3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Ginger Rue (author of Brand New Emily)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Marvelous Marketer: Ginger Rue (author of Brand New Emily)

Today we have something a little unique. We have marketing advice from an author, Ginger Rue, who's character Emily hires a PR rep to improve her image in school. I just finished the book and it is fun! Wish I would have thought about it! I highly recommend the book. Also - don't forget to post any questions you have for Ginger.

Hope you enjoy!

Hi Ginger. Thanks for stopping by today. Why don't you tell me a little about yourself and your new book. Is your background in Marketing and PR? How did you get published?

I was a middle and high school English teacher for eight years and wrote for magazines on the side. When I quit teaching, I landed a gig as an advice columnist for a great teen magazine called SWEET 16 (sadly, it folded a couple of years ago) and was doing most of my magazine work for the teen audience. One of my best friends had worked in New York at a big
publishing house for a few years, and she suggested that I use the platform of a teen magazine audience to try to do a teen book.

I don't have a background in marketing or PR, but my brother Glenn is an advertising professor at Southern Methodist University, so for years, we've casually discussed different campaigns--he'd tell me why an ad campaign was either terrible or brilliant, and often he'd roll his eyes at me when I'd get suckered in by some gimmick in a commercial--like a talking dog or a cute baby or whatever. So, while I didn't pursue a degree in APR, I've always been pretty aware of some of the aspects of how it works, just from hearing about it from my brother, who is quite phenomenal at what he does.

I got published in the usual way, I suppose. I wrote the book, looked for an agent, signed with an agent, and then worked with her to sell the book. Everyone who's published a book tells you how slow and frustrating the process is, and they're right! So much waiting!

What marketing research did you need to do for the book? What does your character learn about promoting herself?

Since my brother was in Texas when I started outlining BRAND-NEW EMILY, I couldn't ransack his bookshelves, so I called a friend of ours who went to grad school with Glenn. It just so happened that he had cleaned off his shelves a few days before and really wanted to unload about ten or fifteen old marketing, PR, and advertising texts, so I went and picked them up. I read them all and marked places I thought I could apply to my plot. I wanted to throw around a lot of lingo because the PR rep in the book is very knowledgeable, but I wanted to make sure it was relevant lingo.

Emily learns that middle school popularity and politics aren't all that different from the entertainment industry. Both rely on getting good buzz and having the right connections. She also learns how fleeting it all is. I think that in both realms, there's tremendous pressure to be the hip, new thing...so keeping your brand fresh and exciting to the consumer is a constant challenge.

Since your character gets pretty savvy on marketing herself, how have you marketed yourself/book? Web sites/blogs etc. What major points about branding and image do you consider important?

I'm a Southerner, and we're socialized not to be pushy, so it was very difficult for me as a freelancer when I first started out because I didn't want to bother anyone; I didn't want to be a pest. But I learned that if you want something, you have to ask. It's unlikely that someone is going to call you up and say, "Hey, can I promote your book for you?" So I simply asked people I'd worked with at magazines about promoting my book. Not all of them were willing or able to help, of course. One of my best clients isn't a teen magazine, so there wasn't a logical tie-in for them, and I understood that. I also try to think in terms of "win/win" situations; I don't ask bookstores or magazines or companies to do things for me without clearly defining what's in it for them.

Since the plot of BRAND-NEW EMILY involves a makeover, I thought some sort of partnership with a cosmetics company might be in order. But I didn't want to work with just anybody...my book is very fun and wholesome, and some cosmetic companies have an edgy image that just wouldn't make a partnership with them a logical fit. My first thought was Bonne Bell because when I was about 14, they really cornered the market on tweens and young teens. Everything they did was fun and fresh, not too heavy, and always with a positive vibe. So, I researched them and found that they were a three-generation, family-owned business, based in Ohio, and that their corporate philosophy included a statement about how inner beauty is more important than just looking good. I was sort of blown away by how perfect we were for each other!

My book has a strong family theme, and it's set in Ohio, and the value of inner beauty is a major theme as well. I called my publicist at Tricycle and said, "We've got to get in touch with this company! I love them!" While she was trying to get in touch with the right person, my final edit was due and the book was going to the printer. I had this scene where Emily is being made up, and I had described how natural the makeup looked on her--how it wasn't heavy or overdone. We had no idea if Bonne Bell would want to work with us at all, but we went ahead and put their name in that scene. I figured that even if they didn't want to promote the book with us, I didn't mind giving them a plug because they were such a positive influence on young girls, and I really, really didn't want girls reading this book and then caking on a bunch of makeup to try to recreate Emily's experience!

Later, we heard back from Bonne Bell, and they were very enthusiastic. They've given us great exposure on their Lip Smacker Lounge website and they've sent Lip Smackers (their lip gloss line) for me to give out at signings, which makes signings so much more fun. At one of them, this one girl was trying to decide whether to spend her allowance on my book or another book, and I said, "Hey, did this other author show up to sign your book and give you a free Lip Smacker? I don't think so!" She bought my book...which goes back to the whole "if you want something, you have to ask" thing!

All this to say that I do think branding and image are very important. Kirkus Reviews called my book "fizzy" and "fun," and that made me very happy, because that's what I was going for with BRAND-NEW EMILY. Right now, dark and edgy are big, but I think there is always room for fun. My book was definitely informed by my years as a teacher and how I had to all but beg the kids to read the books on our list. For instance, one year, I selected this fantastic book about a girl in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years, and her mother dies tragically, and they're poor and miserable. It's a beautiful book that's beautifully written, but try telling that to a seventh-grader! Once they'd read it, they loved it, but it's unlikely they'd have picked it up if I hadn't forced them. They used to always ask, "Why does everything we read for school have to be about pioneers or poor people or something depressing?" And if there's a dog on the cover, watch out,
because there's a 99% chance that dog is getting shot or rabies or something terrible, and the kids know that going in!

I wanted a book that girls couldn't wait to read, something that was well written and had some substance, but also had all the fun of reading a magazine. And what's in a teen girls' magazine? Fashion, beauty, boys, celebrities, advice, and insider info--all that stuff is in BRAND-NEW EMILY. When girls tell me they couldn't put it down, I love to hear that, because when I was a teacher, I had to force my students to read X number of chapters per day of whatever we were studying, and except for the couple of kids like me who loved reading anything and everything, the students would've rather been in an ant bed than do their reading!

In your opinion, how important is social networking?

I resisted getting on Facebook. My husband blogs and Twitters and does Facebook and all that stuff, and I could never understand why anyone would purposely put their personal business out for public consumption. But my publicist told me to do it, so I did. I didn't want to. But now I'm a Facebook addict like everyone else! It was fun because so many of my former students whom I'd lost touch with "friended" me (yes, that's a verb nowadays), so I get to see what they're up to now. It's also nice because, while I would feel weird sending an email to everyone I know about each step along the way (signings, reviews, etc.), on Facebook, it's normal...you just post your "status." And my Facebook friends tell their Facebook friends about my book or events or whatever, so it's been very helpful, I think in getting the word out.

I read somewhere that today's authors have to be more PT Barnum than JD Salinger if they want to keep writing books, and I think that's true. It's a different playing field than it used to be. Readers expect to be able to interact with you in some way, whether that's through your website or at a signing.

What creative things have you done to promote a book?

I think the Lip Smackers partnership is very cool and something a little different. I think teens today are programmed to expect more than we did. When we were teenagers, it was like, "Hey! I spent three dollars and I got this magazine to read!" Now, the teen magazines have contests so readers can win something for literally every day of the month, or you can take your magazine in to a store and get free stuff, like sunglasses or a t-shirt. I think it's brilliant, actually. Advertising has had to evolve along with industry. So I was definitely familiar with the concept of adding value to your product, because I know today's consumer, especially teens, expect that.

How did you market yourself to agents/editors before you were published?

I did mention in my query letters that I had an advice column called "Ask Ginger" in a magazine with roughly a quarter of a million readers, so that probably didn't hurt. Platform is definitely a plus; the publisher is taking a big risk on you, and they might feel better about doing so if
they believe you can sell books. That said, I think the most important thing is a great idea for a book combined with strong writing and a solid voice. Write a great query letter, and then when an agent requests a partial or a full, give him/her your best work. It's not the most exciting advice, but I think the best thing you can do as a writer is write the best book you possibly can.

Without that, all the fancy ideas about how to promote it won't mean a thing. In fact, this is roughly the same advice Brynn (the PR rep) gives Emily in BRAND-NEW EMILY: "'The consumer knows other consumers. And he or she might decide to tell those other consumers that the product was a rip-off. By and by, word gets around, and nobody else is buying. All that packaging and advertising have gone to waste as the product dies on the shelf.'" Worry first about having a great product. Then worry about how to promote it.

Thanks Ginger for stopping by!

Thanks Shelli


Anonymous said...

Fabulous interview! I wish I had the foresight like you, Ginger, to think about linking up with a make-up company! And Bonne Bell - what a perfect match!
I'm ordering your book today and can't wait to read it.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

This was such an informative and fun read. Fresh approach is excellent advice. Thanks Shelli and Ginger.

Christina Lee said...

Ginger, I am from Cleveland, Ohio, a fellow writer (I am in the querying stage of my YA book) and I know the Bonne Bell family (WOO-HOO)!!! Their roots are very well planted here in the west Cleveland suburbs-so good for them- I am going to mention this when I go next to their very popular family restaurant here. Also I write a weekly column for a Cleveland newspaper and I didn't think to mention in my query letter the large audience that reads the paper- so THANKS for that advice! I am excited to check out your book! GREAT interview!

Irene Latham said...

Thanks Shelli and Ginger! The Lip Smackers thing is brilliant! Very very cool.

Unknown said...

Great interview Ginger and Shelli! Ginger has really been so creative in finding ways to market 'Emily'. We editors love having an author that's so involved.

Danyelle L. said...

Great stuff! Thanks for sharing. :D

Casey Something said...

Fabulous interview!!! I really enjoyed it. And I love that you marketed with Bonne Bell, Ginger. How fun!

lisa and laura said...

Another fantastic interview! I can't wait to check out this book. Such a clever concept. And I took a tour of Bonne Bell when I was a girl scout, so I have a total soft spot for all things lip smacker.

Lauren said...

What a great interview! I adore that concept. How cute! Also, this has a bunch of great advice. I think that it's hard for many people to self promote. It's helpful to hear someone else voice the same concern and talk about how she overcame it. Thanks :)

Creative A said...

Hey Shelli! Fun interview, very interesting.

I just wanted to mention that I saw your posts about the weekly marketing interview on AW, and wondered if you'd been stopping in? There's been some issues and a lot of people are actually being turned away from your blog because of it. I thought you might appreciate knowing, if you didn't already.

Anyway. I enjoy your blog, and I'll come back more often!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Creative A - I did not know that. UGh Im horrified!!!! Ill pop over and fix it. I haven't been able to visit much in the last coupel of mounths so I might have missed something. Plus my email has changed. Thank you so much for telling me!!!! :)

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

all - wasn't Ginger a genius with the Bonne bell! Truly Marvelous :)

Shelli Cornelison said...

Brilliant, Ginger. I grew up with Bonne Bell, too. My daughter also loved Lip Smackers when she was in upper elementary and all through middle school. Actually she's about to be a sophomore in high school and she still loves them. She wears makeup but hates lipstick. She still prefers a Lip Smacker to a lipstick!