Elizabeth Dulemba

Marketing - The Snowball Effect
(As seen at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
and the September/October 2010 SCBWI Bulletin)
by Elizabeth O. Dulemba

     I’m in the thick of marketing my newest picture book (and first as author/illustrator), Soap, soap, soap! and I keep getting emails from friends asking how I market, especially online. To me, marketing is a two phase process. There’s general marketing (getting my name out there), and then there’s specific marketing (of a particular title).
     It’s like building a snowball. When I got into this business eight years ago, my career (a.k.a. snowball) was the size of a pea. But I was willing to put in the work, and had time to make it grow. Hence began my general marketing...
     In these economic times, publishers have become interested in creators who already have a platform - a public profile, persona or following. It takes time to build this up, but the internet has made it easier, so I’ve been working on my platform since before I was published.
     I thought of my name as a brand. Dulemba.com became synonymous with Nike or Google - yup. It was my website domain (where I show my portfolio, bio, etc.) and my blog title.
     To create consistent blog content, at first I participated in IllustrationFriday.com which forced me to post once a week. (Writers have groups like Non-fiction Monday and Poetry Friday.) Now, I follow online trade resources (free via email) like School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness, Publishers Lunch, and Children’s Bookshelf where I always find something interesting to share. They also keep me up on industry news.
     To gain visitors, I stepped into the online world of children’s books and started making friends. I joined message boards like SCBWI and the Verla Kay's Blue Board, then later, facebook and twitter. I think of them as ongoing parties. I can pop in and say ‘hi’ whenever I want, but the more often I do, the more likely people are to remember me. I began to follow blogs, getting to know my colleagues. Jacketflap.com offers a megablog reader which makes this simple. The support I found was invaluable and my snowball grew to the size of a kumquat.
     Somewhere in there I got published, spoke at some schools, did some book signings and panels. And I went to tons of conferences, but they can get expensive. I found the secret to offsetting fees was to volunteer. It’s more work, but volunteering coincides with discounts and better networking. Heck, my position as Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI Southern Breeze region earned me a scholarship to the 2009 summer conference in LA!
     In summary, my general marketing plan is give back as much as possible. Within reason. I donate one free school visit a year to a needy school, submit illustrations and articles for the SCBWI Bulletin, support friends during their events, and give away free coloring pages every week on my blog. And while it may not sound like much, the articles position me as an expert and people really do appreciate the support and giveaways.
     In fact, my “Coloring Page Tuesdays” has become one of my best marketing tools. I create them for teachers, librarians, booksellers and parents to share with their kids (my demographic) - and they can sign up to receive the coloring pages in their in-box each week (I use YourMailingListProvider.com, but ConstantContact is good too). I now have over 1,000 subscribers and receive over 40,000 hits to my website each month (I can follow through StatCounter.com). These are people who have already expressed interest in me or my creations. My snowball grew to the size of a basketball and things started getting exciting.
     In this business your demographic changes as your career grows. When I started out, I was trying to reach an agent or publisher. Once published, I needed to reach people who buy and sell my books - sales reps, booksellers, librarians, parents and community leaders. These are my front line, people who make things happen for me.
     The nice thing about snowballs is, when they get big enough, they can roll on their own. As word spread about me, my books, and everything I do, my stats jumped exponentially. People are talking about me (dang do my ears itch) and it’s no longer just me pushing that snowball - groovy!
     So, now I have this great support system and I’m applying it to my specific marketing for Soap, soap, soap! I have a Blog Book Tour with interviews and giveaways (most of the bloggers I asked to host me said ‘yes’). I have a web radio interview and will talk up SOAP like crazy through my e-newsletter and Coloring Page Tuesday alerts. I joined the Association of Booksellers for Children and the Kidlitosphere where I have gotten to know booksellers and book reviewers and I’m sending out personal emails to them in which I include links to view my book trailer and an e-galley of SOAP online (an experiment). For those who want review copies, I forward requests to my publisher (we’ve become quite the marketing team). And I promote literacy through online groups and activities - because to sell books, we need to create readers! (Ironically, I volunteered for a literacy organization shortly after college - I’ve come full circle.)
     In fact, except for four festivals this Fall and a few speaking engagements, most of my promotion for Soap, soap, soap will be online. But that doesn’t mean it’s not personal. Over the years, I’ve created good contacts with people all over the country via the internet. Because it all comes down to relationships these days, and those don’t happen overnight. The biggest impact the internet has had on advertising is you can’t blast people with non-personalized ads anymore. You must establish a following of people who appreciate you and believe in you. I do that by keeping in touch, remaining accessible, and celebrating other people’s successes - just as I hope they’ll support mine and help get the word out about my books.
     Of course, in the end, there’s no point in marketing yourself if you have nothing to sell. So, I need to get back to writing and illustrating...

More Related Articles:
The Three Key Parts of Your Author Platform Framework by Justine Lee Musk (aka Tribal Writer)
The Doorway to Massive Readershiph of Your Books by Jonathan Gunson at Bestseller Labs
     All Artwork © Elizabeth O. Dulemba -  Y'all play nice, Okay?