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De-Clutter Your Marketing – Find Time for What Works

Double Down on What Moves the Needle for Your Books

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De-Cluttering YOUR Marketing – How to Use Your Time More Effectively.

By Jules Marriner

The day of my epiphany is clearly marked in my memory. I was doing a degree in Illustration, and had chosen a new graphics project: the 1992 Macmillan Children’s Book Competition. Sitting at my college workstation, surrounded by bottles of ink, chalk pastels and pencils, I was being read to by a grown man.

He was children’s author Simon James, the book was The Wild Woods.

I felt I was five again and the spell of picture books spun its magic on me. There was just something mesmerising about it. No longer was I wondering what to do with my life. I was in love. I knew at that moment I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books forever and ever. 

In  the twenty years between that meeting, and ‘Vincent and the Vampires’, my first published book, a great deal happened. I started running my illustration business, found a great husband and had two children. Whilst I was busy doing that, the new world of self publishing dawned.

Back in the 90’s, we had the nauseating world of ‘vanity publishing’. It really did very little for the author and to my mind, just lined the pockets of the businesses.

By the time my boys were reasonably self sufficient (could make an edible sandwich), self publishing had become a very real and viable way of getting books out to readers.

That’s not to say I didn’t try the traditional route. I spent a couple of years pre-kids, visiting publishers with a few book ideas and lots of illustrative work. In 1995, London’s Orion Children’s Books were very interested in publishing ‘Vincent’. After meetings with their American arm, they decided not to take it though. Apparently, the US public did not have a taste for vampire stories. I mean, seriously! (rolls eyeballs).  Seems I was ahead of the trend.

 

 

Fast forward to 2011.

A chance remark by my chiropractor as I was flat out on his table gave me the momentum to give self publishing a go. It was along the lines of ‘What have you got to lose?’ but much more eloquently put. 

I (metaphorically speaking) leapt up of the table and rush off to get  my first book ready for press.  In February 2012 Vincent was published and my second book ‘Royal Fleas’ to coincide with the Queen’s diamond jubilee, that summer.

I quickly discovered I needed to learn a whole lot of new skills.

University had taught me little about marketing and having and online presence, mainly because the latter had been emerging in the early 90’s. I’ve had to teach myself more about marketing and publishing than I ever thought I’d have to; how to blog, how to use Facebook and Twitter wisely, how to build a website. I opened an Etsy shop. I navigated Nielsen and Gardners. I got in to Waterstones. It all took time and a lot of reading. 

[Note from Nick: for more on what do do to get your books published, check out our guide on “what to do next” right here]

So the ‘easy’ bit was done. Now I had to figure out how to let people know about my books.

 

 

In the early years…

…I juggled many events. My main problem to overcome was being noticed in the sea of other children’s books and trying not to be choked to death by the likes of David Walliams and Oliver Jeffers, figuratively speaking.  I thought of every place I could wave a book in people’s faces. I used the scattergun approach – any school fayre or big event locally, I attended. I figured that if I was omnipresent, people would remember me for upcoming birthdays or Christmases.

It was exhausting.

I kept a record of what I did, how much I earned and whether I enjoyed it. Over the next few years, I rationalised the things that didn’t work well. Surprisingly, school fayres were one of those things. Although I would get a lot of sales when doing school visits (going in to schools and interacting with a class or key stage), having the same books, in the same place, but for a different reason, seemed to be a total disaster. It seemed the scattergun approach didn’t entirely work.

I realised something pretty significant. The psychology of selling books was complicated. Book buyers need one of the following to follow through with a purchase:

  1. be interested in books or
  2. expect to find books in the venue or
  3. have an intention to buy a book 

I realised my approach had not been very time effective. I seemed to spend so much of my time working bloody hard for very little gain. Taking part in 2 or 3 day shows, hosting my own bookstall was a killer! It was exhausting and sometimes I was wasting my time and money, not to mention it was thoroughly frustrating, when I could be at home working on my next project.

[Note from Nick: for more on how to get more done, even if you have zero time, check out our guide to setting consistent goals with less than one hour a day]

I read lots of blog posts and books along the lines of ‘how to work half the hours for twice the gain’ and wondered how the heck these people managed it.

After several emotionally draining years of this, I made a big decision. 

 

 

I had to learn to focus…

…on what was really effective; I only wanted to do events that was a good use of my time, because being at an event meant I wasn’t working on a book. What that meant in effect, was I needed to focus on book and story related events. I decided to sacrifice the events that brought me very little and said goodbye to the county fairs, food events and family gathering events.

Although it was a little scary – after all it had brought in a few sales – it also freed up a lot of time and energy to spend on writing and marketing my books where buyers might expect to find them.

That’s the key – if people aren’t expecting to find books, they just won’t see them.

Living on a small island off the south coast of England means there isn’t as much scope to get to big book events as other parts of the country, so having the opportunity to take part in the Isle of Wight Literary Festival was absolutely brilliant. The festival has really become embedded in the culture of the Isle of Wight.

I have held book reading events there four times, and have now become part of the team, taking on the role of organising local authors for the weekend and  the school’ s programme. Last year I launched my ninth book, ‘Fidget’ (the owl who won’t eat owl food) to a very enthusiastic audience. It was my best launch ever, almost selling out of books!

It still wasn’t bringing in enough sustained income to keep me going. What else could I do?

 

 

Although I am well known for my books…

I still have to have other income strands to keep the kids in sandwich fillings. I’ve had the luck to do something else that I really like too, something that I never imagined I would do.

I tutor home educated kids. Having successfully tutored my autistic son (who is now studying for an HND in college) and just about at GCSE stage with my younger, I realised it was a skill I had, that others desperately needed. So, although it’s not a long term plan, for the time being tutoring is both joyful and giving me the income to keep writing and illustrating.

It’s hard work though, finding the balance between the responsibility I feel for my students, and getting on with my next creative project.

I sometimes find a week goes by and I haven’t put pen to paper. It’s one of the time management strategies that I am working on.

I found it helpful to expand my Etsy shop too; one of my top selling items is for family and pet portraits. It seems the public have had enough of mass commercialised stuff and want the personal touch. This crosses over into my book work too – my customers tell me a personal message and drawing to the recipient is always seen as a really special gift to purchase. But, I needed help with my online book sales. I started the search…

 

 

After Some Time…

I came across Nick Stephenson’s 10k Readers course. Serendipity brought it, just when I was looking, so I took a deep breath and committed to following the course. I am pleased to say I have gone from about 40 email addresses to 300 – a small but steady start. I have also learned a lot about marketing, keywords and selling online – and I have learned that selling children’s books online is not as easy as I once hoped it would be!

[Note from Nick: for more on this, check out our article “11 Powerful Ways to Market Children’s Books Online” right here]

My readers are much more likely to buy a book if they can see it in the flesh, look at the engaging illustrations and perhaps get a free drawing and salutation in the front.

I can’t physically be in every bookshop though, so I need to find a way to bring that touchy feely experience to a webpage.

It’s completely different to publishing adult fiction, or even older children’s fiction because of difficulties full page illustrations can bring. Perhaps also, as grandparents are a large part of my customer base, it’s less likely that they will be purchasing a picture book as an eBook. 

The problem of selling children’s picture books online persists. It seems that the people who want to buy a picture book are still the people who want to see it as a hard copy. On a technical front, it’s hard to get them in a sympathetic format for eBooks because the software sees the whole page as a picture. You can’t enlarge the text. I had a fairly devastating review on Amazon for my book ‘Nature Calls’ – my first nonfiction nature spotter guide. I love that book. Truly love it! But they were right – it was hard to read on a phone or iPad.

I reformatted it, going back to the original artwork and manually enlarging the text. It didn’t balance for a physical book, but it did the job for an eBook. Lesson learned. 

 

 

Behind the Scenes

It’s easy to look at other authors or illustrators and assume that they are living the dream; how do they manage to get the balance right? Look deeper and you might see that they are struggling just as much as you do. Each phase of life – just starting out in a career, having young children, going through the teenage years and looking after elderly parents – each has its challenges that need attention.

We all juggle our priorities, it’s a question of keeping a level head and sense of humour to accommodate those niggly things that disrupt our love of creating.

Aside from family priorities, my way of dealing with things is to ask myself if what I am doing is really a good use of my time. Marie Kondo – a de-cluttering guru – tells us to hold an item in our hand and ask if it sparks joy. If not, chuck it out! 

This is a helpful analogy for time spent during the day. Does visiting schools bring you joy? Yes? Keep it. Designing layouts bring a spark? No? Chuck it. Find someone who loves it.

My goals for this year – after getting my son through some exams – are keeping up the momentum and managing my time. The key to marketing is in the long game. It’s no good having a little success and then sitting back to wait for sales to come in.

[Note from Nick: here’s a simple strategy to start growing your readership and see results in less than a week]

You have to keep on top of it all the time – and that can be tricky if you have other commitments. Still, I often think to myself, ‘if I wasn’t doing this, what would I do?’ I wasn’t built for dull days, so although each day brings new challenges.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

For many years, Jules Marriner worked as an illustrator, wishing she could see her own books in print. Then, an off-chance remark made her pluck up the courage to publish ‘Vincent and the Vampires’, her first book. Now, she is just about to start work on her tenthTo find out more about her illustration work, including how to get a custom illustration made just for you, check out her Etsy page here.

 

And now we want to hear from you: How can you “de-clutter” your business to focus on what matters? Leave a comment!

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