Happy New Zealand Book Week, everyone! This week, The Read investigates the relationship between children’s booksellers and children’s authors and illustrators, and how they are working together to promote New Zealand children’s books.
Thank you to Annemarie from Storytime in Whangarei, John McIntyre from The Children's Bookshop, Mary Sangster from the Original Children's Bookshop, and authors Kyle Mewburn, Mandy Hager, Philippa Werry and Catherine Robertson, as well as those not quoted, for responding to our questions during this busy time.
Book launches and events
The primary way booksellers and authors/illustrators work together to promote books is through book launches, readings, signings and other events. The trick, as always, is to do them well. Annemarie Florian from Storytime says: “Timing is always key: it’s no use staging events during school hours, for example. Similarly, we try to ensure we get the word out to customers, particularly those we know to have an interest in the specific author or genre. We always look for a 'hook' that succinctly says what the event is about, and try to work with other community groups. For Matariki this year we ran a workshop where the children made lanterns that contained their wishes for the community, which were then hung in the tree at dusk. It was pretty spectacular.
What’s in it for booksellers? John McIntyre of The Children’s Bookshop Wellington says: “If an author tells us they’re writing a book the first thing we say is ‘can we have the launch’. At times it is up to five years later, but they work well for us, and for the author/illustrator. We get a range of friends and family attending who may not have heard of us, so we get profile, and the till is open so they often buy other books while they are here. We also exhort the attendees to buy the book, and to then go out as advocates, and spread the word to their networks. A good launch could get their book onto the bestseller charts.”
The line inside The Children's Bookshop Wellington for Andy Griffiths earlier this month.
The McIntyres also get involved with publicity tours. “We work with publicists to manage their entire Wellington programme if we can. We will pick schools that suit the author and that support us, often get two or three surrounding schools to attend as well, and collect the author and publicist, drive them around for the day, and drop them at the airport. We can do up to three school visits a day, and a signing in the store if the author will draw a crowd. We arrange pre-sales, on-the-day sales, and leave a discount voucher valid for a month on that author’s books.”
Events with a well-defined audience that are effectively marketed can be hugely successful. Mary Sangster from The Original Children’s Bookshop says: “We recently had Andy Griffiths in the shop and had one 11-year-old raving and saying that it was the best day of his life. With Jacqueline Wilson we had a queue that went nearly all the way around the block, but another author who decided to pop in one time and whom I won’t name, sat in the sun in the front of the shop for two hours. He had not one single visitor and had a snooze. His reaction – he had a lovely time and could he come back?!”
What works for authors
One of the best things booksellers can do to work with authors is simply to get in touch with them. Author Barbara Else says: “I’m very aware that booksellers are busy people and I’m wary of pushing in. I’m fairly shy so I can be reluctant to make any approach.”
Events can also be really risky. Else continues: “After I did a bookshop reading from The Warrior Queen on the first day of the Winnipeg Writers’ Festival, thirty people rushed the counter to buy a copy (somebody counted). The Festival had ordered only five copies. Five. In total. And I had three more performances to do in Winnipeg. I went cross-eyed with having to be a grown-up. But anything I’ve done at The Children’s Bookshop with the marvelous Ruth and John McIntyre has been great fun and sold plenty of copies.”
Many authors I spoke to had horror stories about events gone wrong. Fleur Beale says: “Several years ago a bookshop in a rural town arranged a book signing to which nobody came.” Pippa Werry reports: “I once spent an excruciatingly embarrassing hour in a bookshop while on tour for the NZ Post Book Awards. A bookshop signing session had been written into the programme, but in retrospect that was a bad idea - at 3pm, people are rushing their kids round other places, not going to a bookshop! And nobody came in except a few people who didn’t know who I was.”
New Zealand Society of Authors President Kyle Mewburn says: “Unfortunately promoting books can be a bit of a hit and miss affair. I've done in-store readings and launches, tours of schools and even Teddy Bears Picnics. I also help out by ensuring my titles are correctly arranged in the shelves.”
Happily, there are also lots of stories about events that went well. Nikki Slade-Robinson (pictured right with her latest book) says: “I'm an illustrator and author so I can offer booksellers ready-made promotional material that they can photocopy and use in competitions, to occupy kids during holidays etc. Once we filled a library with about 60 kids and some very kind hairdressers from Katz in Whakatane when we launched a book about crazy hair... that was fun!”
Mewburn says: “I had a fun week promoting my Dinosaur Rescue series in Auckland schools with John Graham of PaperPlus. I built a time travel helmet and created a powerpoint which included a dinosaur quiz.”
Werry reports: “Brooklyn School runs a book evening every two years called Appetites, with a different panel of speakers each time, and Murray from Millwood Gallery has been great at bringing books along to sell. Hedleys in Masterton started Yarns in Barns and that's also a great occasion for connecting with readers (and hopefully selling a few books).”
Mandy Hager (left) says: “In Hamilton this year I was made very welcome by both the lovely ladies at Books For Kids (Helen and Anne), who organised a very convivial author signing there one afternoon. I can honestly say whenever I have had dealings with NZ bookshop owners it has only ever been really positive - how could they not be lovely people when they love books?”
As well as events, authors/illustrators and booksellers can help each other out with cross-promotion, especially in terms of digital marketing.
Werry says: “I'm on the NZSA National Council, and we've set up a facebook page for NZ Book Week so I've been posting a lot on that. We've been encouraging people to send in photos of their Kiwi bookshelves and have had a good response, with some great pictures. During NZ Book Week itself, we're hoping that people will continue to share their book reviews and recommendations for NZ books online.”
Helen Wadsworth from The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop says: “We advertise events through our Facebook page and e-newsletter and posters in local schools. We also follow the authors on social media and share their posts on Facebook.”
Author and reviewer Catherine Robertson (right) says: “I will be submitting a special review round-up to the NZ Listener of only New Zealand self-published or indie-published books. It won't get printed in time for NZ Book Week, but won't be far off!”
Events for kids this NZ Bookshop Day
There’s loads going on this Saturday – here’s what some of New Zealand’s children’s bookshops are up to.
Mary Sangster from The Original Children’s Bookshop: “We have colouring competitions running and we are putting more focus on NZ authors (which means we put NZ titles into 95% of the customers’ hands, not our normal 90%). On NZ Bookshop Day we have Jenny Cooper and Helen Taylor in store ‘working’ and a local librarian, Zac McCallum, doing storytime. We are using a Halloween theme and have the shop window decked out with witches, spider webs and jack o’ lanterns. There’s even a broomstick-only parking area.” (pictured below)
Kelly Shepherd of Storytime: “On Saturday for Bookshop Day we are encouraging our young customers to help us build a magical cubby house. We have invited local authors, teachers, and librarians to read throughout the day to children visiting our Reading Cubby. Throughout Book Week we are celebrating that Storytime is ‘Your (childhood) place, your bookshop’ by reminding our customers young and old of their favourite storybooks (in-store displays and dress up as your favourite story character competition), their favourite childhood reading spots (an in-store tally that ties into a national photo competition) and their favourite bookshop (in-store display of shop icons and memories).”
Helen from The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop: “We're having a day full of events on NZ Bookshop Day in keeping with the Halloween theme: scary story reading with local author Melinda Szymanik; a ghostly book launch with Sue Copsey (her second book about young NZers and their adventures is Ghosts of Tarawera); and the authors of a great cookbook for kids Piggy Pasta are coming to do some Halloween-themed food. As well as this we're using Fifi Coulston's book Ghoulish Get-ups as inspiration to help customers pimp their Halloween costumes with witchy fingernails and squirty warts.”
The Children’s Bookshop Wellington is celebrating New Zealand Bookshop Day by hosting a tenth birthday party for Gecko Press, including two book launches. They will also hold a Meet the Author event with Paul Beavis, Juliette MacIver, Ruth Paul, Philip Webb and Fleur Beale.
To conclude, here’s a pro tip for a successful booky event from Robertson: “I can tell you that it doesn't go well at a book launch if you thank your children but forget to thank your husband. Explaining that he was behind a pillar and you couldn't see him is not a valid excuse.”
Happy New Zealand Book Week and New Zealand Bookshop Day! We look forward to hearing your stories.