As I often tell authors, the good news about book promotion is the same as the bad news: There’s always something more you can be doing for your book.
This means that, on one hand, you always have the opportunity to reach new readers, no matter how long your book has been out in the world; your book can’t be “old” to someone who hasn’t yet discovered it.
On the other hand, you can spend so much time on book promotion that you can risk neglecting what got you to this point in the first place: writing.
So the question becomes how to balance it all – and this is where the idea of everyday book marketing comes in. By thinking of promotional opportunities as part of your everyday life, you can continue to promote your book in ways that are authentic but also successful.
Whether you are traditionally published or self-published, whether your book is on its way out into the world or whether it's already been out for a year, these five tips are aimed to help you reach new readers from the beginning and throughout your book’s lifespan (which, these days, can be forever).
1. Have a fabulous, informational, up-to-date website
This tip may seem ridiculously obvious, but often when I visit author websites, I find myself searching for such basic info as a contact page or how to buy the book.
Often, too, I find myself wondering how up-to-date an author’s website is; if there isn’t a blog or if the news/events page hasn’t been updated, it makes me feel as if the author may not be available to engage with readers.
Here’s a list of what your website should include in order to be accessible – and remember, you’ll want to be accessible not only to readers but to booksellers, event planners, and anyone else who is in a position to help you sell your book.
- A page/section listing your upcoming and past events
- A book page with your book’s cover image and description, as well as a link to an excerpt from your book (a PDF of the first chapter, for example)
- A bio page with your photo and a brief biography, with details relevant to your book(s)
- Reviews and blurbs
- A reading guide and/or discussion questions (for classrooms and/or book clubs)
- A blog
- Links to where readers can buy your book
- Links to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media pages
- A contact form or email address for contacting you
- A way for readers to “subscribe” to hear about your news and events via email
Each of these items is important for the obvious reasons, but there are also benefits you may not have thought about.
For example, you’ll want to have an events page so that readers will know where your next event will be – but you also want to keep past events on the listing so that conference directors, event coordinators, and others can see what you’ve done in the past, and learn whether or not you would make a good presenter for their own events.
A word about blogs: Not every author is comfortable keeping a blog; also, blogs can be a lot of work. At the same time, most website traffic tends to come to authors via their blogs, so it’s worth having one and keeping it updated, even if you post only two or three times a month, and even if your posts are short.
Keep in mind that a blog post can be as simple as an image and few words. Always have a camera and/or smartphone handy to photograph anything that might make a nice visual, whether it’s a vintage typewriter, a literary-looking café, or just a tranquil scene in a park.
It’s a good idea to have plenty of visuals on hand, and it’s always better to use your own – stock photos tend to look bland and generic, and at least your own photos will have little stories behind them.
2. Create materials to carry with you everywhere
As soon as you have cover art for your book, I recommend creating bookmarks, postcards, and/or business cards with the cover art, a little info about the book, and a little info about you.
Depending on what you create, you’ll be able to include a little or a lot of information. A postcard, for example, can have the cover image on one side and a description of the book, a brief author bio, and publication information on the other.
Bookmarks are useful in other ways; while you can’t fit nearly as much information on them, readers tend to hold onto them and share them, and many bookstores and libraries like to offer them to their customers and patrons.
Business cards are especially helpful if you do a lot of events and workshops and want to offer such information as your e-mail address and phone number. If possible, choose a card that allows you to have book art on one side; some business cards are designed to fold out and look almost like mini-books.
Below are a few vendors to you to peruse. Please note that vendors and prices do change; also be sure to ask for samples, and always be on the lookout for hidden fees and charges. Also note that most prices do not include shipping.
- Moo Australia, UK and USA
- Vistaprint Australia, UK and USA
- Digital Print (Australia)
- Instant Print (UK)
- Overnight Prints (USA)
You may want to take into account not only the cost but your own design skills; for example, if you don’t have a lot of design experience, you may find that one vendor is more user-friendly than another and that this is a bigger plus than saving a few dollars.
3. Think both inside and outside the bookstore
Booksellers are an author’s best friends, but don’t let this rule out other venues and other literary advocates. Libraries, universities, museums and galleries, and myriad other places can be just as fruitful as bookstores when it comes to connecting with your readers.
Keep in mind that the most successful events are those in which the author and the reader make a connection on some level.” —Susan McBeth, founder of Adventures by the Book
Libraries are particularly open to author events, especially if the author is local and there’s an educational component to your book or presentation. Also, look for community or literary centres such as the SA Writers Centre in Adelaide or the Australian Writers’ Centre in Melbourne.
The list of possible venues is endless if you think about it, so get creative.
If you’ve written a book with an environmental theme, for example, seek out organisations that embrace this theme and see how you can help one another. If your protagonist is an artist, hold an event at a local arts centre or in an artist’s studio; if your main character is a barista, get readers together at a local café.
Research book festivals and conferences around the country and see which ones you might attend as a reader, presenter, or instructor. Book festivals and conferences all have built-in literary audiences, and it’s also a great way to connect with fellow authors.
Keep in mind that most festivals and conferences schedule up to a year in advance, so be sure to do your research early.
When you do plan events, here are a few things to consider…
- Go where your friends are. Choose venues where you know at least a few people who will show up, bring friends, and otherwise make sure you’ll have a nice showing.
- Team up with a fellow writer. This will allow you to share the workload as well as the fun, and to broaden your audience.
- Try a virtual book tour. Whether you don’t have the time or budget to do a traditional book tour, or whether you want to supplement your in-person book tour, you can do many of the same things you’d do on a live tour in a virtual one: create buzz for your book, connect with readers, answer questions. But with a virtual book tour, you’re doing it all online – on blogs, in interviews, and in virtual book club or classroom visits, and via guest posts – instead of in person.
An important thing to remember about events is that it’s not about sales but about readers. Often the true rewards of book events are not immediately evident.
I’ve done readings with audiences of five hundred. I’ve done readings with audiences of two – my mom and a homeless guy. If I sell one book, if the homeless guy liked what I read, well, that’s why I write.” —Jenna Blum, internationally bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers
4. Ask not what your readers can do for you, but what you can do for your readers
While it’s exciting to have a book out there to share with the world, remember that connecting with readers is a two-way avenue. Don’t forget to be generous with your readers as you ask them to take a chance on you and your work.
Offer a little something more
Unless you’re a writer whose mere presence in a bookstore will guarantee a line out the door, offer a little more than a traditional reading/signing, such as a workshop or a wine tasting.
Because my first book, Forgetting English, is set in eight countries across four continents, for many of my events I offered a travel writing workshop, which brought in not only readers but writers and travellers as well.
Many authors bring refreshments to events, which makes any event more festive.
Support the venue
If you’re reading in an indie bookstore, support it with a purchase, whether it’s a book or a box of greeting cards. If you’re in a library, ask if you can donate a copy of your book for their collection. Always find a way to give back.
Offer a giveaway
You can do this in person, but it’s especially helpful to do online. You can offer giveaways on your own blog and other blogs, as well as Goodreads. To attract book clubs, you might offer a free book to the host.
If there’s an organisation that is in some way related to the topic of your book, team up with that organisation for mutual benefit. And for any non-profit, donations for fundraisers are almost always welcome.
Keep in mind, of course, that raising awareness for the organisation is as much the goal (if not more) as raising awareness about your book.
You could also put together gift baskets around the theme of your book, or even around a general reading theme (tea, wine, chocolate, biscuits). Other fun auction items include naming a character in a forthcoming book or story, or offering a writing workshop or a book club event.
5. Always focus on your strengths (and have fun!)
While book promotion is often an author’s least favourite activity, it doesn’t have to be torture. Find what you enjoy – this may entail trying a bit of everything – and focus on that as you go forward.
If you love Facebook, then make this your dominant social media platform; if you love doing events, plan as many as you can. If you don’t like doing in-person events, try doing virtual ones instead.
If you love film, try a book trailer; if you’re social, make a push for book clubs, and then join them in person. If you’re an introvert, lean toward giveaways and online promotion.
Having a file of possibilities on hand will allow you to hit the ground running rather than try to come up with a dozen different guest-post ideas on the spot.
Always be generous, both in writing and in life. Highlight books you love and authors you respect, and you’ll be amazed by how many will do the same for you.
The aspect [of book promotion] that surprised me the most is that it really can be as simple as making new connections.” — Jackie Bouchard, author of What the Dog Ate and Rescue Me, Maybe
Of all five of these tips, the last one may be the most important. If you don’t enjoy the process of sharing your book, if you’re not having fun out there, then your efforts will likely be in vain.
Readers can tell whether you feel as though you’re fulfilling a chore or whether you’re genuinely having a good time – and these impressions can make all the difference.
Discover what you love to do, and then, when you go out and do it, it’ll hardly feel like work at all.