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The British Chapter of the SCBWI started it's 2013 Professional Series at St James's Church in Piccadilly with a focus on book marketing - what it means and how it's done.

In attendance were:

- Amber Caraveo, Editorial Director at Indigo, which is an imprint of Orion Publishing and publishes almost exclusively fiction.

- Jennifer McMenemy, a Marketing Executive at Orion Publishing who works on both the Indigo and Gollanz. As such, she deals with young adult, cross-over and 'grown up' science fiction, fantasy and horror titles working on media campaigns, YouTube videos, social media and community building and newsletters.

- Joanna Owen, a freelance marketeer who's lately been working with Noisy Crow on apps, campaigns for books aimed at children aged 0 - 12 and on establishing a strong trade presence.

Moderating the panel was SCBWI's very own Sally Poyton who (together with David Richardson) has put together the 2013 Professional Series and whose manuscript "Through Mortal Eyes" was long-listed for this year's The Times/Chicken House 2013 Children's Fiction Prize.


The session started with Sally putting to the panel a number of questions that had been raised on SCBWI's Yahoo Group. For the purposes of this report, I've summarised the questions in bold italics and underlined and summarised each panellist's opinion on the same.

What's the difference between marketing and publicity

Jennifer: Basically, publicity is what you get for free and marketing is what you have to pay for but they do crossover with each other. If you work in publicity then you're looking to pitch ideas for features and stories to newspapers, magazines and other media that tie in with the book while marketing works with advertising and looks at establishing partnerships with print media, e.g. SFX and Seventeen.

Amber: Marketing usually works closely with Publicity to see if they can get free content to sites, magazines etc and so increase a book's coverage.

What percentage (if any) of a book's acquisition is dependent on how commercial the manuscript is and how easy it will be to market?

Amber It really depends. If the writing is outstanding then I don't care how commercial it is or how easy it's going to be to market. For example, If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch (which will be released on 2nd May 2013) was purchased purely on the strength of its writing, without considering the commercial aspects. However such authors are few and far between and for other authors, commercialiaty does come into play, e.g. does the book have a great concept or a great story or does it speak to teenagers? Orion thinks about how many children/teenagers will love the idea and want to read it but won't think about marketing so much.

Jennifer: Where a book is likely to be a difficult sell we usually look at what the universal theme of the manuscript is and what the story boils down to so that we can make it more appealing.

Joanna It can be easier to sell/market high concept books that have a good hook (think elevator pitch) so that we can tell booksellers where it sits in their store. We need to get the book out to the key influencers in book buying, e.g. the librarians, independent booksellers and chain store book buyers.

Amber At Orion, Marketing will never tell Editorial that they can't buy something because it's not commercial. Part of the challenge of marketing is to come up with something unusual and unique.

Jennifer: You have to find what's core to the reader and what they care about.

Amber You do need to know about your market and what the readers of your market want, e.g. a common mistake is when authors refer to music that doesn't automatically appeal to younger readers.


What happens in meetings between Editorial and Marketing?

Amber We have cake! Apart from that, Orion's different to other publishers because the meetings are very editorially led and we talk about ideas for marketing books - some crazy, some workable.

Joanna Different publishers have different types of editorial/marketing meetings. Big publishing companies with big lists are typically more sales driven and will therefore want to analyse how many copies of the book are likely to be sold into different retail channels with some books being rejected if that paper analysis doesn't produce a good figure. Some publishers will also look to balance their lists so if your book is similar to something they've already got lined up then they're unlikely to want to acquire it.

Jennifer: At Orion, we do throw out a lot of ideas in our marketing/editorial meetings so it's a creative time and it's all about developing the best collective strategy.

Does everyone read the books being pitched before an acquisitions meeting?

Joanna Not always if we're at the point of acquisition but it depends on whether the editor is passionate about it. However I will normally read it before starting the marketing campaign.

Jennifer: If I'm working on a particularly dense science fiction title I'll normally ask the editor what I should be focusing on but I do normally read our fantasy titles and will ask editors about the commercial points.

How do publishers decide what their lead titles will be and who has the final say on that decision?

Amber The Managing Director has the most say in the decision but we all have input into it. I look at what books will benefit from the marketing spend and give the best rate of return on that spend, e.g. celebrity authors have, by virtue of being celebrities, done much of our work for us and so putting marketing spend behind them will bring more booksellers on side. That in turn will give us a return that we can use to support debut and other authors who will be less well known. We might spend on a book that's the start of a series in order to lead readers into the rest of the series but anything can happen.

Jennifer: If people are particularly passionate about a book then it can affect the decision on marketing spend but spending money isn't always the best way of selling a book. You need to differentiate between spend that will get the book into shops and spend that will get it out to readers. There are also things that you can't predict so you have to be flexible because backlist books can suddenly become big very quickly. You also need to look at what other books are coming out at the same time as a title that are similar to it because the campaigns for those similar books can also be used to boost your title's sales.

How important is social networking and self-promotion when you're acquiring debut authors?

Jennifer: The first thing I look at is Twitter, Tumblr and your blog. I'm looking to see if you're insane (in both a good and bad way) and what your following is like. You also need to engage with the community that you want to be part of.

Amber Publishing is a small world so you need to be careful of doing inappropriate things that cause problems and lead to gossip. Not everyone on-line is your friend and you should be aware that simply locking a Twitter feed or Facebook account doesn't protect you. The best rule is that if you don't have anything nice to say then say nothing. If we love the book then we'll buy it despite no social media presence but it does become more important if it's not such a great book. We want people who are prepared to engage.

Jennifer: I usually tell authors to figure out what their voice is on social media because it's going to become their public voice. Don't criticise other people's books and don't talk about books that you don't like. Do only what you're comfortable with but remember that your priority should be to make sure that your book is as good as possible.

Joanna Don't just talk about your book on your social media platforms.

Jennifer: Try not to come across as arrogant or condescending.

Who decides on book covers?

Amber At Orion it's the editors who decide but it will be different at different publishers. Usually an editor will brief the designer about what they're looking for and the position for it in the market. The designer then puts together some ideas, which will be shown to editorial, marketing and everyone else who'll give their input into it. The designer will then review the design and discuss with the editor. The author will have some input into the cover if they really hate what's being proposed.

Joanna Sometimes retailers will also have input into covers and want changes.


There followed questions from the audience which I'm not going to summarise in depth because I think that some things should remain for the benefit of those who get to go to these events. However I did think it worth noting the following:

Amber said that booksellers are getting fed up of trilogies and are increasingly asking for stand-alone novels but that this is very much a cyclical trend. The best approach is to write every book as if it's a stand-alone by giving it a beginning, a middle and an end so that it's a satisfying reading experience that resolves the central plot. Don't do cliffhanger endings because readers hate it - they feel as if they're being forced/manipulated into reading the next book.

Jennifer: said that this was different for adult epic fantasy titles.

Amber went on to say that you could have an overall arc where certain issues are left unresolved but it can't be the central point of the novel because readers will complain and won't buy the second book while retailers won't take a book that they know is the first in a trilogy or series.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Sally Poyton
Feb. 11th, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
Great post - Thanks Caroline! especially appreciated knowing that you had only just got back from the SCBWI Winter Conference in the US. It was a really interesting and inspiring evening.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )