I think e-books are terrific marketing tools, and I've been self-publishing my own since 2001. Anyone can write and self-publish an e-book, but to make it work as a marketing tool, the author has to 1) get the word out to readers, and 2) hook readers and make them want to read it. For you challengers out there, that means two more things to think about in the weeks ahead.
I. Get the Word Out to Readers
Links: You can count on one link: right here, at PBW. If you write it and put it online by the challenge deadline, I'm going to link to it. If you have writer, editor and/or reader friends willing to post links on their weblogs or web sites, ask them to link to your e-book as well. The more links you get out there, the better chance you have of attracting readers.
Writing-related sites, discussion boards, newsgroups and newsletters: The most unobtrusive way to spread the word at places like these (unless it's specifically against the rules) is to add a link to your e-book to your signature line. Keep it simple, i.e. "Read my free Darkyn novella, Midnight Blues" with a URL link. If you're sending out a newsletter for the month of October and/or November, definitely do a write-up and link for your e-book (if you have writer friends with newsletters who would be willing to do the same, ask them.)
E-mails: If you have a reader e-mailing list, or just want to get the word out to friends and family, e-mail an informal announcement. Ask the folks on your list to pass the word about your e-book along to others they think would be interested. Definitely don't SPAM people or do a mass mailing to people you don't know.
Meetings and Conferences: If you plan to attend a writer's organization meeting or conference in upcoming months, you can print up some flyers, bookmarks or business cards with a short description and/or cover art for your e-book along with the URL (if your local library allows it, drop some off there as well.) If your meeting is small, and you have the time and budget to do it, you can make and hand out free CD copies of your e-book.
II. Hook Readers and Make Them Want to Read It
In my experience, and from feedback you all have given me over the years, these are the best hooks to attract readers:
Provocative Title: Provocative titles need not be explicit, but they should provoke interest, curiosity and/or temptation in your potential reader. I chose Midnight Blues as a title because two vampire cops who work the night shift are a central part of my story; it's also a play off two cop show titles (Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.) Robert Gregory Browne's Kiss Her Goodbye, Rosina Lippi's Tied to the Tracks, Holly Lisle's Last Girl Dancing, and Sasha White's Bound are excellent examples of provocative titles.
Hot Premise: Write one or two lines about your e-book's story that give the potential reader a taste of what's in it, i.e. Can a lonely vampire cop protect a lovely human nun against an immortal sadist who intends to have both of them?
Eye-catching Cover Art
Copy or Teaser: When possible, give your potential reader a taste of the e-book via copy (those blurbs you read on the back cover of a book) or a teaser (an actual excerpt from your story.) I recommend keeping copy to 250 words or less, and a teaser to 500 words or less. Again, think provocative.
One more note, this one for published authors with books coming out in print after the challenge deadline: think about including a short excerpt from your print book in your e-book, and use that as part of your hook. Anyone who reads my e-book Midnight Blues can look forward to reading an exclusive excerpt from Night Lost, book four in my Darkyn series.