Tending to all your art

18 ATM - plantWhen Erin Chack, senior writer at BuzzFeed, wanted to share what it felt like to produce her YA novel, This Is Really Happening, she simulated the experience of giving birth. In fact, that’s often what it does feel like for authors when each book is published – and tending to one’s books can feel a lot like parenting with each having it’s own needs and challenges.

The success or difficulty each book has in terms of reviews, book sales and its status at the publishing house also can either bolster or take its toll on the author’s confidence when it comes to marketing and writing subsequent books. It poses questions of how much attention each new book should get and presents a risk of prematurely orphaning a book or project before finding out how the market will actually respond over time.

As publishers and book marketers who handle many books can tell you, individual books can surprise you, and it’s not always apparent what a book’s potential is before giving it a concerted effort with marketing and promotion. In the context of good vs. bad reviews, one of the most striking conversations I had with a client was about one book that had been the author’s second publication many years before and then was reissued after that author had won a number of prestigious awards for other books. One key review journal had originally given the book a lukewarm review, and then when the book was reissued, the same publication came out with a review by a different person that gave substantial praise for the same book. Whether that was just a difference in reviewer opinion or influenced by the author’s subsequent career was unclear, but the fact is that had the book received the very favorable review on its first go-round, it would have had an impact on both the author’s confidence and the market’s perception of the author.

In a recent conversation with an artist who was struggling with a similar question – whether she should include work she had done previously in an upcoming show or try to make new, better work, I asked whether she was sure the earlier work wasn’t as worthy of being shown. In the case of an author, a question might be: how can you tell what role each book may play in your overall body of work? So, in the case of Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird made her a huge success with the very first book she published, but what if that had been her fifteenth or her fiftieth book? How would the market have perceived her then? What if another of her books had been less of a critical success, but had made a significant impact on some number of its readers? And what if the sequence of the books in an author’s body of work is a roll of the dice – that you don’t know whether your Newbery winning or top-selling book will come out at the beginning, middle or later part of your career? The fact is, your career will benefit from trying to give each book its due – in the writing and in the marketing because each new one can build on the ones before whether by proving more successful than the last, or providing a chance to make mistakes and then improve in the next round.


Get visual for “The Year of Video Marketing”

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In an opinion piece in Forbes earlier this year, technology writer, Aj Agrawal, called 2017 “The Year of Video Marketing.” Certainly, video content has seen tremendous growth and expectations are for that to continue. According to a recent report by Hubspot, this year, “video content will represent 74% of all Internet traffic.” For book promotion, authors and publishers have been using video in the form of book trailers for years and in that time, the trailer format has gained fans and detractors.

But digital storytelling can take many forms – and there are many tools now to make video creation – animations, topical timelines, interactive maps, slide shows and advertisements – easier than ever and they’re often free. I’ve written in the past about some of the timeline and animating platforms like Dipity, PowToon and GoAnimate, but there are a number of new tools and formats that offer additional formats worth experimenting with and imagining what might fit well into your plans for marketing books you write or illustrate.

One format is the cinemagraph, which you’ve probably seen even if you aren’t familiar with the term. These are seemingly still photos, but have one video element that moves and will repeat in a loop. To create a cinemagraph, with a program like Cinemagr.am or Flixel, you start with a short video, you then highlight, extract and save a small portion of the clip and that will then become the static element that the rest will play against – either in forward motion, reverse, or alternating forward-reverse. Once your cinemagraph is created, you can then add filters and hashtags and post on social media. Biteable is a very easy-to-use new online tool that can be used for free or an upgraded $100/yr. to create a mini presentation, slide show, intro piece or “explainer” video in just a few minutes. Claiming to be “The World’s Simplest Video Maker,”

Biteable provides templates that include scenes – either as animation, footage or still images, and then gives options for selecting a color palette and music – or you can upload custom colors or your own sound file. You can then add images, text and hashtags – and then Biteable will email you a finished file – mine took less than 15 minutes.

Fast forward to the next wave: A little over a year ago, Facebook announced the launch of 360-degree video, a format that bears watching as an outgrowth of Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift and their aggressive push in virtual reality technology. With 360 video, the film that’s produced allows the person filming to capture what they’re seeing in a full 360 degrees and the viewer can look at that video and by dragging their cursor, see in what the videographer saw in all directions – in front, all around and behind. This allows the viewer to share the full experience of that moment. The 360 cameras, like Samsung’s Gear 360 cost several hundred dollars, but that’s likely to come down as more enter the field.


Pinterest: It’s Big, It’s Growing, and Good for Visibility and Sales

downloadPinterest offers a variety of opportunities for authors and illustrators. It is one of the biggest social media channels for promotion and for sales, and it is drawing record traffic. As of 2015, there were more than 100 million monthly active users, which is more than double the 48.7 million users reported in 2013. While it is still well behind social platforms, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook; Pinterest views itself as having a different role than the others – one that’s more about search and discovery – and it is good for both visibility and sales. As of 2016, Pinterest reported it has 2 billion searches per month, that 55 percent of online shoppers named the site as their favorite online platform, and that there are more than 2 million users pinning on it every day. The demographic is ideal for children’s books given that eighty-five percent of the users are female and 67 percent are Millennials.

While it’s easy to think of the platform as a virtual scrapbook to use to pin and share images and ideas, Pinterest also provides a massive sales channel for business. It enables users to purchase products by directing them to a company or online store website, or by purchasing directly within Pinterest using the “Buy Now” button in conjunction with Shopify. For authors and illustrators, Pinterest offers the opportunity to reach readers, parents and teachers in a variety of creative ways.

Inspiration on what to post about is easy. You can look at author and illustrator boards and also browse some of the more than 30 million education boards designed by teachers and parents to help kids learn in creative ways. Each board that you set up should have a theme or concept. Themes can focus on your body of work, individual books, background research, inspirational quotes, or personal information you want to share about your work or yourself.

Lists are always popular, so you can do a themed board of your titles by genre, by age, by publisher or by series. You can group books with images of related products, like games and toys; or you can group your books with books by other authors and illustrators. You can then encourage others to share the information. If you decide to allow access permission to your boards, you can invite others to add images and information.

Boards are great for highlighting educational concepts, so you can include boards with book recommendations tied to holidays and events, classroom activities or resource recommendations. You can also use boards to provide glimpses into your writing or illustrating process.

When signing up you should be sure to provide a biography, your author photo and then include descriptions with images you share. Once you’re underway, you can make pinning easier by installing a ”Pin It” button on your browser that allows you to pin images while surfing the web. You should also link your account to your other social media platforms, so you can share news of pins as you add them. To encourage direct sales, you can link back to your website or to your publisher’s site if books can be purchased there; or link directly to online booksellers or other online retailers.

In addition to posting your own material and information on Pinterest, you should look for ways to engage by commenting on, liking and following boards other people have. You can also set up group boards for collaborating. As you experiment with different types of formats and engagement, you can assess what’s working well by looking at what has been clicked on and how often your items are getting repinned.


The Art of the Interview

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Being asked to give interviews is flattering and exciting: it’s a testament to your acceptance and importance in the field. For new authors and illustrators, it represents a milestone of achieving hard earned recognition now that you are published.

To interview well is an art. Depending on who you are and what your books are about, interviews can feel like easy, comfortable chats or can be complex or challenging. The good news is that being in the entertainment and education business, you’re much less likely to face hardcore investigative or hostile questions. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity to be interviewed should be taken lightly. If you want to get the most out of the experience, you should put a process in place to go into each interview well prepared.

Start by recognizing that each interview will be different in format, length, tone, and the dynamic that exists between you and the interviewer.

Print and online interviews are often the easiest because you have a set of written questions provided and can take the time you need to give thorough and thoughtful answers. The key here is to be prompt in responding, ideally no more than a few days. If you can’t, let the reporter know how soon you will be able to reply and make sure to do so. Also, if you have one or two additional questions you’d like to answer, or anything you don’t want to discuss, let the reporter know. Remember to provide supplementary material – photos, links, contact information – when you send in your answers so everything’s at hand when the story gets compiled.

Radio interviews, which can be done by phone or in-studio, provide an opportunity for comfortable conversation. Still, the casualness of the format can lead to sloppiness if you’re not mindful of time length and what information you want to make sure to cover. Start by making sure to provide the producer or host with your book and biographical information, as well as website links, book trailer and cover art jpegs that can be used to feature you on their show’s website. Then make sure you ask for information about format: the length of the segment, who will interview you and, if it’s live, whether there will be call-ins or anyone else on with you during the segment. If you’re calling in, find out whether you should call at the stated time or if they want you on the line a few minutes ahead. Prepare a bulleted cheat sheet that you can glance at to make sure you have any key reference information and reminders on what you want to discuss. At the same time, make sure you’re giving your full attention to the interviewer and responding comfortably to questions you’re asked.

TV and other face-to-face interviews take more preparation because you need to think about how you look as well as what you’re saying. If you’re doing the interview remotely, you also need to consider what’s behind you that viewers can see and make sure that the lighting’s flattering and nothing’s distracting or odd seeming in the background. With audio and video broadcast, it’s very important to keep a close eye on the time and with that in mind, say your piece succinctly and then stop, so the interviewer knows you’re ready to move on. Know too that it’s often good to pause before answering, particularly if you’re nervous, to give yourself a chance to compose your answer and to avoid run-on answers that can result from being uncomfortable in the spotlight. With television, it’s also important to maintain good eye contact with the interviewer and avoid looking at the camera or monitors.

That said, be aware that there will be times that you’ll be caught off-guard in an interview. It’s useful, particularly when preparing for a live interview, to having someone do a mock one in advance with you asking a mix of easy and hard questions, so you know what may come up and can think ahead how you want to answer. If you’re dealing with a difficult or controversial subject, you should acknowledge the question asked and reply to the degree you’re comfortable, but also have a way to segue to something valuable that you want to impart.

Overall, the key to interviewing well is preparing ahead and gaining experience – the more you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel.


What Type of Marketer Are You?

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As with most things there’s no need to speculate – just ask Google that question and you’ll find numerous quizzes happy to walk you through to let you know where you stand. I was pleased to be named Chief Marketing Officer by t-shirt company Printsome after taking their quiz, which among other questions asked me to choose between a picture of a pencil, a pair of work boots and a pile of money.

Being loyal to the publishing industry, I chose the pencil, of course. How this helped them decide to elevate me to the top of their company, I have no idea, but in some ways it reinforced how I often feel when trying to put a fine point on the vagaries of marketing, which is both a science and an art.

There are a lot of cold hard facts in marketing – and our increasing ability to analyze customer data as it relates to buying timing, frequency, influences and incentives – is causing a sea change in how we think about our relationship with customers and prospects.

At the same time, consumers are becoming both more demanding about the kind of engagement they want and increasingly fatigued at being pitched products and services morning to night.

In a particularly surprising statement in January, Steve Howard, IKEA’s head of sustainability announced at a live business forum hosted by The Guardian that “if we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff….”

If so, convincing consumers they need what we’re selling will be very difficult. The key questions to consider are: What will capture a prospective customer’s attention? What will make my book or brand stand out from its competition? And, what will foster and sustain brand loyalty (which can be to a book, character, series, author/illustrator, or publisher) over time? Behavioral targeting, using analytics, computer tracking, browsing and search history, to create profiles of consumers is the preferred route for those who have access to enough data.

But there are other important ways you can focus as a marketer. List service company, IDG, makes four other common distinctions:

Multichannel Master -someone who looks to many channels to engage with customers – you may well be doing this by engaging in social media, going to schools and events to speak, networking at conferences, and publishing news about your books and outreach

Madison Avenue Creative -a marketer who focuses on brand building – this is particularly important when promoting a series, when engaging with a YA audience and when you intend to focus on a particular genre or niche market

SoMoLo Marketers -the focus here is on social, mobile and local market outreach – this will have a lot to do with the age and inclination of your target audience, both in terms of how best to engage and what platforms are most effective

Old School Direct Marketers -this is where engagement is more traditional – and, typically, more labor intensive because it involves direct meet and greet and one-to-one selling. It is most beneficial when significant sales volume may result – so would make sense when trying to find licensing or special sales opportunities.

Effective marketing depends on your particular circumstances and will likely evolve over time. It’s also important to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses and the resources you have to draw from to help you determine where to put your emphasis – and when to get help.

Ask yourself: Which of the IDG types do I find most appealing? What are my competitors doing? Is my publisher particularly strong in one area, and how can I best supplement what they’re doing? What is my audience likely to be most receptive to? What are the costs both in time and money of pursuing a particular direction? And what tools and resources are available to help me engage with my audience? Know that it’s okay to start with a narrow focus at first, and then expand gradually as you have working mechanisms in place.

The point is to recognize that customer engagement is a long-term proposition and the objective is to gain more traction and better knowledge of your customers with each book or product. Not that each has to reach the same audience or achieve the same sales results, but your sophistication as a marketer and your ability to recognize and adapt to market changes should grow over time.


How to Market When the Product is You

“Without Promotion Something Terrible Happens…Nothing”   –P.T. Barnum

Marketing yourself is one of the biggest challenges creative people face. No matter how much help you get from your agent, well-meaning relatives or friends; the person you need to get squarely on your side is you.

While there are notable exceptions, those P.T. Barnum types who have no problem being their own best ad man; the greater majority find it easier to promote virtually anyone and anything else, than to trumpet their own work and accomplishments. I’ve found the same with arts organizations, much more so than in dealing with business and industry. I think the reason is due to the intimacy you have with what you’re promoting.

Take for example tech or service companies that have a new product or training program they believe will be useful. They can talk about capabilities, improvements in quality and increased productivity; how they can improve what’s being done. That’s much easier to quantify in terms of ROI.

When the product is more personal – how much someone will enjoy your artwork, game or book; experience a concert or new play; what you’re promising is quite different. It’s subjective. And knowing that is what stops the creative business person in his or her tracks – because they want to deliver what they promise.

What to do? Once you get past your initial inclination — pulling covers over your head (not at all effective), wishing someone else will do marketing for you (costly and only works well when you’re prepared to be fully engaged), hoping you’ll get discovered and duly rewarded for your hard-earned talent (wonderful when that happens on its own, but not a waiting game most can afford to play), you need to find a good, practical solution.

The answer lies between knowing what inspires you and what makes you mad. If you’re devoted to the creative life, you’ve chosen to forgo what others might have advised would be a safer path. Revenue’s not guaranteed, there’s not defined career ladder, and you don’t know how what you’re creating today will be received when it’s eventually brought to market.

It’s the strength of your passion about what you’re creating and the belief others should want it that must motivate you to succeed. Beyond that, what’s crucial is a clear understanding of what’s distinctly marketable and knowing what to do to advance your product or cause.

It can be helpful to get mad –“How dare they not see that they should buy this?!” Then it’s good to step back and look at what may be missing in your approach. How can you be clearer, add value, convey excitement? What’s worked in the past to get you to buy or commit?

Marketability is unique to each situation. Ask yourself, does this advance a trend? Is it a departure from the norm, a new technique, require a particular mix of talents, or offer an audience new ways to engage? Ask yourself which elements are primary and what drives you to go back to your work again and again to do better? That’s how you’ll find the key elements.

Then look at tools and techniques you can use. Start in your comfort zone then expand from there. Outline possible strategies and make a case for how what you’d like to do is best suited to advance your goals. Now, go back to your publishers, promoters and friends. Ask what they suggest. Try several ideas out, reassess and decide what’s working well and what may need to be changed.

Keep your ego out of it as much as possible. It’s not about being accepted or rejected; it’s whether you’ve found the right message and techniques to convey what you believe in to your potential audience. If you believe you have something worth sharing, this is not sleight of hand; it’s acting on the strength of conviction that you wouldn’t be investing so much time and talent, unless you believe you have something of real value to impart. Success is both in doing the work well and in finding those who want to be part of the experience you can offer.