I've just been having this discussion on Twitter, and I wanted to give an answer. But it's difficult to sum up in 144 words, and this kid's not the only one asking the question. Almost all authors are asking it.
When I first saw the tweet, it had a whiff of spam, but I thought perhaps the person tweeting was genuinely a kid, and I like to support young people making their own books. So I clicked on his profile and saw his tweets. He'd been tweeting exactly the same thing directly at loads of people. If it had been an adult, I would have ignored him; if he'd tweeted me twice, I would have blocked him or possibly reported him for spamming. But I know what it's like, that fine line between trying to promote my book and trying not to overload people with too much information they don't want.
So let's look at his profile:
Not bad. A head shot, which helps us know who's tweeting. A peek at what I assume is the book's front cover, or at least an image that gives the title and helps convey the atmosphere of the book. And he's been followed by one of my publishers, Scholastic UK, which is heartening. He's also put that he's based in London, like me, which is helpful because I realise he's local, and makes me more inclined to engage with him.
But the number one tip I'd give him is that he needs a web link in his profile: it's impossible to find out about his book with a direct click. I've seen loads of authors on Twitter who make this mistake. People browsing the Internet are lazy; unless they have a burning reason, they don't want to take the extra time to do a search engine hunt for your book.
The link doesn't have to go to a big expensive website. It can go straight to a free blog (such as Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr, LiveJournal, etc) with a single blog post on it. The most important thing about that web page/ blog post is that it have:
*The name of the book
*The cover of the book
*A brief blurb: what's it about? (And what makes it different from all the other books?)
*A link to somewhere I can buy it, whether it be a bookshop, a bookshop website, a newsagent that stocks it, a fair you're selling it at, anything. Wherever people can get hold of a copy.
But that still leave the question: what can he tweet about, once he has this in place? Just saying 'Buy my book!' doesn't go down well in Internet-world. His age helps him, a bit like the way people will buy lemonade from a kid sitting on the street by a cardboard box, even if they didn't think they wanted lemonade. It's just nice to see someone young being entrepreneurial. But that will only go so far, and he'll lose that credential as he gets older. It's time to start learning the skills that he can take into his adulthood as an author.
I don't have all the answers, but I'm learning as I go, just like he is. I remember once leaving an ecstatic review of The DFC comic over on Neil Gaiman's forum when I started writing the Vern and Lettuce comic strips. I was immediately reprimanded for spamming and my blood ran cold. WHAT? But I'm just excited! And it's a place where people like British comics, SURELY they'd want to know??! I felt mortified, deleted the comment and apologised. Immediately I got some nice replies back, people thanking me for apologising and realising that it was comics passion firing me up, not just self-promotion. But I learned a lesson, that I could be a spammer, it wasn't just strangers hawking diet schemes from the other side of the planet. I hadn't realised that. This kid's the same, he didn't go quiet when I tweeted criticism back at him, he came back with a genuine question and we had a brief version of a real-life, non-spam chat.
That's what you need on the Internet, a way to show you're a genuine, real-life person, fired up with a passion for what you do. People get excited when they come in contact with real passion and enthusiasm. But this kid's 11, he doesn't want to lay his whole life open on the Internet. Or at least, his parents probably don't want him to, and well-meaning people would worry for him if he did. So what else can he do?
My advice to him would be:
1. Start a blog. There are some rules on the Internet about age limits, but if he's already tweeting, he's probably in a position where he can get a blog, or his parents/guardians/librarian/teacher could help him manage one.
A blog is a great place where you can talk about your book. Perhaps start with a blog post saying why you decided to write this book, people always want to know that. Include some images if you can, people always like to see long lines of text broken up with pictures. They don't have to be photos that give away too many personal details; they can be silly pencil doodles, photos of objects, post-it notes, etc. Just be sure they're not stolen images, people don't like seeing their pictures popping up on other people's websites uncredited. Just because an image is on Google Image search doesn't mean you can use it. The best and most original way is just to make your own pictures.
What about the second blog post? And the third? Here are some ideas:
2. Interview yourself. Ask yourself some questions about the book and answer them. Perhaps mix it with some silly questions, such as 'What is your favourite kind of pizza?' 'If you could have a superpower, what would it be?' 'What's your favourite joke?'
3. Get other people to interview you. You can post their questions and your answers on your own blog. If it's someone who's also written a book, a great way of thanking them for their time is to mention their book at the end, post a picture of the cover and give a link to their website. If they post the interview on their own blog, you can write on your blog that you've been interviewed and post a link to the interview. Maybe post a photo of the person interviewing you, so people can put a face to the name. If you look around at author blogs, you'll see some authors doing what is called a 'blog tour' on other people's blogs. Usually they're interviews, but not always. It gives authors something to post.
4. Write reviews of other people's books. Authors LOVE to see young people reviewing their books and getting geniune feedback about them (especially if you like their book). If you write something interesting about their book and tweet a link to them, they will almost always retweet it. After awhile, other authors and publishers and book lovers will start noticing that you're being retweeted a lot and start to follow you on Twitter. If you write half-decent reviews, there's a good chance they'll even start sending you free copies of their books to review. (You don't have to review them, but it's nice to have the option.) After awhile, they'll also start inviting you to book launches and book events, and if you post photos and a review of the event, people will again retweet you. You'll start to become a familiar face to book people and they'll be well disposed to share what you have to say and start to take interest in what you're doing, too. I know a lot of people who are published by major publishing houses who started this way, and they continue to have solid blog followings.
5. Do some events. You don't have to wait to be invited to a major literary festival to do events. It could be something as small as a table at your school book fair, or in your local library. And if you do events, it gives you a place to sell your book and then something interesting to blog about afterward (especially if you remember to bring your camera and take some photos). The way I started was by paying a little bit of money to set up my books and comics at a small press fair. Here you go, here's my first fair ever, when I split a table with my friend David O'Connell. I think I paid £15 for it and I made back more than enough money to cover the cost of it.
Think about how your books are displayed on the table, prices, where you're going to put your money.
I recently read good blog posts about preparing for these small press/ comics fairs by Sara McH here and by Matt Badham here.
Even if you're not selling comics, if you're a kid with self-published books, most festivals will welcome you. Be as polite and professional as you can with all the people you encounter, say thank you whenever someone helps you, and perhaps bring a friend or parent to help you with setting up and taking cash when people buy your books. You can play around with the price and see what sells best and still gets you enough profit to make it possible to do it again. Some potential festivals include Comiket, the Oxford Children's Comics Festival, the Alternative Press Fair (is that still going?), Leeds Thought Bubble festival. You could even encourage your school to set up its own festival! I've met two 12-year-old self publishers who exhibit at fairs, Zoom Rockman and Jordan Vigay:
This one's at Comiket, when Zoom was a bit younger:
And here's an interview with Jordan at the Oxford Children's Comic Festival:
6. Keep a copy of your book with you as often as you can. You never know when it might be a good time to show it to someone or pose with it in a picture for your blog.
7. Print business cards. Make some simple business cards, or even better, tiny photocopied sample books with your web address - or at least your Twitter name - printed on them. If you meet someone, you can give them a card and if they're interested in you, they can find you and your books on the Internet. They don't have to be fancy, just a way for someone to find you.
8. Do some research. Go look up Zoom Rockman's website and work out his business model. Jordan Vigay does much more with YouTube than I do, and it may be a good way forward, with his simple but clever animations. (And Jordan got my attention by sending me a fan comic. I'm like most authors, I like people saying nice things about me, and I'm always looking for something fun to post on my own blog!)
Research how your favourite authors blog. Research how they tweet. See what you think works, and what doesn't work. Go out in the real world and do something interesting, and then report back about what you've done on your blog or Twitter, using techniques you've picked up from authors you admire. Tweet back to them if you like something they've done. The ones who have less than, say, 10,000 followers are more likely to tweet you back, so don't just focus on tweeting to the ones with millions of followers. They'll be much more interested in your comments about what they've done than if you're telling them to buy your book. If you develop conversations with them, they may well go peek over at your profile and follow that web link you've posted (or will post... don't forget!).
I hope that helps! If anyone has any other helpful tips, or knows of small press fairs or other opportunities for kids to sell their books, please leave a message in the comments!
. . .
Edit: A year later, and it's great to see that Harri's going strong! I met him at Manx Lit Fest as a fellow author and he's already come a long way from our first exchange. He's even made quite a few school visits. Yay! You can check out his website here.