Tell us a bit more about you and the story behind Frankie
I’ve been on an amazing journey for the last ten years thanks to observing and paying attention to the lessons my dogs have taught me. I didn’t become a writer until my early 40′s which was brought on when my chocolate lab, Cassie was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. I guess you could say it was my own “awakening” and it made me pause to think about what I wanted for my life. It lead me to becoming a writer and writing about what I love most, which is animals.
Nine months after Cassie passed away, Frankie, my dachshund suffered a fall and ruptured a disc in her back which caused paralysis. She was custom-fitted for a doggie wheelchair and through that experience with her I realized the beautiful opportunity I had to not only bring more positive awareness to pets with special needs, but to also help children see their challenges in a positive way through Frankie’s example. My book series, Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog was born because of all of this. It was, and continues to be some of my greatest and blessed work.
Can you briefly explain your process for speaking in schools and libraries and how others can go about doing that?
I knew writing my first children’s book in my series that I wanted to share Frankie in-person with children. I knew I could make a positive impact on children and was so passionate about doing just that. I think the most important quality to have when promoting your children’s book (or any other book for that matter) is to be passionate about your book and your message. This goes far in opening doors for authors.
What I did next was study other children’s authors websites and how they went about planning for author visits. Then I began networking with everyone I knew sharing with them what I was doing. I spoke with my local school in my city and asked for the opportunity to share Frankie with the students. I also visited all the public libraries within about a 20-mile radius of my home and donated a copy of my book to their library. It was the perfect ticket into sharing with them that I do presentations, and to ask if I could do one for their patrons. I also gathered together a mailing list of all the public libraries in my state of Wisconsin, as well as elementary schools and did a postcard mailing to all of them.
I’d have to say the biggest thing that has worked for me is word of mouth. I did a few presentations at the beginning at no charge in exchange for a testimonial. By doing that and doing a good job with presenting teachers and librarians began telling other teachers and librarians. I truly believe word of mouth is your best marketing tool. To date, I’ve done over 325 appearances with Frankie, as well as many via Skype.
What are the pros and cons of live events like this and do the sales justify the costs of time & travel involved?
One of the pro’s of doing live events is being able to connect directly with your target audience. For me personally, because Frankie is in a wheelchair, I don’t travel outside of my home state of Wisconsin with her. So I can’t speak to traveling outside of your local area. I realize this does limit my in-person appearances, but I’ve not let that deter me. Using Skype has been another great option and has paid off nicely as well.
I have seen more book sales from my in-person visits (averaging 20-40% per school visit) than I have in the beginning when I first started using Skype. But I’ve also seen an increase in schools using Skype due to more budget contraints, so I’ve noticed book sales increasing now with Skype visits (average about 20%).
Each author will need to determine their goals for their own book, as well as the time and expense involved in travel to decide if this is the avenue they wish to pursue. Combining both in-person and Skype I truly think is a great option for so many. I’m glad I’ve embraced both. And you never know where one live event or Skype event is going to lead, so being open to both is only going to help get your name out into the world.
Also, as I said, my first few appearances I did for gratis, but then after that I began charging for them as I got more calls from schools/libraries. There is somewhat of a formula in which you determine how to set a fee which I go over in detail in my book, Class Act. But it has to do with how many books you’ve written, credibility, experience, popularity of your subject, and what other authors in your area charge. At the beginning it was difficult to know for me what to charge- and besides I was so eager to get out there I was willing to do them for free! But we all need to make a living, so feeling comfortable with determining a fee and asking for it, at least for me, took a bit of practice. Now that I’ve had over 325 appearances under my belt I’m quite comfortable in asking and getting my fee. Though at times I am also flexible depending on the school, their budget, etc.
You’ve also used Skype to appear remotely, can you explain how you approached schools/libraries with that idea?
I began learning more about Skype in mid 2008. I got very excited when I did the research and learned about all its possibilities. Around the same time, I found out about a network that connects schools/libraries with authors who offer Skype visits. It is called, Skype an Author. You can create a profile for free on this website. Teachers and librarians can then peruse this site to find authors who offer this service.
I’ve built a good following on Facebook and Twitter, as well as have two blogs, so I offered ten free Skype visits to the first ten schools and/or libraries that contacted me. It worked beautifully and within a week I had booked ten Skype events. Schools are really beginning to embrace Skype more and more, though libraries are still a bit slow about getting on board. Though I think in time, this will also be an avenue libraries embrace more.
I also have google alerts set up in regards to schools that use skype, skype in classrooms, etc. I then send a postcard introducing myself as an author who does Skype visits.
Do you cold call libraries and schools? or do you have recommendations for others (as I hate doing that!)
I did cold call on my local libraries when I first started. It’s not my favorite thing to do either. But I was passionate about wanting to share my books and Frankie, so that absolutely was in my favor. I would highly recommend at least touching base with all your local libraries, whether you do that in-person or with an introduction letter or phone call asking if you could stop by with a book to donate to their library. Once there you can then share with them that you offer presentations and ask for an opportunity to do one.
How do you get over the self-published aspect of the book with schools and libraries? Do you find there is still a stigma?
I haven’t encountered this as a problem. I’ve had people ask me who published my book and I simply say, “Joyful Paw Prints Press.” That is the name of my publishing company. Sometimes they will say, “Oh, I’ve never heard of them.” I say, “It’s my publishing company.” Most everyone I’ve encountered and have this conversation with seems more impressed than looks at it as a negative. I’d say the last year or two also has really changed the stigma factor and I don’t find that anymore.
Is the role of a library changing in the US now and has that affected your strategy?
I’ve focused more on schools than libraries to this point. But I’ve done about 25 library visits and all have welcomed me with open arms. I see libraries eventually embracing Skype and ebooks more and more. I also think they will see this as new opportunities for them to grow and expand their patrons. Maybe it’s the optimistic in me, but I truly believe all the changes happening are only going to benefit the publishing industry, the self publisher, the schools and libraries. There has never been a better time to be an author with so many options and ways in which we can reach our audiences!
How have you blended online activities with your live events and which has been more successful for you?
Yes, I have done both. I’ve had a good amount of success with buidling a blog from my main character, Frankie, who I blog as. I’ve also created a twitter and facebook page for her and she has a nice following. I offer special sales now and then and see a nice increase in my sales when I do that. Social media and a blog is also a great way to share information about your live events and that helps spread via word of mouth. I think these days an author has to to work all these avenues into their marketing plan in reaching their audience.
Where can people find you and your books online?
www.joyfulpaws.com and from there you can link to both my blogs.
www.twitter.com/barbaratechel where I tweet more about helping authors with markeing and doing in person and Skype visits
Do you have any questions about speaking to schools and libraries? Have you found this effective yourself?