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Common Deer Press’ Three Strategies to Find New & Emerging Talent

Thursday, February 13, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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In the bottom left box, Common Deer Press publisher Kirsten Marion (right) poses with Just Watch Me author Erin Silver

Rather than wait for authors to submit their books to your independent publishing company, it’s smart to take an active role in finding new and emerging talent. IBPA member Common Deer Press’ mission is to “publish extraordinary and enduring books for children and teens AND to give a voice to debut and emerging authors.” As Common Deer Press publisher Kirsten Marion explains, “Every great and enduring author was once a debut author. It is becoming more and more challenging these days for debut and emerging authors to have their voices heard and we would like to think that we help to level the playing field for them.”

To succeed in their mission, Common Deer Press employs three different strategies:

STRATEGY #1 - Attend writer's conferences and take meetings with prospective authors, as well as present to writer's groups on topics of interest to them.

Common Deer Press' Stop Reading This Book! by Caroline Fernandez

Kirsten explains, “I make a point of trying to accept invitations to present to writer’s groups, participate in panels at writer’s conferences, and volunteer to take one-on-one meetings. This gives me the opportunity to get a better sense of an author and see the passion and potential for their story on their faces. I also occasionally attend events hosted by non-Common Deer Press authors.

“On that note, I was at the launch for a book written by a good friend of mine and she introduced me to one of her students—who happily told me about the picture book she’d written. Within a week, I had signed Caroline Fernandez and her book, Stop Reading This Book! It’s our first picture book and it was released October 1.”

STRATEGY #2 - Write a column for your website where you answer common questions that writers pose to you.

My column, From the Publisher, began as a way of sharing answers to questions I was commonly asked at events or in query letters. I have yet to sign an author through this method, but I have begun dialogues with several. In addition, we have been running a series of posts, ‘Ask the Author,’ where we interview our authors and inquire about their writing/submission process and how they felt to sign their first books. This helps encourage debut and emerging authors, too. We also have an "Around the Web” blog with useful bookish and literary content from around the Internet.

STRATEGY #3 – Create a writing competition.

Common Deer Press' Just Watch Me by Erin Silver

Common Deer Press runs an annual writing contest called The Uncommon Quest. “We seek to expand the minds of young readers through uncommon and exceptionally well-written books,” says Kirsten. “We are also committed to discovering and publishing new and emerging talent. The Uncommon Quest is an annual writing competition that strives to give a voice to this new and emerging talent pool as well as already known authors. As the judging is anonymous, the opportunities are equal.

“For example, last February I was invited to give a talk to a writer’s group on book marketing for authors. After the meeting, a young woman, Erin Silver, approached me to tell me about her middle grade novel. I suggested she submit it to our Uncommon Quest writing competition. Lo and behold, her novel placed third as assessed by a panel of independent judges. Erin’s book, Just Watch Me, will be published on October 1, 2020.”

IBPA hopes these strategies inspire finding your own new and emerging talent!

Four Questions with Common Deer Press’ Kirsten Marion

IBPA: In order to fund The Uncommon Quest writing competition in 2019, you set up a crowdfunding campaign. You didn’t reach your funding goal, so can you tell us some of the challenges you ran into?

Kirsten Marion (KM): The main challenge is the time, money, and energy it takes to set it up and stay on top of it. We did it on top of preparing for our Fall 2019 releases and, for a small team like ours, it was exhausting.

One of the key things we learned was that Kickstarter was the wrong platform for the campaign. Kickstarter is geared toward a single message and one product. I suspect a campaign for writing competition + supporting debut and emerging writers + receiving a special edition of the winning book from the competition was simply too confusing for the regular Kickstarter supporter.

If we were to raise money for the competition again, I think we’d look at another platform such as Patreon.

IBPA: What were some of the positive outcomes of doing the crowdfunding campaign?

KM: We became crystal clear on our messaging, learned some new creative skills (making videos and audio recordings!), and it was wonderful for brand awareness! We also obtained the contact information for most of the people who backed the campaign (some pledged anonymously), so we were able to add them to our mailing list. I was also interviewed as a guest on one of the backer’s podcasts, so that gave us international exposure.

IBPA: Can you list three key lessons you’ve learned about how one can succeed as an independent publisher?


  1. Great relationships are key with authors (and would-be authors), suppliers, distributors, media, and readers

  2. Focus on one area

  3. Don’t try to grow too fast

IBPA: How has it been beneficial to you to be a member of Independent Book Publishers Association?

KM: The IBPA has been key to our success in the following areas:

  1. We use NetGalley through the IBPA for all our books (except picture books). This has been critical for obtaining honest pre-release reviews and building a platform for each book.

  2. We have also used the IBPA Media Outreach Program with considerable success garnering even more exposure for our books. We have maintained relationships with many of the bloggers/media who have initially contacted us through this program. For example, Red Tricycle ranked the first Math Kids book (The Prime-Time Burglars) as one of their best books for 2018. Since then they have happily reviewed the subsequent two books in the series with top reviews.

  3. The IBPA has also been a great source of industry news and practices. It was through the IBPA Independent magazine that we first conceived the idea of a crowdfunding campaign!

IBPA: Thank you, Kirsten, for sharing your insight and expertise with the IBPA community!

Click here to learn more about Common Deer Press.

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