February 2, 2009

Time to Rethink the Marketing Plan

I went to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City over the weekend and I think that it was pretty productive for me. For the uninitiated, SCBWI stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The writer’s intensive was very helpful. I received feedback on two manuscripts that I think will really help make them stronger stories. I’m going to start revising them shortly.

One thing of interest, during the morning session of the writer’s intensive I was sitting next to a man who had pictures of barnyard animals taped to his bright yellow shirt. He also had some phrase written on the back of his shirt that I couldn’t make any sense of.

It turns out that that the phrase on his back was the name of his unpublished book and the barnyard animals were the characters. Apparently he thought that this was a good idea to get himself noticed by editors. It was, but I don’t think it was in the way he anticipated.

I know that for published books, some authors do all kinds of stuff to get themselves noticed. But that’s OK, they’re promoting a published work and they’re trying to get the book buying public to pay attention and buy their book. They have to compete with TV, the internet and all the other distractions of daily life. So for me, published authors get a pass on whatever method they choose to promote themselves and their work.

But in a writer’s intensive where people in the industry are actively evaluating your unpublished manuscript, that kind of wacky stunt just doesn’t fly. It’s the same kind of stunt that you see on American Idol when someone who can’t sing a note, shows up in a gorilla suit. And it get’s the same results. It’s all about the writing, period.

The agent at my table was a good sport though. Before the manuscript was critiqued, this writer stood up to show all the barnyard animals on the front of his shirt and then turned around to show the manuscript’s title on his back. The agent smiled and said “memorable.”

The story was a little less memorable. It was a cute enough idea and the writing itself was alright, but it had a completely unworkable plot. Unfortunately, I think he really believed that he was going to walk away from the intensive with a book contract.

I saw him at another table for the afternoon session. The yellow shirt was gone, replaced by something more conservative. I think he got the message and rethought his marketing plan.

I hope that he takes the comments and uses them to write a stronger story and perhaps next year, he’ll come back as a stronger writer for it. I really hope that he leaves the yellow shirt at home too.

I’ll try to write more about the conference, a little later this week.


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