I've decided not to make this series of blog posts as long as Lexicon's actual path to publication was. I'll just mention a few more efforts I made in marketing and publicity.
First I signed onwith a publicist, who had me write a couple of short articles peripherally related to the book (one on video gaming and one on family games at Thanksgiving) to place in newspapers around the country. The byline mentioned the book. The publicist also pitched radio shows, leading to about seven interviews. What struck me most was how smoothly radio hosts swing in and out of interviews. To succeed as an interviewee, you should have a few points you want to get across, but in a natural, relaxed way. You have to think fast, not say "um" too often, and sound friendly and confident. Pretty tough to do on the phone with someone you've never spoken to before.
At this point I made contact with Ian Leask, who had been a writing teacher in Minnesota when I was a medical resident there. He now had a radio show called Write On radio on KFAI in Minneapolis. When I sent Ian the book, he agreed to have his colleague Charlotte interview me.
Ian was also publisher of a small press called Scarletta, but unfortunately it didn't publish children's books. Still, I asked his advice. Ian told me that to get a book picked up by a commercial publisher, I needed good reviews and decent sales, maybe two or three thousand. Winning a couple of prizes or awards wouldn't hurt.
Oddly, the hardest of these to get was reviews. I sent the book to a number of reviewers, but most of them wanted books months before publication and didn't review self-published books anyway. I went after Amazon reviews, searching through the top 100 reviewers for those who reviewed children's books. One of these, who received an advance copy, sent a great review and told us to let him know when the book officially came out. Unfortunately, we could never reach him again! Still, the number of Amazon reviews gradually rose. I also offered the book to a number of bloggers, some of whom wrote full-length reviews. Others basically used the book to promote their own sites, offering a book giveaway raffle to people who signed on as followers to their blog. Finally, I did solicit and pay for a review from Foreword magazine.
As for prizes and awards, Rebecca had researched a list, and we went through it making a schedule of what to apply for when. However, our first pleasant surprise was something we hadn't applied for: a recommendation in the winter edition of the independent booksellers' Kids Next paper, which readers can pick up in stores. Then the book won a number of awards: an IPBA silver medal for juvenile fiction, an IBPA first place for interior design, a Mother's Choice recommendation, a Parents' choice recommendation, a Foreword recommendation, etc.
By this time, even with less than two thousand books sold, Ian had decided he wanted to acquire the book and use it to establish a new children's line. Scarletta is a small press, and some friends urged me to hold out for something better; but here was an editor I liked and a publisher I trusted, so I decided to jump. In August, Scarletta reissued Lost in Lexicon with a new, more active cover in brighter colors. The one drawback is that meant almost a year's delay in issuing the second book in the series, The Ice Castle.
Some things changed immediately. Since publishing with a "real" publisher, I now have great reviews from School Library Journal, Midwest Book Review, Squeaky Clean Reads, Minneapolis Books Examiner, and Open Letters Monthly. Scarletta's publicist sends me leads and ideas all the time. Suddenly my autumn is jammed full with travel and events: Boulder, Minneapolis, Providence, New Orleans, Portland, OR, and Hillsborough, CA.
So here at the end of the series, what advice would I give to someone preparing to self-publish in hope of finding a "real" publisher some day?
1. Decide if you're publishing for your own satisfaction and to share your work with family or friends, or whether you want to build a writing career.
2. If you're building a career, be sure your book is the best it can be: those awards and reviews count for a lot. Get proper editing and copy editing.
3. To get the quality you want, you may have to spend more than you want. Consider what you can afford to invest in your career, and think of it that way. It's a long term investment, not a way to get rich quick.
4. Be innovative, clever, and persistent in your marketing efforts. Think of where you can find potential readers and how you can entice them to notice your book.
5. Do what you can to get good, honest reviews.
6. Write your next book.
Most of all, enjoy the chance to be creative and connect with readers, who tend to be wonderful people.