Jennifer Gray Olson (@jgrayolson), author and illustrator of Ninja Bunny, published by Alfred A. Knopf (@AAKnopf), stops by to talk about abounding confidence, her mental commute to work, and how one day ninja bunny just sort of showed up in her sketchbook.
For those who are not aware most New Zealanders are creative ‘MacGyvers’ who are forced to think
outside of the square on a daily basis to find ways around problems associated with lack of resources and extreme isolation. (Our nation is basically held together with Duct tape and fencing wires.)
I have found my Kiwi improvisational skills to be very useful in the domain of marketing and promoting children’s books where lack of resources and isolation are guaranteed experiences for any prospective writer.
After two years of writing my middle grade book Johnny Danger DIY Spy I found myself in a three month gap zone as decisions were still being made about potential sequels. With nothing to lose I decided to embark upon a no-budget MacGyver style marketing campaign.
Johnny Danger was going to be launched in a foreign country (Australia) first and I had to figure out an inventive way to introduce myself to readers over there who potentially had no idea who I was.
I decided my first step was to produce a punchy two-minute ‘teaser’ book trailer. I ignored conventional
wisdom that you only release the trailer when the book is available for purchase. I wanted to create a buzz about the book before it hit the shelves. In order for this to work I had to create a trailer that was entertaining in its own right. I also wanted to make sure that the audience understood that my book was a comedy book featuring spies, and not a traditional middle grade spy caper.
With my teenage son’s help we spent twenty-two days putting together an animated trailer using GoAnimate cloud software. Half of that time was spent learning how to use the software and the stock characters and background settings that came with it.
Here is the trailer:
To help enhance the comedy factor, I asked my DJ friend Brent Burridge to assist with the voice-over. He provided the gravelly trailer guy intro and the lead character’s funny dialogue. Adding narrative to a book trailer is really hard to get right, and I was grateful for Brent’s expertise.
There are no book trailer companies in New Zealand so it had to be a DIY project. (And it was fun to do - let’s be honest.)
The next step was the book launch. Johnny Danger was going to be launched at Australia’s largest children’s festival in Queensland called the Somerset Festival of Literature. The organisers asked if I could put together some media material to introduce myself in advance to Australian attendees. I immediately offered them my trailer and agreed to shoot a brief ‘author says hello’ video. For that I purchased a $40 dinner suit at a closing down sale and combined it with my 80’s school prom bow tie to create a discount James Bond costume. At the risk of appearing as a complete ‘Dorky Dad’ I decided to ham it up for the introduction video and comedically promised to paddle board 2000 miles across open waters to attend the festival. The paddle board in the video is actually my son’s surfboard with just the fins showing and the paddle is a kid’s plastic toy I found at a thrift shop. At the very last minute I added some footage shot in the ocean with my daughter bravely holding a camera above her head as I floundered about in neck-deep waters just off the beach.
Here is the author introduction video:
Come launch time I felt hopeful that some people may have at least heard of me or my book. By sheer chance a television company that was at the festival filming a short news item included me in some of their footage. I’m assuming that anyone foolish enough to be wearing a dinner suit in a giant outdoor tent during a 95+ Fahrenheit summer heatwave was quirky enough to be interesting to them.
After returning back to New Zealand I received the great news that the two sequels were being commissioned and that if I flew back to Australia there might be some opportunities to do organised local and national media events.
The next step is one I can’t thank Penguin Australia enough for helping to make happen. My amateur DIY media exploits were about to be significantly upgraded by a team of professionals who were experts in their field.
A month later I flew to Melbourne and was fortunate enough to appear on two children’s TV
programmes to publicise Johnny Danger. For the ABC TV spot I was wearing a colourful spy parachute. True to my Kiwi roots this was actually a MacGyver lookalike chute. The canopy and strings were purchased on eBay for $30 and my brother who is a skilled sailmaker, turned a life preserver inside out, removed its gas canisters, and sewed on some buckles to help create a realistic looking harness set.
Here is the interview featuring the DIY parachute:
Next I was invited to film a half an hour feature with Warner Bros TV for a Saturday morning show.
That was a wild experience with some boisterous, outrageous fun had on the set and the two nicest hosts you could ever hope to work with. The i-Banana used in one of the scenes, is my wife’s iPhone with a novelty cover attached to it. The TV producers very kindly let me improvise with this prop that I had bought across from NZ. They even changed part of the script on the fly to incorporate it. True professionals!
Here is the Saturday morning feature:
At the end of the publicity tour I was informed the fantastic news that Johnny Danger was selling strongly in Australia and that the sequels were being eagerly anticipated.
(My book is not currently available in the US, but I’m hopeful that it will go on sale there before too long.)
I’m writing book two as we speak, and have no plans for additional MacGyver moments this year as I have an extremely tight deadline!
A lot has happened to my career in the last six months, and I’m genuinely surprised how many doors have opened for me, and how welcoming foreign readers have been to an unknown outsider.
I’m glad I set aside some time dedicated to creating a MacGyver marketing campaign and I’m grateful to the friends and family who helped me cobble it together so coherently.
I am also extremely grateful to my editors and publicity team at Penguin Books who have gone above and beyond at every stage of the publishing process.
I encourage everyone out there to try a MacGyver marketing campaign at least once in their career. You won’t regret it.
Adam Rex (@MrAdamRex), author and illustrator of Smek for President, published by Disney Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion) and sequel to the best-selling The True Meaning of Smek Day, stops by to talk about writing as he goes, his massive project for which no one was paying him and no one knew about, and the standard of bad kickball playing.
Russ Cox (@smilingotis), author and illustrator of Faraway Friends, published by Sky Pony Press (@skyhorsepub), stops by to talk about playing outside, always learning, and knowing when "it's just not the right person for me."