As an independent author with a couple of new books to sell, however, I’m not working with a big promotional budget so it’s hard to figure my odds for commercial and literary success. I’ve paid for research, workshops, editing, book design, printing, and much more. The funds available for anything else have dwindled faster than a pinewood fire on a cold night.
But, I’m not letting that stop me from showing up and grabbing the arm of anyone who’ll listen: “I’ve got a book! I’ve told a story and it’s worth reading. You gotta buy it!” I’ve become my own Valkyrie, a walking opera, but as Woody Allen said: “I can't listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.”
To help design my books’ low-budget marketing campaign, I’ve been reading everything I can about marketing on a shoestring, about conquering the retail world on five cents a day. I sometimes pitch people while standing in the checkout line at Walmart. I usually get toothless grins and glazed eyes. I spend a lot of reading tattoos and wondering, what were they thinking?
Here are some things I’m doing to promote my book without going bankrupt
1. Set up an author blogsite—I’ve been blogging for nearly three years. Except for the investment of time, it’s free. I talk about what I love – writing, art, gardening, the environment, food, wine, books, California. However, I find a limited number of people care about my views on petunias and oil spills so I don’t have a huge following, actually 18 loyal, lovely people (you know who you are). When I get the money, I’ll set up an author website with a real domain name, registration and hosting (makes me think of a cocktail party) to help sell more books. Seems prices for hosting range from $10 to $20 a month.
2. Media Kit – High resolution cover image, press release, book summary, author’s bio and professional photo. Check, Check, Check. With the implosion of the media industry, however, it’s hard to tell who’s on first. “Who’s on first?” (Abbott & Costello shtick. Don’t make me laugh.) What media to target? For more info, check out BookBaby’s article “Is Your Author Website Ready to Meet the Press?“)
3. Throw a book launch party – At mine, held at the Comedy Spot in Sacramento, I read a funny softball scene and gushed too much over the books while signing them. The line to buy got pretty long. But, hey, as Yogi Berra used to say: “If the people don't want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's going to stop them." (For more info, check out the BookBaby article on (“How to Throw a Book Launch Party That Isn’t a Waste of Time.“)
4. Do radio interviews, and lots of ‘em—That sounds like good advice, but I haven’t booked a single radio interview – yet! Getting radio time might sound hard, but there are countless Internet, local and college stations with time to fill and, unlike me, I’m sure you’ll bring some useful info to listeners. I’ll let you know how I do with this step or, maybe you’ll hear me.
5. Promote yourself in your email signature—No Brainer. It’s free and easy. In the words of Woody Allen: “The only thing standing between me and greatness is me.” Include your contact info, website address, Amazon and Barnes & Noble links, and social media links, and maybe even a quote or blurb about your book. Or consider a quote from a character in your book.
6. Do 5 things to promote your book every day—No cheating. Some people recommend devoting a quarter of your writing time you’d spend on the next book to promoting your published books. Send your book to a couple of reviewers every week. It’ll cost you is a few bucks for postage and a few minutes of research. Make sure they’re open to unsolicited review copies first, though, or you’ll feel guilty about stealing from your grocery money to send books to people who don’t give a rip. Woody Allen talks about guilt and softball like this: “When we played softball, I'd steal second base, feel guilty and go back.” Unlike softball, once your book is mailed—it’s mailed. You can’t go back and get your book.
9. Write and send press releases—For heaven’s sake, use spell check three times and don’t forget your contact info. There are so many Websites about how to write a press release it’ll make you dizzy. Pick one site and stick with it. As a magazine book section editor, I read the press release headline, check who sent it, scan the first paragraph and decide if I should save or delete. Takes less than 30 seconds. Also, be sure to contact all the appropriate radio and TV stations in your area, local magazines, weeklies, newspapers, and events blogs through your release. Follow up with a second mailing in a few weeks.
10. Find your social happy spot—Facebook, Google +, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, UTube. The smaller the universe of users the better able you are to connect with real readers. Stay away from author/writer networks. Writers are selling books, not buying yours. Prepare to spend 20 minutes to a hour engaging electronically with strangers who basically aren’t interested in anything but themselves. Well, OK. That’s not really true. I’ve met some great people online and consider them real friends. The point is it takes time to cultivate these friendships and the sooner you start the better.
If you’ve done these things, you’re on your way. If you can think of other effective, low-cost promotional activities, please share them in the form below. Every book needs a game plan, but give your promotional efforts time to work. Jack Canfield, who wrote “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” sold more than a million copies of the book in 18 months and went on to produce numerous New York Times bestsellers. Don’t quit marketing after three months. Stick with your plan. But, remember what Woody Allen said about plans: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans.”
Love yourself, be kind to everyone you meet for they, like you, are fighting a hard battle, and don’t forget to celebrate yourself and your work. Small triumphs, like pennies, add up.
[Note: this article is based on a list by Penny Sansevieri of ways in which you can promote your writing for under $50 (featured HERE). So be sure to check out that post too!]
Order Adrift in the Sound and Between the Sheets: An Intimate Exchange on Writing, Editing, and Publishing from independent and online booksellers. Available in paper and ebook formats.