by Ruth Spiro
I’ve spent the past few weeks in a flurry of activity, celebrating the release of my new science-themed board books, illustrated by Irene Chan. BABY LOVES AEROSPACE ENGINEERING! and BABY LOVES QUARKS! are the first two titles in the Baby Loves Science series, published by Charlesbridge. Next year they’ll be joined by two siblings, BABY LOVES THERMODYNAMICS! and BABY LOVES QUANTUM PHYSICS!
When my first picture book, LESTER FIZZ, BUBBLE GUM ARTIST, was published in 2008, my marketing plan included the tried-and-true signings, mailings and school visits. But back then, we authors had to promote our books the old-fashioned way: Barefoot, walking uphill, in the snow.
At least that’s how it seems, looking at it in the rearview mirror.
Take a minute to consider how you’d get the word out about your new book and connect with potential readers without social media.
For me, this second time around is a whole new world.
LESTER FIZZ came out in August of 2008, and I scheduled most of my launch events for September. I ordered postcards with the book cover on one side and details like the ISBN and a few blurbs on the other. I used the postcards as event invitations by printing labels with the date, time and location, affixing them to the postcards and then addressing them by hand. This required more work, but it allowed me to order a larger quantity of generic postcards I could use for multiple purposes, such as leave-behinds at conferences.
At the last minute, I decided to spring for the 5 x 7 size, which I thought would have greater visibility. Unfortunately, when I sent my first mailing I neglected to consider two important details. First, I used regular postcard stamps, not realizing the larger size required extra postage. This problem was compounded by the fact that when I designed the postcards, it hadn’t occurred to me to include a return address.
I’m not sure where those postcards ended up, but it wasn’t in my friends’ and family’s mailboxes. Ordering a larger quantity turned out to be my only smart move, because once I learned that 90% of the postcards were never delivered, I had to re-do the entire mailing. (The others arrived at their destinations postage due!)
Later that month when my schedule slowed down, I joined Facebook. Not many people I knew were using it, as it wasn’t yet a “thing” among people my age. Still, I’d been hearing about it more and more so I decided to check it out. I had fun connecting with high school friends and former colleagues, and began posting status updates. I still had two more book signings coming up in October, so I posted the details.
Surprisingly, people I hadn’t seen in years showed up, some with friends, babies, nieces and nephews in tow. Truth be told, these folks weren’t on my invitation list and would never have known about the events if I hadn’t shared them on Facebook.
Eight years later, Facebook has become an invaluable resource. It enables authors and illustrators to leverage our social networks by publicizing events, sharing links to blog posts and reviews, and connecting with fans and potential readers. Best of all, rather than blowing my promotion budget on invitations and stamps, I purchased important stuff like rocket ship cookies, airplane tattoos and astronaut ice cream!
I recall exactly how I met Tara-–on Twitter!
I had a Google Alert set for my book title (another helpful resource) and discovered her tweet:
We began following each other, I found Tara’s blog, and made a friend with similar interests halfway across the country. (Tara’s note: I love quirky LESTER FIZZ.)
In 2008 I knew very few people who were active on Twitter. The old joke was that people used it to announce what they’d eaten for breakfast. Back then, I think Twitter was still figuring out what it wanted to be when it grew up.
Ah, but Twitter is home of the hashtag.
For those still unfamiliar, and I personally know more than a few, I’ll briefly explain. Adding a “#” to the beginning of a word or phrase makes it visible to all of the 313 million active users around the world who are searching for that word or phrase. #Authors, #illustrators, #booksellers, #librarians, #bloggers, #editors, #agents and others in the #kidlit and #SCBWI community, including those interested in #picturebooks, #graphicnovels, #reading, and #literacy use hashtags to connect and see what others are discussing. Get the picture?
(People use hashtags on Facebook and Instagram too, but it all began on Twitter.)
You can share ideas and #chat with like-minded people around the world without leaving your own comfy couch. Through the years, I’ve used Twitter to “meet” hundreds of educators, librarians and booksellers. I’ve received invitations to speak at conferences, set up Skype visits with classrooms in India, Turkey and Mexico, and kept abreast of topics trending in children’s literature. When used the right way, the power of Twitter is stunning.
So, while I may have missed the boat with #bubblegum, now I can easily find people who are interested in #boardbooks, #STEM, #quarks and #aerospace. See? It’s addictive!
But wait, there’s more…
Booksellers, librarians and parents often post photos of new or favorite books, and some popular Instagram accounts have tens of thousands of followers (or more!) How cute is this photo of a little reader?
One word: Educators! If you have Educator Guides, crafts or activities to go along with your books, create a Pinterest board and pin them there. I pinned mine for Lester Fizz five years after it was published, and they’re still being “favorited” and “repinned.”
In my opinion, Facebook and Twitter are the two heavy hitters. They’ve given me the biggest return on my investment of time and effort without costing a penny. But as I made a list of all the tools that didn’t exist (or weren’t as popular) only six or eight years ago, I realized just how far we’ve come. There are some resources I haven’t mentioned (LinkedIn, SnapChat, Tumblr) simply because I haven’t found them quite as useful as the others.
Keep in mind that while these social media platforms can be used for promotion, they’re also spaces for creating community. I’ve found that the most rewarding experiences come from authentic interactions, resulting in relationships that grow over time. The best part is that once you’re an active member of a community, you don’t have to promote yourself as much because others will help do it for you. Of course, this works both ways. It’s a joy to celebrate contracts and “book birthdays” of those in your community, especially when you’ve followed each other through all the ups and downs of the journey.
Thank you, Ruth, for showing us how book marketing has changed dramatically in just a few years. I personally do not know what I would do without social media because, as you know, I like to stay home in my jammies.
Ruth is giving away a signed, two-book set of BABY LOVES SCIENCE to a random commenter. How do you use all the tools we have today to spread the word about your work?
A winner will be selected soon. (I have stopped saying a particular date because I never get to it in time. Yes, I have lots of things I have to pick winners for…I PROMISE SOON.)
Ruth Spiro is a children’s book author and freelance writer. Her Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge, includes Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! and Baby Loves Quarks!. The next two titles, Baby Loves Thermodynamics! and Baby Loves Quantum Physics! will be published in 2017. Also forthcoming from Dial is a new picture book series, Made by Maxine, which sold at auction in a 3-book deal. The first book is scheduled for 2018.
Ruth’s debut picture book, Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist won awards from Writer’s Digest and Willamette Writers, and was a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year. Her articles and stories have appeared in FamilyFun, CHILD, and The Writer, and also in popular anthologies, notably The Right Words at the Right Time (Vol. II), edited by Marlo Thomas, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. She lives in suburban Chicago.