While doing some research on marketing and promotion, I ran into a phrase I'd never heard before: viral marketing. Sounds like something your Norton should quarantine, but it's actually the fancy marketing way of saying word of mouth.
I did a little more digging, and turned up this article about viral marketing by Chris Yeh, a marketing consultant who has a great sense of humor and obviously knows what he's talking about. His three principals of viral marketing can easily be adapted to the publishing industry, as follows:
Was the book good for you?
If you want people to promote a novel by word of mouth, you have to give them a book worthy of their effort. We don't talk about safe, competent, nice, adequate books. We talk about the books that move us and shake us. Will your book do that?
You can't make a bestseller out of a bomb.
If a book hasn't got power, it's going to fizzle. The author might be able to con a few industry pals into giving great quotes, glowing reviews, and noms for important awards, but that only gets you so far. We've all seen uber-hyped books that died on the shelf because the author didn't deliver the goods. There are authors who get plenty of publisher support that their work doesn't merit -- show me an industry where that doesn't happen, and I'll go work there -- but in the end, story is what decides who makes the millions.
Do Unto Others' Books, etc.
Writers are at the base of the Great Publishing Pyramid. We're the ones who make it possible, so in a way it's built on our backs. You know what lightens the burden? Helping another writer deal with their book. I don't mean reciprocal linkage or swapping bookmarks at yet another con. Help for someone you don't know. If you find a book out there and you love the work, whether you know the author or not, help promote it. If you find some writing wisdom or marketing strategy that works for you, share the info freely on your weblog. Not everyone will help you back -- in fact, most probably won't -- but it's not about what you get out of it. It's about what you give.
Chris Yeh has a whole archive of articles online here if you want to check out more of his work.