July 20, 2010

Promote Your Book Like a Pro -- Cynthia Leitich Smith -- Top 6 1/2 List

Cynthia Leitich Smith is everything that is wonderful about the children's literature community. She shares industry information, insightful interviews and book giveaways on her blog, CYNSATIONS. She is a community builder and a consummate professional.

Today, Cynthia is sharing tips about book promotion.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of ETERNAL and TANTALIZE (both Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (all HarperCollins). She looks forward to the release of HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton, Nov. 2010) and both BLESSED and TANTALIZE: KIEREN'S STORY (both Candlewick, Feb. 2011).

Cynthia is a member of faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Her website at www.cynthialeitichsmith.com was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer's Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/was listed as among the top two read by the children's/YA publishing community in the SCBWI "To Market" column.


1. Research what has worked for other authors with titles that appeal to the same audience. Talk to them, read their blogs, offer to buy them lunch and pick their brains. Youth literature authors are big on paying it forward. That resource person may turn into one of your most effective advocates.

2. Make a plan. Think about your goals, audience, contacts, competing time demands, budget, other resources, and what kinds of things you enjoy doing. Is this a book that will be stocked in bookstores or will it go primarily to the school/library market? Do you have a curriculum tie-in? A news hook? Is your audience made up of 4 to 7 year olds or high school and college readers? The formula for every book and every author will be different.

3. Give yourself deadlines, and do what you can before the release date. Put together your readers' guide and media kit. Order bling. Hire a web designer or publicist. Contact bloggers. Plan the launch party. Work now to make it easier on yourself later.

4. Start buzzing. Announce the illustrator, cover art, the flap copy. Show off your book trailer. Promote upcoming tie-in events. Let your excitement show.

5. Launch the book. This is the time to go full-out with your plan. Enjoy it! You've got your plan. Many of the elements are already in place. And be flexible. Keep your eyes and ears open for new, unforeseen marketing opportunities.

6. Keep pounding that drum-not only while the book is on the front list but for its life in print. Publishers have limited staffs and season after season of new books to think about. You're the best, most consistent spokesperson for your book.

6 ½. All of that said, your most important job is to get your next book written. Nothing sells a back-list book like a new release. So have fun with marketing and promotion, but remember that you're a writer-first, last, and always!

Thank you, Cynthia!

Couldn't agree more with 6 1/2. The best advice my agent, Tina Wexler, has given me is simply: "Write the next book."

What's YOUR best promotion idea?


Anonymous said...

I have a question about #6. How do you keep beating the old title drum without annoying people?

My first book came out in 2005. That's a long time to bang a drum.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Great question!

I know how you feel. My first book came out in 2000, and to me, it's very familiar.

At the same time, your back list is new to each new audience you visit.

You can reference it in passing as part of the story behind your story as you lead up to focusing on a new release.

You can make sure to list it in your bio, add it to an Indiebound widget on your blog, and--as new promotional opportunities arise--update your readers on additional tie-in materials.

Perhaps it's a book trailer or a new classroom exercise available on your site. Maybe you create a video or bookmark in which all of your covers are featured.

Look for related emerging news hooks or annual celebrations. Every month in mid-October, I remind my readers of my Native American titles, which sell well during Native Heritage Month (November).

I also offer short quotes from new reviews--my ten-year-old book just got a rave from a teacher magazine, so I'll be mentioning that soon and running the cover art alongside.

Or if you get a fan letter tied to a book, you can give a shout-out to that young reader--"Thanks to Jenni in Wisconsin for writing to tell me how much RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME meant to her." Again, with cover art.

Let opportunities arise organically. If a book trailer sounds fun, do it. If not, you don't have to. Wait for something else.

But as you move forward, it's a great idea to carry your books in print with you so that they can reach new readers and have an extended life of their own.

Have fun! I'm rooting for you!

Wild About Words said...

Thanks for taking time to answer this question in such detail. And thanks again for stopping by Wild About Words with your great tips for book promotion!
See you at CYNSATIONS,

super-sovak/chibbaro said...

Thank you so much for these tips, Cynthia! I am dealing with the promotion of my book Deadly, which is coming out in Feb. 2011.

I do have a question: My publisher, Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, is doing publicity things, but I know not what, at least not yet. I want to do publicity things, but I don't want my plans to overlap theirs. My editor doesn't seem to have much time to answer my questions about the publicity (except to say we're meeting in early Fall to go over plans). What do I do to avoid conflict? I keep finding myself making lists of reviewers, festivals, etc. Is that enough?

Ok, I'll stop there.


Wild About Words said...

Hi, Supersovak!

Your publicist will probably send ARCs of your novel to all the major trade journals -- School Library Journal, Kirkus, etc. She might also send press releases in hopes of snagging reviews from newspapers, magazines and blogs.

You can focus on the areas you know best. Connect with your local indie bookseller. Sometimes they will help get you into schools for presentations. And you can approach the media specialists at schools in your area about doing presentations as well.

Also, when you "meet" with your publicist, be ready to provide a list of every contact -- local newspapers, your alma mater, etc. -- that you have.

Make sure you have a Web site, perhaps a blog and are active on-line, as much as you are comfortable with. Contact your favorite book bloggers and let them know you have a book coming out.

Think of sponsoring a contest on your blog and give away a signed copy of your book. You can also give your book away on Goodreads.com as a way to gain exposure.

Plan a fun party for release day.

And remember to ENJOY your big day. You've earned it.

Best of luck,

super-sovak/chibbaro said...

Thanks, Donna! These are really good tips.

By the way, the funny picture in our supersovak account is of my husband, who did the illustrations for my book.

Thanks again,

Erika Marks said...

These are wonderful tips, Cynthia, for any genre. I write women's fiction and am planning promotion for my 2011 release, gleaning every bit of advice I can.

Promotion (pre- and post-release) can seem so overwhelming to a debut author--but it's tremendously helpful to see it broken down into stages. Thank you!

Erika Marks

Wild About Words said...

Thank you, Erika, for stopping by. Glad Cynthia's list was useful to you. She's a real gem!

Judith Mercado said...

Donna, what a nice surprise to see you featured in Nathan Bransford's newletter. Congratulations on your publishing success. I invite you to stop by my blog, Pilgrim Soul at www.judithmercadoauthor.blogspot.com

Candace Ryan said...

Thanks, Cynthia and Donna. These are great tips! For me, the real challenge is going to be balancing my time between tips #1-6 and tip #6.5 (I could probably use another 6.5 tips to figure that one out;-)

Kathryn Magendie said...

Great tips! I think slamming my butt against the chair and writing more books helps a lot. I do fair bit of social networking, too, but I have to balance that with writing time. What I never do is "bug" people about my books, or twitter and facebook about them - well, not often, and when I do, it's usually to share a review or something appropriate--most of my twitter and facebook and blog posts are about writing/literature/books/family/life in general.

It's hard to toot your own horn, or beat your drum, without becoming annoying or "too loud," isn't it? Especially when it's your nature to sit alone and write - just won't work to sit along and write, have to get out there and make a little bit of noise, don't we? :-D

Dana Granger said...

Here's a link to a list of free press release sites where you can submit a press release about your book.


Advice: Make sure that you put a link to your website, or to a place where they can find out more about you, or buy your book, in at least a couple of places in the press release.

If I had to pick one site from that list, I would go with Prurgent.com, because they seem to get online really quickly. I also like PRLog and 1888pressrelease.

Also - put your name and your book title in the headline of your press release.

Wild About Words said...

Thanks for the great comments. Yes, it is hard to find the balance between tooting your own horn and being downright annoying. Finding that balance is difficult, too, when what you might like to do is write, write, write, but a little shoutin' is in order so folks will read what you write. But the best advice, once the shoutin' is done is to write the next book. Incidentally, that is also the hardest thing.
Here's hoping you find your balance between writing and promoting!

shawn underwood said...

Hi Cynthia,
Great tips! I've done most of what you said for my June 2010 release of "Mommy are we French Yet?" I really liked your first tip—didn't think of that.
I like to idea of not only searching out Indies and contacting them about my book and events but also talking to people who are not the 'usual suspects' to sell my book.
1.:Local Starbucks--I wrote most of my book there and they are willing to have an event, though I have to actually sell the books outside.
2. The local watering hole--people in small towns are always willing to come out and support a local author.
3. Store owner friends have offered to have book/event parties on weekends. Haven't had time to pursue that one.
4. The local library has a big list of book clubs that I can contact. The book is on the shelf and I need to do this too....so little time.

Anyway, thanks again.

Warm regards,

Shawn Underwood

Wild About Words said...


Thanks very much for sharing your innovative ideas.

Best regards,

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Julie, once you have a fairly solid plan in place, you may just want to send it to your editor to avoid any conflicts with what publicity is planning. But otherwise, it's not a bad idea to take responsibility for your end of the promotion for the book and simply appreciate whatever the publisher does in addition to that. (I send a cake at Halloween).

Candace, you may want to set aside some time as "sacred" for your writing. Say, the first two hours after you wake up. Whatever works.

Kathryn, it's totally okay to keep your readers updated on your books. But I use a 10 to 1 rule--at least 10 posts of interest to the community more broadly to each one about my work specifically.

Much happiness and success to you all!

Anonymous said...

Hi Cynthia, wow great answers!

It seems that my publisher has little money for publicity, so I'll have to do all marketing by myself! It's a surprise for me.

Here's a link to my book:

I did not plan much in terms of makreting/communication, should I wait until the Spring to release it? January and February are months where people don't have much money, and I don't have much planning done.

Should I soft-launched it and do communications after the fact???

Let me know your thoughts, thanks!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Hi Claude,

Congratulations on your book!

In terms of short-term priorities, I would suggest focusing on getting a media release together, making a list of outlets that might cover the book, and sending to them.

Keep in mind your hometown and/or neighborhood newspaper, alumni magazine(s), fraternity magazine--basically any publication to which you have a personal tie and/or your book has a subject-matter tie.

Especially magazines have a long lead time, and daily/weekly publications are very timeliness-oriented. They may be more inclined to dismiss a book that's been out a few months as "old news." So, hit them first.

Beyond that, you have much more power to set your own schedule.

In terms of a launch party or signings, you may want to, again, make a list of target venues, and then contact them either before Thanksgiving or after the first week in January to schedule. Bookstores in particular are swamped around the holidays. Reach out to booksellers when they're available to focus on your new release.

Online marketing can be done at your leisure. Some bloggers prefer front-list books only. But the majority are more flexible.

Really, it's more important to be consistent than to engage in a blitz and then move on. So, don't stress out. Trust your gut, do what's right for you, and enjoy the process!

Anonymous said...

Hi Cynthia, it's anonymous again :)


I was able to sell many books during the holidays. I did an interview with a local media organization.

A press release was done but it has not generated a lot of replies. Many hits on my website but that's it.

I opened a Twitter account and did some little things here and there. I added a synopsis on my website and added reviews. I have 8 or so. The book is also on Google Canada Books.

My editor opened a Paypal accounts. The book is available in English and French, in print, electronic and CD formats. It can be done in DVD if requested.

I have a lot of visitors on my website from 40+ countries.

Despite all this (the boasting), the sales are relatively soft.

What do you suggest now??

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Write the next book, and keep promoting.

Think of it like sprinkling seeds--you never know which ones will sprout.

An audience is built over time, over years, and through conversation after conversation.

Breathe. You're doing all the right things. Stay on target.