What makes for a “successful” author – and what should I do online?

Being a children’s author, I want to do what I can to help promote my books and get my name out there. I know all too well that the children’s market is absolutely inundated with fantastic authors, illustrators and fabulous books. It is an exceptionally difficult genre to get into and competition is huge.

So what can one little person do to help their books be found in amongst hundreds of others on a shelf, or thousands of others online?

If you’ve stumbled across this post thinking I have an answer, then I’m sorry – I don’t. This is one of those ‘I’m having a musing session’ posts where the words floating behind my eyes leak out through the keyboard.

I follow a lot of children’s authors on various platforms and I am often somewhat in awe of their efforts and tend to downplay my own – as I am not a ‘proper’ writer, this is not my full-time job nor my main source of income, and I am a little (too) prone to treat my writing and my author activities as a hobby that I have happened upon.

My close friends tell me not to do this, as I have done a fair amount of work to get to where I am, and it’s not just landed upon me by complete chance. I have always wanted to write. From being a child to a teenager and through to an adult, that hasn’t left me. Whether or not I work in the industry is, they say, pretty irrelevant. At some point someone has read my writing and believed in it enough to publish – now three times over. It has not escaped me how incredibly fortunate I am that this has happened.

With the forthcoming release of a new book I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do to help spread the word. I’d like to say here, book selling and writing are commercial fields where money is, and should be, made. There is a huge amount of work that goes into the production of a book, from the author and it’s illustrator, publisher, designer, printer, packer, distributor, bookseller. All deserve to make a living out of the industry. But my primary aim is not to make a J.K. Rowling style killing out of my books (though, wouldn’t that be nice). I’d just really like to reach as many young readers as possible, share my stories and – hopefully – inspire a few to follow their own aspirations, however realistic they might seem at one time or another.

Some authors I have seen take part in blog-tours, gathering new readers by taking part in interviews. This sounds wonderful, and fun – which is always a bonus – I just need to figure out how to make the right contacts and hope some are interested!

Others I know are very good at posting extra bits about their books online – particularly on intsagram. This is, of course, easier for those uber-talented author-illustrators among us who can produce their own artwork… insta doesn’t quite lend itself as well to wordies like me. But, this also seems like a valid tack to take.

Facebook can be a brilliant way to get the word out about books – and, fortunately for me, the small following I have seems to consist of the right kind of people. Most seem genuinely interested and supportive, more than willing to share and recommend. I know many of my followers personally and that is a huge benefit, as their reactions and responses are genuine. I’m always intrigued when I receive a new follower and wonder how they know someone I know. This might be a bit more revealing about my small-town upbringing that I think, but I very much doubt I’ve reached the great heights of an individual buying and loving my book so much that they must seek me out on Facebook for more news and updates about my little white dog.

Mind you, you never know… if you are one of these – let me know.

Twitter I have never been quite so sure about. The immediacy of it, and therefore the transience of posts, make me inclined to think that there isn’t much to be gained from repeatedly bleating on about a new book. In all likelihood, the post will be in the abyss of most users’ feeds after about 30 seconds. I do still use Twitter though for author-posts as, if nothing else, it provides another searchable and index-able content stream to help with SEO and, so I’m led to believe, that pleases the Google-Lords.

I also, of course, have this blog, though I’m dubious as to how many people actually read it and are interested in my musings. Blog culture is something that I haven’t really become accustomed to, though I did for a few years follow a very funny and very humble blog about book selling which I really enjoyed reading. Simon at Big Green Books, thank you for that.

Writing of how many readers read this, and thinking about how many people engage with posts, I’m in two minds about looking at followers as a measure of success. Two thousand people could find and follow your post, but if not one of them is remotely inclined to read about you, read your books, or potentially buy one, those two thousand people are no more a measure of your success than the number of times someone stumbles over your name in a google search when they’re looking for someone else.

It’s difficult though not to get caught up in numbers, especially when there are so many talented people out there and you’re looking for just one teeny tiny slice of a big, big pie. It’s also hard if you are an innately competitive person like me, to whom numbers and contests and comparisons are like an irritating ear-worm – always in your head, whether you like it or not.

I suppose it comes down to how you measure success. Are you successful if you make a lot of money from writing? Probably.

Are you successful if you have tens of thousands of followers? Possibly.

Are you successful if you have three hundred or so well wishers, get to visit some local primary schools every now and again to read stories, have fun and play games? If you enjoy what you do – partly as a hobby, and partly as a ‘career’? If you find that you routinely surprise yourself because people enjoy your work?

I’m leaning towards yes…

Rachel

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