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Promoting with Class

The Class of 2k7 is a group of 38 authors with debut children’s or young adult novels published in 2007. This is the story of how our group banded together to help promote each other’s books to booksellers, librarians, and teachers.

Like Herding Cats?

An interesting thing happened when we sent out the first batch of press releases for the Class of 2k7. One of our members received an inquiry assuming that she was a full-time publicist, because a group such as ours apparently could not exist unless it was professionally managed. We all laughed and took it as a sign that our homebrewed website and consensus-drafted materials were good enough to fool even a discerning critic. We were like the Folgers crystals of the publishing world!

Then other interviewers assumed that the Class must have been assembled by an industry trade group or as a joint venture of our publishers. One magazine editor even marveled that any authors would want to join because “everyone knows” authors are introverted and ultracompetitive. Someone else remarked that managing a group of authors would be like herding cats.

Luckily, that’s not the case. If authors really were the antisocial prima donnas that some people make us out to be, I’d never have been able to find a critique group, participate in online author communities, read helpful author blogs, or join the SCBWI—which is run on the regional level by authors and illustrators volunteering their time and effort. Almost certainly, then, I’d never have been able to finish a book and get it into print.

The reality is that authors not only can work together, but increasingly we must, especially in the areas of marketing and promotion.

After we convince industry folk that we really are an organization of the authors, by the authors, and for the authors, the next question we usually receive is, “How did this all come about?” I usually say it all started when somebody moved my goal line, and I apologize in advance for the sports metaphor.

Who Moved My Goal Line?

I got the call in late 2005. Yes, that call, the one that meant a book of mine would finally be published. For years, this moment had been the goal of all my writing, revising, and submitting. In my mind, I was in the end zone doing my touchdown dance and everything else would just follow naturally—good reviews, book signings, bestseller status, and publishers stumbling over each other for the opportunity to put additional books of mine into print.

When I’d finished jumping around, shouting for joy, and spiking imaginary footballs, I got a reality check from my publisher. There was no “guaranteed rich and famous” clause in my contract. It would take a lot of work to make my book a success, so my end zone dance had been premature.

Today’s authors are expected to shoulder more of the promotional burden than ever. It’s not that publishers are looking to shift more work onto us, but there’s only so much they can do when thousands of books are published each year and, except for a few select titles each season, marketing budgets are tight. The competition for attention is fierce, and most books don’t stand out from the crowd. An author’s promotional efforts can mean the difference between success or failure in the marketplace, no matter how well-written or well-reviewed a book is.

For me, it was a major mental shift to go from selling my book to a publisher to selling my book to the world. After a few months of research into the mechanics of book signings, classroom visits, press releases, interviews, online viral marketing, and social networks, I felt like my head was ready to explode. The goal line had moved to a distant horizon, and getting there would require new skills and a large investment of time.

Since there was only one of me, I knew I’d never be able to do all the promotional things I wanted to—but what if there weren’t only one of me? One morning, I woke up wondering what might happen if I could gather together a whole group of fellow authors with first books coming out in 2007. Working together, we’d be able to do far more than any one of us could do alone.

A Call Goes Out

That morning I registered a domain name and put out a call for first-time authors through an SCBWI mailing list. According to 2k7 Class Historian Alice Bauer, we had seven members and our own Yahoo Group within the first 24 hours.

Early on, we had to decide on a core message for our group. We figured that middle grade and young adult novels were complementary markets for our purposes. We also determined that it would be an absolute requirement for our members to be first-time authors with books coming out in the 2007 calendar year, so that our whole class would be graduating together into the world of professional publishing. Our Class 2k7 “brand” would represent fresh new books from fresh new voices, and our target audience would be booksellers, librarians, and teachers—the BLTs of publishing, as we called them.

Painful as it was, we had to cement our group’s identity by turning away authors of non-fiction books, picture books, books that weren’t being published in the United States, and books that were not an author’s very first published novel. Each time I spoke to any of these authors, I would urge them to start their own marketing group for whatever niche their book fit into. If we could do it, anyone else could do it too, and we all wished them every success.

Also painful was when we met and exceeded our original membership goal and had to turn away some very talented debut authors with amazing-sounding books. Group consensus was that we were in danger of becoming too big and unwieldy and that maybe, at sufficient concentrations, organizing authors was just a little bit like herding cats after all.

Online En Masse

The Internet is a great and wonderful thing. If you’re looking to collaborate with other authors who are located hundreds or thousands of miles away, an email list or forum beats anything you can do with tin cans and a zillion yards of string. And if you’re looking to get the word out about your books, a website or blog is so much more effective than all that “shouting from the rooftops” people used to do back in the olden days. For the Class of 2k7, we used the Internet like it was going out of style—which it probably never will.

We’ve found that using the Internet as a group offers unique challenges as well as opportunities that are not be available to solo authors. A website featuring 38 books will have more information on it than a website featuring only one, so a group site might be more interesting and attractive for a book buyer—although it becomes more difficult to make any one book truly stand out.

The Class of 2k7 established a group website with the goal of creating a “one-stop shopping” destination for BLTs. Each author has a page of biographical and book information, links, cover art, and a headshot, and all pages can be searched by genre, season, publisher or region. As the year has gone on, we’ve expand the 2k7 site with an interview archive, ezine, media folder, and links to our forum and chatroom. No one of us alone could have packed our personal websites with so much content!

Our collective blog has an “Ask a Debut Author” format that’s different from anything else we’ve seen on the Internet, and plays on our strength of being a diverse group of authors with a wide range of books. Each week we take a question from the audience, discuss it amongst ourselves, and release a collection of answers.

Finally, we’ve been able to reach out as a group to BLTs on social networking sites like MySpace. What? Didn’t you know that there were hundreds of booksellers, librarians, and teachers on MySpace? Like I said, the Internet is a great and wonderful thing.

Playing on Strengths

The members of our Class are all talented authors, but as individuals we also have strengths in many other areas that can help the entire group. Some members are skilled at web design, some have years of experience drafting press releases, some are especially knowledgeable about school visits, some are great at brainstorming new ideas, and one is a graphic designer who created an amazing logo for us.

Two of our members, Eric Luper (BIG SLICK, Fall 2007) and Sarah Aronson (HEAD CASE, Fall 2007), have experience in video production and volunteered to produce a class video. They collected an image from each author which represented the thematic essence of their book, and set the whole thing to music. The result was a movie trailer that the rest of us certainly would never have thought of making on our own.

All Alone Together

Because the Class of 2k7 books range from humorous middle grades to edgy YA, including graphic novels and novels in verse, we don’t always have readers in common. This was one reason we decided to target BLTs through our group efforts rather than readers. In order to reach our readers, we each still need our own individual websites and marketing plans.

All of our group efforts have also been informed by the policies and practices of our publishers. They’ve been doing this marketing stuff for a lot longer than we have, so it’s been important for us to consult and coordinate with them on all of our projects, and to allow members to opt out of any activities that might cause a conflict. Although our members are being published by a wide variety of publishers, from very small to very large, they have all been supportive and excited about what we’re doing in our group.

The Class of 2k7 group was meant to supplement the marketing and promotion work that each member has to do, but not to replace it. No matter how effective we have been as a group, each of us has further work to do in promoting or individual books. Still, that part of the business somehow seems less daunting now, and if we get stuck on something we each have 37 online friends who are willing to help us out.

Into the Future

The friendships we’ve formed through participation in this group are perhaps the most important thing we’ll take away at the end of the year, and in that way the Class of 2k7 spirit should last deep into our respective publishing careers.

Our legacy will also continue with a Class of 2k8 in 2008 and Class of 2k9 in 2009. With luck, groups such as ours will continue to thrive into the future, and everyone will know how supportive, cooperative, and helpful most authors really are.

By the Numbers

  • Authors: 38
  • Middle Grade/Tween Books: 13
  • YA/Teen Books: 25

Class of 2k7 Alumni

Spring Semester 2007

  • Ruth McNally Barshaw – Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel (Bloomsbury)
  • Kelly Bingham – Shark Girl (Candlewick)
  • Julie Bowe – My Last Best Friend (Harcourt)
  • Laura Bowers – Beauty Shop for Rent (Harcourt)
  • Paula Chase – So Not The Drama (Dafina/Kensington)
  • Cassandra Clare – City of Bones (McElderry Books)
  • Rosemary Clement-Moore – Prom Dates From Hell (Delacorte)
  • Karen Day – Tall Tales (Wendy Lamb Books)
  • Aimee Ferris – Girl Overboard (Penguin)
  • Paula Jolin – In the Name of God (Roaring Brook)
  • Carrie Jones – Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend (Flux/Llewellyn)
  • Rose Kent – Kimchi and Calamari (HarperCollins)
  • Constance Leeds – The Silver Cup (Viking)
  • Elizabeth Scott – Bloom (Simon Pulse)
  • Joni Sensel – Reality Leak (Henry Holt)
  • C.G. Watson – Quad (Razorbill)
  • Sara Zarr – Story of a Girl (Little Brown)

Summer Session 2007

  • Sarah Beth Durst – Into The Wild (Razorbill)
  • Ann Dee Ellis – This Is What I Did (Little Brown)
  • Jeannine Garsee – Before After and Somebody In Between (Bloomsbury)
  • Judy Gregerson – Bad Girls Club (Blooming Tree Press)
  • Stephanie Hale – Revenge of the Homecoming Queen (Berkley Jam)
  • S.A. Harazin – Blood Brothers (Delacorte)
  • Thatcher Heldring – Toby Wheeler: Eighth Grade Benchwarmer (Delacorte)
  • Marlane Kennedy – Me and the Pumpkin Queen (Greenwillow)
  • Melissa Marr – Wicked Lovely (HarperCollins)
  • G. Neri – Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty (Lee and Low)
  • Rebecca Stead – First Light (Wendy Lamb Books)

Fall Semester 2007

  • Sarah Aronson – Head Case (Roaring Brook)
  • Jay Asher – Thirteen Reasons Why (Razorbill)
  • A.C.E. Bauer – No Castles Here (Random House)
  • Autumn Cornwell – Carpe Diem (Feiwel)
  • Greg R. Fishbone – The Penguins of Doom (Blooming Tree Press)
  • Sundee T. Frazier – Brendan Buckley’s Universe & Everything In It (Delacorte)
  • Jo Knowles – Lessons from a Dead Girl (Candlewick)
  • Eric Luper – Big Slick (Farrar Straus & Giroux)
  • Suzanne Selfors – To Catch a Mermaid (Little Brown)
  • Heather Tomlinson – The Swan Maiden (Henry Holt)
  • Tiffany Trent – In the Serpent’s Coils (Mirrorstone)

Member Quotes:

“Writing can be a pretty lonely business. Belonging to a group like 2k7 helps me feel like I’m part of a group. But more than that, it’s been a great motivator to get me out from hiding, terrified, under the bed. If others can put themselves out there, so can I!”–Karen Day, author of TALL TALES (Wendy Lamb Books, May 2007)

“So much of the writing life is solitary, but it isn’t really solitary, is it? We need support from our friends to write a book. Why wouldn’t we want to join a group of friends to help with promotions? I did. That’s why I joined.”–Sarah Aronson, author of HEAD CASE (Roaring Brook, Fall 2007)

“Who would have thought a technophobe like me would make 37 new friends online? I’m still having trouble believing that I’ll be editing an ezine in a few months, but with the help of the group, I know I can do it. With all the information shared by the group, the support given, and the energy created, I am much less intimidated.” –A.C.E. Bauer, author of NO CASTLES HERE (Random House Children’s Books, October 2007)

“Since joining this group I’ve started feeling like a real writer. I knew plenty of writers before, but only a couple published. Now I walk into a bookstore and know 30 writers I am talking with. I like being a writer; it’s cool.”–G. Neri, author of YUMMY: THE LAST DAYS OF A SOUTHSIDE SHORTY (Lee and Low Books, Summer 2007)

“One of the first things I thought when I found out about my book being a Library Guild Selection was that I’ve got to tell everyone at 2k7! It’s great to be able to share things with others who truly understand and are excited for you. And, boy, I can’t wait to hear all the good news yet to come from all our members. It really is energizing to hear how well everyone is doing. I take pride in each accomplishment, like our individual accomplishments become part of our group’s success.”–Marlane Kennedy, author of ME AND THE PUMPKIN QUEEN (Greenwillow, July 2007)

“Selling my debut novel has been a dream-come-true for me. But being able to share this experience with 37 other debut authors whose dreams have all just come true has made the experience even more special. For me, that’s the best part of being in this group. As I watched the clock strike midnight this New Year’s Eve, my thoughts were of the Class of 2k7. This is our year. Let’s go get ’em!” –Sarah Beth Durst, author of INTO THE WILD (Razorbill, June 2007)

“To me 2k7 feels like an old-fashioned guild, where we can retreat briefly from the daily battle to talk shop (marketing is part of the craft!), swap experiences, and recharge. The only thing missing is the ale. The promotional aspects are pure bonus for me.”–Joni Sensel, author of REALITY LEAK (Henry Holt, April 2007)

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