Inclinations, limitations, gatekeepers and censors – marketing YA

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Writing a novel and getting it published is just the beginning. Hosted by Annie Collins (a final year student in the RMIT Associate Degree of Professional Writing and Editing), the YA Marketing Panel at RMIT University involved Susannah Chambers (Commissioning Editor for Children and YA at Allen & Unwin), Susan La Marca (Head of Library and Information Services at Genazzano FCJ College in Melbourne and Associate Editor of Viewpoint, a journal devoted to YA reviews) and Fay Helfenbaum (Bookseller at Avenue Bookstore and Committee Member at Children’s Book Council of Australia, Victoria) chatting about promotion in schools and bookshops, as well as marketing to, and attempts at censorship by, gatekeepers (including addressing the mind-blowing audience question about what authors should avoid putting in their work, in order to ensure their books make it to the shelves). Here are a few highlights from the session.

Questions for Susannah:
What is the difference between marketing YA and marketing adult works?

When marketing for YA, you are also marketing for the gate-keepers: the librarians, parents and school teachers.

Do authors take the marketing reins at some point?

The level of marketing is determined by the type of book. There is usually a 3-month campaign prior to publication. Marketing is a collaboration, which sees the publisher and author working together.

Would you re-market earlier lesser-received novels, if subsequent novels are successful?

Yes. This may involve a new jacket, or a new pitch. Movie tie-ins are examples of re-marketing.

Are literary agents involved in marketing?

Literary agents stay connected to the authors, but it is not part of their job to market to the public (their job is to market to the publisher).

Do you use the author as the brand, or the book?

Publishers try to build author brands, rather than a single book brand, as they hope to achieve longevity with an author. There are challenges with the author brand, which include a long time between books (2 years), changing age group or genres.

Question for Nicole:

Can you talk about your experience with marketing your novel?

Nicole received a 12-page document which contained general expectations about her involvement in the marketing process. She met with her publicist 3 months before her book came out, which gave her publicist the opportunity to sound Nicole out regarding what contacts she had in the media (she had none), time limitations and what she felt comfortable doing. The information pack Nicole received was helpful, but other things came up along the way, including the importance of finding a marketing hook (her work came out in the middle of the football season, but Nicole pushed for publicity during the finals and the women’s round).

Susannah mentioned that Allen & Unwin have a marketing guide freely available via the author resources page of their site.

Can you talk about your experience at school events?

Nicole found the process tricky at first, as it was hard for her to get into an agency. Nicole has a background teaching workshops, so her favourite part of marketing is taking part in interactive events. She is passionate about discussions on building and developing strong female YA characters. Nicole recommended that authors should be prepared to listen to what the students talk about, to make their presentation interactive, and to get the students to do something in order to make them feel more engaged.

Questions for Fay:

Do you encourage authors to host book launches and author signings at your store?

An independent store, Avenue Bookstore supports local authors. Author signings and book launches can have a positive impact on the author, as the store staff may be more inclined to recommend the author’s book to customers.

Do authors or agents approach you for in-store launches?

Both. It depends on the size of the book. Well-known authors are usually represented by the publicist, but lesser-known authors tend to approach directly. Lesser-known authors also tend to be more flexible with time.

Questions for Susan:
How effective are school library author visits?

An author visit to a library won’t result in hundreds of sales, but it will gain interest. Genazzano FCJ College author visits are usually structured around an event (a literary festival or a book club event).

How would an author secure a school event?

Securing an event at Genazzano FCJ College is difficult, because Susan normally sources authors through speaker agencies. She does not have time to research authors, so she contacts people and organisations she trusts. If a book has become popular, she will seek out the author. Generally, she won’t put a new speaker at a large event until they’ve done a smaller group, such as a book club. Susan looks for authors who do more than just talk and promote their book.

How can authors get their books on the shelf?

Write a good one. Genazzano FCJ College aims to have a collection with a broad representation. Susan reads reviews and talks to people in the industry to gain recommendations.

How can authors get their book on the school reading list?

This is dependent on the needs of the year level. The selected books are usually ‘meaty’ literary texts that can be heavily dissected. Often a book is selected to maintain balance with other books across year levels, to ensure there is balance between Australian/international titles, history, or sad/uplifting titles. Teachers do have a say with what goes on the booklist, but the head of the curriculum can override any decisions. As part of her role, Susan makes booklist recommendations.

Faye remarked that some schools, particularly public schools with low budgets, often call the bookstore to ask for recommendations for their booklists.

Audience questions

What is the role of parents in marketing?

Nicole’s readership is primarily 13-15 year olds. As they don’t have their own discretionary money, Nicole is primarily marketing towards the parents. Nicole pointed out that marketing was not on her mind when she wrote the book.

Susan said that parents don’t influence the choices made at the beginning of book selections, but they have, on occasion had books challenged by parents. The spectrum of conservative to liberal parents is broad.

Are authors paid for school appearances?

Nicole makes more money from school appearances than she has so far from the publication of her book. Promoting her book has been hard work. She has donated her time to lower-end schools.

Can Susan give an example of a challenged text, so I know what to avoid including in my own work?

Susan described a recent example of a parent who protested the portrayal of a homosexual relationship in a positive light (the parent had said they wouldn’t have had a problem with the text if the relationship was portrayed negatively). Susan is amazed that parents don’t complain about violence, but will complain about sex or bad language. Susan said if it is a good book, then she will stand up for it and fight for it.
Susannah urged authors not to self-sensor, as you’ll never be able to please everyone, and you’ll make your book worse.
Nicole said you have to be free to write the book you want to write.