Monday 11 July 2011

Marketing for (Almost) Authors

By Jo Wyton

How much marketing is an author expected to do? How much does marketing cost? How do you go about marketing your book? What the hell is marketing?

All questions posed by Nick Cross at the recent SCBWI retreat.

He was faced with a standing-room-only room of writers: some aspiring, some nearly there, and others already there and figuring out answers to the above questions right now. Tough gig. Fab job.

Before I arrived, I got busy trying to summon all of my marketing knowledge. I quickly came to the conclusion that I didn’t really have very much. Oh, I had no idea…

You can find detailed answers to the above questions over at Nick Cross’ WhoAteMyBrain blog, but for now I thought I’d focus on what I got from it all as your average Slushpiler.

It all started so well ....

Conference organizer Sue picks a cozy spot

It all started so well...

The first question posed was all about what marketing means for a published author – nothing to worry about for the average Slushpile Resident – everything pretty much as you’d expect. National ad campaigns vs reader targeted campaigns – usually the latter for children’s books, unless you happen to be J. K. Rowling.

Nick tries to define Marketing. Tougher than you think.

The second question – how much marketing is an author expected to do for themselves? Here’s where it got interesting. (Or horrifying, depending on your point of view.)

It seems to me that you can do as much or as little as you like. Preferably the former, if you want to turn your novel into a career.

And yet somehow I think we’d all like to believe that once you’re on the bookshelves, either a) your book will sell itself (if only), or b) your agent/editor will don their superman capes and sort it all out for you (you never know. No, really).

Sadly, no. More and more it’s being left to the author to publicise themselves and their book. Sometimes they’ll have the help and money of their publisher behind them, other times it’s a more independent route. When I first thought about that, I found myself thinking, ‘Who better to publicise you and your book, than you?’

Easy to say, huh?

But if ever faced with the reality of driving my own marketing, I’m pretty sure my reaction wouldn’t be, “Sure, that seems like the sensible option.”

It would be more like, “ARGH! HELP! Please God, somebody tell me what to do!” yelled at the top of my voice just prior to my head exploding. Well, if I ever find myself shouting those words to the empty vastness above, I at least know that being surrounded by the most supportive group of people on the planet in the shape of the SCBWI will get me through.

Coming back to the original question though – how much marketing is an author expected to do? The answer, from those in the room, is ‘a significant amount’.

Do as much as you can – it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Marketing on a shoestring! Cunning, Nick Cross. Very cunning.

It’s up to you to generate your platform and expand on it. No harm in building that platform before you’ve had your manuscript plucked from the Slushpile either. Get building a network now – it’ll come in handy later.

Then came the next, truly alarming thing – the list of possible marketing techniques you should consider.

We’re talking websites, facebook, twitter, YouTube, trailers, t-shirts, bookmarks, banners, business cards, school visits, mugs, mugshots, posters, festivals, workshops, ads in the yellow pages. OK, I might have made that last one up.

The list went on, the published folk in the audience continuing to offer up titbits of wisdom freely and without a thought for my slowly dropping jaw.

Let’s start at the very beginning – the internet. (A very good place to start, apparently.) The advice from the room? Keep it professional.

You’ll probably need a Facebook page designed to represent you as an author – same goes for twitter. Your readers (i.e. kids) may be looking at this, so make sure you’re comfortable with the material you’re putting out there.

You’ll also need a website – the first place most people will go. It needs to represent you as an author, but it also needs to show off your book. Especially when you’re writing for kids – anything interactive is great, as is anything that keys into the tone and themes of your book.

It doesn’t have to be expensive – as with everything else, find some friends to help you.

Here are the websites for Candy’s Tall Story, Tommy Donbavand’s Scream Street and the author site of Sara Grant (Dark Parties).  if you want to take a look.

Then there are trailers. As trailers go, those for books are quite unusual, because generally speaking the only people who are going to see them are those who already know they exist and are deliberately searching for them.

Tommy Donbavand's Scream Street book trailer

Unless they screen yours at the local cinema ten minutes before The Hobbit starts. You never know. The limited audience reach of a book trailer raises questions over whether it’s necessary.

Candy Gourlay's book trailer for Tall Story

Then again, as somebody on the night pointed out, a trailer does at the very least guarantee you a spot on YouTube – and considering that a lot of kids avoid search engines and go straight for searching directly through YouTube itself, it seems like it’d be useful for something to pop up.

Trailers are also a good tool to have to hand for school visits. Lots of trailers are home-made, too, so again, no need to worry about cost.

The only cost here seems to be time and effort, and it’s up to you how much of both you want to put in.

Sara Grant's German book trailer

In terms of bookmarks, banners, posters etc – from what I can tell, the appropriateness of that sort of thing is going to depend on your book. And target age-range It seems an effective way of getting your name out there though –something good to hand out when you score that spot at the local literary festival.

Candy with the Human Topiary at the recent Pop Up Festival. Photo: Bridget Marzo

Last but not least (which I say because I’m sure there’s lots I’ve missed out here) come the festivals and school visits themselves. This is probably the most intimidating idea around marketing for most writers – at least, I find it pretty scary to think about.

Again, everything depends on the age range you’re writing for. If you’re lucky enough to be writing for an age group where visits to primary schools are a possibility, then look no further.

The brilliant Tommy Donbavand retreated with us to Surrey, and he brought his Amazing Box of Wonders.

Tommy reveals the contents of his box of wonders.

Werewolf's Claw

Mummy's heart

Zombie's tongue.

Now, Tommy’s a guy who can transform a room of 30 grown-ups into a bunch of giggling five year olds in thirty seconds flat. If you’re ever wondering what authors do on school visits, check out Tommy’s pdf guide for schools wanting to know what he does here, or even better, look out for any festival appearances.

Tommy used to be a clown. Really truly. So his school visits involve balloon shapes and gags - including this William Tell re-enactment (assisted by award-winning Wimpy Vampire author Tim Collins)

At the retreat, Tommy showed us (because we’re writers and telling is so last season) what he does.

Cue vampire hissing (camp as you like), werewolf growling (no better) and toilet paper shenanigans (I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures by now).

Maureen Oakley (who writes Puddle the Naughtiest Puppy series for Ladybird) gets toilet papered as part of Tommy's school visit demo. Photo: Wendy Jones
It was all about bringing the book to life – showing kids how much fun books can be, and how much fun getting involved is.

Tommy winning children to reading. PhotoMostly Books blog

The brill Addy Farmer blogged about this exact topic the other week too, having spoken to Linda Newberry, Penny Dolan, Katherine Langrish and Jane Clarke about their experiences of school visits.

And of course, with Skype and so on, school visits don’t even have to be face to face anymore. Embracing the international market is becoming more and more accessible from the comfort of your armchair (do try to change out of your jimjams first though).

Of course by the end of this session, I wasn’t thinking about ‘embracing the international market’. No – by that point, my jaw was firmly on the floor, my glass of wine virtually untouched and hidden away under my chair lest my dropping jaw knock it over.

All I could think was: how on earth do people find the time? Let alone the willpower and enthusiasm. So much to do – and how on earth do you even go about building a platform, let alone expanding on it?

Then again, we’re writers, aren’t we? Futile enthusiasm is what it’s all about. Until, one day, you find yourself calling on a few friends, developing your website, drawing up some posters and visiting your first school.

Can’t wait!

With photos by Teri Terry and Candy Gourlay


  1. Thank you!
    Great post - loads of info. Sounds like you had an amazing time.

  2. Thanks for the reminder of the wonderful retreat.

    If I'm ever in a position to promote my books, I'll have to get a set of wooden swords and a tarantula.

  3. It's made me wonder what's in my books that I can pull out of the hat in schools. Tommy has all of his scary stuff, Steve Hartley (Danny Baker Record Breaker) has his big pants. I wonder what others take. I do have a character with hair like twitching, jerking spiders legs. I wonder if I need a battery operated wig!
    Great post Jo, wish I'd been there.

  4. Thanks Jo, I've pretty much forgotten what I said, so this is very helpful ;-)

    Here is the direct link to my blog post about the session, as it's probably been buried under several weeks of accumulated waffling by now:


  5. Excellent, Jo and excellent Jo! Really enjoyed this terrifying but true advice. great post!

  6. I'm trying to think what I could have in a big box to take on school visits.
    I think I should go for a VERY big box, and put Tommy in it! Problem solved :O)

  7. Thanks Nick - apologies, I meant to link to the article not just the blog in general. First time I've physically posted anything up so honestly I'm just glad the blog didn't spontaneously combust!

  8. This is a great article - for aspiring and published authors. Thanks so much!

  9. I found this discussion very productive and useful. I came back from the retreat and organised my facebook page, commissioned my sister to redo the website and started being active on twitter.

    It was great listening to everyone and although none of us can pull a rabbit out of a hat like Tommy, we can try at least to wear a hat I think.

  10. Futile enthusiasm -frighteningly accurate description of me I fear....:O)

  11. Loved this post, Jo. Futile enthusiasm. I have lots of that. Well I used to think it was futile. Life surprises.

  12. @Candy - enthusiasm is futile but fingers are always firmly crossed!


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