Friday 10 July 2020

Yes I'll do social media, but does it work for non-fiction? - Moira Butterfield

I have a new book out this week but I might not hear about it much in my own country…Not yet.

Here it is! 
Children’s non-fiction gets no media reviewing in the UK (though I'm aware here's precious little for anyone). As a genre it’s only begun to get bookshop support in the UK over the last five years. Before that time we were shoved down in the darkest far corner of the kid’s book area, and we were never offered royalties.

Things have changed. We’ve got more respect. However, we still get the minimum of publicity. I’ve never actually heard of a non-fiction book launch unless it’s a book that’s first and foremost a picture book.

Currently this seems more likely than a non-fiction book launch event!
(from the new book. Illustration by Studio Fago). 
There’s a good reason why publishers don’t direct their UK efforts towards us, I think. Colour-illustrated non-fiction sells big around the world. We can launch with first-year print runs for ten countries or more and that’s how the authors, illustrators and publishers make money. Sales in the UK are not the major source so expending publicity department power on a big UK launch isn’t economically sensible. We tend to ‘slow burn’ in the UK, with sales building over time. Non-fiction awards help with that, plus word-of-mouth - especially teacher-generated book selections.

It often feels as though we're more likely to get big book sales here than in the UK 
Having said that all authors are being asked to make more effort on social media, as publishers have decided that this could help them to sell more in lockdown times and in the months afterwards. They're asking how many followers we have. For the reasons I've mentioned I don't see how that's a particularly relevant question for non-fiction. I stand to be corrected, however, if someone thinks I'm underestimating the effect of social media on 'international' non-fiction.

I'm up for doing anything to help so I’ll be doing YouTube movies (once I get a haircut) and trying to get to grips with my website so that I can update it properly with activity pages. I’m also doing my best on Instagram and Twitter. However, to be honest we non-fiction authors can’t conjure a vast UK following out of thin air – and as our sales are elsewhere it does feel rather like we’re ‘barking in the dark’ on these platforms. I hope that publishing departments take that into account if they decide to look at our follower numbers. Things will change over time, I hope, but we non-fiction authors being featured in bookshops are frankly early pioneers when it comes to publicity. 

So now you will have got the picture that writing non-fiction isn’t going to get anyone on TV, but we do have a couple of big hidden advantages - buoyant foreign sales and the fact that UK celebrities generally haven’t bothered to stick their noses in to take our cake slice for themselves (a couple have got involved but I doubt they’ll do it much once they see the size of the UK slice).

So look out for my book and I hope you buy it for all the primary school children in your life, to help them get inspired about the future...But, despite my best efforts, don’t expect to see it trending on social media any time soon!

(Am I wrong about the effect of social media on children's non-fiction? Please tell me if you think I am. We're all trying to learn what to do for the best.) 

Moira Butterfield’s new book, A Trip to the Future (Big Picture Press), aims to inspire kids to think creatively about science and about inventions they would like (or dislike) in the future world. It encourages them to imagine the future based on today’s science developments, and it’s excitingly illustrated by Fago Studio.

The endpaper of the future!
Moira Butterfield
Twitter @moiraworld
Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor 


Stroppy Author said...

I don't think you're wrong, Moira, and I think it will be hard to shift because it's not an author-led genre. If someone likes your book on space, it will likely be because they are interested in space, and it doesn't mean they will buy your book on animals because they would rather have another space book. There's too little cohesion in our oeuvre to keep young readers. I have a cohesive following with adult nf, but not as far as I am aware with cnf. Maybe librarians, who are used to taking note of who the author is, will consistently buy from one author. The style of the book is determined in the reader's mind by the illustrations, so even that doesn't give us personal stickiness. The publishers will be happy to have us do promotion because they don't care about author-loyalty among our following. For us, it's more of an investment for less reward than it is for fiction writers, who will recoup the benefit of the current book's publicity when the next book comes out.
It's a beautiful looking book and I shall certainly buy it. Love the end-papers!

Moira Butterfield said...

The other day I was asked for my social media numbers and i've been asked to do as much as poss...I think that publicity departments are currently having a strong say due to the current circumstances and I doubt that they understand where we've come from and why our numbers are quite low (because we haven't bothered much). Things are changing and I'm happy to make the effort to change them and help get a higher profile for NF books, but we can;t be expected to conjure it up from nowhere!

Nicola Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicola Morgan said...

Deleted comment because needed more time to say something coherent. I haven't found more time so I'll just say I do think social media can do just as good (or bad) a job for non-fiction as fiction, or at least for non-fiction like mine, which is, I believe, author led. I wish I didn't think that my social media interaction with school librarians, especially, helped sell my books. There are more types of book than just fiction or nonfiction an I suspect some types of nonfiction are easier to promote than others on social media.

Moira Butterfield said...

Yes, some types are definitely easier to promote, Nicola. I feel like a social media early pioneer on the primary school-age illustrated book side - I have royalty deals (once unheard of) and want to do my bit, but I'm feeling my way as to what's best. I don't want to be judged by publicity depts on the same criteria as novelists.

Nicola Morgan said...

But how does a novelist build a social media platform more easily? A nonfiction writer often/usually has their 'expertise' and 'authority' to draw on and readers/customers will go to that and listen because of what we know (IF we have taken steps to make that expertise and authority publicly known and easy to find - and if we haven't then we can't really be surprised when readers don't know or care about it.) As an illustration, it's been enormously much easier for me to sell my self-published nonfiction than it has been to sell my previously published and award-winning but now self-re-published fiction. This is, granted, probably at least partly because you can more easily make a nonfiction book findable on search engines than you can a novel, but it is also surely because it's easier for me to create a social media platform of "the person who knows about X,Y, Z topics" (which is relatively few people) than "person who writes novels" (a shedload of people).

Moira Butterfield said...

All good points, Nicola, for those with a particular expertise. For me and others working with the younger age-groups - I'm not a expert on anything but my abilities are in communicating things to primary age children in a way that helps them to read and inspires them to think, and helps any adults reading with them to have a good experience. So I don't have an expertise platform to build on, but I certainly can offer things to schools and parents. The point is that for highly-illustrated NF the majority of our sales are around the world, not in the UK particularly - so if a publicity department suddenly looks at our social media numbers it's not surprising if they are quite low. Up until the last few years we had to work on flat fee deals or not at all, and so didn't make much effort (well I tried, but gave up). it's different now but we are feeling our way on the social media side.

Moira Butterfield said...

Actually I think that we young-age NF writers should be building our platform if we want to be taken seriously. But in the blog above there are reasons very few do it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Yes, for the books you're talking about, I totally take the point. And I certainly don't like the idea of publishers looking at our engagement stats and making publishing decisions on that. And also not helping us build those networks that they want us to use!

Moira Butterfield said...

Ha ha this afternoon I was tagged in an Instagram post offering me !000 followers for $29! That renders the numbers game pretty meaningless!

Andy Seed said...

Good post, Moira, and well done as always for shouting out for factual books. I've noticed the same growing interest in social media among publishers and marketing bods but I'm not convinced that it makes a great difference to sales unless you can spend a lot of time on it (something that doesn't fill me with glee).
My own particular interest is in the value of factual books as routes to reading for disengaged kids. Children love well-illustrated collections of facts presented snappily, especially if they cover the subjects that fascinate their own age group.
What a shame that the UK lags behind most of the rest of the world in valuing cnf.

Moira Butterfield said...

You are great on Twitter, Andy. And yes, yes YES to the value of fact books for disengaged kids. Don't get me started......: )
On the subject of social media - I don't think that sales are going to be much affected by social media numbers either. I do worry about the idea spreading in publishing that it's some sort of magic selling spell.

Penny Dolan said...

I think the NC, in limiting the curriculum, has a lot to answer for!

Val Girling said...

I'm following this with interest as I have just had my first children's book published- one of a series- and all the above applies to fiction writers too! With bookshops now not taking any new stock due to 4 month backlogs it seems that I now have to do all the work of the publicity department and have been encouraged to "create a presence" on social media! I've just mastered (ha!)the art of filming and have put my first film on YouTube but I'm really not convinced it will get me anywhere! "Slow burn" is about right, Moira!

Val Girling said...

Totally agree with all the above as I have just had my first children's fiction book published and I have been asked to "create a social media presence "! With bookshops now not taking any new stock due to a 4 month backlog during lockdown I'm finding it hard to get "exposure". So, I've just mastered (ha!)the art of film making and have put my first film clip on my new YouTube channel hoping this gets me somewhere! "Slow burn" is about right, Moira!