Marketing a dead tree in a vast forest

 

 By Glenn Somodi, award-winning author and illustrator of the Olly & the Spores book series


 

My book is a dry, dead tree in a vast forest. It is kindling, nicely bound into a 6” x 9” x 1” pile, just waiting for a ‘spark’ to set it ablaze.

Know that I am not one to burn books literally, especially in this day and age. But, deep down in my soul, I know my marketing efforts will work, and the spark will come, setting the world on fire. I hope it will happen while I am still around to enjoy the warmth.

I started very na├»ve, much like many new authors. My book must be different from the two million new books released yearly. I thought I would write a book, publish it, and someone would fawn over it enough to tell their literary peers to place it onto a favorites list. Or maybe it would appear on that little round table at the entrance to my favorite bookstore with a sign that reads something like, “A must-read, sure to be a classic.” I thought at least I would get front-and-center placement in my hometown’s library–they would surely be proud of a hometown writing hero. And I have a large family, so surely I could count on each one buying a copy of my book.

None of this has happened as I imagined–although it’s not for lack of trying. I only sold eighteen books at my last book launch, and five of those sales were made to family members and close friends. I can proudly say that at least my books are staged in a little shrine my parents built by the front door of their house in The Villages in Florida.

But I am not one to be dissuaded by any of these failures because I have always been an optimistic person. I believe good things come to those who wait, but I add another caveat to that belief. You can’t just do nothing and wait. You must do everything possible to give your creation the best chance and then wait.

So why listen to me blab on about book marketing if I have only seen failure to date? Because I view book marketing as a long-term investment, and mine is beginning to reap the rewards. The sparks are there, and it is exciting to watch for smoke.

That’s what I want to share with you: a peek at all of the metaphorical lighter fluid I have thrown into my book. The money and time I have invested, or sometimes wasted, on creating an anticipated little spark.

To help other authors who share my passion, I have compiled a list of my successes and failures, hoping it might help others find their spark with less work and investment.

 

A look at some of my little ‘sparks’

 I have to confess my intentions when marketing my books. I am not looking to become a millionaire from my writing. I surely wouldn’t turn those millions away, but I just want my stories to be enjoyed, to create a different kind of spark. I want a young boy or girl to come up to me at a book signing and tell me how Truffle the Spore made them laugh or how Olly and Em’s adventures with the animals in the woods made them want to hike in their local park. I would like their childhood to be like mine, filled with glorious imagination.

I recently had this happen at a book signing with a young girl named Anya, and it made every sleepless hour and dime I have spent well worth it. She knew my characters like they were her friends, and she was shaking when she talked about how she loved each of them, especially Em, the female protagonist. I felt like I created a hero for Anya.

A friendly teller at my bank, Corrine, follows my book releases and buys each one. Her eyes light up when I enter the bank, and she makes it a point to share my creations with her coworkers. Her first question is when the next book is coming out or what events I’ll be doing. She surprised me at my second book launch and bought some books for her nieces.

These little conversations and actions are worth more than any money and prove that my investment has succeeded. I still get goosebumps thinking about these experiences.

 

Where I’ve thrown water on the fire (the mistakes I have made)

 

Book Marketing Scams

There are so many scammers on social media and they just inundate my feeds and mailbox. At the start of my marketing endeavor, I almost signed on with a book promotion company in Texas. It would cost me a lot of money, enough that I did extra due diligence to ensure it would be well spent. I emailed back and forth with the company, and they seemed legitimate. They responded quickly, easing any fears that I had. They even had some very successful authors listed on their site, and they seemed to be able to prove their worth. But, my instincts were triggered for some reason, and I looked up their address and found it to be an apartment complex and not what looked to be a legitimate office space. So, I decided I would contact some of their clients. It turned out that the clients did NOT use them and had no clue who the company was. When I called the company to speak with a real person and ask about this, they acted offended that I would question their business tactics. Be aware and do your due diligence before spending money with a book marketer.

 

Trying to market to everyone and reaching no one

My book is intended for kids, young adults, and adults alike. That’s how I wrote it–something a middle grader, tween, and parent might enjoy. Think Harry Potter Volume 1 or Bridge to Terabithia. It’s tough to market a middle grade book, especially when trying to reach the real buyers (the parents). I made all of the mistakes of marketing 101 with my online ads:  marketing to everyone, trying to cross audience ages to get more buyers, and spending money on ads that weren’t targeted to the right market. I needed to decide precisely who my book was for and concentrate on marketing to that group. I’ve since found tools to help me do that, and I mention them later in this post.

 

Picking the incorrect categories and settings when publishing my book

You’ll laugh at me for this, but I accidentally marked my children’s book as having adult content because the grandfather gets murdered in the first chapter (not graphically, mind you). I wanted to be honest about it. I realized after the fact that they meant adult content, such as sexual or graphic death scenes. Once I clicked that checkbox, it was almost impossible to reverse course. It took me a bit of wrangling with KDP support to remove that black mark of death. I also chose some categories that were inundated with other books where there was no way I would stand out in the pack. In my successes section, I mentioned an app I used to avoid this mistake.

 

Create the perfect conditions for a spark

 Reviews

People want to spend their money on something they can trust. They will hesitate to take a chance on your book if you have no other readers or reviews to prove its quality. I continue to use a service called Pubby to gain quality reviews quickly. I can get between 5-10 reviews every week, many of which are verified purchase reviews. The service has a monthly fee of $20 with a free 10-day trial. It requires you to search their online library and buy a low-priced e-book version of a book on Amazon, but the cost is well worth the well-written reviews you get in return. The idea is pretty simple. You earn ‘snaps’ for reading and reviewing other author’s books. You can then trade in those snaps for reviews of your book. They have a 30-day money-back guarantee, and you can cancel anytime. It’s a great way to get reviews of your book on Amazon before you launch the book to the world. I have tried to use family and friends to get reviews, but it is tough to wrangle everyone to spend time reading and reviewing unless they are avid readers. You also won’t get an honest review most of the time.

Book awards

I know it’s a bit cheesy to look for praise in the form of a logo or stamp on your cover, but book awards offer credibility and a shiny sticker that makes your cover stand out. If others have invested time in your book and found it worthy of acclaim, it must have some value. That’s what readers want to know when they compare your book to others. However, realize that there are so many book awards you can apply to, and they usually cost money ($60 - $120 per category entered). Many of them are just schemes to get your money. Research the available awards and pick the respectable ones. Look at your favorite authors in your genre and see what awards they have won. Reedsy offers a list of respectable awards.

Create a consistent brand

Make sure marketing materials look professional and that your colors, logos, and images present a consistent voice that reflects the quality and content of your book. Ensure you set up profile pages on Amazon, Goodreads, and Reedsy. When you create marketing materials, try to stick to your brand colors and images so that users will notice those elements and think of your book whenever they see them.

Websites and email addresses

You need at least an author website and, if possible, a book website. Hire a good photographer to take professional author headshots. Find a domain that makes sense and is not difficult to remember. Avoid domain names with hyphens, abbreviations, or names that have nothing to do with you or your book. Stick to a .com domain because people assume it is a .com when they type in a website address. Purchase an email that ends in that domain name. If you plan a book series, ensure the domain can fit all books under that domain name. Set up a subscription management service (I use Mailchimp) to collect subscriber names and emails for future announcements or campaigns. DO NOT try to just collect email addresses on your own. Some laws require you to offer subscribers an easy and instant way to unsubscribe, and you don’t want to run into any legal issues.

Start on the right foot

I use a great tool called Publisher Rocket. It allows me to see the many hidden book categories on Amazon.com. It shows me which categories have the least competition, allowing me to position my book as one of a few vs. one in a million. It also allows me to see popular books and discover their categories. It does the same with keywords, letting me know what keywords other publishers use to find readers. You can find out more on their website, but it does an outstanding job for authors wanting to market their books and understand the Amazon market. It even tells you the monthly income of each book on the market so you can see what is selling and what is not. Check it out here: https://ollyspores--rocket.thrivecart.com/publisher-rocket/

Create a sell sheet

These are also called dealer sheets, pub sheets, one sheet, fact sheets, or info sheets. They help retailers and libraries to position your book in their establishment. There is a great article and interview about these on the Ingenium Books website.

Go on tour

I’m not talking about tour buses and nights at Motel 8. I’m talking virtual blog book tours. For around $300 plus the cost of shipping ten books and goodies to avid readers/influencers, you get great bang for the buck. Tour companies handle all of the logistics for you, too. They find the right readers with large followings on their blogs and social media accounts. Once a date is set for your tour, you mail out your book and fun goodies and sit back and wait. The blog owners agree to read and offer a full review of the book and then post videos and pictures of them opening your book during a determined week. This content gets posted on their blogs and social media, and the reviews are posted to Goodreads and Amazon. You get backlinks, publicity, and access to all their followers throughout the week. It’s more fun than work, and some of these reviewers have even asked to get copies of my second book and be on my next tour.

Be giving

Offer your books as free gifts to parents who need presents for their children at Christmastime. I met some wonderful families and young readers this way. I also received some attention in an article on Cleveland.com, although that was not my intention. Donate books to your local libraries and schools to promote reading. Find a book club for kids and give them your book to read. If you have a talent, teach a class related to your book. Donate your book to a Little Free Library in your town (https://littlefreelibrary.org/). I taught a class on watercolor painting to children and adults with special abilities (a mushroom character was the painting subject, of course). I had a blast with the group and gave away my signed books and art supplies to the best artists of the day. 

It’s about who you know

Make sure you get your books into all of your social circles. Post a news release to your alma mater. Many colleges have lists of authors like mine does at Ohio University (https://www.ohio.edu/alumni/get-involved/connect/bobcat-authors). Remember to send it to your high school alum organization, announce it through your church newsletter, or on your company’s employee website. You never know who it might reach.

Take advantage of the free sales channels

There are many free or inexpensive places to sell your book, and each offers another chance to gain awareness and backlinks even if the sales don’t roll in. I recommend places like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Craigslist, and local newspaper classifieds. Post a flyer at your local library community bulletin board.

Be your very best press team

Send press releases to your local papers and news stations. Ensure you offer a link to high-resolution images of your author photo, book cover, and marketing images so they can use them in a story if they decide to publish it. Making these items readily accessible means less work for them and more of a chance of getting your story picked up. If the book is set in a different town, send releases to that town, too. Make the press releases specific to each media contact. In the release, highlight parts of the book that would be unique and interesting to that town or media entity.

Get in front of readers whenever you can

Research and sign up early to participate in book and craft fairs. Contact your library or a local bookstore to do a book signing event. Even Barnes & Noble allows local authors to set up a table to sell books if the store carries them (even just online). Offer to do guest blogs or interviews on websites that review books in your genre.

 Socialize with fellow authors and grow your craft

Join literary organizations and learn from fellow authors what is working for them regarding marketing and book sales. Locally, I am a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org) and Literary Cleveland (litcleveland.com). Attend their events, workshops, and social gatherings and ask questions. You will meet some great peers in the industry who struggle with similar challenges.

Giveaways

Goodreads has a great giveaway promotion tool that handles everything for you. It costs $119, but readers must add your book to their to-be-read list to enter your giveaway. My books cost about $4 to publish and another $4 to ship. So, I give away six books and pay $168 out of pocket for the giveaway. I received great reviews from readers who won, and many bought my second book. I reached about 2,400 readers interested in each giveaway.

Always be prepared

Always have a signed book or book sales card because you never know who you will meet. What if you bump into a famous screenwriter, the head of a publishing company, or a book review columnist in a coffee shop today? Always have materials at the ready.

Try your luck with influencers

When writing my book, based in Littleton, Massachusetts, I learned that Steve Carrell lived nearby and was a mailman in that town for a short period (he hated the job). I also learned that he and his family own the nearby Marshfield Hills General Store (https://marshfieldhillsgeneralstore.com/). I sent him copies of my first book, hoping he or his family would enjoy it. Ironically, my book has a character who is a mailman with the last name of Carrell. I haven’t heard back, but I know my book is in their store or Steve’s home, just waiting to be read. 

 

I am a big fan of Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s book and their movie, The Spiderwick Chronicles. I learned they live 20 minutes from Littleton, Massachusetts, so I also sent both a copy of my book. Tony was gracious and returned a hand-drawn illustration and a bunch of art. Holly Black is on her new book tour, but I am sure she will respond once she returns. You never know who will take an interest in your book and mention it in a conversation. Who knows, maybe they will see the creativity in my story, mention it to a producer, and Olly & the Spores will be the next big movie.

School visits and lesson plans

I met the fantastic Florenza Lee (https://florenza.org/) at an author event last year, and she had some great ideas for me. She urged me to look into creating a curriculum around my book (activities, puzzles, and lesson plans that tie in with my book). Having a curriculum opens opportunities to get into schools and apply for literacy educational grants at the state level. I am in the process of doing this with my first school visit planned for this May. The school already purchased 165 books for my visit–one for each sixth grader.

 

Ready to kindle the fire?

Stop thinking of marketing as instant sales. Think of it as an investment in your branding and awareness strategy. Everything you do will create exposure or backlinks to your book. It may not be today or this week, but it WILL pay off someday. Everything you do exposes the kindling and increases the chance that a spark will catch fire with your book.


Some fires that will make you feel warm inside

 A lady named Chelsea Banning had a book signing, and 37 people said they were going. Only two showed. “Kind of upset, honestly, and a little embarrassed,” she tweeted. That tweet somehow found Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and other famous authors, who replied and tweeted their failures at book signings. These renowned authors helped Chelsea’s book sell out overnight.

After rejection, Dr. Seuss was walking home to burn his manuscript when he ran into a friend from school. That friend was an editor of children’s books and insisted on reading it. The book was published, and Seuss became wildly successful. Seuss would say later of the chance meeting, ‘If I’d been going down the other side of Madison Avenue, I’d be in the dry-cleaning business today.’

Hugh Howey decided to leave traditional publishing and self-publish, writing when not captaining a yacht or working on computers. He used Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to publish a $0.99 digital novella titled Wool, and it succeeded, doing much better than any of his previous stories. Well before any print edition rolled off a press, “Wool” had sold more than 400,000 e-books and was optioned by Hollywood.

Stephen King published his first novel, Carrie, which 30 publishers rejected. Publisher Doubleday eventually picked it up, and the book became a huge bestseller. It was adapted into a popular film in 1976, launching King to fame.

Even JK Rowling Turned Down By 12 Publishers Before Finding Success with her Harry Potter Books. She has sold over 450 million books worth over $1 billion. Can you imagine being one of those publishers that turned her down?

  

About Glenn...


Glenn Somodi is an award-winning author who writes stories in the short space between lying down and dreaming. The stories are written over many nights, replayed, and rewritten in his head for enjoyment. His mission is to find anyone who enjoys reading the stories as much as he enjoys creating them. 

Inspired by some of his favorite childhood movies, like Star Wars and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Somodi writes stories filled with magic and adventure that might spark the imagination of others. He calls himself a "spark generator."

 Book awards include a Readers’ Favorite Book Awards Silver Medal, a Page Turner Award for Best Middle Grade Fiction, and a Bookfest Winner for his audiobook. It was also a finalist in the International Book Awards.

 His book series, Olly & the Spores, started with his first book, Olly & the Spores of Oak Hill, published in November 2022. The second book, Olly & the Spores of Sapphire Creek, was released in March of 2024 and is already gathering praise and good reviews. He is currently outlining his third and final book of the series.

Check out Glenn's website: https://glennsomodi.com/








The show must go on . . . the pages

By Kate Carroll

 

Fellow picture book writers, do you struggle with SHOW DON’T TELL? It’s a demanding task when writing in this genre. One experience I had gave me an interesting perspective on how to tackle it.                                                                                                    

I attended a workshop led by experts in the field.  Among them was the celebrated illustrator, Eric Rohmann. I had settled in my spot, notebook opened, wanting to pinch myself over the “craft gems” to come. We were tasked with our first assignment - create a dummy for our picture books. My stomach tightened as I looked around the room. Everyone had “dug in” to work. My hands felt clammy as I picked up a pencil.  I only had paltry stick figures in my repertoire. With no choice, short of bolting, I designed a dummy and placed my copy onto the pages. My fingers cramped as I drew. Erasing again and again. I managed one scene on the cover, and then I heard, “Time to wrap up.” I bit my lip thinking Well at least my manuscript is good. 


The moment of truth arrived when the facilitators directed us to a mentor.  My heart pounded like a hammer.  Eric opened the booklet and doodled on the first page. What a gift!  What followed was a gift too, although I didn’t exactly think that at the time. 
 

 As we chatted about my project, he created another illustration to compliment my words.  But after the first two pages, Eric grew quiet.  He turned a page. And the next page, and the page after that.  He stopped illustrating.  I stopped breathing. I couldn’t tell if he was deep in thought, confused or bored.

 Those few moments lasted forever. He looked up at me and said, “You took over my job.”  My throat was dry. He pointed to my words that took away his creativity and stole his chance to develop his half of the story. I was telling, telling, telling.


The lightbulb moment: Save half the story for the illustrator!  Yes, I had heard that advice over and over, but until an illustrator, and an amazing one at that, critiqued my work, I don’t think I fully understood it.

 

My meeting with Eric Rohmann was one of the most useful experiences I’ve had in growing as a picture book writer.

 

Here are a few takeaways to think about as you work on those pesky telling sentences in your manuscripts.

 Share!  Are you giving an illustrator space in your manuscripts?


 Describe actions that show the emotions of a character.


Even if you write gorgeous description, remember that the word budget of picture books is tight. Leave it to the illustrators.


Look for a chance to have your project critiqued by an illustrator.  A revelation and revolution for your future projects!


Build dummies and draw, sketch or doodle the art. Then decide if every word you wrote is necessary.


Make a list of telling statements. Example: He is scared. Next prove that he is scared. What is he doing, saying, thinking to show his fear? How is he moving, speaking? What would I hear or see him doing? Repeat that with your list.


Use sensory images, metaphors and similes.


When you get to the place where your manuscript is done, pick it apart one more time and exercise some of these tools to give it the best chance of acquisition.

 

Learn more about Kate on her website: https://www.ktcarroll.com/