Monday, March 14, 2011

Marketing Monday - Susanna Hill

Since last week was the My Favorite Picture Book Blogfest, it seems fitting that I have picture book author Susanna Leonard Hill on the blog today.

Susanna has published several picture books, including The House that Mack Built, Punxsutawney Phyllis, No Sword Fighting in the House, and Can't Sleep Without Sheep (among many others!), and her latest book, April Fool, Phyllis! comes out on April 1.

On top of all that, she put together a terrific post filled with great ways to get PBs - and other books for children - into the hands of teachers, librarians, and, ultimately, the kids for whom they were written.  Read on for more...

When my first book was published in November of 2002 I was over the moon. I was a published author - a dream come true! It never even crossed my mind that I would have to market or promote it. I assumed the publisher would do whatever was necessary to garner interest in my preschool pop-up title.

Even back then, I was wrong. My book had been published by a division of one of the biggest publishing companies in the US. They publish a staggering number of titles in a year, and their marketing budget is funneled toward big names and blockbuster books and titles they really want attention for, not little preschool pop-ups by first time authors :)

Since then, I have been lucky enough to have 8 more books published, 3 more with the original publisher, 3 with another publisher, and 1 each with 2 other publishers. The different publishing houses have approached the marketing of these books in different ways, but I learned early and I learned well: no one has more interest in promoting my books than I do. (And actually, that may not be quite fair. The publishing houses are always interested in having their books do well, but their time and budgets are limited, and since I am not J.K. Rowling, the power of their marketing dollars does not usually extend to me.)

The market has grown increasingly competitive, and publishers' marketing budgets are shrinking.

So I started thinking about things I could do to gain some notice for my books. There are so many talented authors and illustrators out there, so many fabulous books. How would consumers, from teachers and librarians to parents, even know my book existed?

Here are a few things I came up with:
  • I started a website
  • I compiled a mailing list of local schools and public libraries
  • I made a flyer (on Microsoft Word!) and mailed it out to my new mailing list
  • the flyer included the title and cover of my book and a nice review, my website and contact info, and the fact that I was available for school and library visits.
  • I printed up business cards
  • I did several school visits for free while I was learning.
  • Some people may be naturals at getting up in front of large groups of kindergartners, but I am shy (one of the reasons I like writing!) and I had no experience with large groups of children, even though I had plenty of experience one-on-one and with small groups. I knew I had a lot to learn, and I was more comfortable learning knowing no one was paying me. It was enough, in the beginning, to gain the experience and have a chance to sell books.

On school visits, I usually read one of my stories and show the kids the process a book goes through from the original idea to what you see on the library or bookstore shelf. I tailor the amount of detail I go into on this to the age of the group.

For my first book, The House That Mack Built, I built a board with little velcroed on trees, a river with a popsicle stick barge, and brought a handful of construction vehicles that matched the story so I could show the kids how the feller and skidder took down the trees etc...

For Punxsutawney Phyllis and April Fool, Phyllis! I have a groundhog puppet who tells about groundhog facts and groundhog day, and even sings a song she made up. :) I also have a puppet for Can't Sleep Without Sheep, and songs for Airplane Flight, Freight Train Trip, and Can't Sleep Without Sheep.

With 1st and 2nd graders, I often share the first book I wrote when I was in 2nd grade. I always leave time for Q&A.

As time went my, I grew more comfortable with school visits, and I had some new titles published. So I did a few more things:
  • I continued adding to and updating my mailing list, including nursery schools since a lot of my titles are intended for preschool
  • I updated my flyer every year, making sure all new titles and covers were included, and adding a list of schools I'd previously visited and a couple of testimonials that people had been kind enough to send unsolicited. (one thing I didn't do, and that might be helpful, was to ask for recommendations. For you, it might be a way to get more testimonials more quickly.)
  • I started a FaceBook fan page
  • I started a blog
  • When I go on school or library visits now, I always bring a clipboard with a page where people can sign up to be notified of new publications, book news etc.
  • I started making book trailers for my new releases on imovie
  • I started making and sending promotional postcards
  • I asked my illustrators for coloring and activity pages which they and I both post on our websites for teachers and parents to share with kids
  • I made classroom guides for several of the books to make them easier for teachers to incorporate into their curriculum
  • I have made an effort to engage with other blog writers and been interviewed on literacy and children's literature sites
  • I have made an effort to attend conferences which teachers and/or librarians attend
  • I am a member of The Author's Guild, SCBWI, The Children's Literature Network, and The Reading Tub.

My books are in schools and libraries, in part by virtue of the fact that 3 of them are published by a house that sells directly to that market, but also because I have painstakingly built a list of teachers and librarians to whom I can send announcements of new titles, and made an effort to cater to their needs by creating classroom guides and activities they can use.

I find and schedule all my own school and library visits. With one exception where the publisher supplied them, I (or my illustrator partner) have made the promotional postcards for all the books I've sent them for.

I am probably forgetting things! But if you have any questions, please feel free to ask! You can contact me through my website, or my blog,

Susanna Leonard Hill wrote her first story titled, “The Girl and The Witch”, when she was five years old. Born in New York City, she graduated from Middlebury College with a double major in English and Psychology and holds an M.A. and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology and Special Education of Children with Learning Disabilities from Teachers College, Columbia University. She worked for many years as an educational therapist, but is now a full-time mom and author. Her published works for children include Punxsutawney Phyllis, which was chosen for the Book Sense Children’s Pick List Fall 2005 and the Amelia Bloomer Project Feminist Books For Youth List 2006, as well as The House That Mack Built, Taxi!, No Sword Fighting In The House, a Junior Library Guild Selection, Not Yet, Rose, Airplane Flight!, Freight Train Trip! and Can’t Sleep Without Sheep. Punxsutawney Phyllis and the April Fools is in production for 2011. Susanna lives on East Mountain in Poughquag, NY.

If you are a published author and you would like to share your experiences with marketing and promoting your book(s), I'd love to share your story! Please contact me at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com.


  1. Susanna,

    You've shared some very useful information. I have a submission out for a YA novel and if the publisher buys the book, the information you've posed here will help immensely when the time comes around to market.

  2. Such a huge amount of info packed into one little blog post! Thanks Susanna & Alison!

  3. This is full of FANTASIC advice! I especially like the velcro board for kids' visits and your advice on flyers.

  4. Wow!!! I just thought completing novel and publishing it are major tasks!!!

    You just added hell lot more to it!! thanks for the advise and the goose bumps!!

    ha ha!!

    with warm regards

  5. So glad if you all are finding anything useful! So much of it is trail and error!

  6. I completely agree with everyone else! Susanna has a ton of terrific advice. That's why she's a full-time writer/mom. :)

    Thanks again, Susanna, for sharing your experience with us!

  7. Thanks, Susanna and Alison. I failed miserably at promoting my first book. Hopefully, I will do better when the next one comes out!

  8. Loads of info thank you ladies! I am curious how you make your postcards Susannah. Please let us know. It is so easy in a marketing class to come up with ideas but carrying them out can be daunting.

  9. Wow - you've done so much Susanna! Thank you for sharing your ideas and strategies with us. How do you do all that and still find time to write? Also, do you continue to market your earlier books or do you put most of your energy on newer titles?

    Alison - thanks for hosting a PB writer!

  10. Catherine - there are lots of places online where you can make/order postcards. In the past, I have used zazzle because even a person like me who can barely work a computer can create a postcard on their site :) This time, I am using Vista Print because my illustrator made the card. I am currently working on bookmarks (which I have not found a really easy way to do on any site) but my teenage daughter is helping me create on Photo Shop Elements, and when it's done we can upload onto Vista Print - but I couldn't have done that without her... or not without a lot of time invested in figuring out Photo Shop Elements! I will post the front and back of my current postcard on my blog so you can see the information and how it looks, but it's basically the book cover, a nice review, my website and my illustrator's website, and a brief mention that we are available for school visits. Another site I've heard is good (at least in terms of quality and expense) is gotprint, but again, you have to have a template to upload like on Vista Print or go with one of their stock options.

    Julie - it's hard! I pretty much work all the time :) I do continue to market my older titles, but less aggressively. I put more energy into the newer ones. Still, I have a book I love - Not Yet Rose - which hasn't sold as well as I'd hoped, and I'm currently trying to figure out a way to get it noticed by the people who would appreciate it - parents of toddlers who are expecting their second or third child. If you have any brilliant ideas, let me know :)

    Thanks to everyone for their interest, and please feel free to continue asking questions! I don't claim to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I've tried a lot of stuff :)

  11. I loved Susannah's entry in the Crusader challenge. Great to learn more helpful stuff from her!