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While adult narrative fiction moves easily into the digital environment, children's books are a different challenge. In today's podcast interview, children's author and illustrator Katie Davis talks about writing, illustrating and marketing.
Children’s author and illustrator Katie Davis has published ten books and appears monthly on the ABC affiliate show, Good Morning Connecticut, recommending great books for kids. She produces Brain Burps About Books, a podcast about kidlit, a blog and regular newsletter. You can watch the interview on video here, or listen as above.
- How Katie got started with writing and illustrating. Her first book came out when she was nearly 40, so it was a long journey, although she was in writing and marketing businesses before that as well as supporting herself with her art. She talks about the lack of confidence she has in her own artistic ability – something we all struggle with!
Aspects of being a successful children's author
- To be a children's writer, you only need to have been a kid. You don't need to have kids (Maurice Sendak didn't). One of the things newbies get wrong is to only write in rhyme. The story needs to be the driving force, not the need for rhyming language.
- The other error is over-emphasizing the lesson, instead of the story. It's important to respect the child's intelligence. Don't talk down to them. Talk in their language, but don't baby-talk.
- How long it takes to write a children's book, when the choice of a few words can make all the difference.
- On traditional publishing vs self-publishing for children's books, which are often more expensive especially picture books where color makes them expensive to print. Katie says that the stigma within the industry has really changed, but you need to know how it works in order to submit correctly. Katie recommends SCBWI.org as a great resource to find out more. Plus Children's Book Insider and 12 x 12 which was about writing 12 children's books in 2012.
Ebooks vs apps for kids
- Ebooks are defined as ‘Electronic version of a print book, or a book composed and published electronically with minimal interactive elements.” Whereas apps have interactive elements. It's important to make sure the format fits the story, and not use the format to try and shoehorn the story into interactivity. Read the whole article on Create your own storybook app at Writer Unboxed.
- Apple really is the market leader for children's books and apps. You can create your own art for iTunes using iBooksAuthor Book Creator
How to find an illustrator for your children's book
- Check out ChildrensIllustrators.com which also sponsors the Bologna and London Book Fair. Also HireAnIllustrator.com
- Look at books that have won Caldecott awards, to at least understand the styles you like in order to help you get started
- Make sure you have a written agreement around delivery dates, expectations, numbers of illustrations, printable formats.
Marketing books for children
- Katie shares a lot of tips in her new book (for adults) ‘How to Promote Your Children’s Book: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets to Create a Bestseller'.
- Whether you market to kids or adults is based on the type of books you're writing. Clearly, picture books for aged 4-5 need to be marketed to adults.
- Establishing your platform is just as key in selling kid's books. Katie mentions John Green, YA author with a hugely popular YouTube channel with vlogbrothers which appeals to his market of teenagers. Recently, he sold out Carnegie Hall for a variety show for teens, covered by the NY Times and USA Today.
- The principles of reciprocity, generosity and social karma are really important in the online space. Help others and it will come back to you. This is how you should approach the online marketing environment.
- Katie mentions the Grad School rap which author Adam Ruben created for his book ‘Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School‘ and it got picked up by national media and sold a ton of books. Video can really work if it gets attention.
- Having fun marketing – is it possible? Redefine it as ‘talking to people and making friends'. Katie uses the example of Twitter Book Birthday.
- For video, you can record interviews like these. If you're worried about using your own face, you can use animation e.g. GoAnimate.com . But eye to eye contact can be very powerful. It doesn't matter what you look like. People don't care. They want information or entertainment, and connection is important. Free information will ‘buy' people's trust and loyalty and this will translate into sales in the long-term.
You can find Katie at KatieDavis.com and her podcast Brain Burps About Books.
You can also check out her video course VideoIdiotBootcamp.com
You can find the interview Katie did with me here on self-publishing.
There are a lot of great links here. Thanks for taking the time to share. I’ve found a lot of success in direct sales at school book days and library guests readings. I also visit elementary schools and talk with students about writing. As compensation I ask for the school to advertise my book in a news letter or through direct mailing.
I watched the interview and I think you did an excellent job of summarizing the main points that Katie made. I love the addition of the links that can help us to organize our plan of action. And you have saved us all of the work! Thanks!
Duncan Faber says
I found someone who sidestepped this whole process and instead created a podcast of original short stories for kids. It’s sponsored by TwirlyGirl and can be heard at http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/stories-for-kids
It’s a whole new world out there!
Courtney M Jones says
I just got finished listening to this interview and I’m very happy I found this website. I have self published 7 childrens picture books and I knew that I was missing something huge when it came to marketing, now I know what it is! The videos and not being afraid to show my face on video, lol! I’ve never been afraid to, I just didn’t realize that was such an important part of marketing. A big thanks for all the helpful information and advice! 🙂
Thank you for all the helpful tips and weblinks!
I know this might be outside your scope, but I am writing language learning books for a K-12 charter school for an endangered language. I was wondering if there was some kind of software that would allow me to design theme-styled scenes (i.e. “at the grocery store,” “in the classroom,” “shopping for clothes,” “dinner with family,” etc.) using graphics alongside texts rather than having to find an illustrator.
I have tried using images from the internet; however, there are file compatibility barriers, poor resolution due to resizing problems and issues with graphic consistency. Some graphics look so out of place that they distract from the lesson. Moreover, labeling the graphics so that they are aligned with the text is another challenge I haven’t mastered.
Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!
Great show. Loved listening to Katie cos she has a great sense of humour and knows about the children’s books. I am considering writing one)like all my other pipe dreams!) so it was interesting. There ought to be a kind of author’s academy out there to get new authors going cos it’s so daunting and you can quickly end up like a deer int eh headlights not really knowing what to do next.
These shows rule – where the hell do you find all the time do do all these different things. I think you must be the guy from the prestige who’s cloned himself and there’s all these different Joannas doing podcasts and giving courses and doing videos and writing novels and marketing the books. I don’t really think that – I’m not crazy! But I admire your organisation and hard work is what I’m saying.
I’m just cherry picking the shows I need from the menu and listening to them when I wash up. Sure makes the washing up go quicker which is good because I loathe it.
As well as the knowledge, it somehow imbues a bit more confidence to keep going with it all. So muchos gracias.
Joanna Penn says
Glad you enjoy the shows, David – and I wish I could clone myself, then I’d do a ton more 🙂 Happy washing up!
I’m sorry but “happy washing up” is an oxymoron!
but FWIW your shows are making it relatively much less irksome!
Rich Olson says
As a children’s book illustrator, I come across a lot of people who are trying to publish their first book. It’s a brave new world and you offer some great information and links. I would like to see more self publishers become successful and some have. They usually get picked up by big publishing companies only when they make it as a self publisher. There are some medium size publishers bridging the gap. They will pick up your picture book, print it, make ebooks, market it and get it into libraries and other venues. But all this cost you money and there is no guarantee of success. In time, the industry will get better and self publishers will have more control and greater success. Keep plugin’ along.
Rich Olson says
The SCBWI, which you have already put links to in your article, is by far the best, most professional source for both writers and Illustrators.