Gwendolyn, the Graceful Pig is the story of Gwendolyn and Omar--two pigs with very different dreams who find common ground and friendship through dance. I was so intrigued by author David Ira Rottenberg's creative marketing strategy for this self-published picture book that I tracked him down for an interview. Via email from his home outside of Boston, Massachusetts, David was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about his approach, which incorporates ballet into author events at bookstores! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, David!
I love it that you integrate dance into your author events. How did you come up with such an innovative marketing strategy?
When it came time to market the book, events in bookstores were an obvious avenue to try, but I didn’t think kids would have much interest in me or in me reading my book. Then, I thought if I had a ballet dancer read the book, the kids (and their parents) would be a lot more interested. Over time, I’ve grown confident enough to read my book in bookstores, so now the dancers do more of a performance/dance demonstration.
How do you go about setting up these events? Is it a lot of work?
To set something like this up takes a lot more work than you think. Just finding the right person to speak to at a dance school, and then calling and calling until she is actually available to speak, can literally take weeks. The same is true of getting in touch with a bookstore. And then coordinating the event between the ballet school and the bookstore is the hardest of all. But the key for me is just calling and calling and calling until the person I want to reach at the ballet school is in, and then I send that person a copy of the book. Luckily, most people who have read the book have liked it enough to be willing to participate.
Can you tell us more about the actual events? For instance, do you read the book first, and then the dancers perform? Or do you follow another format?
Sometimes, I read the book first and then the dancers perform. Sometimes, it’s the other way around. Sometimes, one of the dancers wants to read the book. We also have a photo session afterward where the kids in the audience can have their pictures taken with the dancers, and often times the kids will also want the dancers to sign the book. I’ve also started a website for Gwendolyn Ballerina Birthday Parties, but what’s always surprising about any kind of business venture is that it’s hard to find dancers you can rely on to show up...so I’m still working on that idea!
What are some of the dance groups you’ve collaborated with? Are you planning any more collaborations? Or any encore presentations?
I’ve worked with a lot of ballet companies and schools, both big and little. Some that immediately come to mind are the Joffrey Ballet School, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, the Island Moving Company, and the Arts Ballet Centre of Winchester. Most of the companies I do events with want to do repeat events, but they have to be spaced out over time. Another problem is that it’s hard to do events beyond areas that you can reach by car (or bus) or that you can go to and from in a day, because then hotel and travel expenses make it a losing proposition. In this sense, I’m lucky I’m in the Northeast, as there are a lot of cities within a few hours reach.
Because you chose to write a book about ballet and chose to market it the way you did, I’m assuming you have a certain fondness for ballet. Is this true?
Ballet does hold special meaning for me in that I like the display of creativity. I like music, theatre, art, and literature, and ballet combines them all. Everyone has the desire for freedom and perfection, and ballet expresses those qualities about as beautifully as anything can.