Writing, Reading, and Smiling . . . It's Contagious.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Eight Myths of Book Promotion

I’m always looking for new ways to promote my work and interact with readers.  Despite the plethora of resources available, promotion is tough and sometimes seems insurmountable when on a budget and without the surplus of funds that flows through the fingers of giant superstore publishers.

More alarming than these like-minded big dogs and their mainstream agenda/products is the overflow of “sages” who tout book promotion strategies that are misleading and often illegal.  In this article, I will debunk many of these so-called strategies with the intent to steer struggling authors toward better promotional practices.

Eight Myths of Book Promotion

1.  Put flyers on parked cars to announce your book.
  • This is solicitation whether or not you have actual prices listed on the promotional material.  Check your city’s ordinance.  They may not permit this sort of solicitation.
       Solution:  Get your own website (with your own domain name and email) and blog.
  • You’ll reach more potential customers.
  • You’ll be taken seriously.
  • Make sure your web hosting company allows its members to solicit products/services.
  • Create keywords and tags for your site.  Many sites do not allow meta data.  Also, the old trick of using popular keyword text (which has nothing to do with your site) and “disguising” it with the same color as your background color does not work.  Your web hosting company will most likely find out.  Also, buying traffic through a company is a BAD idea and will probably get you into trouble.
  •  Set up a form on your homepage to allow customers to sign up for a newsletter. 
    • While it’s hard to get people to sign up for anything (even freebies), you may reach more customers this way.  Mention that you will not solicit their name or contact info.  Also, give them the option to unsubscribe in each newsletter.
    • We’ve all heard the suggestion about making t-shirts, bumper stickers, and car magnets to advertise your book/web site.  My answer:  How many slogans on t-shirts and cars do you read while out in the world?  No, seriously.  Yeah, that’s my point.  Judge accordingly.

2.    Hand out bookmarks, flyers, etc. to passers-by.  Tuck promotional materials into books at a popular bookstore or library.  You can also put advertisements in your monthly bills or other outgoing mail.
  •  Again, this is solicitation.  Check your city’s ordinance.  Also, if you’re passing out materials on another business’ property, you need to ask permission.
  • You may think this is a GREAT marketing strategy, but let me ask you this:  how many of those magazine blow-ins do you read?  Before reading any magazine, I shake it over the trash and let the blow-ins meet their death.
  • As for the third possibility, I once worked at a mailing/fulfillment house.  NO ONE who opens or sorts mail reads ANYTHING other than bills or order forms.  They DO NOT care about extra paper crammed in the envelopes, nor do they have the time to take notice of it.  Envelopes are slit by a machine before being fed into a sorting machine.  As the pieces of mail are coming down the conveyor, an operator pulls out the payment/order and everything else is pitched without a glance.  Many of these operators are paid through incentive which means the more mail they open/sort, the more they get paid.  Like everything in life, it’s a race.
       Solution:  Tuck bookmarks into friends’ cards (birthday or otherwise).  Give them two or more.  One is for your friend.  The rest are for passing to their acquaintances.  Word of mouth is one of the best marketing practices.  Think about it.  How many books have you bought because of the recommendation of another reader/friend?  Get it?

  • A word on the making of bookmarks:  I once ordered bookmarks from a reputable company and the card stock looked as if it had had been cut with scissors rather than a paper cutter. 
  • Some people also claim to save money by ordering bookmarks via the postcard method (designing an image that can be printed on a postcard several times and cut apart as individual bookmarks). 
  • My advice:  make your own and save money.  Order your ink wholesale (ink that comes in bottles) and refill your cartridges.  Buy a pack of card stock and print away (don’t use the highest printing quality; the “general” setting on my printer looks great and saves ink).  Use a paper cutter.  DON’T use scissors.  Even if you measure and draw a straight line on your paper, the bookmark is going to have an uneven edge.
  • Another plus to this method is that you can print as many as you need and you don’t have to use the same image for every bookmark.
3.    Sell your book out of the trunk of your car.
  • We’ve all heard of the successful author X who sold Y,YYY number of books out of the trunk of his/her car in big city Z and became a huge success.  This is great, but did this author have a business license/permit and a separate bank account?  Was the author collecting sales tax and reporting income to the IRS?  If not, this promotional strategy is potentially breaking the law.  Visit the IRS online and consult your accountant.  You do have an accountant, don’t you?  Also, check out SCORE.  This is a free service that can match you to a volunteer business counselor (usually someone who owns a business in your field/area) who can advise you in your  business and answer your questions.  Yes, if you’re selling your book on your own, you probably need to obtain a license to do so.
       Solution:  Send out a press release.  When my press release debuted in my hometown paper, my web traffic increased DRAMATICALLY (about ten times the normal traffic).  I also sold books other than the one that was featured in the article.
  • One more word about press releases:  Unless you’re a BIG author, don’t waste your time sending press releases to papers other than your hometown paper.
4.    Sell your book at a craft show.
  • See the explanation for #3.
       Solution:  Make your books available at online retailers.  
  • You will reach more people.
  •  Create a .pdf preview of one of the chapters in your book to let readers sample your work.  Everyone likes to browse before buying.  How many people have you seen blocking the aisle because they’re reading a book before purchasing it?  See what I mean?
  •  Have an online contest with your book as the prize.
    •  One word on this:  If your book is worth a substantial amount, it could be subject to gift tax.  Also, there are many rules regarding contests.  Check with the FCC, IRS, and your accountant.
5.    Leave yourself a five-star review at an online retailer.
  •  Tacky, tacky, tacky.  Even if no one finds out that you’re leaving yourself five-star reviews (and they will), this is bad ethics.
       Solution:  Ask friends, family, and readers to leave you positive feedback online.  You may think reviews won’t help, but ask yourself this question:  how many times have I been influenced to buy/not buy an item because of its feedback/rating/comments?  Also, make sure your reviewer has the proper command of the language (not everyone can construct a clear sentence) and has actually read your book.  A bad review is worse than no review.
  •  Send books to reviewers.
    • Although this may be effective, many people take more notice of their friends’ opinions. 
  •  Never pay for a review.  Many will review a book for free.
  •  Unless you’re a BIG author, don’t waste your time sending your book to popular newspapers or magazines.
  •  Also, if you’re self-published, reviews are sometimes difficult to obtain.  MBR and LL Book Review will consider such books free of charge.
6.    Buy copies of your books at online retailers to boost your sales rank or go to a local bookstore and order your own book (possibly a large order).
  •  Don’t do this.  You will be found out.  Enough said.
      Solution:  Create a book trailer for your book.
  •  If you use this route, don’t pay to have your trailer hosted.  There are MANY free hosting sites out there such as YouTube, Bookscreening, and Preview the Book.  You can also put your trailer on your website and blog.
  •  Book trailers have sold books for me and created substantial web traffic.  While my book trailer for Haunted Voices from My Past was the #1 most watched trailer on Preview the Book, I also noticed significant traffic increase.
7.    The local library and other businesses outside the sphere of a traditional bookstore will be happy to host your book signing.
  •  Fact:  No one cares about your book more than you do.
  •  Based on personal experience, I currently have no plans to contact my hometown library again about future projects.
       Solution:  What about an online book signing through a web conference?

8.    Join message boards that deal with the topic of your book.  Rather than talking to members about your book (so as not to be annoying), include your book’s website and link in your signature line.  Interested parties will be prompted to follow the link.

  •  This is one of my favorite myths.  Most message boards do not allow solicitation in any form.  To prove my point, I set about getting myself banned from a message board by putting a small thumbnail of my book cover and a link to my website in my signature line.
  •  Attempt #1:  The first board I tried does not allow spamming of any type.  “Spam, flooding, advertisements, chain letters, pyramid schemes, and solicitations are not allowed on any board” (I’m lifting this statement directly from their member guidelines).
    •  I put a thumbnail of my book cover (with a link) in my signature and began posting.  I was positive this was enough to get me banned, but nothing happened.  I even started a new thread where I introduced myself as the author of Haunted Voices from My Past.  I was warmly welcomed.  I’m proud to say I’m making friends and I’m still a participating member of this fun community.
  •  Attempt #2:  I joined a popular board that states “There is no ‘right’ to freedom of speech here...shouting about how we have infringed your ‘freedom of speech’...is silly...”  Spamming/advertising will not be tolerated...posting the same topic in several forums is considered spamming...” (again, I’m lifting this directly from their site).
    • After perusing the board and conducting some research, I found that this site seems to take delight in banning people for minor infractions (or seemingly none at all) and has banned a shocking number of people.  Bans can sometimes be lifted after a period of time or after a member’s groveling (whichever comes first).  Many moderators (some even have comrades) seek out posted material that does not coincide with their interests/beliefs and ban accordingly.  More interesting is that I came across one of their moderators who sought out a blog (that discussed the board’s practices) and acted as a troll (an online bully). 
    •  I knew this was the site for me to get banned from!
    •  The results:  Again, my signature line had a small thumbnail of my book cover (with a link).  That was enough to get me banned for life with no possibility of parole. My account has been terminated, I’m not permitted to discuss my ban with a moderator, and every post I made has been erased (if you type my name into a search engine, you’ll come across several broken links that lead to nonexistent threads).  My name has also been added to the “forum prison” (quoted from their site) as a troublemaker.
    •  My thoughts:  I’m glad I was not seriously considering membership to this narrow-minded board.
    •  Conclusion:  Sites and moderators define spamming in different ways.  If you’re not sure, always ask the moderator before posting.
       Solution:  Swap links with other authors (make sure they are not promoting illegal activity on their site). 
  • Join online communities.
    • I’m often dubious about the marketing potential of online communities.  Keep in mind: “Everyone talks.  Few listen.”
  •  Be personable.  No one likes a robot or a self-centered person.

The best advice I can give is to be excited about your work in positive ways.  Have fun, and above all, use legal methods to promote.

I am not affiliated with any of the above-mentioned companies, services, etc.
This article should not be considered legal advice.


As always, I love to hear from you. If you’re in the cyber-neighbourhood, drop me a line. In the meantime, keep writing, reading, and smiling. It’s contagious.


Post a Comment