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What a Children's Publisher Expects
The Purple Crayon Blog January 2010
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While preparing for the SCBWI professional retreat, "Thriving in a Changing Industry: Cyber-Promotion Tools for Authors and Illustrators," I emailed my friend Donna Spurlock, who works in the marketing department at Charlesbridge. I wanted to confirm my general sense that although things have changed from the days when authors and illustrators were just expected to do school visits and answer letters, publishers don't want people to spend all their time marketing. Here's what she said, which is so interesting I am quoting it in full:
"You are right, expectations are a bit higher for authors to get out and about and do something themselves. Obviously, we (CB specifically, but publishers in general) are active in social networking as much as possible, promoting the company and each season of books and getting into as much nitty-gritty about specific books and personalities as we can, but the authors and illustrators really need to take the ball and run.
"I think some of this for us is partly economic, insomuch as we can't fund big tours, create a lot of collateral pieces, do a lot of advertising, etc. But some of it is just because the opportunity is there and authors and illustrators have been taking advantage of it. Mitali Perkins is probably the best example I know of an author who just took advantage of what was available to her. She blogs and has a website, tweets, is active on Facebook, etc., etc. She makes herself available to her readers personally. When she visits a school, she invites kids to visit her online. She networks with other authors and passes along their info and they do the same for her. In this way, social networking is really becoming a one-for-all community sort of thing. When readers can reach their favorite authors, they begin to expect that that's what you can do (It's from a safe distance, though).
"We wouldn't be able to afford that kind of time for that kind of personal attention. It becomes a tag-team effort, from my standpoint. I arrange visits (although a lot of authors do their own, especially for schools--and they prefer it that way. But where they can't get in, I can often make it happen, and vice versa). But it's great to be able to support their efforts by doing something as simple as linking to them as well as being able to put marketing money into ads, tours, etc. because it will pay off.
"It's always been the case (even at Charlesbridge) that a few books are your "lead books" and they get the majority of the marketing dollars. Here it's been more of an even distribution, but when a book starts to pull ahead in sales, or we know going in that a Jerry Pallotta or Mitali Perkins is going to be working overtime to promote the book, we get behind them more financially. Authors need to do the legwork to get to that point. And it's their personality that's going to do it.
"We do encourage authors and illustrators to do something like Tweet, or have a blog. They don't have to go and hire a web designer because there are plenty of ways for them to interact for free, but they should be out there doing something. We have a blog that we offer up for author/illustrator "articles," but that's a one-off and it's still on the Charlesbridge site. It's not them. In the end, all of that social networking stuff is too easy for people not to put some time into it. There are so many books vying for a space on the shelf, let alone consumer dollars, that you have speak up."
I can't say that what Charlesbridge does is typical of all publishers. Some may expect more of their authors and illustrators, some may expect less, while some may not aim for a teamwork approach like Charlesbridge does. But this is a good snapshot of what one publisher is doing, and sees its authors and illustrators doing, in this area.
Comments are welcome.
Update: Here is a list of Social Media Resources I compiled for a presentation Emma D. Dryden and I gave at the LA SCBWI conference in August, 2011.
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