Thursday, April 12, 2012

Author Promotion: What Worked, What Didn't

I'm a big believer in Skyping with book clubs all over the country. It's very folksy like a fireside chat, with all these women sitting in someone's living room or kitchen glued to a computer screen. But it's a great way to interact, answer questions, have a few laughs and endear yourselves to readers you would never otherwise have met. They love it, I love it and it costs not a dime. But if you try it, I suggest doing a trial run with the group host before the actual "meeting". Work out all the technical kinks and you're good to go. Worth the extra time, and it's also a way to review how you want to work the discussion. Generally I begin by talking about my writer's journey, I discuss the book and then take questions. The whole thing takes 20-30 minutes and everyone is happy.

Saralee Rosenberg

Good: I wrote personalized letters to booksellers and sent them ARCS. My efforts resulted in my novel being a Booksense Notable (Which is now Indie Bound.)

Bad: I wasted too much time on bookstore appearances. Lots of time only a few people would come out, so now I mostly do drop-in signings where I just sign stock and chat up booksellers.

Karin Gillespie

I obsessed over the launch of my debut novel with the same degree of passion applied to the birth of my first child.  No detail was too minor, no expense spared, and all chickens were counted as hatched.  My published friends counseled restraint.  “Just do what you like to do,” they said, “because, in the end, none of it will matter.”  I listened, but their words were confused by memories of those very authors, besotted with their debut novels, pumping blind enthusiasm into the dead-on-arrival veins of book signings, action figures, and t-shirts.  My advice?  Just do what you like to do because you love your book—and enjoy it while you can.  Your next book will have to hit the ground running.        

Cindy Jones

I am on day six of an eight day blogads campaign, and so far the results have been disappointing.

Deborah Blumenthal

What worked
Whenever I do a reading/signing, I bring "autographed copy" stickers, and tell the audience I have them. I mention that they make a nice addition if you're giving the book as a gift. This gives people the idea to actually BUY the book as a gift for someone. And I believe it increases sales all around. (Even grown-ups like stickers!) 

FYI, I get mine from Alpha Business Forms.

What didn't work
I once tried giving away prizes to get people to help spread the word about my books, and it wasn't as effective as  I thought it would be. Turns out, people actually LIKE to help, and would rather do it out of kindness and generosity than for a reward. So although the program didn't work out, it was an uplifting lesson about human nature!

Ellen Meister

What I believe has worked best for me promotion-wise throughout my career is just getting to know the book people in my city and developing a really lovely relationship with them. It's so nice when they email and say, "There's this cool event coming up, and we'd like you to participate." Also, taking every opportunity to meet booksellers and librarians in other cities and states, say, through book festivals or trade shows. It's such a different feeling meeting them face to face, and I've made some really wonderful friends that way. And it's been crucial getting to know the folks at my publishing house through the years (I've been with HarperCollins since 2002 when I signed my first contract with them--wow!). They're my book family, and I appreciate the ease with which I can communicate with them and share ideas.

What didn't work was spreading myself too thin, trying to do too much promotion-wise (like, travel anywhere and everywhere anyone would have me, go to every convention or conference I could possibly squeeze in, etc.). I did get very good at writing a book in three months because of backing myself into a corner time-wise; but I've realized things work out much better if I focus on the writing and keep my butt in the desk chair these days. I've learned it really is okay to say "no" every once in a while!

Susan McBride

Some of the low-tech stuff I did, business cards with the book cover, and a book party that also raised money for a charity tied to the theme of my book, seemed to me to have more 'legs' than others. My huge failure, 500 window decal bumper stickers with Diana Lively is Falling Down to stimulate intrigue among drivers.  I'd say 10 people, all family and close friends, put them on their cars, I was too shy to press them on anyone else, and they remain, to this day cluttering my file closet. 

The worst promotion, for me, has been doing  'readings' at Borders (pre-bankruptcy) and Barnes & Nobles out of town.  As my friend Mark Winegardener says, "It's like going to the bathroom in public."  Worse, yet, when no one shows up to witness the event, it's somehow even more humiliating!  If you've got a big name, it might be different, but for me, it was simply a waste of the miles on my car and lots of nervousness ahead of time.  I signed all the books I could, knowing they couldn't return them, but still...

The best advice I got was to do what you love to do anyway, and forget the rest.

Sheila Curran

Aah, promotion.  The bane of every author's existence!!  In my experience, it's really hard to tell what works and what doesn't.  There's really no way of knowing what exactly drives people to buy books.  Sure, an ad in People Magazine couldn't hurt, but does that really encourage people to buy?

So, I think it's a really good idea to just do what you're comfortable with.  That having been said, having a website, blog and Twitter account, I think, are a great place to start.  Getting your name out there is always a good thing.

Brenda Janowitz

 What worked:
Bookmarks have always been a good giveaway for me. I have some made with each book. I put the cover of my new release with a blurb on the front. I put the covers of the other books in the series on the back so that readers will have all the titles listed in order. I use them at signings and to hand out to family and friends. 

Waste of Time: 
T-shirts for a panel. Years ago I was on a panel at a convention with several author friends. We blogged together at a now-defunct blog called Good-Girls-Kill (We wrote mysteries.) We came up with idea of wearing t-shirts for the panel to promote our blog. We found an on-line company that printed customized t-shirts and decided on long-sleved black t-shirts with the blog address on the back. 

The problem was that by the time we decided on logo/no logo, font size, slogan, color, long/short sleeve, regular/baby doll fit, etc the deadline for the con was fast approaching. We had to rush the t-shirt order and have them FEDEXed. In the end, the shirts cost an outrageous $80 each. My friend Diana Killiian quipped she was going to be buried in hers. Definitely not worth it! 
Sara Rosett

Obviously, good reviews were a plus, but other than that, I think networking with other writers.


  1. Love this post! Need to bookmark it and look back when I'm ready to promote my third novel!!

  2. It's weird. I did all of the aforementioned and had the same results. I think my biggest supporter has been Richmond, VA--where I live. I'm moving soon, so I am hoping my new town, Kill Devil Hills--will show me some love, and I'll always be a Richmonder.

  3. I noticed three of us, maybe four, said to just do what we loved. Which is what I try to remember about writerly angst as well. We got into this because we were crazy enough to LIKE to write. That's what will keep us sane throughout the promotion process. I think maybe one reason I take so long to write my books is that I dread the terrible feeling of vulnerability that comes out when you're trying to gin up sales!
    Great post.

  4. This was so informative and relatable. I hear from so many new authors that book-signings are on the wane. For me, I had the best results doing a blog tour and would definitely do that again. The tour resulted in many bloggers inviting me to guest post after the official tour was over. Thanks!

  5. Great post! My experiences have been similar. Book Clubs, personal notes and building relationships are my winners. My editor has told me she will never ask me to do a store appearance again- I love her!

  6. "It's like going to the bathroom in public." OMG, must steal that line.

  7. Karin, thanks for putting this together! Some great tips!

  8. This is very relevant to me right now - great post - I'll add to it once I know what is working and what isn't. I make postcards with each book and keep them in my car, distributing them as need be...

  9. I'm very late, but I'm here, not that anyone will ever read this comment, lol! I've actually had very good success with the little thumbnail campaigns on FB and Goodreads. Both are easy to cost control, an inexpensive and direct way to reach out to readers. Also, a professional looking website can't be underestimated, a little something I've had great insight to in the past few months!

  10. Laura, I read it! :-) This is a such a terrific post..timely and valuable..and so reassuring!

    Allison Brennan told me, a milion years ago, nothing matters but writing the best book you possibly can. I didn't believe her, back then. Now--I do.

  11. Susan forgot to mention the delightful cookies friends and family brought to a library reading/discussion/book sale. I do believe people buy more books when on a sugar high (or maybe that was just me ;-)

  12. Great post! I love how each author shared what worked and what didn't - very helpful! The biggest thing I have learned as an author is to be deliberate about prioritizing, especially when it comes to promoting.

  13. This is great information - and definitely not the first time I've read that an author's had success with bookmarks. Marketing is SO difficult and it does seem like trial and error.

    Thank you SO much for posting this. It's giving me great ideas (namely, do what I like doing).

    I'll cross off trying to do a reading at one of those big book stores. The thought terrifies me. That maybe no one would even show up? Nightmare.

  14. Great post! I appreciate the info and humor, & have forwarded it to friends.

  15. This is huge. I have been wearing my soles on my forehead since I got the thin letter from the only grad school that mattered (Temple, Ph. D> Urban Education). I needed some hope about my novel - my first book, Generations, was a self-published poetry collection that sold 28 copies. 18 to F&F.