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FACING UP TO THE "P" WORD: PROMOTION
Anna Grossnickle Hines
Published in SCBWI Bulletin April/May 1994
Recently, I delivered the art for my thirty-first book, which the art director received with heart-warming, ego-boosting ooh's and aaah's. "You're getting better and better," she said. Wonderful!
But the boost couldn't sustain me when, later that same week, I learned that three more of my books were being remaindered. I couldn't say I was completely surprised. It seems to be the way things are going these days. One in, two out.
Then a New York librarian told my husband that in their library system they no longer have time to look at all the books available. They pretty much buy the notables and starred reviews. As a writer who gets nice reviews but only one star in my eleven year career, that wasn't good news. But it wasn't a surprise either. I knew my sales were way down and I knew it had to do with more books being published and library budgets being cut. A lot of libraries are having trouble just keeping their doors open, let alone buying new books, and libraries are my main market.
Nine books remaindered in two years, most of them in print only a couple of years instead of the five or more to which I had become accustomed. I felt as though I was tossing my efforts down some big black hole. It was all so depressing that I considered giving up writing and illustrating and doing something useful with my life. Maybe I should move to Georgia and work for the Carter Center.
It was hard to drag myself out of bed in the mornings... very unlike me. But then one day, I managed to get not only out of bed, but down to the library, where I was told, "Your books go out faster than anybody's. I haven't seen anything like it since Dr. Seuss and Curious George. Kids love them."
So all right. It's a little library in my newly adopted home town, but I've heard librarians say before that my books don't stay on the shelf long. Besides, I've hardly made a big splash here, only visited two classrooms in the area...one of those in junior high, not exactly picture book age, so the response must be mostly to the books. And boy did I need to hear it.
Then I found a letter from a barely writing child and a translation from the mother whose own note began, "I don't know why my daughter likes your books so much." She back tracked, put the thought in a more positive way and went on to explain the reasons.
And another librarian, in another state, told me that Moompa, Toby and Bomp brought her toddler group to spell-bound silence. "I use your books a lot in the story hours," she said. "You really seem to speak their language."
Sigh. It seems that when my books and kids get the chance to come together kids do like them which is my ultimate goal after all... that and enjoying the process of creating them. Maybe I won't move to Georgia, but how can I help insure that more books get into libraries and bookstores and ultimately into the hands of kids instead of disappearing into that black hole?
Good question. And the answer, can it be... that awful word... promotion? Must I, who'd rather sit in my studio and be creative, who gets tongue-tied meeting new people, must I really do promotion? How many people could I possibly reach and how effective could I be? Realistically? I mean, isn't that the publisher's job?
Besides my mother taught me it isn't nice to boast, to go around saying how good you are, and it's not polite to ask for things. I can't...
I can't give it up is what I can't do. Not yet anyway.
Maybe once upon a time books were able to speak for themselves, but now there are too many, 5000 new children's books every year instead of the thousand being published fifteen years ago, all clamoring, or whispering, for attention. Most of them get lost in the crowd. Not to mention all the electronic and technological attention grabbers competing with the books.
So what can I do? Realistically, given the limitations of time, money and my basically introverted personality.
Well, I can keep communication open with the bookstores, libraries and schools I've already visited, let them know when a new book comes out. I did send a note to a bookstore in the town where my mother used to live and found the owner had been trying to find me in my old hometown. She had some very complementary things to say about my work which I'm too modest to repeat... well, okay, I will say that she used words like "quality of excellence" and "magical". (Maybe doing PR isn't so bad.)
And okay, I can make the effort to go to new libraries, schools and bookstores, especially if they ask me.
I can thank the people who praise my work and encourage them to spread the word.
I can work more closely with the publicity departments of my publishing companies, asking them what they are doing and how I can support their efforts, and I can keep them posted about what I'm doing.
I can look for niche markets, outside the traditional ones, where I might do a direct mailing in hopes of special sales.
I can keep myself informed about what's happening in the market as well as in publishing, support libraries and bookstores whenever I can, go to meetings such as the SCBWI Nuts & Bolts Conference recently held in New England where many of these things were discussed.
And if I do all these things, then hopefully my books will get a little more attention, a little more opportunity to speak for themselves. Maybe a few more will find their way into the hands of those kids instead of down that black hole.
But most of all... I must remember something I heard at that Nuts & Bolts Conference. "The cream will rise to the top." Even though promotion may be necessary, I must never forget that it's the secondary part of this job. The first part, the most important part, is still to always do my very best to make cream.
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