3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Harold Underdown (Author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Marvelous Marketer: Harold Underdown (Author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books)

Note: Alice Pope has been rescheduled for
next Monday! Be sure to come back and join us.

Today we have Harold Underdown, Author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books

Hi Harold, before we pick your brain for your marketing wisdom, tell me a little about yourself.

I'm a children's book editor. At present, I work freelance and in educational publishing. I've worked as an in-house publisher for such publishers as Orchard and Charlesbridge, and hope to again, perhaps when the economy improves!

I am also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books.

From a teaching side, I'm about to start teaching the third session of a children's book revision class with Eileen Robinson--information at http://www.kidsbookrevisions.com

Do you/your agency/your house have a website/blog ? When did you start it and who manages it ?

I started a web site, The Purple Crayon, in1996 and still manage it myself. I provide a variety of information on children's publishing, and speak and give workshops at conferences.

In your opinion , what are the top 3 things every author should and must do to promote their book ? (web sites, blogs, tours etc)

I don't think there are just three things that every author should and must do to promote their book, because different books need to be promoted in different ways!

My book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, has a niche audience, for example. What I've done to promote it is not what I would have done if I had written a picture book, and what I would have done for a PB is different from what I would have done if I had written a young adult novel.

But for all types of books, I do believe that there a few fundamental principles that should be kept in mind. You need to know your audience (or at least have a guess as to who your audience is), and then you need to figure out how you can most efficiently reach them. This is complicated for authors of children's books, since many aren't purchased by children, and since their audience is national but limited.

For my book, I had a clear niche market to reach, and it was one I knew pretty well already, since when I was signed up to do the first edition of my book I already had been working as an editor for several years, had my web site, and had years of conference speaking under my belt. (I had a "platform," in the current language, which I suspect was one reason the publisher approached me to do the book in the first place).

I have had limited time to promote my book and so I have made sure I focused on the best ways to reach my audience of aspiring writers and illustrators (and many published authors and illustrators too, but of course that's a smaller group).

For my book, my top 3 were:

  • To get reviews in writer's magazines and web sites. My publisher sent out some review copies and I've done some work on my own, down to making sure that there were reviews on Amazon.
  • To speak at conferences, mostly organized by SCBWI. From early 2008 to the end of 2009, I will have been to 8 weekend conferences and 2 retreats, not only to promote the book, but I made sure that I did at all of them.
  • And to utilize the web by having sample materials and blurbs on my web site as well as taking part in online discussion groups.
In your opinion, how important is social networking ? Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, GoodReads etc.

This really depends on the book. For some books it can make a huge difference. For most books, it doesn't.

However, if your audience uses social networking heavily, this is an area to look at, but carefully--authors should keep in mind the principle of efficiency. It's possible to put a lot of time into social networking and have little in the way of results to show for it.

As an Editor, when you were evaluating whether to take on an author or book, did you ever Google them to see if they already had a web presence or platform ?

I didn't do this when I was at Charlesbridge, my most recent in-house job. I might do this today, though it would depend on the type of book. I doubt that I would for picture books or most kinds of fiction, for example. I might for YA or nonfiction for bookstores.

Having a platform is still a relatively new concept in children's books. Being able to support one's backlist through school visits and other ways of connecting with one's audience (such as a web site) are more common.

In your experience as as Editor, what things do Publishers offer in contracts in terms of Marketing ? What does the average author receive or is it different, depending on the book ?

Publishers put as little as possible into the contract about marketing. There are certainly things that one can expect--being in the catalog, review copies being sent out, etc.--but unless one has considerable pull they won't be in the contract.

Did you think about marketing before your book was published ? Did you start prior to getting an agent or selling your book ? If so, when and what did you do ?

I thought about marketing before my book was published, but not before it was signed up, simply because I was solicited to write it, as I mentioned above. But I did have ideas in mind from the time I started writing--thought I don't think that his is necessary for all writers. Some books can be effectively and efficiently promoted by their authors, while others can't. Some authors aren't good promoters. There are times when writing is a better use of your time, and writers shouldn't feel guilty about that.

Now, if you could put on your author hat. For your book, do you have a formal marketing plan or is your marketing more random ? If not, why ? Would you like to ?

My plan wasn't written down, but I did have a pretty good idea of it all along. If I had had more time, I might have written up a plan, but I don't feel that the lack of a written plan has been a problem.

And lastly, what creative things have you done to promote a book?

I haven't been creative! I've done the obvious things and I've tried to do them well.

Thank you Harold for your time and knowledge!

Thanks Shelli!


Corey Schwartz said...

Another good interview! I've read his book. It's a very useful resource for beginners.

Kimbra Kasch said...

I met Harold at a conference in Oregon. It's always nice to hear from people who are proficient in their field.

Thanks for this info.

Plus, I love Harold's Purple Crayon!

Katie Anderson said...

Thanks Shelli! Great Interview!

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Shelli. Thanks for doing this. One thing that always puzzles me is why publishers put so little emphasis on marketing and expect the author to do most of it (in response to his comment that pubs "put as little as possible into the contract about marketing). That's like building a car and then asking the guy or gal who did the initial sketches to go out and sell it from the dealership floor. No, the car company should invest its own resources and sell it, dontcha think?

Carrie Harris said...

Such a fabulous interview! I think there's a reason that the obvious things are obvious... it's because they work! I'll definitely keep that in mind as I'm (hopefully) moving forward.

Sarah Campbell said...

I'm glad Harold mentioned that sometimes others have to do the marketing -- because a writer may not have the time and/or expertise. He has did a good job explaining that not all books should be marketed in the same way or ways.
Another great voice to include, Shelli.

Anonymous said...

I like the comment that writers shouldn't feel guilty about time spent just writing. Because at the end of the day, that's what it's about, right?

Kelly Polark said...

Great interview with Harold. I own his book and also heard him speak at an SCBWI conference.

Tabitha said...

Great interview! I heard Harold speak at a conference last November, and he was fantastic. It's great that he shares so much of what he knows, isn't it? :)

Casey Something said...

I didn't know there was a Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books. Fun!

Another great interview! Thanks!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

A and Sarah - I think all writers should take part in their marketing. They can learn how.

Chandler - you write girl!

Corey, Kim, Katie - glad to see you :)

Tabitha and Carrie - he is brilliant - i took a class with him.

Casey - I think only us Idiots know about it.:) You must be cool man!

PurpleClover said...

Thanks so much! Hi Harold! I have frequented The Purple Crayon and find it extremely useful and loved the interview!

Shelli - you're like...the awesomest...But we knew that already. ;)

Sherrie Petersen said...

I've visited Harold's Purple Crayon before (great name!) and found it useful. Thanks for another good interview, Shelli.

Lauren said...

This is great stuff. Thanks for interviewing him. I think it's interesting how he says that he doesn't get creative, he focuses on the obvious/time tested ones and does them well. Smart.

Harold Underdown said...

I just wanted to respond to this comment: "One thing that always puzzles me is why publishers put so little emphasis on marketing and expect the author to do most of it (in response to his comment that pubs 'put as little as possible into the contract about marketing')."

None of the publishers I've worked for have expected the author to do "most" of the marketing. The point I was making was that they don't want to specify in advance what they will or will not do--because if they did, that could lead to disputes. But the publishers I have worked for have marketed the books they published, and not just the "big" books either. A publisher that relies on its authors to do "most" of the marketing isn't going to be around long, unless they are in a speciality field or more of a self-publishing provider than a true publisher, in my experience.

a brilliant blog said...

harold brings up a good point-there's no exact road to marketing. It depends on your product and your target market.
Good interview Shelli & Harold.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Purp Clov - aw shucks!

Harold - thx for coming by :)

Brilliant,Lauren, Solvang - glad to have you! :)

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

PS Harold gets one point for the Comment You butt Off Contest!

King of my Throne said...

Thank you for this interview. Love his website The Purple Crayon.
This is a must have book.

Harold Underdown said...

Shelli and everyone, my apologies for being so focused on clarifying my point about publishers and contracts--I should have said this first:

Thank you! Thank you, Shelli, for the interview. Editors don't often get asked about marketing, but we do know something about it, especially if we have also written a book... And thanks to everyone for your comments.

Robyn Campbell said...

Great interview. And I learned some things. I had always heard that publishers don't have anything to do with marketing, but according to Harold, that's not true.

I love the Purple Crayon site and have visited with Harold many, many times.

Thanks, Shelli and Harold for taking the time to do this.

Carrie Harris said...

Harold has always struck me as a class act when I've seen him on discussion boards and on his website, and now I'm sure of it. :)

Having said that, I can't believe there aren't more marketing related editor interviews out there. I'd love to see more of them, Shelli!

Anonymous said...

Harold seems like a class act. And I agree with Carrie--more marketing related editor discussions would be great.