Monday, January 17, 2011

Marketing Monday - Toby Speed

It's Monday! And wouldn't you know? Today I have the first book marketing case study.

Toby Speed is the author of six picture books and one book of poetry for children. Two Cool Cows was a ABA Pick of the List and won an IRA-CBC Children’s Choice Award. Brave Potatoes was on The New York Times Extended Children's Best Seller List and the Publishers Weekly Children's Bestseller List.

Toby published her picture books before the days of the online platform, but some aspects of marketing and promotion don't change. Read on to see how the process worked for her.

What did you or the publishers do to get your books reviewed?

I did nothing to get any of my books reviewed. Besides the reviews listed on my website, there were many others that appeared in newspapers and magazines around the country. My publishers (Stewart, Tabori and Chang for ONE LEAF FELL and Putnam for most of the others) did all the legwork. In those days, I looked forward to stuffed-looking envelopes coming in the mail that contained newspaper and magazine clippings. I'd call my mom, celebrate quietly, then file them away! I believe that initially both publishers sent me questionnaires asking me to identify local media.

How did you market your books? Did you use the same general approach for all, or did you pursue different avenues for each one?

I called or stopped into every single Borders and Barnes & Noble on Long Island, the Nassau and Suffolk County Library System, and many independent bookstores, and I connected with their community relations person. I handed them a press kit consisting of a press release I'd written myself about my book, a sample book that they could borrow, background information about me, and the type of program I was offering. For each one of my books I created a program that combined a reading with a craft for children, followed by a book-signing. I often requested that they put my books face out on the shelves (or I turned them that way myself!).

What did the publishers do to market your books?

Putnam did a great job of creating displays for several of my books that were used in bookstores—racks that included not only my current book but others they'd just published that they were trying to push. Putnam also had agreements with third parties that allowed them to market my books in various ways. For instance, a restaurant chain in California called Carl's Jr. asked to use TWO COOL COWS as part of a promotion. Jigsaw puzzles were created to give away with meals to customers, and they had posters in their windows showing the book cover. For BRAVE POTATOES, Putnam made postcards and sent me a supply, and I handed them out everywhere. For future books, I'd make my own bookmarks or postcards to use as giveaways. BRAVE POTATOES was also performed as a musical in Chicago. [wow!]

What other kinds of activities did you pursue that helped with marketing and promotion?

I did many arts-in-education programs in elementary schools throughout Suffolk County (where I live) and in parts of Nassau County. Occasionally I'd get a request from the city or farther away, but I accepted those only occasionally. In schools, I'd do poetry or story-writing workshops with the kids. Sometimes I'd do an assembly, too, which was more of a talk about the life of an author. And I joined the Long Island Children's Writers and Illustrators (they weren't called that back then, but were more of an informal group) and went to Author Illustrator evenings in the public schools. They run about 35 of these each year in my region. A bookseller is on hand to sell the books, and we just sit at tables and sign. I also spent summers in northeast Pennsylvania, so I did library programs there as well.

You recently finished writing a novel. If/when it gets published, how do you envision marketing it?

Ahh, here's where things get very different. First of all, I'll be spending a lot of time looking for an agent to represent me. I never had an agent for my children's books. So I'll be going the query route and persisting until something good happens.

I'm now blogging, which offers myriad possibilities. I already have an "interview" on my website with one of the characters in my book. I plan to post a series of interviews and guest posts with my characters and use social media and networking to draw people to the site. I am already using Facebook and Twitter to connect with people in the industry. I plan on attending some mystery writers' conferences, also for networking, and will set up as many bookstore and library appearances as I can.

It is so wonderful that we have all the resources of the Internet now and can get to know people halfway around the world, as in the case of you and me! I enjoy using social media and making friends in the creative communities out there, so I'll just keep that up and continue to hope that my work will steadily grow to reach a wider audience. Certainly, if I'd had these resources back when my picture books were being published, I'd have been able to get the word out about them much more easily and maybe help to keep them in print. We need to rely on our allies and supporters in the online world, plus it's so much fun to be a member of the community.

Thanks for the terrific overview of your experience, Toby!

What aspects of Toby's experience do you think might be useful in today's market?


  1. Alison, I've been away from Internet access for days and just got back to see your lovely feature on me. Thank you so much. I hope that some of these ideas, however antiquated they may seem in today's world of online marketing, may be of some help to other writers. Certainly in-person networking in book stores is still a good idea. I look forward to reading your other case studies.

  2. Hi Toby, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us! I think in-person networking can only help.