Still More about Adirondack Kids Series — Successful Children’s Book Self-Publishing

And now, to conclude my online interview of Adirondack Kids series author, Gary VanRiper, I asked …

Me: Do you have a particular technique in terms of marketing and promotion that has worked really well for you?

Gary: Wow. So much could be said on the subject of marketing and promotion. It should be understood by every self publisher that actually getting your book into print is easy compared to getting it before your potential readers. You are competing with hundreds of new releases in your genre each year, along with thousands of titles already on the shelves. Authors must be willing to pound the pavement. Use of the internet (i.e. a website, Facebook, twitter) and fashioning an inexpensive press kit are places to begin.

What distinguishes your book from all the others out there? Be prepared to tell people!

Apart from our website, press kits and bookmarks (which cost fractions of a penny each being printed on the edges of stock normally cut off and thrown away when our covers are printed) we have spent very little on advertising. When we do book signings, we do not depend on the bookstore manager who has graciously allowed us to appear to market for us. WE call the local press – newspapers, radio and television, and consider anything the bookstore manager does toward promotion as extra.

Regarding the press – DON’T just think book reviews. The results for us over the years have been feature stories in print and on television. One news story was syndicated and we heard from people out-of-state. Shows with segments about us have been rerun. I also host a segment on a regional television show and once a year see below:

To celebrate our 10th anniversary this year, there is planned an Adirondack Kids day for fans with a lake cruise on the Fulton Chain of Lakes where most of our stories are set. Our illustrators and book designers will be on board as well. There will also be a 10-year art retrospective at the region’s at Center featuring all of the original cover art and many of the interior illustrations. And the local theater will run an Adirondack Kids Happy 10th Anniversary slide before each film. Be creative with your marketing! Get out and embrace your readers while cultivating new ones. No one is going to be a better sales person for your books than you.

Me: I’m assuming you are able to turn a profit with Adirondack Kids, or you wouldn’t have been going for 10 years. Would you describe your profits as ‘barely breaking even’ or ‘part-time pay for a full-time worth of effort’ or are you earning substantial money?

Gary:When we began our self-publishing venture we were pretty much working in a vacuum.

Our first reference point 10 years ago was our experienced regional distributor who told us if we printed 1,000 copies of our first book and they sold in about a year, we would be doing extremely well. It would be in effect – a regional best seller. To keep the cost per copy down, we decided to print 2,000 copies of our first book, thinking that number would likely last us several years. But they were sold out in about three months!

Our second reference point was a few months later at a children’s writer’s conference. A panel of publishers from NYC fielded questions and I asked what a good number of sales for any book would be on national level. We were told that 5,000 – 10,000 copies would be a good number for the average book – for the lifespan of the book! By that time we were already plowing through our reprint and moving in on 5,000 copies sold of our first book and in the first year – in a small region. And so I asked what our incentive would be to pursue traditional publishing – reasoning that they were only able to sell 5,000 copies of the average book on a national level for a book’s lifespan and with established reputations and dedicated sales forces and catalogues and marketing experts and a distribution system – while we were already on target to sell 5,000 books in a year in a small region with none of those advantages.

We were told we were an exception to the rule and then one panelist asked me, “Do you want to write books or sell books?” The implication? I should leave the business end of things to the publisher and simply write. But at that same conference I spoke with several national authors and asked them how they made a living. One national author with 25 children’s books under her belt told me her royalties each year were the least dependable source of her income and there was no way she could make a living on royalties alone. She said she had to do speaking engagements (such as that very conference!) and find other ways to supplement her income in order to make ends meet. So it quickly became apparent to us that unless you were a JK Rowling, even with the full support of a traditional publisher, most writers still needed to pound the pavement.

We are glad we took the path we did, establishing Adirondack Kids Press to launch our own series and it has now grown into a small company. Our worst-case scenario on a book sale is more than $4.00 per copy sold, and we are selling on average more than 10,000 copies in the series every year. With speaking engagements, we could make a full-time living at it now, but I am a pastor and still feel that is my primary calling. On my “days off”, Carol has me speaking in schools and at conferences across the state of New York, and each summer we do an Adirondack Kids Book Tour. And we are still only writing one book per year. So for us, it has been wonderful pay for part-time work. Revenue is helping Justin with college expenses, allowing us to expand the company and we are able to do things as a family we would never have been able to do otherwise, such as support three children in Zambia through World Hope International. In fact, this spring when we travel to Africa, we are hoping to meet them!

Me: Well you make a good point that even very successful authors still end up spending quite a bit of time selling their books. They aren’t just holed up writing them. One of my favorites, Laurie Halse Anderson, described her normal work day as having a time period that she dedicates to just writing and creating and another portion of her day is spent on the business and marketing side of being an author. So I believe it’s safe to say, that both self-published and traditionally published authors should plan on spending time both writing books and selling books.

Finally Gary, I want to say thanks for taking the time to share all this with the readers. I’m sure you have sparked many ideas for children’s writers, self-publishers and other readers with what you’ve shared here.

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