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De-Clutter Your Marketing – Find Time for What Works

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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!

17 Comments
  1. Dave Cohen says:

    I’m launching my book in September, so have been genning up on marketing for a few months now. Been reading a lot of business start-up books and I particularly recommend Lean Start Up by Eric Ries and 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney and others. These are the best written, and both force you to focus on the best use of your time.

    1. Jules Marriner says:

      HI Dave, thanks for the useful info! I shall seek those books out. Always useful to see things from someone else’s point of view. Hope the article was useful to you too.

  2. Amy Waeschle says:

    I am right with you, Jules! I balance many pieces of my business, and every day is different. My best de-clutter tool is to turn off my email from 5am (my dedicated writing time) to about 9am (when I’m back from dropping the kids off at school). Even though I rely on email for my part time work (marketing writing for my family’s restaurant business), nobody really misses me during those morning hours. I always plan some business reading/webinar learning during my lunch, so that time isn’t wasted, and I keep my afternoons for exercise or something that recharges me (which is editing, sometimes, or could be baking bread for my kids’ lunches). I always feel like I’m not doing enough, and wish for at least 6 more hours each day. But I just finished my second novel yesterday, and it only took me 3 1/2 months instead of 5 years (like my last novel), so I think I’ve made some improvement on using my time efficiently. I still have a long way to go, though. I like your “if it doesn’t bring you joy, then chuck it!” and will use that! Thanks again for the post!

    1. Ahsoka Jackson says:

      Ha, I had to chuckle when you mentioned how you never feel like you’re doing enough…right after you mentioned how you bake your own bread for use in your children’s lunches. I think a lot of people would be impressed just by that—I certainly am! Yet I can relate; it really is funny how we can be doing _so much_ work yet somehow still feel we’re not doing enough, because there’s always more to be done!

      I can also relate to that bit about how long your previous novel took. It’s been at least three years now since I started work on my first novel (by my estimations I started it sometime in 2014; I know for sure it was before 2015 started, but I don’t think I’d yet started it in 2013 either). Much of that in between time has simply been because I’ve spent so much time on other things—especially helping OTHERS with their writing, ironically enough!—that I’ve neglected my own projects. Now that I have a desperately needed break from one of the biggest time drains, I’ve been desperately cramming in learning and work on both the writing itself and the publishing side of things.

      On my immediate to-do list are coming up with the detailed scene list for the first novel; making at least the basic outlines, if not scene lists, for the other two books in the series; putting together my lead magnet; and setting up a website (including getting the domain and hosting)!so that I can start building my email list.

    2. Jules Marriner says:

      Hi Amy, sounds like you’ve got your hands full too. Well done on getting your second novel done and in record time! I find I’m up early too, before all the demands of the rest of the family start. Plus, I just LOVE that time of day (unless it’s midwinter, then I just want to hibernate). Keep up the good work and best of luck with your new novel. Jules

  3. Ahsoka Jackson says:

    I think my favorite bit of advice from this post is to focus on the things that sparkle for you, and find others to do the rest, if possible.

    I’ve already seen the advice recently that instead of trying to use a million different methods, you really need to find the two or three that best suit you and focus on getting really good at those, rather than dabbling across many things.

    For me, social media is far too stressful, and the idea of spending a bunch of time interacting via Facebook and Twitter just fills me with dread. It’s been a relief to hear that I shouldn’t worry about forcing myself to do so, and should instead focus on the things that actually gel with me. While designing graphics is labor intensive, I think I’m good enough at it for my needs, and the fact that Pinterest doesn’t really require a bunch of socializing or conversing (and arguing) makes it very appealing to me. So with those two things in mind, I think Pinterest will be one of my main methods for acquiring leads. Pinterest and the lead magnet it’ll bring people to, of course. I’d rather spend my time designing the graphics and finding quotes for them instead of spending that same time stewing over the latest controversial topic or spat via the more traditional social-media platforms. The stress is terrible for me both mentally and physically (it aggravates the chronic immune issues I have).

    1. Jules Marriner says:

      Hi Ahsoka, it’s very interesting to read what you think about Pinterest. I often use it for looking for inspiration, but haven’t done a whole lot of lead making from it. I’ll look you up and see what you do. I’ve recently thought more about Instagram too, although I’ve heard that it’s no good linking through from Instagram to automatically post on FB and Twits, because the algorithms don’t like it much; better to post individually. Ah, I long for the day when I can do more of that stuff from home…. Best wishes, Jules

  4. Linda says:

    A good read and thought-provoking, too!

    Thanks for helping kickstart my thinking about marketing. I have a heap of scripts just waiting to be published. Why no books out there, you might wonder?

    It’s the marketing thing that’s holding me up. I really have no excuses. No kids. No ‘necessary’ work. Nothing but my own aversion to starting the marketing process. Tips and ‘read more Heres’ in this article have given me something to focus on and get the ball rolling.

    ‘Sally’s Seaside Secrets : a week in Whitby’ WILL be out there before the end of the year, if it kills me. ‘Garri goes to Glasson’ WILL follow soon after – do or die time!

    Watch this space….

    1. Jules Marriner says:

      Hi Linda, I shall indeed watch the space! Go on – what’s stopping you? It really is fairly straightforward when you break marketing down into little chunks. I promise Nick isn’t paying me to say this – but he really does do a good job of breaking up the steps and making it as simple as possible.
      Really glad you liked the article.
      best wishes, Jules

  5. Tracy Krauss says:

    First off, I love the ‘KonMari’ method of decluttering and highly recommend Marie Kondo’s books to everyone – neat freaks included! Second, you make a good point about having more than one stream of income. We need to be doing what brings us joy, not what brings stress.

    1. Jules Marriner says:

      Hi Tracy, you’re so right! Life is too short for doing stuff that brings misery, so give yourself the permission to do great stuff! With regards to Konmari, I got as far as decluttering the photos and had a paddy! (freak out) Still got tons of photos and all my parent’s stuff (years after they departed) so fair to say, it’s a work in progress 😀 Glad you liked the article, best wishes, Jules

  6. Gayle Mullen Pace says:

    For this super low tech girl, it’s about dumping the things that don’t work and learning the new things that do. Just the thought of marketing gives me extreme anxiety and even though I know I need it (with 7 books under my belt), I avoid it. By forcing myself to take a couple of highly recommended courses, I’m dealing with the anxiety issues by learning the foreign language called marketing.

    1. Jules Marriner says:

      Hi Gayle – this made me laugh, it sounds like me. If I could pay someone else to do all my marketing so that I could twiddle my paintbrushes all day and speak to my muse, I’d do it in a flash. As it is, us (non JK Rowling type) authors have to get on with it and do some bloomin’ marketing, so might as well give it our all and not make a total hash of it. You’re right, it can make one feel a bit anxious and headachey, but honestly, once you take the time to go through it, it becomes much easier. Good luck! Let me know how you get on. Jules

  7. Kate Findley says:

    This really speaks to me because I also struggle with focusing and prioritizing, and like you, I also teach and tutor and often during busy seasons my students take first priority. The biggest thing for me is to learn one thing at a time (SEO, email marketing, etc.) and implement what I learn as soon as I learn it; otherwise I’ll forget or I’ll just end up with pages of random notes I can’t make sense of.

    1. Jules Marriner says:

      Hi Kate, you’re so right! I call it ‘brain like a sieve’ – even when I’ve written down what I need to do/ learn, I often end up thinking ‘what the heck does that mean?’ Still, with the exam season upon us, it will soon be time to focus more on the books and the students can take a back seat. I’m working on my next book which MUST be ready for October, so I’d better get on with it! What are you writing next? Jules

  8. Sheila Lamb says:

    Thank you Jules for a very helpful and honest post. It’s reassuring reading others posts that we are pretty much all the same where marketing is concerned and being focussed. What is it with marketing!!? Is it we’re scared of doing it wrong or is it we’re scared of the unknown? I just dont know!!

    1. Jules Marriner says:

      Hi Sheila – aw that’s really kind of you. The thing is, none of us went out of our way to become marketing specialist. We are all something else first, (in this case authors) and HAVE to learn how to market or else sink. Who out of us wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘oooh, I’m going to do some delicious marketing today’ ? It doesn’t really make many people feel all warm and fuzzy, and like paying bills, is a necessity. Ah well, better get used to giving it some love then, I guess. Keep on rockin’ Sheila! Jules.

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