Columns > Published on January 27th, 2020

Book Promotion: Tips for Making it Work

I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but in my experience, and from what I’ve observed, writers and authors have a hard time promoting their work. It can be stressful enough just to tell people you’re a writer (endless questions and perplexed comments ranging from ‘I should write a book, how hard can it be?’ to ‘Can you introduce me to Stephen King?'), and then when you have a book come out? And you, *gulp* have to sell it? Not only talk about it, but actually convince people to buy your book? Yeah, it can be intimidating. And frustrating. And grueling.

Yet no author can escape it. Whether you’re selling your books to movie executives or out of the trunk of your car, whether you’re reading at sold-out stadiums or at your local coffee shop during closing time, we all promote our work. People like to lament the ‘good old days’ when publishing houses did everything for us, but I’m not sure those days ever existed. And, really, shouldn’t authors promote their work? Who knows it better and who can better sing its praises? If you aren’t proud of your book, why would anyone bother to buy it?

I learned the ropes of promoting my books the same way I learned how to write them—by doing and by watching others. Trial and error and paying attention to mistakes. With my fifth novel, Holding Smoke, now releasing, I’ve been at this a while. Here's a few tips I'd love to share.

1) Do what works for YOU

If you do an online search for ‘how to promote my book’ right now you’re going to be bombarded with the following: a) lists of all the things you must do if you want to sell books and be taken seriously as a writer and b) lots of people willing to help you promote your book if you pay them a lot of money. If I’ve learned anything on my publishing journey, it’s that there is no one journey. Likewise, there is no one marketing plan for all books Example—I designed and printed postcards for my first two novels. It seemed like every article I read about book promotion insisted this was necessary. If you want any of those postcards, let me know. They’re in a box somewhere, collecting dust, if I haven’t already thrown them out. I handed out maybe 20 of 200. It wasn’t a strategy that worked for me.

2) Okay, but how do you find what works for you?

It may take you...a few boxes of book cover figure out what works best.

Think about who you are and what you're already interested in. Like dogs? Promote your book by taking photos with your furry friends. Post to Instagram and encourage readers to show off their pets by doing the same. Travel often? Bring a copy of your book with you to every locale and take photos. Repeat with readers. On social media all the time? Create a hashtag. Teacher? Ask around and see if you can teach writing workshops where you can also plug your book. Another example—I love painting and printmaking. With the past two books I’ve released, Miraculum and Holding Smoke, I’ve run online contests where readers are entered into a drawing by submitting a book photo. The prize? A piece of artwork I created for the book. To take it a step further, I start months in advance, creating art to help draw readers in and make them a part of the project as a whole. This works for me, because it's something I already enjoy doing. I don’t like handing out postcards to people. I do like making art. It's a win-win. 

3) Be wary of gimmicks

There's nothing wrong with creating and giving away book swag. But I’d caution you to ask yourself the question ‘would I want this of someone else’s book?’ before spending your money. Would you really wear a wristband promoting a book? Would you wear a wristband at all? Same with pins and buttons and T-shirts. Stickers, magnets, cookies and kazoos. Ask yourself not only if your potential readers would want the item, but will it in any way tempt them to buy the book? In other words, think like a reader, not an author, when it comes to purchasing merchandise.

4) Find your event style

In promoting your book, you’re inevitably going to be attending events. But think about what you want to do first. Do you like speaking to conference crowds or would you rather sit behind a table and sign books at a festival? Are you comfortable sharing your bookstore reading with other authors or would you prefer to have the stage all to yourself? Do you like to travel to book conventions to meet up with fellow authors or do you think you can promote your book just as well by tweeting from your couch? Planning and attending events for your book takes a lot of time and, often, a lot of money that you might not see bounce back to you anytime soon. Invest wisely.

In short, it all goes back to knowing yourself. It may take you a few lonesome readings, a few boxes of book cover kazoos, a few contests that no one enters, to figure out what works best. But as long as you stay true to yourself and avoid influenced by all the book promotion static out in the world, you’ll be fine. Trust yourself and try to have fun with it.

Get Holding Smoke at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Steph Post is the author of the novels Lightwood and A Tree Born Crooked and her short fiction has most recently appeared in Haunted Waters: From the Depths, Nonbinary Review and the anthology Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a Rhysling Award and was a semi-finalist for The Big Moose Prize. She is currently the writing coach at Howard W. Blake High School in Tampa, Florida.

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