By Desiree Villena
It’s been nine months since the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives, and the ways in which we interact with others have changed completely — perhaps permanently. For picture book authors, this new social landscape may look a bit bleak; after all, face-to-face interaction with kids and their book-buying adults is a cornerstone of traditional picture book marketing.
But there’s also an argument to be made that if anyone knows how to think outside the box, it’s kidlit authors! I’m here to make that very argument: that with a little imagination (and some help from the blessed Internet), those who have published picture books in 2020 can still promote their books as effectively as ever. To help you get the ball rolling, here are five key tips for getting the word out about your book — even as you, the author, must stay very much in.
1. Throw yourself into social media
Even before the pandemic, a strong social media presence was paramount for any author looking to build their brand and find new readers — and yes, that includes picture book authors! Most kindergarteners may not be on Instagram (at least I hope not), but their parents certainly are. And in many households, with kids now around 24/7 driving those parents up the wall, a new picture book to peruse can seem like manna from heaven.
To that end, if you haven’t yet committed to social media as a picture book author, now is the time. Try to post a few times a week on Instagram (the ideal platform for author-illustrators with artwork to share) and more on Twitter, using the appropriate hashtags in each post. If you’re not sure what these might be, check out the accounts of well-known children’s authors whose books are similar to yours — don’t forget to follow them while you’re at it! If you’re stuck on the content side, Laurie makes some great social media suggestions in this post, like sharing your picture book journey and mentioning your “freebies” (if you have any).
Indeed, now is also prime time to host giveaways on social media — and this can be super easy if you’ve published an ebook version of your picture book! If you’ve gone strictly hard copy, it will be more difficult and costly to ship. But, while you may not profit in the short-term, you’ll make up for it with stellar optics and feedback from your thrilled recipients, contributing to your author brand and ultimately boosting your sales.
2. Book virtual classroom events
Just as parents in this era are desperate for new sources of entertainment, teachers are desperate for semi-educational, virtually accessible activities. Luckily, picture books slot into both categories! So if you want to shake things up from the usual social media routine, try reaching out to elementary schools and individual teachers to book virtual classroom events.
As with a giveaway, this tactic may work best if you have ebook files you’re willing to share so students can follow along themselves, but even a good old-fashioned reading can be effective — just be prepared to engage. You won’t have the in-person sway you could normally exert over a classroom, so don’t simply sit there and recite your book, showing the pictures quickly over your grainy webcam, or you’ll run the risk of losing your listeners’ attention.
Instead, rehearse your reading in advance with funny voices, dramatic pauses, and possibly even sound effects or musical cues. If you don’t have ebook files or don’t wish to distribute them for free (fair enough, as you might be able to sell a few ebooks if the kids really love your story!), put together a slideshow that you can screen-share. Leave time for questions at the end, but have something else prepared in case you’ve got a less-than-inquisitive bunch; for example, you might ask your young audience what they thought of a certain character, or how they would have solved the central problem. Teachers will appreciate the opportunity for critical thinking — and you could get some genuinely useful feedback for your next book!
3. Reach out to fellow authors and parenting influencers
Circling back to our good friend the Internet, let’s talk about a more active approach to marketing your picture book online. You can’t just keep posting about it on social media and hope that the right people will discover it. At some point, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands by reaching out to those people yourself.
Start with fellow picture book authors — no one’s going to be more empathetic to your current marketing conundrum than them. Seek out relatively well-known and lesser-known authors alike to improve your chances, focusing your efforts on books with similar themes to yours. Always reach out via email, with a specific, professionally worded proposal for cross-promotion (nothing says unprofessional like sliding into someone’s DMs with “wanna collab?”). If you absolutely can’t find someone’s non-social contact info, you can DM them your (still carefully crafted!) proposal — and of course, always make sure you’re following them before you do so.
The same general approach goes for parenting influencers, but in this case, you’ll have to think a bit harder about what you can offer them in return. Would you be willing to let them give away copies of your book to their followers? If you’re an author-illustrator, could you whip up a small piece of custom art for them in exchange for a post about your book? The occasional influencer may be willing to promote something that impresses them without expecting anything in return, so if you don’t have much to barter with, concentrate on pitching your book irresistibly.
A little personal flattery can go a long way, too: “I loved your post on X, what a creative approach to Y!” Show them that you understand and respect the effort they’ve put into building their following, and how grateful you would be if they could point that following in your direction, especially during these difficult times.
4. Get your book professionally reviewed
When trying to demonstrate that your book is worth buying, nothing’s more valuable than a professional review. And while this will be most helpful in advance of your book launch, you can definitely leverage it afterward as well! Not only will you be able to quote the review in your book description and future promotional materials, but the reviewer will likely post it on multiple platforms, exposing your book to readers you wouldn’t have reached otherwise.
If you haven’t acquired such a review yet — i.e. all your reviews so far have come from friends and family (which Amazon doesn’t technically allow, but it’s not a tough restriction to get around) — start reaching out to relevant book bloggers ASAP. You can also submit to a review platform like Reedsy Discovery, where your book will be matched with a passionate reviewer who’s read plenty of picture books and knows how to review them in a compelling manner! Your final option, though it’s a bit of a long shot, is to contact publications in hopes of them covering your picture book. If you pursue this route, you may have better odds with parenting magazines and educational publications (think the School Library Journal).
But wherever you look, do make sure they publish reviews online. Such reviews were critical even before the pandemic — and now, with even more parents and teachers buying books on Amazon and other online retailers than ever before, they’re indispensable.
5. Start writing your next book
This tip might seem a little counterintuitive when you’re still trying to market your current picture book. But as any seasoned author, kidlit or not, will tell you, building up your catalogue is one of the best ways to create marketing opportunities in the future — both for the book you’ve already written, and all those to come!
Having multiple books available means that anyone who discovers one of your books is able to continue entertaining themselves, and supporting you, even after they’ve finished the first. This principle works particularly well with series (readers get invested in the characters and want to read everything else about them), and perhaps best of all with picture book series, which kids simply devour (think the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems, or Laurie’s own Mindful Mantra series!). It can also be a fun creative exercise for you as an author to think: What would these characters do next? What might my readers like to see?
Of course, you don’t have to write another picture book with the same characters if you’re not interested in continuing that project. Even a picture book in the same recognizable style, with a similar tone, will appeal to readers and spur them to buy your other titles. The bottom line is: whatever you want to write, don’t wait to get your next book done! With no in-person social obligations to distract you, there’s truly no time like the present.
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers.
In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She’s very passionate about indie publishing and hopes to help as many authors as possible achieve their dreams!