As an author, the most frequent complaint I hear from fellow authors about a publishing house is ‘nobody tells me anything’ so my first suggestion to any publisher is to send authors a list of where their book has been sent for review and what promotion has been planned for it.
The best, most proactive and communicative publisher I have ever worked with is Paul Collins (Ford Street) for my YA novel, Crossing the Line (*see note at foot of this article). We worked hard and productively as a team. First, Paul asked me to send my contracted but unpublished manuscript to two people who we hoped would give us quotes to help promote the book. I chose two high-profile authors whose work I admire – Margaret Clark, whose books are for the same demographic as mine, and Elizabeth Fensham because her Helicopter Man deals with mental illness, as does Crossing the Line. In the first few weeks that the book came out, thanks to publisher and author working as a pro-active team, I had at least 17 book reviews and 12 interviews/articles (radio and newspapers).
SUPPORT YOUR AUTHOR
Basically all PR comes from the author and so he/she must be motivated. Quite often an author, especially a new one, has no idea of how they can promote their latest title, so it behoves the marketing and publicity department to provide authors with a promotion pack. This could include the press release that is sent out to the media and a high resolution copy of the book cover. I use the press release Paul Collins prepared for my book again and again.
Publishers, ask your author to contact all of their local media with the press release and their contact details. Recently I contacted a number of other proactive children’s authors for their take on promotion in the educational market. Here is what they said:
Jan Latta (a highly successful self-published author) Today, for 5 hours, I have been emailing every principal, or librarian, about my books for my next visit to Hong Kong. If the timing is too tight for the school to book me for a presentation, I send a set of books for their approval. I've only had one book returned! In HK I never charge a speaker's fee as I have great success with book sales. Usually over 1,000 books sold a week.
Hazel Edwards: Offering discussion notes is a way of value adding to your book and publicising it long term by word of mouth.
Edel Wignell: One of her strategies is to write articles for a whole range of magazines in Australia and overseas that in some way link with her current publication.
Susanne Gervay, Tristan Bancks, Paul Collins (and numerous others): They make themselves available and actively promote themselves as being available for writers’ conferences and festivals all over Australia.
Sandy Fussell: For her Samurai series (Walker Books) she has created an interactive website. She offers competitions and continually updates the site. Her launch party, which she organised, was the best I’ve ever been to. She sold over 80 books on the night.
Patricia Bernard and DC Green: Both of them travel extensively around Australia offering author talks and writing workshops, and both sell many thousands of dollars worth of their self-published books during their travels. Patricia once paid to have an advertisement placed on Sydney buses!
On looking at some publishers’ websites nowhere did I see links to their authors’ and illustrators’ websites. Nor did I find any indication whether or not their book creators are available for school visits, festivals, etc. However, one publishing house which does this very well is Allen & Unwin: their website is very easy to navigate.
I would advise publishers’ marketing departments to make a clear distinction between their adult and the children’s authors. Teachers and teacher librarians don’t have the time to work their way through publishers’ websites: they want the information at their fingertips.
BOOK AS MARKETING TOOL
One way in which any book itself can be a marketing tool is for the publisher to print on the back inside pages website details where teachers can find teacher notes, or print the teacher notes in the book itself as well as printing the author’s website address and the publisher’s website address. DC Green of Barrel Books makes full use of his books to show the above details.
If the book’s content is linked in any way to the school curriculum, it is a good idea for publishers to provide teaching resources that are appropriate for immediate classroom use (e.g. web quest, worksheets, word searches). This can even go on the blank pages at the end of the book!
WHAT TEACHER-LIBRARIANS WANT
When I asked a group of primary teacher-librarians about how to make children’s books school-friendly, they said:
1. Publish portrait books, not landscape. (The latter stick out from the library shelf and are difficult to shelve)
2. Publish books that link with the HSIE
3. Offer free author talks to schools
4. Arrange pre-publication talks
One teacher-librarian wrote to me: “The thing that stands out for me above all others is someone who knows their books and knows (enough) about education to make connections and answer intelligent questions. If I get an email or flier that just has the publishers’ blurb about the product and the price, then the consultant rings and says “Hi did you receive….do you want to buy…” I always say NO. It’s been filed in the recycling long ago. I need to be able to TALK and LOOK and TOUCH (failing this, to return if unsuitable). There is a limited library budget and we need to take care that what we get is great not just OK or even good, for our educational purposes.”
LINKING WITH THE AUTHOR
What publishers can do to promote their authors is to first establish a relationship: find out what the author wants or is willing to do, for example:
- school/ teacher talks
- author tours
- book fairs
- promotional tour
- sending press releases to local media
- presenting at festivals and/or conferences
- presenting at Staff development days, at Regional librarian meetings
- talking to local organisations, for example VIEW clubs
The publicist can ask the author to write articles for industry magazines e.g. Scan, Magpies, The Literature Base, Practically Primary, and Buzz Words about aspects of their new book. The author can also write articles that link with special days, (for example, I wrote a number of articles for Mental Health Week, which linked with my book Crossing the Line). Arrange a 'connection' with an excursion destination (once again curriculum link is great). The best example I can think of here is a big one (but it doesn't need to be this scale): to promote her book, author Felicity Pulman organised a tour of the Sydney Quarantine Station, the setting of her children’s book Ghost Boy. Make sure books are available for sale where the author is presenting. Link up with another of your publishing house’s authors in the same education area/topic: this way you can provide a 'dual package' to schools, i.e. two authors on one school visit.
Target special interest groups e.g. English as a Second Language or Gifted and Talented Children. Be aware of any special focus or special projects the Department of Education is undertaking – check their websites all the time and make contact at any opportunity. Be part of initiatives by education-related groups such as PETA - once again, check their websites all the time and make contact at any opportunity.
Publishers ought to prepare an author kit giving advice on where to go for publicity and how they can represent their book. One of the very best things publishers can do for an author is to arrange for him to speak briefly to their book reps. This gives the reps some anecdotal information and enthusiasm they can pass on to teacher-librarians. The reps can also give the TLs a sheet which provides information on how to contact the author for a school visit and where to look for teaching notes. On the day the author visits the publisher’s office to talk to the reps, it’s advisable to have the publicist and author sit together so that between the two of them they organise strategies for promoting the book. So often publicists work independently of authors: they usually don’t even get to meet those whose books they are paid to promote!
Allen & Unwin and Walker Books Australia send me great online newsletters every month with details of their new titles, as well as news such as author tours, author interviews, competitions and giveaways. I often order books as a result of reading these newsletters. Ford Street also sends out a very good online newsletter promoting its recent titles.
Teacher-librarians love to be signalled out for the work they do. Every region has a teacher-librarian network. In the Illawarra there is the Illawarra School Librarians Association with 120 members. It would be a worthwhile exercise once a term for a publishing house to offer a night highlighting: invite an author, illustrator or designer along to talk about their work. Offer refreshments and discounts. These nights can be held in bookshops and serve a double function, making the bookshop a profit and strengthening the bookseller/publisher bond.
Publishers could have a ‘meet the children’s authors’ event. This is an excellent way for a publishing house to get their writers to meet the general public (including teacher librarians and book reviewers, as well as the publishing house’s staff, e.g. marketing and publicity people).
It is a good idea to support book launches in schools. Richard Harland’s launched the Wolf Kingdom series in a Wollongong school. Richard organised a bookseller for the day who in turn contacted the school and sent order forms. On the day of the launch, 350 copies of the book were sold. At a second launch, at another school, 300 additional copies were sold.
If they are proactive, authors can sell a lot of books; therefore it seems sensible to allow them to do so, so make provision for this in their contracts. Give them the same discount as booksellers. When my author husband Bill Condon and I worked in schools as performers, Bill would speak in the morning to infants’ students, I’d speak to primary. At lunch-time we sold our remainders, usually for $3 or $5 each. It was not unusual to sell over $1,000 worth of books in the one hour lunch-time period.
FESTIVALS AND CONFERENCES
Publishers, encourage your authors to attend functions such as literary lunches, festivals and conferences. Publisher Paul Collins writes to each of his Ford Street authors asking them for a few lines of biography and then sent them collectively to all writers’ festivals around Australia saying these authors are willing to appear at your festival. There are dozens of festivals and conferences and all of them have large audiences.
Publishers, make a list of all of your children’s authors, along with their Send this list out to CBCA regional branches, conference & festival organisers, and regional teacher librarian groups indicating that the authors are available for visits. When authors speak at conferences, provide bookmarks and promotional material. Give the author a list of local media (and contact details) when they are to appear at a festival, conference or literary lunch. The author can organise interviews – or, if you are accompanying author, you can organise them
AUTHORS’ EMAILS & WEBSITES
When authors send emails, encourage them to have a signature on each email which includes not only contact information, but the name of their latest books. A website is an author’s best investment in PR as it is that author’s shop front. Hazel
Edwards recommends that authors give added value. ‘Have ready on your web site well-labelled activities which relate to that book title. This can be sent to schools, libraries or bookshops which have newsletters or events to which the author is invited.’ Publishers, give teachers' notes or additional resources to the author to put on his website. Encourage the author to have a generic 'How to'' or “How this book was written”, a 1,000 word article for easy sending to interested parties. As well, have a hi-resolution author photo on your publishers’ web site so it can be down-loaded by festival organisers and save you e-mailing.
WHERE TO PRESENT YOUR AUTHORS:
· School visits or writing camps (talking to children)
· Staff development days
· Regional librarian meetings
· Conferences and festivals
· Articles in teaching industry magazines
· On your website
Will publishers implement many – or any – of these suggestions? Hard to tell. However, every author I’ve discussed these ideas with has been fully supportive, and a happy author ought to be one of the main aims of every publishing house.