Writing, designing, and illustrating Penguins Can’t Fly was easy and fun, at least compared to the marketing, promoting, and selling part of the process. Since the beginning, I knew that the bulk of the latter was on us, not the publisher. This is something that few authors grasp.
You see, with all the books that they publish, there are only so many resources a publisher can put behind a first-time author. (Technically, I am not a first-time author, with four books and several thousands of copies sold, but I AM a rookie when it comes to the traditional publishing game.) St. Martin’s has invested a considerable amount of money in making this a full-color, hardcover book, and for that, I’m super grateful.
Since the day we signed the contract, Kim and I have known that creativity is our number one asset when it comes to promoting this book. Especially since we don’t have a ton of A-List blogger friends or a boatload of money to invest in marketing.
A few months ago, one of the women on our marketing team sent us a list of potential bookstores where she could arrange book signings. Although you might consider book signings to be exciting and glamourous, I can assure you that unless you are already famous or have a relatively large online following, they look something like this: you are sitting at a table with a stack of your books. What seems like a thousand people walk by without even a glance. One person stops, picks up your book, puts it down, and walks away, without a single word. Another person stops to ask you where the bathroom is. Finally, another person stops and buys a book. This person is either a) your mom or b) your dad.
So yeah, sign me up for a few weeks of that. Not.
In any case, when you write a book about breaking rules that don’t exist, you kind of put a bit of pressure on yourself to not do things the way they are always done.
And so it was with great excitement when Kim and I came up with an idea that we thought was really novel. Since the book is titled “Penguins Can’t Fly,” what if we did our book signings at zoos? And what if instead of making the event about us, we made it into a fun event that focused on the guests, and featured a bunch of immersive Activity Stations that were inspired by rules from the book?
We envision things like:
- Thou Shalt Act Thine Age: We’ll have a photo booth area with a big picture frame, silly props, and (hopefully) a Marty the Penguin mascot with a red balloon to pose for photos.
- Thy Christmas Cookies Shalt Look Like Christmas Cookies: a supply of penguin-shaped sugar cookies, frosting, and other accouterments will be on hand and guests will be encouraged to decorate their own cookies as ugly as possible.
- Thou Shalt Not Draw on Thy Children: Parents will be given permission to draw on their children with washable markers.
- Thou Shalt Only Wear Thy Wedding Dress on Thy Wedding Day: Anyone who comes to the zoo in their wedding dress will get a signed print and be entered to win a really cool grand prize.
It’s a perfect way to connect with the target market of the book. Each zoo could run sales through their own book store, so they would receive all proceeds from the event, in addition to having something that would enhance the experience of their guests. We, in turn, would have something unique to pitch to the media, and our family would get to spend our summer visiting a bunch of great zoos (which is a favorite pastime of ours).
I know I am biased, but it seems like a win-win scenario for everyone involved.
I am happy to say that there are a handful of zoos that quickly saw the vision and immediately jumped on board. So the Escape Adulthood Zoo Tour is happening. The only question (besides how we will pay for it) is how extensive it will be.
You guys, Kim and I had no idea how hard of a sell this would be.
Although it’s common knowledge that all the animals at zoos are in enclosures, I am saddened to say that many of the humans running them are in cages, imprisoned by Adultitis.
You would not believe some of the responses we’ve gotten back. Our hometown zoo wanted to charge us $1,000 for the use of two folding tables. One guy turned us down, saying, “We don’t really do this sort of thing.” (Really? You don’t say. That’s kind of the whole point…) Another woman literally said, “As a rule, we don’t host events with outsiders.” (Ha! “As a RULE!” And she said this without the least bit of irony.)
Kim and I keep telling ourselves that all this rejection will make for a better story later, but right now, I can’t lie. It’s really hard. Every no is like a punch in the gut, an invitation to wonder if we really are just delusional.
Frankly, this is a feeling you’d think we’d have gotten used to, fifteen years into this journey.
Nope. It’s still hard. In some ways, this seems harder. Maybe it’s because there’s so much at stake, maybe it’s because we see the vision so clearly that it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could not be excited by it.
Perhaps we are just not selling it right (we keep tweaking our pitch based on the feedback we’ve been getting). Perhaps it is just not as terrific an idea as we think. Or perhaps this is just another painful example of just how prevalent Adultitis is in our society.
There are countless people who are too conditioned to play by the rules, too used to doing what they’re told, and too afraid to take a chance on something new and different.
We are heartened by the brave zoos who have already signed on to partner with us, eager to create something special for their guests. It is our goal to make sure their communities know how lucky they are to have these forward-thinking, Adultitis-fighting advocates in their midst. We hope that we will be able to visit a zoo near you. We’ll keep you posted.
I just wanted to share this to give you an inside look at what’s going on behind the scenes of the marketing of this book. But I also hope it’s a good reminder to you that changing the world, no matter how small a corner of it, is never easy.