Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy are the dynamic duo behind Book Slip Media. They specialize in publicity and marketing services for the trade children’s book industry. With recent event impacting book releases, authors are looking for creative opportunities to promote their work. I’m excited that Barbara and Sarah were willing to share some of their insights about book promotion.
We often hear that authors need a “platform.” How would you define a “platform” and do you agree that it is necessary for authors to have one?
A platform is a foundation. It’s name recognition as an author; it’s your unique identity (humorous/thoughtful/passionate/curious/zany) and how people find you. The larger your platform, the easier it is to have your voice heard, to book events, to get media coverage, etc. Some authors can extend their platforms by establishing their credibility in a certain field (like a science teacher who writes STEM picture books) or genre (a historical fiction author might focus on an expertise in WWII history).
Very well known authors have solid platforms upon which they can build a campaign to launch a new book. Kwame Alexander has built a fantastic platform as an expert on children’s poetry by writing award-winning books and building a huge fan base by speaking at bookstores, schools, libraries, and conferences for several years. He’s a fantastic poet and a gifted presenter. Those years of hard work perfecting his craft and his presentation skills have paid off as he has been named NPR’s official “poet in residence,” is a regular contributor to “Morning Edition,” and now has his own podcast via NPR. His platform is huge! When he talks, people listen. He’s in demand.
Not every author is going to have a platform as large as Kwame’s, but every author can work on building his/her/their platform as an author. Work on expanding your email contacts list, have a solid website, look for opportunities to speak about your book, be active in your local SCBWI group, focus on at least one area of social media. It’s also very important to be patient. If you want to develop a career as an author, it takes time and effort to build a platform–but you’ll get there!
Publishers offer varying degrees of marketing support for authors. What can Blue Slip do to help authors deepen marketing efforts?
Publishers are definitely stretched thin these days and marketing budgets tend to focus on the bigger name authors. There are a number of ways we can help supplement what the publisher is able to do to extend the reach of a book in the marketplace. We like to have a conversation with the author first and determine his/her/their goals. Do they want to see more emphasis in the school and library market? Do they want to do events at bookstores or appear at festivals? Do they need a curriculum guide or a marketing piece, like a bookmark or postcard, to hand out at events? Would they like help with their social media? Dedicated blog outreach for their book? Local media? Help with their website? An activity kit? Sometimes authors don’t know what they want, which is fine, too. 🙂 We can offer guidance on which areas of outreach would be most effective for their book and career trajectory. After we talk with an author, we always like to check in with the house publicist for the book to go over their marketing and publicity plans so we can come up with a strategy that will complement, and not duplicate, the publisher’s efforts. We work in close contact with the author and the publisher so everyone is on the same page; everyone knows who’s been pitched and the results; everyone approves promotional materials, etc. There are many ways to market a book—the trick is deciding which efforts will be the most effective in achieving the author’s goals.
Have you needed to pivot your plans for clients in recent weeks due to our current crisis?
Yes, we’ve definitely had to be nimble with a number of our campaigns. The pandemic has dominated the news cycle since mid-March, so there’s very little point in pitching a non-Covid related story—especially one about a children’s book (which is tough to get coverage on with mainstream media in good times!). We’re either pushing media pitching to later in the year when things will have (hopefully!) calmed down; or in some cases we’ve simply cancelled this aspect of a campaign. Reporters are working from home, too, so when we can still pitch, we’re definitely not sending books to offices.
We create marketing pieces for authors to hand out at events, but so many events have been cancelled this spring and into the early fall. We’re holding off on printing in some cases so we can revisit the quantities needed once events pick back up again.
We’re having to re-think timing on outreach to booksellers about particular titles. Stores are in crisis mode, so it doesn’t seem like the best plan to check in about our latest favorite nonfiction picture book. We’re pushing ads and conversations to summer or fall. When we’ve had authors scheduled for events at stores, we’ve been working with all parties to see if they can be done virtually vs. in person.
What is the one thing EVERY author should do?
What’s the first thing we do when we need information these days? We search the internet. So without hesitation, we always recommend that every author should have a good website. You don’t have to be the Queen of Twitter or the King of Instagram or the Prince or Princess of Pinterest, but you do need to have a nice, up-to-date website that showcases your book/s, your bio, good reviews, and any free downloadable “extras” like discussion questions or a book trailer. Include links to buy your book—it’s best to include more than one: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local independent bookstore, and always include IndieBound as well to support independent booksellers nationwide. It’s also important to include a way to get in touch with you–either a contact form or an email address. Keep your website current. Once your pub date arrives, change “Available in [pub month]!” to “Available now!” Add review quotes as they come in and any news about appearances or upcoming events. Your website is your chance to make a good first impression–you don’t want to look like you’re three steps behind.
If you are interested in learning more about Blue Slip Media, please visit their web site here: Blue Slip Media