We asked the faculty for our upcoming mini Marketing Opportunities for Storytellers (Valerie Bolling and Janae Marks) to answer a few questions for us about their experience and philosophy of marketing their books.
If you could go back and tell your debut author self one thing about marketing, what would it be?
Valerie Bolling: Be sure to build connections with libraries and bookstores BEFORE your book is released. Don’t just consider the libraries and bookstores in your city/town, but reach out to those within a certain radius that you’d feel comfortable traveling to (it could be anywhere from 20 – 100 miles). Not only will these librarians and booksellers order your books, but they can often connect you to schools if you’re interested in school visits when your debut releases.
Janae Marks: I’d tell myself that I don’t have to do it all. I did everything I could to build buzz for my debut novel, including guest blog posts, podcast interviews, social media graphics, events, and group marketing. I enjoyed some more than others, and some were more successful than others. My debut sold well, but looking back, it had more to do with the marketing and publicity efforts from my publisher. If I could do it all again, I’d pass on some of those marketing opportunities so I’d have more time to write my next book.
What’s one thing that you thought a publisher would do to market your book, but didn’t?
Janae Marks: I feel pretty fortunate with how my publisher has marketed and publicized my books. Before my debut, I didn’t really know what to expect! But one thing my publisher couldn’t do recently is sponsor (pay for) my travel and attendance at an upcoming educator conference. I’m on an author panel, and my publisher is sponsoring other authors, but they couldn’t add me to their list. I’ve had to accept that even when your publisher does a lot, they can’t always do everything you want. (In this case, I decided to invest in myself and still attend the conference!)
Valerie Bolling: I recently realized that some of my publishers aren’t promoting my books on their social media accounts, but yet I see other books being promoted. That’s disappointing to me, especially because I post frequently and always tag my publishers. While I realize that having my books shared on social media doesn’t guarantee sales, I do feel it’s a public-facing opportunity for publishers to amplify my books to show their support. When that isn’t done, it makes my books and myself feel unseen and unvalued.
How has your philosophy on marketing changed from when you were a debut author, to now?
Valerie Bolling: As a debut author, I thought the publisher would take care of marketing and publicity for my books, but I now realize how much I need to do to market my books. People who know me are aware that I take advantage of any opportunity to market my books, and I’m always looking for new angles. For instance, with my debut, LET’S DANCE!, I reached out to local dance studios, and for my most recent picture book, TOGETHER WE SWIM, I’ve emailed a number of organizations whose mission is to teach children how to swim. I can’t say that my efforts have resulted in significant sales, but I do believe it has made more people aware of my books, which is always a good thing.
Janae Marks: Following up on my first answer, I’ve learned that publishers can do more to “move the needle” with sales, and build buzz for books. They have the biggest platforms and budgets. But the hard lesson is that they can’t do everything for every book. It can be frustrating for authors who want to market their own books, but don’t see the payoff. But it can also be liberating to know that we as authors can only do so much. It’s really up to our publishers. That’s why now, I focus only on the type of marketing I enjoy. I also prioritize writing my next book. I’ve learned that if you have a nice backlist, you’re more likely to become a name that readers recognize and want to support.