Subscribe to The Horn Book

>Why aren’t they called adults’ books

>and adults’ books editors? In any event, there is a great roundtable discussion among four of ’em over at Poets & Writers.

This past week I had to deal with a new author who was rather over-enthusiastic in his attempts to persuade the Magazine to review his book. I finally had to call in the big guns–his publisher–to get him to back off, but it also provoked a lament on his publisher’s part that the rules seemed to be changing, that authors were being pressed by their publishers, their colleagues, the whole media culture, to go out and promote their own books with the time and zeal that used to be spent on writing the next one. So haranguing review editors might have seemed to this writer to have become acceptable–expected–behavior. I hope it’s not a trend!

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >I wish it were only a trend. I’m afraid it’s becoming an entrenched business model. It’s bad for authors, too. All this now necessary blogging about themselves, themselves, themselves, and all this worrying if they’re doing enough to push their books, since the publishers seem to have neither the money nor the will to do it themselves. It’s not good for the soul.

  2. Andrew Karre says:

    >I’m optimistic that this won’t be a trend (I also suspect that some authors have always done this–they’ve just got a new way to do it now with the Internet). My advice to authors has been to be thoughtful and deliberate about how they present themselves online. I liken it to entering a large, pleasant dinner party already in progress. The people are generally welcoming and the mood is inclusive (I’m speaking of the kidlit community), but nobody likes someone who crashes a party, behaves badly, and dominates the conversation. Wait till you’ve got a sense of what’s going on and what people are talking about, then jump in with something interesting, not simply attention-seeking.

    The reality of the situation is that writers have to do this or there will be no second book. The key is to balance the writing and the promoting.

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >With the blogging, I wonder (and worry) more if anyone is measuring its effectiveness or if people are simply throwing stuff out there in hopes that something will stick? I guess that like much of marketing, you can’t always know what exactly has been effective, especially if you are promoting something in several different ways at once.

  4. Andrew Karre says:

    >Sure, I think our sense of what works and what doesn’t is still a little crude, but again, I’m optimistic, because it’s a lot easier to analyze and quantify the efficacy of online marketing than it is to measure that of traditional print advertising (now that was throwing stuff against the wall to see what stuck).

    I bet given five minutes, you can figure out whether a blog is at least effectively capturing quality attention (influencing booksales is another matter). You can’t really say the same thing of a print campaign or, worse still, a mass postcard mailing.

    No one has this all figured out, but there are a lot of bright spots, it seems to me. Smart publishers are being proactive and helping their new authors emulate those bright spots and apply what we’ve learned before they simply start tossing spaghetti around.

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >That’s my question, Andrew–how do blogs, or an online presence generally, affect sales? My gut tells me that online marketing leads to online reading–if I could turn one percent of this blog’s readership into Horn Book Magazine subscribers, I’d be a happy man. Happier, I mean.

  6. Andrew Karre says:

    >I get a warm, fuzzy feeling of community when I ponder that question, because I know I’m one of many thousands whose professional future probably depends on solving a version of that very conundrum.

    At best, I think we can say good blogging can affect the purchasing habits of someone who was already going to read/buy a book. The question is which book. I feel like the online book community does a good job of serving committed readers who are only wondering what to read next. I think the realistic next step is figuring out how to reach people who aren’t contemplating what to read next, who might be wondering whether to buy a book or a _______. That’s probably the bigger population.

  7. >Thank you so much for broaching this topic! As a first-time author, I am loathe–LOATHE–to spend money and time on building an online presence when, truth be told, I don’t have really anything to say in this arena. I’d much rather spend the time on the next book.

    And that’s the problem with most author blogs–they really have no purpose beyond self-promotion or self-absorption (“Today, I face The Blank Page …”) and the comments generally tend to be back-slapping among friends. Boring.

    How this sells books is anyone’s guess. Look at your own bookshelves–were the last books you bought the result of positive reviews/awards attention or an author revealing what she ate for lunch on her blog? (Yes, true anecdote.)

    To me, it’s just a bunch of busywork–a means to make authors feel like they’re doing something and that their book is “out there” and for publishers to feel like the chore is off their already too full plates.

  8. >As a mid-list author, with a publisher who would like to see my sales rise, I am completely freaked out by the potential futures I see on the horizon. It’s been ten years I think since someone seriously suggested [I wish I could remember who] that copyright should die and authors should give their work away for free and earn their cash from speaking engagements after they were famous. Cory Doctorow goes on and on about his creative commons license, but I think it works for him because he is CORY DOCTOROW. To his audience, he is someone they “know” and people generally don’t steal from people they know. But I don’t want my audience to know me, and I don’t want to create some public persona that isn’t me, but that they think is. Yuck. I couldn’t possibly do what John Green does, and wouldn’t want to if I could. I am myopic and middle aged and not good at being one of the “cool” kids. Please, don’t let this be the wave of the future.


  9. >I’m an illustrator just getting started, and for us, having a website is a professional requirement. Period.

    Now, there’s a difference between having an online portfolio and slapping your blog persona all over the place, but…let’s say it’s a gateway drug.

  10. >I’d be very interested to know how John Green’s sales reflect his online popularity.

  11. >”Public persona” being the key phrase. Yuck, indeed. It’s like we’re all supposed to turn ourselves into a children’s book world version of Carrie Bradshaw.

    I can’t think of one person (aside from you, of course, Roger) whom I like MORE based on their “public persona.” I purposely avoid some writer friends’ blogs because I like them LESS after reading their online writings. I find that they make me cringe online in a way that they never do in real life.

  12. Andrew Karre says:

    >One more and then I’ll shut up. Cory Doctorow and John Green (and throw in Neil Gaiman, too) are excellent examples of extremes of online presences, but they are by no means the ones. I think there are other models for building an online presence, many of which don’t call for being an extroverted “cool kid” (remember, the cool kids were generally the ones who said less).

    Characterizing even most author blogs as naval-gazing, breakfast-reporting is a bit of a stretch and ignores people who are doing interesting stuff. Think of Cynthia Leitich Smith or any number of collective author blogs.

    And of course there are successful authors who are barely online. It can be done and probably always will be done. But I think a whole generation of readers is being conditioned to expect access to authors. This is not a phenomenon driven by publishers (why would it be?). This is coming from readers.

  13. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think there are interesting differences between the web presences of Green and Gaiman. Green is a popular author who has a larger and overlapping web audience–his online stuff doesn’t depend on his books. Gaiman is a hugely popular author whose web presence augments his print work but doesn’t really stand apart from it. I guess I mean you can be a “John Green fan” without reading his books but not so with Neil Gaiman.

    I would also guess that Green’s web presence does more for his book sales than Neil Gaiman’s does for his.

  14. Julie Larios says:

    >As someone who blogs in the world of kids books, I'd like to thank Andrew Karre for saying that not all blogging involves navel-gazing. For a lot of us, it's a way of building community – good old-fashioned (well, new-fashioned, actually) friendships. Some of us get to conferences and meet each other, but more often than not, we connect this way & become friends. Take Poetry Friday as an example, where authors, reviewers, and readers share both original work and opinions about poets & books. Or the Poetry Stretch, which actually generates new writing. And Andrew Karre is right again when he says Cynthia Leitich Smith is a perfect example of someone whose blog helps build community.

    It's a big country, and I'm happy to share ideas & laughs & questions & ruminations with people from coast to coast, without having to live right in their home towns. Blogging is more about community building than self-promotion, in my opinion. When you go to the "self-promoter" sites, you don't usually go back. And having these online connections with each other makes for wonderful times when we do meet at places like IRA, NCTE, BEA, ALA conferences.

  15. >Andy Griffiths (who is not only one of Australia’s most successful but also one of our best publicised authors) is of the firm belief that an author is their own best publicist and should be trained by their marketing department to sell their own books. That’s certainly the reality, and I think he has a point. I do wish that publication came with the guarantee of an efficient lady in a brown dress suit who would accompany you everywhere you go and organise things and tell you how marvellous you are.

    I have a blog, which would probably be considered midlist if it was a book. It has been well reviewed in mainstream press and has a loyal following, though I am by no means an online celebrity (which is partly by choice). It probably has done little for my sales for a start my blog readership is generally adult and I write novels for teenagers, but it has given me an identity within the industry and yes, has opened up opportunities for speaking gigs and articles that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

    I blog for the joy of it, and I don’t blog about writing very often. I blog about all sorts of things, and I treat it as part of the rigorous job of developing myself as a writer, it makes me exercise my voice, articulate my thoughts and feelings, write about subjects that challenge me. The ‘pay-off’ for me isn’t financial, or professional, it’s this amazing personal record I have that combines all the different and sometimes conflicting strands of myself: writer, mother, academic, editor, girl. It also connects me up with places and people (including other wonderful bloggers) I wouldn’t normally have access to. I love blogging. Perhaps that’s why my blog seems to work for my readers.

    P.S. Claire E. Gross’s beautifully written reviews in Horn Book of my books remain a highlight of my career, so you can’t really blame him for trying so hard…

  16. >A big element of a web presence is not to reach the individual reader, but to reach booksellers, teachers, librarians and reviewers. I have to believe that an author such as Gail Gautier is helped by her blog. Gail’s name is more likely to be familiar and for the librarian to have a pleasant association with it. She’s part of the “community.”

  17. >Penni, you seem to have many good reasons to blog, but the one I want to know about is marketing. Does it sell books? Maybe Gail Gauthier could tell us.


  18. >Some people are great writers and some are great publicists. Only a very few–like Gaiman–are brilliant at both.

    Most of us are midlist all the way around.

    However, in this dwindling time of marketing and money, there is little any of us midlisters CAN do but blog.No shame in it, but it can take time away from what we do best– write our books.

    I see the community-building that Cynthia and Julie and others do as a special and additional benefit, but to a rather smaller audience than celebrity-makers. Pinkwater on PBS can make CLICK CLACK MOO a mega hit. One mention in Doctorow or Gaiman’s blog can break out a book.
    What the Cynthia and Julie(and Big A and Miss Rumphius etc) do is remind us what and who we are the way ALA used to, a community of book lovers.

  19. >Yet not every writer thrives in a community; some of us do better when we don’t have to manage comments or be “present” online. And, well, if you’re writing mainly for 4-year-olds, it’s not as if your readers are demanding it anyway.

    I don’t begrudge anyone who loves to blog the right to do so. If it’s your thing, then I’m sure your blog is worth visiting and you attract a like-minded bunch. Even you don’t attract a thriving community, if you’re passionate about this type of writing as self-expression, then perhaps you don’t even care about that aspect.

    However, it’s the notion that everyone HAS to have some type of online presence nowadays that’s so annoying. Sure, as Andrew says, there are many successful authors who are barely online; however, the ones that come to my mind are the ones who encountered success, or were well on their way, before blogging seemed like mandatory marketing.

  20. >So, yes, we should blog, because it might help. No, we shouldn’t harass the editor of The Horn Book. Yes, we should introduce ourselves in every bookstore, but no we shouldn’t move our books to the tables at the front. Anything else? Because I have been told that authors need to do their own publicity, but I agree with Yolen that not many of us are equipped for anything except blogging.

    Still, I get the feeling that I am supposed to do more, and I have no idea what it is. I don’t think the marketing people at my publisher know either. They have lots of digital marketing strategies that they didn’t have for my last book, which is nice, but they are all based on DRM protected stuff and I am thinking that DRM might be doomed. I wish I thought they had a plan for what happens next, so that I can keep writing books and they will have a business model to sell them.

    I know that I prefer paper to electronic books, but for the first time, I think paper might be doomed. If publishers go out of business than the price of books still produced is likely to go up past the point at which I can afford to buy them, even if I prefer them to the e-book. As fewer people buy paper, it will cost more and more, until we are all on e-books, like it or not.


  21. >I know this isn’t the topic, and I’m not apologizing for the guy, but Roger, you can’t imagine how awful it feels to have a book come out and nobody reviews it. Sometimes it feels as if reviewers look at not the book, but the publisher, and if it comes from a small publisher, you just don’t have a chance.

  22. >It’s interesting because an online presence doesn’t have to be a blog. It can be other things as well, even for younger children. I’ve been really amazed by what our author and poet Kenn Nesbitt has done with his web site to get kids interested in poetry. It’s a pretty simple site too. But today it’s the #1 kids poetry site on the net and he uses it to really communicate and engage kids in poetry (which I obviously find wonderful). I think it does translate to sales but not directly. Rather I think it’s more about making him a real person in their eyes and making poetry an art with which they connect. So in that sense it enhances the book and future book projects. One of the ways we used the website was to pick out some of the favorite poems for My Hippo Has the Hiccups.

  23. >No, I’m afraid Gail Gauthier can’t tell you if blogging sells books. I do believe, though, that my blog has made my name known to a far wider circle than any other kind of marketing I’ve ever done.

    Limited numbers of people show up to see mid-list writers at book festivals and bookstores, and those people are only from the festivals’ or stores’ specific geographic area. When I speak at a conference, it’s a conference for a specific group in a specific region. Again, we’re talking a limited number of people, since I can only reach the people at that one conference.

    I know that I’ve reached people all across the country (and sometimes beyond) with the blog, because some of them have contacted me. Plus the potential number of people I could reach is limitless. I am not confined to a geographic area or to the number of people who are attending a conference.

    Again, I can't say whether or not reaching so many people has made a difference in sales. But that's the case with almost any kind of marketing you do. I made a bigger effort than usual to promote one of my books a few years ago. At the same time, a buyer from Barnes & Noble, who happened to like the cover, placed a very nice order. What mattered more to that book's sales? My efforts or that order, which had nothing to do with me?

    None of us relies on just one type of marketing, so unless something really unusual happens (Oprah or the Today Show calls, one of the Obama kids is caught holding your book, etc.)it's hard to tell which things are doing you the most good.

  24. Roger Sutton says:

    >Anon 5:27, it’s true that advance and date-of-publication reviews from national media are harder and harder to get, because the numbers of children’s books being published have risen at a pace far greater than either a)subscribers to those media and b)advertising in those media. So there’s no way anyone can afford to keep up. This is one place the blog reviews can fill in but I again wonder whether they do–are they as satisfiying to an author or publisher, and do they sell books? The Cybil Awards may eventually provide us some data about this.

  25. >Hey Anon, 5:27pm: your publisher’s name doesn’t matter much as you might think. My series debuted with a major publisher and no one reviewed it either despite substantial marketing efforts, a great cover from a well-known illustrator, and really wonderful feedback from blogs and Amazon. No profiled reviews? No immediate sales and no shelf-life beyond a couple of months.

    No matter how many great pieces you put together as an author, there is still every chance you will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It matters not a jot the size or name of your publisher — or even what you actually wrote, I am increasingly of the opinion. Hype and luck: now those are the real currency…

  26. Jennifer Schultz says:

    >Collection development is not my sole responsibility, but it is part of my duties as a youth services librarian. I have ordered books (not that many, but several) that were mentioned on a blog/The Cybils. I do search Books in Print or our vendor for the print reviews, though (I normally put together an order while going through the journals and patron recommendations, but occasionally, I will read a review/mention on a blog before I receive the print journals).

    I realize that’s not hard data, but just wanted to offer my little experience!

  27. >Anon 5:27 pm: The guy’s book *was* reviewed by The Horn Book — the Guide reviewed it. What he wanted was a second, more prominent review in the Magazine. Understandable from a publicity standpoint, but, as was explained several times to this person, we (The Horn Book, Inc.) had already weighed in on his title and were not going to review the same book twice.

  28. >OK, I sort of get authors and illustrators with blogs and websites. What I really don’t get are all the “pre-published” authors and illustrators with blogs and websites. Why are they spending time promoting books that don’t even exist when they could be spending that same amount of time creating those books?

  29. >This doesn’t directly relate to Roger’s original point, but thank you to Dominique for pointing out something that bothers me about the internet presence of many children’s authors: it has nothing to do with their child readers. I understand the desire both to build an online community for the those in the field, and to promote one’s work… but so often it feels like the actual audience– kids who are building a relationship with the books– isn’t acknowledged. Maybe this is what can end up feeling naval-gazey and self-aggrandizing…

  30. >By which I meant navel-gazey. Gazing at the navalry is a whole other subject.

  31. >”Pre-published” illustrators need to have websites because portfolio appointments don’t really exist anymore. One can still drop off a portfolio at some places, but art directors would rather view an online portfolio, or so I hear.

  32. >I don’t know if blogs sell books.

    I do think if you don’t like blogging and you don’t want to blog and you blog out of some sense of duty because you think it might sell your books, then your blog will not sell books.

    The American market is a mystery to me. But in Australia the way to market yourself is to go to book events (not just your own), to talk to people and be interested in everyone, even the girl with the tray of mini-quiches, to do the speaking circuit in schools and literary festivals, and to write good books that you hope might win an award and then hope someone notices that you won the award and puts you in the newspaper. Or write controversial books and hope someone notices and puts you in the newspaper. There is a lot of competition and limited bookshelf space and all the problems all writers face. Blogging can help get you noticed, which increases your chance of being put in the newspaper. Which in the long run sells books.

  33. >Little children don’t buy their own books. The blogs are looking to the adult buyers–parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians–just as reviews do.

    The new thing to look at are book trailers that authors hope will go viral and tempt tweens and teens into shelling out their allowances for the promoted books.

    In fact, at an illustrators’ meeting last night, we were talking about what such trailers cost and the animators and web designers among us were saying that this was where the action and money was right now. In creating book trailers, not illustrating books! Make of that what you will.

  34. >Penni,

    I don’t disagree that that is the business model that is growing stronger every day. I’m saying that as a writer, and a reader . . . I hate it.

    I don’t think it is an accident that all the blogs I love to read are written by authors whose books I like, but that don’t really rock me. And that the authors whose work I admire most, MT Anderson, for example, don’t have a blog. Never mind me as a writer, Me as a reader really hates the idea that these people might get pushed out of the profession because they aren’t comfortable being as public as they need to be to get in the newspaper. I want their books far more than I want their (probably, as you say, very lame) blog.

  35. Kevin D. Hendricks says:

    >As a reader and a blogger, I think blogging is just another tool to connect with readers. If it works for you, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t (for the love of God, if you don’t like blogging, don’t do it–readers will be able to tell).

    Blogging is what you make of it.

  36. Roger Sutton says:

    >Jane, book trailers make me want to go the movies!

  37. >Remember the teasers in Cover to Cover? Those totally worked for me.


  38. >Anonymous 7.57

    My point is more that there is some value in blogging (and doing the speaking circuit and etc) but it’s not the be all and end all. I don’t think it’s an essential part of being a writer, except on an individual basis. Who knows what makes a book break through and become a best seller? That seems to be a kind of magic more than marketing practice.

  39. >I just started a blog in December. I had resisted due to the inane non conversations and back slapping going on in the blogosphere. I started a blog for young people to read with their caregivers (parents, teachers, librarians and yes, even the specialists). My blog hopefully conveys visually the breakdown of my latest book. It is for those who primarly focus on picture book text learn how to read the silent stories the illustrations portrays. (At least, I do). My latest book process is multi-layered with historical references and portrays 65 + NYC artists who appear in the book. I plan to interview all those involved in my book or involved in my career. From the Mazza Museum to the Brooklyn Public librarians who gave me the idea for the book and how their idea grew into a published product,

    That being said, as a midlister picture book author and illustrator I cannot afford a proper publicist. I teach marketing for SCBWI and have learned that only 1-5% of a publisher’s marketing budget goes to authors and illustrators. So while some wear Gucci, others in the business are dressed in paper bags. I believe we can all wear the GAP. But I’m not in charge of these marketing depts. I need to dive into the action to make people out there become aware that my books exists, that my career had already been invented whether they had known about it or not.

    I am trying a new way that I think is intelligent and not obnoxious. I love teaching others about the illustration process. I find blogging as a new part of my creative career. It is far better than getting a smidgeon from that 1-5% of Penguin’s budget. I stopped taking the lack of help personally and became more pro-active.

  40. Kevin D. Hendricks says:

    >One more thought: For me, it’s comparable to MySpace for the music industry. Every artist worth their salt (and some not worth it) has a MySpace page where you can hear their music. Every CD has the band’s web site url and MySpace page.

    What’s the equivalent for authors?

    I’m not saying MySpace is great and everyone should use it, but having some sort of online presence, whether it’s a blog or something else, where readers can connect with authors in some way seems pretty vital these days. Maybe a few well known luddites can get away with not doing it, but the rest of can only be helped.

  41. Heather says:

    >One of our librarians posted an honest (and terrible) review of an author’s book on her private “Good Reads” account. The author in turn flamed the librarian and it got a little nasty. Interesting reading, though! 😉 Still…doesn’t seem to be helping the author in the long run, does it? Authors are already paranoid enough.

  42. Janie Lancaster says:

    >Boy, no sympathy here for new, upcoming authors who have to struggle to get on board today.

    It’s a sad world when sensitive,artistic souls are treated in such a harsh manner. Anyone who spends so much time and effort to write a book should at least be shown respect and dignity.

    What has this publishing world come to?

  43. megdemaria says:

    >It’s frightening to see how hard it is to become noticed in the media today, Janie I agree with you on tis one. New authors should call and pressure anyone and everyone they can find to read and talk about their book. Without some of this pressure from the authors so many wonderful books probably would not have received the attention that they deserve.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind