By Mary Dunn
It all began at the International Reading Association Convention in 2004 when I sat next to a first-grade teacher at one of the author sessions. She shared her experiences using books with kids and discussed some of her favorites.
“What do you do?” she asked by way of continuing the conversation.
“Write children’s nonfiction books,” I said, handing her my business card. “From your experience, what types of books do you think are missing from the titles already published?”
“Books about nature,” she replied without hesitating. “Sure, there are some, but kids don’t even know the names of common flowers, make gardens, or enjoy the quiet beauty of the outdoors.”
Her words stayed with me.
Not long after that, I visited Boston and went to several museums, including the home of Rose Standish Nichols, one of the first women garden designers in the United States. Researching her family papers at the Schlesinger Library, I discovered that even as a child, Rose enjoyed the outdoors. You know where I am going with this, right?
Over a period of about seven years, I wrote and rewrote a picture book biography of Rose, only to be turned down by dozens of publishers who felt the audience for such a book would be too small. My file drawer bulged with rejection letters and copies of revisions. Taking advice from a famous character in children’s literature, the Little Red Hen, I decided to publish it myself, and I did.
Marketing, the most difficult work of being an author, was about to begin. Here are a few suggestions I gleaned from multiple sources and set to work to implement:
Advertise on the Internet
Because my children’s picture book biography is about a gardener and landscaping, I searched for garden websites that sell books and contacted the reviewer of Dave’s Garden to ask if I could send her a copy. She was most accommodating, and in less than a month she featured my book.
Next, I contacted Margo Dill, children’s author, teacher, and book reviewer, and asked if she would be willing to review my new book in one of her blog posts, Read This Book and Use It. Another web contact was successful!
My own website and blog also feature the book and ordering information.
I didn’t forget my university affiliation. I made use of the website link that allows alumni to send information about their achievements. I also emailed the bookstore and asked if they would carry my book.
Garden clubs and garden shops are plentiful, the American Gardener and the National Children and Youth Garden Symposium, for example. After having searched the Internet for addresses of many of the organizations both in the United States and Europe, I emailed them or contacted them with specially printed postcards advertising information about my new biography.
Most museums have a gift shop, and usually there are items for children as well as adults. Again, I prepared a list of those organizations I thought would be most interested in a woman garden designer: National Museum of Women in the Arts, Chicago Botanic Garden Shop, Smithsonian Gardens, and Kohl’s Children’s Museum, to name a few. To some I sent postcards; for others I included a bio and copy of the book.
Contact Book Stores
I dropped off literature at independent bookstores, targeting those that carried other books about famous gardens in the area where Rose worked.
Tell a Friend
Friends tend to be as interested in getting out the word about our books as we are. One friend hosted a book signing at her home, which was perfect because Rose Standish Nichols originally designed the garden of this home.
Another friend has contacts at a university that has an extensive horticulture program, including workshops for children.
A February 29, 2012 New York Times article, “Children’s Books Lose Touch with Nature,” on the Parenting Blog link, laments the decline of children’s contact with nature and books that enrich and extend that experience. Hopefully, there will be many more authors who will join the ranks of those who help children learn about the wonders of the outdoors and the value of “quiet books” that nourish the spirit.
Mary Dunn is a literary specialist who has taught students at the elementary and college levels. Her publications include fiction and nonfiction titles for children. For more information, visit her website at http://www.marydunnbooks.com.