Author Mindy Klasky is running an interesting reader poll on her LJ about what promotional tools prompt people to buy a book. Not surprisingly, the top three responses so far are:
1. Previous familiarity with author's other work
2. Recommendation of friend
3. Reading about book on another person's blog or website
On the other hand, widgets, postcards and SPAM hardly induced anyone to make a purchase. These things are the definition of self-promo that sucks: anything you spend money, time and/or effort on that does not result in sales.
Let's examine the three things that evidently do work:
#1: I can already hear the rookies groaning over "previous familiarity with author's other work" as a no-go for them, as they have no backlist. Well, this is why God created free e-books and posting excerpts and short stories on websites. Offer readers something for free, and some of them will buy your print novels. Author Peter Watts did with his novel Blindsight, and it helped increase his sales of the print version.
#2: Friend recommendations may also seem to writers to be another impossible-to-get self-promo tool. Word of mouth cannot be bought. However, if you politely ask your readers when they enjoy one of your novels to let other people know, they will. I put that request at the top of every bibliography I send out, whether it's for my books or another writer's.
#3: Rosina Lippi's Tied to the Tracks meme contest is a fun example of how, with a little creativity and modest investment, a writer can get the word out about a new release, and readers can hear about the book on another person's blog or website.
Spending a pile of money on widgets no one wants, schmoozing with the right people who could care less about you and your career, or killing yourself doing things you hate is not successful self-promotion. It's what everyone else in the herd is doing, and it's not working for them, so save yourself some grief and don't even go there.
Instead, look at your main strength: you're a writer. If you can convince me that a male stripper and an ex-nun can fall in love, or that the singularity will arrive in the form of a computer-eating toaster, or that fire-breathing dragons can shapeshift into squirrel-chasing kittens, or that your private investigator still gets away with wearing a silk fedora and calling men pals and women broads, you should be able to use that talent to persuade me to buy a book.
Just as a story with a fresh, unique spin stands out in a genre, a writer who tackles self-promotion with an approach that is as individual as they are is bound to grab more attention. Determine a dollar figure for the self-promotion you can afford to do, then sit down with a writer friend and bounce ideas around on how to best spend that money. A single ad in a big industry trade rag may cost you a thousand dollars, but sell an interview or article on writing to that same rag, and you get paid for it.
You don't have to go it alone. Pooling your resources with another writer or group of writers for self-promo gives you more of a budget to work with, and a partner or partners for figuring out the different angles. We've seen how well the group blog works, how about applying the same theory to a group self-promo project?
There's one more thing I harp on quite a bit: the fun factor. Whatever you do self-promotionwise should be something you enjoy. Because if you're not having fun, your resentment is going to end up running the show and giving you an ulcer.
Have you guys any examples of self-promotion that doesn't suck? Let us know in comments.