Sally Murphy is a Western Australian poet and author of children’s and educational books. She is also a teacher, book reviewer and mother of six. Pearl Verses the World is her twenty eighth published title.
I asked Sally about promotion, starting with the challenge of promoting her work in a town of less than 1000 residents…
Welcome Sally. You live in a small West Australian town. Do you see any benefit, tangible or otherwise, in promoting your work locally?
The benefit of promoting locally is that when people know an author in person, they are more likely to seek out and buy the books. So, yes, there’s a tangible benefit – promoting locally can and does lead to sales of my books. There’s also a less tangible benefit. When people know that I’m an author, they tend to be supportive and interested in my work. This doesn’t just make me feel good about myself (which is nice, of course) but also helps keep me writing. When people ask about my writing, and know I’m an author, then that’s motivating to keep writing, so I can honestly say I am an active author.
Having said that, there is a risk of over promoting. I live in a town of less than a thousand people. To be constantly advertising my books to them, or trying to handsell to them would lead, I think, to author fatigue. I’m particularly aware of that in my local school – where I also teach one day per week. I want t the students to be excited by my books, so that their love of reading grows, rather than jaded by over-exposure to me. So, I try to use my books and my writing only as a special thing rather than a regular part of classes.
Some of the things I have done locally to promote my books include running writing workshops, talking a Rotary Club dinner, and presenting at our local Young Writers’ Festival.
What’s the most rewarding promotion activity you’ve been involved in? The least rewarding?
Most rewarding – school and festival visits. I love talking to (and with) kids about my books, and about reading and writing. I am a bit of a performer, and although I get nervous, I get a real adrenalin rush and tend to be very energetic in my presentations. I love drawing kids in with readings, telling them stories about my life and the writing life, and responding to their questions. I love walking through a school or festival and hearing a child say ‘there’s Sally murphy’ like I’m someone famous. It makes me feel valued – and keeps me doing what I do.
I honestly can’t think of a least rewarding activity. I tend to think of any promotion being good promotion – even if you don’t always see the benefits instantly. If it gets your name out there and tells people about your books, then it is probably good.
Does ‘rewarding’ equal ‘successful’ in promotion?
Not necessarily. I’ve mentioned things like school visits which are really rewarding. But it isn’t easy to measure whether these have been successful in terms of generating sales. The reward comes from knowing you’ve inspired or motivated children, or, if you conduct writing workshops, seeing the children working hard to produce something.
In fact (and I’m drifting towards the next question here, I know), it is hard to measure the success of most promotional activities, but you can know whether they were rewarding in terms of gaining feedback, intrinsic motivation and so on.
How do you measure the success or otherwise of a promotional activity?
As I’ve just said, it is hard to measure success. I suppose the true measure might be in whether a promotional activity results in increased sales. Unfortunately, for the most part, sales figures only come once or twice a year (with royalty statements) and so it is hard to know which sales were the direct result of a particular promotional effort. Mostly, I think good sales figures will be an indication that the combined promotional efforts for that book have worked – but can also be in part a sign of whether your name is becoming known and people are seeking out all of your books.
There are, however, times when you can measure success more directly, through sales figures. If you present at a festival or conference you can usually see the sales figures tied to that event – either by studying your royalty statement when you get it, or by speaking to the booksellers at that event.
When I promote online using my blog, I use my stat counter to track whether a particular activity has resulted in more hits (visits) to my blog. Stat counters also allow you to see where visitors came from and where they went after visiting your site, so you can see, for example, if they go from your blog to an online bookstore.
Does emotional success of an activity always equal the more tangible book sale success?
No. Some events will result in lots of good feedback, back slapping, nice emails and so on – but few book sales. And I have had the experience of working hard to promote a book, and getting good feedback, but that book not selling its initial print run. The problem there was that I was working to promote it (as was the publisher) but there were problems with distribution. All the promotion in the world won’t lead to sales if people can’t find the book in bookstores. That was really disheartening.
You are developing quite a body of work, which will increase in the next year or so with several more works in production. Are you feeling a change in the way you promote…promoting yourself as an author rather than promoting an individual project? Or is your promotion project-based? How do the two approaches differ? How much do you feel they overlap?
A body of work – I like the sound of that. Pearl Verses the World is my twenty eighth title, but with many of those 28 being educational titles, and Pearl and my forthcoming titles all being trade titles, there is a shift happening in the way I promote. I haven’t tended to promote my educational titles very much, because these are generally hand sold as series straight into schools. There is little point promoting them to the general public as they can’t easily access them.
My previous trade titles – Doggy Duo (2003), The Floatingest Frog (2004) and Pemberthy Bear (2006) came out far enough apart for me to really need to promote each title by itself, although certainly with the second and third I was also still promoting the earlier titles. Now I have four more titles coming out in the next two years, and I find that promoting myself as an author is really important so that all my books benefit – backlist, current titles, and forthcoming. So, I try to keep my name ‘out there’ as much as possible – through my blog and website, through contributing to newsletters, through school and festival visits and so on. I want people to be looking forward to reading the next book by Sally Murphy, and to be seeking out my past titles.
At the same time, each new title needs and deserves its time in the sun. At the moment, for example, the majority of my promotional efforts are going to promote Pearl Verses the World because it is brand new and exciting and I want to give it the best shot at success that I can. It’s also important that the uniqueness of each title is recognised. The way I promote Pearl, which deals with some serious topics, will differ from the way I’ll promote my Christmas picture book, Snowy’s Christmas, later in the year.
The two do overlap because every time I promote a book I am still promoting myself as an author. You just need to look at this interview as an example – this interview is part of my blog tour to promote Pearl Verses the World, but I have talked about several of my other titles and LOTS about myself, too. Talking about any one book requires a look at the writing process and myself as author, which in turn does promote my body of work.
Promotion often requires an author to step outside their comfort zone. How do you manage any nervousness when promoting your work in person? Is promoting on line more comfortable?
I think nerves are a good thing. I use the nervous adrenalin to fuel my presentations. I find if I’m not a little bit nervous then I feel flat, and wonder if that shows in my presentation. Having said that, being over-nervous can be damaging, so I try to keep calm by being organised, dosing myself with Rescue Remedy (a Bach Flower remedy for nerves and trauma) and some deep breathing.
Promoting online can be comfortable because you don’t have to face people in person and you can often do things at your own pace. Online promotion is also very convenient for me because I live in the country.
What promotional activities have you planned for Pearl?
Most of my promotional activities for Pearl are online and centred around my blog. I am aiming to post something new on my blog every day this month, focussing on poetry in all its forms. This blog tour, spanning ten days, is also a key part of trying to build some interest in the book. A fellow author, Kathryn Apel, is joining forces with me to run a verse challenge on both our blogs. I’ll use my blog also to link to reviews and interviews so people can keep in touch with any publicity (hopefully there’ll be some).
The wonderful publicity people at Walker Books have also been busy sending out review copies to newspapers, magazines, websites, radio stations and so on. As a result of this Pearl is being featured in an article in Practically Primary magazine next month. Walker have also produced wonderful teacher’s notes (which I contributed to) and a letter to teachers and librarians. These will be available on my website and Walker’s website, as well as at conferences and so on.
In person, I have school visits coming up, where I’ll promote Pearl alongside my other books. I am also presenting at the Corrigin Young Writers’ Festival alongside Matt Ottley, and am looking at officially launching Pearl there.
Hopefully all these things will get Pearl noticed and out there.