Exhibit A: Ahead of a book signing, I usually email readers, librarians, and teachers on my contact list, send out postcards to fans, do a mini blog tour, post regularly on Twitter, create an event on Facebook, advertise on local media sites, and run some kind of promotional give-away on my website. After all of my hard work, I may have a strong turn-out or, if the weather is sunny and warm, I may get a grand total of three kids.
|A decent crowd for a Barnes & Noble signing (thank goodness!)|
Exhibit B: I can do a brief, breezy presentation to a small audience of librarians, figuring the best I’ll do is sell a handful of books, and wind up with my book as part of a reading challenge in the largest public library system in the country! Right now, thousands of kids across the Puget Sound are reading Secrets of a Lab Rat: No Girls Allowed (Dogs Okay) and are competing in the King County Library System’s Global Reading Challenge – all because a librarian saw me give a three-minute talk at a local SCBWI event!
See what I mean about the quirky nature of book marketing? A big push may bring only a small reward, while a slight effort may yield an amazing one. In truth, I haven’t yet found a sure-fire recipe for success. The only thing I am certain of is that no publicity endeavor is ever wasted. Whatever your calendar and wallet can handle, whether it is updating your website, being more active on social media, setting up a blog tour, making a book trailer, creating study guides, or all of the above, everything you do will make a difference. My promotional strategy is to keep expanding my reach with each book I write so that I am able to build my readership and reach along with my career.
With this goal in mind, I am always looking for new things to add to the marketing mix. In 2012, I took the plunge into the world of virtual visits. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the idea that I could talk to a class of middle school students in New York from my home office north of Seattle held a great deal of appeal for me. Talking with students is one of my favorite things to do, but I have vision challenges so transportation issues always come into play with in-person visits. Also, I write both fiction and nonfiction and to make my deadlines, I have to be at my desk for, at least, eight hours a day, every day. The idea that I could take a break, speak to a class for an hour, and then go right back to work was pure heaven! But I had worries, too. Would the students be as comfortable with me online as if I was there in person? Would clients be willing to pay me, even though other authors were offering virtual visits for free? Would online chats positively impact my book sales? Fortunately, the answer to all these questions was ‘yes!’
Yes, a virtual visit is the next best thing to being there in person. You can give a presentation with visuals, lead a seminar or workshop, do a reading, play games, and do most all of the things you would do if you were actually there. And it as just as much fun! Of course, there are some things you’ll need to tweak to ensure success: light yourself correctly for the camera, wear the proper clothes and make-up, keep your energy level high, etc. The feedback from clients is that kids really enjoy peering into an author’s world. They want to see where and how I work (it’s not all that exciting, I assure you, but I am happy to oblige).
Yes, clients are willing to pay. Teachers and librarians are eager to hire an experienced author, especially if the fee is reasonable and you offer more than the typical Q&A. I charge $125 per half hour for a virtual visit (an in-person visit runs between $300 and $600, plus travel expenses). I give talks about my journey as a writer, discuss my writing process, run writing workshops for students, and tailor presentations to the specific needs of my audiences. I send bookmarks for participants, stickers as prizes for games, and other goodies ahead of the event. I always offer to send signed bookplates to any student who purchases one of my books after a virtual visit.
Yes, virtual visits help book sales. Thanks to the BookScan geography feature on Amazon.com (this tracks your sales by location in the U.S), I can see how my book sales are doing in those areas where I’ve done virtual visits. Following my presentations, they almost always increase. It’s rather fun to Skype with kids in Albuquerque and then watch my sales in that area steadily climb in the days and weeks after my visit!
|A cute graphic done by the Frisco, TX Public Library to promote my visit last fall|
I’ve started exploring new ways to incorporate virtual visits into my traditional marketing strategy. Recently, I did several Q&A sessions ahead of a book signing. This not only brought more kids into the signing but also helped spur book sales overall. Because of our online chat, many students, who couldn’t come to the signing, opted to purchase books on their own. Also, I am now part of OnlineAuthorVisits.com, the brainchild of middle grade author and former Smack Dab contributor, Suzanne Williams. We are a group of children’s fiction authors that have pledged to give 25% of our Skype fees to a designated charity (the charity changes each year). It’s a great way for me to give back, while sharing my passion for reading and writing kids!
If you're a middle grade author, why not give cyberspace a try and see what it can do for you? And if you're a teacher or librarian, looking for an affordable way to bring in an author (and her camera hog of a calico cat), pop over to my website, www.truditrueit.com to learn more or to contact me. Those who book an online visit with me between now and the end of February will get a FREE book or audio book (another marketing technique I’m testing out; I’ll let you know how it goes!).