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.
Today brought with it copies of the new Mousehunter book, Mousebeard’s Revenge. The release date is January 7th, but as I have it in my hands, there’s a good chance it’ll creep into shops – especially Amazon – before then.
I think it feels like the best book of the three. The cover’s the best, the bronze lettering’s the best, and I think it’s also the perfect length. Unlike some series, The Mousehunter books get slimmer and more honed the later they get. I was determined not to let them suffer the same fate as the Harry Potter books or His Dark Materials trilogy, and include hundreds of pages where our heroes sit in a tent waiting for something to happen, or even have whole chapters where a character sits in a tree noting the lifecycle of a peculiar new species.
In Mousebeard’s Revenge, it’s action all the way, and that’s the way a climax should be.
I hope you like it.
The children’s book is an interesting beast: part learning tool for schools, part entertainment medium. In the eyes of many children I’m sure it too often struggles to break free of the label of ‘work’, and the more time I spend in the world of children’s books and the more hours I spend in schools, the clearer this becomes. As far as I can see, the main barrier to young children reading books for entertainment is simply because it is so associated with education.
Watching my young niece pick up and love picture books even before she can read (and before she’s at school), it’s easy to see it doesn’t start out that way. A good picture book is a lot of fun, and also provides a great opportunity for parents and children to spend worthwhile time together. A picture book is a visual feast, much better plotted and executed than most cartoons or films.
But then, as soon as you go to school, words become synonymous with work and pictures fade slowly into non-existence. Books eventually become pages and pages of, dare I say it, words. The fun of words surely disappears as you realise they’re a barrier to you going out to play. Reading and writing are key elements of learning and growth, and rightly form the bedrock of schooling, but it’s a shame so many young folk will grow up associating words with pain and boredom.
For pictures, it’s a different matter entirely. They retain their excitement, and are never linked with work. After a certain age, pictures in school books are relegated to less important beings than words, and anything not related to words is seen as a breath of fresh air, a break from work. This loss for schooling is a win win win situation for pictures and visual media. After looking at words all day in school, I used to love coming home to watch cartoons or play on my computer.
This continued enjoyment and excitement of picture-based media rears its head when I visit schools. I regularly talk to children who are wowed by my (slim) drawing abilities. Interestingly, I never meet a child who says ‘wow you can write’. Why is this? Do children think anyone can write but not anyone can draw? My conclusion to this is that children don’t care much for words and the art of language.
So how do you get children to read when they care little for building blocks of books? Rather obviously, I can’t help feeling that it’s the stories that count. When words are so commonplace and so associated with work, the story is the main draw for a child. That’s why no-one comments on the quality of writing, and that’s why quality of writing so often doesn’t matter when it comes to a bestseller. Words are, possibly, unimportant. (Sure, as I writer I know that excitement and fun is linked to the quality of writing, but children don’t see that.)
Books for children should be everything TV and computer games are. They have to compete, and to do that they need to break free of the classroom and the rule of words. Children’s books should focus on sparking a lifelong love of stories, because a love and understanding of words and writing will come later.
So here’s what we should do. Let’s focus on making books for the children, not for adults. They don’t want our boring adult-leaning political polemics, or essays on history or religion, they want fun and enjoyment. Let’s add more illustrations, more excitement, more jokes and silliness. Let’s remember that, ultimately, children’s books are a form of entertainment.
I attended a onedotzero panel recently about artists creating work within cities. Called Cities Interventions, the talk focused on guerrilla (sometimes graffiti) work as well as commissioned stuff, and it’s no lie to say I’ve never been so inspired.
There were three panelists, Jason Bruges, James Powderly from the Graffiti Research Lab and Deadly Knitshade. All of them had such brilliant work to show, ranging from a light installation for the olympic park that moves at the speed of famous runners (so you can try chase it), all the way to knitted oranges and lemons being attached to famous London churches.
Some of the work was small, some of it funny, some of it downright rude, but all of it came from people getting out there, trying to say something about the world or make it a better place.
The city is shaped by the people who live in it – the lifeblood of the buildings and the streets – and never has that been clearer to me than it is now.
I’m in the world of neverending work at the minute. Milway Two Hats is the name, writing this, scribbling that, lost in a mixed up world of mice and yetis. This topsy turvy double life of writer/illustrator warps my brain sometimes, so here’s my guide to dealing with it. If you’ve ever thought about combining your illustrating and writing skills into one package, this is what your average day will be like:
1) Get up in the morning and either pick up a drawing implement or hold your hands above the keyboard. This decision is not always easy. It can be made easier by point 2…
2) Drink one cup of coffee. I’d often suggest following this with another cup if you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a writing day – that faintly edgy supercharged coffee buzz can really help. When drawing, try and avoid this second cup – that faintly edgy supercharged coffee buzz will make all the characters in your drawings look like Mr Messy.
3) Now do something. This is it, the point where you either type or draw. If you’re drawing, good luck. It’s likely half of your day will be spent rubbing out your work. If you’re writing, half your day will be spent nursing the delete key – or checking your emails.
4) In one of those moments of calm (when the cleanly rubbed out/deleted blank page stares at you) find time to go and make some breakfast. This will likely be left on the plate half eaten – lost to the creative process. This will be the same for lunch, which generally won’t take place until at least halfway through the afternoon.
5) When dinner rears its ugly head and you actually have to go and do something else other than work, take this brief respite to mull over what you might have achieved had you taken the other route back at point 1.
6) After eating, feed the cat so that he stops bothering you and then check the work you have done throughout the day. It’s likely that if you sit down right about now and do another hour’s work, you’ll achieve more than you did throughout the rest of the day. This is because you’ve planned to go out and meet someone, and should currently be elsewhere. The best work always happens when you need to leave the house, or should have left the house.
7) Go to bed, safe in knowledge that tomorrow will happen all over again.