Do I need an educator guide?

What is an educator guide and do I need one for my book?

Calling all children’s book authors! Are you considering making an educator guide for your book? Keep reading to find out if it’s a good fit for you.

What are educator guides?

Educator guides are resources that help teachers adapt literary materials for classroom use. These guides are typically tailored for the class’s age group and are designed to meet current curriculum standards. Educator guides often include discussion questions, hands-on activities, and worksheets that teachers can print out and use.

Should I have one?

If you plan on reaching out to schools to schedule classroom visits, an educator guide would likely be a good fit for you. We all know that teachers have packed schedules, so the more time-saving resources you can provide for them, the better!

In addition to sending these materials directly to teachers and librarians, you’ll also want to incorporate them on your website.

Here are a few examples of educator guides on author websites:

http://bridgethodder.com/classroom-materials/

https://www.authorjelle.com/request-a-school-visit

https://jacquelinewoodson.com/product/an-educators-guide-to-picture-books/ 

What should I include?

A discussion guide with open-ended questions for students to consider after reading can be used to spark classroom conversation. You can also include hands-on activities related to your book, such as word searches, crafts, and coloring pages, with downloadable materials, if appropriate. If you know of other books that explore your main subject, consider making a list of recommended reads for students who want to delve deeper. Remember to keep the age of your ideal audience in mind as you put this together!

How can I get one?

While some authors choose to create their own guides, it may be best to hire professional help to ensure that your materials meet current curriculum requirements. Many former educators have small businesses dedicated to making classroom materials, such as Rm 228

By partnering with educators, you can reach more students with your book while making a memorable impact on communities. 

Looking for tips on how to schedule school visits?

Check out our previous article here: https://booksforward.com/tips-for-scheduling-school-visits/ 

Write on!

Should you create swag for your upcoming book release?

People love free stuff. On that, we can all agree.

Do you need to have bookish swag? Of course not! But offering unique and creative swag items can make an author stand out in a crowded market. Items that tie into the book’s themes, characters, or setting can also intrigue potential readers and make the author’s work more memorable.

Bookish swag can serve as a tangible representation of an author’s brand, increasing visibility and recognition among readers. Items with an author’s logo can also help reinforce the author’s presence in readers’ minds.

Ultimately, book swag serves as a marketing tool to promote both a book and its author. When readers use or display swag items, they become essentially walking advertisements, spreading awareness of an author and their work to a wider audience.

How can authors use swag?

In addition to ARC mailings, bookish swag can be utilized in a number of ways. Keeping swag on hand can be great for authors who have mailing lists and want to offer some freebies to readers who sign up for their newsletter. 

Many authors also like to conduct pre-order campaigns, and having swag to send to thank people who pre-order can be essential. Including book swag as part of a book purchase, whether through pre-orders or special promotions, can incentivize readers to buy the book. People often appreciate receiving additional value for their purchase, making them more likely to support the author’s work.

Keeping swag in bulk can also be great to bring with you when visiting with groups, libraries and bookstores. Many writers’ conferences also typically have tables where authors can donate their swag; this option is great to learn about other writers in your genre and connect with comparable authors.

Steps for creating swag

Creating bookish swag can be a fun and rewarding process for authors. Here are some steps to get started:

  1. Define your brand: Before creating any swag items, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of your author brand. Consider your genre, writing style, themes, and target audience. Your swag should reflect these aspects of your brand to ensure consistency and authenticity.
  2. Brainstorm ideas: Think creatively about what types of swag would resonate with your readers and tie into your book or brand. Consider practical items like bookmarks, tote bags, or mugs, as well as more unique or thematic items that relate directly to your book’s characters, setting, or themes. Keep reading to see more ideas!
  3. Budget accordingly: Determine your budget for creating and purchasing swag items. Factor in the cost of design, production, packaging, and shipping, as well as any additional expenses such as marketing or distribution.
  4. Design your swag: Once you have some ideas, work on designing the swag items. If you have graphic design skills, you can create the designs yourself using software like Adobe Photoshop or Canva. Alternatively, you can hire a professional designer to bring your ideas to life. Books Forward is happy to work with you to design swag for your upcoming book release!
  5. Source suppliers: Research suppliers or manufacturers who can produce your swag items. Look for companies that offer quality products at affordable prices and have experience working with authors or small businesses. Consider factors like minimum order quantities, production time, and shipping costs.
  6. Order and distribute that swag: Order samples if possible, then plan how you will promote and distribute items to your readers. Consider offering them as incentives for pre-orders, giveaways at book signings or events, or as bonuses for joining your mailing list or reader group. You can also sell some things directly through your website or online store.

Ideas for printed swag

  • Bookplates: You can sign and also leave a personalized note for readers
  • Bookmarks: If we’re being honest, you can never really have too many bookmarks.
  • Stickers: If you have a book that lends itself to fun art — graphic novels, fantasy, children’s books — consider stickers as a fun and easy way to 
  • Pins/buttons: They’re slightly more expensive, but pins and buttons can be a good alternative if you want to take a step up from stickers.
  • Mailer boxes: If you have a few things to include with a book, you can also design a special mailer box to ship everything. These will definitely set your box aside from a normal brown, cardboard box!
  • Postcards: These are great because in addition to being used as swag, you can also mail these out to bookstores and libraries to alert them of your new book.
  • Pens: If you have an author/series logo, pens are a perfect, small item to display that.
  • Tote bags/hats: If you have a larger budget, you can look at having fabric-based swag like a fun hat or a bookish tote (just like bookmarks, can you ever really have too many tote bags?).

Get creative with swag

Below are some examples of swag Books Forward authors have utilized!

If you’re on the fence about bookish swag, really sit back and consider how it can best serve your author brand and your goals for marketing your book. Overall, bookish swag can be a valuable tool for authors to enhance their brand, engage with readers, and promote their work effectively in a competitive market. It can be a great option to utilize because it serves as souvenirs and memorabilia for readers, reminding them of their reading experience and creating a lasting connection to a book and its author.

Do I need beta readers and sensitivity readers for my book?

What are beta readers?

Did you know that rom-com classics like Pretty in Pink (1986), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) and Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010) originally had very different endings? After audiences reacted negatively to the endings in test screenings, the scripts were reworked to have the endings we know today. 

Just as test audiences preview films prior to release and relay critical viewer feedback, beta readers do the same for books. These unsung heroes read manuscripts prior to publication, providing their honest opinions. And they often do it entirely for free.

Acting as a general audience, beta readers typically focus on:

  • the likeability/believability of characters
  • the tone and pacing of key scenes
  • the believability of the plot (keeping an eye out for plot holes)
  • their emotional responses and gut reactions to specific scenes and the book as a whole

How can I connect with beta readers?

Finding beta readers–especially those willing to read for free–can be challenging. It’s best not to rely on your friends or your writing colleagues, but to seek out readers who will be unbiased in their feedback. You can try networking with readers by using the #betareaders hashtag on Twitter or posting on the r/betareaders subreddit, offering your manuscript to interested readers.

If you aren’t on social media or want to expedite the process, you can pay for beta reading services. Just be sure to research various options so you can make the best decision for your book and your wallet.

How do I work with beta readers?

Once you’ve found beta readers interested in your work, it’s important to provide them with everything they need to succeed. Help them help you!

You should:

  • Offer your manuscript in various formats (.mobi, .epub, print)
  • Provide realistic deadlines for their feedback
  • Ask specific questions that you want them to focus on (without trying to control their responses)
  • Be open to criticism
  • Compare notes from all readers before making changes to your manuscript

How do sensitivity readers (SRs) differ from beta readers (BRs)?

Sensitivity readers take a more specific approach to reading than beta readers. SRs often focus on how markers of identity and lived experience such as race, culture, religion, gender, sexuality and disability play a role in a book and influence its characters. Most authors think SRs eliminate stereotypes in books. While that’s part of what they do, they ultimately help authors create realistic characters that readers can relate to, believe in, and stick with. SRs are almost always paid, given the level of niche expertise and focused feedback that they provide.

Some beta readers may touch on aspects of identity and other sensitive topics in their feedback. Still, depending on the book, it can be worthwhile to seek out a professional opinion from a sensitivity reader as well.

Just like with beta readers, it’s important for authors to be open to criticism when working with sensitivity readers. Take all feedback to heart and use it as a learning experience. Remember that it’s not possible to be an expert in everything, and the best authors enlist lots of help throughout the writing process!

 

What is SEO? And why should I care about it?

What? Another digital thing we have to keep in mind?! We know, and apologies in advance.

But in our constantly-evolving digital world, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become a critical component for online success. Understanding the fundamentals of SEO — yes, even for authors — is essential for improving your online visibility and driving organic traffic to your website.

Okay, so what’s a search engine?

We promise you’ve used these before. They’re your sites like Google, Bing, Yahoo — you get the gist — and with them, you can search for, well, whatever you want really. Search engines exist so you can find answers to questions you have, directions for places you’re going, products you’re interested in buying, etc. 

So, how does search engine optimization work?

Search engines run various algorithms (some weird computer formula) to help you find the data you’re looking for; in essence, they’re combing the entire World Wide Web to narrow down the results to get you exactly what you need. By utilizing SEO, your aim is to get your website on the first page of results for search terms that mean the most to your target audience. Which means it’s important to understand your target audience: If you’re a YA romance author but a majority of your web traffic is from politically-active men in their 60s, you might not be hitting the right spot.

But why is SEO important?

With good SEO practice, your website will rank higher (or highest) on a search engine’s results page. The higher your website is situated on a page, the more likely someone is to click on your site. Think about it: If you’ve ever searched something, you’re unlikely to go past the first page of results — sometimes you might not even get to the bottom of that first page. Ultimately, the higher you rank, the more people are going to visit your website.

And it’s a circle: Good rankings mean good traffic, which means new customers (or in authors’ cases, new readers), exposing you to a larger and larger audience. The ultimate goal is to increase organic (nonpaid) traffic to a website by optimizing the site’s content, structure, and other elements, aligning them with the algorithms used by search engines. Speaking of organic traffic…

Paid vs. organic SEO

Have you ever searched for something and noticed the top result says “Sponsored” above it? That’s an example of a paid ad. The more general a search, the more paid results you’re likely to see. Searching for “blue dress” will net you a LOT of sponsored results. But searching for “blue dress Michelle Obama wore in 2011” will get your more specific results for images and articles. (A note: the results you see are going to be different from what someone else might see because search engine algorithms are taking into account your personal habits and practices!)

Now paid results are great, but a majority of clicks are going to come from organic SEO. Why? Have you ever almost clicked on an ad, realized it’s an ad, and then kept scrolling? That’s why. Many customers are averse to paid results because they feel they aren’t truly getting an accurate result for their search. 

SEO is a cost-effective strategy for driving traffic. While it can require an initial investment, the long-term benefits can outweigh the costs, especially for sustainable organic growth. Google alone processes billions of searches daily, and organic results are a large portion of that. Plus, with organic results, every click that sends traffic to your website is free. And who doesn’t like free?

How can I make my website more SEO-friendly?

There are a few easy steps you can take on your end, the first being to actually have a website.

General website tips

  • Make sure your site is user friendly: Factors like page load speed, mobile responsiveness, and easy navigation contribute to a better user experience, which can positively affect search rankings.
  • Create good content: Search engines prioritize high-quality, relevant content. Creating valuable, informative, and engaging content not only attracts visitors to your site, but that also signals to search engines that your site is a credible source of information.

Keep an eye on links

  • Utilize internal linking: When something on one page of your site links to another page.
  • Backlinking: Whether it’s through guest posts, interviews, or various other content, whenever something about you appears on someone else’s web page, see if you can have a link added that takes people back to your website.
  • Fix broken links: Keep an eye out for broken links; sometimes an interview you did might not be available online anymore, or a website might have changed the URL, breaking the link you have. 

Analyze your site’s copy/text

  • If you have a blog, take a look at the titles you’re using: Are your titles engaging and appealing? Can you make a title into a list? Or a question? Would you want to click on that title if you saw it?
  • Within your general website copy, also make sure you’re utilizing keywords that would appeal to your target audience. If it’s a keyword that would make sense for Amazon, it will likely make sense to have someone on your website as well.

Audit your site

Hire someone who can take an objective, third-person look at your website and see what improvements can be made. 

When will I see results?

Like most things, results usually don’t happen overnight. Keep an eye on your website traffic for a period of months — not days — to see how traffic has been affected by the steps you’ve taken to make your site more SEO friendly. 

By understanding and implementing the key components of SEO, you can enhance your online visibility, attract your targeted audience, and build a sustainable online presence. And as search engine algorithms continue to evolve, staying informed about SEO best practices and adapting to changes will remain crucial for achieving and maintaining those high rankings on search engine results pages.

You’re truly never done optimizing your website; make sure you are regularly updating and checking on what improvements you can make. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed doing it on your own, look into hiring a service that can help!

 

Happy Holidays: Books Forward December 2023 Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter featuring our award-winning authors and industry news. This issue features upcoming book releases, recent media coverage and much more!

Read the December 2023 newsletter here!

Do I really need a publicist to help me market my book?

There’s no question that the publishing industry has changed dramatically in recent years. In many ways, it’s more difficult to publish a book now than ever before. However, a good publicity team knows what authors are up against, and can help you cope with various challenges, ultimately setting you up for success. What are some of the challenges that authors face with book publicity today?

An estimated 3 to 4 million books are now being published annually, making it even tougher to break through. But despite the wealth of books hitting shelves, the market remains stagnant. According to Publishers Weekly, book industry revenue was $25.3 billion in 2000 and only $25.7 billion in 2020. When adjusted for inflation, this “growth” becomes a loss. And according to Gallup polls, the average American adult read 12 books in 2021, down from 15 in 2016. While it’s too soon to tell how much of this is a result of COVID-related restrictions, it’s certainly a reflection of the current struggle to capture the attention of target readers.

A good publicity firm will provide targeted outreach to the readers that will best connect with your book, helping to position it in front of audiences with influence in the book world. They should use unique pitches and creative brainstorming to rise about the crowd.

Over 300 bookstores have opened in the U.S. in the past couple years, and they’re stocking more diverse books than ever before. This is a serious victory, but physical bookstore space is still drastically limited compared to the rapidly growing number of books being published annually. Publicists can help connect authors with booksellers to cultivate relationships with these valuable tastemakers.

Marketing resources are stretched thin, and more than ever before, authors are required to take on the majority of marketing and publicity efforts for their book. Many publishers have excellent guidebooks that coach authors on the ins and outs of publicity, but taking it on alone can feel extremely daunting. Not to mention that many authors would rather spend their time writing their next book than posting on social media.

Publishing is an ever-evolving industry where authors are forced to quickly adapt to each new challenge. Having a book publicist as a partner can provide you with the support and guidance you need to make sense of a complicated industry. Plus, having a dedicated publicist putting in the hours will help your book stand out from the millions of other titles being published each year. 

Think publicity might be a good fit for you? Learn more about what we do at Books Forward here and drop us a line if you want to connect.

What is AI and how will it affect authors?

This blog post was not written by artificial intelligence, though we highly considered it.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a pretty broad term that describes using computers and machines to mimic the human mind. Whether it’s Siri or Alexa, face recognition software or even predictive text, the use of AI is becoming more and more prevalent on a daily basis. And new platforms and software are constantly being developed and improved upon.

How authors can use AI

First and foremost, you need to familiarize yourself with what’s available. Most authors will utilize what’s known as generative AI, which can produce various types of content, like images, audio, text, etc. Below are only a smattering of the AI options out there, though they’re definitely some of the most popular. Acquaint yourself with different platforms to find what works best for you.

There are genuine reasons to use AI, like getting a head start on a project; doing the routine, mundane tasks; augmenting the scalability of tasks, etc. Below are some ways to consider utilizing AI as an author:

  • Generate ideas for your blog
  • Organize an outline of your current work in progress
  • Workshop back cover copy
  • Draft query emails for agents and editors
  • Analyze author bios and draft your bio at different lengths
  • Brainstorm social media captions
  • Recommend questions for author events, talking points for interviews, etc.

In general, you should never take what AI has created and use it as is. These tools are great to research, inspire and jump-start ideas, but your voice and personality are what draw people to your content. A social media caption created by AI is going to sound like it was created by AI. Remember to always keep the human element in your content; use the ideas AI has given you and expound and better it.

It’s also important to think about what you are putting out into the world. As we see increases in spam, books that are completely written by AI, and more, the relationships we build from person to person are becoming more important than ever. It’s incredibly important to keep in mind the responsibility we hold for the content we provide people. 

AI and book production

Publishers are also testing AI capabilities not just in marketing but in the book production phase as well. When it comes to forming metadata, brainstorming keywords, and even indexing, AI cas assist publishers in some of the more routine tasks, allowing them to free up time and personnel for more creative endeavors. The time it takes to get a book to market will also likely shrink — with a shrinking of costs included — with companies’ increased use of AI.

Whether you realize it or not, AI is all around the publishing world in some of the programs you’re already using: Tools like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and even PDFs have accessibility tech built into them. And authors frequently employ platforms like Grammarly and ProWritingAid. Even using an EPUB accessibility checking tool, like Ace by DAISY, is common practice for helping publishers meet industry standards and file requirements for ebooks. 

Legal landscape of AI

Important questions are even now being worked out in the legal system about protectability, authorship and ownership of AI-generated material. Currently, precedent says that to own something, there must be human authorship — works created by animals, celestial beings, machines, etc. don’t count.

Furthermore, the U.S. Copyright Office has declared that things made with AI need to have a disclaimer on them, though the agency is ​​continuing to collect information to analyze current law and how it applies to generative AI. Cases involving graphic novels with AI-generated images and human-authored texts, as well as whether using existing materials to train AI is infringement are currently working their way through the courts.

The final word on AI

Be responsible and remember why you became an author in the first place: because you had something to say. AI content will always be just that — content. But art comes from humans, and no matter how much inspiration AI provides, it’s not something authors can depend on full-stop.

Bestsellers Galore: Books Forward November 2023 Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter featuring our award-winning authors and industry news. This issue features upcoming book releases, recent media coverage and much more!

Read the November 2023 newsletter here!

Do I need to be on Threads? Or X? Or whatever new version of Twitter exists now?

Yeah, it’s exhausting keeping up with social media and whatever Twitter is now called — it’s X, by the way, even though the URL for the site still says Twitter. And with the many changes that have occurred at the former bird app, users are flocking (pun totally intended) to other newly created social media platforms. 

But do you need to?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Social media is a great tool to promote your book, but there’s no singular way to successfully do social media.

So what is Threads?

Threads is a text-based app that’s part of the Meta universe. With the ability to open an account via your Instagram account, Threads is a great alternative for those looking to take the leap from Twitter to an app with a similar interface and functionality. Threads has a 500-character limit for posts, and consists of a fun feature where you can share your Threads posts directly to your Instagram stories.

There are some downsides to the new app though: Threads definitely looks and performs better on mobile over desktop. Also, it’s really hard to get rid of your account. Want to delete your Threads account? You’re going to have to delete your Instagram account as well. And of course, like many new apps, there are glitches and it can be difficult to find your audience just starting out. 

But if you can look past the growing pains, you’ll find an app very similar to Twitter that has the potential 

Alternatives to X

If you can’t be on Elon Musk’s app without getting the ick, we understand. It’s important to decide what platform is right for you and post on an app you enjoy. If it becomes a chore, it’s going to feel like a chore. So here are some alternatives to X and Threads:

Mastodon

This definitely isn’t a straightforward alternative like Threads. It’s “decentralized” format declares to put the feed back in the hands of the users, which If you enjoy Reddit or Discord, then you’ll likely be able to catch on to how Mastodon functions. 

Spill

Billing itself as “a visual conversation at the speed of culture,” the Black-owned app has been developed to monitor abuse and/or hate against communities of color, like that users might have experienced on Twitter.

BlueSky

BlueSky was developed by Twitter’s former CEO, Jack Dorsey, so it stands to reason that there are similarities between the two platforms. It’s like Twitter, stripped down to the essentials. You can still post and include images and repost, but it differs greatly in that, like Mastodon, it’s decentralized, operating on independently run servers rather than one owned by a business.

WT.Social

Visually, it gives off a vibe similar to Facebook, though it labels itself “the nontoxic social network.” If that’s the case, the platform founded by Wikipedia’s creator would be a far cry from Zuckerberg’s.

If all else fails, you can still check out the stalwarts of the social media platforms and get to posting in places like Facebook and TikTok.

What do the numbers say?

Like it or not, X is still the leader when it comes to users. Excluding Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, X is still has millions more users than its closest competitor. Musk claims the platform has over 500 million, though that would be a large increase compared to user numbers in the mid-250 millions in 202 only a year ago.

Threads has over 100 million users, though that still lags greatly behind X. And the alternatives have even less. That doesn’t mean that audiences won’t steadily grow, but it does mean that when it comes to potential to reach the most people, X is still one of the largest platforms.

Ultimately, it’s important to find the platform that works for you. The best method to discover that is by jumping in and testing them out!

5 Pre-Order Campaign Tips Authors Should Utilize

Looking to create a successful pre-order campaign for your next book? The Books Forward team has you covered. Here are our tips for encouraging pre-orders: 

Update your sales pages on all platforms

Ensure that your upcoming release (and any previous books!) have up-to-date, engaging copy on Amazon and all other sales channels. After all, if you’re going to be directing buyers to these sites, you should make sure that everything is in good shape! Here are our tips for making your sales pages pop.

Offer a pre-order discount 

An easy way to encourage pre-orders is to drop the price for a limited time leading up to the release. Everyone loves a sale! Plus, you can discount your backlist books during this time as well for an extra boost. If you’re writing a series, consider a deep discount for the first book(s) in the series as a way to entice new readers.

Offer swag items and other exclusives

If you’ve never entered into a swag-based pre-order campaign, it’s simple:

  1. Author offers exclusive swag to fans who pre-order.
  2. Reader DMs their receipt of purchase along with their email and/or physical address. 
  3. Author sends out swag items until they run out.

Here are some examples from a recent campaign:

If you’re hesitant to run a swag-based campaign because of how costly it can be, you’re not alone. While swag (especially custom products) can be pricey, there are some ways to cut costs without sacrificing quality. For example, many authors offer digital swag like downloadable prints or excerpts from the book.

That said, eye-catching physical swag still tends to have the best effect, especially for sci-fi/fantasy, young adult, and romance authors. These genres allow you to be especially colorful and creative with your swag!

Update your social media pages

Make sure to update all your headers with the upcoming release date. Try using pinned tweets and IG images to ensure the latest pre-order news stays at the top of your feed!

Lean on your networks: your email list, author friends, and street team

All authors have networks of supporters–hopefully you’ve figured out who your “people” are! 

If you have an email list, you’ll want to schedule an e-blast encouraging your subscribers to pre-order. We’d recommend offering them a swag item or discount not offered elsewhere to thank them for being loyal supporters!

Consider any authors you may be connected with who are releasing new books at roughly the same time as you. Offer to support each other by exchanging social media or newsletter promo posts!

You may also consider engaging a street team to help with your pre-order campaign. Ideally, this team of dedicated fans will promote your book on their social media pages in exchange for special rewards and exclusive opportunities.

Bonus: keep your social media active and fun

Throughout your pre-order campaign, you’ll want to stay active on social media, posting engaging content to keep your followers interested in the upcoming release, such as a cover reveal or a behind-the-scenes video about the making of the book. It’s important to share content that isn’t directly sales focused every now and then, so your followers don’t feel bogged down with posts to “buy, buy, buy!”

We hope these tips will lead to more pre-orders for your titles, but as our team likes to say, publicity is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember, these things take time!

Wondering what other authors think of pre-order campaigns? Check out Books Forward President Marrisa DeCuir’s article for The Writer, with input from bestselling authors like Joan He.