Today, I’ve got something a little different planned: Shelli Johannes-Wells is here to share a bit about her experience managing the Children’s Department at a Barnes and Noble and her take on marketing. She’s worked for clients like Spanx, SCBWI, and Boys and Girls Club in addition to helping to promote books. She’s got a world of expertise to let us in on. Not to mention, she had a dream the other night that my book sold, so I’m going to–with an obvious err on the side of optimism–add psychic to her list of accomplishments, k?
Thanks for agreeing to answer my questions, Shelli!
First, I want to talk a little about your experience managing the Children’s Department at Barnes and Noble.
After I left Auburn with my MBA in Marketing, Accenture (which used to be called Anderson Consulting) hired me right out of school but didn’t have a start date available for months. I moved back home and got a job at Barnes and Noble. I didn’t realize then that I wanted to be a writer – I just loved books and was an avid reader of children’s books as well as adult mystery. I got a supervisor role in the Children’s department at Barnes and Noble. This was a great because I got to handle/schedule author signings, shelved books which gave me an idea of the market, got previews/galleys of new books, and did story time a couple times a week. I loved everything about it except when I got the dreaded monthly assignment for “bathroom duty”. To this day, in bookstores, I still get flashbacks and will forever have a phobia of bookstore bathrooms.
Too funny! Slash-I don’t blame you. How about specific titles? Did you push certain titles? Were the titles you advocated dictated by the bookstore chain or your own personal preferences? And did kids tend to pick the books out or did parents?
No one ever asked me to push certain titles. I was never even told what displays or books to put on display. I was only told what topics to do a display on. I created my own displays and put books out that I loved. I read a lot of books but customers always had different needs so I stayed up on the market so I knew what I could recommend. I knew what was new, what was good based on reviews, and what other customers were telling me. I loved talking to kids and recommending books. I never got parents asking me much for younger kids. But the kids 8 & up would talk to me a lot about different books. Maybe that is why I write for MG and YA.
On to marketing– What made you leave your corporate job and go into marketing and writing?
I left Accenture in 2000 and started my own marketing business. I’d been traveling for years and wanted to be home more and have control over my career. I just up and quit my corporate job and started cold calling clients. I was also helping a friend do their book marketing promotions which I loved!
I’ve always loved to write, which is probably why I started doing copywriting for businesses. When I was young, I wrote poems and short stories. I even won a state contest for a Nutrition essay named “Be a Smart Cookie.” I still have that story. In 2004, when I had my daughter and was on paid leave for 5 months, for some reason, I got an idea and just started writing. 6 months later I finished my first novel . I’ve been writing ever since.
Good for you! How can an author get started marketing their book?
1) first of all you MUST know your target audience. How they speak, where they go, everything. You also need to know what segments of the target audience your book appeals to. You can’t just focus on ages 13-18 for YA. It is too broad. You need to dive deeper into the market and break your readers into segments. Think about each segment and the best way to reach them and come up with an intricate plan to reach segment individually.
2) Second, authors need to learn about marketing like they learn about writing. I come across so many authors with great books that know nothing about their audiences or how to market. It’s really a shame. Publishing the book is only 1/2 of it. We get so focused on that as an end goal – we forget there is life beyond the contract. Most publishers EXPECT you to do most if not all of your own marketing. If you do not take ownership for creating a buzz around your book, no one will. And if you don’t market, you may not get another print run or even another deal. I would say if you are not spending 20% of your time on marketing, you are missing key opportunities for your book.
3) Use creative methods. Today, emarketing, social networking, and using technology are critical to any author’s success. Signings, school visits, business cards with your photo on it, and book markers are a step but are not enough anymore. You must learn your way around the net and you must build a network of relationships. I personally think that is important to doing when you are trying to be a published author as well.
emarketing – use the internet for interviews, ezines, blogs. Learn how to put together a professional, simple web site. I would say 80% of the sites I go to are confusing and appear amateurish. There is so much out there to help you.
social networking – you need to get out there where you audience is. You would be surprised how many authors tell me – “I just don’t like the computer”. That is where the kids are! Twitter, Facebook or MySpace. That’s like me saying I don’t like the publishing world, but I want an agent and book deal. You need to hang out where your audience hangs out. Blogging is also important in getting your name out as well as meeting people. When I started my blog, within 3 months I had over 1,000 visitors. That’s 1,000 people I’ve touched that I may not have. Not to mention, I ‘ve met some great blogger friends, like you Chandler!
technology – I mentioned a few in the social networking. You can also create book trailers, podcasts, vlogs, and doing virtual signings. Be creative.
Aww, thanks Shelli! Has your background in marketing caused you to approach your own writing career differently? If so, how?
I think my marketing experience will help a lot once I get and agent and get published. My marketing doesn’t affect the way I write but if affects other aspects. Like how I query. Or how I network and meet people. Even how I come up with ideas that I feel will appeal to kids. Just hanging out with my best friend’s 12 year old opens my eyes.
I am also very aware of how I can market my book once I get published. I have to help people sell complex projects in a simple, succinct way. So it is easy for me to get to the root of what the book is about and describe that in a few sentences. I have marketing plans for my books already drafted. It just comes natural for me to think through those things so it’s easy for me to do.
Marketing is also something I can offer authors and writers. It is my way of giving back. There are so many people that have helped me learn about the publishing business, learn about writing and who have just given me hope and encouragement. It is something I can offer them ad I feel good knowing I can have a small part in helping them be successful. Because of that, I am the PR/Marketing person for the Southern Breeze Region. I do all their PR to drive up membership, I redesigned their logo, and speak at their conferences. All for free. It’s important to give back.
Are there currently published authors that readers could look to that you think are getting their marketing and publicity right?
This is a tough question. No one asks authors what they do so you never know. I think its a great question for people to ask authors at their meetings or signings. We can learn a lot from each other.
Actually, this year I am adding a new feature to my blog. I will be interviewing authors and getting them to discuss how they market their books. I plan to start that in the next few weeks.
Looking forward to that. For authors that want to think or talk about marketing their books before its time for the book to hit shelves or to plan a school visit a school visit, how can they learn more?
On my blog, Market My Words (www.faeriality.blogspot.com) – I give daily tips to authors and offer “Marketing Mondays” where I go into depth on a marketing topics for authors as well as discuss marketing books/resources that are valuable to authors. I try to focus on helping published authors as well as “pre-published” authors because I believe you can start your marketing efforts now. By the time you get published, you turn in your edits, and your books hits the shelf, it is too late. The sooner you have your foundation built, the easier it is to launch your plan when it is time. You should start 6-9 months BEFORE your book comes out. Not during or after.
Thanks, Shelli. Good to hear that effort spent blogging etc., is time well spent because we’re building foundations now so we won’t have to cram it all into the last 6 months before publication, right? I appreciate you coming by to share your hard-won wisdom. Keep us updated!