Oh Susanna – How To Explain Your Vision Of Marketing Strategy To A Publisher That Requests It?

Wow!  That was such a long title I feel like I’ve already written the post! 🙂

How is everyone this morning?  Feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?  I will readily confess to “bright-eyed”, but I’m not sure I’m up for discussing the rest of that question at this hour on a Monday morning 🙂  (Who thought up that question anyway?  I have a feeling it was a member of the marmot family…

… not that I’m mentioning any names…. :))

So anyway, being as how it’s Monday, which means the first day of May is on a Tuesday when I don’t post, I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you all, so that you’ll have plenty of time to work on it, that we’re having a contest this month!!!  I’m so excited, because we haven’t had a contest since the Valentines one which was AGES ago and I miss them! 🙂  I do so hope someone will want to enter! 🙂

The contest is to write a children’s story about a very creative and/or unique birthday celebration in 300 words or less.  Poetry or prose, your choice.

Entries must be posted on your blog (or in the comment section of my contest blog post on May 19 if you don’t have a blog) between Saturday May 19 and 11:59 PM EDT Tuesday May 22.  Add your entry-specific link to the list that will go up with my special post that Saturday.  I will not post on Monday May 21 so the list will stay up.)  I’m still picking out prizes, but there will be prizes and they will be good and they will include things like a 3 pack of Perfect Picture Books, a duo of craft books, and/or a PB MS Critique by Yours Truly, or maybe something else awesome that I haven’t thought of yet… 🙂  (You are invited to suggest prizes if there’s something your little hearts especially desire :))  If there are fewer than 20 entries there will be one prize.  If there are more than 20 entries there will be 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes!)  Finalists will be chosen by me and my assistant judge and will be posted for you to vote on Monday May 28.  (I’m trying not to skip Would You Read It or Perfect Picture Books or overload you with extra posts, hence the wait til Monday the 28th, which I realize is Memorial Day so the voting will stay up throughout Tuesday!)
I hope we’ll have lots of enthusiastic participants!  Remember, 12 X 12ers, this can do double duty as your May MS! 🙂
I would also like to take this opportunity to announce that I’m planning on taking a stab at NaPiBoWriWee this week… anyone else a glutton for punishment feeling motivated?
Also, Phyllis had an awesome Visit to Seattle where she made friends with A-Wall (gorgeous!) and saw the Space Needle 🙂  Please hop on over to Saba’s and read all about it!  And, if all goes according to plan, there will be a post up tomorrow (Tuesday May 1) about Phyllis’s Visit to Rosalind in England! (But it’s not there yet because she’s finishing A To Z!)
Now then!  Onto today’s Oh Susanna question, which comes to us from the lovely Jen:
“Submission guidelines to Sylvan Dell Publishing request that you include an explanation for how you envision the marketing of your book.  Besides stating that your marketing strategy would consist of book signings, blog tours, using various social media, and press releases, how else would you state on a query letter how you would envision the marketing of your book? Also, I’m not sure how to go about targeting an audience for my “platform” part of marketing my book. Any suggestions?”
Well, Jen, as to the first part of your question, I think you’ve covered most of what they would be looking for.  Certainly you would want to mention book signings, blog tours, social media, and press releases.
I would also mention school and library visits if you plan to do those.
But I think they’re looking for you to go a little further than that.  The publishing world is in a state of flux these days.  No one is anxious to take too much of a risk.  If possible, they’d like to know who exactly you think is going to buy your book – in other words, where you think the market is.
Identify the themes/topics/subjects of your story and present them in terms of market.
Is your story about a new baby?  Then it will appeal to parents who are expecting a second or subsequent child, be useful to preschool teachers, and make a great gift for relatives and friends to give to new big siblings.
Is your story about a very hungry caterpillar?  Then it will be useful in preschool and early elementary curriculum units on science, insects, metamorphosis, nutrition, and basic concepts like color and food types.
Is your story about a child in a non-traditional family?  Then it will be valuable to non-traditional families where children will be helped by knowing they aren’t alone, useful in curriculum units on family or acceptance/tolerance/difference, and helpful to traditional families who want to expand their children’s understanding of what makes a family.
Think about who your book would appeal to AND think specifically about the types of books this publisher tends to publish and where they market other books on their list.  Are they a big publisher with traditional marketing, or are they a smaller publisher who might only publish books about Maine (like Down East) or who might sell their books in zoo or museum gift shops, or other types of niches?  Make sure you’re directing your helpful marketing ideas in the right area.  A niche publisher might be thrilled to know that your book will appeal to everyone who has ever spent time on Monhegan Island, but a big six publisher isn’t going to want that book unless the setting is more incidental to a story with a much broader theme and appeal, in which case you would emphasize the broader theme rather than the niche setting… if that makes sense.
As to the second part of your question, about targeting an audience for your platform, that is something I think a lot of writers struggle with.
Writers tend to gravitate toward other writers.  If you’re a writer who writes a blog, chances are high that the vast majority of your followers are other writers, and a significant portion of the blogs you follow are also writing blogs.  Many of these people may also be parents or teachers or librarians or grandparents or others who have children in their lives for whom they buy books, but they may just as easily be people who don’t have kids yet, or whose kids have grown past the picture book age, or who aren’t around kids much.  I think it’s hard, as a writer, to get a huge following of your target audience in this instance which is, bluntly put, consumers.
The easier answer is for people who write non-fiction.  In that case, you always have a topic.  You are something of an expert on that topic (because hopefully you did your research well :)) so people may seek you out and you can also look for blogs and groups who are interested in that topic and get to know people there so you can eventually spread word of your book about butterflies, Martin Luther King Jr., saving wetlands, or whatever you happen to be writing about.
But for those of us who write children’s fiction, it’s much harder.  Our target audience is two-fold: the kids we write for who, unless we write upper middle grade or YA, are most likely not online, and the parents/teachers/librarians who buy books for them and read to them and who may or may not have much time in their busy days to be online.
It is great to connect with teachers and librarians who blog, as well as with mommy bloggers out there, but it is hard to do and it takes a lot of time – time to research which blogs might fit with your personality/style/books, time to forge relationships with those blogs, and time to see if and when a review of your book might fit into those blogs’ schedules.  And it can be hard to find that kind of time and still have time to write.  It’s a work in progress for most of us, I think.
I hope that answers your questions, Jen!  If you have any follow-up questions, please ask below.  As always, I would be thrilled if readers with experience in these areas would chime in with their thoughts – please comment!  It takes a village 🙂 and that’s one of the nicest things about the writing community – we are a village! 🙂

67 thoughts on “Oh Susanna – How To Explain Your Vision Of Marketing Strategy To A Publisher That Requests It?

  1. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    I think it's easy to fall into the trap of “My book is about X and 500,000 people deal with this issue.” While wishful thinking, not every person dealing with X will purchase your book. I agree that many times bloggers are “preaching to the choir” with their audience. It's easy to build up an admiration and friendship, but I'm not sure how many books this sales. I tend to spend money on bloggy friend books first, these days. At a recent conference, I heard a thriller author talking about he was us two decades ago. Instead of researching all those mommy bloggers, etc. online for marketing, he was trolling phonebooks and calling up newspapers, librarians, etc. He also talked about booksignings at Costco, where customers came up trying to figure out “who the heck he was” or “who do you write like?” In Texas, there was a huge book festival that featured authors. Readers flocked to this. I guess there are librarian conferences too, but not sure if they allow authors to attend. Two of my favorite niche blogs are Erik at This Kid Reviews Books and Pat at Childrens Books Heal.

  2. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Obviously not everyone in whatever category you've written in will buy your book, I guess what I meant was a more thoughtful approach in terms of who might be interested in your book since the publisher specifically asks. I was thinking of it more in terms of possibility. And yes, things have certainly changed. Even book signings are harder to get now than they were for a while, and tend not to be as well attended. I also buy books written by blog friends – also books recommended by them. I like to buy books by people I know. Conferences of all kinds are a good point – I should have mentioned that – it's always good to network, and a lot of conferences will allow authors. And I agree – Erik and Pat both have fabulous blogs!

  3. Angela Brown says:

    Morning, morning, Susanna. I'm still working on the bright-eyed and the bushy-tailed may not happen at all lol!!

    Glad to see Phyllis is still the excited groundhog making her way around the world.

    And your answer for today's Oh Susanna included so much information this post is a Must-Bookmark! Thank you so much for all the ideas.

  4. This Kid Reviews Bks says:

    Yay Phyllis! I will check out the post! I am in for the story contest! Great Q&A! I kind of knew what marketing was, but your answer was really clear and totally helped. I like learning things like this!

  5. Tracy Campbell says:

    Good Morning Susanna:
    Your post couldn't have come at a better time.
    I'm almost finished writing a Baby Book and the information on marketing confirmed that I've done my homework.
    I plan on entering your contest for May.
    After I've posted the piece on my blog, do I come back to this page and let you know? I'm a little confused as to how this works.
    Thanks again, for all your wonderful posts.

  6. Joanna Marple says:

    Great reply, Susanna. Did you read Jane Friedman's post on Writer Unboxed last week? The comments were excellent, especially what Donald Maas has to say about what the stats say about book sales and promotions etc http://writerunboxed.com/2012/04/27/should-you-focus-on-your-writing-or-your-platform/

    Still haven't decided about NaPeeBoWriWee or the competition…. aaargh. I am away for two weeks in May and just not sure how much time I will have. Though part of this is the SCBWI Nevada Mentor retreat, so I shall be writing!!

    Very sorry, Susanna, that you are still getting my blog postings a day late, don't know what to do now. 😦

  7. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    Susanna, I understood that you were thinking in terms of possibility. I should have wrote “Hangs head in shame … ” I thought this way for a bit before someone corrected me. 🙂 I'm working on the NaPiBoWriWee and the contest too. May is birthday month in our house.

  8. Robyn Campbell says:

    I'm doing NAPIBOWRIWEE. Easy peasy since I'm off blogging. I coordinate beautifully, don't I? *wink*

    Thanks for the advice,pal. You are always giving back. I wanna be like you when I grow up! (((hugs)))

  9. Kirsten Larson says:

    Thanks for your fantastic insights, Susanna! I heard many of these same sentiments at the LA SCBWI conference I attended, especially the idea of setting yourself up as a subject matter expert even if you are writing fiction.

  10. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Tracy, the contest begins on May 19 and I will put up the official contest entry post that day and there will be a link list where you can add your post-specific link. That way everyone can come around and read your story between May 19 and 22. My assistant judge and I will choose finalists, and those finalists will be posted on my blog on May 28 for everyone to vote on for winner. Does that map sense? If not, email me and I'll try to explain better! 🙂

    Tracy Campbell wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Good Morning Susanna:
    Your post couldn't have come at a better time.
    I'm almost finished writing a Baby Book and the information on marketing confirmed that I've done my homework. I plan on entering your contest for May.
    After I've posted the piece on my blog, do I come back to this page and let you know? I'm a little confused as to how this works. Thanks again, for all your wonderful posts.

    User's profile
    Link to comment

  11. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I do read Writer Unboxed, but I can't remember if I read that specific post – I'll check! I hope you'll be able to enter the contest, but if not I understand 🙂 And don't worry about the posts – I don't know why either, but as long as you don't mind me commenting late it's OK! 🙂

  12. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I think whatever I might come up with for NaPiBoWriWee is going to be very drafty! but it will be fun 🙂 So glad you're thinking about the contest! And whose birthday? Yours? Enzo's?

    Stacy S. Jensen (unregistered) wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Susanna, I understood that you were thinking in terms of possibility. I should have wrote “Hangs head in shame … ” I thought this way for a bit before someone corrected me. 🙂 I'm working on the NaPiBoWriWee and the contest too. May is birthday month in our house.

    User's profile
    Link to comment

  13. Coleen Patrick says:

    This weekend I was at an SCBWI event and the panel was facilitated by a picture book author whose marketing is focused on school visits. I was in awe at her glossy brochure and unlimited energy. And here I thought blogging and social media was hard. I got tired just thinking about all that amount of marketing! 🙂

  14. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Oh, man! I would have REALLY liked to see her brochure! I'm always looking for ways to do that kind of thing better. It's getting harder and harder to get school visits as budgets are cut further and further. School visits are hard in a different way, but very fun and rewarding! But yeah. Who knew that us introverted writers would end up having to market ourselves and our books?! 🙂 (And I'm still chuckling – a horrified – over that outhouse story! :))

  15. inluvwithwords says:

    Great Oh Susanna Q & A!! The easy answer would be just to avoid publishers who ask for a marketing strategy 😉 (Like I have done.) But your answer is MUCH BETTER (and less cowardly.) Thanks so much for sharing this advice.

  16. Tiltonph says:

    Really good tips. I would add charities or organizations that might be willing to promote your book if you donate a portion of your sales.

    As far as the birthday story, I had one on my list of portential stories. I started writing and got so into the story, that it has now become a WIP, and longer than the 300 word limit. Hope I have time to come up with another idea for 300 words.

  17. Natalie says:

    I'm learning that I only like the writing part of the gig! 😉 I don't think I like submitting (as I haven't submitted anything just yet) and I don't think marketing would be my favorite part of the job–(Although I would love to do school visits!;)) Can't a writer just write? (LOL) Unfortunately I think I already know the answer to that question. 🙂

    I hope I can come up with something for the birthday story contest. Quite frankly I'm not sure what I'm going to do with myself now that National Poetry Month is over. 🙂 I'm feeling a little like it's the day after Christmas… 😦

  18. Darshana says:

    Thanks again for the advice! Will be bookmarking this post for later. On building on a platform I do agree it is a bit hard. I don't know how many times I have had one of my friends, that are parents, tell me how much they liked my book reviews and I had no idea they were even reading the blog because they never comment on the blog or FB. I would say if you are advertising your blog and have content that is applicable to your audience, you never know they might be reading it. There are a ton of librarians, teachers that have blogs. I have a handful of librarian blogs that I follow. I once heard that librarians are the first market for books, so I am always trying to pick their brains and learn from them.

  19. Rena J. Traxel says:

    Thanks for this. Jen, what a great question! I'm going to have to come up with something for the birthday contest.

  20. Iza says:

    Why can't we just write? 🙂 It's true that publishers expect so much more from authors these days, but it has always been the case that authors who participate in promo, not only increase the sales and longevity of their books, but they increase their chances of future publication. Susanna, as always, you gave such a thorough response. And I love the painting of Phyllis. She is so adorable!

  21. Stina Lindenblatt says:

    Great answer! One thing I'm finding is our target audience (i.e. the kids and teens) aren't the ones who are online, checking out the blogs. Kids rely on their friends, librarians, and sometimes their parents to point them in the right direction. Teens rely on friends. So when we do all this online marketing, we're targeting the secondary market. For me, that's the adults who read YA. Some days I wonder why I'm not just writing for THEM. lol

  22. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thanks, Iza! I know – would that we could just write! Don't they get that we're all introverts who like being hermits? 🙂 That is probably my favorite picture of Phyllis – the one I used for my blog and FB headers. She looks so joyful! 🙂

  23. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Maybe you are! We're all trying to relive our youth 🙂 I confess, I read A LOT of YA 🙂 But seriously, they are great, well-paced, well-written books – designed to capture and hold a teen's interest with all the competing temptations, how could they fail with us who grew up reading and have decades of programming to love a good story?!

  24. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Ah, but Natalie, you are so good at the writing that eventually you're going to have to dip your toes into that other stuff! 🙂 And since you don't know what to do with yourself, what better activity than writing a birthday contest entry? 🙂

  25. Julie Rowan-Zoch says:

    Hopefully I'll be able to use this advice in the near future, but the prospect scares me too. I've some advertising work in my past and since they don't have any special formulas either I am somewhat consoled! Thanks Susanna and Jen for asking!

  26. Leigh Covington says:

    Fun idea for a contest! If things go well with my rewrite, I'll give myself a break and join the fun. If not, I'll just enjoy everyone elses entries! And as usual – Oh Susanna questions and answers are wonderful. One of my favorite posts of the week! Thank you!

  27. J.C. Martin says:

    Thanks for that. I need to get my own marketing strategy clear. And the birthday contest sounds like fun. Not sure how adept I am at writing a children's story though…

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