Monday, 3 June 2019

Top 5 Tips for A Successful Author Tour • by Natascha Biebow




Some of you might recall my post about my 10-step Marketing Plan last year in which I confessed that I’d much rather hide under a rock than do erm . . . marketing, which involves shameless self-promotion and networking and generally being quite visible.
I’m pleased to report that chunking it down and blogging about said plan meant that I actually felt accountable and did all 10 things, plus one more: a mini-author tour.



Because THE CRAYON MAN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the US, I was thrilled when I found out that I’d been awarded the 2018 SCBWI Book Launch Award so now I had some funding. By staying with generous friends and family, I was able to keep costs manageable and extend my tour to two weeks.



But how to begin?

Here are 5 insights I gained from the process that I hope might help other authors and illustrators:



1. Find a dopplegänger because you’ll need a ton of time to arrange everything yourself, unless, of course, your publisher is generous enough to fund a publicist to help you do some of the legwork. In addition to the usual marketing and promotion, the book tour required additional and unexpected time to organize.

- Start early! Be aware of school timetables so that you can try to avoid holidays, busy times, testing times, end of year field-trip times, etc. etc.
 
 

- Ask your publicist, other authors/illustrators, friends and family for contacts for schools, school and public libraries and booksellers. You can also find many of these online. 

Create a wishlist.



2. Figure out a system for keeping track of all the details as they come in and for following up: for each place you visit, you’ll need obvious things like times and contact details, but also to have agreed advertising for your event (see media pack below), parking, number of kids in the audience, AV equipment, flipchart, etc. There was a lot of back and forth to confirm everything!

 
- Create a media kit: From your website, you can link to a google.docs file, in which you can create a downloadable media kit – this will save time! – with your bio (long and short), photos, reviews, links to your social media, blogs, website, information about your books, and latest news.



3. Independent booksellers are key! I reached out to indies in the places I wanted to visit and found they would be keen to hook me up with local schools. It’s a win-win – they can pre-sell your book and you do a short storytelling assembly in return. Unless you are visiting affluent private schools, the understanding is that there is no charge for these sessions.

Contact booksellers at independent bookshops -
or ask friends to reach out to their local shop and put you in touch!


- Write a pitch for your book. Create a press release (including any good reviews!)
 

and a flyer about your school visits.
Craft a professional and friendly email. Link to your book trailer if you have one.
Then wait . . .  and wait . . .



- Be prepared to pick up the phone. Though I sent emails, sometimes, I wasn’t able to progress anything until I spoke to the busy bookseller on the phone to find out if they would be prepared to collaborate. Doing this, gave me an instant sense of what kinds of possibilities (or NOT!) would be available.  



4. Where else should you go? Think outside the box!



Some bookshops and libraries have regular storytelling sessions, but I found that these seemed to be mostly aimed at very young children. Often for events, bookshops requested a Saturday, and well, there are only so many Saturdays if you’re doing a two-week tour. Some bookshops also run half-term festivals that can be good opportunities.



I really enjoyed visiting bookshops and connecting with booksellers, but generally speaking, the audiences were quite small. 

My Saturday event at Hooray for Books in Arlington, VA,
though widely promoted drew a small audience.

I found that by working with the booksellers instead to set up school visits, meant I could connect with more kids, teachers and librarians and consequently sell more copies of my book.
 

- Consider alternative opportunities! Does your book tie in with some kind of local interest or museum or lend itself to an activity? One of the most successful events of my mini book tour was a Saturday stall at the Easton Farmers’ Market, in Easton, PA, home of the Crayola crayon. A simple craft activity drew in kids, and I was able to hand-sell my book to parents. Plus it was fun! They also invited me to help launch a new initiative - the Easton Book Festival, that will take place this Fall.

Easton Farmers' Market event

I was invited to help launch the new Easton Book Festival

- Even if you aren’t able to agree on an actual author visit, offer to stop by and sign stock. In this way, you make a personal contact with a bookseller and provide autographed books that consumers will like! 



- Think about how you’ll personalize each book – can you make it fun? I had a crayon stamp made and invested in a set of coloured Sharpies.




5. Create a cracking presentation that you can adapt to the audience and the amount of time available. For a long time I was stuck on this. I looked on in awe at all the other professional authors and illustrators doing school events and wondered how I would ever be able to come up with something great. But then I realized something key – I needed to make it true to me and my book. Who was I as an author? What kinds of stories did I like to write and tell? And how could the kids in the audience interact and have fun live during the presentation?
I decided to create a guessing game about my dream job as a child . . .

The other thing that I was stuck on was an opener. If you tell good jokes or can draw, these are easy ways to grab young audiences right off the bat. But I am neither . . . What I discovered is that my opener needed to be something that started a conversation with the audience and made a personal connection with them.



- I put together my presentation in a series of slides in Keynote. This way all the children could see the images, even in a large group.

- I practised over and over with my new clicker until I knew the presentation by heart. I made and bought props.

Slides help all the children view the images clearly in a larger audience.

- As the tour came together, I realized that though my ideal was a 45-minute presentation that allowed time for drawing (with Crayola crayons of course!) and questions, I needed a version that was short (25-30 minutes long). I also created a version of my presentation that I could use in a library or bookshop setting if the audience was made up of aspiring creatives and mostly grown-ups interested in the non-fiction topic of my book.

- I printed out a set of key slides onto A3. I shared these in smaller ad-hoc presentations in bookshops and libraries, and in case of tech failure.
In smaller groups, I used props and A3 printouts

- I invested in a portable speaker and a 3-way adaptor so I’d be prepared to hook up to all varieties of available AV equipment. I also loaded my presentation onto a USB stick. Include replacement batteries!

 

- For each stop, I allowed at least half an hour to meet my contact, confirm the details of timings and get set-up. 


Prepare for the unexpected!

- A simple, craft activity (Thank you, Jane Clarke!) that can be used in addition to colouring is useful for smaller bookshop visits when you've run out of things to say or the kids are too young for your book.
 
Oh, the things you can make with coffee filters!
- Uh, oh, I didn't sign up for this! At one school, my presentation took place in a school cafetaria: The lunch clear-up was underway, which didn’t allow very much time to set-up. In addition, the audience was comprised of 500 kids (way more than usual numbers). It was hot, it was after lunch. I needed to be prepared to manage a larger group or a set of jumpy kids.

 
I wanted to get my young audience to get excited about my presentation, but also needed a way to regain calm. I did this in two ways – I used the pacing of my presentation, interspersing me talking with interactive bits where the kids came up to draw and a really short video about the production of Crayola crayons. I also observed how teachers got the kids to quiet down at the start and used this as a way to re-gain their attention when excitement levels rose. Another great way to get kids to focus is by using rhythmical clapping that they repeat.

- If you have a very large group, it can be helpful to ask teachers to choose volunteers.
We did some group drawings with Crayola crayons - the audience suggested what each of the eight volunteers -
who represented the first 8 Crayola crayon colours invented by Binney – should draw!

- Questions . . . be prepared to get odd questions that you won’t know how to answer. Like how much you earn and what year Crayola first made markers.


Top tip!

There is so much going on that sometimes I forgot to ask someone to take a photo at my events! If you have snaps of your presentation (taken from the back so as not to show kids' faces) or of the kids' drawings, you can post on social media to create a buzz about your book.



5*: SMILE AND HAVE FUN!  

Afterwards . . .

 

- Defnintely eat CAKE. You deserve it!
- Send out thank you notes and ask for testimonials that you can post on your website.

- Create the next book.


 

Have you got any author visit
tips to share?

________________________________________________________________

Natascha Biebow,
MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor
Natascha is the author of The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. She is currently working on more non-fiction and a series of young fiction. She runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Find her at www.nataschabiebow.com






10 comments:

  1. Brilliant pot, with so many good tips! There really is so much to think about when planning a visit or a tour! I've started to ask my publishers for help now too- can they support with marketing materials? Banners/book stands/posters/stickers etc or perhaps travel costs? It's always worth asking!

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    1. Yes, definitely worth asking the publisher if they can support with marketing materials. Even a colouring sheet can help!

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  2. Exciting times, Natascha! Thanks for your suggestions and reminders -and what a great SCBWI award!

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    1. Thanks, Clare! SCBWI offers many useful grants to members. Worth checking out and applying. I never thought I'd win this one :)

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  3. Yours was the most successful author event we have hosted at Book and Puppet Company. We look forward to your return visit to Easton!

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    1. It was so much fun being a part of the Farmers' Market - I'm really glad to hear it was successful for Book and Puppet! I'm looking forward to returning this summer, hopefully.

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  4. Well done Natascha. Very inspiring and sounds like a lot of fun. Would you do it again? Would you do anything differently next time?

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    1. Yes, I'd do it again - it was fun! Though it's hard being so far from home. When you can slot in author visits closer to home in blocks, I'm sure it's easier. Also, I would think carefully about timings for bookstore events to try to maximize audiences and definitely do more schools.

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  5. Congratulations on your very successful tour, Natascha - and thanks for the tips. Glad the coffee filter craft was useful!

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    1. Thanks, Jane! I think we could do some more posts to share cool arts and crafts tips for
      visits.

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