Friday, May 26, 2017

Marketing Boot Camp Musings by Charlie Barshaw and Ashley Adkins

The SCBWI-MI Marketing Boot Camp was a chockfull day of presentations at the MSU Innovation Center last month. Today, we have not just one, but two conference recaps. Read on for reflections from Charlie Barshaw and Ashley Adkins.

The People You Meet 
by Charlie Barshaw

There are five of us winding our way through throngs of student Spartans on the Friday night before finals week in East Lansing.

While the students are looking for release, we’re looking for the MSU Innovation Center, where the Marketing Boot Camp takes place the next day. We find the third floor room, and a night janitor lets us in to scope it out.

And it occurs to me, for not the first time, how fortunate I am to be part of the great community that is SCBWI. This group previewing the room is a microcosm of my new life.

I met Ruth Marie McNally at the Student Book Store, just a block down Grand River, when she came to pick up her roommate on a Friday night just like this. She drew pictures on napkins, we found we had big families and the same birthday, and so love began.

Thirty years later, Ruth had just sold her first book and I had lost my job. For her birthday, I wrote her a rhyming picture book. She kindly suggested I join SCBWI, and so learning began.

Ruth had a good friend in a critique group, Leslie Helakoski. Leslie had written some successful picture books, but she wanted to illustrate them, too. (And she succeeded: Leslie also rose to the position of Regional Advisor in SCBWI-MI, and allowed me to try out for a part in the Advisory Committee.

And so helping to plan conferences began.

Debbie Gonzalez, a Regional Advisor in Texas, relocated to Michigan. The Lone Star State’s loss was the Mitten State’s big gain, and Debbie has been the webmistress extraordinaire, making great things happen seemingly like magic on the SCBWI-MI website  and Facebook Page.

I’m not sure when or where I first met Debbie, though we’ve shared adventures in Detroit, Dexter, and Boyne Highlands. She hosted a before-conference party at her home in honor of illustrator E.B. Lewis, and the conversation spun deep into the wee hours.

And so shared experiences and friendship began.

And Ed Spicer, a recently-retired first grade teacher in Allegan, is a story onto himself. (In fact, here it is.) Again, the first meeting is lost to the fog of memory, but a rousing night at a Mackinac Island saloon with Ed, Matt Faulkner and Kris Remenar is unforgettable.

Ruth and I have become fast friends with Ed. He’s employed our daughter Emily as a party hostess and introduced us to some of his other friends: Candy Fleming and Eric Rohmann, Helen Frost, Rick Lieder, Nikki Grimes, Gary Schmidt (to name just a few).

And so began a different life than when I was a retail middle-manager. These five people, each talented, creative and passionate about children’s literature, have touched my life and made it rich beyond imagination. I’ve shared their struggles and their triumphs, and they’ve shared mine.

I know each of them because of SCBWI, and the dozens, many dozens of kidlit contemporaries. And while I picked up valuable marketing tips the next day, the greatest value of attending conferences is always in the people I meet.

As an added bit of connectivity, a young man stopped by a regional SCBWI-MI meeting when it was still called a “Monthly Meet-Up.” His name was Nick Adkins, and on Saturday, April 29, he and his wife Ashley were prime movers in making the Marketing Boot Camp a reality.

Charlie Barshaw is the lucky guy who has three more chapters to go to finish the first draft of his YA novel. He has a new idea for a gang of ghost-children YA and has more cool friends than he can count. Life is good.

The Competition That Is Not 
by Ashley Adkins

I’m a business person. My husband, Nick, is a creative soul. It’s true, opposites attract. Five years ago Nick self-published his first picture book and we began promoting it on our own. For me, marketing comes easy. It’s even easier when you’re trying to sell your husband’s work – good work you truly believe in. However, when resources are limited, selling is challenging.

Around this same time we met Loren Long at Schuler Books in Okemos. We were lucky enough to chat with Loren and he advised Nick to join SCBWI. Nick joined that day and I later followed. The first SCBWI event I attended was Homegrown Talent in Dexter. It was amazing. The first thing I observed, and something that still remains true with every SCBWI interaction, is that everyone is supportive. This is unusual in my field. Business people tend to size up the competition and craft a plan on how to out sell them. But SCBWI friends truly want one another to succeed and sell books. We are all on the same team!

With that being said, I knew that even though I am not a writer or illustrator, I could contribute to this group. After all, when you’ve finished with the writing or illustrating, you still have to promote and sell yourself.

After coming across a marketing event SCBWI Texas was hosting, I proposed the idea of doing something similar here in Michigan. Our co-regional advisors Carrie and Leslie let me run with the Marketing Boot Camp idea (thank you!). Thankfully, we were able to bring a variety of professionals to our event, each with expertise in different areas of marketing.

Bob Hoffman, Public Relations Manager at the Wharton Center and Debbie Mikula, Executive Director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing began our conference with an introduction to marketing. 

Kristin Bartley Lenz, Alison DeCamp, and Lisa Rose shared their out-of-the-box experiences and how these experiences helped drive their success. 

Emily Galer from Schuler Books shared with us the bookstore’s perspective of marketing, giving insight into how to work with independent bookstores. 

Ruth McNally Barshaw, Sally Langley, Ed Spicer, Bryan Chick, Buffy Silverman, and Leslie Helakoski provided an upbeat discussion of successful and not-so-successful school visits. 

Kirsten Cappy, Curious City book consulting
Kirsten Cappy joined via Skype and gave us distinctive ideas on how to build our own community of advocates. 

Maria Dismondy concluded our day with an information packed discussion about successfully building a marketing platform. 

I cannot thank all of our speakers enough! They were all fabulous and I greatly appreciate their willingness to share. Furthermore, I cannot thank all of our attendees enough! They brought open minds and an enthusiasm to learn.

Several things I took away from the event: 
  • Be the “Purple Cow.”
  • Get creative with marketing! It’s okay to do something that hasn’t been done before.
  • Reach out to independent bookstores and build relationships with them. 
  • Provide videos and photos of yourself doing school visits on your website. 
  • Discovery happens when you give advocates tools to engage readers. 
  • There are lots of awesome marketing podcasts – listen! SCBWI is a warm, supportive group. 
  • I met new SCBWI friends who are part of this community and who I can’t wait to see again.  

Ashley Adkins is an event planner and children's literature advocate. In 2012, she completed her MBA and co-founded Two Monster Books as a platform to promote childhood reading. Ashley enjoys reading bedtime stories with her two boys, Logan and Eli, and traveling and exploring new locations with her husband, Nick.


  1. Thanks Charlie and Ashley for the recap. Marketing Boot Camp was an information-filled day. Thanks to everyone who made it possible.

    1. I should have mentioned that the "Monthly Meet-Up" that Nick Adkins first attended was made possible by the the former RA and continuous craftsperson Ann Finkelstein. Ann has been a crit group partner, a chauffeur and an unwavering friend since my writing journey rebooted.

    2. Thank you Ann! You are an awesome resource we have right here in our backyard!

  2. Charlie, what a lovely tribute to SBWI and the friends you've made along the way.
    Ashley, I know I've said this before, but does Nick KNOW how lucky he is? Of course SCBWI is so lucky to have you on our side too! Sorry I missed this event.

    1. Thanks Melissa. I don't remember if you and your friend Carol came to the "Monthly Meet-Up" before or immediately after the the Capital City Writers Donald Maass seminar, but it's been a real privilege knowing you both.

    2. We missed you Melissa but always thank you for your support! :)

  3. Oh, how I wish I could have been there!!! Jealous, but so happy for everyone who could make it. And, as Charlie, I've met so many wonderful folks! Love, love, love SCBWI!!!

    1. Ah, Shutta, you are one of my many treasured SCBWI friendships. I remember the short hike we took to get to Cobo Hall from the Ren Cen when the MRA shuttle was full. Fun times.

  4. What a great recap! I really was blown away by the quality of people at this event--both presenters and attendees!

    1. Thank you so much Alison! So lovely to have met you!

  5. Ahhhhh. The Marketing Boot Camp was so cool to attend, to speak at, and to revisit now in this blog post.
    SCBWI brings out the best in people -- in their work and in their friendships. How lucky we all are.
    Thank you again, Ashley and Nick, for this fun, educational event. Let's do it again!!

    1. Thank you Ruth! We were so lucky you and Charlie made it. You bring so much to our group!

  6. I recently spoke to an agent who said that SCBWI Michigan is known within the industry as being a great home for authors/illustrators. What a compliment, right? These posts (and the comments) are perfect examples of why that is true. Thanks much, Team Marketing Boot Camp!

    1. Such great news to share! Michigan rocks! Thank you for all you do Carrie! And Leslie too!