To Market, To Market

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 15, 2009

Marketing departments at publishing houses have a daunting task, figuring out how to use shrinking budgets to create promotional materials that are actually effective for the publisher and useful to the bookseller. So what works? What do we love seeing in our bookstores? What gets tossed out without a further glance? Whereas a centralized bookselling corporation may have one buyer to please, indies range in size, scope, and individual buyer preferences.

Here are a few do’s and don’t’s Josie and I have put together from our perspective. Other booksellers’ mileage may vary, and we hope the comments section will fill up with feedback that helps you hardworking publishing folks. (Note: the format makes this post sound really bossy—Do this! Don’t do that!—but of course nothing in publishing and retail is that black-and-white. These are just observations and suggestions based on our experiences over the past 12 years. There’s always room for imaginative promotions.) So, our wish list for promo items, taken in alphabetical order:


Do: Allow us to re-order the kits if we run out.
Give us so few we can’t share with the customers most likely to want them.
Letting us decide what promo items we want and not just sending boxes willy-nilly. That’s very expensive for you, and good kits can end up going to waste needlessly. Also consider creating a web page listing all of your available activity kits and teacher guides for booksellers to reference when planning events and helping teachers.


Send event posters, if possible. We also like press releases and hi-res images of the author photo and book cover (300 dpi), so that we can use them in ads and our own event flyers. Another helpful attachment would be a complete backlist for that author, which keeps everything in one place and makes event ordering easy.
Make us fill out extensive author-request grids. (Okay, wishful thinking.)
Creating a flyer template (8.5" x 11") for touring authors’ new releases that bookstores could download and display. All we’d need to do is add our store name, date, and time. A professionally designed flyer usually trumps bookstore efforts, though not always, and it’s a very easy promotion.


Do: Send appealing bookmarks. Designers, think like a consumer: would you choose that bookmark out of a jar? Would your kids? Great bookmarks have appealing front-side images without a lot of text; no one ever picks up a cluttered bookmark that is obviously only a marketing tool. There’s nothing in it for the customer. Less is more with bookmarks, truly. Do put on-sale dates, backlist information, website, and/or author info, on the back; the back is fair game for any text you’d like. Again, think like a consumer, not a marketer. What would you or your children actually pay attention to? It’s often not quite the same thing that a marketer wants to get across, but it can still sell a book or series. An author’s signature can be a draw, and does double-duty as a giveaway at school events where not every child can buy a book.

Don’t: Design very dark or black bookmarks; for some reason, no one takes them. A pirate or vampire book could get away with a black bookmark, if it were  handsomely designed and had white and bright accent colors. Otherwise, a no-go. Other bookstore mileage may vary.

Consider: Trifold bookmarks for series books. Scholastic had a great promotion for its Weekday Fairies series: it was composed of several connected perforated bookmarks, one for each book in the series. Kids loved these and we sold a lot of Fairy books. Children also love quizzes and mazes; tie in a back-of-bookmark game to the book and kids might hang on to the bookmark for quite a while.


Do: Send autographed copies we can use for prizes or raffles. We love that, and usually build a promotion around it. Sells books! Do encourage reps to put post-it notes on galleys they particularly love or want to draw our attention to: "Boys will LOVE this!" or "Great summer read" are helpful, as well as more specific praise: "Rep top pick. I couldn’t put this one down." Holly Ruck was our first rep to do this, and we always paid attention. OH! And these two are crucial: Do put release month and year on the spines of ARCs. Many publishers have started doing this and we love you for it. Also, please please please put series numbers on the spines of your books, in easy-to-find, easy-to-read type. You would not believe how much time is spent by customers and frontline booksellers trying to track down which is the next book in a series.

Don’t: Tie ribbons around galleys or gift hardcovers. It immediately conjures images of overworked interns or reps, and all we do is reach for the scissors. The ribbons get mashed flat in transit anyway. Truly not worth the time and effort. And please don’t send them in the kind of envelope that explodes in a shower of newspaper pulp. Don’t worry about trying to find a doo-dad to throw in with the book; unless it’s a very clever tie-in, extremely cute, or useful, it just gets thrown out. We’ve seen a lot of Oriental Trading Company kinds of things; they really don’t add interest or value for booksellers, so save that money to use elsewhere, maybe on better envelopes. With ARCs, please don’t make us actually have to open the book to find the release date. Most of us shelve them by month for easy access, and when you’re trying to sort stacks of galleys, it’s a pain. And if the date is only on the back cover, pretty please make the type large enough for middle-aged eyes. Someone in the art department should make his or her mom try to read the info before approving it.

Consider: This is as nitpicky as it gets, but for those of you who list an author’s books in the front matter, please do two things: include all the titles (don’t do the old-fashioned thing of omitting the book the person is holding from the list), and list them in order.

— We haven’t seen nearly as many of these in recent years, but man, can they be effective. Customers love seeing a life-sized Olivia greeting them at the door, or a little Skippyjon Jones countertop standee. (I made up the latter as an example; I don’t think that was actually a promo item.) We had a beautiful Angelina Ballerina cardboard display that we kept in the picture-book section, always fully stocked, for years. Now, that’s effective marketing!

Do: Put as much thought into the shipping as the design and printing of these items. So often, they arrive with whole sections bent or creased, which undercuts the sharp appealing new feeling you’re trying to create with the piece. Also, make sure they (a) assemble correctly, (b) have clear directions, and (c) are sturdy enough, something a toddler would have a hard time pulling over.

Don’t: Send anything made of materials you wouldn’t let a baby chew on.

Consider: Displays for six titles. These work so well on counters at smaller stores.

CDs & DVDs
The multi-book samplers are usually well done, but we rarely listen to them, probably because a taste of honey’s worse than none at all. (You can quote me on that.) Single-book samplers with an author interview are better.
Don’t: Sen
d us your catalogs on CD unless you know we want them. I think this practice has died out in favor of websites and online catalogs, but in case you do these, don’t waste your resources on something that will get thrown out.
Consider: Sending a complete audiobook for titles you love. Nothing sells audiobooks in bricks-and-mortar stores like a recommendation from the bookseller. Also, any chance the prices could be a little more affordable for the common man? We hate losing sales to online vendors.

CONTESTS — Many booksellers do more with contests than we do. Our most successful contests have been generated from within the store, so we’ll let other bookstore folks comment on these.


Do: Send sticker sheets. These are always, always popular, especially when the book cover is one sticker and the rest of the stickers are cute images from the books. Creative pairings are wonderful; Harcourt’s promotion of Little Miss Matched socks with Linda Urban’s MG novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, was imaginative and attention-getting, and did our work for us; the display practically created itself. Pins and magnets can be great, if they’re terrific-looking; otherwise, they tend to get tossed.

Don’t: Send bottles of glitter, body powder or other dust-type things. Inflatables and other items made of that vile-smelling plastic seem hazardous to your health and I wouldn’t let a child near them. (I might blow one up and suspend it from the ceiling if I love the character enough, but even that’s iffy.)

Consider: Less packaging for all promo items, and doing away altogether with those trinkets that make a person feel like factory workers overseas are being exploited for an item that won’t even get used.


Do: Send pencils, pens, or crayons, in enough quantity to actually give away. A great T-shirt always makes a terrific raffle item, too.

Don’t: Send three pens on a light-up lanyard. The staff probably won’t think to wear them, and there aren’t enough to share with a teacher.

Consider: Writing implements or erasers with your book title or cover image on them.


Do: Send good candy. We love it! We still remember the delightful "Fudge Bucks" from a Judy Blume promotion. And Workman had a golden ticket promotion that came with a gigantic Hershey bar perfect for sharing with your staff at 4:30 when everyone needs a little boost. Or send something that lasts beyond the promotion terms. Candlewick gave out a pretty painted wooden Maisy coin bank 10 or 12 years ago, and we still use it.

Don’t: Use way more packaging than you need. Large boxes with few galleys and lots of pretty packing material come off as wasteful and needlessly expensive. In addition, a lot of fancy packaging gets banged up in the mail, so it often doesn’t reach your booksellers in great condition.

Consider: Attaching something value-added to your promotion. We’d all rather get a plain old ARC and 2% than a cute imprinted carton. Honest.

— [Edited to clarify: here I’m talking about single postcards sent through the mail to alert buyers to a new release.] Bookseller opinion on these is mixed. Some booksellers hate them, but I actually do pay attention to postcards, though some get recycled immediately while others make it to a to-be-ordered stack. Here’s why:

Do: Make it pretty (i.e., well-designed) and keep it brief. Follow the bookmark rule: put a great image on the front and save the text for the back. Most effective text? ISBN, on-sale date, one-line teaser, and two or three great review quotes. That’s enough. A small, handwritten personal note instantly makes the "okay, I’ll take a look" stack. These often come from authors; it’s amazing what a difference a personal touch makes.

Don’t: Put too much text on the back; that makes a bookseller’s (and a reader’s) eyes glaze over. 

Consider: Choosing the larger-sized postcards; they do stand out in a crowd and allow for a cleaner, more readable, back side. Consider collaborating with authors more often, helping them with design, printing, and postage; let them add a note and signature before sending. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to get the word out about a release.


Do: Ship them with adequate protection. Crumple-edged or crunched posters are a waste of your design, printing, and postage money. (This is why I never take posters from booths at trade shows; the chances of them making it home are practically nil without a tube, and I never think of bringing a poster tube with me. Hmm, maybe this year….)

Don’t: Fold them. Teachers will take folded posters because any poster is welcome, but for a key spot on a bookstore or school wall, rolled is best. Don’t waste your money on posters created more as marketing tools than art, i.e., posters with a few different books and a lot of text promoting them, and the publisher’s name in huge type. (Award books are an exception to the several-book-covers rule; those are good. But, a simple label like "Newbery Books," accompanying the covers is best, with the publisher info tastefully at the bottom in a slugline. The poster is more likely to be placed in a prominent location and looked at, and the books will sell on the basis of their covers, titles, authors, and reputation. Kids and their parents don’t tend to ask for books by publisher.

Consider: Is this a poster you would put up in your child’s room? Classroom? Library?

are a mixed bag, literally.

Do: Make them as eco-friendly as possible. And pretty / handsome. The ones with great children’s book art get used again and again and again. They are expensive, but probably pay off in the long run for books you’re hoping will sell solidly well into the future.

Don’t: Bother with the junky stuff. Better to spend your money elsewhere than have crummy totes, the weird ones that feel like environmental hazards, have handles too short to sling over your shoulder, and/or feel creepy to the touch. We also dislike plastic bags with book cover art sent in quantities for the checkout counter, but some booksellers love them. (Poll a few of your accounts?)

Consider: Imprinting recycled paper bags (with soy ink; it’s everywhere now) instead of plastic. Not for trade shows, but for in-store promotions.


We got a terrific promotion from a publisher that had all the right elements, and all in a very small bubble envelope (no waste and inexpensive to mail): good bookmarks, a one-page sheet with an author interview on one side and an ordering promotion on the other, and — this was brilliant — a sheet of small square stickers listing release dates for that season’s titles. Booksellers could pop them onto our calendars and plan ahead so easily.

Thanks for letting us share our preferences. Now we’d love to hear from publicists and other booksellers. What have we left out? What floats your boats?

27 thoughts on “To Market, To Market

  1. JuliaDeVillers

    Wow, Elizabeth. I have to thank you for this information. I’m mulling over the information for my next book release and planning to forward this blog post around! (And squee! Anne Rockwell posted!)

  2. Peg Finley peg366

    I am not at the stage in my writing career where I have a book to be promoted but I copied this onto a disk to save. These are really great ideas, some of which could be used for self promotion as well. Thanks for the insight into what a publisher might do to promote an author’s book.

  3. Archiepw1

    These are such great ideas! I have just started a little children’s book publishing company with my first title being released in August…..I am definitely going to post coloring book style book marks under my librarians/bookseller headings on my website. I know librarians in my life have been a greater “marketing tool” than any add. Their influence lasts for generations as you read and re-read your childhood favorites to your kids and grandkids……now THAT’S perpetual marketing! Thanks for the great ideas.

  4. Cynthia in SC

    As an elementary school librarian I read your blog with great interest to see your thoughts on marketing. After thinking about it on and off all weekend I wanted to add another perspecitve if I may. As a librarian I may not be the one to ‘sell’ a book for money per se, but I do ‘sell’ books to students in order to create lifelong readers. Many of my students find themselves hooked on a series and are too impatient to wait for me to get the latest installment in the library. As a result, they rush to the bookstores to purchase them, so I feel like I help traditional booksellers in a way too. I would like to second the idea for coloring sheets and bookmarks that we can download from the internet. I keep a basket of bookmarks on my desk and students are always digging through to see what I have new. If I happen to get a set of promotional bookmarks at a conference or in the mail you would think I’ve put out a pot of gold. I also would like to see more activity guides readily available. Hardly a day goes by that I am not on the internet searching for something that I can use to ‘pitch’ a book to my audience. Occasionally I am lucky enough to find promotional packets online that I can adapt for use here at school when I have parties for students or just want to have some good, reading related fun with a class. A packet that I found for the latest Wimpy Kid book was a prime example. I appreciate publishers who make such offerings available to me. I know that marketing departments exist to help retailers sell books, but do keep those of us in mind who ‘sell’ books in non-traditonal ways. Thanks for allowing me to add my .02 to the discussion.

  5. Josie Leavitt

    Okay, here’s a marketing promo we don’t need. Twenty cents postage due for a red envelope with a black feather, that scared the bejeepers out of me with a note to watch my email for more info. WOW. Costly to me and frightening.

  6. Joyce

    Thanks, Elizabeth. This is a mini-course on promotion! I’m saving it to mine for ideas in the future. I appreciate your tips and the time you took to post them.

  7. Kristy Dempsey

    Loved this post, Elizabeth. And I, too, hope the publishers are listening! Penguin Putnam did a small six book display for ME WITH YOU. It’s too soon for me to know whether or not books are actually selling from it, but I know a large number of stores took the display.

  8. shelftalker elizabeth

    Anne Rockwell! My former-school-librarian heart just skipped a happy beat. I’m always so happy to see a new book from you. I miss Pots and Pans! And Three Sillies, and The Toolbox, and others that have gone OP. Those were staples at our library and our early store years, and are perennial kid favorites. (Hint, hint, publishers.)

  9. Anne Rockwell

    Terrific post! Thanks for all the great ideas that authors and illustrators can use on their own, because publishers aren’t doing much these days. I love the idea of the downloadable bookmark on one’s web page.

  10. shelftalker elizabeth

    Stephanie, what a great idea for a blog post. Co-op! We’ll get back to you on that. The main problem with a lot of us booksellers is that we’re wearing a hundred hats, and pursuing co-op should be a prominent one, but often gets buried under the immediate concerns of the day. It’s one of those important, but non-urgent, tasks we all want to get better at accomplishing. An easy online co-op application would make my ever-livin’ day. More on this soon.


    How about having a central area where we (booksellers) can download an audiobook, instead of having an ARC? Great for IPod Touch or IPhone users. Or available as a PODCAST – only for booksellers, library staff and reviewers? (some way to login?) Or even 1-2 chapters? We don’t seem to get as many samplers & I don’t think I’ve received an audiobook sample in years. I agree with the imprinted pencils idea- I use them during bookfairs to give each child buying a book. We used to get more items like this- now I have to buy pencils. Keyrings are also good, especially with boy themes. Occasionally we’ve had some girly items like lip gloss and lipstick cases to give away. The girls love it. And we definitely need demos of popups, especially if we have a display. I am concerned that the Eric Carle book did not come with one & we are displaying one of our books now. Bookmarks definitely should be in lighter colors – no one takes black ones. I use the children’s kits for programming in the school’s, especially good at the end of the year for K-2 classes. Teachers love to have me come in to break up the school day to read to the kids & it’s good to have giveaways.

  12. Stephanie Hindley

    What an incredibly helpful post. When it comes to offering co-op, what is the preferred way to go about this? We have tried offering it through our reps for years, but never have takers. We’re going to try reaching out directly to booksellers, and would love any pointers that you can offer. I also wanted to mention, we have free teachers’ guides and activity sheets at and are always happy to send free bookmarks to stores. Requests can be emailed to Thanks all!

  13. Ellen Mager

    Elizabeth, This was great and took in so much! About the cardboard displays.. Very few floor displays come through to us updamaged. It’s a killer when it’s a standee! I use the postcards as my gift certificates and customers LOVE them and usually ask to keep them. You mentioned the signed bookmarks. I have had authors and illustrated do them for school visits because not all children can afford a book. I ask the school to make them 5 on a page, laminate them if possible give it to each child the next day as a present from the guest. Some of the A/I have put them right on their web sites. Thanks again! I hope that the publishers have seen this!

  14. Katherine Tillotson

    Elizabeth, I printed out your blog entry so I could spend some time with it. My understanding is that marketing budgets are very small this year. Among the things you wrote about, the teacher’s kits sound very useful. I have never seen a teacher’s kit. What did your favorite teacher’s kit look like? What is included? How was your favorite kit packaged. How many kits are enough for one bookstore? Let me add my thanks for this informative post! Warm regards, Katherine

  15. Angela/57th Street Books

    Elizabeth, Thank you for voicing these. I agree 100%! Here are my additions: 1. I’d like to add a plea for download-able coloring pages that reference picture books and feature our favorite characters. We love coloring during storytime and it is great when we have corresponding coloring sheets. Kids love to take these “advertisements” home, and when they don’t we hang them up in the store to show our customers what we’re reading. 2. I love the sturdy, laminated shelf-talker for the Elephant & Piggie books.

  16. Carol Chittenden

    LOVE post-it notes, and they often stay up for weeks, months, years. Extravagant social events such as dinners are wonderful for three hours, but for months afterward I wish I had the $125 in coop or discount instead. It would buy more good will than shrimp and strawberry mousse ever could.

  17. shelftalker elizabeth

    Jessica, thanks! I totally forgot about that kind of postcard — the stacks we’re supposed to give away but no one ever takes. Especially when they can’t be used as postcards because the back is filled with text.

  18. Jessica

    Elizabeth, this is fabulous! Hope tons of publishers read it and learn to put their marketing dollars to better use. One other thing that always gets tossed out at our bookstore: postcards. We don’t have the counter space to clutter up with cards, and one good book poster is worth many stacks of the things.

  19. Elizabeth Partridge

    Elizabeth — This is incredibly helpful. There are some great ideas for authors in here too, as we try to figure out how to help with our book promotion. Thanks so much for doing this! I can see you really put a lot of thought into it.

  20. Mary Quattlebaum

    Thanks much for this info.! It will be helpful for publishers but also us authors and illustrators as we think through the materials we may wish to create for kids, booksellers and teachers.


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