Sunday, March 06, 2005

Niche Marketing Children's and YA Books

Much like author Esme Raji Codell, my approach to promotion has been a global one, doing what I can to promote the body of children's and YA literary trade books as a whole.*

I do so via my Web site and blogs, when I speak to the media and in-person audiences, and as part of the children's/YA community.

It's impossible to say what particular effort generates what percentage of sales/readership/name recognition, so I've simply taken the advice of one of my early mentors, author Jane Kurtz, who told me to try to do at least one thing a week--however small--in support of the books (in my case, in support of the big picture--all books) and to think of the process as spreading seeds. You never know which ones will grow proud and strong.

As for my publishers, I'm pleased with their efforts. HarperCollins has been most generous in sponsoring me at state and national conferences, providing promotional pieces, and they're making efforts to expand their online marketing. I'm new to Candlewick Press, but the house has a lovely reputation in this area.

That said, I know that certain expectations come with being an author and word-spreading seems to be near the top of the list. So, I do have to focus specifically on promoting my own work, too.

For me, so far the most effective marketing seems to be niche marketing, and therefore, I focus on those communities that might have an interest in me or my work.

In other words: Who Am I, and Who Cares? (They might buy/read my books!) What Are My Books About, and Who Cares? (They might, too!).

Everyone has a potential promotional hit list for their book(s)/body of work; in case it helps, here's a very abbreviated version of mine:

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith
audiences: picture book through young adult
qualities: formerly in journalism/law; lived in KS, MO, MI, IL, TX, OK;
note: sent press kit to alumni magazines, all relevant (parenting, legal, ethnic, mainstream) hometown (past and present) newspapers and magazines; made sure books were entered in all regional contests for which I was eligible; added "Texas author" stickers to postcards sent in Texas; took out ads in the TLA Journal.

Jingle Dancer, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, and Indian Shoes
topics: Native Americans (specifically contemporary); interracial families; intergenerational relationships
settings: mid-to-southwest
media time hooks: grandparent's day; Native American heritage month
note: sent press kit to Native media and mainstream media in mid-to-southwest for Grandparent's Day and Native American Heritage Month**
related: sent postcards to Native American, mid-to-southwest and natural history museum bookstores; added "set in Kansas," "set in Oklahoma," "set in Chicago/Illinois" stickers to cards (promoting relevant books) sent to those states; wrote articles on contemporary Native children's/YA and interracial family fiction for various magazines

You must also continue to promote your backlist. It's a commitment for the life of the book. Yes, you do want to push that front-list book, but you should also try to make sure it connects with young readers for years to come.

As someone who promotes other authors and illustrators online, I suggest having your author site up and running at least six months prior to the release of the ARCs or F&Gs and making sure the site includes: the basic information, an-at-least-monthly updated feature, and something special (you're the author/illustrator; your site should offer visitors a more personal experience than the publishers'). Also, keep it fresh; update with new and changing information.

That said, it's never too late. You can't go back in time, but you can jump in now!

This may seem overwhelming, but remember, it can be done on a one-task-a-week basis, particularly if you start early and keep up with it. What works for one person might not for another, but be willing to try and see. Share information. Support one another. You can do it!

As an author, you're an ambassador for children's/YA literature and literacy! Spread the word that good books matter!

Go, promote, sell! Yay!

*which is not to say I haven't at times also promoted graphic novels, mass market books, and professional resource titles.
**send early to magazines, up to six months early.

note: this blog entry is adapted from my recent post on Children's Writing Biz, which is moderated by author Anastasia Suen.

Cynsational Links

The Art of the Matter: Promotion for Illustrators by author/illustrator Katie Davis.

bjliterary's journal: a live journal from agent Barry Goldblatt; see his recent post on author market. See also Q's & A's with an agent by Barry Goldblatt.

Wide-Eyed and Curious: Working with Young Children in Groups by author Shutta Crum.

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