Writing is one thing. Book marketing is quite another. After all, they require different skills. But oftentimes the biggest challenge is adopting a new mindset. If you’re a novelist, this is easier than you might think. We’re used to putting ourselves in the shoes of our characters. So, instead of thinking, “What would my protagonist do?” you need to ask yourself, “What would entice my ideal reader?”
The same is true for non-fiction writers, of course. Which is why the insights and experiences shared by the following nine authors work for just about any book genre.
Why read on?
Whether you’re marketing novels or non-fiction, you will:
- Get exposed to marketing ideas you may not have thought of already.
- Revisit ideas you’ve tried but may need “tweaking.”
- Draw from both “high tech” and “high touch” ideas (or a blend of both).
- Realize a range of reasons for marketing books, other than selling copies.
Engage with us
Let’s begin a conversation. As you read these nine authors’ tips, consider the challenges you’re facing to get your book in front of readers. What promotional activities have you tried that work for you? Add your comments below.
But I also hope you will get involved by helping other authors achieve success with their books. Return the favor by reading, reviewing, and recommending. Then watch your own success increase!
As much as it’s great to reach a broader audience online, sometimes the most successful marketing approaches involve getting out there and meeting people. In person. Here’s what worked for these authors:
Surprised to see this listed in 2016? Don’t be. According to the American Booksellers Association, independents are thriving.
Here are two “insider” perspectives you may not have heard before:
Kemper Donovan – The Decent Proposal* (HarperCollins, 2016)
(* Kemper’s debut novel is a humorous, heartfelt love story set in Los Angeles.)
“I’d say the best activity I did, marketing-wise, was to attend the Winter Institute this past January. It’s an ABA event at which independent booksellers from around the country convene for a few days (this year it was in Denver). Publishers invite a few authors to attend and interact with the booksellers. The event was a crash course in what is important to booksellers, which was invaluable for me as an author.
“My biggest takeaway was that you have to be proactive, and unafraid to walk into a bookstore and introduce yourself. Otherwise the bookseller might never know who you are. Or, if they’ve already ordered your book, they have more to go on when hand-selling it (in the best possible scenario) to a customer. Basically, you can’t hurt yourself by making that personal connection, and the booksellers are very open to it. I wouldn’t have realized this, otherwise.”
Even without an invitation to attend the Winter Institute, you can take advantage of the top three things Kemper learned there:
Jennifer Brody – The 13th Continuum, Book 1* (Turner Publishing, 2016)
(* Another debut novel, Jen’s Young Adult sci-fi/dystopian masterpiece was sold to Turner Publishing in a three-book deal and is being packaged into a feature film.)
When I was booking an in-person launch event in LA, many of the indie bookstores were not very welcoming. I’m a new author and write YA. But at the urging of an author friend, I found a wonderful comic book store with a huge following (Meltdown Comics) that agreed to do an event. We had a big turnout and Publisher’s Marketplace even ran a blurb on the launch. Now I’m gearing up for the launch of RETURN OF THE CONTINUUMS (Book 2) on November 1st, 2016. I approached one of those indie bookstores again, and wouldn’t you know it? This time they were super excited to host the event. The work we did to get THE 13TH CONTINUUM out there didn’t go unnoticed.
Book Marketing to College Professors
Another surprise, right? But several of these authors have had great success in approaching professors about linking their books to courses.
Yi Shun Lai – Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu* (Shade Mountain Press, 2016)
(* “Ceaselessly surprising and entertaining… Lai’s debut is an unexpectedly radical book on our deeply complicated relations with parents.”—Hyphen Magazine: Asian America Unabridged.)
“My book is being taught at my alma mater and at two other area colleges. But I was really surprised to hear this included a seminar on Critical Thinking. College professors are smart. They will use your book in ways you never even thought possible for your book. They will see your book differently. It behooves you to show your book to educators.”College professors will use your book in ways you never even thought possible. @gooddirt Click To Tweet
“Because of relationships I had before, I was able to get a head start on this. But I am an active proponent of the ‘always ask’ school of communications. I mean, don’t do it clumsily, and do be smart about who you’re asking. Information about the classes people teach is online, so it’s good to be able to show you’ve done some research there. And you might consider starting with your own alma mater.”
Another author, Vanessa Hua, found professors of Asian American Studies to be receptive to her book, too:
Vanessa Hua – Deceit and Other Possibilities* (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2016)
(* Vanessa’s debut short story collection will be published on September 30th, 2016.)
I reached out to professors of Asian American and multi-ethnic literature to introduce myself and my book, and offered them an e-galley. Dozens asked to see it, for possible course adoption or to order for the school library. Some also forwarded my contact information to the school’s speaking series.
Here’s where we authors can really come into our own, devising creative ways to entice event organizers and audiences:
Aleta George – Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California’s First Poet Laureate* (Shifting Plates Press, 2015)
(*This new biography documents the life of pioneer poet Coolbrith–the niece of Mormon founder, Joseph Smith–who was a contemporary of Mark Twain, John Muir and Isadora Duncan.)
“I enjoy doing events and knew that I’d be giving talks about Ina and reciting her poetry. So while I was still writing the book I went to a local vibrant and friendly open mic poetry club and practiced reading her poems. The first few times I was petrified, even though I studied acting in my 20’s. But it got easier and easier.”
Don’t bury your eyes in your book or your paper
“I prepare by writing my talks out, but then highlight key phrases or direct quotes for guidance, and just tell stories. I learned that from a writer who had a book of short stories, and at a reading she never opened her book. She simply told the stories she wanted to tell. It’s scary at first, but it’s so much more fun to engage with the audience in that way.”Advice to authors: Don't open yr book at readings. Audiences will engage more with yr stories. @GeorgeAleta Click To Tweet
Focus on the desire
“I do want to sell books, of course, and make a living as a writer. But I don’t focus on that at the event. I focus on my desire to introduce people to the subject of my book. Even if only a few people show up, I think, “One book at a time.” This is my first book, and I’m an unknown. I understand that means I am building a base of readers and learned that you never know who in your audience will lead to the next event. Which for me means book sales.”
One thing leads to another
“One attendee invited me to speak at a historical house. I did, and 45 people paid $25 and they all showed up on a rainy winter day. Which leads to the strategy of speaking to a group that already has a vibrant attendance. I sold a lot of books that day and it led to another event. I also spoke to 130 members of the Berkeley Breakfast Club as a result of being invited by an attendee at another event. I sold a lot of books that day, too.”Advice to writers from 9 successful authors: Do events for the domino effect. @GeorgeAleta Click To Tweet
Making a difference
“The plaque and renaming of a stairway is the result of a book event. After one book event, a dapper gentlemen came up to me and said, ‘I represent the Berkeley Historical Society. How can we right the wrong that Ina Coolbrith has been shortchanged in Berkeley?'”
How Aleta does it
“To get events booked, I send out personal letters to bookstores, libraries, writing clubs, historical and other groups. I try to make a connection to the group I’ll be speaking to, or to the geographical location. That’s easy for my book. For example, Ina loved San Francisco. So in my requests to coordinators I told them that Ina called SF her “city of love and desire.” She was also Oakland’s first public librarian, and mentored Jack London. This year (Nov. 2016) marks the centennial of his death. I sent letters of interest to Jack London State Park and the 13th Annual Jack London Symposium; I’m speaking to both groups.
“In November 1916, San Diego celebrates Ina Coolbrith Day. I discovered that the Women’s Museum of California in San Diego has an author program on the second Sunday of every month. I contacted the coordinator and said I’d love to introduce modern readers to Ina; I’m booked for December 2016.”
Yi Shun is a proponent of arranging events with fellow writers, so it doesn’t feel like “going it alone”:
I look for writers or editors with whom I share some kind of common bond. Most recently, I paired with three Asian American writers and Jenn Baker, the founder of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, for an event on writing and reading diverse literature. And for my first big out-of-state event in Chicago, I reached out to a producer I knew at NPR, so we could do a live interview at a bookstore event, instead of just a straight reading. That way we give attendees more than hearing me read.
Book Marketing Launch Team
Collaboration is the best way for writers to get their names and books “out there,” as Jennifer Brody discovered.
“My publisher put together a special “Launch Team” for my book THE 13TH CONTINUUM to help build up reviews and buzz before the book was published. Each person received a special, personalized advance copy of the book and other fun book swag, such as tote bags and book marks. It was a great way to get my book into the hands of actual readers.”
Even if you’re self-published, you can create your own “launch team.” Follow Jen’s example by making the people you invite feel involved with your book. Give them a vested interest to promote it on your behalf.Want a successful book launch? Create your team like this debut novelist. @JenniferBrody Click To Tweet
As an avid user of the Austin Public Library system, I know from first-hand experience how much these venues are focused on staying relevant, with different events and programs. Yi Shun’s advice illustrates the importance of building relationships before you need them:
With very few exceptions, I like to check out area libraries when I’m planning trips. Part of this is because I’m a sucker for libraries and like to see the individual personalities of each one. The other part is because I really value the fact that libraries put on programming for the community. I think it’s a wonderful service and want to support it. So, I’ll often pitch a few possible sessions to the program director and see what they think.
In every case, I’ve had a head start. I’ve known someone who works in the library or the library system. So far, I’ve planned or had events at the Hood River Library and Kenton Libraries in Oregon and at the Skokie Library in Illinois. In the past I’ve done events and courses at the White Plains Library in New York. Some of them come with honoraria, which is an added benefit.
We’re moving into the wacky world of author Adam Slutsky, who offers ideas for unique marketing strategies that he’s used for his books. What thoughts do these inspire in you, for your work?
Adam Slutsky – Mule: My Dangerous Life as a Drug Smuggler Turned DEA Informant* (Globe Pequot/Lyons Press, 2012)
(*Co-written with the story’s principal, this non-fiction book tracks the life of Chris Heifner, one-time economics students, drug mule for a Mexican cartel, then informant for the DEA.)
“We put Heifner’s skills to the test by recreating two of his favorite contraband smuggling routes (Tijuana into San Diego and Juarez into El Paso), each with 25 kilos of “cocaine”–baking powder, individually wrapped in 2-kilo bricks. For one of the trips we had a couple of European journalists accompanying us. For the other, we hyped the book in Mob Candy Magazine. For the record, there were no issues at either border. In fairness, drug dogs don’t alert to baking powder, so we had a clear advantage!Fresh, zany ways to promote non-fiction books by Adam Slutsky (& 8 other successful authors). Click To Tweet
“For the book I published last year with Master Sergeant Terry Schappert, active Green Beret and star of Discovery’s “Dude, You’re Screwed” — A Guide To Improvised Weaponry: How To Protect Yourself With WHATEVER You’ve Got (Adams Media, 2015) — we offered a few live demonstrations where Terry treated me like an assailant and used various items (dirty diaper, turkey baster, deck of playing cards, etc.) to beat the absolute sh*t of me.
“Terry also did a funny video on YouTube demo’ing some of the improvised weapons.”
Which is a neat segue into…
All of the following ideas are within any writer’s grasp. Where authors have worked with digital experts (which might be outside your budget), I’ve suggested low-cost alternatives.
Don’t dismiss the value of those gold stickers attached to the front of award-winning books. One of my clients, Sharon Schweitzer, has enjoyed considerable attention for our co-authored book, Access to Asia, for which she was awarded a Kirkus Star (only for books of “exceptional merit”) and named to Best Books of 2015 by Kirkus Reviews. Other clients’ works, as well as some of my own books, have received awards from international as well as US awards organizations.
Here’s Aleta George’s experience, for her biography of Ina Coolbrith:
The IPPY Award is the largest award for independent, university, and self-published titles. Receiving an award definitely gave a boost to my book. I announced it in my bi-monthly newsletter. Many contacts who had not responded personally before I announced it, did so after I won the award. It did increase sales a bit, and the bling from a respected national award can tip someone into buying the book who is on the fence. The award ceremony was on the sky deck in Chicago, which also gave my husband and I a fun reason to go to Chicago!
Abby Vegas – Clean Break* (CreateSpace, 2016)
(*Another debut novelist, Abby says she loves books that feature feisty, flawed heroines. Which is why she wrote one.)
Since this is such a pivotal activity for book authors these days, I interviewed Abby at length about how she reached out to bloggers to help promote her book to their readers.How to entice bloggers to help promote your new book: @AwkwardCeleb Click To Tweet
Liz: How did you identify the bloggers that would be most receptive to your book? Did you use some kind of tool like Buzzsumo, or use a different tool to find bloggers who would review? And did you send them a physical copy of your book, or e-format?
Abby: “Identifying potential bloggers was time-consuming, partly because I was so new to the book blogosphere. To start out, I found lists of book bloggers who accept review requests from indie authors. But I have to stress that was only a starting point. I still had to do a ton of research on the genres each blogger covered, whether their blog was an appropriate fit for my book, and even whether they were still accepting indie review requests (policies change — that’s a whole separate topic!)
“Once a blogger requested an ARC of the book, I sent it to them in whatever format they wanted. I think only one blogger wanted a physical copy. Everyone else wanted either Kindle, epub, or PDF format.”
Liz: How did you go about writing that introductory email to bloggers? Tell me more about how exactly you forged those connections?
Abby: “Writing that introductory email to bloggers is like the digital equivalent of cold-calling. Essentially, it’s a sales pitch, and this actually ties in with research and doing your homework. I can’t stress it enough: If you want to pitch a book blogger, you actually NEED to read their blog. There aren’t any shortcuts. Book bloggers can spot a form-letter a mile away, and they hate that, so avoid it at all costs.
“Whenever I found a promising blog, I’d make sure they were taking indie requests in my genre and then I’d read the blog posts and the book reviews. That’s how I got a feel for the blogger behind the blog; I was really looking for a genuine connection. Some of that dovetailed with my genre (what types of romances were they loving? Anything similar?) …but just as often I’d find other connections. One blogger had raved about Deb Harkness’s novel A Discovery of Witches (which is not really at all similar to my book, genre-wise), but it’s also one of my favorite books, so I started with that.
“One final tip: Follow reviewers’ guidelines: it’s their blog, so their rules. But fortune favors the brave, so don’t be afraid to try a Hail Mary. One blogger stated in her submission guidelines that she seldom reviewed indie authors. I pitched her and quoted that line and said I hoped that I’d be one of the very rare exceptions. She took the ARC and wrote a fantastic review of Clean Break.”
Want to see the results of Abby’s efforts? You can read some of the blogger review excerpts here.
But don’t forget the “social” in social media, as Petrea Burchard’s experience illustrates:
Petrea Burchard – Camelot & Vine* (Boz Books, 2013)
(*A stage actor and humorist (Act as If), Petrea penned her first novel about a fantasist who falls through a gap in time to land in the 6th century war camp of her childhood hero, King Arthur.)
In the weeks approaching the launch of my novel, Camelot & Vine, I invited my blog readers to contribute a photographic interpretation of the phrase, “Camelot where you are.” The readers voted, and each week’s winner received a copy of the book. I received and posted pictures of everything from a Merlin weather vane to a Las Vegas casino to a castle in England, and we all had a blast.
Intrigued, I asked Petrea to share what tangible results she received from the contest:
“If I had to sum it up in one word, I’d say “awareness,” both mine and that of my readers.
“My readers heard the title of my book every day for nearly three months without feeling beat over the head about it, because we were doing it together. Everyone was participating and sharing the fun. I had photos from Israel, Italy, Australia, southern California where I live, several from England, and more from all over the United States. Everyone had a vote in who won a copy of the book each week.”How to keep your novel in front of readers' minds, in a smart & fun way: @PetreaBurchard Click To Tweet
“My own awareness was enhanced, too. I discovered that I had readers around the world. I think I benefitted the most through the personal involvement of the readers I already had. People felt invested in the book. They cared about it, wanted to read it, reviewed it on Amazon, and became my core fans. Having that base on which to build has made Camelot & Vine a kind of “sleeper.” It doesn’t sell thousands of copies, but it’s been out for over three years, the Amazon numbers are respectable, and it continues to sell, slowly but surely. And the reviews are consistently good.
“My primary motivation was advertising and sales, and it still is! Camelot & Vine was my first book. I’m more realistic now about my marketing prowess as a self-published author with zero advertising budget. You’ve heard “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” and that is true. So I continue to train a few miles a day, until one day everyone can call me Phidippides.”
Facebook Launch Party
In the current marketplace, traditional book tours have largely fallen by the wayside. It’s never been more important to combine digital and in-person events to launch a book. I worked with a WattPad bestselling author to throw a Facebook Party for my book launch. And did a blog tour that was run by a very cool duo of book bloggers. I also conducted several in-person events to compliment these digital events. ~ Jennifer Brody, The 13th Continuum.
Vanessa Hua used the same tool to produce promotional materials to help market Deceit and Other Possibilities.
In creating the bookmark, plus Twitter, Facebook and Instagram banners with Canva, Vanessa says
“I know some authors include QR codes that generate links to order the book online, which is nifty. But pre-ordering wasn’t yet available at the time I was getting them printed up.“With the bookmarks and banners, I had to decide how much information to include. Ultimately, I chose clean, simple, and eye-catching. But they included the most salient information: publication date, ISBN number, blurb, and website. Learning how to use Canva took a little effort but it’s far less technical than a program like Adobe illustrator. It’s also free and online.“Alternatively, I could have uploaded the cover image and then zoomed in to fit the dimensions of the banner, but that would have cut off most of the cover and I wouldn’t have been able to add in the blurb and ordering information.”
Tiffany Hawk – Love Me Anyway* (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013)
(* Former flight attendant Tiffany drew on her behind-the-scenes experience to write this debut novel about two flight attendants looking for love and meaning.)
“I worked with a producer to create a book trailer that is more like a short film. It was accepted to the DC Shorts film festival a few years ago, so I got to watch it on the big screen at a historic theater in the middle of D.C. Even though it’s only two and a half minutes long, it was an incredible experience to hear a theater full of people laughing in all the right places. I don’t know if it helped me sell books, but it was so much fun, and I’m thrilled I invested in it.”Love the idea of a short film to promo yr book? Insider tips from 9 successful authors. Click To Tweet
An alternative idea
Have you seen the animated video I showcase on my home page? It was created using an online tool called GoAnimate. They have a free 14-day trial. And offer a lower-cost way to create something similar to Tiffany’s (although the right professional will always do it so much better!).
Don’t leave it until the last minute before focusing on marketing and book promotion.
For example, Michael Papanek and I mapped out a robust and varied marketing plan for his new book From Breakdown to Breakthrough: Forging Resilient Business Relationships in the Heat of Change (Morgan James, 2017). With less than five months to go before Michael’s book is out, we were already creating content for his blog, guest blog posts, and business magazine articles. We’d started to follow and connect with consulting influencers and the media. Not least, since this is a business book, we focused on a range of revenue streams for Michael rather than only relying on selling copies.
What book marketing activities have worked for you? Leave a comment with details. And consider sharing this round-up post with writing groups or individual authors that could benefit from reading the experiences of these nine wonderful contributing authors.
My heartfelt thanks to:
Now it’s your turn…please submit a comment below.