Monday Meet-Up for July 4, 2016

We’re starting off July with a look at marketing with none other than super-talented (and incredibly delightful) Kirsten Cappy of Curious City!

  1. Tell us about yourself and what drew you to writing, publishing, and marketing? 

My long journey to marketing children’s books started with Pooh.  The children’s literature department at my college consisted of a single book, The House at Pooh Corner.  Between long Anthropology studying bouts, I would head down to the library’s subterranean floor, lay on the carpet and marvel at Milne.  Yes, there were world cultures and third world development to analyze, but somehow the archetypes of 100 Mile Wood were just as intriguing. I would look from Milne to the miles of academic books and wonder why all of us in our study cubbies were not considering changing the world with this single book instead.

Before grad school, there were bookstore jobs (and more bookstore jobs) and then a long stretch of being on the road helping independent bookstores do their hero jobs better.  Then there came to be one bookstore that allowed me to do what I always wanted to do – run wee bookstores in schools.  Each week I was in the halls of a new elementary, middle or high school running a temporary bookshop.  There, I talked all day to kids about what they wanted to read and talked with teachers about what they wanted to teach.  I handed each a book they did not expect, but soon learned they could not live without.  Being in a city with a rapid demographic change, I was able to talk about why We Need Diverse Books long before there was the resources to do so.   While I had somehow forgotten to go to an actual grad school, I was unwittingly getting my real graduate degree.

At the same time, I was leading events at my bookstore, coming up with hands-on ways for kids to experience story from letting them graffiti our walls with their own illustrations to inviting local rock bands to sing picture books to letting kids cast spells until midnight when their favorite wizard appeared.  As much as I liked stories, what made my head whir was how kids engaged with the books created for them.  Like the trained anthropologist I was, I liked not the books themselves, but the rich imaginative, curious culture that arose for readers because of books.

This bookstore drew many national names in children’s literature and each started asking me questions about marketing their books.  I was dumbfounded.  Marketing was a business manner and I was a bookseller.  Slowly, though, I came to see that marketing (or my brand of it) could be about the things I was mad for – helping kids and educators discover new books and inspiring them to engage deeper in story.

Curious City as a marketing firm (now 13 years in business) has discovery and engagement at the center of all of their projects.  You will never hear the words PR, publicity, publicist, launch, sell-through, exposure or other traditional marketing terms from us.  We want your books read and for the reader to become more curious about their world because of your story.  Simple (and not so simple).

2-3. What do authors not always realize about the publishing industry? About marketing?  What is the role of the publisher versus the role of the agent versus the role of the publicist? Where does the author fit in all of that?

Publishers do hero work.  What authors often do not realize is the long, long list of tasks that goes into placing a book in the industry.  Each bookstore, retailer, library, school, wholesaler, review journal, blogger, conference, database and other outlet has their own system to source and share your book.  The systems are often byzantine and banal, but essential to your book ultimately finding its readers.

Authors are often left feeling underserved on the marketing front.  One hears a lot of “why didn’t my publisher…” out of the mouths of creators.  After receiving word-by-word, image-by-image minute attention from editors and art directors, creators expect that marketing will be just as hands-on and individually tailored.    While in-house marketing teams brainstorm and implement special projects for a author, the reality is that they cannot give you the one-on-one attention that your editor has.  It is not out of a lack of devotion but out of a lack of people power and other resources.  That sounds like publishers are short-changing their marketing departments.  I don’t mean or believe that.  Publishers have done the numbers.  Publishers are clever.  They know that they serve you best by managing your complex placement to build your marketing base.  You will build from that solid base.

Only a creator can support the ongoing discovery of his or her books.  A marketing consultant or publicist can help shape and manage what that promotion looks like at a book’s launch and for a book’s ongoing lifespan.

  1. What makes the difference between a successful author and one who barely makes a blip on the publishing radar? Any tools that authors can use to help them become more successful?

Success?  Some of it is special publisher attention.  Some of it is dumb luck.  Some of it is a solid marketing plan.  Most of it is producing a brilliant and unique book to begin with.

There are endless tools and angles for authors (thus the frustration and confusion with marketing).  We always find that the most successful authors decide WHAT they want to say and to WHOM they want to say it before deciding what tools to use.  The question, for example, is not “should I be using Twitter,” but “what am I going to say on an ongoing basis that compels my readers to buy my book and where are they hanging out where I can reach them?”

  1. Is there any advantage to traditional publishing versus self-publishing? Any advice on which one to choose?

I have great admiration for people who choose to take they own path in all fields.  My hesitation with self-publishing is one often looses the traditional publishing team of creative, clever people that work together to make your book th best it can be.  There are more and more strong sub-contractors available to self-published authors, but can they all collaborate for the ultimate success of a book?

Also, remember what we said about the byzantine and banal world of placement.  There is no way a self-published author can replicate that immense task of placement and distribution.  Can self-published books overcome those barriers?  Yes, some have but there is much more to traditional publishing than meets the eye.

  1. Any last tips or advice for authors? 

Don’t waste any time fretting about whether or not you are good at marketing.  Few are.  Don’t waste too much time trying to even understand marketing.  It is a strange social science, one that does not often obey rules.  Look for someone you can trust to feed you fresh ideas and to serve as a touchstone as you implement ideas yourself or as a team.

The best marketing happens when you leave the word “marketing” behind and ask yourself how your book can be discovered and how readers will engage with your story.  Let your ideas spring from there.

(And don’t forget to stop and read Milne now and again.)

Thank you, Kirsten! If you’re curious, go to her website and check out all the cool things she does!