The Importance of Publisher Podcasting with Candlewick Press Presents

For Candlewick Press’s 25th anniversary, they decided to make a podcast that gave listeners a peek behind the curtain of the house that gave them Judy Moody, Because of Winn-Dixie, Where’s Waldo? and more. Candlewick Press Presents gained thousands of listeners during its limited run in 2017, and it’s still getting plays from industry hopefuls as well as book lovers.

In this guest post, Ally Russell from Candlewick Press describes how a traditional publisher got into the podcasting game and how it benefited from connecting with its audience in a new way.

A Learning Experience

Publishing is a fairly small and exclusive community, and many people want to know how others broke into the industry. Some readers just want an answer to a simpler but equally complicated question: How are books made? Giving people insight into the journeys of successful book creators and providing them with details on the publication of particular books gives them tools to use on their own publishing paths and a deeper appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes.

One of the most exciting pieces of information we’ve come across since the release of Candlewick Press Presents is that our podcast has been used in college classrooms as a teaching tool. At least two college instructors have required their students to listen to episodes of the show to gain a better understanding of the book publication process. We’ve always aimed to help educators use our books in the classroom, so having the podcast used as a supplementary teaching material was a huge measure of success for Candlewick.

We use the Candlewick podcast to give our readers insight and entertainment. We tell new stories — stories that wouldn’t work in a traditional book format. It’s true that the Internet has forced publishers to adapt and find new ways of putting books into the hands of readers, but it has also allowed us to broadcast stories into the heads and hearts of millions of listeners.

We’re still book people, but now we’re also in the business of oral storytelling.

Initially, we weren’t sure if our readers would be receptive to a different kind of storytelling from Candlewick Press. However, the publishing industry has had to adapt to the digital age, and reaching readers beyond bookstores is something that we feel passionately about. So we dipped our metaphorical toes into the world of podcasting. We could only hope that our listeners would enjoy the stories from behind the scenes as much as they enjoy reading the stories printed on the pages.

We’re book people. We spend our days looking closely at text and illustrations, but we had to learn to listen closely to audio recordings to eliminate extraneous noises (which were almost always children from the daycare next door pattering their tiny hands on our windows during their afternoon walks). We know how to produce and market beautiful books, but we had to learn how to present and promote the creators of those books. We know how to tell stories on paper, but we had to figure out how to tell them in a podcast.

We spent months completing logistical work: Choosing a podcast name, purchasing a domain name, designing a logo, and testing recording equipment in our “studio” (which is really just a small conference room named after one of our most beloved book characters, Maisy).

Creating and Launching Candlewick Press Presents

For the launch of the podcast, we had to curate a list of locals from our roster of brilliant talent who would be willing to help us on our journey into the world of nonfiction audio storytelling. The task was particularly difficult because we wanted to choose authors and illustrators who represent the broad spectrum of books we publish. We brought in picture book illustrators Ekua Holmes and Scott Magoon and wordless picture book storytellers Aaron Becker and Ethan and Vita Murrow. We included board book and interactive activity book creator Jannie Ho and middle-grade fiction author Teresa Flavin. We also invited nonfiction storyteller Martin W. Sandler as well as two creators who are skilled at spinning tales of both fiction and nonfiction for various ages, author/illustrator Annette LeBlanc Cate and author/poet Lesléa Newman. Annie Cardi and anthology editors Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant covered YA books. Finally, we rounded out the list with picture book creator Matt Tavares and YA author M. T. Anderson, who have been publishing with Candlewick Press for almost as long as our doors have been open.

In May 2017, after months of research, interviewing, and editing, Candlewick Press Presents launched! The podcast aired weekly between June 8 and August 31. The show was available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. During its first week, the podcast picked up almost 500  downloads. Within its first month, almost 2,000 downloads. As the weeks went on and with each new episode, the program gained steam.

Within six months of airing, our podcast was picked up by Spotify. At the time, Spotify was relatively selective about their podcast content, so it was an honor to be included in their offering of shows. Red Tricycle’s website — which has 1 million unique visitors per month — named Candlewick Press Presents one of 5 Cool Podcasts to Try on Your Next Road Trip. In addition to other media outlets taking notice of our show, we learned that our podcast was being listened to all over the world, including in Australia, Canada, the U.K., Singapore, Japan, and Argentina.

The biggest hurdle for any podcast is acquiring ratings and reviews, and we haven’t been able to gauge the success of the show based on those. However, we know it has been a success because we’ve managed to hit 10k downloads in just over one year, even with an irregular, somewhat unpredictable schedule in 2018.

Value of Candlewick Press Presents

Here’s why we think readers will continue to seek out and listen to Candlewick Press Presents:

Behind-the-Scenes Peeks at Candlewick Press:

Isn’t it every reader’s dream to see where and how their favorite books were created? We’ve had local readers stop by our office and ask for a tour. There’s a reason that some of our most popular social media posts are photos that feature our office and staff: readers want to know! Candlewick Press Presents throws back the curtain and gives readers a glimpse into the world of publishing. The show is recorded right in our office in Somerville, MA, and it invites readers to join the experience that Candlewick employees and book creators are part of every day.

Background Information on Celebrated Authors and Illustrators:

Many of the guests on Candlewick Press Presents have been interviewed by other media outlets, but what makes the Candlewick podcast so engaging is the wealth of background information that we’re able to collect about our authors and illustrators and the publishing process of each book. We thread each discussion with funny anecdotes about the guests and interesting facts about the publication of certain books — information that only our staff could provide. Without background information from editors, book designers, and publicists, our listeners wouldn’t know about Scott Magoon’s impeccable singing voice or the story behind M. T. Anderson’s first manuscript.

Ally Russell is the consumer outreach specialist at Candlewick Press. She works to develop long-lasting, impactful relationships with organizations, and connect with consumers. She is the host of Candlewick Press Presents.

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Case Study: The Trans Generation by Ann Travers

How NYU Press used strategic timing, leveraged comp titles, and engaged with NetGalley members to make The Trans Generation a success

On NetGalley Insights, we highlight the successes of NetGalley publishers and authors, and share some of their strategies. Today, we’re talking with Betsy Steve, publicity manager at NYU Press about how she used NetGalley to ensure that The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) are Creating a Gender Revolution got the enthusiastic launch it deserved.

Published on June 5, 2018, The Trans Generation uses interviews with trans children and their parents to explore gender in the 21st century, and the experiences of navigating schools, healthcare, and society as a trans youth. Written by trans activist and advocate, Ann Travers, The Trans Generation is designed for both academic and popular audiences.

Our audience is always eager to learn more about how others are planning their publicity and marketing efforts on NetGalley. Where did NetGalley fit into the overall strategy and timeline for The Trans Generation?

At NYU Press, we find that NetGalley exposure plays an extremely important role in elevating the titles that we believe have potential for a more general readership. These are also titles that we want on librarians’ and booksellers’ radar as soon as possible.  We pay close attention to early feedback from users as it helps us position our books in the marketplace.

We knew in the early stages of planning for The Trans Generation that NetGalley would play pivotal role in its success. Last year, we had a separate book dealing with issues affecting the transgender community that was hugely popular with NetGalley readers, so we knew that there was a strong interest in the topic. As soon as we were ready to make ARCs, which for us is about 4-5 months ahead of publication, we posted the materials to NetGalley. We were able to use the widget in our ARC follow up and also email reviewers that we work with who primarily use digital galleys. The book’s publication month was during Pride month, so we also wanted to do a push with readers during that time.

Tell us a little about the various communities you focused on to promote The Trans Generation.

Outside of the academic community, we definitely wanted parents and caregivers of trans or gender fluid children to be made aware of Ann’s work. The book also has important information that can help teachers, social workers, community organizers, LGBTQ activists, even lawyers and medical providers.

With so much interest from a wide variety of readers, how did you use NetGalley to access these different readers?

Our previous success with Beyond Trans by Heath Fogg Davis helped inform who in the NetGalley community might be interested in The Trans Generation, so we targeted those same users. We were thrilled by the response from parents, many of whom I think were drawn to our book because of the title and cover. We also made mention of the author’s deep involvement with the trans community in our marketing copy to highlight that they are more than just an academic researching this area. Ann is deeply committed to the improving the lives of anyone who identifies as trans.

In what ways were these specific communities important to the success of the book?

Many of the reviews left on Goodreads, NetGalley, and Amazon were from parents or general readers interested in learning more about the trans community. It was fascinating to read that they learned so much from Ann’s work and that they would recommend the book to friends, their local libraries, and community outreach groups. We are thrilled that the book carries a 4.3-star rating on both Goodreads and Amazon, which we believe has helped in the book’s success.

What about the trade community on NetGalley? Were Reviewers, Librarians, Booksellers, Educators or book-trade media especially important to you? Why, and how did you go about reaching them?

The trade community is very important to us. Though we are an academic press, the titles we choose for NetGalley are accessibly-written on topics that appeal to a broad readership. We have cultivated an extensive list of auto-approved librarians and media that regularly check on our listings. We also notify users when we have a book they may be interested in because of their previous activity.  When we see that a user posted a review to a blog or website, we make sure to tweet out the link.

How did you optimize your Title Details page to drive requests and reviews for your book?

For this, we made sure to add all the excellent advanced coverage the book received in the “Advance Praise” section. We find that endorsements from library pre-publications and other long lead media appeal more to general readers than praise from academics and scholars. We also added to the title page all the amazing reviews users submitted.

Which NetGalley marketing tools did you take advantage of? How and when did you use them to increase interest?

NetGalley offers some excellent marketing opportunities that I take advantage of whenever they fit with our titles. For The Trans Generation, we nominated it to appear in the “Featured on NetGalley” promotion that coincided with “GLBT Book Month,” which was a perfect and timely tie in.  We definitely saw an uptick of requests once that ran.

How did you engage with members who requested access? How did this fit into your overall timeline for marketing and/or publicity?

We create a personalized approval email for each title that encourages members to leave reviews on sites such as Goodreads, Amazon, B&N.com and their independent bookstores’ website. We rely on their positive feedback on these platforms to boost our titles’ visibility.  For The Trans Generation, we did a promo push to celebrate both pub and Pride month with all members who requested access. This was a follow up email that encouraged members, if they hadn’t already, to please leave a review of the book as a way to celebrate Pride. We did see an increase in engagement after we sent that campaign.

How has NetGalley been incorporated into your post-pub strategy?

For our more popular titles, like The Trans Generation, we often leave them up for a few months after pub. We definitely want to leave enough time for users to leave reviews with Amazon.  National and local review coverage plus radio interviews often provoke members to look up a book and it’s important to us that everyone who is interested in our titles have an opportunity to download them. We also will use the widget in course adoption campaigns that may go out after the pub date.

What are your top tips for academic publishers and nonfiction publishers listing titles on NetGalley?

  • For academic publishers, try to post titles that are accessibly-written and would appeal to a general reader. This definitely helps with relationship building.
  • Take advantage of the NetGalley marketing programs.  They do an excellent job making readers aware of books they might be interested in.  It’s a great way to boost your visibility on the platform and gain some new readers.
  • NetGalley is a process.  The more you take the time to engage with users, the stronger your following becomes.

Betsy Steve is the Publicity Manager at NYU Press.

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