Book Your Sales interview with Kevin Christofora, author of “The Hometown All Stars” series
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to write your book.
I laugh when people call me an author. I didn’t grow up ever thinking I would be. And sometimes I still feel awkward, but I can’t deny it with three books done and the fourth on its way this Fall. So now I am owning up to it! I am just a dad. I am your average guy; I do normal stuff. I grew up in a family business that taught me how to do many life skills at an earlier age, like cooking and cleaning. I use to work in a meat department and, at 16 years old, was telling grandmothers how long to cook their chicken. It is a crazy memory. After having children of my own and becoming a coach, I found a huge need to help more kids than just my own. I said to myself, if I could write a book about what I do every day, kids would be further ahead, and have more fun too.
What was this book about, and where did your decision to write it come from?
While doing my own homework on how to make practices more fun, I found major organizations willing to teach groups of parents how to be better coaches. I loved the fact that someone knew that all these volunteer parents don’t necessarily know how to coach. It doesn’t make it a good experience just because someone is there. We have all seen it. Yes, families are thankful for the coach’s time, but it isn’t always the best experience; sometimes it is just like babysitting if they don’t learn anything. And, to no fault of any one person, the fault lies with the organization offering the program.
I took classes and brought those classes back to my organization after I became president. It doesn’t matter what sport you coach, all these classes were geared to working with kids. The classes were more about child psychology and learning parent-coach communication skills from experienced veterans who have had all the same experiences. Not only did I coach the coaches, I coached the parents, to show them how to be better sports parents. Together, we built an incredible little league that grew from 87 to 357 in two years. And you might ask why?
The how and the why was the effort to make it a better experience for “everyone” involved. If the parents were not happy, they would not sign their kids up. It’s pretty simple. If mom ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy. We shortened up commutes, changed practice locations, worked with school activity/concert schedules to avoid conflicts of sibling kids and parents having to be in too many places at once. We had an intelligent and common-sense approach to running an organization that no one could argue with. They just kept coming back for more, and they brought their friends.
With all this going on, I was dumbfounded at how many little kids showed up not knowing anything about baseball. Surprisingly, neither did the parents. And it wasn’t just baseball, it was also basketball and flag football. My fellow coaching friends told me not to be frustrated; that’s why they brought them to me… for me to teach them. During this same time frame, I was reading books to my kids at bedtime. I used to fall asleep reading them. My speech would slow and slur, the book would fall on my nose…and my 5-year-old son would poke me and say “Dad, wake up!”
I thought if I could write a book about baseball the same way Maisey Mouse writes for little kids, I could teach the game and keep them interested in reading at the same time. Short bedtime reading books, both educational and fun. When they showed up to the field, they would know which way to run to first base and what home plate was. I wanted to write a book about what I did everyday on the field.
The Hometown All Stars are a series for books for children three to seven. They teach children about baseball using real coaching techniques. In this interactive storybook, kids will find hidden baseballs in the pictures, answer trivia questions, and there’s even a page for autographs from their favorite players. The series is designed to be short “anytime” reading books. You have to learn how to catch, hit, and throw before you even think about playing a game.
Besides the obvious physical activity, sports have other well-known benefits. Self-confidence, skill building, sportsmanship, respect, leadership, play by the rules, motivation, winning and losing, and commitment. The Hometown All Stars will help build character and teamwork and reinforce many important life lessons. The most important of all is fun!
Are new stories coming? Oh, yes. No one wants the one you have done. Everyone wants the one that is coming. What have you done for me lately? We are deep into book 4. I am really excited. It is coming out better than I predicted…lots of fun mixed in. I can’t wait!
How long did it take you to write the book?
I started writing in 2005. I usually don’t answer that question. Most industry people say, I don’t care how long it took you to write this. Some work 20 years; some do it overnight. My original design and concept changed many times, mostly due to constructive feedback from teachers, librarians, and, most importantly, parents and kids who would read my book.
It evolved into an 8-year span to commit to the final form. I was planning a series of books, which took thought and vision to develop in a sequential way, not just one book. One book is easy! The most important thing is to write and to write well. I try to influence as many kids as I can to just write and save their own thoughts. You can never recapture the thoughts and visions of your age. Old people try to write as if they were a 10-year-old, but it doesn’t work all the time. Kids need to see a vision on why they should do something. That’s what kids need. They need rewards. This one is just a longer payday — even if it is just a scrapbook to read at your wedding or a friend’s 50th birthday party. I try every day to write one thing. I feel good if I hit five days a week.
My friend and book illustrator, Dale, encouraged me and gave me the fire to continue past my stick figures and story angle ideas. He gave my stick figures life and created all the characters that live on the pages. He is the ultimate influence in my life. Without him, I would still be sitting in the meat market, and The Hometown All Stars would not exist.
Did you have a publisher or agent? If not, was it by choice?
My publisher, Clarion, has opened and given me the world. They have gotten me places I could never get to. I am so grateful for that. However, I am on my own when it comes to building sales. I really want to be at a Little Brown or Scholastic and have the ability for them to get my books in front of millions of kids. I try every day, but I don’t have the networks they have. If I can keep growing and building my awareness, I hope that I can get to a larger distribution chain. I have so many more books to do. I have always seen Nick and his friends, the entire Hometown All Star team being four sports kids. They travel from season to season playing all the major sports. It is healthy and builds different muscles.
I went to Scholastic and Little Brown with rave reviews, and they say, “We don’t know how to market a sports book.” Really? Actually, it’s true. Look at their mix. They really don’t. So, they go with what they know, and the huge market potential for the entire category of SPORTS remains a mystery for the publishers and animation studios. It is crazy but true!
Getting lost in the self-publishing world is easy to do and has so many false promises of success and buying marketing packages that have no effect on your product. I used that self-publishing world to make real samples to get to the real world of publishing. It was a necessity, I had a real goal of making it a success, I did not just want to say I am an author, I wrote a book, here it is. That is good for self-publishing customers. I have larger goals, to pursue my interest of helping get more books into more kid’s hands, and I have a different drive than most!
Did you use anyone to help with the finished design? Editors, cover designers, etc.?
Dale did all the design work. We received many early reviews, especially from some teachers that helped us define Billy Ball’s roll and when he will interject into the story. We received some early comments that really helped refine our design to make it what it is today. As long as you take constructive criticism, there is nowhere to go but up!
When did you start preparing to market your book? What kind of research did you do?
From Day 1 I was marketing and imagining the books bundled with all kids’ stuff everywhere! With whiffle balls, Sports Authority gift cards, birthday greeting cards…”Hey you’re 5 today!” You are old enough to play T-Ball now!….wrapping paper, you name it, I was on it! You have to dream, so don’t ever stop reaching for bigger and bigger things. My goal is the Disney movie deal! The Hometown All Stars “all star game,” just like Peanuts’ Great Pumpkin every Halloween. The All Stars would be on at 4pm after school so all the kids can watch, it would correlate with the MLB game that night. It is continual involvement with kids and sports and the next stage they will grow into.
What is the difference between your book and other books on the subject?
My book is age-appropriate, educational, and fun! They learn words and reading on a high-interest, fun subject they are interested in. Three- to five-year-olds will learn the basics through repetition. Parents will get to share their experiences with their kids. Five- to seven-year-olds will begin to read to you, and they want to go outside and try what they see in the books. These are a read-again book series. High-interest topics for high-interest kids — especially boys. Appealing to girls also. Book four titled Amira Can Catch, is about a Syrian refugee girl who is new kid in school.
At this level, boys and girls learn the fundamentals together. Their little hands are not ready for separation and playing softball yet. The essential skills are universal to boys and girls; the books are perfect! Ask Jewel at Kids’ BookBuzz! MY books do not teach ridiculous advanced techniques at too young of an age and are not filled with boring statistics. What are statistics at this age? We teach a little simple history to honor the game and relate it to this age group.
Sports books are twofold — written by authors/writers who had to study what baseball was and tried to write about it. The Bernstein Bears is not about baseball; it’s about a bunch of bears that play baseball in one book/episode. You don’t show up and hit a home run and win the game when you don’t know which way to run. Our books are realistic and true and educational. When sports people try to write books, they are just not writers; they are rough and typically not age-appropriate in the kids’ categories they seek.
Our books are different because — this is huge — we do not follow the typical storyline. We do not conform to publishers’ standards with a conflict and resolution. Nick, the main character, does not get dragged to baseball everyday against his will by his father when all Nick wants to do is dance ballet. No…that is not our story. This book is through the eyes of Nick, the main character. You are living his experiences, his real life, and he is helping to alleviate the fears of starting something new because you find out all your friends are there. And Nick helps you have self-confidence to go hit because he showed you how the coach in the books told him to hold the bat and how to stare at the ball with his laser beam. He is showing the readers that it is cool to help the new kids in school, to make new friends, and be good citizens of the world. Our books are different because we are breaking the mold and connecting with our target market.
Did you use any paid advertising or posts? Did you use social media, guest posts, interviews or other personal marketing?
Paid posts. Yes, tried and experimented. Be careful what you seek. Buying a list will get you a bunch of fake connections. At a later date, if you were to be evaluated to see how real your platform was, they can vet out all the fake friends and connections. It does not pay in the end. Be honest, smart, and do the right thing. Work organically, seek your target market. Growing slowly and realistically will result in much better social platform numbers. All social platforms work — some more than others, depending on your market. They all have value in a combined assessment; however, focus on your main audience and where they spend their leisure time to see your posts. With analytics today, you can narrow it down to Tuesday nights from 8–10 pm if you need to. Even if the platforms don’t drive sales, they continually build up an impressive package about who you are, the things you do, and provide credibility about…why you?
Pick… choose…try not to overlap similar angles…look at the big picture.
Brittany Bearden from At-Large PR was instrumental at building my brand image and who is Kevin. She guided me and directed me and behind the scenes. She secured TV, radio, and magazine interviews to building a library of “Who is Coach Kevin” and why is he the right guy to write these books. Brittany secured other magazines to write articles about other kid-related topics — not baseball-related. Like this article about in Boston Parents: 5 Fun and Easy Exercises for Kids, by Kevin Christofora. Soon, I had a dozen other articles and foundations about who Coach Kevin was and, yes, he is the right guy to write these books. He is the real deal.
Where did you get your first reviews for the book? How did you discover which places to get reviews?
I have many reviews, but always seeking more. Every day, I try to get one more review. I need more reviews on Amazon to help boost my ratings to be seen more. I am constantly trying to get to the next step. Playing the games and competing with “the industry” and how to move up the search engine rankings or get on suggested reading lists. It is hard, very hard! When you reach the new levels and have distributors, your goal is to not sell on the internet, you are seeking the traditional book store distribution, and Amazon is not your priority, but you still need to be there. I am happy to be with Midpoint Distribution, the next level in success, and driving more sales and availability. I am so grateful to have people that acknowledge and care for my titles.
My first reviews — a rookie, searching, paying, finding more and more. Reading and Googling every night to narrow down the top ones I wished for. Separate the paid and the free…and now I don’t use them all, I try to save some money now that I am established. Also, my personal mission was no small task, it was huge! I was relentless. I had to prove to the world that it was not just 100 reviews from everyone in my backyard or my hometown that loved the book. I hammered Linkedin every night for an hour at minimum for at least 6 months. I sought out different industries and asked if they would read my book for free and send me their opinion and review. I hand-wrote letters thanking them, mailing books and photocopies of the future book concepts.
It was painful and expensive, but, minimally, because I did it myself, how much would you pay for one review? The cost of a book and postage? Do you know that even after you mail the books, you don’t get reviews because people are busy! It is CRAZY. I never gave up. Easily, I mailed more than 500 packages over 6 months. The Post Office ladies knew me by name! What I have now is a very nicely compiled list. I wanted it to look like manilla folder tabs. In my final execution, it was an “electronic” thumb tab file of “non-paid” reviews by people in a variety of industries. It is one of my most favorite tools to send for my business needs. Are other authors committed to the work and hours and costs to do this themselves? I am different, I think differently. I constantly put myself in their shoes….why your book, why you? If you are in their shoes, you should be able to answer to yourself — what would they want to know? I had the desire to execute what I thought they wanted to know.
What marketing event or plan was your most successful? How did you come up with the idea, and how did you execute it?
Everyone thinks I am crazy. I am trying to get my book into as many libraries as possible. I want to have a chance to get to more kids. Help more kids. I have run a library special: buy Book 2, get Book 1 free. I offer all books half price if they already have one in the series. If there is a demand, the library will order it (from wherever they order from) and put it in the library catalog system. That is the best scenario. It doesn’t cost the person anything to read a book and the library buys it and I get a sale to show the major publishers that it is working and people believe in it. I work on this every day, every night, trying to hit a new library all the time. In my heart, I just feel that selling a book to one family, one kid, is great. But selling a book to an institution where it could reach 2 or 200 kids, it is just that much better. Why wouldn’t I want to be in libraries?
My most successful marketing event will be the next one. Each gets better and better. I can’t pick one. One leads to the next; each one gets me to a new place. From B&N book signings to library readings to publishing a second grade classroom book (Crazy Dave’s True Story) they wrote, with my help, to AAA stadium book signing at the Hudson Valley Renegades, ARSL in Fargo, ALA in Saratoga…to sitting in owner of PW’s office (Cevin Bryerman) saying he wants to help me me….like…emotion overload as I type this about how fortunate I have been to land the places I have and receive the help I get. My gratefulness can’t be measured…I have so much! My combined experiences make the next marketing event even better as we continue to move forward.
What did you do that yielded results?
Get a distributor! I called my distributor (It only took 8 years to learn that one) and asked for a face-to-face meeting to discuss what they are doing with my titles. Upon my arrival, as I expected, I was one of a gazillion books in their system, and they didn’t know me. I made a great presentation and basically said “I know you don’t know me, let me introduce my books and then show you what I have done to get this far.” With a well-laid-out presentation, I was front and center stage at all their next meetings selling the back three books with the new one launching in the Fall as the main pitch. I gained so much shelf space in so many stores. I wish I did that 5 years ago on day one! However, I honestly believe that my meeting presentation would not have been half as impressive without the journey I had taken as I unfolded the images before their eyes and had the opportunity to lay out all the reviews and pictures from 100 events around the country. Every other little marketing event along the way added up to the big picture.
My next major focus is the National Collaborative Summer Reading Program. Even with help along the way, this is apparently another “player” game, mostly supporting the big 5 publishers. It’s quite hard to break into. The program promotes and lists references for books that fit the categories of the year. I have contacted them directly. I have not received any respect, including two responses with a $12 dollar package sent with signature return. Two out of fifty! I emailed each office thereafter. Received 15 responses, seven of which were to let us try and find that package. You think that a solid-non-junk-mail package would at least get a “sorry, we are not interested,” out of respect.
Even after I received help writing the letter from an employee inside of CSRP and how to word it, not to pitch my books, but merely advise them that these were available as a reference if they so choose for their summer reading programs. I sent a sample and a simple letter to the head of all libraries (public and private) for each of the fifty states. A $600+ dollar learning lesson, and a new fire inside of me to yet again figure out who or how to get into some recognizable form with the CSRP. I really thought I was there this year. It’s a very frustrating recollection of memories. I am not giving up and hope to write the success story in the future.
What are your book sales like?
I have used many different angles for sales. It is just not that easy. There is a huge market. One day, I helped a local “book fair” raise money for their town library. I set up and sold my books–100% of my sales went to the library. Who would not want a book? I was giving it all away for a good cause. Well, have you ever seen an entire ice arena for a professional hockey team filled with tables of books? And those tables filled with piles and piles underneath tables, piles of books from every genre! And let me tell you, you could buy a bag for $20.00 and fill it with every book it could hold to take home. Actually, anything you could carry with the bag they would let you take home for $20.00. Who would ever need another book?
The competition is huge and everywhere. People can’t give books away, why would they buy yours?! Yes…as I laugh. It didn’t stop me. Nope! I believed that there was a real “need” for my book. It is going to help kids for generations to come. I see the results. Now I have to get the public to see it. And, actually, they do see it, they do agree with it, and they still don’t buy a book. Hey! It is a tough business. I am obsessed with helping kids and believe, with time, the quality will rise and the rest will dissipate leaving my books on top!
The one angle I have not had the time to facilitate, I would love someone to do it for me: crowdfund and sell my books at cost. One hundred percent of the money buys the books at cost and donates them to children’s hospitals all over the country/world. I don’t want to make a penny; I want books in kids’ hands. Why would any company not drop $50 or $500 dollars and donate 10 or 100 books to children’s hospitals everywhere? It seems so great! I just don’t have time to make it a success and do the required work it takes to do it properly.
I recently did a TV interview at Barnes and Noble in Newburg, NY. When I was walking in, these were the displays outside the front door.
I said to myself. Look at this graveyard of books. Almost like they were in cemetery rows waiting for a loved one to pass them by and say a few kind words. Where oh where do these unwanted books go? I said to myself, they had their day, their chance, and they didn’t pass the test of time. Why would anyone want to write a book and try to sell it? What an incredible uphill battle it is! And, yet, I still want to conquer it. I still need to help more kids. The reward far exceeds the failure for my personal mission.
I have a great fundraising program, where we sell books at cost to organizations (other little leagues, churches, scouts, B&G Clubs, YMCAs) and they add to registrations or just flat-out sell. Any unused books, we buy back. No loss. I think it is awesome to help spread the efforts of more green, less screen.
The blog on my website is incredible. I have incredible new help from Mugsy PR. They have helped create a great image, and the content is so useful. Many new parents are feeling their way. Here, they have a chance to see how other parents handle similar situations or conquer the time management with kids and activities and bedtime. We have found many repeat visits, which helps reassure that the content is good. Who doesn’t want six 6-minute snack ideas? And healthy ones at that!
I remain independent. Overall, I am fighting the big publishing houses to recognize that sports are part of people’s lives. There are not a lot of good sports books out there. If you looked at my library reading history, I have read hundreds! There are so many bad books. They try hard, but so many books are not age-appropriate. This is the terminology that I want to market, but most others avoid because they know I am correct. Too many facts, too boring. Or too “baby” for the bigger kids when they do have facts. There is just a whole lot of a bad mixes. I am building a platform of followers and believers.
I can’t say I am happy with sales numbers. I have sold 4,000 books in a year through all my events, but that doesn’t register in the book systems and accountability with the major publishing markets, so I don’t really count that. Gaining sales in the system is a much tougher road that I continue to build upon.
What books influenced your writing and your book marketing?
Maisey Mouse inspired me. Marketing skills come from my family business since I was 11. Combined with years of marketing and launching new products for Revlon and Estee Lauder after college. I’m a self-driven, self-thinker, self-researcher…and always thinking too much! If you give me an occupation or a company, I can tell you why you would like to buy my book.
What tools do you use for marketing or writing?
My efforts never took such a huge leap till I hired Mugsy PR. It was time. There is only so much you can do on your own time. Afterall, I was suppose to be writing more books. When do you have time to do that? I ponied up $5,000/month for complete takeover and drive of the books. Goals: Align the brand and steer the ship. Allow me hands off to write more books. Increase social, create events, awareness, seek major league player for ambassador and align the brand image to drive forward for increased sales. I sat back and helped with content and performed at events. Emily Taffel — I am in forever in love with her and her partner, Sara Caro. They got me so far along. Then life dealt me changes, money got tight, and I had to back off to my own efforts again.
What tips or suggestions would you give to someone else getting ready to publish or market a book?
Tips? Simple. Call me! I gladly publish my number 845–332–3580. People are always in such different places, you can’t cookie-cutter a suggestion or it will only pertain to a small percentage of people. My first questions are tell me why you want to write this book, and what are your dreams for the book with your wish list of goals? Then I can totally help guide them down the process. That is my presentation! I give a 2-hour lecture that I travel with to guide people and use their real classroom examples to navigate through the stumbling blocks of publishing with a little more ease. So many people helped me, I would help anyone that I can if they have the desire to search me out and ask. Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. And an outside tidbit…video. Yes, for books. You must have it, make it, use it. Video has become the number one search engine in the world with the new generations that follow. YouTube has overtaken Google for the number of searches.