Running a Successful Debut Pre-Order Campaign by Abi Cushman

I’m thrilled to have Abi Cushman, author-illustrator of SOAKED!, on the blog today to talk pre-order campaigns. Take it away, Abi!

As a debut author/illustrator, running a pre-order campaign for your book can seem like a daunting task. How can you make a difference when you’re just a regular person? Here’s what I—a very introverted, extremely un-famous, generally sweatpants-wearing person—did for my pre-order campaign.

Connect with a Local Indie

I love signed books. So when my book’s cover and description got released to retailers (about 9 months before the pub date), I reached out to my local independent bookstore, Bank Square Books, to see if they’d be willing to let me sign stock when it came out.

Their response was even better. They asked if I wanted to work on a pre-order campaign with them, and they created a special page on their website for the signed version of my book. That made it incredibly easy to share the link with everyone on social media. I also really lucked out because Bank Square Books offers free media mail shipping, and that was a huge incentive for my friends and family who were accustomed to free shipping on Amazon.

A few tips about partnering with your local indie:

● Support and get to know the store by actually shopping there (or these days, ordering online and picking it up)

● Email the store and introduce yourself and your book. You can link to your book via their online store so they can see more details. (It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Don’t link to Amazon in your correspondence with the bookstore.)

Connect with People Close to Home

The thing about being a debut author-illustrator is that no one knows you or your books. EXCEPT of course, all your friends and family, your old classmates at school, your mailman, your neighbors, your parents’ friend’s friend, the skunk that lives under your front porch, the person you pass jogging every evening… you get the picture. And the thing is, everyone loves a great local success story. Writing a book and getting it published is a huge accomplishment, and you’d be surprised how many people come out of the woodwork to cheer you on.

These are the channels I found most effective to share news about my book with local people:

● Facebook. Yes, I know a lot of you don’t want to be on Facebook. BUT- the fact of the matter is that a lot of people you know personally are on Facebook. When people commented on my book news posts asking where to buy the book, it was easy to give them that special pre-order link from Bank Square Books.

● LinkedIn. This surprised me actually because up until recently, I didn’t think anyone used LinkedIn. I decided to create an account a few months ago after reading a marketing book for authors which couldn’t recommend LinkedIn enough. And what I found was that a lot of people I knew who weren’t on Facebook did have accounts on LinkedIn. I also connected with other authors, illustrators, librarians and bloggers.

● E-Newsletter. I started an e-newsletter about a year before my pub date. I was able to share regular updates about the book and provide my subscribers with the special pre-order link. E-newsletters are valuable because in general, people who are subscribed are genuinely interested in you and your book, and you can communicate with them directly.

● Local newspapers. I really lucked out in this respect because I happened to know a local reporter who then interviewed me and did a great feature in the regional newspaper a couple days before my book’s release. It was great publicity, and it directed people to my local indie. Even if you don’t know a reporter personally, I definitely recommend reaching out to a local reporter and either pitching them a story or sending them a press release. Newspapers are always looking for heartwarming local interest stories.

Oh hey! There’s me in the rain headlining the Arts & Entertainment section of my local paper.
It’s one of the few times this year I didn’t wear sweatpants. In fact, my two-year old son didn’t
even recognize me in this picture.

Connect with Book People Far and Wide

I love the kidlit community. Even though I’ve never met many of them in real life, I’m so thankful for the friendships I’ve made over the past few years with other book people. And since we all understand the challenges of writing, illustrating and getting published, everyone is so supportive of one another. Certainly, many of them supported me and pre-ordered my book. Here’s how I connected with other book people:

● Twitter. I like Twitter because there are a lot of agents, editors, authors, illustrators, librarians and teachers on there. And it’s easy to make connections with them by commenting on their tweets and joining the discussion. If you’re not sure where to start or who to follow, check out Twitter chats such as #pbchat on Wednesdays and #kidlitart on Thursdays.

● Debut group. One of the first things I did after my book deal was announced on Publishers’ Weekly was join a debut group called The Soaring 20s. We are a group of authors and illustrators who all have (or had) our first picture book come out in 2020. Not only did we create a solid bond, we were also able to join forces to boost each other’s books, review them, suggest them to our local libraries, and pitch panels to educator conferences. For more info on debut/book marketing groups, sign up to the Soaring20s newsletter to get a free guide here: https://www.soaring20spb.com/newsletters

● Storyteller Academy. I took the inaugural Storyteller Academy course with Arree Chung back in 2016. Not only did I learn about the craft of creating stories, I also found a community of motivated and enthusiastic authors and illustrators. A few days before my pub date, Arree offered to run a promo for my book to his email list. It provided a huge boost to my pre-order campaign.

● SCBWI. I’ve been attending the New England SCBWI Conference every year since 2016. It’s a great way to solidify the friendships I’ve made online and to meet new book people. In 2019, I attended a workshop with Mr. Schu. Based on the books he shared in the workshop, I thought he might also like SOAKED!, so I emailed him and asked if he’d host a cover reveal for me on his blog. Not only did he agree, he also added my book to his 2020 Books I Love Presentation. My cover reveal really helped introduce SOAKED! to a much larger audience.

What about Swag?

For my pre-order campaign, the only swag I made was stickers (and I also included a postcard because I happened to have some).

1,000 2×2 inch stickers from uPrinting.com cost about $70

But I viewed the stickers more as a token thank you gift for my early supporters. To me, the greater incentive to pre-order through my local indie was the fact that the book would be personalized, doodled in, and signed. I’m not convinced a large number of people decided to pre-order my book simply because they’d get stickers with it, but they were fun to make nonetheless.

The Result?

My local indie was thrilled with my pre-order campaign. They actually sold out of my books when I came in to sign the day before my pub date. I brought my author copies to sub in while waiting for their new shipment to arrive. I went in later in the week to sign again. And because I had mentioned on social media and my e-newsletter that there was another window of opportunity to get a signed copy, the bookstore got another flood of orders and actually sold out of their second shipment of books. I was at the store for a total of nine hours that week signing books.

The second time this year I didn’t wear sweatpants.
Getting nervous because I was running out of dresses.

So if you’re like me and prefer to sit in your sweatpants writing or making art, take heart in knowing that a lot of the legwork for creating an effective pre-order campaign can be done in the comfort of your own home. (After all, I was able to do it in the middle of a pandemic.) And yes, you will have to put yourself out there a little bit, but if you take it step by step and start early, it makes it a lot more manageable. And before you know it, you’ll be back in your sweatpants in front of your computer writing a blog post about your successful pre-order campaign!

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of Soaked! (Viking, 2020) and the forthcoming Animals Go Vroom! (Viking, 2021). She has also worked as a web designer for the past 15 years and runs two popular websites of her own: MyHouseRabbit.com, a pet rabbit care resource, and AnimalFactGuide.com, which was named a Great Website for Kids by the American Library Association. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids. For freebies, sneak peeks and wombats, join her email list. You can also connect with her on Twitter at @AbiCushman, Instagram at @Abi.Cushman, or her website at AbiCushman.com.

If you enjoy my blog and want to connect with me (Laura), you can find me on Twitter and Instagram!

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