Set the Stage for Success By Shirley Raye Redmond

If you’ve recently sold or purchased a home, you may be familiar with the hottest trend in moving real estate. It’s called “staging” and involves demonstrating creative combinations to attract potential buyers. Many real estate agents even hire professional “stagers” to make properties-for-sale more attractive to potential buyers. They rearrange furniture to create flow and energy. They de-clutter dens and bathrooms. They might brighten a black coffee table with a vase of white roses to make the living room “pop.”

Why go to all this trouble? To make a sale, of course, and to help clients see the potential in a particular property. Staging works! By modifying the techniques, I’ve sold children’s book manuscripts on topics that have already been covered pretty thoroughly-including one about fairies (yes, another book on fairies!) to Random House.

Here’s how it works: after you’ve written the best possible manuscript you can produce, it’s time to do your business homework. If you’ve been reading Publisher’s Weekly, you’ll know that the cut backs in publishing have been pretty scary-particularly in children’s book publishing. Editorial retirees are not being replaced. Both schools and libraries-top markets for children’s books-are pinching pennies. Publishing houses solely dependent upon these “institutional markets” have called for hiring freezes and budget cuts.

What does this mean to children’s book writers? It means times are tough. Editors are not buying as many manuscripts as they have been in the past. And when they do buy, they will trim down the size of both your advance and the publicity budget, if any, for your book. Here’s where staging techniques come in handy. Show the editor that you’re market savvy. When I pitched my picture book manuscript about a blind horse that helped build the transcontinental railroad, I pointed out that there were no other kids books about Blind Tom on the market. I mentioned that the title would appeal to horse lovers and “trainiacs.” I provided contact information for approximately 300 railroad museums in the U.S. with bookstores or gift shops.

I also consulted a calendar for other “staging ideas.” Calendars can be a writer’s most valuable marketing tool. From editorial calendars to Hallmark calendars to specialized calendars that provide information, such as movie production dates-all of these can be used by savvy writers to sell their children’s book manuscripts. I knew that the 140th celebration of the Golden Spike Ceremony would be observed in 2009, the same year as the Lincoln Bicentennial. The transcontinental railroad was one of Lincoln’s dream projects, but he never lived to see it. I used this information to set the stage for success with my manuscript.

And yes, you can use staging techniques to sell “grown up” books, too. The downturn in the economy means that people are cooking at home more, and are more cautious with their money when they eat out. So, when Anne Hillerman pitched her eating guide, Santa Fe Flavors (Gibbs Smith Publishers), she mentioned that she’d been eating her way “through Santa Fe, Taos, and the Espanola Valley for half a dozen years.” Anne also suggested the affordable $10 price and the small format, making the book easy to stash in a purse, backpack or diaper bag. Anne’s husband Don offered to provide a photo of each restaurant’s sign/logo. The book is now sold as a counter top item at the restaurants that are mentioned in the guide, as well as gift stores, specialty food stores, farmer’s markets, and traditional bookstores.

So, before mailing off that next book proposal, take the time to do a little savvy marketing, and set the stage for YOUR success.

Shirley Raye Redmond is the award-winning author of numerous articles and books, for adults and children, including Blind Tom, the Horse Who Helped Build the Great Railroad (Mountain Press Publishing) and Pigeon Hero! (Simon & Schuster), which won an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Book Award. Visit her website at: