Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Marketing - An Interview With Jennifer Swanson

Book marketing is fast becoming a very specialized sub-set of Internet marketing. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer Swanson, author of the award winning Penny And Rio series. In this interview she gives us a glimpse of what it takes for authors to be successful in an Internet marketing environment

How many books have you written and tell us about them

I have written three children's books so far in the award-winning Penny and Rio series. These early reader chapter books are interactive and imaginative and provide exceptional learning opportunities for children. In Penny and Rio:The Mysterious Backyard Meeting, children are introduced to the dog detectives as they discover why a group of unlikely animals is determined to get into the house next door. The answer is unexpected and poignant in that it teaches children to take care of the animals they love. Penny and Rio: The Locked Doghouse Mystery finds the intrepid detectives on yet another case as they help a small mouse, named Squeaky, retrieve his precious belongings from a locked doghouse next door. Teamwork, friendship and yes, ingenious planning abound as they discover the ultimate treasure in anyone's life is family. Finally, in Penny and Rio: The Diamond Collar Adventure, Penny and Rio escape from the yard for the first time to help Hannah, the beautiful show dog, find her lost diamond collar.

What was your goal in writing these books?

My goal in writing these books is primarily to entertain children. I have always been an avid reader and if my books can keep children reading and make their imaginations soar, then I will be happy. The best part about being an author is to see children truly enjoying your books and their excitement to read more and even to possibly write a book themselves some day.

What have you found to be your greatest marketing challenge?

Getting exposure for my books. I had a very difficult time with the first book, mostly because I didn't have a great deal of knowledge about marketing. I think sometimes that when people don't know what to do, they just start throwing things out there, without a plan. Some works, some doesn't. But if you have a plan, I think that helps. I've learned a lot with the second two books and I believe my best and most coordinated effort has been with my last book, that was just released in July of 2010. The most I can say, is to perservere. Keep getting word out and, eventually, your book will catch on.

What is the key to successfully marketing books in today's environment?

I think you really need to find your target market. That can be difficult. You need to determine what is your best avenue to break in. Is it the bookstores? Is it the library market? Is it the internet? E-books? Bookstores are very tough to get into these days. They are losing customers to e-books so their shelf space is shrinking. If you are not with a major publisher, it is almost impossible to get your books displayed here. The library market is again, tough. Budgets are being cut, libraries are being closed. You really need to convice librarians that your book is worth buying with their limited funds. If you don't have a major review, then that is going to be difficult. As for the internet, the vast majority of book sales probably happen here. But the key is to find out where the best place is to find your target market. Is it through online book reviewers, such as Good Reads or Library Thing, or social networks like Twitter and Facebook, or should you focus on individual reviewers like Mommy bloggers? And E-books are becoming huge. While it is a must for small book publishers these days to turn their print books into e-books, where is the best place for them? Sometimes I think the decisions can be overwhelming.

What has been the most successful book marketing method you have used?

I have found success with a bunch of different ideas. First, I use press releases to get the word out about my books. Then I have targeted the Mommy Bloggers for reviews so that I can get to the audience that will read and buy my books. Finally, I have also created curriculum for my books so that they would be beneficial to homeschooling parents who are looking for ways to spice up their classes. They are also great for traditional schools whose teachers might be looking for new books to present to their classes.

What has been the least successful book marketing method you have used?

With my first book, I paid a large amount of money to an online marketing company to arrange a book blog tour. While they have had major success with some of their books/clients, I should have done more checking. The books they typically handle were adult books. The contacts they had did not translate well to a children's book blog tour. I did learn a lot, however, but I would recommend that if you choose to do a book blog tour, make sure the company knows how to handle the type of book you write. That is key.

Do you follow a formal marketing plan for your book?

As I mentioned above, I didn't have a specific plan for the first two books, but I did have a much more formal one for the third book. It was much easier to stick to budget with the plan in place. I highly recommend that everyone develop a plan. Oh, you can make changes to it, it doesn't have to be set in stone, but if you have a guideline of who you'll target and when, it makes things much easier.

Does the level of competition for the buyer's attention (on the Internet) concern you?

Yes, absolutely. I think the most difficult thing to do is to "break through" with your book these days. People are constantly being bombarded by ads for new books, movies, etc. How do small publishers compete with the deep pockets of the biggies? It's tough. It takes more time, determination and probably money if you want to get your name out there.

What are your feelings regarding ebooks and electronic book readers?

I see the need for them, especially as we become more eco-friendly, but the traditionalist in me rebels against this. I grew up reading printed books, I love them. My house is filled with them. I will have a hard time if they should ever go away. But I'm also a pragmatist, I realize that may happen someday. The ease and efficiency of carrying one small device with hundreds of books on it is just too strong to go away.

What do you see in the future for the small independent book store?

Hopefully, it will remain. But I quite honestly think it is difficult to tell right now. The big bookstores are struggling, too. So unless a community makes the effort and commitment to keep an independent book store around, I am not sure they will survive. This is a tragedy as far as I'm concerned.

At what point would you feel you would be able to say 'I've made it'?

This is a tough one. I am always pushing on to the next project. When I've completed a book, I start another one. I'm not sure if I'll ever stop. Unfortunately most of them are not published yet, but I keep trying. When have I "made it"? Maybe when I have about 10 published books under my belt? No, really, I"m not sure. If my books make children happy and can inspire them to write their own, then I'd be very satisfied.

What advice would you give to other authors just entering the book marketing arena?

Learn all you can about marketing, while you are writing or publishing your book. Find a mentor if you don't know anything. One who is familiar with marketing your type of book. Be wary, and judicious in your spending. Don't just throw money at marketing willy-nilly, have a plan. And finally, hang in there. We're all in the same boat, but it's the ones that stay the course the end up where they want to be.

Jennifer Swanson is the award winning author of the Penny And Rio Series of childrens books. She recently received her Masters in Education. Jennifer is employed as a middle school science instructor for John Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth.

Jennifer is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers. She regularly attends the Florida branch of SCBWI’s conferences in Orlando and Miami. She is also a member of the Florida Writer’s Association.

More information on the Penny And Rio Series is available at http://www.PennyAndRio.com .