Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FEATURED SWEETHEARTS - Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy (Blue Slip Media)

Texas Sweetheart Jessica Lee Anderson worked closely with our newest Featured Sweethearts on a campaign for her novel, BORDER CROSSING, and was impressed with Blue Slip Media. Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy are incredibly kind, generous, and have a lot of marketing wisdom to offer!


Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy launched Blue Slip Media, a children's book publicity and marketing agency, in 2009. Recent and current campaigns include publicity for BORDER CROSSING by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed), THE PILLOW BOOK OF LOTUS LOWENSTEIN by Libby Schmais (Delacorte), THE LIFE OF GLASS by Jillian Cantor (HarperTeen), and LEAVING GEE'S BEND by Irene Latham (Putnam). For over 15 years, they were the Associate Directors of Publicity for Harcourt Children's Books. At Harcourt, Barb and Sarah led notable campaigns for HOW I BECAME A PIRATE by Melinda Long and David Shannon, A COUPLE OF BOYS HAVE THE BEST WEEK EVER by Marla Frazee, EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles, and many other bestselling books for children and young adults. More information can be found on their their web site: www.blueslipmedia.com.


TXS: Could you tell us about Blue Slip Media, and how you got started?

BF: Sarah and I worked together at Harcourt Children's Books for over 15 years. We shared the position of Associate Director of Publicity--originally because we were filling in for each other during maternity leaves, but it grew to an arrangement that suited us personally and professionally. It was ideal to work part-time while our children were small, and we later found that sharing the job had many other benefits. We've come to say that two heads are better than one, and we truly believe it!

We opened Blue Slip Media in March 2009. It was really a natural progression of everything we'd been doing before then--partnering with authors in promoting their books.

TXS: What is something unexpected that you’ve gained from your marketing experience?

SS: After marketing and publicizing children's books for close to 20 years you'd think we'd have seen and done everything under the sun by now. But the fascinating thing that this kind of perspective gives us is the surprise that absolutely no two projects are the same. Each book and each author's backstory are completely unique. Sometimes we can explore avenues we're already familiar with, but each time we're in a new car and the view is completely different. Each book presents its own challenges and opportunities--which is no doubt why we still love doing this job so much even after all these years. Every book is fun and new and exciting!

TXS: You both work so well together—what are some ways that you support each other? How do you stay so organized?

BF: Thank you! We've definitely come to know each others' strengths and have benefited from them over the years. I tend to be more budget-oriented and I like Excel grids, so I'm often the one to pull back and fit the puzzle pieces together. Sarah is amazingly creative and is always making brilliant connections with people and books.

Because we shared the same desk, phone, and computer for so many years, we've become accustomed to passing information back and forth. It started with a notebook from the week's events, but now we share almost everything online.

SS: The best thing about working as closely as we do is being able to ask yourself a question about a particular nuance about a campaign and getting an answer back. Before jobsharing with Barb, I never had a job where a boss or coworker knew EXACTLY what I was talking about on any given project. Now, after 15+ years, I'm completely spoiled by it! I don't think I could do a job--any job--without her! (And she is 100% the reason why we stay so organized!)

TXS: Since many publishers have less marketing and publicity resources, what are some ways that authors can successfully promote their books?
BF: The first thing I'd recommend is to think locally--make sure your book is sent to local media (newspapers, radio stations, websites), your hometown newspaper, your college alumni magazines, etc. Most publishers are focused on the national level, and they may not know the smaller papers in your area. Get to know your local independent bookseller and children's librarians. Offer yourself as a resource--can you give a talk or workshop for a teen reading group? Can you do a craft or story hour with young children? You may even want to consider partnering with the local school's PTA or teachers to talk with kids in the classroom.

Secondly, use your own contact list--whether it's a Facebook group, a writer's group, or whatever--to help spread the word about your book.

Thirdly, I would recommend you broaden your network as much as possible, whether it's through social media or in person. Attend conferences when you can, talk to other authors, meet those in the field who can help you make connections.

SS: I agree completely with what Barb says. I'll just add a little note here about the importance of the personal touch. When you're reaching out to these local booksellers and librarians and teachers, take a minute to write a thank you note by hand and pop it in the mail after a particularly lovely conversation. Or bring a rose from your garden when you stop by to drop off your latest galley. The personal connections you make will help not just with this book but with each successive title you publish. It's well worth the extra effort to lay a solid foundation that you can build upon. In this fast-paced world filled with e-mails and mass mailings, the personal touch can really make you and your book stand out.

TXS: At the 2009 SCBWI annual conference in Los Angeles, you discussed niche marketing. Could you share a few tips about how to take advantage of niche market opportunities?

SS: Niche marketing and publicity are great ways to extend the reach of your book to an audience predisposed to love it. Think about the subject matter and setting of your book and then about what niche areas you might explore. If your book is historical fiction about the Alamo, for example, Texas media would be one niche publicity avenue to explore. Another would be organizations and groups interested in Texas history, in military history, in Mexican-American history, in Santa Anna, in Jim Bowie, and in Daniel Boone. Also publications, groups, and websites/bloggers interested in historical fiction.

Once you've identified the avenues you want to pursue, it's time to get on the computer and start researching. This can be a time consuming process, but it's worth the effort when you find that group with a newsletter that goes to 5,000 Alamo history buffs that would love to review your book and spread the word to their members. You have to be careful to check out the sites/groups you're uncovering in your searching: Are they current and active? Do they have a newsletter or website that could review your book? Can you find an email address of an editor or group president you can query first to assess their interest in your book? You should answer "yes" to all three of these questions in order to consider this group worthy of approaching.

Marketing is a little different than publicity. If you were interested in marketing your book to one or more of these niche areas, you might consider buying their group membership list and sending each member a postcard about your book. Or you could inquire about conventions dedicated to Alamo history buffs or any annual festivals held at the Alamo itself -- could you be a potential speaker at the event? Sell your books on site to visitors? Marketing tends to involve a bit more financial commitment than publicity might. You should definitely discuss any niche marketing ideas with your publisher to see if they are interested in pursuing them on your behalf. It's a good idea to talk about niche publicity with your publisher as well, to be sure you're working together instead of at cross purposes.

BF: A key thing to emphasize, when you do pursue niche opportunities, is that there are often both sales and publicity opportunities. Most publishers are happy to follow up on sales leads you provide them, but it's a good idea (as Sarah mentions above) to have a discussion about the best possible way before you proceed.

Thanks so much for letting us stop by the blog!



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  1. Great interview. Finding your niche and the groups in that niche is such a great idea. I loved your examples. Thanks.

  2. I thought the interview was so informative, too, Natalie! Thanks!