Senior v-p of marketing, Penguin Young Readers
I think the biggest shift with middle grade marketing is that there are now more ways to reach readers directly. Classrooms, bookstores, and libraries have traditionally been the places where kids discover books. Now they are discovering online. And while gatekeepers remain an important part of our approach, we now also focus on messaging and assets that speak directly to the kid and on tactics that reach them where they are, both offline and online.
For instance, festivals such as North Texas Teen, BookCon, and Comic-Con are drawing more middle grade readers and give us an opportunity to connect face-to-face with our readers. Video is also one of our primary tools for reaching middle grade readers. A really engaging video asset promoted on YouTube can be a super effective way for a kid to discover a new book or series. Kid and family influencers are also a new frontier. At a time when there are fewer traditional advertising outlets to reach tweens, a paid campaign with a popular YouTuber can be a great option.
Director of sales and marketing, Shadow Mountain
One of the most interesting ways that children’s book marketing has evolved in the postdigital era, in my view, is toward authenticity and the ability to communicate the story and book themes in a very human, interpersonal way. Having a digital “broadcast” platform has vastly expanded the audience who may hear about a book through catalogue copy, but it’s also increased the value of old-school book-talking at school and library and trade conferences, perhaps because it’s increasingly rare. As large publishers distribute large quantities of ARCs at shows that draw big crowds, it’s hard to personally pitch each book. As a smaller publisher we do precisely that.
A good book talk creates a memorable experience of sharing and recommending a book and makes it easier for the librarian to, in turn, recall the pitch and share that book talk with their patrons and students. I’ve had librarians come to our booth at library conferences and remember a recommendation from the previous year and ask me what’s new in the booth. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the power of a good pitch.
Senior v-p of marketing, Random House Children’s Books
I looked back at middle grade campaigns from five and 10 years ago and these are a few key changes/adjustments we have made in our marketing approach and strategy over time.
Not long ago, we were investing a large percentage of our spend on consumer advertising—parent and kid facing. We were not seeing a significant return on our investment via sales impact. We were, however, seeing impact when an author would spend time in schools. We’ve shifted budgets to increase those tours in terms of scope and the amount we do year-round. For this category, the impact of connecting an author directly with readers and teachers in the classroom is invaluable.
Title Pairings and Roundups
We have found that, over the years, it has become more difficult to break out individual titles. We also know from our conversations with educators that they are looking for multiple titles for a specific topic or curriculum unit, so we’ve been doing more “collection work” where we pull together like titles under specific themes such as social-emotional, STEM, or nonfiction. These groupings or pairings are often a mix of frontlist and backlist, and are used in advertising to educators, in email blasts, and reflected in our booths at educator conferences.
We know this category takes more time to find traction in the marketplace, be it at retail or in schools. To that end, we have crafted longer-tailed campaigns—three months out, six months, 12 months, and up—and also put more investment behind key middle grade paperback releases, as we know those can often lead to more sales in schools.
President and publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books
Ah, the ’90s! I was a very young marketing and publicity person back then, working closely with established and upcoming authors writing middle grade at the time. Some things haven’t changed at all.
Teachers and librarians are still so influential in promoting middle grade books and authors, as are good institutional journal reviews and award attention. And children’s choice state awards are still particularly impactful in building the middle grade classics of tomorrow and growing a middle grade author’s career. Booksellers, particularly independent booksellers, are as influential today as they were back then in introducing new middle grade books and authors with passionate handselling to their customers. The school book club and book fair market also remains influential in growing an author and a series for this age group. And the best way for middle grade authors to promote themselves is still to hit the road and do as many school visits as they can, if they are willing and able to.
Of course, the biggest difference today is that technology has transformed and enhanced all these efforts, and made it even easier for marketers and authors to reach all the important gatekeepers I’ve mentioned. Gatekeepers is a term that was never uttered by us back then and maybe should be retired because of overuse today! Who’s with me? And there has been a significant increase in digital marketing compared to traditional print advertising and promotion aimed at families and kids. We still believe that authors should get out and into the schools, but now they can do video conference visits coordinated with schools and interact with so many more teachers and kids in their classrooms than ever before—while watching their carbon footprint, at that. Teachers, librarians, and booksellers can now take their handselling to large audiences through social media, blogs, and video. Efforts at HarperCollins, such as our Shelf Stuff platform for middle grade, are a wonderful example of how we are able to bring our authors to their fans of all ages and introduce new books, with exciting content.
Publishers have always worried about losing kids to competing content like TV—now online video and streaming—and gaming has always been a concern, even back in the ancient times of the ’90s. But now publishers have easy access to creating digital technology that has tremendous appeal to fans and readers. Digital distraction has grown, certainly, for the middle grade audience in recent years, but the good news is that parents, teachers, and even kids themselves are starting to experience digital fatigue. And when they turn away from their screens, I think we can all bet on the fact that many of them are going to be turning to a book.
Associate director of school and library marketing, Abrams
I started in publishing in 2005, which admittedly isn’t very long ago, but I think it’s an interesting entry point, because things were already shifting. Publishers were scaling back on printed material and physical mailings. Attendance at conferences such as IRA was waning. Everyone thought that e-books would replace physical books. No one knew what to do with social media.
Now I lurk on Twitter instead of listservs to see what folks are talking about. We have a whole manual of best digital media practices that outlines how authors and illustrators can make themselves and their books more discoverable online, even going so far as to spell out the nuances of each social media platform. Eye-catching graphics and animated cover GIFs are more important than ever in engaging online audiences, and we make sure we’re equipping our authors with the assets they need. Smart marketers evolve to stay current and relevant.
And yet, the saying “the more things change, the more they remain the same” is also appropriate here. Conferences will always be a vital way to reach educators. That direct experience is irreplaceable. The most significant change I’ve observed is the call for books and their creators to reflect our world. There’s no denying that the internet and social media played a role in giving marginalized people a platform and amplifying their voices. In reaction to this call, I’ve been taking a close look at my lists of contacts. Who’s writing teaching guides? Who’s receiving special mailings? Who’s invited to events? I know I’m not the only one doing this. It’s a natural progression.