The Reality of Book Promotion

Joe Moore’s post yesterday on the effectiveness of book signings made me think about what does and doesn’t work as far as book promotion goes. With each book release, I try new things, ditch what doesn’t work and constantly look for cost effective ways to reach the largest number of readers. For my debut young adult release, I had a marketing strategy to launch IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS that encompassed four pages of a varied promo effort directed at indie stores, libraries, professional organizations, online social media, my mailing list, etc.

Book promotion has changed over the years and the developments are coming even faster as we trend up in the digital world. I have an e-reader now too, which has drastically changed how I buy books and how I hear about novels that interest me. So how does the average author today promote their own book in this evolving business?

This usually translates to online promotion since it’s free (except for the time you put into it). Focusing your marketing and branding efforts online can be an effective means to get the word out to the right people. On my recent summer read tour with fellow Texas YA authors, we had a tour blog set up a couple of months prior to our events that garnered thousands of hits and counting. Old school thinking on group signings is how many books did you sell. New school thinking is about exposure, perception, name recognition and the number of online hits you get before, during, and after the event if it’s promoted effectively online.

A book signing might have ad promo and get people to come see you, but the exposure is greater online where a website’s traffic can be hundreds or thousands of hits a day with the post continuing to get hits even after the book signing event is over. And with a reader already online, they can click on a link and buy your book, or download a sample on their e-reader that might entice them to buy the rest of your novel. This doesn’t mean the book signing is dead. It just means authors have choices on how they spend their time. And some ingenious folks have devised a way for authors to digitally sign a photo taken at the event or their actual e-book. (Here’s one LINK on that.)

Online Marketing I’ve Found Effective:

1.) A professional looking website or blog – Blogs are free if money is tight and you can share the work by putting together a group blog, like TKZ. My website designer – – specializes in authors. For great examples of websites with cool navigation, check out her portfolio.

2.) Twitter – Get to know your regional review bloggers. They can be great support.

3.) Other Social Media – I hate Facebook for many reasons, but there are other sites that could be more effective. I’m trying Tumblr now.

4.) Goodreads – If you don’t have an author page here, why not? It’s free and you can link your blog to your Goodreads author page to keep material fresh without much effort. Any Goodreads member is a reader and your target audience.

5.) Amazon Author Central – Did you know that you can update your own author/book page for reviews, book endorsement blurbs, post book trailer videos, etc.? If your brand is important to you, you may want to take control of your author page.

The simple truth is that most authors won’t see a great deal of promotion dollars from their publishers. You’d think that if a house were taking on a new author and book that they would include a certain amount of money geared for promotion, but the reality is that the publisher spends generic dollars on promoting their line of books or other authors’ work and hope readers will notice your book in the process. They rely on the author doing their own promotion. It’s quite conceivable that the average author will spend more to promote their book than their publisher will, especially given that houses are tightening up on advances and other expenses.

So as authors look seriously at self-publishing and e-books, it’s real tempting to cut back on the time consuming and resource depleting efforts to promote that detracts from the time you have to write. Time literally is money in this empowering new future, but having online marketing supports your digital sales. Many might think that simply having your book available for purchase online is enough and that money will roll in. For the average author, this simply isn’t the case. You have to try things to see if they work for you. Traditional houses are watching the self-published authors with solid sales and offering them contracts because they have a readership and a marketing platform that will come along with them. When I first sold, I had no idea how important my own marketing would become. Self-published authors today will know more than I did when I sold, but they will also have to weigh how important it will be for them to sell traditionally if it means giving up control of their copy rights and business decisions.

In my opinion, the number one best thing you can do—whether you get published traditionally or go the self-published route—is to write a good book. And in either case, you’ll need to build a readership, people who like what you do and will come back for more. Online promotion on various fronts is a good way to get the word out in a cost effective manner to tap into a marketplace of the savvy readers we have today.

For discussion, I’d love to hear. How do you find out about books you want to buy these days? And how important is it for you, as a reader, to make a connection with the author either online or in person? What are your favorite ways to do this?

Specifically for authors—aspiring, self-published, or traditionally published—what methods of promotion have you found most helpful? (Yes, aspiring authors should weigh in. Having an online website/blog presence is important for you, too.)

29 thoughts on “The Reality of Book Promotion

  1. As an aspiring novelist, I’m well aware an online presence is a necessity in todays world. It’s also no good trying to get one up and running when the book is about to be released, you need to build it up before you get to that point and to that end I already have a Blog, Twitter and a Facebook account. It takes time to build up a following of people who will be interested in what you do. My advice would be to start early.

  2. My experience has been that the more people I offend the more books I sell. My peak book sales was during a time I was actively participating in a question/answer website. I was taking the time to write good answers to only the questions I had answers to, but at the end of each answer I would add a link to my book, much like a signature. The was offensive to some of the other regulars to the site and I received some rather angry comments for it. I eventually stopped participating because it turns out that most people who ask questions on a site like that haven’t figured out that they can find the answer using Google. I got tired of answering the same questions over and over. But in terms of selling books, it was actually quite effective.

    Timothy Fish
    Author of Book Cover Design Wizardry and other books.

  3. Jordan, a wealth of info in this post. I took notes. THANK YOU!

    I’ve just begun my marketing blitz these past few months, so I can’t weigh in with final results on MYTHOLOGICAL SAM-THE CALL. However, I have focused on my website, social media (like digg, tumblr, stumble, twitter and Facebook, which I must say I love), creating youtube videos, and will do a mailing shortly. Also, I’m giving away books. Yes, I do believe in “freebies.” (If anyone wants a free copy, please email me an addy. My email:

    My goal? See what “sticks” in this shifting marketing world so I can target my efforts when my Harlequin book comes out in January. I’ll keep you posted.

    BTW, As a reader, I love meeting authors in person. As an author, I love meeting editors and agents just because they are so cool and have a better feel for the pulse of the industry. I’m a conference junkie, for sure.

    PS: And if you wondering when do I write? Simple. I don’t sleep. 🙂

  4. As aspiring in the novel department, I’ve been a little more cautious about online. It’s way too easy to spend a lot of time doing things online and not writing (a point John Gilstrap mentioned to me at the AIW conference). I tried Twitter after I was chided by Mike Hyatt, CIO at TN, because I “couldn’t find the time.” He said it only took 5 minutes a day, and the problem was, it didn’t. Unless you merely send tweets, it takes a lot more than 5 minutes. You’re expected to build the relationship. I’ve settled for simply sending my blog posts as tweets.

    A blog has been something better for me. I only have to write it 1-2 times a week and can also use asides for interesting links. The challenge sometimes is finding topics to write. I don’t want to end up like those other ones where they talk about editing a book, then rehash the same old points of eliminate adverbs and remove ‘that’ (a particular pitfall with aspiring writer blogs). I’ve ended up in more unusual topics like omniscient viewpoint and organizing while right-brained. After reading James Scott Bell’s book, I may also add another focus on my “brand”–evocative settings. It’s always a work in progress.


  5. I’m in the process of collecting any marketing information I can find–what works, what doesn’t–so this was helpful to me.

    I’ve recently set up my Twitter (/SandraArdoin) and have been blogging for over a year, including a few guest blogs to widen the circle of familiarity. I think networking with other authors is a win-win situation.

    Hopefully, by the time my first book comes out, I’ll be a bit ahead of the game.

  6. The old saying is that 20% of marketing works, we just don’t know which 20%. There is a lot of truth there, because the alchemy involves the book itself combined with many factors out of our control.

    I launched two e-books earlier this year. I mostly used Twitter and my private list for the launch. The first two months were excellent because they contained a couple of “bumps” that were huge. Sales have been consistent since then without my doing a whole lot but Twitter reminders now and again. I spent ten bucks on business cards with the book cover on it and pester anybody in Starbucks with an e-reader. That’s very old fashioned but it’s my way of regaining some of that face to face interaction books signings used to give.

    The truth still is that it’s the books themselves that are the most important aspect. You build up readers who love what you do so they talk about it. That hasn’t changed even though delivery systems have. That will never change.

    That’s why I firmly believe marketing energy should never be allowed to detract from writing energy.

  7. Hey Rebecca–you are one of the savvy new authors I was talking about. You’ve already gotten a solid start. Kudos to you.

    If you write suspense thriller, you might consider joining the International Thriller Writers. ITW is free to qualifying authors and they have an amazing program for debut authors. Plus after you are no longer a debut author, they feature your next releases on their website and in their enewsletter that goes to 12,000+ members. Check out their website for the deets.

    Best wishes to you.

  8. Hey Timothy–I’m highly offended you signed your post with a link to your book. LOL (yeah, right.)

    Good for you. I think it’s great to be aware of marketing potential. Thanks for the tip of how to use a signature line. Yeah, a Sig line can be like waving a red flag in the face of a lotta bull, but if you are sincerely helping a discussion, the lurkers might take notice.

  9. Kathleen–I’m so glad you are a new member of our TKZ blog. You crack me up. And I would love to hear more about your marketing efforts, maybe on future posts. I’m seriously looking for a replacement for Facebook, something that is better suited for marketing, without all the restrictions and personal information stealing as FB. Not a fan.

    BTW–if you update your FB page using your cell phone, FB thinks that gives them carte Blanche to broadcast your personal cell number to your friends’ list for anyone with a smart phone. FB constantly changes rules without telling you. Just be careful.

  10. Hey Linda–thanks for your comment. Twitter takes 5 minutes? Yeah, right. But you bring up good points in your message. Writing should come first. It’s the only thing you truly have control over. And to best utilize any time you want to carve out for promo, cross posting or using RSS feeds is a great way to simplify the process and make better use of your time. Thanks for sharing the great advice.

    Lately I’ve been using Twitter as a break and for fun. I keep in touch with my author friends and people I’ve met on tour and respond to fans. And because I write YA books, younger readers like to contact authors there. But I’m not obsessive about it. It’s actually been good research for me and I’ve come up with more than a few story lines from it. And because I have a Droid phone, I use it to keep up with Twitter messages directed at me like I do with my emails.

    Best wishes to you.

  11. Hey John–how’s married life? Very happy for you. I’d love to meet your wheelbarrow girl someday. She looks like someone worth knowing–you both do.

    Blogging can be same old, same old, especially if you do it alone. The group thing we have here at TKZ has been less work than a solo act plus I’m learning a lot from you and the others here.

    Some of the newer online promo stuff is interesting though. And if you set up your accounts using RSS feeds or share comment links, it can save time and make you look like a Promo God. I haven’t figured out all this link stuff, but I’m learning.

  12. Hey there Sandra–I think we’re friends on Twitter, right? I’ve seen your name, but that’s how online marketing works, right? I think its great you already have so many things going. That will only help you once you sell. You are one smart cookie.

  13. Jim–I really love hearing about your ebook endeavors. Every little bit is interesting to me, especially how much you promo, given your established name. I’m hoping to follow in your footsteps if I can find the right project.

    It’s easy to get sucked into the promo grinder and lose focus on the whole point of this–the writing. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Oh so much helpful info crammed into this post! When I get home from work tonight I look forward to digging deeper. Thanks for the resources you posted!

    BK Jackson

  15. Thanks, BK – Mr Anonymous. LOL

    There are really a lot of free ops to promote, but never enough time to get it all lined out AND write. That’s why I explore these things a little at a time.

    Skype for example is a free long distance resource where you can set up a free call or a video meeting with folks. I’ve often thought it would be fun to set up a session with readers, a book club, or a library (as a potential fund raiser for the library, as an example of good will). If I don’t have to incur travel expense, it might be an easy fit to stay in touch with readers this way too.

    I had a recent discussion with a library in TX and shared an idea I thought would help them raise money for other events by utilizing YAHOO GRPS, another free resource. The romance writers of america chapters use this resource to set up online workshops to teach author craft or other more detailed topics with several authors over a period of time. I’ve participated with these on more than one occasion and found they can be minimal work with greater exposure than a signing. An author gets a topic–like character building–and can post lesson plans (maybe 3-4 posts in a week). Participants can ask questions, but the answers from the author come the following week. a library could make this a part of their community outreach program and maybe charge a small fee for people to join in, maybe $10-15 dollars. There’s no overhead cost except how they would advertise for their program. And the program could be geared for aspiring authors wanting to learn about all the aspects to writing a book through several authors over a summer, for example. Imagine being able to get feedback from authors for that price and giving money to your library at the same time. I think it could be a win-win for everyone. And it’s not that much time for the author who loves talking to readers.

    Thanks for chatting, BK. Good luck with your writing.

  16. Oh, Basil–You’re a promo ho. Who knew?

    Actually, you’re a great example of a guy who knows how to promote on a number of fronts. You could be teaching a class on it, buddy.

  17. Kathyrn–Thanks for your post and for the great link. I’ll ck it out.

    I found that certain reviewers on twitter have blogs that gather regional bloggers on a consolidated list. Librarians are usually really good at this. So your twitter followers could be a good resource for you to find reviewers.

    Also, as I built up my contacts on twitter, I made lists of which twitter pal were YA reviewers or YA authors, for example. I just followed the discussion of who posted review links for YA books or YA topics and then added them to my list. You can also find one reviewer, then look at their followers to see who else is there.

    Making a list on twitter is a great way to target who might be interested in your work. A list is made by you on whatever topic you want to organize them under. I know it sounds like work, but it’s really not that bad.

  18. Kathryn–

    Another cool way to optimize your virtual book tour is to use to evaluate the traffic on a blog (or website). If you have limited time, it might be helpful to be selective.

    Instead of only having the number of comments on a blog to give you insight on the potential traffic they get, you can use quantcast to get more details. If the site doesnt register, because the traffic is too low, then that site may not be your first choice.

    On quantcast, check out the traffic to a site called FRESH FICTION to see the difference. Fresh Fiction allows authors to post free on their site, they also do reviews, and you can buy an ad campaign and run contests or blog there or post info about you on their enewsletter. When you do a contest with them (as part of their ad campaign), they run it for you, confirm the random winners and give you all the email addresses afterwards to build up your mailing list. You can get 1,000s of email addys with each contest. Just another idea for you.

  19. I’m an aspiring “something having to do with writing”, but I don’t know what just yet. Unlike many authors I’ve read about here, I started out with online text-based roleplaying games and then it sparked in me this desire to write.

    On my blog I wrote Gamer to Fiction Writer – 10 Milestones

    I hope the link worked and I hope you like the different, and twisted path of my gaming experience. It’s not a book, but a short read! 😀

    Thanks for all the great posts on this site. I’ve gained so much just coming here and reading!

  20. Hey Diane–I got my feet wet with writing when I posted to I was a fanatic for one TV show on TNT but didnt like how they portrayed one character, so I did whole new eps for him. And with every new story, I wrote longer stuff and different genres so I could test the waters. So no matter how you end up on this journey, there are many paths.

    As they say in Buckaroo Bonzai – “No matter where you go, there you are.”

  21. Being present: whether doing a library reading, or simply sitting at a table in a hospital lobby (don’t uagh–I sold 23 books in a few hours to people to bring upstairs as gifts, all signed by the author!) I’ve found that my physical presence always increases sales. The downside is that it takes away from writing time. . .

  22. Hey Auntie M–

    I’d sure like to have more time to physically meet readers too, but that’s not always possible. That’s why having a strong online presence makes sense. In an ideal world, we would have time for everything.

    Thanks for your comment.

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