Building Your Personal Brand with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 3:00 PM | Lena Coakley

Today we're continuing our series of interviews with 2014 Packaging Your Imagination conference speakers with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, illustrator of the picture books I'M BORED and NAKED (both written by Michael Ian Black) and of numerous Judy Blume covers.  Debbie has the most vibrant internet presence I know, so I am sure her PYI talk, Lightning Rods, Agents & Book Deals: Building Your Personal Brand will be chock full of useful information.  Lucky for us, she's agreed to give us a little preview.

Lena: Can you give us a taste of what you'll be talking about at PYI?  What's one tip or nugget of wisdom you'll be sharing with attendees?

Debbie: However you feel about the word "brand," everyone has a personal brand. You DO have control over it (yes, even the shy and introverted) and it can have a big effect on how successful you are in achieving your personal and professional goals. Some keys, I've found: Be authentic, find your niche and don't try to do everything. Come to my workshop and I'll explain more, including social media tips for those who aren't quite sure what to do with their social media.

 Lena: I’m a great fan of I’M BORED and NAKED.  Tell us about your next book.

Debbie: I'm super-excited about my next book because it's also the very first children's book of which I'm author as well as illustrator. WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? is a picture book about a little boy named Spencer whose beloved books are mysteriously vanishing, one at a time. Who is taking them? Spencer needs to solve the mystery before his bookshelves are empty. WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? comes out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in May 2015.

Lena: I love that premise! If you could offer one piece of advice to an aspiring author/illustrator, what would it be?

Debbie: Don't try to do it on your own. If I could have given my younger self one piece advice, it would have been to start meeting other author/illustrators and attending conventions like Packaging Your Imagination much earlier. While it's possible to find publishing success on your own, the journey can be made easier and much more enjoyable if you can commiserate with, encourage and learn from others.

Lena: Do you have a marketing strategy?  Could you tell us what's worked for you and what hasn't?

Debbie: I believe that everyone needs to find a marketing strategy that works for them; there is no ONE right way to do it. My own marketing strategy (if you could call it that) developed because I wanted to avoid asking people to buy my book. So instead of doing that, I do what I can to make people interested in me and my work, so that when my new book DOES come out, they're already aware of it. If they want to buy the book, that's great. But if not (even the most avid bibliophiles have limited book-buying budgets), that's also fine. But in either case, I'm hoping that they might borrow it from the library or read it in the bookstore. And if they like it, maybe they'll let others know about it by word of mouth or social media.

As for what's worked and what hasn't worked for me, I have no hard sales data thatconnects specific marketing strategies to sales. However, I do notice certain patterns with what people respond to via sharing or Likes on social media. 

What's worked for me:

Sharing my process, sharing my excitement about my own books  as well as other books. I've found that people respond most to when I add something personal. Including something visual (whether it's a book cover or especially a sketch or illustration) also gets more responses.

What hasn't worked for me:

Anything resembling direct marketing.

Lena: I feel like I’ve watched your success happen before my eyes.  How have you grown as a writer/illustrator between your debut and your latest book?  What advice do you have for debut authors?

Debbie: One thing I've learned: the angst NEVER ENDS, so it's important to enjoy every success, no matter how small. I used to think that getting my first book published was the ultimate goal. As soon as my first book got published, however, I realized that there was a whole new level of angst waiting with each book: What kind of reviews would the book get? Would there be ANY reviews? What would sales be like? How much promotion should I do? How would I juggle promotion and working on my next book? How do I keep from getting into a rut? and so on and so on.

I still angst, of course, but I also try to enjoy the process and the journey.

Another piece of advice: Don't get so caught up in promotion and marketing efforts that you forget to CREATE.

Lena: I SO agree that the angst never ends, but I sometimes find it a bit demoralizing.  How do you stay motivated?

Debbie: I make time to play (doodle and write for the fun of it) every day. I keep working on my craft, learning new techniques that I can't wait to try out.

And as I said above, I attend events like Packaging Your Imagination where I can learn from others in the industry. I also surround myself with creative types who inspire me, or follow them online.

Lena: How have you built an audience over time.  Any tips?

Debbie: I'll be sharing many more tips in my PYI workshop, but here are just a few:

Before diving into social media, figure out what you want to get out of it first. Too many authors and illustrators join Twitter just because they know their publishers want them to, but then get frustrated because they're not sure how to use it.

Decide who your target audience is, and then post accordingly. Don't try to be everything to everyone. Pick your niche. How can you stand out? What are your strengths?

Don't get obsessed with follower count. Therein lies madness and frustration. Focus on good content and non-spammy interaction.

Give good karma and it will come back to you.

Lena: That’s such perfect advice, Debbie, and if there’s anyone I know in the kidlit world who gives out good karma, it is you.  Thanks so much for dropping by the CANSCAIP blog.

Follow Debbie on Twitter!

Lightning Rods, Agents & Book Deals: Building Your Personal Brand

(Professional Development, Beginner)

Debbie will explain how an effective author or illustrator brand can give you a major edge in finding agents, landing book deals and marketing your work. She’ll also offer practical tips on how to find your own authentic brand as well as how to build it online.

(Please note: this workshop will not be conducted in the tub.)

CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination conference will be held on Saturday, October 18th in Toronto.



  • Wednesday, October 08, 2014 8:10 AM | Sylvia McNicoll
    This is a great article but I don't see how I can share it on Facebook. No twitter button either. Ironic since this Debbie is my personal queen of the social network.
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