Thursday, June 28, 2007

Self-Promotion That Doesn't Suck

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.


  1. Your book giveaways are awesome. Not only does it get people interested because they read your book, but who doesn't like free stuff? Besides, not only do you give away your books, but you give away fellow authors books as well, which also helps with the word of mouth issue.

    An interesting idea I just had that someone might give a try is buy five copies of your novel, write on the first page "If you enjoyed this, please pass it along to a friend. Try to keep it going!" and then give the books away to friends or on your website. Friends always lend books and stuff, so you'd be optimizing on that. And it might help debut novelists that can't rely on the "name recognition" thing.

    Did that make any sense at all?

  2. Contests are always good. Several times I've won books from authors and ended up buying their entire backlist.

    Blogging is good. If I like an author's blog then I always buy a book to try too, because blogs seem to be quite a good example of voice.

  3. I was giving this issue a lot of thought a few weeks ago, and you've confirmed my conclusion. I have thousands of books, and I didn't come by a single one because I got some pimptastic promo item or saw an ad (in all those magazines and newspapers I don't read) or a commercial (O how book trailers make me cringe).

    I'm always buying first-time authors and new-to-me authors, and I do it primarily because the story sounds interesting. If my first experience with them is a good one, I'm all over the backlist (if there is one) and finding out when the next book is due (and there better be one).

    That's how I came to the earth-shattering conclusion that the best promo tool in a writer's aresenal is to WRITE WELL.

    Sigh. Back to that rewrite...

  4. Visiting schools to talk about writing, which encourages teachers to seek out your books*, which then results in invites to various book events where more teachers and librarians are to be found.
    From that I was invited to more libraries, my book made it onto a Young Readers award shortlist, which led to more orders from schools. And more invitations to talk about writing, publishing, books, etc.

    * Doesn't apply if your books aren't youth-friendly. I write adult books, but they're clean enough for teens.

  5. Wow! That really didn't suck. Love your blog. Check mine out at It's meant in good fun, but also to provide solace to those on the journey.

  6. Three months after my first book was out, I wrote a completely shameless, silly, and fun little essay titled Save Jig from the Strippers!

    I've actually seen this one reposted in a lot of blogs and web sites, and a few people have said they bought the book because the essay made them laugh.

  7. Anonymous9:42 AM

    Honestly my best promo tools are my blog, my website and then the readers who recommend me to others.

    I'll get pens or bookmarks on occassion when I'm doing a signing because readers like them, but I don't do them just to throw out randomly. I've never gone to a website just because I saw it advertised on a pen so I don't put much faith in them for that purpose.

  8. Anonymous11:11 AM

    I've heard stories about writers doing that thing where you "release books into the wild" with a barcode gotten from the website where you can track them, which seems like a plausible way of giving out free samples. I don't believe I've heard anything about how well it works for that purpose though.

  9. Well, there's Nation States. I have a nation there, eventually I got around to reading the first chapter of Jennifer Government, then a little while after that I saw a copy on the shelf and bought it.

    Unfortunately, it's out of the author's control whether their book is there on the shelf. I'm much more likely to buy if I can see the book than if I have to order it.

  10. Anonymous2:47 PM

    I really love t-shirts. Give me a great cover and an author's website/logo and I'm happy!

  11. I love anthologies. Not only do I get at least one author I know and love, but I'm introduced to many others.

    As an author, not only do I get my loyal readers buying the book, but the other author's loyal readers too.

    Ash *Anyone up for an antho? Invite me! I write hot romantic comedy.

  12. Very interesting reading material. Thank you very much for sharing, a real eye-opener!

  13. I own and manage a co-op of authors who write M/M erotic romance called We pool our funds every 4 months and buy advertising on websites, in print magazines and booths at events that hit our target audiences. It turns $100 worth of advertising into $5000 worth of advertising. We'll be starting our second year in July and it seems to be working well. It would work for any genre of writing.


  14. Anonymous9:35 PM

    Jason's comment reminded me that there was a suggestion a few months back about putting some of your extra books out there. I believe your were looking for suggestions -- I don't know if you actually picked this idea or not. If you did, or have done this before, do you have any idea how far the books travelled?

  15. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Jason's comment reminded me that there was a suggestion a few months back about putting some of your extra books out there. I believe your were looking for suggestions -- I don't know if you actually picked this idea or not. If you did, or have done this before, do you have any idea how far the books travelled?

  16. Anonymous12:06 AM

    Lots of very solid ideas here.

    My preference would be the free ebooks, excerpts and short stories. I have bought books by 3 new-to-me authors as a result of your E-Book Challenge.

  17. Anonymous1:22 PM

    For God's sake, "spam" is not an abbreviation or acronym and thus does not need to be in ALLCAPS!

  18. Anonymous2:13 PM

    My first book was released at this really small publishing house, with virtually no marketing money.

    We had a release party at a really small bookstore, invited everyone we knew over for some free alcohol-free champagne and peanuts. Some 70 people came and we sold about a hundred copies right there and then. (I had a proffesional book-critic interview me and ask questions about the book. She had gotten an advance copy. And then booksigning and mingling. That's all!)

    It seems that in Sweden, people never expect a freebie, but feel some sort of gratitude for peanuts and fake champagne, easily exchanged into books :)

    It became a great celebration and selling a hundred copies of the book right away (the book has since sold right over a thousand copies) was pretty alright.

    I am working as a standup comedian. I wrote a couple of jokes about the book and the process of writing and publishing, that I can do onstage. It makes it easy for me to bring books to sell whenever I am on tour.

    My next book, hopefully coming out around halloween, is in a totally different genre, but I will sure have a party again! Not only was it great marketing (and next to no money for it), but a bookrelease calls for celebration!

  19. Anonymous wrote: For God's sake, "spam" is not an abbreviation or acronym and thus does not need to be in ALLCAPS!

    Oh, but it does. In your honor, Anonymous, SPAM will FOREVER be spelled here at PBW in ALLCAPS.

    So now that we've settled that, got any examples of self-promo that doesn't suck? I wouldn't put your comment at the top of the list . . .

  20. Anonymous7:33 PM

    Loved this post, especially regarding doing things you enjoy. Promo burnout is a sad, sad state. SPAM SPAM SPAM

  21. Re Jason's comment up at the top -- is a web site for people who are doing this, the idea being you can track who gets the book you've released and find out where it went, which can be interesting.

    I think there's little that can come close to giving away free stuff. I've lost track, now, of how many authors whose books I've bought after reading some of their free stuff. There are more that'll be added sooner or later -- authors I've now read, and whose books I'm looking out for.


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