lot of the marketing yourself. But you might get a nice publicist like Nina Douglas to help.

  • Your publisher's marketing budget – spending it wisely

    Assuming you do get a few quid from the petty cash tin, what should you do with it? You may be better concentrating on small-ticket promotional items like bookmarks, postcards and the like to stretch the budget as far as it will go. Should you ask your publisher to pay for your website or will you get something better for half the cost if you find someone yourself? Publisher-built websites can sometimes be quite impersonal and may struggle to include content that will bring the reader back for another visit. What about book trailers? They sound daunting, but you probably know someone with the video production skills to make a good job of it.

  • The book trailer – do you need one? Who will see it?

    Books are quite difficult to market over the internet – the cover photo is usually small and the format of a webpage makes it hard to concentrate on even a chapter presented online. Plus, words are designed to come alive in your head, not via Flash Media. What the book trailer does is to sneak your novel into one of the key places that teenagers hang out online – YouTube. By dramatising elements of your story, you can sell the theme and even the tone of your novel in a very short amount of time. And it needs to be short, because a) everybody's attention span is shot to hell b) you've probably had to make the trailer yourself on the cheap and every second is costing you money.

  • School visits

    I've never made a school visit, so my experience here is limited. I do know that they are a superb way to market a book to your actual target audience. Some authors are so popular that, if they had time, they could schedule a visit every school day of the year. And these are not the megastar authors either, in fact when your sales go into the millions you will tend to do less public appearances, not more. In some ways, visiting loads of schools can be like an apprenticeship for authors early in their career - writers like Jacqueline Wilson and Caroline Lawrence have built huge followings by really working the school circuit.

    By and large, children love school visits, but opinion amongst parents can be mixed. I know my wife objects to having to buy a book by an author she's never heard of, and there can be a lot of peer-pressure amongst the children to make a purchase. But this is also why school visits are such an effective way to reach readers, and authors do get paid for their time as well.

  • Getting spotted as an unpublished author – how to stand out from the crowd and sell yourself effectively to agents and editors

    • Step 1 – Don't be crazy, obsessive or impossibly needy.

    • Step 2 – If you are crazy, obsessive or impossibly needy, don't let anybody know.

    The internet is a wonderful device for preserving your anonymity. Unfortunately, some writers don't seem to realise that and spend a lot of time telling everyone their problems and seeking sympathy. It's one thing if their problems are personal ones, and let's face it we all go through some pretty grotty periods in our lives. But once writers start bitching about the issues they face getting into print, then they can become publishing poison.

    Google yourself right now. What do you find? Do you have a blog, an open Facebook page or a Twitter account? What have you written about yourself on the Ning? All of these resources are a keystroke away for any agent or editor. If you set the wrong tone, or don't look sufficiently professional, that glimmer of interest from an agent will become a form rejection. And you'll never know about it.

    Believe me, I've said one or two things online I've regretted in the past. But this is what making mistakes is all about...

  • Social media – getting the best out of Facebook and Twitter.

    Where to start? One thing that the internet is not short of is advice on marketing using social media. You can even pay companies to attract Twitter/Facebook followers for you – I can't imagine anyone but the most desperate taking up that option.

    Social media is ultra-low-cost and very effective if used the right way. It is also enormously time consuming, so it favours the time-rich and cash-poor. Students of the power of social media marketing might like to study the case of Talli Roland who framed the publication of her debut e-book as a David and Goliath struggle against Amazon, and managed to get it into the top 25 Kindle chart.

  • To blog or not to blog?

    The question of whether to blog might seem a bit redundant, considering what you're reading right now. But it is very pertinent. There was a time (about a year ago) when every writer felt they needed a blog, and I watched the blog roll on the SCBWI Ning expanding on a weekly basis. But recently, there's been a definite retreat from this position. Fatigue can set in quite quickly when you have a blog that no-one seems to read week-in, week-out. More than that, there are so many writers' blogs that having a good blog is no longer a guarantee of getting noticed. But there are alternatives to a personal blog, which brings me onto my next point...

  • The benefits and drawbacks of group blogging

    More and more authors, especially published ones, are scaling down their personal blogging and joining group blogs. By pooling resources, likeminded writers can provide daily content to readers but themselves only have to post on a fortnightly or even monthly basis. Being a group blogger is like getting to join a gang, and you know that the other members will rally round and comment on your posts – which looks great to any new visitor to the site.

    The drawback of group blogging is the diffusion of personal voice, because it's much harder for someone to follow your individual posts in the way they could with a personal blog. But the flipside is discovering other writers whose work is equally fascinating.

    I could say more on group blogs, but check out Candy Gourlay's great post on the subject from last week.

  • What is a platform, and how vital is it for a children's author?

    According to this blog post by the estimable Nathan Bransford:
    Platform is the number of eyeballs you can summon as you promote your book.

    Platforms are good because they allow you to build an audience before you even publish a word. You are part of my platform, along with everyone else reading this blog. I know that if I brought out a book tomorrow (ok, it won't be quite that soon), I could rely on quite a few people to buy it, even if it was dreadful (but I'm sincerely hoping it won't be). Talli Roland built a huge platform on Twitter to prepare for her book launch and priced her product low to entice them to buy.

    I remain a little unconvinced about platforms for children's authors, simply because it's so hard to get actual children involved. Maybe new initiatives like Girls Heart Books will change that.

Right, that's more than enough words from me! What's your take on all this?



  1. I'm intrigued in what goes on at school visits. Do people read from the book, or just talk about it or bully the kids until they buy one?

  2. Great post Nick and very useful as I was too tired last night to take notes.

    With regards to cheap below the line marketing Nicolette Jones mentioned a few examples last week at the SCBWI Professional series. I blogged about it here. They included an enormous pair of Y-fronts, plastic rats, plastic spiders, and mechanical sperm!


  3. Very thought-provoking. It's interesting to think how much marketing is directed towards the parents, and how much to the children themselves...
    Hope the retreat is going well!

  4. Excellent post, thanks Nick! I remember a children's author telling me once that you HAD to have a blog, and you HAD to have twitter - not to sell to the kids, but for the librarians and gatekeepers who look you up, otherwise you can kiss any chance of being invited to festivals goodbye. Has anyone else found this is the case? It makes it very hard to know your audience when you post online - do you try to appeal to kids, or to the parents and librarians who are buying for them?

  5. This is a great post chock full of info (I'm going to share it with my FB friends). I love learning from someone who is in the marketing profession (the above the line and below the line stuff). There's a CBC radio program called the Age of Persuasion where I've learned a lot about marketing.
    School visits are also great for getting the word out locally among teachers and librarians. Thanks for sharing this Nick!

  6. Nice summary, Nick. I didn't have my notepad at the talk either so it's handy to read the key points here. I've linked this into my SCBWI Retreat blog entry.

  7. Excellent summation. We are a group blog. I think maintaining an individual blog on a regular basis would seriously cut into writing time. We will be sharing this post on our FaceBook. Thank you

  8. Great post Nick - only had time to read it now. One thing that differentiates children's authors from almost any other group is that technically we are not in competition. If we can encourage children to read, we all win. So supporting fellow authors and pooling resources is a strong marketing strategy. Ultimately though, it's about the product. Start by writing a good book.

  9. What goes on in a school visit? Well, I've heard some famous authors read solely. Plus Q and A. I'd be bored to tears. I work out a session that involves entertaining and interactive stuff on my (co-authored Lothian Dragon) books - such as a dragon chant or poem to perform, what ifs, going on a dragon hunt visualisation, what we need in a story, problems and set-backs, characters, what else has gone into my book etc (only some of these for any one class) and a couple of exciting readings, plus interactive storytelling to end with, involving a similar situation, with me taking suggestions from the floor then choosing one to carry on the story with before pausing at the next crucial bit for their further suggestions - eventually wrapping it up, er, satisfactorily I hope!

    All this is marketing because I go into school on the agreement the children will have been told they can buy signed books. I always sell loads. I sometimes go back to do book club or open a library (being local outsmarts being famous sometimes!), even English sessions. It has to be give and take.

    Thanks for the post, Nick. Will tweet its existence because it has so much sound info in it.

  10. Thanks Nick, great summary. I've saved your link in my folder devoted to promotional stuff - to deal with later; though it will probably have changed by then.

  11. Sorry to be gloomy about school visits. I have done, and do, a lot of paid visits. However I now find very few schools expect to buy books.

    Many are unwilling to send letters home asking parents to buy an author's books. This may be because they are already asking for money for some other event.

    More often it is because "the author" is seen as part of the School Book Week, during which the school arranges to have in one of the commercial "school book fairs" in, where the children are encouraged to buy semi-remaindered books, colouring & activity books, games, glittery pencils, small toys etc to make the school money and/or possibly give them books instead.

    Yes, school visits can bring you a certain amount of publicity, but please don't expect to be paid and have huge booksales too. If you do end up in one of the wonderful schools with the wonderful teachers that will still do both, you're lucky! Be very nice to them!

  12. Internet marketing is becoming viral nowadays and that is because of the aid of seo organic companies.

  13. Maybe those children's books publishers should really look at how ny ad agencies and similar marketing firms do their brand promotions so they can make their own.

  14. This discussion is better than blog post and i am wondering it would be great if you continue this on your next blog post also..

  15. Hi Sir, You are really excellent author.

    I gonna start blogging about on is a demanded site for us.This site remain give us many information by this site. So, I think to read more blogs to enrich my blogging methods. I also read your posting. I like to share my If you have a home based business and make money online, you have no doubt heard the term "Viral Marketing." It has been a preferred method of marketing ever since the internet gained momentum. Thousands of online business owners have made their Viral Marketing campaigns work for them and have given them fat, juicy bank accounts. So, how can you make viral marketing work for you?

    Thank you very much for your Amazing Article.