After my book came out, I was in the same boat as a lot of other schmucks in the writing biz. My publisher didn't have a print or web advertising budget for it. They only had time to set up two readings for me. The shrinking print book review world had not given it more than a few mentions. The New York Times Book Review had no clue it existed, and had no pressing reason to care if it did. I didn't have a following of thousands. But the people who did read it loved it, and enthusiastically recommended it to others. That gave me hope.
I had a come to Jesus moment. I had to be my own street team. I had to keep my baby from drowning. I had to do so until it could swim on its own.
I'm still in the pool, mind you, and my fingers are pruney. But hundreds of people have bought my book, it's been chosen by eight book clubs, and over 500 people have marked it as "To Read" on Goodreads. Not bad! Here's how I've been marketing my book in innovative ways. You can do the same.
1. Gift with Purchase is Not Just for Estée Lauder
Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity came out last November. After the first wave of sales to Facebook friends died down, I had the zany idea of offering a free dozen homemade cookies to each person who bought my book. It was very on-brand, as my book is a foodie memoir with recipes.
It was during the holidays, and was a huge success. I ended up baking and mailing about 60 dozen cookies, and my book got down (up?) to an 8K sales rank on Amazon that week. The cookies were small (made with a cookies press) and I mailed them out in recycled mac and cheese boxes, which minimized shipping and postage costs. Take Home: There were a lot of fence-sitter acquaintances who wanted to buy my book but didn't feel a sense of urgency. My posted photographs of beautiful cookies, and the freebie offer, gave them a reason to pull the trigger.
2. Tweet Smart
I've been on Twitter for years, but never really "got" it the way I got Facebook. I felt like my tweets weren't landing very effectively. That is, until Licking the Spoon came out, and lit a fire under my duff.
How do I use it? I participate in foodie chats like #pantrychat and #foodchat; others who do so with me are a very back-scratchy bunch. We follow each other, and given that we're so like-minded, several people have bought my book after a chat, or tweeted about it, or have gone on to review it on their blogs or in publications. I've also found that famous name writers are much more approachable and responsive on Twitter than they would be via email or at a cocktail party. I've built some great rapport that way. Take Home: Tweet with precision, instead of shooting off something boring every 15 minutes for the sake of tweeting. You don't want to be that guy.
3. Your Life is Now One Long Book Signing
With my first two books, I was hesitant to sell directly to readers. I thought it would delay me earning out my advance, and getting royalties. Well, that was a big old mistake. I have yet to earn back my first book's advance, and I could have been making money by selling them all this time -- and I could have been getting them out into the world.
As much as we would all like to think otherwise, there are scores of people who never do get around to going to the local independent bookstore, and yet they feel guilty buying on Amazon. So what do they do? In a well-meaning way, they do nothing. So when someone says to me, "I want to get your book," I say, "Cool! I have one in my car, and I can sign it personally to you." Nine times out of 10, the person says, "Great!"
Those books aren't just in my friends' and acquaintances' hands, they're also going to be talked about within their circles -- and that second, third, fourth generation of people who buy it from a store or online will help me to earn out my advance.
Besides, it's so gratifying to both author and reader to have a personal exchange. Take Home Every kind of sale is a good sale, especially the ones that you get to witness.
4. Piggyback Onto Other Events
Recently, I wrote an article about my local Nia exercise studio for a magazine. We decided to have a magazine signing reception after a large free community class. I also had a pile of my books next to the magazines, and I ended up selling five of them. That's five I wouldn't have sold otherwise, and I didn't have to have a standalone event, which can be more anxiety-producing. Take Home: All you need for a book signing is a working pen and at least one book.
5. You're in My Book!
This works particularly well when you've written a memoir, as I have. I've shared a lot of stories about my life; friends and family make a lot of cameo appearances. There are also a lot of friends and mentors mentioned in the Acknowledgments section. It turns out that once they find out they're in the book, they want a copy. It makes sense. So, I make sure they know. Everybody wins. Except the people who aren't happy with the way I told my stories... that's another blog post. Take Home: Don't keep secrets that would make people happy...and inspire them to buy your book.
6. Be Up in Da Club
I used to think that connecting with book clubs was a mysterious process, governed only by Oprah. It's actually this easy: join MeetUp. Search for book clubs in your area. Suss out what they like to read. If your book is a fit, send a congenial message to the group leader, introducing yourself as a local author. Share about your book, express hope that the club will choose it, and then offer to visit them the night that they discuss it, for a live Q&A. And offer to bring dessert or a bottle of wine. My book has been selected by several book clubs because I did this. It really works! P.S. You must have a book club reading guide, like the one on my book's website. Mine has a standard format for you to mimic. It's downloadable, with a bonus recipe included as a teaser. Take Home: Be proactive; don't wait for Oprah to snap to your book's existence.
7. Be a Friend of the Library
I donated Licking the Spoon to my community library, taking time to chat with the staff about what it's about. I explained that it's a nonfiction memoir with a food focus, and includes recipes. The book has been checked out for weeks, with a waiting list. And when people ask me if it's at our library, I can say yes. It's very gratifying to know that it's having an active life in my own community. It's contributed to the book's buzz. Take Home: Be generous in strategic ways.
8. The Book Stays in the Picture
Ask all of your local and far-flung friends, family and readers to take a picture of your book, in their world (even on their Kindle), and post it on Facebook or email it to you. Then, upload these photos on your book's Amazon page's Customer Images section (just below the cover image). Add humorous or informative captions about the book's location. Create an album on your book's or author Facebook page. Create an album on Pinterest and add them there, too (like this one). It might not seem like the most direct way to market, but it demonstrates that your book is being read by all sorts of people, all over the country and/or world. It builds confidence.
Take Home: Show that your book has a life of its own, in order to extend that life.
9. Peer Pleasure
I wasn't popular in high school -- in fact, I was kind of the opposite. But 20 years later, we're all on Facebook, and it's gotten quite chummy. It turns out that my high school classmates are completely jazzed that I have a book out, and a big crowd of them have bought my book -- just out of a kind of alumni pride, and kinship. I think it's fantastic. Reconnect with high school and college friends, either informally or through alumni organizations, to tap into this goodwill Take-Home: School spirit is a powerful, positive force.
10. Slide Shows are a Slam Dunk
If you're blogging as a way to engage with current and potential readers (and you should be), use any excuse to include a slide show with many of your blog posts. Wordpress has an easy one, referred to as a Gallery. No matter what your book's subject matter is, you should be able to make a connection with a series of photos. My memoir includes a wedding scene. I posted "Wedding Photos You've Never Seen" and within 10 minutes, I had more views than I had ever had on a single post for the duration of its life. By the end of the day I had over a thousand views. Some of the people who usually only like to look at photos got seduced into looking at other blog posts. By sharing about it on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, hundreds of new people came to my website for the first time--and its readership has been markedly more robust since then. Take-Home: People love slide shows. Ride that funny human trait for all it's worth.
This is not our parents' or grandparents' literary landscape. But it's also a lot more of a wide open playing field. The key word is "playing." Have fun. It's infectious.