This month, my book, Rosco the Rascal at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade made a debut appearance in a quarter page ad in the March edition of Story Monsters Ink magazine. Rewind to early January for a moment, just long enough to explain that deciding whether or not to place the ad was a bit of a gamble for me, in terms of cost.
Fast forward to late February. At that time, long after I’d purchased the ad spot, I approached Editor-in-Chief of Story Monsters Ink, Cristy Bertini, to see if she would answer some questions about her organization, and she immediately agreed to speak with me. She offered me not only a little inside scoop on how it all works over at Story Monsters, but also a little advice for authors considering advertising with them. I’ll get to her interview in just a moment. But first, more back story on my little dilemma.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thanks.~Rosco’s Reading Room
At a cost of $175 for a quarter page spot, (rates have since gone up a bit) I was quite concerned that I might not see much Return On Investment. I’m a self-published author with a small marketing budget, a growing series still in its early stages, and as yet, have experienced only modest success. Translation – money is not yet growing on the proverbial trees. 😉
Last year this book, freshly published, sold very well for the month of March – the season when everyone’s Irish and buying Irish-themed things, including children’s books. It was great. I had listed it as Free through Amazon’s KDP promotional services for a few days early on, giving it just the jolt it needed to hit the top twenty in ebooks within the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, in its highly specific (ie. small) category. Once back in its Paid Amazon spot, its rank was quite high, fluctuating about in the Top 10-20 or better, which resulted in plenty of sales before the season was over.
So, this year, I wasn’t sure just how much momentum I could pick up again from the same (albeit, gazillion) customers at Amazon, using only an AMS ad (Amazon Marketing Services Sponsored Product ad). I’d been running one for my winter-themed Rosco book, Rosco the Rascal In the Land of Snow, since Thanksgiving, and by early February, although it had performed tremendously over the winter holidays, it had finally outlived its prime. So I terminated the AMS ad and started looking around for ideas for the St. Patrick’s Day book.
I thought that something different, something bigger than what I’d been able to do before with all my marketing attempts, might be just the ticket to hit it big (and when I say ‘big’, I mean ‘decent’) again. My motto – shoot for the stars but shoot at a series of reasonable targets first, in order to get there. When I came across a Facebook post about the latest issue of Story Monsters in early January, something clicked in my head. A print ad in a nationally distributed children’s industry magazine – now, that’s something bigger.
Cristy Bertini had, about that time, offered me a discount for any size graphic ad because Story Monsters had just raised its prices going forward. In her offer, she reminded me that March would be National Reading Awareness Month, Music in our Schools Month, and Read Across America Month. That all sounded good to me. March was also the absolute best month for me to take a risk on a St. Patrick’s Day book. So, after a bit of contemplation, I decided– ‘love it or list it’, I was going to give it a shot! I was going to take the leap into real print advertising. I emailed Cristy and bought the ad spot.
“That’s it?” you say. “What was the big dilemma?” you say.
Okay, so deciding between going over budget for a strategy that wouldn’t make me any money, and leaving my book in relative obscurity during its only big-selling month of the year, was a tough choice. (I did put this book on another AMS ad, too.) But what else factored into my decision to buy the print ad?
Well, first off, I was no stranger to Story Monsters Ink. I’d listed two of my books in the magazine’s back pages of recommended books before, two years ago, and had one of them reviewed quite positively by their reviewers and the other had resulted in a nice bump in Christmastime sales. (These weren’t custom-designed ads, but they were more affordable and included a blurb and the book cover image.) I’d also purchased their co-op program for the Phoenix Comicon and the Payson Book Festival last summer, at which one of my titles beckoned readers from the counters of their eye-catching booth, with its little green monster mascot and its adorable monsterly love of reading. I’d used their Greenie Bag promotion as well, for which my bookmarks and business cards went home with the first 100 visitors to their booth.
Each time, I saw a decent increase in positive exposure; nothing massive, about forty book sales online the second day of the Comicon convention, which was great, and one, yes, one, (don’t laugh), one book sale at the actual booth that Comicon weekend. No book sales at Payson, but a few online that I could (or possibly could not?) attribute to the festival.
But, what great exposure the events were. I knew enough about marketing to suck it up and rationalize that paying for publicity buys you a lot more than direct and immediate sales at any given event. In the weeks that followed the co-ops, I saw about forty new subscribers to my email list, a few reviews, here and there, more social media followers. These I could probably attribute to the events. I had no huge sales spikes, but simply being associated with the higher profile of the magazine boosted my own profile, as far as I was concerned.
I’d also watched Story Monsters grow over the past few years and wondered how long advertising with them would be affordable for a small-time, self-published author. Shouldn’t I get in while the gettin’ was still good?
So, with all of these positive experiences battling the nervous reservations inside my head – would something like this do someone like me any good at all, would this just be more marketing dollars down the drain, would my husband wrinkle his brow, scratch his forehead, and walk out of the room, slowly shaking his head, when the sales numbers from these events came in? (“She overspent on her books, again? And they didn’t even sell? Argh. Sigh.”) I just wasn’t sure.
Nor was I prepared for what actually happened.
What actually happened: The issue came out in mid February. The book began selling more, immediately. In less than two weeks, I’d sold 127 paperbacks and 26 ebooks, of all the four titles in my series, but about 85% of sales were of my St. Patrick’s Day book.
As of today, I’ve sold 235 paperbacks and 45 ebooks. And I’m over the moon about it!
To large publishers, authors of genres for adults, and well-known authors, this, I’m sure, sounds like very small, Irish potatoes. But to an indie children’s author, with no one but herself running her marketing strategy, out of her very own meager book bank account, in any month outside of December, (when Santa Claus makes selling books a little bit easier) this was darn near superb.
Analyzing the strategy, I can attribute about 75% of these sales directly to the Story Monsters ad because the initial sales in February, which started literally spiking the day the issue was released, created a long term steady rise in my Amazon rank. The rank was then pushed steadily along by my continuous, yet very modest AMS ad for the book.
The royalties have now paid for the print ad and given me a small profit. Some of the sales were through Expanded Distribution, I noticed, which is also quite unusual for me as yet. Moreover, the exposure generated by the ad to my series in general, even if no purchases of my books were made at the time, is also a huge plus. So, regardless to say, for my particular marketing strategies, I have only good things to say about Story Monsters Ink’s print ads. My gamble paid off. My dilemma, solved.
So, that’s why I especially wanted to share how things work and have expanded at Story Monsters. On to my delightful interview with Editor-in-Chief, Cristy Bertini.
Q. Hi Cristy, welcome to Rosco’s Reading Room. Thanks for spending a few minutes with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about how Story Monsters came to be? How long has it been around?
A. Hi Shana! Thanks so much for having me! Sure – Linda F. Radke, president of Story Monsters LLC and publisher of Story Monsters Ink, actually started it as a monthly emailed newsletter to send to our book award winners and authors to give them the latest news on new books and products, author interviews, book reviews, activities, etc. It became so popular – especially with teachers and parents – that we decided to turn it into a national printed publication. That was over five years ago and it just continues to grow. Our monthly readership is now over 130,000 and climbing every day.
Q. That is so impressive. What a steep growth in readership! Who is your target audience for the magazine?
A. A large majority of our readers are k-12 teachers and librarians, parents, and of course, authors, publishers, and kids! There are plenty of magazines out there for kids and plenty for parents and teachers, but we wanted to create a publication that would have something for everyone – articles for parents and teachers, interviews with kids’ favorite authors, reading lists, movie reviews, and more.
We also have some really fun programs for kids, including our #CaughtReading program, where parents and teachers send us photos/videos of their students “caught reading” and we post the photos on our social media pages. We also have our Kids Can Publish program, where students can send in articles, poems, drawings, etc. to us for print consideration. Each month, we choose one and print it in the magazine and the student receives a check for $15.
Q. What great opportunities. Do you have any advice for new or established children’s authors looking for the best ROI on the advertising dollars they’re considering spending at Story Monsters?
A. Marketing, marketing, marketing! No one is going to know about your book unless you get it out there. But we know how expensive publishing a book is, so we try to have an affordable option to fit everyone’s budget, whether it’s a $75 reading listing or a half page ad or even an advertorial option, which includes a full feature interview, a full page ad, and an entry in one of our book awards programs.
I always tell new advertisers the same thing: choose an ad that your budget allows and that you feel comfortable with spending the money on. I can’t guarantee that an ad in the magazine is going to sell 1,000 books for you. I have authors that have told me that every single time they place an ad, they see a great boost in sales. I’ve had others tell me that the ad didn’t make a bit of difference in sales. It just depends on the interest of our readers. I do say to give it more than one try. Try it for a few months and see how it goes. Authors can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for advertising info.
Q. That makes a lot of sense. Next, I’d like to ask you about your covers. Your front covers are very impressive, and on quite a consistent basis you feature some really big name authors and celebrities for your lead stories. How do you find and decide upon authors to feature for the covers?
A. I’ve made some great connections with publicists over the years – many times, they will shoot me an email to let me know that someone is getting ready to release a new book and other times I’ll hear about a great book coming out and then I’ll do some detective work to try to track them down and contact for an interview.
We do feature celebrities on the cover often, but from the very beginning, we have always featured indie authors as well. We think it’s very important to shine a spotlight on authors who are just starting out and trying to find their place in the literary world.
Sometimes, I’ll receive a book for review and I think it’s so awesome, I’ll email the author right away and offer an interview. Or sometimes, authors email me and share some info about themselves for interview consideration. And many times, Linda will connect with authors/publishers/celebrities at different events that she participates in with Story Monster.
Q. Fascinating! What direction do you have for the future of the publication?
A. We have some terrific things coming this year. Lots of surprises. Lots of great interviews – and you never know where we’ll show up! Issues of the magazine have been handed out at Comicons, the ALA Winter Conference, book festivals, the Sony Show, and even in grab bags for the Emmy Awards. Sign up for a subscription so you don’t miss a thing!
Q. The programs you offer are multifaceted, including wider marketing packages for authors. Are there other ways that authors, especially small authors on a small budget, can get involved in and benefit from the work that your organization is doing?
A. Linda is a marketing wizard! She’s been doing it for 30 years and Story Monsters LLC offers a whole bunch of marketing services to fit any budget. From social media contests to email campaigns to media kits to our marketing co-ops, which are super popular. The co-ops are a great way for authors to have their books displayed at festivals without having to actually be there. Our current co-ops are the Payson Book Festival and our Children’s Book Week Greenie Bag Co-op. The co-ops have deadlines to enter so be sure to check them out. Use the link above for more info.
We also offer three book awards programs: Our Purple Dragonfly Awards are for children’s titles up to young adult, our Royal Dragonfly Awards are for all genres, and our Story Monster Approved program is for children’s books up to young adult and is very popular with kids, because THEY are the judges! After books pass an initial round of judging with our editors, they are then sent out to panels of student judges at elementary schools all over the country and the students are the ones that give the final seal of approval. Who better to judge children’s books than your target audience?
And of course, submit your book for review! We do not charge a fee for book reviews.
Q. Wow. Great options and such a variety. You’ve really found your niche. Thank you so much for being with us today. All the best to you and Linda and the rest of the Story Monsters Ink gang! I’m sharing your Facebook and Twitter links here so our readers can follow your journey.
A. Thanks! And thanks again for having me! I’m so glad our ad worked for you! 🙂