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.