As I’m sure our readers know (because I haven’t been able to stop talking about it for weeks), our newest children’s book, Harriett’s Homecoming: A High-Flying Tour of Cincinnati, comes out next week! The author, Susan Levine, is a marketing powerhouse, and I thought it would be a great resource for our commercial and custom authors alike to hear about her unique promotion tactics. As she will tell you herself, it’s all about personal relationships, so I spent a while on the phone with her this morning gleaning her wisdom. Here is the condensed version:
1. Start with questions: You have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes to understand the audience. Why do they want my book? How is my book different than any other book they could buy? I knew my audience would be engaged parents and grandparents—people that are taking their kids around the city to see these places. My audience is also librarians and teachers. It is required by state education standards to teach elementary-aged children about Ohio history. This is the perfect book for them—an illustrated children’s picture book about a great Ohio city.
And it’s not just the end consumer—you have to think about the distributors who will move your book along to the customer. Who wants to sell my book? How is this different than any other book they sell? What can I do to get it to them? How can I get them excited about my book? I knew I should approach the highlighted places in the book, and then hone in on specialty book and toy stores. When I was promoting my first book, Packard Takes Flight: A Bird’s Eye View of Columbus, I approached Larson’s Toys and Games in Columbus about carrying it. I stopped in every few weeks, I brought them Graeter’s Ice Cream coupons as a thank-you when they bent over backwards to help me—I built a personal relationship with them. And the result? They have had my book on the counter for over two years now, and they’ve personally sold hundreds of copies.
2. Network: I worked with the places featured in the book for months ahead of time—researching, building relationships, getting permission for inclusion and pictures and history, etc. I will be dropping off a thank-you copy of the book to every single one of these places, asking them to pass it around and tell their friends.
3. Know your seller: Niche markets want something people can’t find many other places. When I am doing a book on a particular city, I will go to every neighborhood in that city and walk through all of the specialty book and gift stores. Once I’ve figured out which one is the best fit for my book, I go in and talk to a manager, explain to them how perfect their store is for my book and pitch it to them to stock it. But, I will only offer it to their store, and I make it clear that they would be the exclusive seller in that neighborhood. It then becomes mutually beneficial.
And once you have your book stocked somewhere you can’t just stop there. Specialty book and gift shops don’t operate like your franchised Barnes & Noble: they don’t have books on automatic replenishment. You have to go in every six months and check on your book—do they have enough copies, do they need any more signed, is the book displayed well and correctly? This is where an author has a lot of pull in keeping their book stocked and displayed.
4. Be Assertive: You have to be confident, and you have to be proactive. Talk personally with booksellers, know the Kids’ Lead at your local Barnes & Noble, ask them if they need to place a new order, ask them how to get a staff-pick for your book or how to get better bookshelf placement.
5. Social Media is Powerful: I’m still learning how to optimize social media, but I am learning just how effective it can be. When I was doing Packard Takes Flight, a natural resources/falcon conservancy blog posted about the book and linked to my web store. Within days orders were rolling in online—and these were just from peregrine falcon enthusiasts! Never underestimate what online buzz in a niche industry can do for you.
6. Do Complimentary Programs and Speaking Engagements: Our greatest success with both Packard Takes Flight and Harriett’s Homecoming has been our interactive, engaging, and multi-disciplinary school program. I’ve had so many school librarians who’ve told me it’s the best program they’ve ever been a part of. My favorite was an older librarian who told me: “This is the best author visit we’ve ever seen…and I’ve seen a lot.” And it’s effective because it keeps the kids engaged, learning, and moving. We talk about architecture, about cities, about falcons, about how books are made. They get to meet Erin, the illustrator, and learn about the artwork and they get to meet the falcon and learn about a native species. It’s really fun and fast-paced, and it moves more books than anything else.
Speaking engagements are also important because they help expose you to your niche audiences. They are never a direct sales pitch, but they enable you to talk about what you’re best at, and you can use your experience and your book as an example. I’ve spoken for the Audubon Society, the Ohio Libraries Conference, the Columbus Historical Society—the list goes on.
7. Make sure you are filling an unmet need with your book: Write a book that fills a need that you are uniquely qualified to fill, and then tell people about it.
A big thank-you to Susan for her insight!