Updated January 2016
I’ve updated the info below somewhat hurriedly for the start of 2016 – but there is lots to add. I will only have time to do this once my new book Walter Brown and the Magician’s Hat in May (link opens in a new tab on my author website).
Marketing children’s books is a challenge for authors in the online world because our target market isn’t online. There are, of course, ways to connect with parents, teachers and librarians online to let them know about your book, however the reality is that if you want to sell to the younger age groups in any numbers you need to get out there and meet them face to face at signings and school events. Read on to find out more!
I have now sold around 7,000 copies of The Secret Lake (around half on Kindle and the rest in print), 1,200+ of Eeek! The Runaway Alien in print and approx 120 on Kindle, almost 500 copies of my picture book Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep, and around 300 copies of Henry Haynes and the Great Escape. I’m also just shy of 500 *paid* sales of my interactive book app of Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep. I have never made any of my children’s ebooks free online, but I did, somewhat naively, make my book app free at the outset when it was promptly downloaded 1,500 times!
For a self-published children’s author the numbers above, while nowhere near the sales volumes you might expect with adult fiction, really aren’t bad at all compared with traditionally published mid-list authors. Below I share some of my marketing tips.
Creating individual book websites and an author website
When starting out I created separate sites for The Secret Lake, Eeek! The Runaway Alien and The Adventures of Ferdinand Fox. I still have these individual sites and they served their purpose brilliantly in the early days, however a couple of years ago I brought information about all of my books together under kareninglisauthor.com as this makes cross marketing simpler now that I have four books (with another about to launch) and a book app under my belt. All of these websites are hosted on free WordPress blogs.
Whichever route you choose (you may decide to go for both), the benefit is not only that you have a place where your readers can connect with you directly through comments, but also an online ‘calling card’ to show or offer links to when contacting bookshops, schools, journalists, librarians or editors.
My book sites in action…
Anyone can read the first three chapters of The Secret Lake or Eeek! The Runaway Alien for free on those books’ websites. And on Ferdinand Fox’s website there are excerpts and sample images from Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep – along with a fun puzzle and downloadable colouring sheets.
The quality, look and feel of each site is important and should reflect the book’s ‘brand’. For example, with The Secret Lake website I went to great lengths to try to reflect the magical atmosphere and setting of the story through the background woodland design. I did this all myself – quite easily, just following the WordPress instructions. The site certainly had a positive impact when first talking to book buyers who often placed orders while on the phone. In contrast, Eeek’s website is bright and whacky – in tune with the fun atmosphere of the book. Meanwhile, Ferdinand Fox’s website is simple – but reflects the book’s brand again.
I own the domain names for thesecretlake.com and eeekthealien.com and ferdinandfox.co.uk and have a forwarding links set on these to the free WordPress blogs that I host them on. I’m of course able to quote these web addresses in promotional literature and tell people about them in passing (as can you!).
My book websites naturally have links out to Amazon in the UK and USA – and to other online retailers where relevant. They also list which UK stores stock the books. In addition, I’ve set them up so that children and other readers can leave reviews.
My author site
Since 2013 my books sites have been complemented by my ‘catch-all’ author site kareninglisauthor.com. This site, which can also be reached via wellsaidpress.com (my imprint name) is aimed at all of the following:
- children (my readers) – or parents/carers of my readers
- schools and librarians
- trade book buyers
- (press / bloggers)
You will see that I have taken care to segment the books clearly in the menu headings so that anyone landing on the site can see which titles are relevant for which age-group. And I’ve made it easy for schools and bookshops to pick out pages relevant to them.
There is also a direct sales page for anyone wanting personalised signed copies of my books.
This is another free WordPress blog set up with a forwarding rule from the domain names which I own. I can’t stress how easy these WordPress sites are to set up. Just go to WordPress.com and follow the instructions!
Getting to know children’s booksellers
When I first published The Secret Lake I decided to ‘start local’ and work my way out – so initially called and then visited local independent bookshops, taking in one of my proof copies. They were fantastically useful in advising me on a suggested retail price and these shops stock and restock my books on a consignment basis (meaning I invoice them when they have sold them) – usually face out. Here’s Ferdinand Fox in my local village bookshop!
Here is The Secret Lake in June 2013 at The Notting Hill Bookshop – right by their till in the ‘local authors’ section. (I used to live there, and the story was largely inspired by the communal gardens there.)
My next step was to telephone Waterstones in Notting Hill. (For non-UK readers this is the main UK bookstore chain.) I chose this branch because, as mentioned above, the story of The Secret Lake is set in the Notting Hill communal gardens. The children’s buyer – who was looking at the website while chatting to me on the phone – immediately ordered four copies (they were on her system thanks to my arrangement with Lightning Source which ensures they are on the Ingram data feed – more on this below). She then suggested I supply a promo board to help with sales – which I duly organised with Prontaprint. All in all this was fantastic news for me – I had assumed she would need to refer me to a central buyer somewhere, but she didn’t.*
Thereafter I contacted more local Waterstones branches on the back of the ‘local author and local setting’ story – the lake in the story is based on a pond in Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park in southwest London. Chatting with the children’s book buyers and showing them my website, and in some cases then going in to meet them to show them the book was definitely was worth the time and trouble. With a few months of its launch The Secret Lake was stocked in 10 branches of Waterstones in west/southwest London – and one in Solihull.
*2016: Book buying at Waterstones is now mostly done centrally, unlike when I first approached them. This means that a local manager won’t normally be able to order in your book right away if you are a new author as they did with me. Rather they will need to recommend you to the central buyer.
However, local managers may still have influence to persuade central office to place an order or accept your book on a direct arrangement if they think you have a quality product. This means that all of the work to establish your brand through a website is just as relevant as it was before the system changed – in fact even more so as the managers will be able to pass on your links.
Distributing via Lightning Source in the UK and offering a wholesale discount of 45% (55% in the USA)
I use Lightning Source in the UK (owned by Ingram) because they can quickly fulfil print-on-demand orders placed by UK bookshops. However, since I began my self-publishing journey they have set up a sister company, Ingram Spark, which is more suited to small self-publishers and it’s likely this is the route you will need to take. You can read more about these choices on my page print on demand. (While I could distribute in the UK via CreateSpace, most independent bookshops on seeing the Amazon connection are unlikely to order except where a customer has made a specific request – again, follow the link above to understand more about this.)
The marketing principles information that follows is relevant for both Lightning Source and Ingram Spark, the only difference being that with Lightning Source you can flex your discounts across a wide range, whereas with Ingram Spark you only have a choice of 40% or 55%.
Bookshops see the book cover and discount/pricing info on their online systems – supplied by Ingram – and then order from the wholesaler who in turn orders from Lightning Source (or Ingram Spark).
Most major bookshops and online stores (and, I believe, most smaller bookshops) are unlikely to order in books offered at a lower discount than 45% in the UK unless they receive a specific customer request. This is because the books are supplied to them by one of the main wholesalers, such as Gardners or Bertrams, who in turn take their cut of the discount.
Speaking to independent booksellers, it seems they are generally looking for a minimum discount of 30% but ideally 35% – this enables them to make a reasonable profit on the sale – and, importantly, to be able to put the books on offer from time to time. So if I want to pitch as an unknown author to a bookshop – be that by sending out Advance Information Sheets or contacting them by phone or paying a visit – I need to give them an incentive through my discount.
For this reason I offer a 45% discount in the UK via Lightning Source. With Ingram Spark 45% isn’t a possibility – in this case, you need to decide between 40% and 55%. So what do you choose? My own view would on balance be that unless you’re planning an active national marketing campaign stay with 40% and make the extra you can when you do make the odd bricks and mortar sales beyond your local bookshops. For local bookshop sales, order stock for yourself and supply direct at 35% or 40% discount, depending on what they’ll accept – your profit will be greater because there is no middleman.
With Lightning Source you can also tailor discounts by country. Everything I had read suggested that 55% was the way to go with USA sales – to increase the chances of the books being discounted on Amazon.com and other online stores. This has certainly worked for me, though my USA print sales are no-where near my UK ones.
Persuading Gardners wholesalers to stock my books
On the back of my book sales through Waterstones events (see below) I was able quite early on to persuade the wholesaler Gardners to keep my book in stock, by which I mean they ordered stocks in from Lightning Source before receiving orders rather using the print-on-demand ordering system. Miraculously I also persuaded them to stock my books on a ‘no return’ basis. This was highly unusual for a self-publisher. The combination of these two things made it easy and quick for Waterstones to get books in. It also enabled me to put myself forward for the LoveReading4KidsUK website which at that time would only list you if you were showing ‘in stock’ with Gardners.
Today I think it unlikely that you’ll be able to persuade Gardners or other wholesalers to stock your self-published book (as opposed to ordering it via print on demand when a customer asks for it) unless:
- you can persuade them that you will be able to make volume sales
- you also are prepared to offer a very high discount (likely to be 55%- 65% – determined by them)
It is also highly unlikely they would stock it on a ‘no return’ basis unless you start selling in very high numbers. I think it was a question of ‘right time and right place’ for me!
My arrangement with Gardners changed in early 2015 as a result of a different approach I had to take with Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep which I printed upfront rather than using print on demand. The outcome was that for a year I supplied all of my books to Gardners direct on a 50% discount basis with right of return. This arrangement has now ended as I found that most of my sales were at schools, or direct to Waterstones for events, as Waterstones found it more cost effective to take my books that way. I am now back to supplying using print-on-demand via Lightning Source to all UK retailers and wholesalers with a 45% discount
Book signings at Waterstones
I did four book signings with Waterstones in the lead-up to Christmas 2011 after publication of The Secret Lake. In all cases I initiated contact to suggest the events – and then supplied posters/flyers to help with publicity. (I’ve become quite an expert at using Photoshop to create tailored posters from my cover artwork!) At each event I sold 20-25 books over a 2-4 hour period. In the weeks that followed the stores sold more books.
I did further rounds of signings at five stores after the release of Eeek! in 2012 and then again after the release of Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep in 2013 and Henry Haynes in 2014. At these latest signings I sold as many copies if not more of The Secret Lake and Eeek! as I did of Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep – averaging around 40 sales per event.
Here’s a picture of my stand at Richmond Waterstones in May 2013 – it was near the end of the day and nearly all books had sold – hence it’s looking a little empty! Check out my marketing boards – easy to order through Prontaprint!
As I am not well known there are never queues outside the door – but the sales are steady and solid, and customers are always really interested to hear about the books. I always take extra copies in case the store runs out of its own – where this happens they run my extra books through their till and then ‘owe’ me the ones of my own I’d sold which they replaced by ordering more.
The added benefit of these events is that I got to know the children’s buyers quite well and felt confident that they would look out for my book in the store.
In the early days Waterstones ordered my books for events via Gardners – but more recently they were keener to buy direct from me due to the heavy discount taken by Gardners. By selling direct at 40% both I and they made more money. As it’s been two years since my last book came out I’m not sure what they current strategy is, but with Walter Brown coming out in May I hope to find out soon.
Sales support for material bookshops
I supply my local bookshops and Waterstones with bespoke shelf talkers (little cards with the book’s logo and a short summary of the plot), which get fixed onto the shelf by the book). I created these by experimenting with Photoshop and using the artwork from the book cover. Mine tends to stand out from the other shelf talkers because it is different – and it means that at least two branches of Waterstones have had my books face out in the past – and both of my local bookshops continue to do so.
I also supply posters advertising my reading events – or the fact that signed copies of my books are in-store.
Just after I published The Secret Lake I gave a reading at our local library. I was incredibly nervous that no-one would turn up – or that I would get a huge room full of children and their parents to read to, which would have been very daunting!
As it turned out I had the perfect number for a first event – seven children plus parents and a few passers-by; so about 15 in all. This was intimate enough to allow me to chat with all of the children and answer their questions and get a good feel for whether the story was capturing their imagination – which I’m glad to say it was. It was fantastic to see them with their hands in the air all wanting to ask questions.
In January 2012 I started out by doing readings in one of the local schools, which has no less than three intakes each of eight and nine year olds and asked if I could come and see each individually! Whilst it was a lot of work, it was great fun – and those six sessions were invaluable as a ‘testing ground’ for me – to see which elements of the book worked best for such an event, and how long I had to get through them and how I would break up the reading with questions.
These readings, which were a huge success, led to sales via our local bookshop and to a request from another local school to visit their 36 eight-year-old boys – which in turn led to another request from a further school to read to 75 of their children on World Book Day 2012! All of this happened before I had time to pick up the phone to them. These last two schools actively contacted parents before the events and in all I sold about 100 books after these readings 🙂
Having stepped back from the ‘day job’ in March 2013 I managed to book in events at five further schools between March and June 2013. This included another World Book Day event in March, which got local press coverage in the Richmond & Twickenham Times here. I have since done many more school visits in my local area and beyond. Sales range between 30 and 80 per visit, depending on class size and number of year groups I present present to; this can range from a single year group at one or two sessions to the whole school across a day and several sessions.
I’ve been very fortunate so far with my reviews – for all of my books. Below is a brief history of how I got there but I should stress that the star ratings are based on the readers’ personal views and out of my control – I know very few of the people who have left reviews. On that basis I am just delighted that the books have been so well received.
- In the case of both The Secret Lake and Eeek! I received 5 Stars from the ex Head Reader for Puffin UK who now runs The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books in London. I contacted her as 10 years earlier I had done a one-day course on writing for children that she had led. I thought she might not remember me – but she did and was more than happy to review my books!
- A few weeks after I published The Secret Lake, I had read on a blog about Amazon’s ‘Top 100’ reviewers so did some research and found the list. Scanning down I found someone who reviews children’s books (and other products) but clearly also loves history and historical dramas on the BBC. Since The Secret Lake is a ‘time-slip’ mystery adventure in which the children find themselves in their London home 100 years in the past I thought I’d contact her to see if she’d like to review it. I was astonished to hear back within the hour – she told me that she was so busy that she wasn’t taking on much other stuff, but that she so liked the look of the book she’d like to review it. I was then thrilled when she dropped me an email within a week to say that she’d read it to her six-year old daughter and given it 5 stars! (This was especially heartening as she had explained that she doesn’t post reviews unless a book is worthy of 4 or 5 stars, but instead lets the author know she felt didn’t work). These reviews are referenced and linked to from my website and you can of course see them on Amazon.
- For all books I did a Goodreads Giveaway – these are simple to run and you can offer as many or few books as you want to. I opted for three each time. In each case I sent a hand signed copy of the book and a short note asking if the winner would mind leaving a review. I’m sure this encouraged the reader to take the time to post the review – I know that in some cases authors fail to get reviews post Giveaway.
- At the end of The Secret Lake and Eeek! I encourage children to leave their own reviews on the book’s website – with a promise that I always reply (which I do!). I set this up – finding my way through WordPress – so that children can do this anonymously and safely. Click the image below to see it more closely. You’ll also get a sense of the backdrop on a big screen! Or go over to The Secret Lake Reviews Page – I was bowled over by the feedback! (May latest review came in in March 2016.)
- I initially found a few children through my local librarian – offering a free signed copy of the book in return for a review on the books’ website (good or bad!). Once the librarian identified volunteers, I took care to communicate with their parents to be sure they were happy about this, which they all were. Some of the children have left reviews on Amazon too.
- Over time as the print and Kindle sales have increased, more and more children (and sometime parents) have left reviews – both on the book’s website and on Amazon or Goodreads – or Waterstones.
- I also contacted the Families South-West Magazine here in the UK – they have children reviewers and quickly found me a keen 11-year-old for The Secret Lake – another great bit of exposure to my target market! You can read her review here
I have a marketing / PR background – and I’m a professional copywriter ‘by day’ – so I didn’t shy away from the challenge of generating traditional PR when I first launched The Secret Lake. It took perseverance and effort – including a lot of calls to track down the right contacts and then tailor my press releases to their publications. But it paid off and I gained significant coverage in the local press and glossy local magazines in south-west London, and the same again in the Notting Hill area.
With Eeek! I had less time due to day job commitments, but with the launch of Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep I managed the local newspaper (the earlier mentioned Richmond and Twickenham Times article) and local magazines.
Of course the serious challenge for any indie author is to try to get PR coverage nationally. This used to be impossible, but the tide is slowly turning…
In the meantime, if any national journalists are reading this and would like to write a feature article about my self-publishing journey, please do get in touch!
In 2013 I donated 50 copies of Eeek! to the Beanstalk charity and had a highly successful visits to an inner London school in support of the Get London Reading campaign. The surprise there was that I sold well over 50 books, which had been the last thing I had somehow expected! Eeek! has been singled by parents, teachers and LoveReading4Kids as as a great book for boys and reluctant readers and it was on the back of this that I approached Beanstalk.
In May of 2012 I was asked to speak alongside others at Birbeck College (University of London) at event entitled ‘Self-publishing – Vanity Fair or Brave New World’. The hall was packed with MA Creative Writing students and received coverage in The Spectator. My invitation came on the back of this self-publishing blog and the successes I had made with my sales and marketing.
In 2013, I was asked to speak at two further (unrelated) events in June, each focusing on children’s / YA book publishing. The first – hosted by The Children’s Book Circle at Penguin HQ – was attended by agents, aspiring and published children’s authors, book publishers and editors. Here the discussion topic was ‘Self-publishing: The Good, The Bad, The Future.’ For the second event Kobo Writing Life asked me to give a talk on self-publishing as part of a Curtis Brown Creative Writing Course run by UK children’s author Tony Bradman. The speakers who made up the rest of that day were Francesca Simon, author of the Horrid Henry books, and Malorie Blackman, our new Children’s Laureate! Needless to say I was both humbled and extremely proud to find myself billed alongside such incredible company! My one regret is that other commitments meant I was unable to stay on to meet them after lunch!
Social Media Marketing
As with all children’s authors, I face the challenge that my target market is not supposed to be active on social media such as Facebook or Twitter! And even where some are going incognito, they will generally not be holding the purse strings at age 8-12! As a result my messages are generally aimed at parents, but with half a mind that some of my Facebook followers may be under age!
My current book Facebook pages are listed below – but with hindsight it’s not a strategy that I would recommend as it stretches me too thinly! For that reason I subsequently established my Karen Inglis (Author) Facebook page which I try to use for posting about my activity for all books, to ensure I capture people who are active on Facebook rather than in the blogosphere. At present I’m not there as often as I’d like to be – but hope to rectify that this year!
Ideally I’d like to find a way to migrate my 400 or so book fans from the other pages below there! I’m not sure there’s a way to do it, but it on my to-do list to find out how. Self-publishing guru Joanna Penn – in ‘How To Market A Book‘ (which I would highly recommend) rightly points out that creating a Facebook page for each book is not the right approach! I’ve lived and learnt that. For interest here are those other pages and you will now see a holding message encouraging visitors to like my main author page instead.
Tweeting as a book feels more manageable and I’ll maintain my separate book Twitter accounts listed below for now as each gives me the opportunity to put the book ‘brand’ out into the ether where twitter discussions about children’s publishing are taking place for different age groups. I think this one account per book approach, though hard work, may work better for children’s authors than for adult authors – though I don’t beat myself up if I can’t keep my Twitter posts up as often as I’d like!
Interviews and listings on book blogs
I’ve listed my books on several children’s book blogs – mainly in the USA where I feel I need more exposure – and provided interviews with several of the blog hosts. However I’ve found it hard to find time to do this as much as I’d like. There really are only so many hours in a day!
I’ve was accepted onto the Awesome Indies website early on – which requires testimonials from professional editors before acceptance. My thanks to Louise Jordan of the Writers Advice Centre for Children’s Books for her support here!
Future marketing and PR…
In late 2015/early 2016 I have been testing out new marketing strategies which are still in the experimental and measuring phase – I will provide more detail after the launch in May of new book Walter Brown and the Magician’s Hat (opens in new tab)
Updated January 2016 – with apologies for it being a little hurried!