You made it all the way through our Middle Grade Week marathon! (Speaking of sporting events…anyone else addicted to the Olympics?) This is Sue’s final post. Hope this series has proved helpful. I’ll be getting back to normal around here soon…with a brand new middle grade book of my own hitting shelves very soon. If you’ve missed any of this week’s post, click the links in the schedule directly below.
This week is all about Middle Grade: writing it, indie publishing it, and especially marketing it! As you may know, reaching those elusive middle grade readers is tough, doubly so when you’re indie published. Plus there are giveaways (see below)!
Here’s the schedule:
Warrior Faeries and Math Magick: How Susan Kaye Quinn is using a Virtual Author Visit video and Teacher’s Guide to reach readers with her MG novel, Faery Swap.
Faery, Fairy, Sweet and Scary: a discussion with MG author Kim Batchelor on writing about Faeries in kidlit.
Sci Fi for the Middle Grade Set: a post with MG author Dale Pease about writing SF for kids.
Writing Indie MG: a roundup of indie MG authors (Michelle Isenhoff, Elise Stokes, Lois Brown, Mikey Brooks, Ansha Kotyk) about why they write MG and how to reach readers, including their indie MG author Emblazoner’s group catalog.
Marketing Indie Middle Grade – The Hardest Sell – about reaching MG readers as an MG author.
Marketing Indie Middle Grade – The Hardest Sell
by Susan Kaye Quinn
As we’ve been mentioning all week, reaching middle grade readers isn’t easy.
Let’s talk first about hurdles, then about ways to overcome them.
Middle Grade Hurdles: Paper Distribution, Reviews, Discovery
Paper Distribution is the first obvious hurdle. It’s very unlikely you will be on the bookshelves of the B&N, and that is where a lot of middle grade books are discovered. Plus, middle grade readers, even with the proliferation of cheaper-and-cheaper ereaders, still read paper books. A lot of paper books. Add in the price factor (Print On Demand books tend to be more expensive than trad-pub print runs), and it’s tough to get those paper books into kids hands.
Why this is changing: More people are buying print books online (vs. browsing in the bookstore). As bookshelf space continues to shrink, the bookshelf in the bookstore counts less and less as a discovery tool… even for children’s books.
Reviews are always difficult to get, but reviews for middle grade books have been even more important, because major review channels like the School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist serve as social-proof to parents, teachers, and librarians, that middle grade books are good to pass onto their children. These review channels either exclude indie books (School Library Journal), are indie-unfriendly (Booklist wants paper books months in advance), or charge indie authors a hefty fee to be reviewed in a segregated section that librarians and teachers are much less likely to read (Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus).
Why this is changing: Goodreads and other online media are reaching these gatekeepers (parents, teachers, librarians), so while the kids themselves are not online, the gatekeepers are. Review services like NetGalley are now open to indie books, providing an end-run around the review channels. I can personally attest that you can use Netgalley to reach teachers and librarians that are otherwise inaccessible.
Discovery is the constant challenge for all authors everywhere. Adult and young adult authors have an advantage because their audience peruses the online bestseller lists, subscribe to Bookbub, and go on Goodreads to see what their friends are reading. For middle grade, once again, it’s the gatekeepers who are doing these activities, and usually not looking in those places for middle grade books.
Why this is changing: Libraries are more and more open to stocking indie books – much more so than bookstores, in general. The gatekeepers (parents, teachers, librarians) are becoming more aware and more open to indie books – each time they have a positive experience with indie books for themselves, they are more willing to take a chance on those with their students and children. Kids themselves are starting to use services like Goodreads in their schools, reviewing books and adding them to their TBR lists. They are slowly bypassing the gatekeepers to discover books on their own. This all points toward indie middle grade slowly finding its way into kids hands.
How to Market Indie Middle GradeReaching Teachers and Librarians
School visits put you in direct contact with your audience, but there’s a limit to how much of that you can do. More teachers, librarians and booksellers interested in MG can be found on NetGalley – they may not be interested in reviewing as much as finding good reads to recommend to their patrons or stock in their libraries and classrooms. You can entice these “gatekeepers” even more by creating online materials (teacher’s guides, games, book trailers) that help them bring your book into the classroom.
Teacher’s Guides – With the help of a teacher-friend, I created my own activities, games, and Teacher’s Guide for Faery Swap. Another MG-author-friend hired Blue Slip media to create hers. Either way, it’s important to emphasize the educational component of your story (including linking to Common Core, as that is a requirement for many schools).
I also created a 9 minute Virtual Author Visit video to use in conjunction with the Teacher’s Guide, so that any teacher, anywhere on the planet, could share my message about Math Being Magickal with their students.
Book Trailers – teachers and librarians use them to entice kids to read, so having a book trailer is much more useful to MG authors than to most other authors. Book bloggers also like them, and they’re a good, quick way to introduce readers to your book. Just make sure they’re as exciting to watch as your book is to read (see here about how to make book trailers).
This Faery Swap
trailer was made with iMovie, artwork from my book, music from Pond5.com
, and an intro from a guy on fiverr
who makes them.
Bookmarks – Teachers and Librarians love to have swag to hand out to kids for prizes, so having high quality bookmarks can be a great way to get your book seen by kids.
Reaching Middle Grade Book Bloggers
They’re not as abundant as bloggers for other genres, but they exist
. Direct queries can work, especially if combined with a blog tour/giveaway. I don’t actually recommend using a blog tour service for MG, because most people who arrange blog tours are not MG-focused – you’re better off arranging your own MG blog tour. For example, the letter I’ve been sending out to book bloggers, querying them about reviewing, has included an offer to join the blog tour:
Faery Swap Blog Tour (March 3rd – 21st): review copies are available, as well as excerpts and a guest post “Warrior Faeries and Math Magick” about how Faery Swap can be used in the classroom to get kids excited about math and science. GIVEAWAY: paperback copies of Faery Swap, $25 Amazon Gift Card, and TWO Magickal Faery Wands. SIGN UP HERE
That link goes to a dedicate Blog Tour page that includes this (feel free to sign up!)
Blog Tour Giveaway
$25 Amazon Gift Card
Signed Paperbacks of Faery Swap
Two Faery Wands
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Advertising MG works is trickier than other genres. Bookbub has a middle grade list that reaches 170,000+ readers. The ads are pricey, but most people (even MG) seem to make back the money in sales. (Note: Bookbub is difficult to get into and you’ll have to discount your book). Putting a book up for giveaway on Goodreads or LibraryThing is much like posting an ad (for the small price of the book giveaway).
Joining Forces With Other Authors
My indie MG author group, the Emblazoners, is a great resource: we share information on what works (and what doesn’t!), we join forces for things like NetGalley subscriptions and buying ads in MG specific sites like Middle Shelf, and we put together our own catalog of works, marketing jointly to build a list of teachers and librarians interested in MG works.
Patience, Reasonable Expectations
The hard truth is that MG books are a small market. This graph pretty much sums it up:
Children’s books are simply a small wedge of the ebook pie. Most MG authors will tell you they sell as much (or more) in print as they do in ebook, but it’s hard to move large numbers of print copies if you’re not in bookstores (and with POD prices high relative to mass market print runs).
When I published Faery Swap, I hoped to break even on the book… eventually. If you publish indie MG books, I think you’re doing well if you break even. If you can turn it into a money making venture, you’re doing very well. Most other genres are easier to sell – if you want to make a living as a writer, I suggest writing in a genre that sells to pay the bills, then publishing your middle grade because you love it.
Do you have other marketing ideas for MG? Share your knowledge in the comments below and we can all benefit!
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, which is young adult science fiction, and several adult fiction stories. Faery Swap is her foray into middle grade, which is her first writing love. Her business card says “Author and Rocket Scientist” and she always has more speculative fiction fun in the works. You can subscribe to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!) or stop by her blog to see what she’s up to.
Fourteen-year-old Finn is tricked into swapping places with a warrior faery prince and has to find his way back home before the dimensional window between their worlds slams shut. Faery Swap is on tour March 3rd – March 21st with a $25 gift card and magick wand giveaways! Sign up here.