Today, I’m excited to have a guest visiting the blog, Nellie Kurtzman, Vice President of Marketing at Little Brown Books for Young Readers. Nellie has worked on a number of remarkable books – launching campaigns for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer (in her previous position at Hyperion Books), and more recently Lemony Snicket’s Who Could That Be At This Hour?, The Dark by Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen and Holly Black’s forthcoming The Coldest Girl in Cold Town.
Nellie and I worked together some time ago at Penguin Books for Young Readers, when she was the Advertising Manager and I was in Library Marketing. I saw then, and it’s only become more true, Nellie is one the savviest, most creative people in kids books. So I'm delighted that she took some time to chat with me about how she approaches marketing, especially for debut books. Here are her thoughts on what’s really important for a writer to consider, what marketing to undertake before your book is sold, and once it's about to hit the bookstore shelves!
You’ve created marketing plans for plenty of debut authors. When you have a new debut to launch, is it helpful if the author has already done some marketing on his or her behalf? What kinds of marketing efforts make the biggest difference?
It helps if a writer has a social media presence; otherwise, you’re starting from scratch. What kind of presence to go after is a changeable thing, as various outlets rise and fall in popularity but right now for a commercial teen or upper middle grade book, I’d suggest Tumblr; for a book that will have a big home in schools or libraries, Twitter.
Facebook can be used more generally, and I’ve seen it be most effective once a book is published and has some traction. A robust Facebook page will draw readers and that’s usually more possible once the book is out in the world.
An author website is also important, because most likely the publisher won’t be able to create one for you, and if you have a strong, existing site the publisher can piggyback off that and work with you. Blogs are especially useful for books with a strong school and library presence.
Outside of social media, I love it when a writer has a clear understanding of who their reader is; what market will be at the core of her sales. Is your book very commercial? Is it the kind of book that will garner library and school awards? Is it for younger readers, or older? This information is the basic building block of every plan marketing and sales will create. If you have a good sense of this, it will help you understand your publisher’s approach, as well as inform decisions you make in your own marketing efforts.
It’s also great if an author has taken the time, early on, to think about any contacts and connections they have, and how to leverage them. If you have a marketing idea you’d like to share with your marketing group, think it through so you can pass it on when the publisher begins building plans for your book. Though your publisher may choose to go another direction, if you have the details ready it’s helpful.
Once the book is published, what’s good for writers to do?
Keep up with the social media you’ve created! Establishing a presence isn’t enough, sites must be fresh and varied. Of course you can post about upcoming appearances and accolades, but be sure to include content that is incremental to your book. For instance, if you have a fictional book about baseball for MG, highlight new info about the sport. Post images that resonate with the subject and tone of your book. You don’t want the sites you’ve created to become dormant, or too exclusively self-promotional. Readers are as interested in the subject matter of your book, as they are in you -- think of social media as a way to extend the world building that’s inside your books.
It’s also important to keep your publisher informed of all your marketing efforts. This way you won’t replicate each other’s work, or send mixed messages. For instance, if you plan to use a tagline on your book site, run it by the marketing department first, to be sure that you’re both using the same one. This is true for all marketing efforts, not just those in social media – if you’re planning an appearance, creating promotional material – anything – let your publisher know.
Are there any marketing tools that you think aren’t that impactful – maybe something that people typically do, but may not need to?
Videos. Writers often request that we do a video, and if something does catch on, it can help. But these days, video content is pervasive, and the chances that something will break through dwindles accordingly. And if only 500 people see your video, it won’t have an impact. Don’t sweat it if your publisher doesn’t plan to make one.
Do you have any tips for writers about working effectively with their marketing department?
The first step is to find out how you’ll be communicating with the marketing department. This varies from house to house, so ask your editor if you’ll be talking directly with someone from marketing or publicity. If not, ask your editor if she’ll be relaying information to them. Most houses begin creating marketing about nine months in advance of the publication date, so check in before then. You want to make sure that lines are open so that you can send updates about your social media, etc, as discussed above.
And one more small parting piece of advice. Before setting up an appearance, talk to your publisher first. This way you can be sure that you’ve got the right info to pass along about ordering books etc.
Good luck with your marketing!