Teachers and librarians are always looking for new ways to keep their students and patrons engaged. And when it comes to finding new strategies for using books in the classroom or library, publishers can help. We checked in with a number of publishers and educators to see what kinds of resources and materials publishers make available to teachers and librarians and how they’re being used in the field.
As the Internet continues to play a larger role in educators’ work, publishers have kept pace and turned much of their educational marketing attention to the digital realm. One of the most basic elements of this marketing is including special sections for teachers and librarians on publishers’ websites, or, in the case of some larger trade companies, dedicated websites for their school and library publishing divisions. In either case, educators will find a blend of downloadable resources that may include teacher’s guides to various books, discussion questions, lesson plans, glossaries, author interviews, thematic units, curriculum guides (incorporating Common Core and other standards), event kits, and more.
A teacher’s or educator’s guide is a standard offering among the companies we spoke with, but each publisher comes at it a slightly different way. Most trade publishers we contacted develop teacher guides for select books—determined with input from editorial staff—with the help of freelance educators and librarians. Companies catering primarily to the school and library market tend to offer guides more comprehensively, typically for all of their titles. Arbordale Publishing designs books “from the ground up to incorporate science and math into picture books,” according to general manager and founder Donna German, who adds, “We acknowledge that teachers’ time is limited, so we provide a plethora of free teaching activities and support for each and every book, to make their lives easier.” Various supporting materials available include a “For Creative Minds” section of activities to engage children in cross-curricular learning, and teacher activities, 20–50 pages of cross-curricular activities “designed for individual books and/or to compare and contrast books of similar subject areas,” German says.
Lee & Low is among those publishers that produce teacher’s guides with in-house staff dedicated to the task. “We create in-depth teacher’s guides for all our books, including both frontlist and backlist titles, and we have two in-house literacy specialists, both former educators, who create our materials,” says Hannah Ehrlich, director of marketing and publicity. “They work with the rest of our staff to determine what to create and when, but they also listen closely to feedback we receive from educators and customers. They are very tuned in to current trends in the education world, and that informs their work deeply.”
Ed Spicer, a first-grade teacher in the Allegan Public Schools in Michigan, who has served on the Caldecott and Printz award committees, among others, knows his way around a teacher’s guide, having worked as a freelancer on guides for several publishers. “I’ve written probably 40 of them,” he says of the materials he’s created to accompany picture books, nonfiction titles, and young adult novels. He thinks the guides can be particularly helpful to newer teachers. “Lots of publisher information available is really good,” he says. “I direct teachers and educators to the sites regularly.” But he also voices concern about teachers who might take a guide too literally. “I worry about teachers looking at a guide and thinking they have to do everything in it and cover all the links,” he says. “I hope they factor in the actual students they work with. They need to change, adapt, and manipulate materials for their kids.” Spicer doesn’t typically use formal guides himself. “I look at anything and everything,” he says. “If anyone has a good idea, I grab it and tweak it so it will work with my group of students.”
Publisher websites often contain other digital offerings for educators, which might include blogs, videos, podcasts, book trailers, and links to microsites that promote series, authors, book genres, and reading/writing communities. But sometimes, locating all the resources that are available during a visit to a publisher’s site can be a challenge. Lucy Del Priore, school and library marketing director at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, says that her team is “working with an outside company to create a searchable educator resources page” that will organize access to her company’s educator materials all in one place. Because Macmillan has numerous imprints, a streamlined portal makes great sense. “There’s so much crossover,” Del Priore says. This one-stop-shop idea may be coming into its own. Another publisher we spoke with is creating a similar organizational tool for educator resources but is not yet ready to discuss it.
Connecting with Social Media
While websites provide a sort of home base for educator materials, publishers are putting more effort into going where their target users are and marketing to teachers and librarians via social media. “We devote social media time to a lot of our titles,” says Kerry McManus, marketing and permissions manager at Boyds Mills Press, noting that her team uses Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram with regularity. “It’s a great way to engage educators,” she says. As an example, she points out, “There are entire classrooms that have a Twitter account. They engage with us, then we tag the author, and that connects the teacher, the librarian, and the author.”
On Twitter and other social media, “we use hashtags like #edchat and #STEM to reach teachers and librarians, and we feature something every Tuesday for #teacherTuesday,” says Terry Borzumato-Greenberg, v-p of marketing for Holiday House. Hashtags are also useful during conferences, where many publishers say they use them to tweet out signing schedules, giveaways, and other key information during the show.
At Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, director of school and library marketing Lisa DiSarro has a social media manager, Meredith Wilson, who coordinates efforts on various social media platforms. “We run a lot of giveaways and try to find ways to connect kids with authors,” DiSarro says. “We have the best luck with Pinterest and Twitter. But we try to have our information in as many spots as possible without overwhelming our staff.” At Macmillan, a large company with a separate digital division, Del Priore says that “we work together to coordinate all our assets. School and library, trade, and the digital group all share information to decide which department will create something, and work to make sure that we are working from the same timelines for projects.”
Having created dedicated Facebook and Twitter accounts for her department back in 2008, Michelle Leo, v-p, director of education and library marketing at Simon & Schuster, has become familiar with the kinds of posts that get educators’ attention. “We think about what they will be interested in. We tell them about our new guides, author interviews, and award news, but also about the president’s nominee for the new Librarian of Congress, or about the school in New Jersey that installed pedal cycles under the kids’ desks to help them fidget less and concentrate more.” She believes this effort goes a long way with her target audience. “That’s an important kind of engagement when we show them we know what is of interest to them.”
The desire for that type of engagement means that the attention paid to social media by publishers (and librarians and educators) is not likely to wane anytime soon—largely because it’s hard to come by anywhere else. “It’s so hard to get traditional media coverage for children’s books,” McManus says. “We have 65–70 newspaper outlets on our list, but only 17 or 18 are covering children’s books. Social media reach is the new way we’re going to get coverage—it’s a different, new way of thinking.”
Of course, the social part of social media means that publishers not only put information out into the digital world, they receive information back, too. Sometimes educator feedback is offered spontaneously, and in some cases publishers solicit it. “We might post something like, ‘Tell us which galley you most want to read, and you’ll win them all,’ ” DiSarro says. “It’s not always the book you think, and that knowledge is really helpful. It’s interesting to see which titles rise to the top.”
Ehrlich at Lee & Low stressed how valuable the comments from teachers and librarians can be. “It helps us so much to learn how educators are using our books out in the field!” she says. “We will often spotlight different programs we hear about that may serve as a model for others. For example, a school in California was using the children’s books of Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera in a school-wide program to celebrate Latino heritage. We highlighted their program on our blog because we thought it was so fabulous that it might inspire other schools to establish similar programs. We also love hearing what educators want more of, whether it’s teaching resources or even books on underrepresented topics. Educators have always been our biggest supporters, and we really take their feedback to heart and use it to help guide us.”
DiSarro echoed many of her colleagues when she added, “We want to know if what we are creating is truly useful to them and if we’re going down the right track. Something has to be well worth it for us to do it, because it’s a lot of money and time invested.”
The social network has other branches of feedback as well. Sharing ideas and best practices with colleagues is an important aspect of any educator’s job, and on social media platforms, publishers can see what kinds of resources teachers and librarians are excited about and recommending to each other.
Digital Partners, Digital Projects
The majority of publishers we spoke with say that they have found other avenues for promoting their digital content to educators by teaming up with like-minded companies that have an established online presence. “We try to partner with other organizations,” Leo says. “We frequently work with TeachingBooks.net. We offer content to them, like author interviews or gift packages for giveaways.” TeachingBooks.net is a bit like a mall for educator resources and describes itself as an online database that provides multimedia resources that tie in with books used in a K–12 setting. Borzumato-Greenberg is also a fan of the company. “They serve 36,000 schools,” she notes. “They do special promotions and may feature a book of ours and their Nick’s Picks newsletter goes out to 68,000 subscribers.”
NetGalley, a distributor of digital advance reader copies, is another favorite place for publishers to reach educators. “We have lots of teachers and librarians going there to get early reads of books,” says Adrienne Waintraub, executive director of school and library marketing for Random House Children’s Books. “If people can’t get to a conference to get an ARC, NetGalley opens up the excitement of that experience to them.” Edelweiss, a source for interactive publisher catalogues, various analytics, and digital review copies, and Unshelved.com, the online home to the popular library-inspired comic strip Unshelved and weekly book recommendations, are two other outlets frequently mentioned by publishers as partners.
Waintraub says that, depending on the project she wishes to promote, her department may occasionally purchase subscriber lists from such publications as School Library Journal and Scholastic Teacher magazine to do an email blast. “We are going to them, instead of counting on them to find us. We know how busy they are.”
Publishers say that working with influential bloggers to create promotions and giveaways, blog tours, and other features is also a popular way to get the word out about new books to teachers and librarians. But zeroing in on the best fit when it comes to selecting bloggers can be a challenge, because of the sheer number of bloggers out there. “We try to focus on the blogs we know well and have discovered through library committee members and conferences,” McManus says.
Seasonal previews of new titles are another common marketing practice that the vast majority of publishers share. At Scholastic, Lizette Serrano, director of education/library marketing for Scholastic Trade, explains her company’s approach to this project: “The Online Preview is a compilation of videos recorded by authors and editors that features a select number of our books from the upcoming season,” she says. “Launched in 2010 as a live webcast event for librarians, Online Preview’s audience has expanded to include educators, booksellers, and book fans of all ages and has 20,000 unique video views. We’ve heard from viewers that the videos are used for everything from support for independent classroom reading to staff training in bookstores.” Serrano notes that the Scholastic spring 2016 preview was launched via an email, social, and advertising campaign to educators and librarians. Serrano says that the forthcoming version of the preview will “expand social media sharing capabilities” and contain video introductions by Scholastic’s ambassador for school libraries, John Schumacher.
Several publishers we spoke with say they participate in topical or seasonal webcasts sponsored by Booklist and School Library Journal, which DelPriore says offered additional access to educators and a sense of immediacy, since she could communicate with viewers via email in real time during a presentation.
Webinars and promotions via databases are part of the strategy at Capstone. “We are really interested in helping librarians—and the kids they serve—who connect with our content, connect with each other too,” says Amy Cox, Capstone’s director of library marketing. “Two exciting examples center on our PebbleGo products, which are databases of nonfiction content crafted for the specific needs of emergent readers. During our PebbleGo Kids’ Choice contest event last fall, over 5,000 students and librarians voted to select the next 10 articles that they would like to see in the databases. The overwhelming winner? An article on the United States! We’ve also recently launched a series of free webinars called PebbleGo on Air, where we share popular ideas for using PebbleGo in your library and let users asks questions and share their own ideas for success.”
You’ve Got Mail
Another staple of educational digital marketing is the email newsletter. Most publishers we spoke with are reaching 10s of thousands of subscribers in this way, with Scholastic reaching a whopping 180,000 librarians and educators. Of course one of the main functions of the newsletter is to spread the word about books and resources. Borzumato-Greenberg says, “Teachers tell us how useful our newsletter is for learning about new books in a timely manner.” Leo notes that her department’s monthly email newsletter provides an opportunity to showcase materials in a focused manner. “We try to have a theme, like women’s history or Hispanic heritage,” she says. “ ‘Spotlight on Diversity’ is a regular feature, and it’s a counterpart to Kaleidoscope [a seasonal downloadable brochure and poster featuring diverse authors and stories from S&S]. She cites STEM, STEAM, and Common Core as other thematic topics that have been covered. “In January we promoted No Name-Calling Week [the movement sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which was inspired by S&S YA novel The Misfits by James Howe] with GLSEN,” Leo says. “And we just did a nonfiction focus on space using our books by retired astronaut Mark Kelly [author of the Astrotwins and Mousetronaut series] and tying into his twin brother, astronaut Scott Kelly’s recent return from the International Space Station.”
Kathleen Rourke, Candlewick Press’s executive director of educational sales and marketing, agrees that a monthly newsletter can offer a more expansive look at resources. “While Twitter and Pinterest allow us to impart small pieces of information quickly, the newsletters are good for going into more depth about big new titles and series,” she says.
Old School, Not Old Hat
Though publishers place a heavy emphasis on digital materials, several marketing professionals pointed out that more traditional materials and resources are still very much in demand. “Educators tell us all the time, ‘It’s nice you have downloadables, but can we get a poster?’” Leo says. “They want old school stuff they can hang up and pass out.” She recalls one recent request that served as a springboard for a new promotional item. “One guy reached out to us and said [of our Kaleidoscope poster], ‘This poster is great, but do you have bookmarks?’ Now we’re making bookmarks.” Authors are some of the biggest fans of print materials, Leo says, so they can use them as “leave-behinds” at school or library visits, or use them when they answer fan mail. “Print materials are far from dead,” Leo emphasized, “but we have to keep up with technology and social media because it’s one of the best ways to get out breaking news.”
Whether it’s via digital, print, or face-to-face communication, marketing specialists emphasize that the key goal is always to raise awareness of their books and materials among educators. “We want them to know that these resources exist and are there for the taking. And that all of it is free,” DiSarro says.
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