January Theme: Marketing Your Middle Grade Novel with Blue Slip Media

Barb and Sarah: the bonny Blue Slip Media team!

When my first novel LEAVING GEE'S BEND was to be released, I knew I wanted to give it the best shot in the marketplace that it could possibly have. I joined the Tenners and Class of 2k10 and did a lot of work on my own. But the best thing I did was to work with the most fabulous publicity team in the world: Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy of Blue Slip Media.

I enjoyed working with them so much -- and felt their efforts to be so valuable -- that I am working with them again on DON'T FEED THE BOY. And since they are way better than I at describing what they do, I invited them to talk here specifically about middle-grade novels. Take it away, Barb and Sarah!

Thanks so much for inviting us to chat a bit on Smack Dab in the Middle about marketing and publicity for middle grade books! This is one of our favorite reading levels to work with—there are challenges to be sure, but MG novels play such a crucial role in helping kids bridge from early chapter books to YA. It’s vital that we keep kids engaged in reading at this level and there are so many fabulous middle grade novels out—it’s so fun to help the books and authors reach new audiences!

With middle grade, we’re still really targeting the gatekeepers in marketing and publicity. These kids mainly rely on parents, teachers, booksellers, and librarians to introduce them to new books. Then word of mouth can really help things take off (think Wimpy Kid!).

One of the most popular ways to reach these gatekeepers is, of course, through the internet. More and more, adults rely on the recommendations of friends and colleagues, so websites and social media play a key role in spreading the word about books.

Connecting with friends, family, colleagues, associates, fans, and admirers through social media—whether it’s Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, or your own blog—is an avenue worth exploring. Certainly, social media is not for every writer, and we don’t advocate it for every book, but for some authors it’s a natural extension of their personality. If you are committed to updating on a regular basis, then it’ll help with your overall profile on the web (the more that’s out there with your name and book title, the easier it is for folks to discover your book--plus, it bumps your ranking in Google searches).

There are two types of blogs we target when doing outreach for a middle grade novel. First, we look at blogs written by teachers, librarians, or others in the children’s literature community. They are always interested to know what’s next and will want to spread the word to their students and colleagues. Some blogs have students review books occasionally, which is also nice. We also try to mix in blogs written by consumers—usually these are avid readers who review lots of books and will be a passionate advocate if they like your book.

Visiting blogs is a great way to open the conversation about your work. Think of a few good topics that may be appropriate—why you chose a particular setting, if there was a news event that inspired your story, why friendship is a key theme, your favorite place to write, etc. Bloggers love these insights into books, and they often welcome a guest post if it’s germane to their blog.

In addition to blog and social media outreach and publicity, we also work with authors to help extend their reach into the classroom and library. We love to create activity kits and discussion guides for books in this age range and the authors we’ve worked with have found them enormously helpful. They’re super handy when doing a school visit or bookstore appearance. Having a free downloadable with discussion questions and/or activity sheets can not only help a teacher push a book to the top of her pile, it also helps us get coverage for a book in teacher/librarian-interest magazines like School Library Monthly and  Library Sparks, and websites and e-newsletters like TeachingBooks.net and SLJ Curriculum Connections.

Some novels have a certain niche market that is worth targeting. If your book is about a dog or a cat, we (or you!) can reach out to dog/pet/cat magazines and bloggers. If it focuses on Jewish characters or themes, there are a ton of Jewish-interest media and sites that can be contacted. If it’s about the wild west, send it to western-interest magazines and websites. The possibilities are endless! These folks are passionate about all things [fill in the blank], and they have kids and grandkids in whom they hope to instill their passion. What better way than through a book?

Booksellers also play a vital role in helping middle grade books reach readers. If you’re not a household name yet, start small and local. Develop relationships with your local independent booksellers and your chain store managers. Bookselling is a very small business and everyone talks to each other. Make sure you always leave a good impression (leave your diva hat at home!). You both have the same goal—to sell books! Think of how you can you help your local store to thrive—is it an afternoon workshop with aspiring writers? A mother-daughter book club where you provide tea and cookies? A panel with other local writers? Tips for using your book in the classroom?

You may have noticed that we haven’t written much about traditional print media such as newspapers and the big parenting magazines. While these are still important venues for publicity, the opportunities for coverage are shrinking. Neither type of publication devotes much space to books, and when they do it’s often narrow; many newspapers only review books by local authors, for example, and magazines pick just a few books to cover each month, often by theme. It’s certainly not impossible to get coverage in these venues, though we’ve found that niche publications are more open to reviewing books that would appeal to their core readership.

There are fun, creative ways to help spread the word about your book to folks who are hungry for middle grade. How lucky are we that we get to do that for a living?! Here’s hoping 2013 is a banner year for middle grade! :)

Thanks, ladies! *mwah* And readers, Barb and Sarah are also offering a FREE 15 MINUTE PHONE CONSULTATION. Entries accepted through midnight January 10. Good luck!

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Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy are co-founders of Blue Slip Media, an agency specializing in publicity and marketing services for children’s books. For more information, visit their website at http://www.blueslipmedia.com/, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blue-Slip-Media/333407909236.


  1. Great idea for a blog post. Loved reading this.

    I can't wait to work with these ladies when my own mg novel is released later this year!

  2. Thanks for this fantastic post, Irene - Barbara and Sarah have some great ideas for promoting middle-grade books!
    Yes! Blue Slip Media really is "the most fabulous publicity team in the world" - I highly recommend them! I've loved working with them on my three books - they're always so enthusiastic and full of creative ideas! The Discussion Guides they've done for "The Owl Keeper" and "The Scorpions of Zahir" are just gorgeous.
    And I'm looking forward to working with them again in 2013! :)

  3. Thanks for sharing! I hope to work with them when my MG is released spring 2014.

  4. Barbara and Sarah are terrific! I couldn't think of better allies to have on my side at the launch of a new book.

  5. Great post! I see so little about this...very helpful as my June debut approaches.

  6. Interesting information here. Thanks for posting!

  7. Thanks to Barb and Sarah for dropping by the blog!


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