3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Molly ONeill (Assistant editor, Katherine Tegen Books)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Marvelous Marketer: Molly ONeill (Assistant editor, Katherine Tegen Books)

Be sure to add your comments or questions. Knowing how active Molly is
online, she may be stopping by and answer them. :)

For those of you coming for the first time, I do these interviews weekly with either agents, illustrators, editors, and authors. Next month - we have a publishing house publicist and a publishing house sales executive.

Hi Molly! Thank you for joining me today. Before we get into marketing, can you tell everyone a little about yourself and your imprint.

Hi Shelli! I'm an assistant editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children's Books. I've been in the industry for about 6.5 years. I spent the first 4.5 years working on the marketing side of children's books, so I appreciate that this blog focuses on helping authors decode a part of the industry that may not be as second-nature to them as writing. However, while my marketing background is immensely helpful in my current role, my goal was always to become an editor.

I joined Bowen Press as an assistant editor in 2007 and Katherine Tegen Books in 2009. Being a children's book editor is my dream job, and I can't think of another job that could possibly compare!

Can you tell me a little about Harper Collin's web sites? They seem to have a few.

HarperCollins has a website, which has separate, dedicated sections for parents, educators/librarians, and kids themselves.

HarperTeen also has a separate website, a MySpace page (including a blog where many of our authors contribute guest posts), Facebook and Twitter. As a company, we’re constantly looking at the digital and social media worlds for possibilities—we’d like to be ahead of the publishing curve in taking advantage of those opportunities, whenever possible.

From a personal perspective, I'm on Goodreads (although there I mostly watch to see what my friends and colleagues are reading), on Facebook (although I tend to spend far less time on there these days than I once did), and on Twitter, where I'm most active. I also have a new-ish blog. I had blogged as part of Bowen Press and I missed "thinking out loud" about the bookmaking process.

You've had a lot of experience on the publishing side. In your opinion, what are the top 3 things every author should and must do to promote their book?

1. I’m likely preaching to the choir here, because if you’re reading this, you’re someone who is already online, but I think that you must have a web presence!

In today’s world, the internet is the first place that people go to find out more about anything, and potential readers and book buyers are no exception. Kids will look online to find out more about you as a writer, to learn about your other books, to find out when you have new books coming out, or because they want to communicate with you.

Teachers, librarians, and booksellers will look online for extras like promotional materials and teaching guides, to learn more about you and your backlist, and, sometimes, because they want to invite you to do a school visit, library appearance, or to find out about your book tours or signings. If you don’t have a virtual home where these potential readers can locate you, they may move on to another author who is more accessible, and you’ll lose fans and sales without ever realizing it.

In my opinion, you shouldn’t limit your presence to Facebook/MySpace/ Twitter, or other sites where people are required to have a subscription to gain access to you—you should make it simple for anyone to find you if they’re trying to do so. And be sure that there’s a way for readers to contact you via your website. (It’s amazing the number of people who neglect to include this information!) And once you’ve established your web presence and are comfortable with navigating the Internet, be sure to include your website/blog/twitter handle in your email signature. Ask if it can be included in the bio on your book’s cover or back flap. If you’re printing promo materials, make sure you include the information prominently.

Your web presence doesn’t have to be an expensive website—you can start off with a free blog template that you customize—but the key is that it should be professional, both in appearance and content. Think of your online presence as your extended business card to the whole world! And depending on what’s possible for you, once you do have books coming out, you may decide it’s worth investing some money to make your online presence even more unique, professional, and attractive. Think about it—you’d probably consider buying a new outfit or getting your hair or nails done before an appearance at a bookstore or at a conference, and usually that’s for an audience of a few hundred people, if not even less. Your web presence, on the other hand, is how you’re appearing to potentially the whole world—so it’s worth investing time and energy to show yourself in the best light possible !

2. I also think that you must *understand* the tools you're using. Do you know why you’re blogging, or on Twitter, or on Facebook, or thinking about attending ALA or BEA? If you can’t articulate your reasons for doing so, you may be using your time counterproductively. In fact, I think this is one of the big confusions of today’s industry. There are more options than ever before for getting the word out about your book, but you have to know how to take advantage of them in ways that make sense for you. Sometimes authors read about a conference that sounds “like fun,” or like an opportunity that they think they need to take advantage of—but that isn’t necessarily the most appropriate venue to promote their book—for example, IRA is focused primarily on elementary reading teachers, so there’s not a lot of reason for YA authors to attend.

Here’s another great example: An author once confessed to me, “I don’t like blogging at all, I’m just doing it because it’s marketing.” Unfortunately, the internet is often a transparent place, and despite that author’s good intentions I think the “I’m-here-because-I-feel-like-I-have-to-be” attitude came through loud and clear on that particular blog, which never gained much of an audience. There are other kinds of marketing that you can be doing instead. You may need to experiment with different tools until you find the ones that are most useful to you.

There’s no denying that blogging (or fill in the blank with another kind of “hot” current marketing effort that “everyone” is doing) can be a very strong marketing tool. But blogging by itself does not instantly equal marketing. Beware that you’re not equating the two: marketing and keeping an online journal are not the same thing. In my mind, for it to really be marketing, you have to be targeting an audience—and reaching them with it.

3. And I think to be successful, writers should understand communication and relationships are the underlying root of every level of this entire business.

In many, many other industries, “relationship” is code for product placement. In our industry, “relationship” means actual, wonderful relationships—with readers, with booksellers, with teachers, with librarians, with grandparents, with kids, with families, with classes. Your publisher has relationships on your behalf. You establish relationships yourself. Both are important, and depend on one another. Note, though, that the word here isn’t just friendship. Friendships exist for the sake of the friendship itself; they don’t really require any outside goals, but business relationships usually do—and in the case of authors, that goal is book sales. And that has to be a goal, otherwise, you’re just being social and making friends and calling it marketing. I’m not saying a relationship without a sale is worthless, not at all. But every professional relationship should remind you of the potential for sales. Good sales are how you get the chance to do more, to have more relationships, to piggyback closer onto your publisher’s relationships. Focusing on book sales DOES NOT mean you have to be impersonal/sleazy. Many authors think, “I don’t care about my sales, I just want to talk to people who care about books and kids.” But in fact, being aware of sales and consciously working to make them grow means that your publisher will take you that much more seriously—which, in turn, will give you more opportunities to talk to people who care about books and kids!

It looks like you are pretty active in the social networking arena. How important do you think online networking is becoming in today's publishing industry?

It becomes more important by the week, I think! It will never be as important as good writing, as creating impressive art, as executing fantastic, original ideas. But focusing the growing power of social media on yourself and the product of your work—your books—can help brand and define you as a memorable author/illustrator, which will lead (hopefully!) to more book sales, which will then (hopefully) give you a strong sales track, which will (hopefully) make it easier for you publish more books.

Here’s the thing: most people, even those moderately interested in books and children’s book creators, won’t spend time every day/week/month looking at authors’ websites. BUT, the beauty of social networking is that most people WILL check their own profile (be it their @replies in Twitter, their feed in Facebook or Goodreads, their wall in MySpace) anywhere from numerous times a day to at least a few times a week. So if they’re following you, simply by posting (whether or not it has anything to do with your books), you’re reminding them that you exist, you’re reinforcing the connection that you’ve established, which is a small but significant step in building relationships.

Yep, it comes back around again to that relationship part! There are relationships you, as an author, can build, that are different than the ones a publisher can build for you. Some of the key relationships are those that you build on the local level—with your local booksellers, with local educators, with your local librarians, with local readers and young fans. And with social networking that personal, “local level” of relationships quickly extends beyond geography—the people you’ve become virtual friends with become “local,” too, in the sense that you can “see” them on a regular basis—and that’s yet another key to building strong relationships for yourself and your books.

Beware, though, and THINK before you post to your networking sites - blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your mother wants me to tell you that the rule of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” applies EVEN MORE to the Internet! In other words, the instantaneous nature of the online world makes it all-too-easy to blurt things out that are very hard to take back, whether they’re snark about those inside the industry, mean-spirited comments about other authors, or even racy asides that you wouldn’t actually say out loud in front of the young readers of your books. Social media is a tool and it can be used productively, but it can also be dangerous. Think of it like a sharp knife—you can cut beautiful slices of fruit with it, or you can slice your finger off if you’re not careful. Once you’ve put something out on the Internet, it’s nearly impossible to take it back—even if you take down the post later. In short—don’t become an industry cautionary tale!

Also, if you’re involved online before you’re published, as more and more writers are these days, there’s usually a shift that has to happen as you go from being an author whose online community has been mostly other unpublished authors to being a published author with a potential readership of fans. Always ask yourself who your audience is—if necessary, create an imaginary readership that lives in your head (made up of a few kids, a few teachers, other authors, a librarian, some indie booksellers, some editors and agents, your own editor and agent and, of course, your Mom) that you keep in mind anytime you post something, and ask yourself—“Will this offend any of them? Will I be boring them? Am I sharing things that are too personal that I wouldn’t tell these people if I met them in person? And in contrast, am I doing more than just constant, blatant self-promotion? Am I sharing enough of a sense of the person I am to keep readers engaged? Am I interacting enough with my readers, in comments and follow-up posts and replies, that I’m really building relationships?”

Technology and social media are becoming more and more active, rather than static. It’s a bit of a two-way street, where the more you use technology to communicate with others, the more aware people will become of you, too, even if you’re not actively campaigning for yourself. That’s a bit of what’s meant by “web presence”—you’re giving readers a chance to feel like they really know you because of interactions they’ve had with you.

We see alot of group marketing efforts. Do you feel it is beneficial for authors to team up and promote books as a group? If so, what is the best way to do it effectivelywhy?

It can be, definitely. But the truth is, you have to do so as much as a collective as you do as an individual!

The first few marketing collectives drew attention in some part just for existing, and having a new approach that involved harnessing the the-relatively new power of social media, but now there are so many such groups, with new ones cropping up constantly. So you need to ask some of the same questions as you would about marketing yourself as an individual—are we reaching beyond friends to target unknown, potential consumers and advocates? What makes our efforts stand out among all the others like us? What are we doing that’s unique and news/attention-worthy? What are we doing really well—what strengths do we have as a team and how can we maximize them? And, most importantly, how do we draw attention to our group and get the word out wide about the things we ARE doing?

One word of caution, too—in collectives, some authors are almost always going to have different opportunities than others (i.e., some get sent on tour, or get another book deal soon after their first, or their books hit the bestseller list, or get multiple starred reviews, etc., etc.), so you have to be someone who can fight off the insane jealousy those events might inspire and be genuinely supportive of them.

Since you have such a deep background in marketing, what other tips can you share?

I’ve got a handful of additional advice, mostly gleaned from talks I used give about marketing:

• Take the time before each book is published to sit down and make a marketing plan for yourself, separate from anything your publisher may be doing. Think about your limits and be realistic. It’s great to come up with wildly creative ideas, but sometimes carefully thought out simpler ideas can accomplish far more. Set goals for yourself, and make sure they are goals that you can accomplish, not something that you have little control over (like winning an award). Set specific goals, and give yourself benchmarks to measure if you’re meeting them. For example, don’t just have goal of “make brochures.” Make it be “make brochures and distribute at least 50 to local area teachers.” Instead of just “set up local book signings,” which may or may not be successful, add to it, set up book signings and attend 4 other events at your local bookstore, so you can see what works—and doesn’t work—for other authors, and so you become a familiar face. And make sure on every marketing plan, there are a couple things that are new—maybe even things that seem a little scary...whether that means cold-calling schools to offer school visits, or trying blogging, or speaking in public….Growth in your approach is important, and trying new things can open up possibilities you never even considered.

• Writers are creative people who usually have lots of creative friends and family members. Help one another where you can—if you're a former teacher, offer your services writing a reading group guide in exchange for the different expertise of another writer who can help you build a website or create a book trailer. And think about graphic design as you create materials—a little design sensibility goes a long way toward making things like postcards, bookmarks, business cards, and websites look really professional, even if they’re “homemade.” If you know that design isn't your strength, put an ad up on craigslist for a college-age graphic design student to help you create a professional "look" to your materials—the price should be right, as they'll be glad to have the pieces for their portfolio, and you'll see it pay off when schools, bookstores, etc give your materials a second look.

• Beware of putting all your efforts in one place, especially on the Internet. Reach out in different ways to different audiences. And beware of leaving control for all your marketing efforts in the hands of a third-party website that has no vested interest in your career or marketing efforts! If Facebook or MySpace or Blogger closed tomorrow without notice, would you loose valuable lists of marketing contacts, or email addresses, or content you’ve spent hours creating? Just like you back up your writing efforts, back up your marketing efforts, too!

• Remember that imitating another's success is not a guarantee of the same success for yourself—just like no one else can write your same book, you can’t expect your career to mimic anyone else’s. The possibilities for marketing and promoting yourself are endless, and you’re likely to get more attention for being the first person to explore a new form of promotion, rather than being the 100th person to imitate something that got a lot of attention at first, but that has quickly become the norm.

• And finally, when it comes to marketing and publicity efforts, it’s more about a collective whole than doing any one particular thing, be it a blog, website, school visit, social networking use, conference appearance, book signing, interview, etc. etc. Success rarely comes from one aspect alone; it’s the way things you do build upon one another, and on your publishers’ efforts, that come together can make a noticeable difference. And it takes time; success sometimes seems to happen overnight, but behind the scenes it's usually much more gradual than it appears. Finally (and this is where the editor in me speaks up!), don’t forget about your writing! Some of the best marketing you can do is keep creating books for the readers who have encountered and loved one of your books…or for the readers who might not have found your first book, but will fall in love with your next one, and circle back to find what else you’ve written. So don’t forget that your books are out there, building relationships and communicating with readers, too. There will be times to focus more on marketing, and times to focus more on writing, and both are truly important for your career.

As an assistance editor, do you ever google authors before taking them on to see if they already have a web presence or platform? If so, how does that influence you?

Of course! To me, this is research that makes sense in our modern world. If I'm thinking about trying a new restaurant, or looking for a hotel, I usually google for reviews. If I'm thinking about spending *far more* money on a book than I would a pair of shoes, and spending *far more* time working on that book and with that author than I would at the restaurant or hotel--why wouldn't I want to learn what I could first, to be sure we're a good fit?

Are there standard things publishers offer in contracts in terms of Marketing? What does the average author receive or is it different, depending on the book?

Contracts are written to define the rights to intellectual property--so the bulk of them don't address marketing, as it's not really the appropriate forum for that conversation. It's also not usually the right TIME to be talking about marketing. It's often hard to know at the time of a contract's signing what the best kind of marketing for that book will be--especially since the project may morph over time, and because the landscape of marketing can change dramatically in the 2-5 years the bookmaking process takes.

What marketing things do you expect an author to do on their own?

1. To learn what it means to be a professional in the industry, and to be sure that their online presence reflects that professionalism—while also reflecting the personality that makes them unique and exciting as a writer.

2. To have considered the many possible options available for marketing their books (and to consider whether there are untapped ways to do so, too!) and made careful decisions about which methods they’re going to use in support of their books.

3. To be trying new things—just like I don’t expect most writers to write the exact same book over and over (even if they’re series writers!), I don’t expect them to do the exact same things to try to support it. I always suggest that with each book, an author at least try a couple things that are new—maybe even things that seem a little scary...whether that means cold-calling schools to offer school visits, or trying blogging for the first time, or speaking in public….Growth in your approach to being an author is important, and trying new things can open up dynamic possibilities you might never have even known were possible.

So I have to ask. What are you looking for at Katherine Tegen Books? What are you interested in?

I’m not interested in books that are clearly derivative of other successes currently on the market—I like stories that surprise me by being fresh and new. I acquire everything from picture books through YA, but I’m especially looking for strong middle grade and teen books right now—a vivid voice and inventive storytelling are the thing I’m hoping for every time I open up a manuscript. I’m a sucker for a gripping high-concept idea and good writing to back it up, for a good romance (or in middle grade, for the stirrings of romance!), and for stories about connectivity and the choices that we make and the way they trickle down to affect others—and the person we ultimately become, too. Other sweet spots of mine: ballet/theatre/other artsy, backstage stories; a strong setting and a sense of place that shapes a story, and books that make me laugh, or cry, or even better— both!

Thank you for in depth sharing your insight with us!

Thanks Shelli!


Barker said...

Great interview! Some much good info -- thanks for sharing Molly!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Wow, what a thorough, comprehensive article. I really like how she suggests stretching yourself and trying new things when it comes to marketing. I also completely get her point about not doing something if your heart is not in it--like blogging--because it shows. Good cautionary point. Excellent, excellent advice. Thanks for doing this Shelli!

cindy said...

beyond awesome interview as always! thanks shelli and thank you molly! you've given me much food for thought. i struggle to balance all things as a debut writer, indeed.

Greg Pincus said...

Thanks, Shelli and Molly. Great stuff. I think Molly's point of understanding WHY one is doing what one is doing online is vitally important. If you know the answer to "why?", it all becomes easier and more focused and more effective. Online marketing costs time... and you don't want to waste that any more than you want to waste money. Again, thanks for sharing!

Reverie said...

WOW! that was awesome and such GREAT ADVICE!

I agree... authors who are truly approachable and sincere are able to gain an audience as opposed to those who do the online presence just for marketing. Us bloggers can tell!

SundaySoup said...

Hi. I'm currently working on my marketing plan for my debut book Restoring Harmony, so this was great info. Thanks for taking the time. I got some good ideas!


Stephanie Faris said...

Great interview! Yes, I've known several YA authors who joined MySpace and Facebook to get the word out there and interact with readers. I definitely intend to use social networking when I get to that point!

Danyelle L. said...

This is both amazing and wonderful! Thanks. :) One question: what's the best way to utilize twitter as a marketing tool without coming across as a drive-by salesperson?

Casey Something said...

I've been thinking about my blog and how it will need to shift should I become published. It's not really geared towards potential teen readers, mostly writers. Love the advice of imagining a broader readership!

Plenty of other great advice to soak in as well. I think I'll have to read this a few times. Thanks!

lisa and laura said...

Awesome interview! I love hearing what editors are interested in and how they evaluate authors. Nice work Shelli! Keep these coming!

Kristi Valiant said...

Wonderful interview! As an illustrator, having an online portfolio is essential for me. Now I'm also working on writing picture books, so this interview offered some great ideas I hadn't thought about. Thanks!

Roni Loren said...

Great interview, so helpful, thanks!

Crystal said...

Thanks so much, Shelli, and Molly, for this interview! It was wonderful and extremely informational. Mollie gave some really awesome advice, especially for how to transform your blog/website once you become published. I've already printed this out for future reference!

Great job!

Tyler said...

Wow, so much to take in...that was like a really good, really in-depth conference keynote! (Standing O, anybody?)

Thanks, Shelli and Molly, for the awesome interview!

batsick said...

Good interview! That looks wonderful that you are putting such things on your site!

Andrea Cremer said...

Thanks so much for this informative post!

Katie Anderson said...

Wow. Fantastic interview!!! Thanks Molly and Shelli!

Sherrie Petersen said...

What a ton of great information! I like what she said about "a collective whole," where everything builds together for a gradual "overnight success."

Good stuff!

Warren Baldwin said...

Shelli - thanks for this great interview! (And thanks for your recent visit to and helpful comments on Family Fountain).

Molly - thank you for some wonderfully helpful ideas about networking and marketing. One of your comments was so pertinent that I linked out of the interiew, applied what you suggested, and then came back to finish reading.

Your comments about the value of genuine relationships was helpful. I appreciate your ethics that undergird your work and business practices.

Good interview and blog post!

Kristin Tubb said...

Wowza - so much great information! Thank you!

Lindsey Leavitt said...

Molly, you are the best. The very, very best. Thanks for such a great, thoughtful interview.

Christina Farley said...

So much to digest here. Thanks for all the insights!

Bonnie J. Doerr said...

Wow, No wonder you included every word from Molly. Swear, she gets better and better. This was more practical info than at SCBWI two years ago. Thanks for another fabulous interview.

Tabitha said...

Fabulous interview!! Thanks for sharing! :)

Susan R. Mills said...

Great interview! Thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Molly and Shelli. Thanks so much.

One quick question, when you're talking about a writer's web presence, do you think it's enough to have just a blog for a writer who's unpublished and add a full web site after they've signed a contract? I have a website for my line of children's travel books, but it's for the books, not me. I plan to have a full web site later, but for now, I figured my time was better spent writing my novels and my blog.

Also, Shelli, love your blog. I clicked through after you commented on mine and have now put it in my blogroll and my iGoogle.

C.R. Evers said...

great interview! I got to hear Molly speak at an SCBWI conference. She's great!

Heidi R. Kling said...

Fabulous insight! I'm bookmarking this for sure. Thanks!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Very late in the day to be catching up on my blog reading, but what a delight you have served up. Thanks!

Alissa Grosso said...

Some very, very helpful advice here. Thanks!

Lisa Schroeder said...

Molly and Shelli, this rocks! Seriously, some of the best advice EVAH on marketing.

So many times authors ask, "why twitter" (or facebook or blog or whatever). Your answer, Molly, is the best one I've heard.

Thank you!

Jessie Oliveros said...

A lot of good, helpful inside information. I liked the advice of going outside your comfort zone to market. Now must go work on my web presence...

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

goodness - alot of comments. Thanks guys! This was a very popular interview. Molly rocks.

Molly O'Neill said...

Hi all, thanks for reading and thanks again to Shelli for her blog!

To answer the questions I saw posed as I skimmed the comments: I think with Twitter, focusing on the relationships you're building, rather than just delivering a message, or talking about yourself, is the way to best utilize twitter. Twitter is just a particular format, but authentic communication is still the goal. Or at least that's my approach!

And as far as web presence, I think the key word is PRESENCE--it's a deliberately loose word that can mean something different for different writers/artists. Especially pre-publication, it doesn't so much matter if you have a website or a blog--the goal is simply to have a way for people to find you. In fact, for some, a form of active social media like a blog or twitter or goodreads may be more productive than a static website, b/c you're starting to build relationships and participate in conversations about books and the industry. Both before and after publication, though, the goal isn't to try to be everywhere & spread yourself impossibly thin, it's to have an accessible, easily discoverable way for readers to reach you.

Hope that helps, and happy writing/marketing to all!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that answer, Molly. That helps a lot.

Alan Orloff said...

Wow. You've just tripled my marketing workload with all these great suggestions. I'd better get busy!


Sara Ohlin said...

Fabulous, fabulous interview, with tons of helpful information. Thank you so much for sharing all of this.

Tana said...

Awesome interview! Invaluable indeed.

Oscar Case said...

Thanks for the marketing tips. I felt like I was attending a class as I read them. Am just beginning on the marketing of a book and really appreciate the advice.

Victoria Dixon said...

Thank you for the informative interview! I will post a link to this on my blog. :)

T.K. Thorne said...

Hi, I'm new on the block and grateful to have someone talking about marketing. My first novel is coming out soon (Noah's Wife) and I'm trying to make the jump to light speed and realize there is a whole 'nother responsibility out there beyond writing the book. Sort of like housework, I guess. it never ends. :-)

S Bliefnick said...

Thank you very much, Ms. O'Neill. Your words are not only very helpful, but very energetic as well. Who could be dour about her prospects after such positive advice?


Robert W. Leonard said...

What a great post. As a web designer for many years I still found the tips and suggestions listed to be very helpful. As they say, it isn't what you know, but how you use that knowledge. I've tried hard to develop my website and online presence just in the hopes of one day selling a book. Thanks for the great tips!

Warren Baldwin said...

Do you mind if I link this on my blog? wb

Transcend said...

Great post, Its not what you market its how you market and thats is something that most businesses need to work on. Website Seo Company