Ask a Picture Book Editor

It’s All About You! The importance of self-promotion

This blog post is split into two sections and comes with tips and advice from Jessie Sullivan, Marketing and Publicity Officer at Little Tiger Press, and SCBWI member Mo O'Hara

Last month's post covered how to build your profile online. 
This month's focus is on what you can do offline, through events, festivals and school visits. 


A whopping 90% of word-of-mouth book recommendations come off the back of ‘offline’ events. 


- schools 
- festivals 
- libraries 
- bookshops 
- book launches 

Book launches aren’t as frequent as they used to be. Launches take time and money to organise and are often not attended by the people you are aiming to reach. There are exceptions, of course, but in the worst case scenario, your launch might fall on a wet and windy night or when there’s terrible traffic, transport strikes, a bad bout of cold and flu and the people you’ve invited aren’t able to attend. This means that the time and money have been wasted and the news about your book hasn’t reached as many people as you would have liked. 

This is why nowadays, marketing and publicity teams prefer to focus the time and money on making sure your book reaches the hands of reviewers and readers by sending out books and pitching for space where the publicity is guaranteed to make an impact. 

Generally it’s best to do events in the month of publication. 
But don’t stop there! 
If your book has a strong theme or hook, try to tie it in to important events on the calendar. 

For instance: 
- does your book have a mum/child, dad/child relationship? Then pitch yourself to do events around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 
- does your book have pirates in? Then pitch yourself to do events around ‘Talk like a Pirate day’ 
- does your book talk about love? Then pitch yourself to do events near Valentine's Day
- does your book deal with going to school? 
- does your book feature elephants? dogs? cats? 

Find the national event that closely links to the hook in your book and use it as a chance to promote yourself and your fab book. Also, don't forget about World Book Day!

This means that you’re spreading publicity not just in the month of publication, but also throughout the year. 

As first-time authors and illustrators, it’s hard to know when you can expect to be paid for doing events. Your marketing and publicity team are there to help you navigate your way through this, but it’s important to mention that three of the main places where you can do events (i.e. bookshops, libraries and schools) are all struggling with funding, budget cuts and stiff market competition in a difficult financial climate. For this reason, they may often not be able to offer payment for events. 

Schools should usually pay for a school visit. The Society of Authors offers guidelines on the per diem rate. Libraries, on the other hand, rarely pay and bookshops don't offer a fee, but you are very likely to sell some books! Festivals and conferences tend to have budgets to pay authors and illustrators for their events.

Once you are more established and have published more books, you will find it easier to get paid bookings. The SCBWI offers useful professional development workshops on school visits like the one at this year's annual conference on Sunday morning.

TOP TIP Consider offering your services for free when you are starting out, then building up your repertoire. You can off-set this by sticking to places that are local / convenient and won’t cost you money to get to. If you do a free event at schools, it is often not as valued. Always bear in mind your lost time and travel costs when offering to do free visits.

Your marketing and publicity team are there to help you out, but there’s nothing like making contact direct with places that you’d be interested in visiting. Everyone likes the personal touch so be confident to approach bookstores, schools, libraries etc direct either by going into the store, sending emails or phoning them up. 
Let them know: 
- a bit about you 
- a bit about your book (target age group, theme)
- what you’d like to do at the event (a short assembly, a workshop)
- where they can place an order for your book (your marketing team will be able to give you a number a bookshop/school can call to order stock) 

TOP TIP If you have a website, include this information on a school/bookshop visits page. See two examples here and here. The more specific information you can include about what you do, the better. Some authors include a form to complete, which can help to establish upfront an agreement between the booking venue and you. See an example here.

Be sure people know how to contact you!


Congratulations! That’s great news! Here are some things to think about. 

Timing - how long are you booked to do? 

You will definitely want to read your book so time yourself reading it out loud (remember to read it slowly and clearly!). Keep it short (3-5min at most). 

Time each activity section in your presentation – e.g. book reading/craft/personal talk/game – and know which ones you can cut if you need to shorten your session because of unexpected circumstances at the school (this happens more than you might think).

Practise, practise, practise!

Crafts - a good way to engage children is to work in some make-and-do elements into your event. 
What about: 
- asking your publicity team to print out and post to you some print outs that children can colour in (don’t forget to bring enough colouring pens and pencils) 
- are there easy and simple ways to make the characters from your book? Could you use yoghurt pots? Ping-pong balls? Glue and stickers? Everyone loves to pitch in and it’s great that the children can take something they’ve made home. 

If you’re going do this make sure you know: 
- how many kids to expect so you can bring along enough craft kits 
- how many adults will be there to help supervise the crafty fun. Ask teachers or librarians/bookshop staff to help in this bit and warn them in advance.
- how long the activity will take, including the distribution of the materials as well as the actual activity

Movements and interaction - does your text lend itself to some all-join-in movements? Maybe you could ask the children to ‘help you out’ as you read the text. 

Can you sing and dance or play an instrument? Can you use puppets or bring in props with which the audience can interact? Interact with your audience: this can be singing, call and response, movements, getting kids acting stuff out on stage, game shows, quizzes or just Q & A. 

Powerpoint - not as dull as it sounds! 
If there’s the opportunity to set up a big screen then you can project images from the book onto it, and flick through them as you read. BUT be prepared to go low-tech or no tech if things go wrong... 

White board / flip chart - if you’re an illustrator get the children to ‘help’ you draw your character.
Ask them what you should draw your character wearing, what sort of mood they’re in etc. Children are often fascinated to see something come to life in front of them and it will make them feel empowered to think they've helped you create it. 

Bring your own whiteboard pens and paper! And be prepared to busk it if the venue forgets to provide materials.

If you're an illustrator, also consider doing a joint event with the author.

Include a brief talk about you and your writing/illustration.  Kids LOVE to know about you and how/ why you write or illustrate and how you get your ideas. 

Before the event: be sure to double-check all the arrangements with the venue that has booked you, including target audience, the length of your visit, the materials you need, who will meet you and book sale arrangements. Re-confirm payment arrangements if relevant.

TOP TIP - on the day, arrive early, be prepared for things to be different. Be flexible, and gauge how energetic or tired your audience are. If they’re looking a bit pooped, maybe focus on a book reading and answering questions. If they look like a lively bunch get them up and doing some movements and crafts. Be prepared to busk it if your technology fails!
Garry Parsons and Gareth P. Jones at a school visit
TOP TIP - ask your marketing team if you can attend an event being held by a more established author or illustrator to see if you can get tips and tricks on what to do, how to hold the room etc. Go to as many events as you can to see how others do it. Go to local bookshops, libraries, and ask around at friends' kids' schools. Ask SCBWI friends if you can shadow their visits. Most people don't mind and will be flattered to be asked. It's well worth having that experience of seeing what other professionals do. You'll feel more in control and better prepared, plus you'll have more fun!   

SCBWI author Mo O'Hara at a school visit
Once you are confident about doing school visits, this can be a good way to supplement your income. Be sure to update your profile in the SCBWI Speakers' Bureau and consider placing your contact details on websites such as Some organizations help to facilitate author/illustrator bookings, like and Local bookshops are often interested in helping to create partnerships between you as a regional author/illustrator and schools, libraries, local authorities and festivals. 

Good luck! Remember that your book was published because many people enjoyed the story and thought lots of children would too. Believe in yourself and your work, and enjoy the opportunity to share it with others.

Natascha Biebow is editor, mentor and coach at
Check out the Cook Up a Picture Book Coaching Courses:

1 comment:

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