Dear EA, Children's writers are always urging each other to new heights of self-promotion--visiting schools, putting up a website, arranging bookstore signings, speaking at conferences, paying for bookmarks/postcards/stickers etc. etc. I've even heard the advice that first-time authors should spend their whole advance on self-promotion. Writers who don't want to do all this are seen as lazy or totally out of touch with reality. What's your opinion? How important is author self-promotion? And if a writer wants to spend some time on other things (say, writing, or possibly even having a life), which types of self-promotion are actually effective and which a waste of time and money?
In my experience, authors have to do a really fantastic job of self-promoting in order to make a real difference. But how many people are going to match the Bats at the Beach team?
I'm not an expert on this, though. I do know that your publisher will be so very happy with you if you are ready and willing to do the events that they suggest. That means:
a. Being really professional--on time, organized, with all your materials ready to go and no reliance on the venue to figure out projectors, power point, etc.
b. Being really time-conscious, especially in schools. They have a schedule to keep, so you do too.
c. Being really prepared and really entertaining. Don't know what sort of presentation is going to appeal to the age group you'll see? Figure it out!
d. Being really friendly and good-natured. Events almost never go just as planned. I once saw Peggy Rathman do a signing for which five people showed up. Did she get upset? Depressed? Snotty? Not for a second. That woman is graciousness personified. And you could see the relief and gratitude on the bookseller's faces.
e. Support your booksellers. Try not to suggest to schools that you can get them a better discount from your publisher while you're standing in front of the bookseller supplying the books. Or suggest that people patronize Amazon.com. Remember who got the snowball rolling for Harry Potter and Eragon and piles of other books: the people standing on sales floors, hand-selling. Try to make any pitch made within hearing of a bookseller helpful and appealing to them (even if the pitch is for an audience of kindergarteners). If you do it well, then when you're long gone, there will be people in that bookstore picking up your book and talking to customers about it.
When it comes right down to it, it's your writing career. Some people do manage to make a difference with their self-promotion, and others not so much. Part of this is personality, and part of it is wanting to be there. If you would really prefer to be at home in your bathrobe or even in a pit of radioactive scorpions rather than talking to children, don't let people you don't work for tell you you're falling down on the job.