Columns > Published on August 20th, 2015

25 Book Marketing Ideas for the Desperate and Shameless: Field Test

I have a few books up in the Kindle store. Like a lot of writers, I assume. And like a lot of writers, mine cover topics such as pre-adolescent boy ninjas and masturbating in a tiny house.

I make a lot of assumptions. They are often false. 

At the risk of force-feeding the snake its own tale, if you will, I read a column here at LitReactor called "25 Book Marketing Ideas for the Desperate and Shameless" by Max Booth III.

Behind the sage-like advice, which we'll get to, there was an expression of something familiar. That feeling of how hard it is to stand out in this brutal world of self-publishing and small presses.

As I read each marketing idea, I thought about my book, the little Kindle book that couldn't.

The book itself is pretty shameless. I'm not a proud man. Why not take these 25 ideas out on the road?

01. Jump into the middle of every online conversation and comment about how the topic reminds you of your book.

No problem. Here's a comment thread for The Onion A.V. Club's review of Ernest Cline's Armada:

And here's another from a Buzzfeed article about the worst first dates of all time:

The A.V. Club comment pretty much disappeared right away. I guess their plug detector is dialed in. As for the Buzzfeed comment, someone else left a snarky reply letting me know I was bashing on fan fiction. It was too perfect, this guy telling ME that I should be nicer to ME. I was 100% against trolling before, and now I have made a complete U-turn. Maybe More of an O-U-turn, where you do a donut in celebration, then turn around. 

02. Jump into the middle of every offline conversation and slap somebody in the face with a copy of your book.

I got all the way to number 2 before I realized there was a problem. My book was never in print. Luckily, it's just a novella. And luckily, my library has free printing. A few pamphlets and staples later, and I had an artifact ready for the slappin'!

As much as I'm shameless, I'm not a total jerk. So I lightly slapped a couple volunteers in the face, who received a free copy of the book.

I'll say this. Slapping someone across the face with your book is one of the most satisfying sensations I've ever experienced. I don't give a hot damn if it works as marketing, it's just good for the soul.  

03. Jump into the middle of a game of jump rope and start singing an old school jump rope rhyme with references to your book.

Unfortunately, there are no rope jumpers in or around my neighborhood. And any attempt I might make to approach a group of young girls on the street, I can only imagine that would go poorly. However, I've created a pretty good rhyme. Please memorize it in case you come across a group with a jump rope and you're not an off-putting, indoors-y weirdo.

To the tune of "Miss Mary Mack":

They’re Ninja Sons
They got nice buns
Buns buns
Hey you can’t say
They are just kids
You’ll go to pris
For this many life


1, 2, 3, 4…

04. Send the police anonymous notes crafted from cut-out newspaper clippings and pretend to be a ruthless serial killer. Claim the secret to your identity can only be found within the pages of your book.

We've officially run into illegal territory. But there's nothing stopping me from creating a ransom note and kind of just...what's the word for littering, but on purpose? Still "littering"? Great!

Intriguing, no?

For reference, the text reads: want to see your precious..."personal object" intact again? then read Ninja Sons (, B00TKPB6ZY). It's your only hope for gratificational release. You scum.

05. Find an empty table at your local Barnes and Noble and set out a dozen copies of your book. Even if the store doesn’t carry it, you can always bring your own. Hire actors to line-up at the table like a legitimate book signing.

This is where things started to get useful for me.

It's one thing to slap an acquaintance across the face with a copy of your book while saying, "Calm down. You're being hysterical." It's quite another to set up in a legit bookstore and try and sell copies of what all of a sudden feels like a cheap pamphlet in your hands.

I couldn't stand behind the legitimacy of my project in that context. My little book felt so...well, stupid. Which it totally is. 

One useful part of marketing, it does make you confront the fact that your book might be garbage. Setting up a fake reading is a pretty good test of just how much you believe in your work.

06. Start socializing with criminals and convince them to keep a copy of your book on them during all illegal activities. If enough people get arrested with your book in their pockets, a conspiracy is inevitable. Maybe you’ll get lucky and one of them will shoot a celebrity.

My criminal friends aren't hardcore. But I have a friend who's gotten more traffic tickets than I thought was humanly possible. It's only a matter of waiting until she does hard time for rolling through stop signs. Everyone should have a friend like this because you'll stop worrying about how many points are on a license because if SHE'S still got them, then what are you worried about?

07. Uh…shoot a celebrity? [Editor's note: please don't do this.]

Ok. And for the not-record, I was going to make a joke about how it worked for Suge Knight. But that dude still scares me. Blood clot and all. 

08. Change the title of your book to Stephen King.


Strangely enough, it doesn't seem like anyone else had done this. I scrolled through 15 pages of Amazon "Stephen King" search results, and the closest thing I found was a book called King Stephen, which is allegedly a book about some old king. But you and I know the truth. 

09. Gradually check-out every title in your local library and replace the interiors with your own book.

I...kinda work at the local library. And there's a saying that has something to do with defecating where you eat. A saying that, if Mad Men is to be believed, mostly has to do with not having sex with secretaries. 

But there's a library not too far away.

This is a life situation where I'm confronted with the fact that I will never be smooth.

I go in this library. And it's tiny. One room. I make about five laps to decide where my book should go. I decide I'll slip it into a comedy book because, hey, at least that makes sense.

I slip my book in between another book's pages. Then I immediately start panicking about how I'm going to make a getaway. From the crime of leaving a pamphlet in a book.

I over-think it brilliantly and completely, and I pretend I'm getting a phone call and, hey, I'm a good citizen. I'll take it outside the library. Cue Mission Impossible theme.

Let's not discuss how much sweat I produced during this act.

10. Start an open call for submissions for an anthology of stories sharing the same universe as your book. Make sure you specify writers will need to buy a copy and read it before submitting, otherwise they won’t know what to write about. Offer ten cents a word. Cancel the anthology one day away from the deadline.


Attention readers. I'm putting together an anthology of fiction as set in the universe of my book, Ninja Sons. You'll probably need to purchase a copy and read it in order to understand what we're going for. You might need to read it 2 or 3 times because it's a complex book, basically the 90's movie 3 Ninjas told from the dad's perspective. You might also need to purchase the book again each time you read it. It's a little-known fact that Kindle books tend to wear out after a single reading. If your story is selected, I will offer you ten cents per word*. Please leave any submissions in the comments below, beginning with the word "Submission:"

*Maximum 10 words.

11. Wait until a national tragedy strikes. Create advertisements suggesting those who died would still be alive if only they'd purchased a copy of your book.

I waited for a tragedy. The closest thing, we got a verdict on James Holmes, the theater shooter from Aurora. Depends on your politics, but it's tragedy-adjacent news, anyway. A few well-crafted, paid tweets later, and I was on my way! To hell!

12. Make fake Amazon accounts and leave horrible one-star reviews of your book. Be cruel. Be a bully. The worse you make fun of yourself and the less you focus on the book, the better. Then show people on social media, accompanied with a sad emoticon. Now watch as people feel sad and buy/review your book to "get back" at the bully reviewer.

As it turns out, leaving a fake Amazon review is harder than you'd think. 

First off, in an effort to curtail review farms, an account holder must make a successful purchase before leaving a review for anything. I don't have to purchase the item I'm reviewing, which you'd think would be the obvious step, Amazon. But you do have to purchase SOMETHING. 

Then, you leave a thoughtful review, and someone reviews your review and decides if it violates the review policies because I guess everyone's gone soft.

I tried. 

For the record, here's the review text:

1.0 out of 5 stars 
Haha, wow. SUPER bad. And written by a loser.
By David P.

I was a bully in high school. And I heard the same thing over and over. Watch out who you bully, because those nerd dorks are going to be your boss someday.

Well, it turns out that's totally not true. I had a GREAT time being a bully in high school, and I'm the boss of a lot of total dweebs today. I should have known not to take life advice from a teacher because if they were so smart, why would they be teachers having to deal with stuff like me stuffing kids like Peter Derk into toilets? Believe me, if you're any kind of worthwhile person, your job doesn't involve telling teens to not stuff each other into toilets.

Anyway, I was screwing around on my computer at work because that's all I have to do because I'm the boss of a company and I make all the nerds do work for me, and I came across a book by my high school chum here. What a pile of trash! Not even worth reviewing. So instead, I'll review things from the past, some good memories.

How funny does Peter Derk's head look when it comes out of the toilet? 5 out of 5 stars.

How good of a lunch does Peter Derk's mom pack and then I steal it and eat? 3 out of 5 stars.

How good is Peter to punch in the stomach until he pees his pants, which were the jeans with the elastic around the waist IN HIGH SCHOOL? 6 out of 5 stars. Haha, oh man.

13. Print out hundreds of stickers in all shapes and sizes featuring the QR code for your Amazon page. Walk around the city and replace all preexisting advertisements with QR codes.

Take that, alma mater that didn't teach ME anything about weather! I've got a forecast for you and your stupid pamphlet. Cloudy with a chance of sales. Big time sales.

14. Write articles claiming authors wrote books they did not actually write. For example, you could say Dean Koontz wrote Odd Thomas, which would be a ridiculous lie, since any true Odd Thomas fan knows Stephen King is the actual author, but the temporary confusion will outrage readers and spark them to share it.

I present to you, the shortest, most inaccurate LitReactor column of all time. Contained within an existing column.

The 7 Reasons I'm Positive Tyra Banks Wrote 'Go Set A Watchman'

  1. Because we're all still eagerly awaiting the sequel to Modelland and surely Tyra's expending her literary talents somewhere.
  2. Suspiciously-similar shades of yellow used to accent the cover of Watchman AND Modelland.
  3. Awful lot of talk from Atticus Finch about "smizing."
  4. Scout's career path as a model in Milan at age 17.
  5. Both books feature wacky names. Atticus Finch isn't that far from Tookie de la Creme.
  6. Nobody captures what it means to grow up as a young woman like Tyra does.
  7. Because it's almost certain Tyra also wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. Google it if you don't believe me.

15. Write a listicle. The topic doesn't matter. Just write one. Or ten. Write a listicle about listicles. 10 Listicles That Listed Lists Better Than Other Listed Listicles. You Won't Believe #7.

Did you believe #7 from that last one? Because that one is a stretch.

16. Announce a contest. First person to crack a secret riddle found within the pages of your book wins $100,000. After four to five months pass, pay your friend George $50 to pretend like he won. [Note: this only works if you have a friend named George.]

Fudge. I have a cousin named George. But I don't know him all that well. Also, I wouldn't even have the $50 to give him. This is starting to make me feel really bad about my life.

17. Post a link to your book on Twitter while also tagging random celebrities and using whatever hashtags are currently trending.

18. Stand on the street corner with a box of your books and a cardboard sign reading: "WILL WORK FOR 5-STAR REVIEWS."

This was so much harder than I thought. I don't know how bums do it. My sign was crap. The edges were all torn to hell, it wasn't even kind of a rectangle, and I ruined TWO markers trying to write on the damn thing. 

My advice is to pay a bum to make your sign. They seem to know what they're doing, and they need the cash.

19. Or, alternatively, stand on the street corner with someone else, each of you dressed like homeless psychos and holding signs claiming the other can read the other's mind. This insanity will intrigue passersby, and might lead to a few "pity sales."  [Note: this only works if the other person is Christian A Larsen.]

These name-based caveats are killing me!

20. Give spontaneous book readings in the middle of the street. Shout like the apocalypse is nigh. In the past, I've read from the copyright page, but I suppose you could pick from any of the other pages. Whatever floats your crazy little boat.

I read in a strip mall. Up to the point in my book where male gametes are mentioned. Which means I read a total of almost one page. To a small but attentive audience. The volume and reading to an animal statue did not help me look like someone who writes fiction that's read-able.

21. Begin texting every possible number combination you can come up with into your cell phone with a link to your book. But don’t be too obvious. Prelude the link with something like, “Hey, here’s the you-know-what you wanted” or “Oh my God, Grandma is dead.”

Holy hell. It turns out that 4 out of 5 made-up numbers don't connect to anything, according to the "research" I just did. But one lucky Floridian is going to get the message "Dude. It really happened." Unfortunately, it turns out that most people in Florida say "bro" instead of "dude". Which is good to know just in case you needed a SECOND reason to avoid Florida, the state so horribly hot it necessitated the invention of Gatorade.

22. Go to your local bookstore or library and stand next to the shelf holding your book. Whenever someone walks past you, start groaning and holding your stomach. Shout, “Help! Help! My stomach. Oh, my stomach.” As you fall down, knock your book down to the floor. The other person will have to pick it up, because your stomach is in too much pain. When the person asks where the book is supposed to be, say, “In your hands.” So smooth, right?

Here again, we hit one I just didn't have the... stomach for? See what I did there?

I will tell you this. 22 tasks into this list, I was having a pretty good time with my book. I mean, the sales weren't picking up with the Barry-Allen-esque speed I'd hoped for. But I was getting a good laugh out of the whole affair. 

When I finished Ninja Sons, it went up on Amazon, and I called it a day. All these different tasks, they're letting me squeeze a little more joy out of all the work that goes into writing a book. Even a stupid one.

I recommend this. So far. Get a little more enjoyment out of your book. You worked hard. Now have some fun with it.

23. Travel the truck stops of the world and, with your trusty Sharpie, scribble the following on bathroom stalls: “FOR A GOOD TIME, TYPE 9789197972550 INTO YOUR AMAZON SEARCH BAR.”

This was my favorite. The whole reason to write this column. I abhor graffiti. But it had to be done. Someone, somewhere had to make this real.

I picked the perfect spot. A hip hamburger joint. They were asking for it. Burgers with jam on them? C'mon.

Pen in my pocket, I eat at the counter.

Burger in my belly, I wait for the check. I was even paying cash because, like I said before, smooth criminal.

I'm waiting for my bill at the counter, and the guy who's been sitting next to me starts chatting about how he went mountain climbing and nearly died, and he regales me with the tale of another adventure where he was captured by a Mexican drug cartel. All fine. I mean, not really, but I only have to live with him as long as it takes to pay for my meal. 

The waitress drops my bill. She walks away, and this guy next to me says, "Tell me the truth. You'd do her, right?"

I don't answer him, and then he says, "Her rack is like disproportionately huge to her body size."

I still get surprised when this stuff happens. It happens every so often. But it's still a surprise, and I never really know what to say. I know exactly how I feel. And of course, like you, when I read back over this I have about 1 million perfect things to say.

But right then, I just left a few bills and excused myself to the bathroom. Which was pristine. Bright. Totally clean. It smelled nice. It wasn't just an absence of pee smell. It smelled clean.

And I couldn't do it. I stood at the urinal divider. And I couldn't do it. It was too much. I felt like I was being that dude, like I was wrecking a tiny piece of the world that was better off before I showed up. That there was maybe, MAYBE one nice thing on the entire planet, and I was going to muck it up with my dumb words.

24. Go to Walmart and purchase the following: silly string, rope, a frozen supreme pizza, and season three of The X-Files on DVD. I don’t know exactly how this will help promote your book, but I feel like there’s a real opportunity here.

I'm going to use this space to write the last little lesson learned here.

There are a lot of people out there who tell you about marketing your book. You have to be not only a writer, but a salesman, a pitchman, a shrewd business-doer who knows how to make an elevator pitch in an actual elevator without hopping up and down when the elevator moves because that's still fun and feels totally weird.

There's a lot of talk about how you won't make it anymore as someone who just writes good books. In 2015, you have to then turn around and sell those books.

For me, that idea never sat well. I write a lot of silly stuff, and I feel weird about getting serious when it comes time to sell silly stuff. I write stuff for fun. When someone mentions API or SEO or blogrolls, my fun-o-meter gets buried in the red. The bad red, the red on the low end.

Marketing your book doesn't have to be about putting on a suit, writing professional cover letters, and sealing manuscripts in envelopes with one of those red wax seals, which is how I assume people send these things to publishers. Selling can be fun. And if your purpose is more oriented towards fun than business, let me tell you from my experience here, there's no reason to abandon that ideal when it comes time to market your book. Get ridiculous. You'll have a blast. 

Last little bit:

It's easy to get out there and do a few things to sell your book. If you've got a book, hell, why not pick 3 of these things? Why not do just a little thing every week? What's it going to hurt?

And while you're out there, you get more material. I think Kurt Vonnegut said something about how a writer should learn something besides writing, and then write about it. And then, learn something else and write about that. I think it was Vonnegut. It was either Vonnegut or Tyra Banks. 

Get out there and learn something. Even if what you learn is about a jackass who maybe should have stayed kidnapped by a cartel a little longer.

25. Write an article—preferably a listicle—full of writing advice you are in no way experienced enough to hand out. It doesn’t matter if you have no idea what you’re doing and spend every waking moment of your life afraid you’re going to explode, nobody else knows what they’re doing, either, so they’ll just go with it.

Done. And done.


About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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