Writing for children – challenges and opportunities
Firstly, many thanks, Isabel, for inviting me your blog. I’m honoured to be the your first ‘guest’.
You gave me a free rein in terms of what to write about – and I thought it would be useful as a fellow children’s author to talk about both the opportunities and challenges we face reaching our readers in this new age of digital publishing.
As with so many authors I was over the moon when self-publishing came along. My first children’s book, a time travel adventure, The Secret Lake had been turned down by several publishers for being too ‘traditional’ and the ‘wrong length’ (too short) – yet I knew in my heart of hearts that if only children were able to judge it for themselves they would prove me right – and they did! Since its publication in late 2011 teachers, reading charities and librarians have praised it for its manageable length and for the story’s strong appeal to both girls and boys. I’ve now sold well over 6,000 copies (over half in print and the rest mostly on Kindle). It continues to sell consistently on Amazon and in local bookshops and is always my ‘best seller’ at signings and school visits. As I had suspected all along, our children still love a traditional adventure story and when I wrote it I felt that perhaps there weren’t enough of these around for 8-11 year-olds.
However, while self-publishing allowed me to clear my first major hurdle – by allowing me to make my story available for my target audience – I quickly realised I had a new challenge. Unlike authors writing for YA and adults, I couldn’t take advantage of the other key development in the digital age and market to my readers through social media. Age 13 is the lower limit for Facebook and Twitter – and for good reasons (though I’m pretty sure this rule is regularly flouted!). But even if my target audience of age 8-11 were reachable this way, they don’t hold the purse strings, so impulse purchases are generally out of the question! I did for a period try the alternative of targeting blogs and sites frequented by ‘parents’ but quickly ran out of steam as my comments and posts felt too close to a self-promotion feed, and this didn’t sit comfortably with me. Networking with children’s book bloggers has felt a more natural option and I do this sporadically – and I’ve had lovely reviews for my books from several of these. How many book sales this has led to it’s hard to say so I tend to view these as PR opportunities rather than getting hung up on whether I see a change in my print or Kindle sales.
While lack of access to my target audience frustrated me in my early days everything changed when I started doing book signings in local Waterstones and – most importantly – going into schools. It was then that I realised it was a case of swings and roundabouts. A key advantage that children’s authors have over writers of adult fiction is that we can reach our readers in huge numbers face to face – and in most cases make healthy sales at the same time. Naturally you need a good story to start with (which, of course, must be professionally edited and presented) and ideally you need an appealing website to refer bookshops and schools to at the outset. Beyond that it still takes a lot of organisation, self-belief and persistence to set up successful visits or bookshop signings – but where there is a will there is a way, and the rewards in seeing children’s reactions to your readings and answering their questions about your story and being a writer are priceless. The sales at the end of the day are simply the icing on the cake! I happen to write across a range of age groups so have on many occasions spent a whole day in a school and presented my books across all of their intakes – exhausting but hugely rewarding!
There isn’t space here to go into the many tips I have for approaching bookshops and schools but if you head over to my marketing tips page at selfpublishingadventures.com you’ll find lots of information.
To read more about my school visits also see my author website at kareninglisauthor.com