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Self-Promotion and Marketing for the Children's Book Author:
A Conversation with John Kremer
By Anna Olswanger
John Kremer founded two companies to publish his own books; Ad-Lib Publications in 1982, and Open Horizons ten years later.
John Kremer's marketing classic:
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A prolific writer, his publications include Book Marketing Made Easier, The Complete Direct Marketing Sourcebook, the classic 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, a newsletter Book Marketing Update, and the chapter "Good Writing + Self-Promotion = Best-Seller" in Stephen Blake Mettee's The Portable Writers' Conference (Quill Driver Books). John Kremer believes children's book authors can promote their work with elbow grease--instead of money. Here's his advice.
ANNA OLSWANGER: What kinds of national publicity can a children's book author aim for?
JOHN KREMER: Anything but reviews--your publisher will take care of those. Full-page articles, author interviews, free reports, and television will get you more publicity, whether for self-published books or traditionally published ones. The only difference is that a self-published book can be promoted longer since the self-publisher is not likely to let the book go out of print. A larger publisher might.
OLSWANGER: Are there inexpensive ways for writers to promote their books?
KREMER: The most inexpensive way for authors to promote their books is to get out there and speak--wherever and whenever possible. Next comes publicity (with lots of elbow grease), then radio interviews, Internet lists, news group participation, web sites. But I believe that speaking and publicity are the two most effective and inexpensive ways to promote a book.
OLSWANGER: What are the Internet lists you mentioned?
KREMER: The lists depend on the subject of the book. To discover mailing lists devoted to a subject covered by your book, search the following directories:
- List Reference. This site has more than 12,000 lists and includes the number of subscribers in each list.
- Liszt. This site features more than 71,600 mailing lists and 18,000 newsgroups.
- Reference.Com. Besides mailing lists, this site has newsgroups and web forums (discussion groups on web sites).
- Vivian's List of Lists. This is one of the original lists of lists.
- Yahoo. Use this site to search for mailing lists or email lists.
Working with an internet list is a long-term project. You can't just jump in, talk about your book, and leave. Connie Evans, the author of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids, is actively involved in several listservs, all related to her niche markets: school nutrition professionals, co-op extension specialists, and dietitians. She attempts to contribute what she calls "valuable, free information when I feel I have expertise in the area." Her involvement has generated many inquiries and is responsible for most of her online orders--which amount to about fifty books per month.
OLSWANGER: Can writers work with bookstores apart from their publishers?
KREMER: Yes. Whenever you are traveling for personal reasons, call bookstores ahead of time to arrange a signing or talk. Visit bookstores and put your book face out. Offer to autograph the books--autographed books tend to get better display and seldom get returned. Write personal notes to bookstore owners and thank them for selling your book.
OLSWANGER: Can writers work with distributors apart from their publishers?
KREMER: Yes, but only if their publishers are small and don't have their own sales reps and warehouses. The large publishers, and many of the small-to-medium ones, have their own sales reps or work with independents, and wouldn't want an author contacting them directly. But in the case of small publishers, writers should notify their distributors of any publicity they get--they shouldn't expect their publisher to do it. If they do it themselves, it increases the chances that the distributors will actually pay attention and offer greater placement of their books.
OLSWANGER: What can a distributor do for an author that her publisher can't do?
KREMER: A distributor can't do anything for an author without the publisher's cooperation. But, if you have yourpublisher's consent, you can alert the publisher's distributor to new publicity and special sales that indicate a growing audience for your book. Ideally, you would want to correspond directly with the distributor's sales reps (whose addresses or fax numbers the publisher or distributor should be able to provide).
OLSWANGER: What can a wholesaler do for an author?
KREMER: A wholesaler can't do anything for an author, and very little for a publisher except passively take orders and fulfill them. But one option for authors is that you can buy time on the wholesalers' telephone order lines to promote your book, or buy space in its monthly sales magazines.
OLSWANGER: Can a children's book writer pursue her own rights sales?
KREMER: Yes. Be sure to let your publisher know about any potential rights sales you've identified. Don't assume your publisher has identified all the possibilities.
OLSWANGER: What are some examples of rights sales a publisher might not have identified?
KREMER: Few publishers would explore television or movie rights for a children's book, but an author, through her network of contacts, could. The author can also explore merchandising or licensing rights. Authors are as likely to have good contacts in this area as publishers.
OLSWANGER: Can a children's book writer pursue catalog sales?
KREMER: No publisher I know sells to more than a few catalogs, yet there are hundreds out there, including at least thirty or forty that sell children's items. Help your publisher discover these outlets. Compile a list of relevant catalogs and give it to the person who handles special sales at your house.
OLSWANGER: Where can children's book authors get lists of catalogs?
KREMER: Children's book authors can subscribe to Special Sales Update (my new newsletter that features contacts for catalog sales, premium users, and specialty retailers), or they can check any directory of catalogs, such as the following:
- The Catalog of Catalogs. 14,000 consumer catalogs arranged by subject. The Directory of Mail Order Catalogs. Email: email@example.com. Lists 7,300 catalogs but does not indicate which ones carry books. Catalog Sales Directory. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Features more than 500 catalogs known to carry books. National Directory of Catalogs. Email: email@example.com. Lists 9,000 mailorder catalogs classified by subject.
- Catalogue of Canadian Catalogues, 6th edition, Alpel Publishing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Features over 1,000 Canadian mail order catalogs.
But the best way authors can explore potential catalog sales is to get on the mailing lists of several children's catalogs by making a catalog purchase, subscribing to a children's magazine, or joining a children's interest group or association. Then look at those catalogs and decide if your book would fit in. That's something no publisher can do for every title, but an author can, since most authors only deal with one book at a time, while a publisher might be publishing 100 or more new children's books every year.
OLSWANGER: Can you give examples of corporate sales for children's books?
KREMER: I talked about this in my book 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, so I'm going to excerpt it here: Dorsey Laboratories, in cooperation with Random House, developed a children's book The Care Bears Help Chase Colds to help promote the sale of their Triaminic cold care product. Not only did this promotion help them to sell two million units of Triaminic (each with a free book), but it also helped them get better display space in stores. Consumers who bought two jars of Smucker's ice-cream toppings received a copy of Richard Scarry's Best Back-to-School Activity Book Ever at the in-store display. The 32-page book, compiled especially for Smucker's, incorporated the back-to-school activities in Richard Scarry's other books. The cover featured the Smucker's logo and various characters eating ice cream. Random House printed hundreds of thousands of copies of this custom premium. More than 3,000 Dairy Queen restaurants featured The Busy World of Richard Scarry in a summer-long promotion during 1996. Each Dairy Queen children's meal contained finger puppets of characters from the book. In addition, many stores promoted frozen cakes with Busy World themes. Frito-Lay inserted three 20-page mini-books written by R.L. Stine, collectively called The Goosebumps Thrillogy, into 32 million bags of Doritos, Ruffles, and other Frito-Lay chips. Goosebumps also formed partnerships with Taco Bell, Pepsi, and Hershey. Later, in early 1997, Parachute Press, developers of Goosebumps, formed a similar partnership with Pizza Hut. Several years ago, Random House made its largest single sale in company history to Kellogg cereals. Besides giving away 500,000 copies of Dr. Seuss books to 2,000 schools, Kellogg also offered another 1.6 million copies of twelve different Dr. Seuss titles free to kids who returned box tops from the Kellogg cereals Froot Loops, Rice Krispies, Cocoa Krispies, and Smacks. Bear in mind that in all of the above examples, sales were probably initiated and set up at the corporate level.
OLSWANGER: Are there agents or brokers who do this for a fee?
KREMER: One possible broker is Selling Solutions, James Paullin, Vice President, 5 Piedmont Center N.E., Atlanta, GA 30305-1509; 404-261-4966; Fax: 404-264-1767. Web: http://www.selsol.com. This marketing agency specializes in developing promotions aimed at children, but they also do other family promotions. In one promotion for Days Inn, they used a cookbook that featured eating light foods as you travel. Although they don't represent books or publishers, they are always interested in receiving information from publishers that they might be able to use in a promotion. But please note--in most cases, publishers would be upset if an author made a direct contact with a corporate sponsor. The writer could damage a business relationship. As with catalogs, authors can compile and suggest a list to the special sales department at their house.
OLSWANGER: What are some specialty markets for children's books?
KREMER: Toy stores--especially the small independents--gift stores, nature stores, department stores, churches, schools, scouting groups. Children's book authors are still in high demand for school appearances. In a recent survey of children's book authors, the authors reported making an average of 24 paid school visits each year. Average fees were $1,200 (ranging from $100 for new authors to $2,000 for established authors) for a full day's appearance. Not only can you make money speaking, but you can sell lots of books. In some instances, authors have sold 1,000 to 1,500 books during a three-day visit to a school.
OLSWANGER: What do authors do wrong when it comes to promotion?
KREMER: They’re not speaking. They’re not doing their own publicity. They’re not digging up those important but out-of-the-way contacts that can have a major impact on sales or publicity. They’re not using their personal contacts to open doors their publisher might not be able to open. And when authors do promote, they don't start soon enough. They don't get involved until it’s too late. Marketing begins with the writing of the book. Authors should have identified at least five target markets (or audiences) for their books before writing them, and then identify at least five ways to reach each one of those five markets. Don't wait until the book comes off the press. Note that most major monthly magazines have a six month lead time. Book clubs have a nine month to 18-month lead time. Major television appearances usually result from repeated contact over a year or two.
OLSWANGER: How can authors work with marketing departments?
KREMER: Authors need to be professional and develop a positive relationship with the marketing and special sales staff at their house. At an early stage, provide all the contacts and suggestions you have. Follow up periodically but not too frequently. Try to make their jobs easier, not harder. I've seen authors alienate marketing staffs by calling them too frequently with suggestions and questions.
OLSWANGER: What's the most creative marketing idea you've seen?
KREMER: At the 1996 BookExpo America, Learning Works put up a display of 300 paper dolls, all of which were topped by the photographic heads of real booksellers. Not only did the display attract all the booksellers featured in the display, but it also implied endorsement by those booksellers of the Learning Works list. Their booth had more traffic than any other booth in the children's area that year.
OLSWANGER: What's your final advice to children's book authors?
KREMER: What I've already said: get out and promote your book. Don't expect your book publisher to do it for you. Take every chance to speak about your book. People like to buy books from authors they have met.
On an airplane flight, one author sold a copy of her book to all but two people in the first class cabin, as well as two of the flight attendants. How did she do it? By not being afraid to promote her book.
Copyright 1998 by Anna Olswanger. All rights reserved. Copyright policy
Other interviews by Anna Olswanger are available at Anna Olswanger Books.
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