Paper Distribution is the first obvious hurdle. It’s very unlikely you will be on the bookshelves of the B&N, and that is where a lot of middle grade books are discovered. Plus, middle grade readers, even with the proliferation of cheaper-and-cheaper ereaders, still read paper books. A lot of paper books. Add in the price factor (Print On Demand books tend to be more expensive than trad-pub print runs), and it’s tough to get those paper books into kids hands.
Why this is changing: More people are buying print books online (vs. browsing in the bookstore). As bookshelf space continues to shrink, the bookshelf in the bookstore counts less and less as a discovery tool… even for children’s books.
Reviews are always difficult to get, but reviews for middle grade books have been even more important, because major review channels like the School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist serve as social-proof to parents, teachers, and librarians, that middle grade books are good to pass onto their children. These review channels either exclude indie books (School Library Journal), are indie-unfriendly (Booklist wants paper books months in advance), or charge indie authors a hefty fee to be reviewed in a segregated section that librarians and teachers are much less likely to read (Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus).
Why this is changing: Goodreads and other online media are reaching these gatekeepers (parents, teachers, librarians), so while the kids themselves are not online, the gatekeepers are. Review services like NetGalley are now open to indie books, providing an end-run around the review channels. I can personally attest that you can use Netgalley to reach teachers and librarians that are otherwise inaccessible.
Discovery is the constant challenge for all authors everywhere. Adult and young adult authors have an advantage because their audience peruses the online bestseller lists, subscribe to Bookbub, and go on Goodreads to see what their friends are reading. For middle grade, once again, it’s the gatekeepers who are doing these activities, and usually not looking in those places for middle grade books.
Why this is changing: Libraries are more and more open to stocking indie books – much more so than bookstores, in general. The gatekeepers (parents, teachers, librarians) are becoming more aware and more open to indie books – each time they have a positive experience with indie books for themselves, they are more willing to take a chance on those with their students and children. Kids themselves are starting to use services like Goodreads in their schools, reviewing books and adding them to their TBR lists. They are slowly bypassing the gatekeepers to discover books on their own.
This all points toward indie middle grade slowly finding its way into kids hands.
How to Market Indie Middle Grade
Reaching Teachers and Librarians
School visits put you in direct contact with your audience, but there’s a limit to how much of that you can do. More teachers, librarians and booksellers interested in MG can be found on NetGalley – they may not be interested in reviewing as much as finding good reads to recommend to their patrons or stock in their libraries and classrooms. You can entice these “gatekeepers” even more by creating online materials (teacher’s guides, games, book trailers) that help them bring your book into the classroom.
Teacher’s Guides – With the help of a teacher-friend, I created my own activities, games, and Teacher’s Guide for Faery Swap. Another MG-author-friend hired Blue Slip media to create hers. Either way, it’s important to emphasize the educational component of your story (including linking to Common Core, as that is a requirement for many schools).
Faery Swap Blog Tour (March 3rd 21st): review copies are available, as well as excerpts and a guest post Warrior Faeries and Math Magick about how Faery Swap can be used in the classroom to get kids excited about math and science. GIVEAWAY: paperback copies of Faery Swap, $25 Amazon Gift Card, and TWO Magickal Faery Wands. SIGN UP HERE
Advertising MG works is trickier than other genres. Bookbub has a middle grade list that reaches 170,000+ readers. The ads are pricey, but most people (even MG) seem to make back the money in sales. (Note: Bookbub is difficult to get into and you’ll have to discount your book). Putting a book up for giveaway on Goodreads or LibraryThing is much like posting an ad (for the small price of the book giveaway).
Joining Forces With Other Authors
My indie MG author group, the Emblazoners, is a great resource: we share information on what works (and what doesn’t!), we join forces for things like NetGalley subscriptions and buying ads in MG specific sites like Middle Shelf, and we put together our own catalog of works, marketing jointly to build a list of teachers and librarians interested in MG works.