My book, Fiona Thorn and the Carapacem Spell, was published last September, almost six months ago. I remember the first time I saw it on Amazon, its beautiful cover gleaming on the left side of the page with the cool “Look Inside” arrow skimming the top. I was overjoyed. I thought it couldn’t get any better.
Little did I know that my life was about to become one giant marketing campaign, my thoughts turning on a nonstop hamster wheel of how to get noticed, how to get noticed, how to get noticed…all to the rhythm of that Simpsons episode where the monorail is coming to Springfield. Monorail, monorail, monorail….
As the months passed I’ve been fortunate. I’ve gotten some good reviews, a couple not so good too, I’ll admit, but so far, sales have been steady. I attribute this, mainly, to the fact that it’s become commonplace for me to introduce myself to complete strangers as I slide them a card and a glossy new bookmark. I guess this is what it takes, but to be honest, it’s a stretch for me, and really, a bit embarrassing.
The other day I found myself scoping checkout lines at Safeway for young girls between the ages of 9 and12 (my demographic), hoping to unload my groceries behind them so I could introduce myself and brighten their day with a free bookmark. Yeah. It’s not good. I’ve become what my daughter would call a Creeper. And she’d be right.
Oh, sure. I have other savvy marketing techniques in my arsenal. I’m in the KOLL and I’ve had free promotional giveaways. I’ve had book signings at local bookstores, gone to local book fairs and given more copies of my book away than I can even count. I’m on it.
But I needed a better way. The creeping had to stop.
It was with this in mind that, as I was driving home one night (probably from the grocery store), I had a thought. What could I do that other authors aren’t doing? How could I set myself apart? How could I stand out and still get in front of my audience?
Birthday Parties! I could pimp myself out to kids’ birthday parties! It was like lightning had struck. Now this, this was a new idea. Thoughts swirled ferociously in my busy little head even as I slowed to pull into my driveway.
I could do a reading, I thought, just a short one…and I’d have to have some kind of handout. Bookmarks, of course! Stickers, too. I made a mental note to get on that and headed into the house. And I could give a copy of the book to the birthday kid. Super!
I smiled at my daughter, who was nestled into our couch watching How I Met Your Mother, and walked by, full of purpose.
I’d need an activity, too. Something exciting for them to do. Well, I thought as I loaded our pantry with the military installation sized Goldfish box, Fiona Thorn is an explosives expert. Learning about explosives could be fun. Kids will love it, and it’s even scientific! Emma and her friends know all kinds of cool science. They could help.
This was really coming together.
“Hey, Em,” I said, almost bouncing with excitement, “I need to get my hands on an explosive. Any ideas?”
Not much would pull her from Ted and the gang, but that got it done.
“A safe one, I mean,” I said. “For kids.” She’d flipped around and was staring at me, mouth open. “I want to hand them out at birthday parties.”
“Ahh, yeah.” She jumped the back of the couch, her show completely forgotten, and started pacing the kitchen, a science prodigy unleashed.
Suffice it to say that my daughter and I (with the help of Facebook and a few of her friends) riffed on the idea until we had a plan. We even had a schematic. We had a safe explosive device (designed by other children, I might add—don’t judge) that didn’t really do much more than burn and smoke on impact. It seemed cool.
My husband was lucky enough to walk in from work as we were in the throes of our brilliance. I explained my idea to him, thrilled that I had finally, finally come up with an original marketing technique to set me apart as an author. He’s a business guy, I thought, he should love this. After my whole plan was outlined, I said as much to him.
“Let me get this straight,” he said, pulling his sweatshirt over his head, “you want to promote the book by hiring out to birthday parties? Where you’ll do a reading and then teach elementary school kids how to build their own explosives?”
“Well,” I said a bit defensively—I could tell by his tone that he’d yet to see the promise in my plan, “I wasn’t thinking we’d teach them how to make the explosives, geez, just, ya’ know, let them throw them in the yard or something.”
“Uh huh.” He took a sip of water and leaned on our bed. “Assuming you could sell this to the parents, which is, just…”
I must’ve grimaced because he stopped and moved on.
“What happens when they throw them at each other, or into the birthday cake or at the neighbor’s dog? What happens when one of these explosives,” and he made this face, I swear you should’ve seen it—almost like the whole thing was a bad idea, “goes off in some kid’s hand?”
There’s a name for people like this: Dream Crusher.
But of course he was right. After he rattled off at least three headlines that I did NOT want to be associated with, Children’s Author to Stand Trial in Local Explosives Incident, Fingers Found Weeks Later After Children’s Author Ruins Multiple Young Lives, and my absolute favorite, Neighborhood Rocked by “Magical Explosives”: Community to Sue, I know this is surprising, but I decided against it.
My daughter and her friends were pretty disappointed, but they took it in stride. I am, however, back on the hamster wheel.
About the Author:
Jen Barton was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1971 and spent much of her life on the East Coast. In 2008, at age 36, she and her family moved to California. With two cars, she and her husband moved two dogs, two guinea pigs, a cornsnake and their 10-year old daughter across the country. She counts the five day road trip, including a near escape by both dogs on Day 3, as one of her best experiences to date.
In 2009, with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy from Millersville University, Barton realized her childhood dream to become a writer. One van full of bored kids, one long day of travel, and Fiona Thorn was born. She’s been writing ever since.
When not taxiing her teenage daughter hither and yon, Barton loves reading (especially fantasy by George R. R. Martin), cooking (anything with pasta is a hit), and writing (magical worlds with obstinate teen girls is always a favorite).