This is the second instalment in my six week series called
Picture Books: Making It Count
I hope you find some interesting tips here. Thanks for reading!
Jill Carter-Hansen, Illustrator of Bearly There
(Windy Hollow Books, 2013)
Part 2: How Do I Find An Illustrator For My Picture Book?
For those seeking commercial publication, one thing that holds them back is the belief that they need to find and pay for an artist to illustrate their work before they submit it to a publisher.
Whenever I run a picture book course or speak to beginner writers, one of the first questions I’m asked is ‘Where I can find an illustrator for my picture book?’.
This is a common misconception people have when they’re starting out.
Unless you’re thinking of self-publishing, the task of finding an illustrator is undertaken by the publisher.
Publishers work with several, if not many, illustrators. They may even have a ‘stable’ of illustrators who they regularly employ on projects, whether they are picture books, chapter books or book covers.
Authors may not even know the illustrator who is commissioned to work on their picture book. I’ve worked on a book where the illustrations were done by two manga artists living in Japan.
Fangs was a full-colour illustrated chapter book
(a little unusual - chapter books normally have B&W illustrations).
The drawings were done by a Japanese manga group called Gurihiru.
Other books I’ve worked on have involved illustrators who live in different states. Our only correspondence has been via email or sometimes telephone. Sometimes not at all. In other cases, I’ve known the illustrator before they’ve signed onto the project or met them afterwards and become firm friends with them. We’ve even held joint events to launch or promote our new picture book.
Different types of relationships will evolve on different projects. This is all normal.
The publisher or editor will act as the middle-man or conduit for the relationship. They will manage the editing of both the text and the illustrations, passing on information or queries or feedback. This may seem a strange process to some, but the practice is conducted industry-wide and from my experience it works well because it allows each party their own creative freedom.
What the publisher does want to see from an author is fresh, clever, original words. And usually words alone. Your words have to stand out. They have to SING.
It wasn't until well and truly after our book, Stripes in the Forest: The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine, had been published that the illustrator and I actually got to meet. I live in QLD and Shane McGrath lives in VIC, so we were separated by geography. We spoke on the phone and via email quite a lot throughout the book creation process, however.
For those of you interested in writing or illustrating picture books, I thought you might be interested in this series of articles I'll be publishing over the next six weeks called
Picture Books: Making It Count
Picture books are one of the most popular children's book formats to write, but they're not always easy to master. Learning the craft of writing a picture book can take years. It's a good thing we all enjoy the process so much and that the rewards of publication make it all worth it!
Puggle's Problem was my first ever book,
and my first ever picture book, to be released.
(Wombat Books, 2010)
Part 1: The Magic of Picture Books
There’s something magical about picture books.
I view them as the Zen of children’s writing, as works of art, the fusion of two independent creators combining words and images to produce a lasting impact, a statement about the world or those creatures who inhabit it.
I create picture books because I love to play with words and rhythm and rhyme.
I create picture books because I love to write stories that enchant this younger age group.
And, I have to admit, I create picture books because of pure and unadulterated selfishness.
Sure, I create every story with a design and a desire to share it with others. To impassion. To entertain. To teach. To evoke.
But deep down, one of the key reasons I write picture book stories is because I know that one day, if the planets align and I manage to score some luck on my side, then I will have the heady pleasure of seeing my words brought to life by a skilled artist.
Warambi was my second picture book.
It was shortlisted for the CBCA Eve Pownell Award and
the Wildernress Society Award for Children's Literature.
(Working Title Press, 2011)
For someone whose drawing prowess extends only to stick figures illustrations, the joy I feel when I hold one of my picture books for the first time is immense. It’s like I’ve been handed a precious gift.
There’s no way I could bring to life the images of my story that exist in my mind. I couldn’t function as a picture book creator without the help of the talented artists and designers I work with. Admittedly, they need my words to provide the scaffolding for the story. But without their pictures, my words are lifeless on the page.
Stripes in the Forest: The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine is my latest picture book release.
It came from a passion for thylacines, a desire to tell their story from their POV and a hope, a dream, that they might still be out there.
This is the second part of my blog 'Can You Write 25 Words... More or Less?'.
In the last issue, I finished off with mentioning that I'd had an epiphany, a light bulb moment, after winning so many 25 words or less competitions.
You see, at the same time I was entering competitions, I was also working at something I’d always considered as a hobby – writing.
Occasionally if I could get my now two baby boys (they’re seventeen and a half months apart) to sleep at night, I could slip out for a few hours to the State Library in Sydney where we lived at the time and do some research on an historical novel I was working on.
Baby Number 2 arrives home...
I’d been dabbling in a few other things but I still hadn’t found my voice or my place in the writing world. I still very unsure what the future held for me in terms of my writing.
But I realised that I must be okay at it. I knew what to give those competitions. I knew what to write. Another seed started germinating in my mind.
I began to wonder if I could make money from my writing not just with competitions but with proper stories. By becoming a proper, published author.
I thought if I can write 25 words, a picture book isn’t much more. Surely I can write 300 or even 500 words?
At least I could give it a shot.
Funnily enough, this where most mums-turned-writers start. I guess I’m just a cliché!
Of course like everyone else starting out, I underestimated how difficult writing picture books actually is. I still had a lot to learn. But luckily, I found the right path.
Probably the first thing I did was discover the NSW Writers Centre and the first course I attended was with Di Bates who gave me a crash course on writing for children. It was invaluable and set me on the right path to publication.
In our first house in Willoughby (Sydney). Baby Blake and his Whinnie the Pooh teddy were inspiration for my picture book, Bearly There. It was in this house that I made my decision to become an author.
I guess what I’m trying to say is start small.
You might try 25 words or less competitions too.
You might also start off by entering short story or picture book competitions.
At the same time, keep your eye on that big prize of commercial/traditional publication in book form. But along the way, vary and practice your writing (and your ability to meet a deadline) by entering writing competitions – in any form they might take.
When I went to see Irina Dunn, former director of the NSW Writers Centre, speak at the Sydney Writers Festival she told the audience that a publisher wouldn’t take notice of an author or their manuscript unless they had thirty writing credits on their CV.
That’s an awful lot of writing credits!
I tend to think you can get noticed with less than thirty, but at the end of the day having those credits sure isn’t going to hurt your chances.
What Irina was saying was practice your writing. Perfect it. Make it good enough.
The publishing industry is highly competitive. And picture books are probably the most highly competitive genre in the market.
Authors, especially new ones, have a bad habit of sending their work off before it’s ready. They write their story one day then submit it to a competition or a publisher the very next.
It’s only second or third draft, if that.
An illustration from my first-ever story published 'Rusty and the Car Auction'. The story was published in Little Ears Magazine, which was edited by Di Bates. This was my first big break!
So, me being me, I decided that I’d focus on entering these 25 words or less competitions. I didn’t feel that I had any particular aptitude to winning them, mind you, I just thought I’d give it a go. What did I have to lose? They were free to enter so they cost nothing, but I could win stuff. And you have to be in it to win it.
Remember, when you send your manuscript off it’s competing for air-time with a publisher against the likes of Mem Fox, Libby Gleeson, Margaret Wild, Jackie French, Tobhy Riddle, Peter Carnavas, Gus Gordon… major award-winning authors… I’d hazard a guess that these authors don’t send their work off after one or two drafts.
Even for me, a relative new-comer, I wouldn’t let anyone see my story until I had written and edited it many, many time. Perhaps thirty-two drafts or even more…
You can bet that the best, most conscientious authors spend weeks, months, years perfecting their stories – yes, even picture books – before they submit to their agent or publisher.
I’ve learned through numerous rejections that sometimes my story wasn’t good enough for publication. And sometimes it never would be.
Ah, rejection letters... we've all had them!
Competitions give you the opportunity to practice your writing and also test the market. If your manuscript does well in a competition, you know you’re on the right track. You can use that placing/highly commended/prize as a pitching point in your cover letter to the publisher.
Sometimes you’ll even win prize money and get paid for your story to be published. I can’t recommend The School Magazine enough. They were one of the first places for my short stories to appear and my stories were illustrated by some of Australia’s finest children’s illustrators including Kim Gamble and Tina Burke.
One of Tina Burke's gorgeous illustrations that accompanied my story, 'A Magpie Called Swoop' in the School Magazine. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when this story was published. And I got paid for it!
Fast forward to 2017 and I’ve now published thirty-six books including picture books, chapter books, junior series and novels for middle grade/older fiction.
I am writing quite a lot more than 25 words.
But I still wholeheartedly believe that 25 words got me started.
It motivated me and showed me what I was capable of.
Starting small, tiny steps, that’s what it’s all about.
There’s a well-known six word story, often attributed to Ernest Hemmingway.
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
If in six words you can say so much, what can you say in 25 words… more or less?
When I quit my full-time job at a huge, multi-national pharmaceutical company in 2003 knowing that I was giving up a great income, fantastic benefits, and a company car, I didn’t look back. I didn’t regret it for one moment.
After all, at the time I was eight months pregnant with my first child. I was full of excitement for what was in store for me next. And I was fully committed to being a full-time mum. Motherhood was going to be my new job and I was going to be the best mum ever and have the best time ever being that best mum.
Ah, the folly of relative youth…
Relative youth indeed, this photo was taken the night my husband proposed.
We were both very much still caught up in the corporate world then.
Of course, motherhood was and still is a wonderful experience. Everything about being a mother is incredible. And it’s also an incredibly huge learning experience.
After a few months of going cold turkey on the corporate world, I did start to realise that I was the type of person that needed mental stimulation. And if my newborn son was sleeping properly, there were times when I actually had several hours on my hands in which I could do something adult, something for myself.
In the last few months of my pregnancy while I was working full time and feeling more and more uncomfortable as the baby grew, I did become exhausted.
But about six weeks after the baby was born I began to get my energy back. I can remember feeling so much better (and lighter!). Despite the breastfeeding and night-time waking, my body was bouncing back and so was my mind.
Baby Number 1 was a shock to the system. So were the other three...
I still didn’t want to go back to work. I was still committed to spending all of my time with my baby. But I began to entertain the idea of doing something from home, which meant I would have stimulation and contribute but still call myself a full-time mum.
I could have the best of both worlds.
Losing my income was actually impacting on us and I began to feel to effects of giving up my income.
Mental stimulation also kept me balanced.
Contributing to the household and the household income gave me a sense of worth.
Then I discovered the 25 words or less competitions.
You’ve probably seen them. They’ve always been on products as promotions, in newspapers and magazines, and now there are even websites that list the various competitions available. Some people enter these competitions ‘professionally’ – they really make a job of it.
Baby Number 1 growing well. Check. Baby Number 2 on the way. Check.
Blue Mountains Cable Car.
So, me being me, I decided that I’d focus on entering these 25 words or less competitions. I didn’t feel that I had any particular aptitude to winning them, mind you, I just thought I’d give it a go. What did I have to lose? They were free to enter so they cost nothing, but I could win stuff. And you have to be in it to win it.
I would source competitions everywhere. My eyes were always peeled for new opportunities. Anything I saw in the supermarket or a newspaper was fair game.
I started entering competitions.
But I didn’t just send anything off.
I crafted every entry with time and care and effort. I know it’s only 25 words, but it’s actually quite difficult to write something clever, original, funny or engaging in just 25 words.
Sometimes I used poetry. Sometimes I used alliteration or humour. Sometimes I used persuasive language to pull at the heart-strings.
I was entering quite major competitions too, some that offered what I considered to be huge prizes, like holidays.
After a while, I started winning some of these competitions.
Again, me being me, I created a spreadsheet that recorded all of my wins.
The competitions always stated what the prize was worth, so I knew the dollar value I was aiming to win.
Some were small things like chocolate bars, chopping boards, baby outfits, flower bouquets, books, toys, but there were also some major prizes.
Like five nights at the Novotel in Darling Harbour – which I won!
It got to the point where I was receiving packages almost every week. Every few days there would be a package on my doorstep when I got home.
It got to the point that if there wasn’t a package on my doorstep, I would be disappointed. I’d become conditioned to expect something to turn up every week.
This was a strange position to be in. Having gifts, freebies, turn up on your doorstep to the point that you expect them. It was like having Christmas all year round.
And I just kept entering and winning.
It was very addictive.
Instant gratification, winning, opening presents – they’re all very addictive and satisfying.
25 words won my Playgroup a Mothers Morning Tea and Pampering Session from Paradise Foods. In another competition, I won 10 Spot (the Dog) Book Pack Prizes and a Party with a Spot Dress-Up Costume. That was a highlight for the neigbhourhood.
In the first year on my spreadsheet I recorded $11,500 worth of prizes. I couldn’t believe how well I’d done. I was spurred on by this to keep going.
The second year, I got about five or six months through and I’d won $4,500 worth of prizes.
A light bulb went on in my mind.
I'll continue my story in the next blog issue!
Hi, I’m Aleesah Darlison. I’m an author and the owner of Greenleaf Press.
Through the many author talks, writing workshops and public appearances I do each year, I get to meet a lot of people. Many of these people are aspiring and emerging authors who are just finding their way in the industry.
I remember what it was like – not that long ago – to be an aspiring author. Everything seemed so far out of my reach and I didn’t really know if I’d make it or not. Being an author isn’t like other jobs. You don’t apply for the job of author and start earning money straight away. There are uncertainties every step of the way.
Sometimes it takes years of commitment, practice and patience before you secure your first writing job or snare that first publishing contract. If you take the self-publication route, you have to write and produce the book yourself, investing time and money to do so and then work darn hard selling it. Especially for self-publishers, the journey can become less about the writing and more about the business of being an author.
Nobody hands you the title of author on a platter. It takes an incredible amount of hard work and self-belief to achieve a writing dream.
And getting published takes more than just writing a book. Of course, that helps, obviously, and writing a good book helps even more.
But on the path to publication, there are many steps to be taken.
I’ve seen authors and illustrators successfully carve out a name, a niche for themselves BEFORE they even had a book in their hands. It can be done. It is being done. And you can do it too.
If you build it, they will come.
One of those key steps towards establishing yourself before you’re published is to develop a presence in the market – both physically by attending networking events and ‘getting your face out there’ and also digitally. Being online and present and interacting through social media and creating digital content via websites and blogs.
It’s all part of the process of developing what we’ve come to know as an Author Platform.
I know it sounds strange and slightly nerve-wracking. This path is not for everyone, but in many cases it is a proven way to success.
Years ago, you had the book in your hands with your name on it before you went around telling people that you wanted to be an author. We were too shy, too new, too humble to even think the words let alone speak them.
People might consider us a fraud if we did.
Today things are different. With the internet and all the information on it available at our fingertips, now more than ever it’s important to have an online presence.
Putting the cart before the horse as such can help you focus, stay motivated, and realise your dreams more quickly. Not only that, having a website tells people who you are.
Just because you’re creative, doesn’t mean you can’t present a professional image to the world.
An online presence might start with something simple like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
But if you’re serious about becoming an author and getting noticed, you’ll have your own website and possibly your own blog. I don’t want to alarm you… but you may even start to consider YouTube as a way to tell people about who you are.
I know, video is scary stuff!
But the statistics and predictions are in – within a few years, 80% of online content will be video.
Many authors-in-waiting will tell me that they don’t have anything to put on their website.
All it requires is a little careful planning and thought. It isn’t hard creating content. After all, we’re authors, right? Creating content is what we do for a living.
In this era of content marketing, social media is virtually made for authors.
Now is your time to shine! As an author, you’re in the best position to create the content necessary to tell your own stories – your background and history and the stories behind our books.
Your website is a crucial shop front and information booth for yourself and your books. If you expect people to buy your books, they’re going to want to know about you.
If you expect people to book you for school, library and preschool visits, they’re going to want to know about you.
Trust me, people do research these things. Especially if they’re shelling out money for something.
If you expect publishers to publish your story, they’re most likely going to want to know who you are and what sort of profile you have in the market. Do people know you? Do you have supporters, followers, a ready-made audience who will buy your book? Are you a publishing success story just waiting to happen?
What do you think is the quickest and easiest way to check someone’s credentials?
You guessed it, a Google search. It’s the same thing you’d do if you were looking to buy something. You’d check it out on the internet first. I know I would.
But if you don’t have a website, people can’t find out about you. They can’t verify that you’re for real, they can’t validate who you are.
They won’t buy your books if they don’t know who they’re buying from.
Beyond the uncertainty and humility, lies a clear path for you to take as an author. An online presence is crucial for your future as an author.
Here are five straightforward ways an author website can help you.
An author website will show prospective publishers that you’re professional, committed and here for the long haul. With the images and content that you show, you can project your own unique branding, image and style. Be the author you want to be seen as.
Having a website means you’ve got an online store offering your books for sales 24/7. If people are able to buy your books online, you have the potential to earn money while you’re sleeping.
Your website should include relevant information about you as an author, it can also contain information about your writing journey, what associations and groups you’re a part of and even list writing tips and resources. Importantly, it will also provide information about your books, enticing people to purchase.
Building Your Email List
If you include a contact form or newsletter sign up page, you can gain access to crucial contact details of people interested in you and your books.
A really useful page to have on your website is a Links Page, listing other useful sites and resources. When you set up this page, make sure you contact the author, illustrator, publisher or organisation so that you’re linking to so they know about it. If you’re lucky, they might reciprocate and add your website to their list of links too. You gain the benefit of being promoted on another website and you’ve made a friend. Connect with them on Facebook or other social media and the links just keep getting stronger.
Hi, I’m Aleesah Darlison. I’m an author and the owner of Greenleaf Press.
Last week I shared with you the concepts behind the launch of Tropical Trouble, the third book in my Totally Twins Series.
Following on from that I thought it might be a good time to offer some tips on book launches.
The birth of your new book baby is always a special event. Especially if it’s your first book – or possibly one of your first five books - you should celebrate it. Not only for your own sake and to be able to enjoy that sense of achievement, but as a way to tell people that you’ve arrived on the scene.
Book launches are also a fabulous way to make relationships with booksellers and buyers of your current/new book and future titles.
You can’t sell a secret.
If nobody knows that your book has been released, how do you expect them to know where to find it and how to purchase it? The answer is that you have to tell them. Creating a super special and super spectacular launch party to spread the word is a wonderful idea.
So, here are my 10 Tips to help you create a Totally Terrific Book Launch
1. Aim to Draw a Crowd
This is probably the most crucial aspect of your book launch. You want as many people as possible at your launch for a number of reasons: to let everyone know about your success, to impress the bookstore/venue and to sell lots of books.
2. Make Each Launch Different
Come up with something fun, fresh, original and new for your book launch. Make it interesting to draw in that crowd.
3. Always Ask Your Publisher to Contribute
Book launches can be expensive and there are lots of items you’ll need to buy. Always ask the publisher if they’re willing and able to contribute funds to the launch.
4. Do You Have a Drawcard?
It’s always a good idea to have someone introduce you and launch you. Especially if they’re a celebrity, a well-known author, or a respected or senior member of your community because they will attract their own audience. Get on the phone to David Beckham right now!
5. Thank Everyone
I’ve made this mistake before. I was so nervous, like terrifyingly leg-shaking, cotton-mouthed nervous during my acceptance speech that I forgot to thank my publisher. Agh! Make a list if helps.
6. Themes and Linkages
If you’re launching a picture book that features Australian animals why not have a real live animal come along? I’ve had possums, bats, echidnas, snakes, koalas and frogs at my book launches at talks before. Children and adults really loved this. If your book features red balloons, then have plenty of red balloons at your launch. Always look for linkages.
7. Have You Got the Right Venue?
If you hold your launch at your local library, they might only have certain hours that their space is available. They might not allow food and drinks because they can create a mess. A launch at a library, however, means you can sell author copies of your book at a full price without the need for a bookseller. If you hold your launch at a bookstore the shop owner obviously wants and deserves their ‘commission’ so any sales made will usually only equate to your royalty percentage. Always ask up front what the conditions are.
8. You don’t only need to have one ‘launch’.
You can have multiple launches in multiple locations and states. Many authors do this.
9. Be prepared and practice your speech.
Keep it short and sweet and preferably have a running sheet for the night so you and everyone else know what you should be doing at any particular point in time.
10. Promote across various media.
Get newspaper adverts or free notices if you can, have flyers to hand out around the local area and of course use social media to its utmost to generate interest and get people in the door.
These are just ten brief and simple tips for holding your next (first!) book launch. A more comprehensive e-book guide to holding book launches, which will include two case studies as templates for you to use, will be available on the Greenleaf Press website soon. Visit www.greenleafpress.net/resources for more information.
Hi, I’m Aleesah Darlison. I’m an author and the owner of Greenleaf Press.
There are many ways you can use your marketing skills to promote a book. This instalment of the Greenleaf Press Newsletter, I’m going to talk about the extra special, rather unique way I launched one of my Totally Twins books.
The Totally Twins series, four books in all, was written by me, illustrated by the gorgeous Serena Geddes and published by New Frontier. It was the first series I’d ever had picked up and I absolutely loved writing in diary format.
Pre-publication, I entered one of the stories in the series into a competition. The story was shortlisted, which told me it was good enough to start submitting. Not long after that, I submitted the series proposal and one story manuscript to New Frontier.
They liked the idea and offered me a contract to publish two books. After the success of the first two books, we went on to create another two books, to there were four in total. The series sold in Australia and was also sold in France and recently in the UK.
Rewind to 2010, however, and I only had one published picture book under my belt at the time Totally Twins Book 1: Musical Mayhem came out, so I was still very new in the market. Incidentally, the Totally Twins series was picked up from the slush pile, or unsolicited manuscripts.
When the third book, Tropical Trouble, was due to be released, I wanted to do something different, something fresh, that would attract people to the launch and create buzz around the book’s release.
I was still pretty new to the writing and publishing game and had only had two book launches previously so I was very inexperienced.
What I did have up my sleeve were some great contacts – and supportive friends – at the local primary school where my children attended, Balgowlah Heights Public School in Sydney. I’d worked with the children in my oldest son’s class (he was in Year 2 at the time) to create a fun little video of my picture book, Puggle’s Problem, to enter into a CBCA Competition.
The students in the class and the parents all got behind the project. It really did help that the children loved acting. They were awesome! We didn’t win the competition, but if you’d like to see the hilarious OUT-TAKES video, you can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yu2d5z18fM0&t=20s
It occurred to me to make another video, this time for the launch of Tropical Trouble. It would be lots of fun, I had the support of the students, teachers and parents of my son’s class at school – everyone wanted to be involved – and I thought it would be a fantastic way to engage people in my stories.
Admittedly, it was a huge job. I had to take portions of the first book, Musical Mayhem, and convert it to a ‘screenplay’, effectively reducing a 15,000 word book to only a few thousand words that would then be narrated and acted out over a three minute film.
Then, I had to cast the twenty-five students in roles (not an easy job when everyone wanted to be the main character!), have them rehearse, bring in props, rearrange classrooms and halls for filming, find someone who could film while I directed, actually spend time doing the filming, edit the film and finally ‘release’ it at the launch.
Thankfully, one of the other mums worked at Channel 7 so had lots of experience with filming and editing – and the great thing was, she was keen to help me. Huge bonus!
Each and every one of the twenty-five students were given parts. Some more major than others, obviously.
The idea was that the film would have its ‘world premiere’ at the book launch, which would be held at Berkelouw Books in Balgowlah on a Friday afternoon after school.
I was absolutely amazed at how eagerly the students threw themselves into learning their roles and filming. There were a few nerves and jitters, amongst lots of excitement and expectation. Not a single child let me down, though. They all performed their parts with gusto.
My other idea to help create buzz, was to offer goodie bags for those attending. I contacted stores in the shopping centre where Berkelouws was located plus some other contacts I had, asking them to donate products, giveaways and promotional items for the goodie bags and also as lucky door prizes. Lots of people came on board, which was fantastic.
Serena and the graphic designer at New Frontier created some beautiful invitations, which we distributed far and wide. I also bought some island-themed outfits for us to wear on the night – grass skirts, lays, floral headbands. We really got into the spirit of the tropical theme.
Promotions focused mainly in the local area and with the use of direct marketing and some point of sale flyers – Serena’s invitations. We were also lucky enough to score a notice in the Sydney Morning Herald. Of course, everyone at the school, and especially the ‘actors’ in my son’s class and their families were all geared up for the launch too.
On the night of the launch, we ended up with about a hundred people crammed into Berkelouws amidst table loads of food, drinks, balloons and decorations, books and of course, the film screen.
And I mean crammed. We’d pretty much gone beyond buzz and entered the realm of hype. It was standing sardine room only.
It was absolutely fantastic and I would have to say the book launch was a resounding success. It was a huge effort in the months prior, but it was also lots of fun and it was a truly effective way to engage readers and their families in the series. Making the short film they got to know my characters better and came to feel that they were a part of the stories themselves.
Here’s the link if you’d like to view the short film we made:
My son, who was eight at the time is in the video. See if you can pick him. Here’s a clue: his performance will rock you!
Life, and book launches, are what you make of them. If you’re trying to create buzz, atmosphere, excitement and a POINT OF DIFFERENCE, it’s a good idea to try something new. Something that involves others and gets them excited and interested. Creating supporters, fans and ambassadors for your books does take time, care and commitment, but it’s well worth it.
Book launches happen all the time – but making them different and interesting so people actually want to come and be involved and buy your book – now that takes a special effort.
Over last few weeks I shared my experiences and some of my learning outcomes from over a decade in corporate marketing.
If you’d like to read these articles, you can find them at the Greenleaf Press Blog, The Writerly Life, at www.greenleafpress.net.
When I first started out, the 4Ps of marketing were all the rage.
Product. Place. Price. Promotion.
There have been other theories introduced in past years and some talk about moving from only 4 Ps to another P, that of relationship marketing.
Relationship marketing is all about developing relationships, obviously, with your prospects and customers. It’s about networking face to face, sure, that one’s always been important, but thanks to technology, the internet and social media, you can now network from the comfort of your own home across several different platforms – with people all across the world.
This type of marketing is critical as an author. Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay and it’s now a key part of a savvy author’s marketing tool kit.
Recently we’ve also seen the advent of a 6th P: experiential, or engagement, marketing where advertisers promote a product or brand by immersing prospects/customers in the experience. I don’t have time or space in this short newsletter to fully go into these concepts, but you can find out more about them with a quick google search.
What I want to talk about is the idea of marketing yourself as an author BEFORE you’re published.
It’s all about building an Author Platform.
Because of this, it’s also about COMMITTING to becoming an author and BELIEVING in yourself becoming an author.
When I think of building an Author Platform, it may be worthwhile to consider 5 other Ps. They are:
How you look, how you speak, how you present yourself – how others seeing you in public – this is your image. It’s incredibly important. Your personal presentation is your public persona. People judge our books by their covers. Why wouldn’t they do the same to us?
The projection of image is not just in our own physical presentation but also our promotional headshots, website images, Facebook and other social media platforms. All of these media ‘channels’ need to look good and present a consistent image.
Perhaps consider linking your image/persona/presentation with a certain item, animal, colour, character or concept from your books. In this way, you’re creating strong BRANDING and making yourself memorable, hopefully in a good way, to your audience.
I’ve often dressed in a unicorn onesie because I write a Unicorn Riders series. Chris Collin, who writes and self-publishes picture books about ‘funky’ chickens often wears a shirt with a funky chicken character on it. We remember him for that.
When you’re a children’s author, you can get away with unicorn and chicken dress up because kids love it! And it’s fun…
Just because authors and illustrators are creative, doesn’t mean that they have to be flaky, disorganised, forgetful or unprofessional. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
Professionalism includes things like meeting publisher deadlines, to submitting to proposals to festivals on time and adhering to the guidelines given, replying to emails in a timely manner, being punctual for meetings and treating your readers, bookers (teachers, librarians, etc) and others with courtesy and consideration at all times. It really helps you to stand out if you can have high professional standards and approach your author ‘business’ in this way.
Oh, there will be politics in many situations in life. The children’s writing and publishing industry is no exception, despite its friendly and welcoming nature. At all times try to be as diplomatic as possible. It is a small industry and news travel fast through it.
Probably my best advice here would be to steer clear of it. Treat everyone equally. And be kind to all.
People often say to me that writing is a very solitary occupation. In many ways that’s true. We spend countless hours working at our desks, perfecting words for our beloved stories.
But computers and the internet have brought the world so much closer and made social interaction much more accessible for even the most solitary author. Even in our lonely garrets we can reach out and communicate with others. There really is no excuse for not developing relationships and working on your ‘relationship’ marketing.
The people who will become important to you are your readers, and you must always treat them with respect and care. It’s crucial that you show them that they’re valued.
The other people who are crucial in your writing career are your author and illustrator colleagues. Besides your family, if you have one, your author/illustrator friends will be your greatest support and the only ones who truly understand what you’re going through.
If you’re a beginning author, either aspiring or emerging, don’t ever think that just because someone has been published two, five, fifty, one hundred times… that they don’t still feel the same trepidation as you do at completing and submitting a manuscript. That they don’t still wait for that hard-won acceptance. Just like you are. That they don’t still dread editing (I know I do!)… or that they don’t feel jitters before stepping out to perform to a crowd.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since becoming an author, it’s that we’re all the same underneath.
And don’t forget, publishers and editors are people too. Just like us, they have likes and dislikes, families, hobbies, interests. It’s a good idea to develop positive relationships with publishing people too.
If you don’t know how to network, chat, make small talk, make someone feel included in a conversation and know how to listen, TRULY listen, then now’s the time to start practising before you hit the big time!
As an author you will be put in so many situations where you have to meet and talk to people for the first time. Whether it’s at school visits, library talks or workshops, or at industry functions. You will talk to a lot of people, see many new faces and have to learn many new names.
Make it your business to get these things right.
Learning a few pleasantries to break the ice and to be willing to listen, not just TALK about yourself, is a skill that we all need to work on.
Having said that, make sure you don’t let your ‘light hide under a bushel either’. Be proud of who you are, perhaps even practice your own personal by-line for delivery at industry functions.
Attend Toastmasters meetings to learn the art of public speaking and networking if you need to. Conquer those nerves! I attended Toastmasters to improve my confidence – and I know others who have also done this – because it truly helps.
And there’s no way I’d ever say that I’m perfect and have never stepped a wrong foot with any of this. In fact, I have made mistakes. I’ve done or said the wrong thing at times through nervousness, brashness or naivety.
But I have always managed to pick myself up and keep going, and keep trying.
I’ve embarrassed myself in front of famous, multi-published authors, being barely able to speak without stumbling over my words and sounding like a complete idiot sycophant.
I’ve blurted things out without thinking instead of biting my tongue.
I’ve been lost at how to handle criticism or negative feedback and unable to hide the storm of anger and shock that swept across my face.
We all wear our heart on our sleeves sometimes.
I’ve been crushed and hurt at things people have said and responded unkindly in turn.
No one is perfect, least of all me.
But the important thing is that we try.
One of my favourite quotes sits beside my desk, and has done for about ten years now, ever since I started this crazy publication journey. It is
If you have made mistakes… there is always another chance for you… you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.
Mary Pickford, American actress.
Don’t you just love that?
I hope that if you can take on board some of the advice I’ve shared here that your failures may be less conspicuous than mine. I know that writing out this advice has helped me to realise that I have – and still need to – continue learning every day.
If you’re in the mood to learn about Social Media Marketing, you can join me at my workshops to be held through Noosa Library Service at Noosaville Library and Cooroy Library in coming months.
They’re free to the public. Details are included in the flyer below.
This is the third and final instalment in my article, ‘My Previous Life as a Marketer’.
As I mentioned at the end of the last instalment, I’ve often felt lost in the wilderness. I’ve been downhearted many times on my journey to become an author and also struggled to see where I should be heading.
In particular, I’ve always been down on myself for studying marketing, spending over ten years working in that same field, and listening to people who told me when I saw sixteen that it was too hard to become an author and that I’d never make it.
I’ve even felt angry at myself because I saw those years as a waste.
But the longer I work in this industry the more I see how much my corporate experience helps me as an author.
In the past two decades, so much has changed about how authors approach their careers and their writing. Being an author is, and always will be, about writing amazing, entertaining and engaging stories. That must always lie at the heart of the matter.
But being an author has also become much, much more.
We must know how to use computer software, not just an old clunky typewriter.
We must know how to lay out documents, our manuscripts, in a professional and polished way. And we must know how to construct the words in those manuscripts in an alluring way, sometimes a special way, formatted to certain guidelines (I’m particularly thinking of picture books here).
We need to know how to write great opening hooks (headlines), blurbs (advertising copy), bios (sell your benefits!), that ‘story-behind-the-story’ where many of us gild the lily or wax lyrical about how the muse came and sat on our shoulder and dictated this marvellous novel that you simply knew everyone would want to read…
We’ve all heard that one before.
Is that not marketing? Yes! Of course it is. Well-rehearsed, well thought out, well-scripted marketing. We are authors after all, we can write anything to our advantage. And today, marketing is increasingly about story. And as authors, we’re in the perfect position to craft our own irresistible stories…
We must know how to set up websites, social media pages, how to take studio quality photos and upload them onto various mediums. We need to come to terms with creating book trailers (filmic advertisements).
Many top authors and illustrators know how to work an audience, they know how to speak and present themselves publicly. Some are more natural than others, but some have had to overcome incredible shyness or even terror at the thought of public speaking. They have been coached on how to conduct themselves in interviews, how to engage audiences, how to speak to children and adults. How and where they should look when they’re interviewed on TV. These things don’t just happen, you have to be taught.
Great authors don’t necessarily fall into being great presenters. I would say that most great authors have the wrong personality type to be a public presenter, and yet… they must learn to do it.
So much about being an author is marketing. And not even after you’re published. You need to market yourself before your first book comes out. In this, I mean you need to build a firm Author Platform for yourself. Publishers and others in the industry really do notice and they really do care.
As the cost of advertising and production rise and book sales come under competitive pressure from technology-based games, publishers want new ways to cut through and have their message heard. That’s why more and more of them rely on authors to help sell their books.
It’s a natural progression, especially when you think that every social media channel you set up (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube) becomes your own broadcasting channel. We’re in the perfect position to create and roll out our very own content with messages that we can control ourselves. All we need are eager people to listen to us!
We’ve moved beyond the simply 4Ps of Marketing mentioned in Newsletter 6. We are well and truly into the era of Relationship Marketing and perhaps moving beyond it to Experiences Marketing.
This makes it absolutely crucial to learn how to talk about yourself and your book in a positive way. How to make small talk, how to develop good listening skills, clear speaking skills and how to connect with readers, authors and publishers across all ages and backgrounds.
Diplomacy and alacrity are necessary attributes for any author. They also came in very handy at meetings, conferences and industry parties during my life as a marketer.
So many people are simply flummoxed about how to use Microsoft Word, one of our most basic instruments as an author. We need to practice our skills with Word and conquer it if we can.
In the corporate world I created countless clean and perfect documents that contained all sorts of elements that would then be submitted to companies. Not just to secure a small book advance, but to secure my company millions of dollars’ worth of business. My job literally depended on my Word Documents being impeccable.
Millions of dollars.
Perhaps it was the terror of having so much riding on me during those years that now gives me an eye for detail. Courage under fire, perhaps? Either way, marketing taught me how to type, design and layout a decent document. I have marketing to thank for that.
In the corporate world, I also saw how businesses worked, how customer service worked (or didn’t) and how to develop a steely confidence even when I was shaking in my shoes. This last skill has become particularly useful in front of screaming preschool audiences!
Even if you forget the marketing side of being an author, where you have to present a public persona and a public image, you will need to get your head around the business side of being an author.
This was another thing that I was entirely naïve about before I first dipped my toe into the world of writing. Little did I realise that when I received my first book contract that I was in fact becoming a small business owner too.
Every business lesson I’d been taught while working in the corporate world now holds me in good stead for what I need to do in the writing world. It was all invaluable training.
It might not have been my heart’s true desire, but it led me here and now keeps me here, helping me to grow and develop as an author.
So now I think I can finally get off my own case and stop giving myself a hard time for ‘wasting’ my earlier years.
It is what it is.
I’m here now and I’ve come prepared!
Perhaps you feel this way too.
So, from all this, what’s my advice for aspiring and emerging authors and illustrators? Bullet point list below, which I hope gives you some inspiration.
See you next week…
Presenting at a Mumpreneurs Meeting on the Northern Beaches in 2013.
This is the second part of my article, ‘My Previous Life as a Marketer’. Of course, I sat down to write this article and it kept growing and growing. I guess there’s a lot to tell. So I’ve broken this one up into three parts.
Continuing on from last week, you may remember that I’d gone for a job interview. Totally out of my depth. Thought I’d embarrassed myself by getting teary and failed.
Somehow I ended up getting the job. It was a miracle. A random act of kindness.
I still believe the Sales Director felt sorry for me, but perhaps he also saw some potential in me because I did eventually live up to his expectations and become the Marketing Assistant he needed me to be.
This man, and his wife, eventually became a close friend of mine, though he was old enough to be my father. I think he did feel kind of father-like towards me too, but I think he also recognised that despite the age gap, the years of worldly experience and his success, we were very similar. Or maybe he had been like me when he was younger.
The Managing Director, on the other hand, refused to speak to me for the first two weeks I was there. This was a small company remember, impossible to avoid each other. But I wasn’t deemed worthy.
Working in an office environment – and office politics – were entirely foreign to me. I scrambled to learn everything (you know, thrown in at the deep end, sink or swim) but it wasn’t easy. I was so unprepared for real life in a corporate environment. It was incredibly full on.
Meanwhile, the MD hired every one of his ‘old boys network’ daughters as receptionists. They were nice girls and each one became my friend while they were there… but they never lasted. Even the MD saw that but he still hired them.
We all had to start somewhere... one of my early school photos growing up in country NSW.
I'm in the second row, far right.
It became evident to me that to keep my job I’d have to learn to type properly. Touch type. Computers and preparing documents for submission were such a huge part of my work life. Another thing Uni hadn’t prepared me for.
I was still working at Franklins and, along with two friends of mine from there, we went to a weekly night TAFE course to learn to touch type. I had an old typewrite at home and would practice there and of course at work I was typing all the time so it wasn’t long before I mastered that. The TAFE course continued but all three of us girls dropped out a few weeks out. We’d learned what we needed to learn and besides, the teacher had hit – yes actually, literally, physically – hit one of my friends when she’d typed something wrong. We all decided that after that, it was time to leave…
Back at my corporate job, the MD eventually started talking to me and warming to me. He sent me along to some Photoshop and Illustrator software courses and also paid for me to undertake a financial management course. What fun that was! Not.
When his PA left and the Marketing Manager exited around the same time, that left two people standing. The MD and me.
By then, I’d improved out of sight. I had confidence, knowledge and know-how. I tried to ignore the office politics as much as possible, most of the time we all got along although there was one girl there who was the kind the be nasty behind people’s backs – particularly mine.
The MD and I worked very closely for some time and I finally started to earn his respect.
Many, many hours, we would be working together, me at my computer, him pacing beside me and stomping back and forth, leaning over me to point at a word on the computer screen, gesticulating wildly as he dictated letters and we prepared submissions, pitches, tenders, reports, prospectuses, promotional flyers and more. Through me, he was able to get those words in his head down onto paper.
I was more than just a scribe, though. I became his editor, his word bank, his thesaurus, his dictionary and pitching partner. Our minds worked together to shape the documents he needed to be successful in his role as leader of the organisation. When he couldn’t think of a word or a phrase, I typed it up for him to read on screen, or I verbalised it. If he liked it, we went with it, if he didn’t we kept trying.
Looking back and thinking about it now, I remember how exciting it was to be working with words. It certainly wasn’t like writing children’s books, but it was writing, it was pitching, and it was a connection of minds to achieve a common goal.
We worked long hours, I worked overtime many nights, but he did appreciate this and I was always paid a bonus at the end of the year.
He also took me along to meetings and major events with financial planners, for which I was also the event manager, all around Australia. He even sent me to Hong Kong to see how the company ran over there. I ate very well while I was employed in the financial services industry and really learned to love Chinese, Thai and Japanese food. Our speciality was investment in the eight Asian ‘Tigers’ after all. It was a nice perk.
Even though I left home at seventeen, I still return regularly for school visits. One year, I worked with the local library to create an anthology project that included short stories from Manning Valley students.
When I did eventually resign, however, the MD went back into no-talking mode for my last two weeks at the company.
He was never lukewarm, always hot or cold. To be honest, he was also incredibly disappointed and probably hurt that I’d decided to move on. I'd been headhunted by my old boss, offered work at a bigger company for better pay, with better conditions and more opportunities.
These are the choices we make when we’re young and we have to live with them.
Sometimes I feel regret that I did leave, but if I hadn’t made that choice I might not have ended up where I am today. Everything happens for a reason. And at the time, I believed I was making the right decision.
On my final day, the MD tried to convince me to stay, but I’d already moved on. Two weeks of silence hadn’t helped.
My Marketing Degree is a nice piece of paper to have, it’s three years of proof of hard work and study. Around that are memories of three years of hard work at Franklins so I could get that piece of paper.
While there’s very little that remains in my brain of what was learned all those years ago at Uni, that piece of paper, that qualification, got my foot in the door of my first corporate job. It was the first step on the path that led me in a number of directions that eventually saw me return to the love of my life: writing.
Next week, I’ll continue the story and talk about my Aha! moment in regards to marketing. I’ve felt lost in the wilderness a number of times, but occasionally, the light goes on and things become clear.