Monday, July 11, 2011

Author Marketing From a School Librarian, Part 1

Those of us who write for kids aren't able to reach our audience online as easily as writers for adults can. Our readers aren't usually looking at author websites and blogs, so it's important for us to connect with teachers and librarians, who are often the ones helping kids select the books they'll read.

So, I was really interested in what librarian Mandy Watson had to say about author marketing at last week's Houston SCBWI meeting.

The presentation was really informative, and I asked Mandy if she'd do a blog interview so I could pass along some of her advice. She kindly agreed, so here's the interview! (With more to come tomorrow.)

First, a little about Mandy so you'll know where she's coming from and how she got on the path the librarianhood:

I live in Magnolia, Texas with my sweet computer programming husband whom I have been married to for almost 15 years. Ever since I was a kindergartener, I had a passion to be a kindergarten teacher--and I happily pursued my dream! I taught kindergarten for six years in the Cypress Fairbanks school district outside of Houston until I became a proud mom. I have two sweet and active boys I chose to stay home with until they started school. I missed teaching, but I had a new dream to be a librarian that surfaced from my childhood of being unable to read, then being unable to stop reading. I started a library for my church where I serve as their librarian, but I still missed teaching. I went back for my master’s degree in library science at Sam Houston State University, and won several academic awards and scholarships for my achievements. Now I have the best career ever (in my opinion) of being the librarian at my boys’ elementary school where I get to teach and share my love for reading. In my spare time I read, scrapbook, and have fun being mom while getting to play Legos or Wii with my boys.

How did a librarian become interested in marketing?

If you asked me a few years ago if I had any interest in marketing, I would have laughed and said, “Not at all!” However, I quickly developed a passion for marketing and sharing marketing strategies with others shortly after I became interested in going back to work. When I started pursuing my dream to become a school librarian, I found that like many other job fields, it's a hard one to get into. I had to learn creative marketing strategies to promote myself and get others to notice me. As I did this, I found more and more that I was not alone. Many people settled for a job they were not very passionate about because they were content to just have a job. I didn’t want to settle and don’t want my children to someday settle for anything but their dream job/career. That is what sparked my interest in marketing and why I enjoy sharing my strategies with others. I feel that marketing should be presented especially to high school and college students so that they know how to creatively and passionately market themselves for the career they wish to someday pursue.

You mentioned some neat ways to make business cards and author bookmarks stand out-- when you get a stack of cards and bookmarks at an event, what are some features that make you want to keep them?

I especially like business cards that have their target audience in mind. For example, when I recently went to the Texas Library Association’s convention, I loved business cards that doubled as a bookmark because they were designed to promote their books to the librarians that attended. These bookmarks had clear pictures of their published or upcoming book’s cover, a brief summary (sometimes even a few words to describe the book), and a website link to learn more. The business cards/bookmarks were attractive in that they had use of complimentary color schemes, they were not too busy in text, images, or fonts, and the cards/bookmarks were durable. I have found that cards printed on a thick cardstock with a glossy finish have been extremely durable, professional-looking, and worth keeping because of this. I feel that business cards need to be durable if given at large events such as the one I just described because most likely they will be tossed into a bag along with the overwhelming amount of materials their recipients receive.

Another feature that would cause me to keep a business card is its uniqueness. If the business card is a unique one, I am going to show many of my peers, and that would be additional advertising for the person or business.

Favorite author swag? What makes you want to plow through the crowd, knocking librarians to the ground so you can grab what people are giving away at conference booths?

Now this is why I bring my husband along to library or book conventions--so he can do the plowing for me (just kidding!) As I walk around an event, I am constantly looking at what other people have in their hands. If they love an item they snagged, it is funny how it is clutched tightly in their hands (not stuffed into a bag) so everyone can see their “prize.” Things that have caught my attention and made me go ask where they got their “prizes” are: colorful bookbags with the book’s characters printed on them, silly bands, socks (these cracked me up this year--lots of schools have silly sock day, so I can’t wait to show mine off!), hats, and free advance reader copy books. The ARCs are the most common freebie at a librarian’s event, and the way they are greedily grabbed actually makes me embarrassed at the way some of my colleagues act.

As a librarian, what are some things you like or don't like to receive (via mail or email) about author visits or new books? What gets your attention and leads you to follow up?

There are a few things that frustrate me when I receive author information, like when an author does not share who the target audience is. I like to know that if an author is willing to speak to different grade levels how they will vary their presentation for each group so that it is age appropriate. Another bit of information I like to see is reviews of the book or presentation. Finally, I know it is hard to do, but I feel that librarians really want to know up front what the estimated cost would be for an author visit or new book. If I don’t find this information in an initial email, flier, etc., I often wonder if that means the cost is too high for me to look more into. Sadly, with more and more librarians being cut these days, more and more demands are placed upon those remaining. This means librarians will have less time to research more into things such as book and author visit reviews, costs, and so forth. So the more information shared upfront in a simple, clear-cut, and attractive way, the better.

Authors who are planning school visits want to offer programs that teachers will find valuable but that won't bore the kids. What kinds of author presentations have you seen that have a good mix of entertainment and educational content? Any advice about what to avoid in a school visit?

An author has the kids attention as soon as they make a connection with the kids. Usually this is done when an author shares a little bit about themselves. Kids will eagerly listen especially when this is shared using technology or in a fun way (such as with illustrations or acting out their bio). Both teachers and students LOVE it when authors read their books aloud. That is almost a requirement in my mind for any author visit. Often times when I hear a story read aloud by the author I get an “ah-ha” moment in which I realize their way of reading their story was perfect and one I want to duplicate in my future readings of the story.

During the visit, I would ask teachers to pick a student who has a question for the author rather than pick random students from the audience to ask the author questions. It saddens me when an author asks for questions (which is a great way to connect with the students), and then they get comments about Johnny’s new pet dog, etc. My last presenter shared her expertise about birds of the rainforest. When she asked for questions from the students, one student asked out of the blue how birds mate. It was a rather awkward moment for all as she felt she had to give some response to the student. I also feel that so much time is wasted by students who don’t have a good question thought ahead of time for the author. So I would ask for maybe each teacher to call on one of their students (since they know their personalities), or have the classes generate a list of questions beforehand (something I am going to do in my library lessons) and select from those questions.

Another author had stickers made for each student who attended her author visit. That way every child went home with something from the author (in case their parents didn’t purchase an autographed book), and the students became a helpful tool in marketing the author’s books. It was a brilliant marketing strategy in my mind and the students loved her for it too!

A question from a Twitter follower: How do libraries decide what books to order? Do librarians follow book bloggers for information, or stick to things like publishers' catalogs and reviews from ALA and Publishers Weekly?

It is hard to speak for all librarians, because each may have their own strategies. But school librarians should only use their book budget in purchasing books/materials that serve an educational purpose. Public librarians may have a different strategy, so be sure and ask them how they go about choosing what books to order. As a school librarian, I look for book reviews in the magazine Library Sparks, which targets librarians and teachers that service children in the elementary and middle schools. As I read this magazine, if I am “wowed” by a book’s review or if I see that it will be perfect for a grade level’s upcoming unit, I jot in on a list I have generated. I then refer to my list and look up each book’s review on a publisher or vendor’s site. The most popular resource is Follett’s Titlewave. I have found that just about every professional review of a title is posted on this site, so I only have to look up reviews on this one site rather than search around on many different sites. Librarians again are more and more limited on their time, so having one location versus many to refer to is preferred.

Authors may be wondering now how to get reviewed in magazines such as Library Sparks. I would look up the most common reviewers for the magazine, and contact them to see if they are interested in writing a review or creating lessons to go along with your book.

I will refer to blogs if they are advertised by an email, flier, or business card that catches my attention. I also look through publisher’s catalogs too. But again, I add books that interest me onto my growing list and look for reviews on Titlewave before I place my next order.

For a writer who doesn't have an online presence yet, what one thing would you recommend they do to get started?

I recommend that they start small, such as trying a blog, Facebook/Twitter account, or be a Goodreads or Shelfari author. If they are able to keep up with one of these choices (I believe that only one should be chosen initially for a few months), and if they are receiving feedback from their targeted group, they can then chose another option or focus on becoming more advanced in what they initially chose. I feel that whatever choice they do make in developing an online presence should be updated regularly and evaluated to see if it's an effective means of promotion. There is no use in wasting your precious time on a website if your targeted audience isn't looking at it. Ask for users’ feedback, comments, or even offer mini contests/sweepstakes to see how much your website or online presence is being utilized. If you find that there is hardly any response, try a different option.

While I think having a website is important, I do not think it should be an initial investment for a writer who is just getting started. My husband is a computer programmer and has helped me in creating my own website. However, I found that it was too time-consuming for me to update and not being utilized by my targeted audience. Although it was free and I had instant IT support, it was not an effective means of marketing at this point for me personally.

What are some good ways authors can market their books to teachers and librarians? A publication to advertise in or something they can do online to help get the word out?

One big marketing trend that librarians appreciate from children’s authors is a curriculum guide or lesson ideas that go along with their books. Again, I am a school librarian who may only purchase books that have an educational purpose. This purpose can even be something as simple as a fun book that will hook “reluctant readers” (a big buzz word lately that librarians and teachers look for in a book--will it get my reluctant readers to love reading?). Kids, teachers, and librarians also love websites listed in the back of a book that they can go to in order to learn more. An example is author Jan Brett. She has become such a huge success as an author in my opinion because her website is targeted to connect and be utilized by all her readers (students, teachers, librarians, parents, etc.).

Thank you so much to Mandy for taking the time to answer the interview questions!

In tomorrow's post I'll share Mandy's "shopping list" for author marketing and tips for making business cards unique and keep-worthy


  1. Great interview, Lynne and Mandy. So much great information. The business card as a bookmark idea is brilliant, and it's good to know about the paper quality, because some people might go with a lower quality to cut costs, but that might be a waste.

    And it's great to know about the school visits. These kinds of conversations are great for finding ways for writers and librarians to help each other, because we all have the same goal: children reading.


  2. Love the interview. As an author, I'm always looking for unique ways to connect with librarians and students. It can be daunting when so many others are trying to do the same thing. Thank you for a great interview with very usable tips.

  3. My gosh. This was amazing. Thank you!

  4. Thank you, Lynne and Mandy! I thought I knew a thing or two about school libraries since I've been volunteering in them for so long, but this interview has been incredibly helpful!

  5. Awesome and extremely informative interview, Lynne and Mandy! Thank you both for taking the time to post it.

  6. This was SO helpful! Thanks for insight into the thinking of a brilliant, passionate librarian who happens to also be a great marketer! c:

  7. Really great info, and such great questions! I loved this so much. Thanks for all the great answers! Lovely, lovely interview.

  8. Wow, what great information! Thank you so much for doing this interview. I'm bookmarking this page since I'm in the process of marketing my picture book at the moment. I'm really looking forward to part two.

  9. What a wealth of helpful information. Thanks so much!

  10. Thanks for the comments, everyone! Glad you enjoyed the interview.

  11. Fantastic interview. Thanks to you both!

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