My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children
You’ve secured a publishing deal with your dream publisher, and your book has been scrubbed and shined till its spick-and-span, ready for publication. What now? Clearly, you need to let people know about your book so they can buy it. You didn’t do all that work for nothing!
There are a few ways to broadcast the good news of your book.
First of all, there is the question of a book launch. Why is this a question? Isn’t it a given? Well, not necessarily.
While publishers do their best to market your book – they want your book to sell, after all – most publishers these days do not have it within their budget to organise and pay for a launch. I remember this came as a surprise to me. For some reason, (probably because of all of the stories and misinformation I’d heard), I imagined the publisher would throw a party to launch their latest book-baby into the world. But, as a wise woman (my agent) told me, ‘Unless you are the captain of the Australian cricket team, a launch isn’t usually part of the deal’. She was right. In other words, if you want a launch – and it is likely you do – you are going to have to do it yourself.
Saying this, in my experience, your publisher will certainly support you in hosting a launch, as will the bookstore, should you choose to hold your launch in a bookstore. For each of my three children’s picture books, my publisher, and the bookstore owners and staff, all threw their weight behind launching my books. They helped to publicise the launches, booked seats using their booking system, provided wine, created displays, honoured me with their presence and, importantly, sold books.
Your launch can look however you’d like it to look. You may like to host a morning tea, with coffee and tea available for the adults and treats for the kids. There may be a reading and an activity. Or, you may prefer to hold an evening event and offer wine and nibbles, gearing your launch towards parents, rather than the children themselves. It usually depends upon who you believe will be coming. Do you mostly have child-free friends or friends whose children have flown the nest? A nighttime launch may be for you. Do you, on the other hand, have friends with gaggles of children in your target readership? Perhaps a daytime launch is best.
Consider where you’d like to hold your launch. For each of my picture books, I’ve organised launches at bookstores where I now live, where I used to live and in my hometown. Bookstores are ideal for launches as, if your book is being stocked in your bookstore of choice, your launch will benefit the bookstore by creating sales. It’s a win-win situation. Bookstores often host launches, so they will be well-versed in what is required to create a successful launch.
Your book, however, may be suited to launching in a different kind of space, perhaps because of its particular themes or because of your connections. As long as you are able to sell books at your launch, you can hold your launch there. Do be aware, however, of pesky things like insurance. You don’t want to hold your launch somewhere where, if one of the guests, young or old, falls over and breaks something crucial, you have to foot the bill. Best to gather your party in a space where all of the insurance bits and bobs are in place – and somewhere easily accessible by differently abled persons.
For your launch, you will probably want to consider catering. The bookstore may have a wine sponsor and you might be able to purchase a catering package. Alternatively, you may like to provide catering yourself. This is an arrangement between you and the bookstore. Ask questions and talk to your local bookstore about the possibilities.
Remember to let everyone know about your launch. Your publisher and the bookstore will promote the event, but you’ll need to spread the word to your networks, too. Share the event on social media, send an email to your database, and send your friends and family a personal invitation. If there are any book reviewers you’d love to see at your launch, make sure you or your publisher invite them and send them a copy of the book.
It is also a good idea to ask someone – a published author, someone who has shepherded your writing career, a well-known figure, or a valued peer – to speak at your book launch. Ask someone you respect and admire, and perhaps present them with a thoughtful gift as a gesture of thanks.
Remember to thank the relevant people at your launch: your publisher, editor, the bookstore owner and team, your partner, family and friends, and the guests who have bothered to come. Life is busy and the people who choose to attend your launch are there in support of you and your book. They deserve your thanks.
After the speeches and a reading, and perhaps an activity for children, it is usual to do a signing. This means sitting at a table and signing books for people as they buy them, often made out to someone in particular. Before your launch, consider what it is you’d like to write to your readers in their copy of the book. You may be able to think of a witty one-liner or a warm and heartfelt message relevant to your story. It does not have to be the same for every book, but you’ll be surprised by the number of people who ask you to write something to their child besides your signature.
Speaking of signatures, decide how you are going to sign your books. It can be prudent to protect the signature you reserve for signing banking and legal documents, and create a new one, designed for just this purpose. You don’t want to give too much of yourself away – especially in these days of identity theft.
Also, here are two small but important things to do: First, find a good pen and have a backup on hand for when that pen runs out. Particularly if the pages of your book are shiny, you’re going to want to sign them with a pen that won’t smudge. Second, before you write someone’s name in a book, be certain you have the right spelling. Get the recipient to write the name on a piece of paper first, if you can. Don’t assume a familiar-sounding name is spelled as you imagine it. It may well be different, and you don’t want to write the wrong name in a book.
Finally, remember to enjoy your launch. This is the celebration of your creative work. Hopefully, you’ve gathered friends and family, people who are thrilled to see you launch your book. Take the time to connect with them. If they are in a position to buy a book, they will. Regardless, they are there for you and that is enough.
WEB PRESENCE AND SOCIAL MEDIA
In the lead-up to and following your book launch, you are going to need to put your publicity hat on. An author, at any stage of their career, needs to take responsibility for their own publicity. Particularly as a newbie author, you will have to manage your own website, social media, database and more, unless you have the funds to have someone manage it for you – but that’s not as much fun, is it?
Of course, your publisher will promote your book in their e-news and catalogue; they may put your book forward for various awards and pitch you to writers’ festivals; and they may coordinate readings at libraries and bookstores, but often, particularly once your book has been launched and it is ‘old news’, it is up to you to keep the flame burning. Your publisher’s marketing budget will only stretch so far, and there should be no-one more interested or invested in your book’s marketable life and your publishing career than you.
First things first. Do you have a web presence? In this day and age, when almost everything happens online, you must. You need a website or a blog, and an actively growing social media following. You don’t need to be across all social media platforms (who’d have the time?), but choose one or a few that you genuinely like. Then, once you’ve created your website or blog and your chosen social media profiles, work at keeping them current, relevant, welcoming and interesting. Post thoughtful, useful and inspiring content to your blog – you’re a writer, after all – and share meaningful content on social media. Nurture your followers and grow your readership.
Don’t be afraid to share good news with your tribe. A new book deal, an award – let your followers know so they can be happy for you. This is not always easy to do, perhaps particularly in Australia where culturally we’ve been taught to knock down the tall poppy and side with the underdog. We don’t want other people to think we’re up ourselves, do we! But, you’re going to have to get used to sharing your triumphs (and sometimes your hardships) with people, and being your own champion and publicist. You’ll grow more comfortable with it as time goes by; or, at least, the post-sharing angst will become easier to tolerate – mostly.
Not only will a vibrant online presence help to grow an audience for your book or books, it may well help you land another book deal. These days, if you are penning a well-written blog and demonstrably attracting a growing following, you are a more attractive proposition to a publisher. This may be more the case for nonfiction authors, yet it still applies to children’s picture book authors and illustrators. Basically, if you have the means to begin building an online profile, do. Just don’t get so bogged down or distracted by your social media interactions that you fritter your time away and neglect your real work – your books.
BOOK TALKS AND MORE
As well as building your online brand, take some real-life action to further your writing career.
Consider reading for children at your local bookstore, or at bookstores further afield. While many appearances will be voluntary, you can grow your readership and make lovely connections with your readers. You might like to read your book and conduct an activity with the children. Just be sure to communicate clearly with the bookshop about what materials are available and what you will need to provide.
If you are a great speaker with an interesting topic or repertoire, you might consider joining a speakers’ agency with the aim of generating presenting work at schools, libraries and writers festivals. School visits are (or should be) paid, and some authors can earn a living wage through touring schools. Take a look at the recommended rates of pay for public and school appearances on the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) website.
If your time and funds allow, why not hit the road? You can visit bookstores and libraries and have a lot of fun along the way. Organise it all in advance, of course, and publicise it well.
If you have a new book contract, a few months before the release date, consider creating a media list to help your publisher’s marketing manager. The marketing manager will already have a reliable list of children’s book reviewers, but if your book explores a specialised area, it is well worth marketing to people in that field, too. For example, my second book, Sylvia, is set in an organic market garden. So, a couple of months before it was launched, I spent a day or two researching publications, such as gardening magazines. Once I’d identified some potential avenues for publicity, I contacted each publication and asked if they’d be interested in receiving an advance copy of the book for review or exposure. Most were interested and a few were not. I passed on the list of positives to the marketing manager, who then sent each one a book and the media release. As a result, the book gained exposure to a targeted, relevant readership.
There are many things you can do to build your readership and your profile. If you’re feeling stuck, sit down with some paper and coloured markers (why not?), possibly with a friend or two, and brainstorm some ideas. You’ll be surprised at how many things you can think of. Write a list and refer to it whenever you find yourself thinking everyone has forgotten about your book (which you happened to find squashed under a stack of more recently released books, down at your local bookstore). If you’re feeling disheartened, do something about it.
Remember, in the world of publishing, unless you’re already a superstar, it is up to you. Be proactive and promote your good work to the world.
If you found this post helpful, you may like to read other posts in the series: My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children. I will publish the posts over the coming weeks and announce them on Facebook and Instagram, but if you want to make sure you don’t miss a post, subscribe to my newsletter for free.
My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children:
Part 1: Know and love your readers
Part 2: Ideas and inspiration
Part 3: Character, theme, rhythm and rhyme, and all of that writing stuff
Part 4: Who’s who in the zoo (writer, illustrator, editor, designer, publisher)
Part 5: Editing and storyboarding
Part 6: Illustration
Part 7: Traditional publishing or self-publishing
Part 8: Submitting your manuscript — the slow business of traditional publishing
Part 9: Contracts, advances and royalties
Part 10: PR — book launch, web presence, book talks and more
Part 11: Who are you and who do you want to be?
Part 12: Resources