Q. What can authors do before their publication date to make a book launch more successful?
A. A lot of the promotion should be handled by the publisher, of course, as they are more likely to have media contacts who can generate some buzz around your book, but the one thing I think more authors should be doing is permission marketing. In other words, I think authors should gather the e-mail addresses of their fans to let them know whenever a new book comes out.
Nine months before my last book was released, I put a simple sign-up form on my website, offering free weekly poems by e-mail to my readers. That is, in exchange for their e-mail address, I send them a funny poem once a week. This is all handled by an "auto-responder" (I use aweber.com, but Constant Contact or others should work as well) so that I don't need to manually send the e-mails.
By the time the book was available, I had over 2,500 e-mail addresses of kids, parents, and teachers who enjoyed my poetry. When my next book is published, I expect to be able to send an e-mail announcement to over 6,000 people.
Q. What do you like best about promoting your books?
A. Mostly I do assembly programs and writing workshops in elementary schools to promote my books. This has the advantage of giving me direct contact with my readers. I can try out new material on kids and see what they react to. I can find out what works for kindergartners, third graders, sixth graders, etc.
Although traveling is hard work, doing assemblies for kids is very rewarding. And because most schools sell books for visiting authors, I typically sell 5,000+ books a year myself.
Q. What is one mistake you made promoting your first book that you would recommend others avoid?
A. I think I might have done better with my first book had it been published by a larger house; one with the resources to provide more publicity for the book. Because it was my first book, and my first publisher, I didn't know that some publishers promote their books more than others. I thought it was normal that I had to do all of the promotion and publicity myself.
Although I don't think I should have waited for a different publisher, I probably should have tried to work with the publisher's publicity and marketing staff more, rather than trying to do everything on my own.
Q. Can you share your top three book promotion tips for first-time authors?
A. Network. Explore the online "kid lit" community on the Internet. Read the blogs and introduce yourself. Connect with the folks who are blogging and podcasting about children's books. Stay in touch via social networking such as Facebook and Twitter. If they like your book, they will help you spread the word.
Use permission marketing. Everywhere you go, collect the e-mail addresses of everyone who is interested in knowing about your book. If you can send an announcement to thousands of readers, you're going to sell more books.
Read to your audience. Unless you are an A-list author, you may not have anyone show up at bookstore signing events. Instead of waiting for a few readers to come to you, go where the people are. I perform my work at schools (including high schools and colleges), conferences, festivals, libraries (summer reading programs), and any place else where I can share my work with a large audience.
Q. Is there something you would say is never too late to do when promoting your book?
A. It's never too late to create a video to promote your book. This year Eric Carle created a video for the 40th anniversary of his book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. More and more authors are using videos on YouTube and Amazon.com to make a connection with their readers. In fact, if you'll excuse me I think I'll go make a video to promote My Hippo Has the Hiccups.
Cindy Hudson is the author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs (Seal Press 2009). Her website, and its companion blog, feature reading lists, book reviews, author interviews, book giveaways and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at MotherDaughterBookClub.com and CindyHudson.com.