Aunty Hot Key: Marketing, or How to Help Make Books Sell

Hello! I’m very pleased to take on the role of Giver of all Good Advice today – about Marketing – or, as I like to call it The Most Important Part of Publishing *hides from editors*

I’ve been working in marketing in children’s books for over 10 years now and I like to think I have learned a few things that I can pass on. The first thing, which hasn’t been asked, but I’m going to answer it anyway, because I think its necessary to clear up right now:

What is marketing?

I must admit I had no idea when I started trying to get into publishing. And it’s still not that easy to explain really! But, I’ll try. Marketing is making sure people can find and know about the book you’re trying to sell. Ideally, you want people to have heard about the book, and seen it in a shop, or on a website, or magazine, and then, maybe, buy it. People often confuse Marketing with Publicity, and they are certainly very blurred these days. When I first started working in publishing, before social media exploded, it used to be that Marketing was paid for, but publicity was free. But that’s changed over that last few years dramatically, as the departments tend to be working closer together. Some basic splits might be – the marketing department make the assets, like videos, games, posters, competitions and the Publicity team help us get them out there. So, I make the video and Meg (our PR Manager) might place the video, along with an interview on a website. Or, we make posters, and stickers, and activities for author events, and then the PR team get all the events set up and make use of the stuff.

On bigger campaigns, we would make sure that any big advertising, like tube posters, or website takeovers, would coincide with any PR that was happening, or events – so we can try to give the book the absolute best start it can have. We’ll also work with sales to make sure the book might be clearly visible in bookshops (like right at the front of store when you walk in) at the same time as the activity we’re working on. The golden rule is, the more times someone hears about a book, the more likely they are to buy it. If no-one hears about it, or sees it in a bookstore, then…it’s harder.

But marketing isn’t just about author campaigns, it also has a role in everything else to do with the book: whether we should publish it in the first place, what the cover is like, whether there should be any finishes (sparkly foil, or shiny bits) on the cover, websites for the author or publisher, ads at back of books, cover copy on the jacket and AIs (Advanced Information sheets, that give info about the book to sales teams), presentations to give to sales teams to help them know about the book, proof copies of the book to send out pre-publication…there are so many aspects to marketing, which is why I like to think it’s SO IMPORTANT*.

*Of course, it helps when your editors find fantastic authors and books for you to work with 🙂

So, on to the questions we’ve had in! I will try my best to answer in a helpful way:

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 10.51.35 Okay, this is probably the most asked question in my experience! If you’d like to go about getting your book published traditionally, then finding an agent is still the best route. Here at Hot Key, we do accept unsolicited manuscripts, but having an agent on your side before you submit is very helpful to give you advice on which publisher to submit to, and how you can make your book better before you submit.

From a marketing side of things, it often does help if authors have built up their own profile online a little – you’re on Twitter, which is great, but make sure to follow other authors like you, and engage with publishers you like online as much as you can. Starting a blog, or a Tumblr is also a great way to get your work out there and involve people in the process you’re going through. If you’re writing a children’s book, why not see if you can visit a school or library reading group to share some of your stories and get feedback on them from kids directly, or start doing some small events? Any direct feedback from readers you can get will only make your book better and help you understand the market. (If not kids, see if your library has an adult reading group you can talk to.)

Attend as many book-related events as you can do. Don’t be shy! Talk to as many people as you can – but don’t try to sell them your book at an event! There is no bigger turn off for publishers than people asking over a glass of wine if they can submit to you. Instead, drop it into conversation and talk about your story, but also talk about the other things you do too. Make sure to get contact details of people you talk to, and follow up with a polite email afterwards asking if you could talk about your book further, but don’t send it unless they ask! Also talk to other authors about their experiences – you can do this online by joining various writer networks, again if its kids focused try SCWBI – a great place to help authors learn from each other. Also think about entering writing contests – SCWBI have an Undiscovered Voices competition every year, where an anthology is put together of winning stories and through which many writers have been discovered and published. Good luck!

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 09.44.31

This is a really interesting one! Thank you Natalie for asking it. This is tough. Unfortunately, for you, in my experience most of the blurbs on the back of children’s books are written by the editor of the book, and then the marketing dept will give feedback on it. Some bigger publishers do have copywriters who work on ad campaigns mainly, but I don’t think mostly on children’s books – its normally across the imprints, so you might do children’s one day, and then military history the next! I would say though, being a good copywriter is something most marketing and publicity teams are looking for. Writing snappy copy for adverts, or email campaigns or websites is a skill and it sounds like you have great experience at that!

One option would be to take a week’s holiday and apply to do some work experience in a children’s publisher in the marketing department to get a feel for it. Or, there are also several marketing and PR agencies that work on book campaigns (some that we’ve worked with are Midas, ThinkJam and Riot Communications) and they are writing copy and press releases and pitches all the time, so your skills would definitely be transferable. Sorry its not better news but don’t let age hamper you – skills and experience are much more important! Best of luck.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 11.42.26Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 11.43.08

Great question! I think a lot of the advice I gave above about the debut author is relevant here too. Things for Indie authors to think more about really are – how can you replicate some of the things a publisher might offer you? Think about hiring a designer just to do your book cover, or a freelance editor to take a look over the whole book for you, including the cover. It looks like you make beautiful art yourself, but having an extra pair of eyes over your work from someone who can be genuinely objective is invaluable. Again, building a profile for yourself online and offline is so important for Independent authors. Make sure you are active on all the social networks you can be. Try to reach out to bloggers and reviewers who might be relevant for your book. It looks like your title is a picture book, so reach out to parent bloggers. Offer copies out for review, or giveaways on blogs. Getting people to know about it and talk about it online is the most important thing, and having a physical book for them to talk around is a nice gesture. Although they can read it online, for picture books, there’s nothing better than holding it in your hand.

Your question about publishing the whole book online is very interesting. Does it help or hinder sales? Well, I worry a bit with picture books that it does hinder the sales to have it all up there. If you have other books to sell alongside it, putting one full book online is definitely a good way to spread the word about your art. But also it might be great to have a Tumblr full of your pictures, and use that as a way of selling the book alongside, rather than just giving them the whole book.

Something else to think about is your meta data – that is all the information surrounding your book online. You must make sure people can find it, or stumble upon it, while they are looking at other things online, so make sure your book has an up-to-date description with strong key words in, high-res cover, and information about yourself along with it. I made this video about meta data a while ago – and maybe it’s useful here! It’s sounds boring, but its invaluable for online sales.

If you do want to approach publishers, use all your stats about online views and experience that you can in your pitch to an agent or a publisher – that will really help your case. Good luck!

Okay, that’s it for now, but if you have any more questions – ask below, or anytime on Twitter @sarahbenton or @hotkeybooks