Book Marketing Now: Inspiring Girls
Authors RACHEL SARAH, AILEEN WEINTRAUB, & DIANA WHITNEY share how they crafted books about & for young women, connect with community through events & social media, and strive for inclusive marketing
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!
Past interviews: Namina Forna | Tara Sullivan | Andrea Wang | Heather Kelly
We talk a lot in this newsletter about identifying and marketing to specific audiences. Authors Rachel Sarah, Aileen Weintraub, and Diana Whitney, whose new books released this spring, each felt called to craft books to inspire young women, even as they explored that goal from different angles. We sat down to talk about the difficulty in writing a book proposal; diversity and amplifying other voices; the power of events and social media to build community; and how to reach and uplift girls through activism, athleticism, and poetry.
What inspired you to write and put together a book for young women?
Diana: My project was a collaboration between my agent, my editor, and myself. They came to me with the idea and I made it my own. I’m a mom of two teen girls and for me being a teen girl was probably one of the hardest, most painful times of my life. That’s the readership that I really wanted to reach around poetry. It was a synthesis of my own passion as a poet, a reviewer of poetry, a feminist, an activist, and a mother of teens that I wanted to bring You Don’t Have to Be Everything to that group.
Rachel: I’m also the mother of two daughters. Even though I grew up in California, I really didn’t understand what the climate crisis meant until the 2018 wildfires. I just knew I had to do something and use my journalism skills. As a reporter, I’ve always been drawn to stories about girls and women and resilience. My intention has always been to inspire others to rise up and to heal.
Aileen: I write about women’s issues for adults and I’m very much involved in social justice writing for kids. My previous book, Never Too Young: 50 Unstoppable Kids Who Made a Difference became a best seller and won a Parents’ Choice award. After that I knew there was a need for more books like this. One day, I was sitting in the car with my son and his friends, who were about eleven years old at the time. They were talking about their sports heroes and every one of them was a man. I almost pulled the car over! I said, “Hang on, what about Abby Wambach? What about Megan Rapinoe?” They said they didn’t really know about them. And I said: “We’ve got to change that.”
I want to expand what it means to be an athlete. So many girls age out of sports because of pressure about what their bodies look like and how they feel. I want girls to feel comfortable competing. I want them to stay in the game.
How did you find your books’ concepts evolved from the initial pitches to marketing to readers?
Aileen: Writing a proposal is often harder than writing the book because you’re putting in the marketing plan. It really forces you to flesh out who your audience is and what your goals are to market the book. Pitching to my agent helped me understand how to pitch to my audience and who my audience is. For middle grade, there’s a big educational, school, library, and parents factor, because the adults are still really buying the books for 9 – 12 year olds.
Diana: I had to write a lengthy book proposal and I agree, that was almost harder than doing the book. It took months, I had to do revisions, they kept asking different questions. They had the seed idea, but they wanted to see how I envisioned putting it into action. I did have a marketing plan, but in my case, it is pretty different now, following my launch. I didn’t understand, when I was writing my proposal, that Workman had channeled all their resources into marketing this book. I feel like I’m on this amazing train and I’m doing a lot myself, but they are doing so much that, as a new author, I couldn’t have even imagined. Ad campaigns, giveaways, bookstagram tours, things I didn’t even know about in 2014 when my first book came out with a small, indie press.
Rachel: My gosh, writing the proposal was so challenging. But wrapping my head around my book proposal, really seeing my intention for this book, helped me once I started writing it. But I ended up writing an additional marketing plan for myself as I pulled the book together. I’m a white woman, middle-class, and I interviewed a lot of black and brown girls and young women. I realized that my intention behind marketing Girl Warriors was to really open the door and say: “Here’s my platform, I want my platform to amplify your voices.” So I decided: if I get invited to any interview or podcast, I’m not going unless I’m with at least two of the activists and at least one of them will be a girl of color.
The activists themselves have been incredibly receptive. Since launch, these activists are just showing up, to live Instagram interviews, for conversations through bookstores, and their voices are amazing and so so smart.
Diana: I have a very similar mission around amplifying the voices of other women and non-binary poets, looking at my role as a privileged editor of this collection, where half the poets are Black/indigenous/people of color. I didn’t spell it out, but almost every event I’ve done has been with other poets in the book, specifically looking to have those poets of color, their voices, reading their poems. It’s helped me get around the icky feeling of marketing. Lifting up these other voices and bringing them into the process of marketing the book just feels really good, organically right.
Aileen: It was very important to me that We Got Game! represented diverse athletes. The goal was not only to make sure that they were G.O.A.T.s (the Greatest Of All Time), but they had to be strong social justice advocates as well.
What have book events looked like for you during this atypical year?
Aileen: I’m focusing on doing blog tours and bookstagrams. I did an in-person event for my book launch, sponsored by my local indie (Rough Draft Bar & Books) with a book signing meet-and-greet. The books sold out and it was a great turn out. For me, starting local is huge. Build support in your community. I’ve found the best way to get your book out there is to create book buzz through word of mouth. Someone goes to an event, or they see my book in a bookstore and take a picture of it, put it on Instagram, and suddenly all these other people are seeing it. That’s what really moves the needle on book sales. Virtually, it’s been amazing too, because I’ve been able to get in front of people that wouldn’t normally be able to come to my events.
Diana: I love in-person events. I’ve found the pivot to Zoom really hard, really disembodied. I know how to read a room and understand how people are responding but through the screen it is so hard! But I did an event recently that was an amazing collaboration between the LA Public Library and Skylight Books. The library’s teen program coordinator worked with Skylight Books, the official host, but the library really brought the teens. I had two other poets: Michelle Tea, who’s an amazing, feminist hero of mine, and a younger poet, Safia Elhillo, and we did Q&A. Encourage those sorts of partnerships! I also did an event with 826 Boston and Brookline Booksmith. It was an incredible experience.
What are some other ways your finding to reach the teen market?
Diana: My publisher decided six months ago that they were going to market my book on TikTok. They asked me to reach out to each of the poets in the book to create videos of themselves reading their poems, then they turned them into cool TikTok videos with little graphics and captions! Try to find teens in their online spaces. That’s Instagram and Bookstagram, but increasingly it’s these other platforms as well. I think because the illustrations in my book lend themselves well to shareable images, we were able to do that.
Aileen: I think keeping up with where the teens are is so important. I asked my teen nephews to create a TikTok video for my book when it came out. Getting your audience to create content is the best way to do it. It’s less work for you and it creates buzz.
During events, I find Q&A is great. Normally, for older audiences, I do a round table. We sit in a circle and have a conversation and I ask them as many questions as they ask me. I find just presenting to be boring. I want to get to know my audience, and I have so much to learn from them. For a college class I spoke to recently, I asked the instructor to have students come up with three questions each and be prepared to introduce themselves and tell me why they were interested in children’s literature. That made them feel they’re part of the conversation.
What are some other ways you’re connecting with your younger audiences?
Rachel: Kate Messner is part of an incredible Facebook group called “Creating Engaging School Visits.” She says there are four parts to events for elementary school kids: something to see, something to do, something fun, and something true. Thinking of each of those parts as an interactive 10 minutes has been really helpful.
Diana: I created a slideshow for my book back in January. It’s really short, 18 – 20 slides, and it allows me to present the book, its gorgeous illustrations, and why I created it. I originally did it for booksellers, but people responded, so I’ve used it at most of my events for young people.
Aileen: One thing I’ve done that’s working really well is that I created an activity packet for my book. It helped with pre-orders and it engages my audience during events. Educators are always looking for content, so it’s an added incentive. I also have an exciting event coming up through another avenue a lot of people don’t think about: Girl Scouts! On Zoom! They’re six and seven years old, and I think it’s going to be super fun!
It sounds like you’re all using social media in your marketing. What advice do you have for authors trying to get a handle on how to use social media to promote their work?
Aileen: What I’ve come to realize is our expectations of what social media is going to do for us is different from what social media actually does and what it’s intended to do. I’m not going to sell more books by posting my link to my pre-order 500 times, though that has helped. I’m building relationships in online groups that lead to events like this one and so many amazing collaborations. Engaging with other writers is really how to use social media to sell your book. So it’s not really about posting, it’s about talking to others and collaborating with others. That’s probably the biggest lesson of this whole marketing journey.
Which of those relationships or collaborations that you’ve built have been the most fruitful?
Rachel: I’m in several book groups that have been incredibly supportive and amplifying. There’s #MGBookChat every single Monday night at 6PM Pacific Time. Oh my gosh, they’re just incredible. The people who jump on are authors, writers, librarians, teachers, and it’s incredible to have these conversations with people who are so enthusiastic. There’s also debut groups, like the 21ders, that are so helpful and keep boosting everyone else.
Diana: I met a group of writers through Facebook whose books were launching around the same time and we made a Facebook group together called the Bookateers. It has become a soul journey together, you know? Somebody gets a tough review and this feels like a safe space, offering emotional support as well as the tangible support of reposting and giving each other Amazon reviews. To have those other authors going through it too, it means everything.
Aileen: I’ve started being a bit bold and approaching people I’ve made connections with, saying “If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, I’d love for you to consider posting an Amazon review.” Most people don’t even think about writing reviews, but they are more than happy to because it’s a quick, easy way to support an author. Reviews don’t have to be a whole paragraph. Some of the best ones are one to two sentences.
Any final resources or tips on book marketing?
Rachel: I have found having a hype team to be so so incredible. I have my group of women writer friends. I had a melt down before the night of my book launch and they were sending all this love,. They’ve just been amazing, just leaning on them or having a hard day.
Aileen: My hype team has been super supportive too. Before a recent Zoom presentation, I started to freak out about the way my background looked. I asked someone to Zoom with me, even though I only had three minutes! And they were on it! So important to have that support; having them share your content and show up to your events and be a friendly face.
Diana: I reached out to a local poet friend of mine who was interested in getting into book reviewing. She’s a Black female poet and I specifically told her “I’d love to have your voice reviewing this book.” It was a partnership that I think has benefitted us both. She wound up interviewing me for Ms. Magazine and reviewing the book in Literary Mama and elsewhere. Try to seek out, not just your support team, but the voice of someone who’s adjacent to your book who can lift it up and also ride along with the energy of your book.
Canva is also a great free tool and they have templates for Instagram. You can upload your book cover and they’ll choose the colors that match. Just pop in a quote and share it to your social media.
Last but not least, tea recommendations please!
Diana Whitney writes across the genres in Vermont with a focus on feminism, motherhood, and sexuality. Her first book, Wanting It, became an indie bestseller and won the Rubery Book Award in poetry. Her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Glamour, and many more. A feminist activist in her hometown and beyond, Diana works as an editor and a yoga teacher.
Aileen Weinstraub is an award-winning author and editor who has written more than fifty children’s books for publishers including Hachette, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Her middle-grade social justice book We Got Game! 35 Female Athletes Who Changed the World just released this spring. Her next book, Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir is forthcoming in March 2022. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Glamour, Huff Post, AARP, and many other publications. She lives in New York with her family.
Rachel Sarah is a writer and journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her writing has been published in places like The Washington Post, New York Times, and POPSUGAR. She has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, ABC, and CBS news. She has spoken to audiences at the JCC, UC Berkeley, and the Commonwealth Club. She shifted the focus of her writing to the climate during the devastating California wildfires of 2018.
Happy reading & writing!
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