The good news is that every writer can do a lot to market and promote their own book. The secret – and yes, there is a secret but like most things it’s this – hard work, organisation and determination. A lot of work can be done behind the scenes months before your book reaches the bookshop shelves.
When I started out in books, I had no experience in marketing or publicity, I just used my head, so what I did, you can do too.
But before that some general points.
First things first, don’t worry about any of this unless you have written a book worth promoting. Put your time and energy into the writing first and foremost.
1/ Marketing - Marketing means promoting your book to the market and in the marketplace, ie the shops. It means getting information about your book to the relevant buyers and booksellers, backing up that information with display material – such as posters and bookmarks. And keeping the bookshops informed of any publicity you have lined up for the book.
In general, your publisher should be on top of the marketing, but if they don’t intend to do posters or bookmarks – say for example they are small, your book is self published, or published in England or the US (this is directed at Irish authors of course!) and there is no marketing spend - think about doing it yourself. And dropping postcards/posters/bookmarks in to your local libraries, bookshops and schools.
Think of investing in business cards, stickers, thank you cards – useful things are good – pens, post cards etc. Chris Judge had some lovely postcards printed up for his debut picture book, The Lonely Beast.
Yes, it costs money. But think of it as money invested in your future as a writer.
The more booksellers know about your book the better chance it has of being recommended, restocked, put on a table, put in promotions. But there is a fine line between being pushy and helpful. Never be pushy, never be arrogant. Treat booksellers like royalty, they are the ones who put your books on the shelves and into adults, parents and children’s hands.
If your book is not on the shelf, it is nothing personal. See it as your problem. Send them some information on your book – or even a copy of the book with a friendly covering note saying you are a local author and would be delighted to see your book on their shelves.
Always check with your publishers before doing this or before calling into bookshops and talking to booksellers. They may like to ask your sales rep to go along and intro you. They may like to use it as a sales opportunity. Work with your publisher.
But remember, no one cares as much about your book as you do. Be passionate and talk about your book with enthusiasm – and as Patrick Ness would say, joy!
And no bookseller wants to hear you grumble about how little your publisher does to promote you – get on with it yourself (and over yourself) – take control.
But one thing I’ll come back to time and time again – be prepared to work hard and do things yourself. Do not leave everything to your publisher. They have a lot of books to market and promote. Your book is your baby. Once your book is published, your journey is just beginning.
There are over 8,000 children’s books published every year. If you want to make your book stand out, and especially if you want to earn living from writing or part of your living from writing, then you must do all you can to promote your book.
The reality is that it is not enough to just write a book and sit back and see what happens. You also have to connect with children, with booksellers, with librarians, with teachers, with parents – with anyone who buys books. You need to make them aware that your book is a/ in the shops now and b/worth buying.
Looks do not matter in the least bit, but personality and professionalism do.
Above all, be yourself. Maybe a glittery, happy version of yourself but still yourself. I call it being on – be the person you’d be at a party, or at a job interview. And think about the image you are projecting. Think about what you are wearing when visiting bookshops/schools/going to book conferences.
And get involved with your own publicity but keep your publisher informed of what you intend to do. It can be daunting at the beginning but having a plan makes everything easier.
Publishers are only too delighted to have help – well organised, professional help – talk to them about how you can help.
2/ Publicity - Publicity means using the media to tell people about your book: print, radio, telly.
4 to 6 months before your book is published set up a meeting with the publicity person in the publishing house (if possible) and bring a list of possible publicity angles - I’ll talk about angles in a few minutes - and any media contacts you might have.
In a moment I’m going to fly through the different stages of an ideal publicity plan.
But first – my first book – for my first book I started local. Everyone can do this!
Kids Can Cook – I had no profile at all
I rang Southside News and wrote a piece on cooking with children for them.
My church newsletter – I wrote a piece for them. I also did a piece for my sailing club newsletter.
The Evening Herald did a piece on me - the first cookbook for children in Ireland - I friend of mine worked in the Herald and she set this up. I had an angle, Dublin single mum gets kids cooking.
I did a lot of school events during the Children’s Book Festival that my publisher set up and that I set up. Because I did hands on cookery with the children during the sessions it was something different, and they really liked the idea. And I did several special needs schools also. Also library events. Mostly for free.
If I was bringing out a first book now I would certainly use the internet to reach readers – see below for details.
For Ask Amy Green: boy Trouble, my first children’s novel for age 10+, the publicity plans were a lot more elaborate – Walker Books created a special Amy Green website, and did some super posters, fanzines, pink leather luggage tags and hand outs, but I still did some of the publicity myself.
Here is what I call the ideal publicity plan, with all bases covered. If you can do even some of this great! I hope it will make you think and consider the possibilities. It is not meant to scare you, just to point out what can be done . . .
4 months before publication
Meet the pr person in your publishing house Draw up your pr plan with the pr person
Set up your website – I would advise every writer to get a website – and put the details of the website in your book so readers can contact you and also teachers and librarians can contact you (to book events if you write for children).
Set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
If you do not want people to know too much about you, invent a writing persona, a writerly version of yourself. I find it easier to just be myself, but not everyone is comfortable with this. But you must connect with people online these days. Especially if you want an international career.
3 months before publication
Submit feature ideas to magazines Now this many take months, years to get anything taken but keep at it, once you have one piece published, it is so much easier. Are there any specialist magazines you subscribe to? Try submitting an article to them, it's a great place to start. Or internet magazines/newsletters – again, good experience.
You could offer to review for Inis magazine (specialist Irish children’s book mag) – which is how I started reviewing – for free of course – but I got a/ experience and b/ some lovely books! (Contact their review editor here)
2 months before publication
Submit feature ideas to the magazines of newspapers
Set up your book launch if you would like to have one (organise your own in a local bookshop or venue, and yes, you may have to pay for the wine!)
Children’s writers - Set up some school and library events – use your contacts – your child’s school etc But make the events interesting, don’t just expect to go in and read to them. I spend several days a year working on new content for talks, workshops and readings and making it fresh and exciting. Work at it! Practice! Watch other authors in action and pick up ideas. Once these events are fixed, send the details to the listings of the newspapers and also local newspapers.
And on that subject, network, go to children’s book events, join CBI, join the Society of Children’s Writers and Ilustrators.
1 month before publication
Submit ideas to the features pages of newspapers – yes, you need to come up with these ideas yourself – depending on you and your life/book
Think of column ideas for guest columns (realistically this will be down the line when you have some experience of writing articles etc)
Write your press release for sending out with review copies (your publisher will probably do this for you)
3 weeks before publication
Send out the invites to the launch
2 weeks before publication
Send out review copies of your book to relevant newspapers and magazines with your press release, eg Inis, Book Fest etc (your publisher may do this, check with them), the Irish Indo, the Irish Times.
Set up radio interviews – using your press release (again, your pr person may do this) Don’t forget local radio – a great place to start – East Coast for eg. Send a book and a press release and then ring them politely, with the blessing of your publishers of course. Local radio stations love local authors! You could do a competition and give away copies of your book.
Start your school events and library events
If you have any news stories, this is the time to use them – advances, film deals, winning competitions, your dog winning a dog show (for the local papers!).
An ‘angle’ is something that makes you stand out as a person for pr purposes.
Some of the ones I’ve used:
Single mum Parent of teens and toddlers at the same time Partner of a hopeful Olympic sailor
Other people’s angles: Teacher – Eoin Colfer Librarian – Patricia Scanlan Movie geek and ex screen writer – Derek Landy
Anything that makes you different is good – and that you are prepared to talk about!
Everyone has something - Do you keep bees? Can you shoe a horse? Do you dive? Travel a lot? If so, you can write about it
I hope I’ve given you some ideas to think about. You put 100% into writing your book, so why not put 100% into doing the best you can to promote that book? It deserves it. Writing for children, getting published and visiting and meeting young readers are rewarding and joyful experiences, and worth fighting lions and sweating blood for. I wish you all the best of luck with your own journey to publication.
Yours in writing,