Let’s talk about marketing your book online

I was at an SCBWI conference a couple weeks ago at which they had a panel of newly published authors do a panel chat about how they got published, and the subject came up of websites and blogs. This is something that I’ve heard a lot of people talk about in the children’s book blogosphere, and the discussion that day brought up the same question for me with these authors.

After all of the authors answered the question about marketing their books online with some version of "I have a web page," and perhaps an "I have a Facebook," I raised my hand and asked, "I’ve heard it said that the children’s book online community can be a little . . . in-bred. That is, authors friend authors on LJ and Facebook, comment on each other’s blogs and do blog tours, do interviews with reviewer bloggers, but who is the audience that these blogs reach? How do your directly reach your readers online?"

(I admit, it was a loaded question, because I’ve seen authors use the web in some very innovative ways to reach their teen readers, especially, and part of the answer to that for younger readers isn’t a direct answer because gatekeepers are involved.)

But I’d like to open up the question to you guys. Let’s brainstorm and really think about how to use these new technologies in a way that reaches teens. And how do you go beyond the message of "buy, buy, buy" (which is good for paying your bills, but there is something very commercial about that which I don’t think we really aspire to openly in the book world), and make it a more general message, yet still reach them about your book?

There are already some great examples of authors doing things that reach their readers directly–I’ll name a few off the top of my head: Readergirlz, Scott Westerfeld’s blog, Shannon Hale’s blog, several communities on Facebook. How do these accomplish what they do, and is there a way of extending their reach or following their example? How did Scott and Shannon attract so many readers–do teens look up their favorite author and see if he or she has a blog, or did the blog attract the teen first and then they became a reader of the books?

And what’s up with Twitter? I haven’t really had a chance to check it out yet. How might Twitter be used to reach teen readers?

Those are just a few questions I have, and I’m hoping to open up a discussion here and on Facebook, where this blog is imported as a note. I’ve seen these questions asked again and again on listservs I’ve been on, but usually in the context of librarianship, and I’m wondering how authors specifically can use these tools to reach readers.