Digital Marketing – Exploring Multiple Revenue Streams

The event was on Tuesday, 28 May 2012 at the Playden, Arts House @ The Old Parliament House. It was the fifth session of the Asian Children’s Media Summit of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) 2012.

AFCC 2012 seemed to have a heavy emphasis on technological engagement for the development and business of Children’s Content. Such a focus was most explicit in this session of the Media Summit, exploring the new ways of establishing business online in the context of Children’s Content, even applicable to other age groups.

The panel was an interesting combination of a Children’s Content developer, author Adeline Foo of The Diary of Amos Lee acclaim, an ex-Media Development Authority (MDA) personnel-turned-technology-entrepreneur cum marketer Aaron Chua, as well as Producer and Content Developer Daryl John Ho.

Sharing by Chua

Chua began the session with advice using Google to identify potential markets for Children Content Developers’ Intellectual Property. Compact but comprehensive, Chua’s presentation provided much general insights into the world of digital marketing.

Underlying the building of online distribution channels, understanding Google and search engine optimization, and the equation of trust, is the building of a brand name. Building online distribution channels was “the most important thing” in today’s context, he emphasized.

Quoting Judith Jones, Chua definitely helped to redefine the audience’s understanding of the power of Google, “You follow your instincts, the things that you love. If you feel strongly about a book, the rationalization is that there must be others like you who want it.” Experience and gut feel might not beat Google’s algorithms in these digital days!

Apart from the technical marketing know-hows, heart-ware remained an emphasis. Summed up in a magical equation, T = R + D, the concept of trust was built upon the foundations of “Reliability” and “Delight” by Chua. Not only should one seek to fulfill promises made, but also strive to bring value-added happiness to customers.

Constantly using the example of his wife’s interest in setting up a “cake pop” business, Chua provided an accessible case study to contextualize the theoretical frameworks he presented.

In contrast, the multiple examples brought up by Ho, the next speaker, caught me losing track of them, but helped to greatly widen the scope of discussion in the context of Children’s Content.

Sharing by Ho

Focusing on the business of expanding the profits of Intellectual Property, Ho interestingly framed this as “selling your by-product”. Keywords that flew about and that were expounded upon included “transmedia”, “gamify”, “innovation” and “inter-connectedness”.

In short, Ho’s presentation served to highlight the potential of Intellectual Property being profit-maximised through their transformation into different mediums (whereby “transmedia” and “inter-connectedness” is relevant), be they books adapted into films and games.

Expanding the range of appeal of the Intellectual Property material through engaging various demographic groups is a form of innovation, of which “gamify-ing” the experience is a method.

By acknowledging the difficulties of “enriching content” in the first place, as well as finding the balance between “telling the medium’s… and [one’s] own story”, Ho increased the dimensions of digital marketing of Children’s Content today.

Sharing by Foo

Digital Marketing was further contextualised to Children’s Content with Foo’s presentation, “Making a Brand beyond Books”. Chronicling her journey through publishing The Diary of Amos Lee to her current partnership with Mediacorp for the publishing of her latest e-book, Thomas Titans, Foo shared the struggles she faced in the balance between establishing her content and authorship reputation.

Physical representation seemed the best way for Foo to achieve branding for both her works and her professional content development repute. School visits and participation in festivals both local and overseas, as well as media interviews were examples Foo highlighted.

For the digital aspect, Foo presented her decisions as inclining to place the spotlight on her Children’s Content. Whether choosing a web domain taking on the namesake of her lead character, Amos Lee, or choosing the persona of Amos Lee again in her paid blogging stint, Foo made her deliberation of these decisions as a branding measure apparent to the audience.

As for her newest book, Thomas Titan, Foo shared her aspirations of increasing her personal share of revenue through the e-books way to publishing. The traditional publishing processes in Singapore has long remained a closed-door affair; the rise of technology-based alternatives certainly holds much promise to provide other streams of revenue for Children’s Content developers, such as Foo.

The technology fever is sure a trend to stay. Children’s Content and technology… What a potent mix!

Article by Christina Ong, AFCC 2012 student journalist.

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The Art and Science of Writing Book Reviews: Online vs. Print

From left to right: Facilitator Tarie (seated), panelist Daphne Lee (standing), and seated panelists Anu Kumar and Blooey Singson (seated)
Low-resolution photograph taken with my mobile phone camera

The event was on Monday, 28 May 2012 at the Playden, Arts House @ The Old Parliament House. It was the twelfth session of the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) 2012.

In the many dimensions of the Children’s Content industry, book reviews provide critical introduction of literature. For consumers, whether parents, librarians and or young readers themselves, deciding on the selection of kid reads could hinge upon positive feedback of book reviewers. This session brought together the diverse experiences of the three panelists, Blooey Singson, Anu Kumar and Daphne Lee, the facilitator, Tarie, and members of the audience, in discussing the differences the online and print medium effects on book reviews.

Their passion for books brought the session to life as they shared their love for children’s literature and their writing careers. Harry Potter-lover Singson adds at least 5 books a week to her personal collection and would buy every edition of books she loves. Kumar spoke of the timeless appeal of The Tale of Two Cities and To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee drew laughter from the audience jesting on the socializing opportunities Children’s Literature brought to her.

Such intertwining of their passion for Children’s Literature extended to their careers as well.

Both Singson and Lee share the same day job of journalists, writing Children’s Literature book reviews for the Manila Bulletin and The Star of Malaysia and Philippines respectively. By hobby, both maintain their personal online literature review platforms.

Paralleling similar passion for Children’s Literature, Kumar is an author who writes Children’s Fiction and contributes book reviews on Children’s books on an online blog.

They never seemed to tire talking about books as they shared their personal guidelines and feelings about online and print book reviews extensively.

All three panelists echoed similar sentiments on the rigidity of print reviews, whether due to content requirements, space constraints or editorial and censorship restrictions.

Their praise of the online medium’s flexibility in exercising personal discretion in these areas was balanced however, by the demanding nature of online readership, with no monetary rewards.

Such a desire in sharing Children’s Literature with others remains the key motivation of their extensive reading and writing lifestyle.

All three panelists also shared helpful tips on working with bloggers and book reviewers for authors, illustrators and publishers. The personal relationship founded upon understanding and appreciation for the blogger still counts the most, not just a good read!

While they were all decorated writing professionals with awards and outstanding experiences, their dedication to Children’s Literature left a marked impression upon me.

More than mere critique and enthusing the introduction of literature, the panelists allowed me to see the cornerstone of passion that would make such a difference to book reviews, whether in print or online.

Article by Christina Ong, AFCC 2012 student journalist.

Light Touch, Gritty Themes: Dealing with Big Issues in Books for Kids and Young Adults

For this talk, a panel of Australian authors convened in the Living Room to discuss their individual approaches in their writing to the sensitive issues that resonate with their readers. The room was packed full of people with those arriving slightly later having to squeeze in corners and sit on the floor.

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Norman Jorgensen started the session by talking about his best selling picture book, “In Flander’s Fields” (pictured above) the profits from which he claimed funds his annual holidays. Jorgenson had had difficulty getting the book published due to it being centred on a soldier during the war and not about “rabbits and flowers” as most children’s picture books of that time were. He also mentioned other gritty picture books on war and the environment such as Where the Buffaloes Begin by Olaf Baker. Picture books need not be the light-hearted page turners they usually are but can also be an avenue to give food for thought to young children.

The two other authors on the panel, Julia Lawrinson and Dianne Wolfer, both talked about the importance of having a light touch when writing about hard issues such as abortion, underage pregnancy and discrimination. “It’s not the material, it’s the way that you handle it.” says Lawrinson. She showed us a cover of her book “Losing It” which I thought was particularly clever (see below). It is a story about exploring sexuality from the perspective of a teenage girl. Lawrinson said that she wrote it as there were many books for boys about sex but none for girls at the time, as if it was somehow taboo. She made the story humorous and fun, believing that books like these were needed as they made girls think about these issues and how they handle relationships. Ironically, the librarians who had no objections to stocking her book were from strongly conservative Catholic high schools whereas public schools in some cases banned her book due to fear of backlash from parents.

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Wolfer agrees that the “light touch” should often be done with humor, and is a necessity when writing gritty children’s books as “it’s the light touch that makes it accessible to young children.” Her book, Choices, relates the story of a teenage girl with an unwanted pregnancy. Her book is unique in that it shows both paths that the teenager may take. Though the main protagonist is Elizabeth, she is “split” into two people in the book as Lizzy who decides to have the baby and Beth who decides to get an abortion. This weaving of the two choices and their different consequences is done skilfully throughout the book. Wolfer says that “If you create characters your reader cares about, they will go with your character to dark and difficult places.”

Having said that, when the panel was asked if there were any topics that were too gritty to write about, suicide and eating disorders were mentioned. Lawrinson argues that books about eating disorders have to be done right as they may be a trigger or a form of justification for potential readers who are currently suffering from eating disorders. All three authors in the panel agree that they face censorship issues often not because of the tough issues they tackle, but rather the use of vulgarities in their books, especially Lawrinson as she writes YA novels about teens living in rough neighbourhoods. She notes wryly that often it is the adults that take offence and place a language warning on her work, rather than the teens who hardly notice them. Ultimately, all three authors in the panel agree that there is a need to write gritty books for children and young adults, but it is a task to undertake with the utmost care and lightest touch.

Suzy Lee: Surrealism for Kids

As an author for children’s literature, one must be able to successfully navigate the boundaries between adulthood and childhood. One author that manages to understand that concept and apply it to her work successfully is Suzy Lee. Her insight adds weight to the nature of how children literature, contrary to common belief, is actually set apart from conventional literature entirely, abiding by it’s own different sets of rules and conventions. Suzy Lee insists that to be able to write a successful story for a child, one must be able to straddle and portray a liminal representation of adulthood and childhood – that is, to adopt a tone and subjectivity that is accessed through childlike lens, whilst at the same time maintaining a flow of didactic knowledge that is derived from the experience of adults.

Her subsequent presentations on her works display this duality in full force. One book worth a special mention is Mirror. Mirror is a representation of both possibilities of reality and illusion as one may view it through a mirror, and according to her, is left ambiguous and open to “interpretation”. It is interesting how adults and children both are able to come up with different, yet equally interesting perspectives on the meaning of the book. For example, adults felt that it was a reflection of an internal self one sees in a mirror, whilst for some children it was more simple, that the child was simply “lonely” because she only saw herself. In a sense, her works are “conduits” for creative expression, and therefore succeeds in its attempt to create a form of interactivity with its readers.

The thematic nature of its content, too, belied the philosophy she adopts in writing good children’s literature, and that was a self reflexive need to navigate the boundaries between what was real and what was fantasy, in order to come up with an honest work of art. Another book, Shadow, also reflects this sentiment.

In Shadow, Suzy Lee once again attempts to represent a liminality between adult and childish subjectivity. It is easily interpretated; the top half represented a realist, “adult-like” perception of every-day scenes, whilst the bottom half represented the increasingly fantastical subjectivity and imaginative agency of a child. Here is an example:

She makes an interesting observation at this point, and that is that while an adult defines his reality by empirical observation, a child on the contrary “plays pretend seriously… [and] what may appear as fantasy to adults can readily be the most pressing reality to a child”. Her intention of making this contrast obvious shows her attempt to navigate inherent differences between adult and child, and to show that both views can be equally valid. In this way, this is food for thought not only to children, but to adults as well.

Local Writers, International Audience

(Click on photo to enlarge)

Seated at the panel, from left to right, is David Seow, Shamini Flint, Emily Lim and the host from AFCC.
This is a low-resolution photograph taken with my mobile phone camera.

The event was held on Monday, 28 May 2012 at the Gallery, Arts House @ The Old Parliament House. It was the 10th Session of the Asian Children’s Writers & Illustrators Conference of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) 2012.

How can local Children’s Content writers and illustrators gain an international audience for their works? For an hour, Emily Lim, Shamini Flint and David Seow, local writers who have established themselves beyond Singapore, shared a trove of advice, resources and experiences with much humour, to frequent outbursts of laughter from the participants.

A quick poll done by Lim showed the majority of participants to be aspiring writers and illustrators.

Sharing by Lim

Lim began by sharing her personal story of finding another way to express herself when she lost her voice to spasmodic dysphonia in 1998. Wanting to tell her story, she did so through a children’s book, Prince Bear & Pauper Bear.

Cover image of Prince Bear & Pauper Bear
(Photo Credits to Heart of Moms Blog)

While her voice still trembled, I admired her resilience and devotion to excellence marked throughout her writing and publishing journey as she shared her story. From winning Singapore’s First Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative in end-2007, Lim has become an independent publisher and Multiple Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) winner.

Having established understanding of her own journey so far, Lim presented to the audience her PowerPoint packed with tips and resources to reach out to an international audience from her experience and observations. Many mobile phones and cameras were whipped out to capture the multiple trade fairs and competitions presented, as well as approaches for publishing – whether through an agent, a publisher, independent publishing and or doing all concurrently.

Such hard work seems to pay off well. According to Lim, even J.K. Rowling made 2 lists – one to publishers and one to agents, and submitted sample chapters of what was to be an international sensation – the Harry Potter series.

In today’s globalised and technologically-advanced context, Lim’s suggestions for direct distribution, the translation route and Apps/E-books struck me as very practical for reaching an international audience. Pointing out how it minimises costs while reaching out to a wider audience beyond the Little Red Dot as long as they had access to such technology, Lim’s E-books suggestion also found the support of fellow speakers Flint and Seow. All three speakers also agreed on the importance of staying connected to the literary network of writers, illustrators, publishers and agents.

As a student journalist seated amongst many aspiring writers and illustrators for children’s content, I couldn’t help but cringe a little, in wide-eyed realisation of the complexities of the writing, publishing, marketing and sales process of Children’s Literature. It was only a mere decade ago I read my Enid Blyton books and children’s abridged English Literature classics with fervour and no idea of what took place behind the scenes. So unfamiliar to me too was Asian Children’s Literature, apart from perhaps my Chinese textbook stories which doesn’t really count.

Sharing by Flint

And on Asian Children’s Literature did Flint shift the spotlight on, as she took over speaking from Lim. Buying books to read to her then-2-years-old daughter, Sasha, Flint found a complete lack of “everyday” Asian-cultured children’s storybooks. Only available were books “that had so little relevant content to [Sasha’s] life”, which left Sasha wondering “why her friends were not called George, Juliet, or Dick” or why she couldn’t “have midnight supper in boarding school”. The Asian stories Flint found also “seemed to be… extreme, exotic folk tales”, unrepresentative of the modern everyday Asian culture.

So began Flint’s writing career to work against the cultural norm of “the Asian child not important enough to be seen in books”, which she found most fulfilling. Sharing with the audience her personal story first like Lim, Flint used to be unsatisfied with her life. Hence giving up her lawyer career, sports car and well-funded wardrobe to dabble in fair trade coffee and university teaching, before she found her calling in writing.

With the book on Sasha’s experience going to the Botanic Gardens reaching sales of half a million, Flint expressed amazement but conveyed encouragement to the audience that there is a market for even such “extremely simple” writing of Asian Children’s Literature.

Flint and one of her Inspector Singh series books
(Photo Credits: Kate’s Book Blog)

Sharing briefly on her stint writing environmental issues-based picture books for 4 years old and older kids, Flint went on to use her Inspector Singh series experience to illustrate her advice on publishing. “Publishing is about timing!” She attributed her publisher’s acceptance of her Inspector Singh series because of coincidental timing of the growing market for Adult stories for the “exotic Asian crime variety”.

During a Q&A response, she perked up on mentioning the re-acceptance of her children’s novels with Asian content recently by a publisher, as the publisher was finally able to convince her marketing staff that there was a market for such books. With such potential in the market, it is certainly encouraging for the numerous aspiring writers and illustrators amongst the audience!

Sharing by Seow

Starting with a picture of him with and a Miss Universe on his PowerPoint, Seow certainly caught the attention of the audience as Flint passed the microphone to him. His similar attention-grabbing antics proved entertaining but successful publicity stunts as he shared various methods he employed to reach out to an international audience as a local writer.

Whether having his books translated into Chinese to go online in China and Taiwan, American Club Visits, Book Readings at Singapore Tourism Board and the now-defunct Borders, Seow displayed much potential in reaching out to readers beyond Singapore while he was still with Educational Publishing House (belonging to the Popular bookstore chain).

Wanting a change, as well as a wider audience, Seow worked with Tuttle Publishing, an American publishing company, which allowed his books to go on retail. He finally went independent publishing on his own, a sole proprietorship, and in 2009 found a distributor and editor, Sue, who was amongst the audience.

Drawing from his experience as an independent publisher, Seow emphasised the importance of marketing. Parallel to the advice of Lim, Seow brought up several traditional avenues of gaining recognition and access to publishing opportunities, be they awards, competitions and book fairs, having a website and magazine reviews.

Modern methods of publicity such as social media like Facebook, Twitter and a blog are also not enough for Seow, “books are [a writer’s] credit cards” – Seow brings his books all around with him, to show to publishers and celebrities.

To the audience’s roaring laughter, Seow shared photographs of his books with Hugh Jackman and Tom Hanks in the most creative of methods. He also shared 2 photographs of him and his books with Hillary Clinton and the Prince Albert of Monacco, available on his blog.

Tom Hanks on the Red Carpet with There’s Soup on My Fly!
(Photo Credits to David Seow)

Final Thoughts

All 3 writers, distinguished and well-acclaimed as they were, continued to emphasise how they never gave up despite feeling like quitting numerous times throughout their career, faced with countless rejections from publishers and agents. This talk was especially enriching and encouraging for aspiring local writers and illustrators alike with dreams of a worldwide audience. It is also certainly the fortune of the children of today and tomorrow to have such published Asian Children’s literature, the fruit of much sweat and tears!

Want to see more of David Seow in AFCC 2012?

(Click on the picture to enlarge)

Act3 International will be presenting David Seow’s There’s Soup On My Fly (the same book as seen with Tom Hanks in the photo above) at 7.30pm on Tuesday, 29 May 2012, as part of AFCC’s Children’s Literature Lecture and Awards Presentation. One more reason to hurray for AFCC 2012!

Article by Christina Ong, AFCC 2012 student journalist.

You can lead a horse to water but..

 

 

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Leonard Marcus (pictured above), the speaker for today’s keynote address on Children’s Books for Education and Entertainment, discussed at length on striking the “right” balance between entertainment and educational content for children’s books. Authors of children’s books, he says, have always faced the dilemma of having their book hover between the “two poles” of education and entertainment. On the one hand, if a book is boring, children will likely not lap it up. On the other, if it careens towards the other end of the spectrum and is deemed TOO entertaining, parents would not buy it for their children.

How parents interpret the book is also important as the same book can be viewed in completely opposite perspectives. Take the Harry Potter series for example. Some consider it a book that deals with the topics of death and loss in a manner acceptable for children, while others consider it satanic and have banned their children from reading it. Educational and entertaining do not have to be considered on two opposite poles, but can go hand in hand, depending on how the book is viewed and utilised.

Leonard Marcus’ advice to authors is: “Children won’t get interested in you. Get interested in children.” Authors such as Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are), Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) and Dr. Seuss (The Cat in the Hat series) were able to capture a child’s attention by appealing to their innate sense of curiosity and mischief. Whereas earlier forms of children’s books wielded fear as a tool to influence children’s behaviour, Maurice Sendak embraced fear as a subject and helped children to understand it. Hence his books are both entertaining and educational, and more likely to end up on the bookshelves of a family home.

Taking the analogy of leading a horse to water, how does one get a child interested in reading? If the child is the horse (though of course children are cuter and, in some cases, less tame) and reading is the act of drinking water, what can educators and parents alike do to encourage the lifelong habit of reading?

If the horse refuses to drink, don’t stand by and gape at it. Splash its mouth with water and hope some gets in! Christopher Cheng, a prolific author of children’s books, was at the Arts House today to tell us how he makes book trailers to promote his books. Book trailers are in the same vein as movie trailers, using sound and images to capture the attention of potential readers. He relates the story of how his wife, a teacher-librarian, had a book trailer on loop in the library. Within weeks, books in that series were flying off the shelves!

In other cases, perhaps the horse has discerning tastes and prefers other types of water (there is a dizzying variety of water such as hard, boiled, raw, rain, filtered.. Google it). Find other sources of water. If children bypass the books in favour of television, why not show them a film adaptation of a book such as Moby Dick? Perhaps a pageful of words is daunting to them, in which case comic books are a great way to incorporate reading into a child’s life.

The good news is that more and more children’s books are being converted into digital format. A representative from Walker Publishing House was also at the Arts House today to give a talk on eBooks and apps from a publisher’s perspective. Picture book apps can be downloaded from the Apple App Store for less than 50 cents. These interactive media give authors the chance to create a more immersive experience for the child, allowing them to have a speedier road toward the realization that “Reading is fun!”

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Or CAN you?

Book Trailers: Fashionable Fad or the Future?

Book trailers are still uncommon in Singapore, but slowly gaining ground, if only for the most popular book series. A while back, I switched on the television and was slightly horrified to see a trailer for Stephanie Meyer’s latest addition to her widely popular Twilight series. Harry Potter enjoyed advertising airtime on local channels, presumably with a large chunk of that airtime going to Okto, the kids’ channel. It is heartening, and slightly amusing, to see books being teased in trailers in a fashion normally reserved for motion picture films and music albums.

At the AFCC singing the praises of book trailers for children and young adult fiction is children’s book author Christopher Cheng. He argued that it is crucial for books to have trailers, in order to differentiate itself to the masses, and to aid in consumer decisions. In a sense, book trailers are marketing strategies, each tailored with a facet of the author’s personality, to promote the product and the author himself. Here is a trailer he had made himself:

He insists that armed with only a Macbook pro and its default programmes, anybody can make a book trailer of that caliber with a little effort. Do note that there are probably decent alternatives to Mac-exclusive software for Windows and Linux, so there really is no reason not to make an attempt at a dazzling book trailer if you are an author.

The reason why book trailers are especially potent for children’s literature is because of the ease of which they can be made accessible to children. According to Christopher, several libraries in Australia carry TV screens in prominent locations that play different book trailers for children, and this factors in significantly with the choices they eventually make. This is not confined to kids, too. Here is a trailer for Deborah Abela’s Max Remy Spyforce series, targeting pre-pubescent children.

Quoting Christopher, the books “couldn’t stop flying off the shelves when… the trailer was presented in schools”.

There is a certain sense of irony here, that rather than embracing a fully digital medium, these authors instead turn to utilizing aspects of digital mediums in order to promote sales and awareness of their physical books. However I believe that this is not simply a fad – as infrastructure improves and recognition grows, whether book trailers are meant for physical books or ebooks will be inconsequential.

To end, here are some other trailers that were shown, and made an impression on me.

By: Candy Gourlay, Tall Story

By: Chris Gall, Dinotrux

By: Dan Yaccarino, All The Way To America