Lately, I’ve been preoccupied with trying to market my books and I find myself wishing that I had more than just a shoestring budget. I have 2 new books (PB #2 and #3 for me) out in little over a week! Both are with small publishers.

In preparation, I’ve listened to podcasts, read articles, and taken a course on marketing kidlit for author and illustrators. I’ve found that while the advice isn’t specified as Big 5 only, it typically doesn’t speak to the realities of publishing with smaller publishers where advances start at $1000. I know that authors don’t like to talk about money, but while this is a craft it’s also an industry. Advice on marketing ranges from hiring publicists, creating giveaways like pins or pens, paying to join an author platform, and purchasing ads.

At the end of the day, Big 5 or otherwise, we’re all responsible for a large part of the marketing for our own books and we have to make choices on how to spend our time and money. Apparently, this what sets apart a writer from an author.

So, what to do when there is no budget for marketing and you find yourself wishing for even a shoestring?

  1. Social Media, even if you don’t like it, is your friend. Find a medium that you’re comfortable on and use it to the best of your abilities. I’ve been using Twitter for years for marketing for writing projects outside kidlit. Along with Facebook, it helped me launch my platform. With all the X-Twitter talk, I just joined Bluesky. I’m working on utilizing Instagram in an effective manner. I’m trying them all out. I know that I’m not comfortable creating videos (and TikTok is blocked in Hong Kong anyway) so I’m not focusing on that at all. Unboxing videos are also popular. I haven’t made one yet, but definitely see the appeal.
  2. Bookstore signings are great ways to get your name and your books out there. I had no luck when I emailed bookstores, but stopping by and talking to the booksellers has worked for me. It felt strange and a bit uncomfortable, but I picked out a book to purchase and then spoke to the people working in the shops at the register. I mentioned my books and then left marketing materials (postcards – more on this later) and followed up with emails.
  3. School visits are also effective, but take a considerable amount of work. They help with marketing, sales, and can be an additional source of revenue. Talk to authors in your region to get a sense of what to charge. School visits are something that I really enjoy doing. I had been a part of an onstage storytelling group and found these skills were a help. There are also many free online resources on how to put together a school presentation, but part of it is trial and error. Some things will work and other things won’t. I tailor my presentations specifically for each class and school. This takes time. Even booking the visits requires considerable work. I’ve emailed schools blindly and also tried to use personal connections to help get me to the right person in a given school. Talk to teacher and librarian friends.
  4. Printed marketing materials are a big help, but you need to be selective and realistic about how much you can spend (time and money). For my 2 new books, I decided on postcards. I used Canva (free version) for my design. I thought about creating bookmarks, but I wasn’t sure how useful bookmarks are for picture book readers. I might try making them next time. For now, I’ve downloaded my postcard design and I’m having them printed locally. I was able to print 200 postcards (A6 size) for HK $180. That comes to about US $0.10/ postcard. If I printed in a larger quantity it would come out to less per card, but I want to see how it goes with this first batch. While I developed this for marketing, I like the idea of having something to give to kids that aren’t able to purchase my books. Other ideas include stickers, leaflets, and business cards.
  5. Props can also help with presentations and online marketing though this is something that I haven’t tried yet. I’ve seen authors that have ordered custom-made dolls of their characters. I love these, but they aren’t cheap and I’m not sure how I would use them in a presentation. A friend in my Picture Book Pals co-marketing group had jigsaw puzzles made of her
    book cover which she has smaller classes try to put together. I might try this in the future. I travel to the US a few times a year and do presentation there so I also need to think about how much I can carry.
  6. Co-marketing Groups are worth looking into. In addition to a team to help you get the word out about your books, you can find support throughout your writing career  (and friends too). We share ideas and tips and talk about what works and what doesn’t work. I found mine through the SCBWI Blue Board.I also created another smaller group, Jewlit Journeys, with authors who have books out that are similar to mine (Jewish and geographically or culturally diverse).
  7. Write an article that discusses a topic related to your book. Interviews are great, but there are probably things that you want to say that haven’t been covered in the press. Writing your own article is a great way to frame the discussion.
  8. Education guides are very useful as are other educational materials like coloring pages, word searches, and activity pages. While some publishers will create these for you, sometimes this is left entirely to the author. If you have the skills to create these materials, it’s definitely something to consider. Some of the materials, like word searches are very easy to do on your own and others require a specific skillset and/or time. There are freelancers that can help with this and it’s something that I’m considering looking into.
  9. Guest blog posts/ blog interviews are also helpful. You may need to ask for these spots rather than wait for them to come to you. My first blog interview just went live! I spoke with Barbara Bietz for her blog Jewish Books for Kids … And More!
  10. Speaking engagements are also great. Think out of the box. Picture books are for grown-ups too! I’m working on putting together a presentation for the women’s learning group at my synagogue.
  11. Word of mouth also works. As much as I think that I talk about my books online, people that I see everyday aren’t necessarily aware that I have 2 books out in September.

And this is just the start! I’m still learning. Please share any tips that you have learned.