Book Marketing Now: Andrea Wang
Interview with award-winning picture book author Andrea Wang about her new book WATERCRESS on how to promote a personal story to educators, parents, and readers.
This week Andrea is participating in #STANDUPFORAAPI, where Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) authors and bookstagrammers are coming together in solidarity to raise awareness and to stop the ongoing violence and hate incidents targeting the AAPI communities. In addition to resources, they’ll be sharing book recs, actions, and giveaways. Check out Andrea’s Instagram post or follow the hashtag for more information.
Welcome to Book Marketing Now, a new monthly feature of Books, Marketing, & More where I share interviews with writers about their marketing and publishing journey as they share the inside scoop on releasing books into the current market! Check out past interviews with Namina Forna and Tara Sullivan.
Advance Praise for Watercress
“Wang’s moving poetry paired with—and precisely laid out on—Chin’s masterfully detailed illustrations capture both an authentic Midwestern American landscape and a very Chinese American family, together infusing a single event with multiple layers laden with emotion, memory, and significance. Understated, deep, and heart-rending—bring tissues.”
—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
Andrea Wang is a veteran, award-winning picture book author and experienced writer, but her third picture book, Watercress, is a little different from her others — unconventional and deeply personal. It’s clearly a story that needed to be told; Watercress has already received five starred reviews, is an Indie Next pick, and has been chosen as a coveted Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection.
Andrea shares the story of how this highly personal story became a lead title at a major publisher, as well as actionable advice for writers seeking to share their story and connect with educators and young readers alike.
Watercress releases next week! Second Star on the Right is hosting her launch on March 30th; pre-order from them to also receive a signed bookplate!
How did you initially market your book to your agent and publishers?
Watercress had a really long gestation period. It took me around eight years to write the version that was submitted to my agent and editor. I originally wrote it as a personal essay, reflecting on a childhood memory of foraging for watercress with my parents. Over the next few years, I re-wrote it as a picture book, but it wasn’t working, and I shelved it. After A Different Pond by Bao Phi (illustrated by Thi Bui) came out, I was inspired to take out my manuscript and re-write it yet again. I dug deep into my childhood emotions and poured them out onto the page.
I had already signed with an agent a few years prior, so I sent her the manuscript with no real pitch, no explanation. I wasn’t even sure that what I had written could be a picture book – it didn’t fit the typical plot structure and was deeply personal, a catharsis. Thankfully, she saw promise in the manuscript and immediately sent it out.
Some authors write their own pitches for their agents to use when submitting manuscripts to editors, but I’ve never done that. Pitches are not my strong suit, and I trust my agent to know what editors are looking for and to develop a pitch accordingly. The manuscript ended up going to auction, which sounds wonderful but was actually very stressful! I spoke to each of the editors over the phone and discussed our visions of the book, the illustrators that they were thinking of approaching, and the marketing plans they were considering. My agent handled the bids. After much agonizing, I chose to work with Neal Porter, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision!
Congratulations on the book getting such a powerful reception! Now that you’re marketing to readers, what is your current strategy?
I’ve figured out the themes that I want to focus on and the message I want readers to take away from the book. I use those talking points in podcasts, blog posts, and social media posts. My publicist reassured me that it’s okay to say the same thing over and over again, since each outlet reaches a different audience. So for podcasts and other audiovisual interviews, I have a little cheat sheet with brief answers for the usual questions.
Has marketing your current book been different from marketing your earlier books?
I had publisher support for my first two picture books, The Nian Monster and Magic Ramen, but nothing on the scale of the marketing and publicity effort for Watercress which is considered a “lead title.” I coordinated several blog posts and a webinars on my own, but the team at Holiday House/Neal Porter Books has done the bulk of setting up bookstore events, school visits, podcasts, and other opportunities. It’s been wonderful to have their help and support – there are outlets I wouldn’t have had access to without them. They’ve been able to create a level of anticipation for the book that I definitely couldn’t have done on my own.
How do schools and librarians factor into your process?
Educators and librarians are a big focus, especially since Watercress is more literary than commercial. When the book was selected as a Junior Library Guild Gold Star Selection, that was a real coup. I was invited to present at a Build Your Stack session at the 2020 NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference, where I was able to share my book with educators. My publisher also included my book in their presentations at the NCTE and ALA (American Library Association) conferences.
I’ve done in-person events at local libraries for my previous books. Since that’s not possible now due to the pandemic, I’ve been trying to follow more educators and librarians on social media and engage with them personally. I’ll offer to send book swag or participate in giveaways. My publisher sent advance copies to several prominent educators such as Colby Sharp and John Schu, both of whom reviewed the book on their social media and/or websites. That made a noticeable difference in the number of educators who followed me on social media.
Are there other communities or networks that have helped you in your marketing efforts?
There are two communities that have really helped me personally get the word out about the book. The first is my agency family at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I read the text of Watercress aloud at an agency retreat several years ago and my agency-siblings (and my agent, of course) have been incredibly generous about sharing news about the book on social media and generating buzz. I make sure to send good news about book reviews, articles, and other events to my agency’s social media coordinator so that she can spread the word on the agency’s accounts.
The second network is the Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus of NCTE. I first attended a caucus meeting at NCTE several years ago and have gotten to know the co-chairs well. Caucus members have added my books to their classroom libraries and curriculums. They’ve also been very helpful in finding and coordinating panel proposals for future conferences.
The more you get out in front of teachers and librarians, the more they begin to recognize and remember your name. There are several different caucuses at NCTE – I encourage authors to see if one of them is appropriate for you!
How have you handled the shift to virtual marketing due to the pandemic?
As I mentioned, I’m trying to have more of a presence on social media. I’ve participated in a couple of giveaways, including one with a group of picture book creators for Lunar New Year, which generated a lot of new followers for me. It’s always more fun to do things as a group, plus it has the added benefit of extending your reach. So even if you’re not a debut author, it’s worth forming a launch or marketing group with other creators who have books with similar themes.
Have you done any virtual events? What’s that been like?
Yes! Although I wish it weren’t due to a pandemic, I’ve come to really appreciate the shift to virtual book events. Before, I didn’t have many bookstore events outside of my local area because traveling to them was expensive and exhausting. Now with virtual events, it’s so much easier to participate. I’m currently scheduled for events at bookstores in Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, and California – most of which I couldn’t have done prior to the pandemic.
The same holds true for conferences and workshops – they’re all online now and easier to attend both as a presenter and attendee. By presenting at a regional SCBWI event, I can now reach people around the world. Even if they can’t attend live, people will often sign up for a webinar so they can watch the recording later. People seem more likely to attend a virtual event if they’re getting a “value added” – something of value in return, such as writing craft advice. And I’m still getting the word out about my book.
One unanticipated perk is that I find virtual events less intimidating. I’m not staring out at a sea of eyes (or a half-empty room). Once I start sharing my screen, that’s all I see, and it’s easy to pretend that I’m just talking to a friend.
The thing to be mindful of with virtual events is safety and security, particularly as a BIPOC author. I like to make sure that people have to register to attend, that they cannot unmute themselves, and that questions are pre-screened.
What is something you wish more people understood about marketing picture books?
Get very used to reading your picture book aloud! Since many picture book events consist of story times, you need to be able to read your book in a way that engages young children. Use different voices for each character, use props, develop questions to ask different age groups. Anything you can do to make your read-aloud interactive will make more of an impression on your audience, including the parents who will be buying the book. It also helps to have a related activity that kids can do, whether it’s a craft, a puzzle, or coloring page. Parents and teachers like having activities that can extend a child’s engagement with the book.
What advice would you give to writers just starting out when it comes to marketing themselves?
Don’t feel like you have to do everything! It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking around and trying to replicate what other authors are doing. Do what your time, budget, and energy (both physical and emotional) allow for. It may seem like you have to have a huge push for your book around the release date, but I’ve found that it’s just as helpful to keep promoting your book and your brand in the year(s) after it publishes. It takes repeated engagement over time to get your book into the minds and hands of readers.
Finally, is there a tea or beverage that has helped you get through preparing for launch?
At a school visit a couple of years ago, the host EL Coordinator gave me a cup of the best tea. I’ve been hooked on Harney & Sons’ Hot Cinnamon Sunset tea ever since!
Andrea Wang is the award-winning author of picture books The Nian Monster (Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor) and Magic Ramen (Freeman Book Award Honor). She has two books releasing in 2021: Watercress (JLG Gold Standard Selection, starred reviews from BCCB, Horn Book, Kirkus, PW, and SLJ); and The Many Meanings of Meilan, her debut middle grade novel. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. She is also the author of seven nonfiction titles for the library and school market. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in the Denver area with her family.
Do you have a book releasing this year? What are you doing to market your book or what questions do you have about marketing? Drop them in the comments!
Happy reading & writing!
Allison Pottern Hoch has happily made books her life’s work. She spent four years marketing and publicizing academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a children’s bookseller and event coordinator. She is now living her dream: putting her B.A. in Creative Writing to good use as a novelist and as a writing/marketing coach for authors. She enjoys science fiction, cupcakes, and a hot cup of tea. For workshops & consults: pottern.com
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