Online marketing for children's authors

August 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Publishing

I apologise for the length of this post, but it seems like a useful resource for children’s writers like myself. This is my experience of using the internet for marketing children’s books.

*This piece is aimed at writers of younger children’s books (for 4-12 yr olds), rather than YA titles. A lot of adult internet marketing techniques will apply to YA books (and they often have a strong adult readership anyway), so some of the negative remarks below should be ignored if you’re a YA writer.*

The big thing to bear in mind, is that for a children’s author there are limits to what can be achieved online. The internet is brilliant for reaching adults, but for children, you have to wait for them to reach you. If that happens, you’re onto a winner, so what can you do make that happen quicker?

1) Be accessible

If you’re not on the web in some shape or form, then to all intents and purposes you don’t exist. You can be in control of what represents you on the net, so do just that: take control. Try and make sure that by owning your own website (buy a url with your name, if you can!), you get high up on Google rankings for your name or the books you create.

2) To blog or not?

I would say the first thing anyone should do is have a blog of some shape or form. Use it as a diary. Tell people what you’re up to, post photos, artwork, add extra content from your books, like you’d find on a DVD. Children will want extra stuff – they’re hoovers for free things, so always remember that. Be aware though, I’ve found I get a lot of general traffic from people who aren’t directly interested in children’s books. Google can send all sorts of traffic your way. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not so directly focused on you and your books.

A blog is best thought of as a great general marketing tool, especially if you focus on a certain subject and potentially build up a regular audience that might follow what you write regularly. However, it’s unlikely these people will be children – your core audience. In my experience, it’s just not how they use the web.

• Use a blog to get involved with the community of blogging authors/illustrators. They will be your friends and allies. They’ll also provide brilliant support and knowledge. They can also help spread the word about the book/your work.

• A blog will flood Google with your content, and help you rise up in the search result rankings. It’s the easiest way to make sure if someone types your name into Google, they’ll be sent to a site controlled by you.

• At first, a blog needs to be updated regularly. If you don’t do this, then it’s unlikely you’ll get a following of regular readers. Then again, this may not be want you want – as I said before, it’s unlikely your readers will be your audience.

3) Should I build a static book website?

I get far fewer hits to my static websites that focus solely on a book. However, I know that people coming to these sites are people directly interested in me or my books. It’s a lot more likely that these people visiting are my readers, and therefore mostly children. I load my Mythical 9th Division and Mousehunter sites with free downloads, such as a comic, or a detailed map, and these are really popular. Visitors also love to listen to podcasts, or watch trailers, and these are so simple to create.

4) Should I make a book trailer?

If you can do it cheaply, then yes. It’s another way of getting your name, book and content on the web. If you’re spending a lot on trailer, bear in mind how many people might watch it, and work out its cost per view. For example, the trailer to Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men (the final part of the popular Chaos Walking trilogy) has received just under a thousand hits. I don’t know its cost to make, but it’s likely a few days work. So on that premise alone, and it’s in the region of £500, then that’s 50p per person who’s seen it. A static advert in a tube station is probably much better value for money, if you consider how many people will see it each and every day.

However, a trailer for a book could be incredibly simple, and still just as effective. It could be you reading, or discussing the themes in the story – most digital cameras have a video function, so use it. Upload it to YouTube then embed it in your site, and you won’t have to pay for bandwidth costs. A podcast could be put onto iTunes with ease. I’ve a number of short stories on iTunes, recorded directly into the microphone of my Mac with no hassle whatsoever. It’s so easy to do this these days, and you can do it yourself. Just try and make these things special and unique, ie. something that you can’t get elsewhere.

5) Social Networks and your books

There are communities out there waiting for you, but do you need them? The key thing is to consider your audience.

• Myspace: AVOID. Why? Because it’s far too complicated and of little use to authors/illustrators. LiveJournal has a blossoming illustrator community, so if you’re an illustrator, that’s probably where you should be.

• Facebook: AVOID. Why? It’s far too enclosed and generally doesn’t appear on Google in any useful form. Tweaks are happening all the time to its code, but most of the time content on Facebook is hidden behind its walls. The site is great for chatting to friends overseas. It’s nice to see family pictures, especially ones of newborn babies, but although its users are gradually getting younger, it’s complicated and only of real use for adults. If your audience is teenagers, it may be worth your while setting up a fan page, otherwise focus on your own blogs/sites. Remember that your time is sacred, and Facebook can suck up your time for little reward.

• Twitter: DO IT! Twitter will throw you into the community of web-savvy authors and illustrators out there. It’s great for networking within the industry, but it’s not going to get you direct sales amongst children. Sometimes, however, it may be parents that you actively want to tell about your books, so do be canny! And the fact that you’re a published author/illustrator does give you a certain amount of kudos. You’ll get followers who want to be or know you. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will help with sales.

6) Use the web in a way that might reach your target audience

Focus your attention, and probably your slim amount of free time, on the things that will help spread the word about your work, or give more to your reader. If you have a book that might benefit from a diary, or something extra that you can write/draw and stick on a website, then focus on that, rather than trying to build a Facebook page extra to your own blog/website. Most people use the web first, then visit a bookshop. If they type your name into Google, does it come up top on the rankings? That’s what you should aim for, and a blog, first and foremost, is the easiest way to achieve that.

I do believe in covering all bases, and sometimes it’s important to be found everywhere. But a good blog/website, backed up by a regular Twitter feed, is probably the best way of putting content onto the web that children may find easily. Google, though a slippery bedfellow, is the best one to try understand, and a well-written blog on blogger or wordpress will do a lot of the hard work for you.

The Crystal Palace Monster Book

July 14, 2010 by  
Filed under I made this!

This year’s festival is partnering with a few schools, with the intention of creating a book of monsters. Each child will make up their own monster, and a select few will be published in the book. BUT!! We need lots of colour monsters to fill the cover.

And as that will need to be made in advance of the school visits, I’m sending out a clarion call for monster makers. If anyone would like to draw a monster that we can use on the cover en masse, that would be awesome.

Please get in touch if you’re interested!

London in children's books

June 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

tiny-st-paulsThere’s a rich tradition of children’s stories set in and about our capital city, and it’s no wonder really, as London has it all. In Operation Robot Storm I’ve shocked the city by casting it into a new ice age, which meant I got to draw all the famous monuments covered in ice. Frankly, the chance to include London in a book was too good to miss. It’s always been close to my heart.

I remember being a tiny boy, wandering around the Natural History Museum in awe. I’d not seen anything like what was contained within its walls, and boy, even the walls were amazing and covered in grotesques. The first time I visited London and was able to remember it, it was bigger and more exciting than anything I’d experienced. Even the public transport was cooler than anywhere else. The Tube went underground?! When I was small, even hot, crowded trains coursing through hot, tight tunnels excited me beyond belief.

The city was magic. It was like entering Narnia, being so far away from my home town of Hereford. Everything I experienced there was different to everyday life (even down to being allowed to eat Cup-a-soups.) My grandparents would tell me about life in the war, my dad would tell me about his CND marches – it was even the place where Tottenham Hotspur played football (I was taken to Tottenham Court Road many times on route to the British Museum, and never once did I understand why I couldn’t see White Hart Lane Stadium.)

And now, as a writer, I can understand why London felt so magic to me all those years ago. It’s the tiny, wonderful details around every corner, which at night are lit up like a theatre stage. It’s the gigantic, stately and imposing buildings looming above you, laughing at your smallness. It’s the threat of dark deeds and nefarious crooks lurking in its tunnels and behind its closed doors, and whether it’s a contemporary London or a historical London, there’s always intrigue to uncover, stories to tell and magic bubbling under its surface.

Children aren’t worn down by its daily grind like us adult commuters. They only see the potential for exciting adventures and discoveries, and that’s why I thought I’d try and find all the children’s books with scenes based in or around London. It seemed like a fascinating way of seeing the city through the eyes of a child.

So here goes… I’ve tried to stick to one book per author, particularly if they’re from a series, but I imagine there are some writers that deserve more mentions. So have a look at the list below, and if you can think of any other titles, please say! Once I have a complete list (if there ever can be such a thing), I’m going to put them on a map. Should be a nice thing to do.

A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett (Seven-year-old Sara Crewe is sent to live at Miss Minchin’s boarding school in London)
Stoneheart – Charlie Fletcher (Scenes all over London, including a finale set upon the Monument)
Darkside – Tom Becker (Bethlem Hospital, and the underworld)
Black Hearts in Battersea – Joan Aiken (Simon enrols at the Marius Rivière Academy of Painting)
Numbers – Rachel Ward (They head to the London Eye, where a fateful occurrence takes place)
The Borribles – Michael de Larrabeiti (A magical ‘alternative’ London, Battersea?)
T.I.M. – Sam Enthoven (Admiralty arch and the Mall)
Operation Robot Storm – Alex Milway (Trafalgar Square)
The Devil’s Kiss – Sarwat Chadda (North London Junk shop)
The Enchanted Castle – E Nesbitt (Crystal Palace Park and dinosaurs)
Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London – Keith Mansfield (The Spirit of London spaceship is in fact the Swiss Re building!)
The Parliament of Blood – Justin Richards (British Museum and the Houses of Parliament are overrun by vampires)
When I was Joe – Keren David (Hackney?)
Un Lun Dun – China Mieville (set in an alternative London – crossover points all over the city)
A Christmas Carol – Dickens (not specifically a children’s book, but needed one Dickens)
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr (move to London at the end)
Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers (
Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane)
Coram Boy – Jamilla Gavin (the foundling hospital)
Archie’s War – Marcia Williams (East London)
The BFG – Roald Dahl (Buckingham Palace!)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis (Pevenseys evacuated from London)
A Dog So Small – Philippa Pearce (Hampstead Heath?)
Peter Pan – JM Barrie (The Darlings live in Bloomsbury, but obviously Kensington Gardens)
Mortal Engines – Phillip Reeve (London on wheels!)
The Wombles – Elizabeth Beresford (Wimbledon!)
The Dark Portal (The Deptford Mice) – Robin Jarvis (Deptford sewers)
Ruby in the Smoke – Philip Pullman (Wapping)
Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night time – Mark Haddon (Willesden underground station)
This is London – Miroslav Sasek (All over, but the Tower of London bit is best!)
The Underground Conspiracy - Catherine Storr (The Underground)
Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild (The Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training)
Paddington Bear – Michael Bond (Paddington Station)
Time Train to the Blitz – Sophie McKenzie (Underground stations + …)
Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian (Hackney Road)
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (inspired by Highgate Cemetry)
The London Eye Mystery – Siobhan Dowd (London Eye)
The Tall Story – Candy Gourlay
Stormbreaker
– Anthony Horowitz (West Brompton Cemetery)
Smith
- Leon Garfield (newgate prison)
Amulet of Samarkand
- Jonathan Stroud (Hampstead)
Tanglewreck
- Jeanette Winterson (mammoths on Thames)
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince
- JK Rowling (10 Downing Street)

And now to find a way of drawing them on a map…

Operation Robot Storm out and almost in colour

June 8, 2010 by  
Filed under comics

Yesterday was the official publication day of Operation Robot Storm, and to celebrate, I spent most of it colouring in some of the comic sections. I rarely colour in work, as most of it is line drawing, so it was excellent fun. It also reminded me of just how many other questions are raised when working with colour, and how much more tricky it is.

chapter9bwcolour


Here’s one of the smaller panels, both in black and white, and colour. I’ve tried to keep the atmosphere all the same, retaining muted colours to describe the cold, glacial effect of Balaclava’s Elemental. It’s interesting to see them both together, and it’s making want to colour the whole thing. Maybe when I learn how to access a parallel universe, I can get another me to sit and do it.

The Rainbow Orchid 2 and a spot of mapping

June 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

We’re nearing the launch date for part two of Garen Ewing’s brilliant Rainbow Orchid series, and I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview last week. It looks amazing, as I knew it would. And most wonderful of all, we realised we’d both drawn almost exactly the same maps describing our characters journey. Like the top and bottom of a playing card, Garen’s map showed the route away from Britain, and mine showed the route to Britain. With planes and everything.

alexgaren_may2010_planes

Maps are where it’s at. I tell you.
(Thanks to Garen and Ellie for the ace photo, and added planes…)

How to make a Muppet

June 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Bits and Bobs

It doesn’t get much better than this.

Operation Robot Storm and new book syndrome

May 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

yetis-cutoutSo then, it’s just a few weeks now until the yetis hit the shelves. As many of you will know, up until now I’ve only really had one story published – the Mousehunter trilogy. Of course, it’s three books, but that’s really only one story and one bunch of characters.

It’s the strangest feeling knowing I have a whole new ‘thing’ coming out. It’s scary, for sure. As a writer, releasing a book is a little like placing two years of work in front of the world, and allowing everyone the opportunity to say whatever they like about it. That work involves decision-making and puzzle solving, and who knows if you’ve taken the right course? I guess it’s like having a child and seeing it through to adulthood, knowing that when you gave it chocolate cake at the age of a year, it may not have been the best choice you ever made.

At least with a book, you can rewrite the beginning as many times as you like.

But to be completely honest, I’m incredibly nervous all over again. New characters, a slightly younger audience perhaps, and this time lots and lots of my pictures. I’m tempted to say that with the premise of a band of yetis who have to save the earth, it can’t possibly fail, but books are the strangest of beasts. Some climb a long gradual slope, some slip into puddles. Who knows what’s in store for Albrecht, Timonen and Saar?

Whatever happens, I’m still in awe of writers who create standalone novels. They must feel like this every single time a book comes out!

So if you’re bored, go visit the Mythical 9th Division website, and take a step nearer to following the Way of the Yeti. It’s the only way to go.

Operation Robot Storm trailer

April 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

It’s taken a lot of work, and I still want to tweak it, but here’s the trailer to the first Mythical 9th Division book. The one with yetis in.

Crystal Palace Children’s Book Festival 2010

April 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Children's Book Festival

crystalpalacefest1

With planning for the festival now under way, I’m really excited to be able to show off the new poster. Drawn by the wonderful Sarah McIntyre of Morris the Mankiest Monster fame, it’s an absolute treat.

So everyone, put 23 October in your diaries, and get ready for a fantastic event!

And the winner is…

April 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

It’s turned into spring, finally, and there seems to be a real buzz in the air. That’s not from wasps either, thankfully. I’ve sent off the next draft of Yeti book 2, I’m about to sort out Mythical 9th Division website ready for the June launch, and all in all life seems excitingly furry.

And so, regarding the last post on here, I’ve now done the draw, and the winner of the Curse of Mousebeard is Fritha over at Tigerlilly Quinn.

Having just checked out the blog, Fritha makes amazing badger badges. Who could ask for more?

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