Friday, January 21, 2011

23 Author Promotion Tips: What Works, What's Worthless

Book tours, postcards, Twitter, and Facebook. There are hundreds of ways to promote a book.  Some swim, other sink. Girlfriend share the strategies that worked for them as well as the time and money wasters.

I can't really take credit for this, because my publisher set it up, but at two book signings for my recent release, MEET ME IN MANHATTAN, my publisher gave away cupcakes. Offer a tasty treat and the line of eager fans will extend out the door!

Judith Arnold

Promotional – being available on Facebook and Twitter. These two places are where the conversation between readers and authors is really occurring. Biggest loser? Easy - any kind of giveaway, closely followed by a postcard mailing.

Melanie Benjamin

One of the ideas I had the most fun with was the One-Question Interview Blog Tour that I did last spring/summer. I made 60+ stops at various blogs, answering only one question at each stop with no two questions being exactly alike. Bloggers enjoyed it because it was fun, easy and different, and I enjoyed it for the same reasons. I've never followed trends or gone in for postcards/bookmarks etc so I can't think of any that was a complete loser.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

The promotional idea that I had the most fun with was putting together the Deadly Divas with Denise Swanson and Letha Albright back in 1999. We all had our first mysteries out, and we realized that getting publicity as a new author (without a seven-figure deal) was going to be rough. So we banded together, came up with the Deadly Divas and our slogan, "Nice Women Who Write About Murder," and we toured the country in our feather boas and tiaras. We sent boxes ahead of time to libraries and stores for signings so they could decorate with crime scene tape, spider webs, giant spiders, and all sorts of goodies we bought in bulk after Halloween! We had a St. Louis T-shirt guy (Randy at make up Divas T-shirts for our various tours, and we did a random drawing at each event, giving away signed shirts.

Letha and I retired from the Divas in around 2006 (I think), but they are still going strong, thanks to Denise. It didn't take long for me to realize that promoting as a group with a clever theme really worked...and was a heck of a lot more fun than promoting alone. Just taking the time to put yourself out there, meeting booksellers, librarians, readers, anyone who'll give you a shot, is the most beneficial marketing tool of all.

The worst promotional idea was probably spending money on advertising items, like mouse pads, puzzles, and other things with my book cover on them. I did that for my first book...and never again.

Susan McBride

I used to send out postcards, but I think the return is just not worth it anymore, especially when you add in the cost of stamps and the cards themselves. Plus I used to put a stick on each one saying if I was going to be speaking near them plus a handwritten line.

Or maybe I'm just lazy.

April Henry

The most effective thing I did to promote my books was to start local. Readings, ad on local NPR sponsored by my publisher, a book party/benefit for charities in a big old house downtown. Cost of entrance included a copy of the book, proceeds went to worthy causes and I bought the food and wine. Book festivals are also lovely because the readers WANT to be there.

Worst things: 500 window stickers in the font and colors of my first book, 490 of which are still in their box. Worse, my parents are still driving around five years later with a crooked Diana Lively is Falling Down attached to their rear window. Second worst thing for me was a two hour trip to Jacksonville Borders in the rain to sign books. One person, a woman in her seventies who'd gone to my college and saw the notice on the listserv, came to the event, which I'd publicized the hell out of but between the storm and the fact that this particular Borders was in the middle of nowhere, came to one big fat soppy NADA. As Ann Patchett put it in her Atlantic Monthly article about book tours, titled MY LIFE IN SALES, the only thing worse than going on a book tour is NOT going on one. And there you have it, the introvert's dilemma, wherein we suddenly must wrench ourselves out into the daylight and shout "Hey, look at me! I have a book! It's good! Really, it is really good! Seriously!"

Next go round I plan to hire a surrogate, tall, blond, winsome and gregarious.

Sheila Curran

The most effective: hands down, Twitter. Through tweeting, retweeting, linking, etc., I've met so many authors, book bloggers, readers, booksellers--and countless others in the books and publishing community. Through Twitter, I met the amazing Claire Cook and Beth Hoffman, both of whom I asked to blurb my latest book, The Love Goddess' Cooking School (and both said very kind yeses!). Through Twitter, I've joined online writers groups that help promote the group's books and good news (and lend strong shoulders of support). Through Twitter, I've been asked for review copies of my latest book, I've been asked to guest blog on authors' sites and book blogs and entertainment sites, and I've connected with readers--through all of these outlets--who might not have picked up a book of mine before.

Once you get comfortable on Twitter, it's truly a gift for a writer. (Facebook is also wonderful for all of the above, but I think Twitter is more wide open in terms of reach and possibilities.)

As for least effective, I'm really not sure, since it's hard to really say what doesn't work at all. I recently created a Facebook ad for The Love Goddess' Cooking School, aimed at women over 18 who "like reading books" and are not connected with me on Facebook. In the four days it's been running, the little sidebar ad has been clicked on 31 times (at a cost to me of $1.10 per click with a $50 cap). Supposedly, the ad has been made available to 90,000 pages/profiles, so that's not a lot of clicks! But if 90,000 eyes see my name and cover of my book without clicking, it seems worthy. I think. (Anyone else do one of these ads and can weigh in?) --Melissa Senate

Melissa Senate

It's hard to really know, at least for me, what specifically worked to get my book into the hands of readers . . . and what didn't. I firmly believe, though, that connecting with book clubs was the single best thing I did. And not just because book clubs are fun and usually involve wine. In the six years since my book was released, I've met with 100+ book groups--in person and by phone. Many of these meetings led to meetings with another book club, too. I also would say that becoming friends with your local bookstores is incredibly important (I took cookies to 6 stores in my area the Valentine's Day after my book came out to thank them for all their support . . . one of the stores still mentions it to me when I stop in!). Because of my friendships with bookstore owners/employees, I've gotten invited to participate in book/author events, been recommended to book clubs, gotten front placement for my books, etc.

I'm sure there were things I did that were big flops . . . but I've conveniently forgotten those . . . or never knew what they were to begin with. Ignorance is bliss.

Judy Larson

It's always hard to say what the most effective and least effective things I did to promote my books were-- there's really no way of knowing which promotional efforts of yours yield results. That said, I think today it's really important to have a professionally designed web page, and an email address, linked to your domain, for your readers. Beyond that, I (still) don't know what actually makes readers buy your books. I just try to write the best book I can each time, and then do as much as I can to get the word out there

Brenda Janowitz

Most effective - I think responding to fans directly. In the early days I answered every fan e-mail at length and chatted people who contacted me on fb and weekly on Least effective? I wish I'd taken out more ads in RT.

Leslie Langtry

I honestly don't know specifically what's been the most effective promotion I've done; I can't quantify it. I do think that in general being a consistent member of group blogs like this one plus doing Twitter and Facebook bring lots of positive returns. I also try and promote fellow authors as much as I can and this also seems to work out for all concerned.

Wendy Tokunaga

It's really been difficult to track what works and what doesn't. I would say for me going on tour to book stores isn't as effective as going to book festivals and events in which there's already a built-in audience and lots of publicity, etc. I would suggest newly published and soon-to-be published writers check into book festivals and book club events.

I put out an invite to book clubs on my website. I went to just about every book club in my city. I also "attended" numerous via phone call and am doing my first Skype book club meeting on the 22nd. On average about half the members buy the book and the other half borrow it from them or from the library. So my attendance at book clubs kept my novels moving at my local indie and kept them on a waiting list at the library for months on end, which added to the public perception of their popularity and kept word of mouth going. And, I have to say, book clubs are a lot of fun. They almost always wine and dine you, and there's often presents! I've received numerous bouquets, chocolates, tea cups, mugs, pens, journals, book marks, candles, you name it. If nothing else it's good for a writer's soul to mingle with readers.

You will get the occasional member who doesn't like the book. And you may get someone who's downright rude, but I've had way more people share stories with me about how my books touched their lives and when the writing gets rough it's a great reminder about why I do what I do.

Carleen Brice

Mostly, I’m here to take notes. But when I was in the sixth grade, a teacher came up with an innovative fundraiser: selling boxes of light bulbs door-to-door—and now I’ve dated myself, confessing to an era when door-to-door sales were encouraged! Anyway, it was hard work. Light bulbs do not offer much aesthetic appeal. However, compared to the kaleidoscope of possible book promotions, light bulbs were a pretty “clear” idea! I did take out a thumbnail ad on Facebook, noting a jump in referrals to my site. But I have no idea if that’s translating into sales. I’m headed south next week, signing copies of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER in Athens, Atlanta, and Charlotte. So for now, I’ll be using the one-on-one approach, hand selling BD to one reader at a time!

Laura Spinella 

Most effective: before my book was released, I had postcards featuring the book cover printed and sent personal notes to every bookstore manager in my state, as well as the cities the characters in my novel visited during their roadtrip. My goal was to make booksellers aware of the book so they'd (hopefully) stock and prominently display it, maybe even handsell. I heard back from several who did just that. (Hooray!) Several invited me to do signings, which had mixed results, but I did discover the magic formula to selling every single book you're hawking in under two hours: lots of drunk people with money to spend!

I was sponsored by a bookseller as part of a local community's Strawberry Festival (and again later during Harvest Fest): they put me at a table along the main drag, next to other sellers hawking their wares (crafts, foods, wine, etc.). We sold out quickly, and I had a ton of fun meeting people. I think the key to a successful signing for a non-marquee author is to do it in conjunction with another event (festivals, farmers' markets, etc), so there are people there, having fun, interacting with you. Even if you don't sell many books at the event, people might remember your cover and pick up a copy the next time they're at the bookstore. While you're at the event, hand out postcards with your info, including blurbs & the book synopsis. That last part is key! Most people don't want to decide whether or not to take a chance on your book while you're staring at them. For their comfort (and my own), I prefer to send them off with the pitch, and many come back later and pick up a copy.

Meeting with bookclubs has also been wonderful; and don't be afraid to talk to strangers! A woman I sat next to on a plane once created a bookclub just to invite me over, and it resulted in 25 sales.

Least effective: I'd like to think that any exposure is good, but there are some readings and signings that are simply going to be busts for a midlister. Screen event invitations carefully.

Jess Riley

I'd give you an answer but I'm a little stymied about how to answer it! It's so complicated! Especially when the truth is not a whole lot works unless your house is behind you doing most of it for you LOL

Jenny Gardiner

Since I am two months out from publication and putting together my own promotion plan, you can believe I'm paying attention and taking notes on this post.

Cindy Jones

Most effective: website, guest blogging, reaching out to online book reviewers
Least effective: book signings, bookmarks!

Nadine Dajani

Really, I think the most effective promotion an author can do is to write the best damn book they possibly can.

Maggie Marr

Most effective things to promote my book? Spending the entire U.S. advance I received for The Opposite of Me, my first book, on promotion. I hired a publicist, took out blog ads, printed up postcards, hired a designer to create a wonderful website, and did as many readings as possible, traveling to nearby cities for book festivals.

Sarah Pekkanen

Boy I wish I knew the right answer to the question about the most effective promotion--because then I could set about doing it for next January's Key West Food Critic mystery series debut! For my first two golf lovers mysteries, back in 2002 and 2003, I had miniature pencils and golf tees printed with the names of the books and my website on them. At night in front of the TV, my family would doggedly stuff little baggies with those items and a bookmark. And then I mailed them all over the world, put them in conference goodie
bags, and carried them with me everywhere. I very much doubt these
were cost effective, but they are collector's items now!

Probably the best publicity I ever got was a four page spread in Sports Illustrated about the golf mysteries and me. This was a result of several years of pitching golf writers at various publications until the right pitch struck the right writer. That led to an avalanche of sales.

I guess the moral of the story is finding the right niche for your (or my) book, and then finding a path in. This time around, could I worm my way into Bon Appetite or Cook's Illustrated? You can bet I'll try!

Roberta Isleib, now writing as Lucy Burdett

Most effective thing I've done: knowing other writers. Many good ideas have come out of this, as well as actual assistance (one novelist got me a mini-review in Woman's World Weekly), as well as support and a sense of what to expect. Knowing others in the profession has allowed me to gather wisdom from those who have much more experience, as well as brainstorm and generate marketing ideas I never would have dreamed of on my own. Also, although it may not have been the best for sales, I found visiting book groups immensely gratifying.

Least effective: Too hard to say! I think everything counts in promotion--getting your name out even to a small group of readers can be useful. That said, I am challenged by self/book promotion on every level and find it an uphill battle, always wishing for a magic marketing fairy godmother!

Sam Wilde

I get a kick out of promoting so I’ve tried it all. Most effective was preparing folders with an excerpt of the book and sending them to various indie booksellers six months in advance of publication. I made sure to personalize all my letters (staff member names book preferences can often be found on web sites.) I enclosed a stamped ARC request postcard and asked for quotes after the book was read. (You can how many I got by visiting the front page of my web site.  Just scroll down a bit.) As a result my novel also ended up being a Booksense Notable.

I’m also not afraid to approach media. (Most media quotes I got were due to my own efforts, including Good Housekeeping. I’ve never been afraid to approach the biggies )

I once used an independent publisher but found it to be a waste of money, because she wasn’t doing anything I couldn’t do myself. Advertising is another story. I once bought an Author Buzz ad and thought it was totally worth the money. My credo on promotion? Nobody will work as hard as you will on your book. I think an author can actually move between 3,000 and 6,000 units entirely from her own efforts. That won’t make you a bestseller, but it may make a difference in whether or not you get a new contract.

I’ve also made plenty of promotion mistakes. I don’t like doing bookstore signings unless I know there will be an audience, but I will do drive-by signings. Also I’ve learned to ask for appearance fees when approached by libraries or other groups with a budget.

Karen Neches

Girlfriend News

The Cougar Club by Susan McBride has sold rights in France and Croatia.

Sarah Pekkanen's Skipping a Beat is already in its second printing and it's not even pubbed yet. It's been chosen for the Doubleday Club alternative pick and Italian rights were sold.

This Little Mommy Stayed Home by Samantha Wilde has just sold to a publisher in Spain. (Last year it sold to a German publisher).

Moonlight Temptation by Stephanie Julian and published by Ellora's Cave is out Friday.


  1. Loved reading through these--so helpful!

    And I'm so curious about Melanie Benjamin's take on giveaways (Melanie, come back and elaborate!). I participated in so many giveaways/contests when my last book came out and ended up giving away my entire box of author copies (30) and spending a good fifty-sixty bucks on postage. On the downside, is it simply that those 30 books didn't sell? That everyone who puts her name in for a giveaway and doesn't win DOESN'T buy the book?

    For those of you who do enter giveaways, do you buy the book if you don't win?? I do wonder if the publicity in having name/book/excitement out there does generate buzz/sales. Or if it's simply lost sales. Thanks!

  2. Absoultely awesome! Thank you all for your honesty!

  3. Great post! I'm published with a small indie press, and just signed a new contract with another small press, so promo's very important for me. I'm definitely taking notes here.

  4. Folks, you give me hope. I will now pull up my socks and forge onward with promoting THE BRINK OF FAME (Irene Fleming, Minotaur, August 2011). (Pls ignore BSP if offended.) (But consider buying book.) :)

  5. I loved this list and just wish I could have gotten my own answer in on time. Funnily enough, I've found that my best promotional tool is running a community blog ( It's a great vehicle for meeting other authors, engaging with fans, and it allows me to be both an author and a book blogger.

    I also thought ordering t-shirts and totes was worth every penny. You can use them for giveaways, send them as thank yous, use them as incentives to get book clubs to pick your book. They're awesome!

    Again, so sorry I didn't make the deadline.

  6. Melissa, good point. I didn't mean the mass giveaways of books on places like Goodreads, Librarything, etc. I think these are very beneficial; my publisher has given away hundreds of my books in these early reader programs (Amazonvine is another). The beauty of these promotions is that the winners are required to then post a review. (Can be good or bad; just that they post). So you're really generating early buzz, and an author can participate individually in these programs, as well.

    What I don't find nearly so beneficial are the individual contests authors do on blogs or on Twitter, where they give away a single signed copy. Or maybe a bookmark with the book's cover, or a button, or even something more elaborate that ties into the theme of the book. What I've personally found, in the past, was that a lot of people will enter who won't then go ahead and buy the book - they just want to win free stuff. And really, what good is a single signed copy of your book going to do? (Now, if you're asked to participate in a group auction on a larger platform - I participated in Litchat's auction over Christmas on Twitter - that's different.) I found those kinds of contests to give me a headache, nothing more; it's a lot of work, a lot of mailing & making sure you're not violating any rules about contests, it's a hassle to make sure you specify that the entrant has to be in the US, unless you're prepared to pay for overseas shipping, etc. And again - people just want to win free stuff, and they're not necessarily going to go ahead and buy your book if they don't win.

    So - mass giveaways of books to early reader programs - good. Giveaways of any other nature - bad.

  7. It was interesting reading everyone's take on bookmarks and postcards. I find it's handy to have one on hand when you're in a position to handsell or someone asks you what you do in a social situation. I find Vista Print is good to purchase small quantities because there's nothing worse than being unprepared when someone is genuinely interested in your books.

    I like the idea of Meg's one question tour too. Did you get the bloggers to ask you one question or did you come up with the questions and asnwers yourself?

  8. Shelley, I'm the one with the one-question tour. I let the bloggers pick the questions and I kept a file so no two questions were repeated.

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