Imagination. Authors use it to write books. Readers look for books that apply it effectively. So why not use that creativity in marketing, too?
Here are some creative marketing ideas for generating book publicity:
- Small stickers with your book cover on them. Use them to seal envelopes and the recipient will surely see your book cover when opening your mail. An alternative is to print your book cover directly onto the envelope. Stickers can also be applied to many other items besides envelopes.
- How about a nice tattoo of your book cover on a visible body part? What more could an author do to show how much he or she believes in his or her book?
- But you can achieve a similar effect without the pain or a permanent mark on your body. It’s called a t-shirt. If it looks nice, other people might even wear them. It doesn’t quite show the commitment of a tattoo, but I’ve never met a reader who only reads books by authors who tattoo the covers on their bodies. In cold weather, t-shirts might get covered up, so a hat might be a good alternative.
- Advertise your book on your car. The mild way to do this is with a bumper sticker. But you see more and more small businesses with extensive paint jobs to market their products and services. Sometimes, it’s just a website written on the back. Other times, the entire vehicle is transformed. Imagine thousands of people stuck in traffic, seeing your book on your car. Would this brand your book’s image effectively? Or would people think you’re a nut? Maybe it depends on how professional it looks and how mild it seems.
- More traditional ways to publicize your book include business cards, bookmarks, flyers, and brochures. A bookmark that looks nice enough to use (i.e. not like an advertisement) helps to brand your image, at least with readers who still use print books. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone, who knows who, accidentally misplaced a few of your bookmarks inside similar books at a bookstore? How did those get there?
- Wouldn’t it be cool to have some pens or pencils that feature your book? After all, you’re a writer.
- Suppose you are friends with some experienced authors and between you, you have dozens of books. Imagine spending a day renting a small kiosk in a mall or other highly visible area, selling your books. Even if you don’t sell too many, people will see your books and browse them. In the worst-case scenario where you don’t sell any, you have a cool picture to post on your author page, blog, and all over the internet.
- Think of all the advertising in sports: ballcaps, towels, golf tees and markers, wristbands, duffel bags, etc. You could have your book on one of these, advertising your own product instead of some big business. If your book relates to that sport, even better. People might even want one of their own.
- I was watching a MLB game once where during the game the announcer mentioned a book that a fan had sent him and they showed pages of the book on the air. It had pictures of a fan’s collection of baseball memorabilia. If you send your product to a t.v. announcer, it probably won’t get aired, but if it does, that’s some major publicity. In the more likely case where it doesn’t get aired, it might still get read or mentioned to other people.
- Don’t forget, it’s not just sight, there is also sound. People don’t just see your book, they can also hear about it. When you interact with people, let them discover that you’re an author and inquire about your book.
- Imagine eating a peaceful dinner with your family. The phone rings. Telemarketer, of course. An author telling you all about his book. Yeah, this probably isn’t cost-effective for most authors, and might be rather irksome.
- A less disruptive, more effective way to create book publicity is to get your book in the news. Prepare a professional-looking press release kit and contact newspapers and radio stations, for example. Start small and local. Many local papers have column inches to fill and like to highlight local talent; a small, local radio station might need to fill minutes. You can look for book reviews or interviews. You can also think of what else might make you newsworthy and let you plug your book.
- Online, you can show your book cover and author photo and mention your book on all your sites. You can interact with your target audience at other sites and let them discover that you’re an author.
- Write an article relevant for your target audience. Try to get it published in a newspaper or magazine, or a website online. There are so many websites online, that if you’re determined and your article is well-written and interesting, you have very good prospects. In the worst case, you can still post your article on your blog, so it won’t go to waste. Get your article posted where there is significant traffic from your target audience and you might get some healthy traffic to your book. At the end of the article, write Your Name, Author of Your Book.
- There are many advertising opportunities online. The big question is whether or not it will be cost-effective. You can spend as little as about $5 a day and try to match your book with readers in your target audience at Goodreads, Facebook, or Twitter, for example. The click-through rate is pretty small these days, less than a percent on average; and of the products and services offered, a book by an unknown author probably won’t attract much attention this way.
- If you really want to invest big, you can spend $10,000 or more advertising your book or series of books online. For example, that’s the starting amount to advertise a book through Amazon’s marketing department. This is for a professional campaign for highly marketable books, for authors with multiple books. Even then, you might not recover the investment after a couple million shoppers see your book over the course of a month. The publishers and authors who use this service may have other objectives that may offset an initial loss, such as the hope of getting on a coveted bestseller list or stimulating initial sales and reviews for a new series. This is a huge risk for a new author, as the worst-case scenario is virtually no sales; there are no guarantees.
- A more cost-effective way to advertise may be to run a short-term promotion and promote the sale through a service like BookBub. You can find a sample list here.
It’s not just about marketing. It’s also about marketability. Do you have a book that readers will really enjoy? Do you have a book that has a significant audience? It can be a niche audience, as long as it’s significant and you can reach your audience effectively. Do you have a cover that will attract your specific target audience? Do you have a blurb that will make your target audience want to look inside? Does the look inside grab the reader’s attention and make him or her want to buy your book? Is your content good enough to get referrals, reviews, and recommendations? Will the editing and formatting satisfy the target audience?
If your cover isn’t appealing, or if your cover attracts the wrong audience, or if the blurb doesn’t make the reader curious, or if the look inside doesn’t attract the reader, or if the story doesn’t satisfy the reader, or if the reader finds many mistakes, or if there isn’t a significant audience for your book… then the first thing you need to do is improve your book’s marketability. You’re not ready to start marketing your book yet.
For an in-depth discussion of marketability, click here.
With any marketing and advertising, you need to gear it toward your specific target audience for it to be effective. Marketing efforts that reach your specific target audience effectively can do wonders for a highly marketable book. Spend time thinking about the characteristics and habits of your target audience. Interact with fans; direct them to your email, blog, or fan page. The more you interact with fans, the better you will understand the variety of people who enjoy your book.
The easy thing to calculate is cost. If you invest in an advertisement or service, you can easily estimate how much you’re paying. Remember, time is money, too. If you’re spending hours marketing your book, this is costing you even if it’s free.
The hard thing to calculate is the benefit. It’s not easy to predict what impact your marketing effort will have on sales. If you do some new marketing, you can try to see if it’s improving sales compared to your average, but there are many complications (like maybe Amazon also made changes to customers also bought lists at about the same time, or maybe you got a few new reviews).
There are also many valuable benefits besides immediate sales. Most marketing requires patience, on the scale of many months. Branding takes time. People don’t run out and buy products immediately when they see an advertisement. The might see an advertisement a few different times over the course of months, then one day when they are shopping for that product, they see one that was advertised and recognize it. Things like branding really complicate the figuring of benefits in a cost-benefit analysis. Branding is highly important, but difficult to predict, and a challenge to calculate after a couple of years.
Nonetheless, you should be weighing costs and benefits with all of your marketing.
If you’re trying something creative, ask yourself how it might impact your image as an author. You want to be viewed as a professional author. An author’s brand is difficult to establish, but very easy to destroy.
I have a Ph.D. in physics, but don’t let that scare you. I love to read and write. If you just look around my blog or at the books I’ve published, you’ll see that I love to write. I’ve come to understand and appreciate the marketing aspect, too. I didn’t like it when I first started publishing, back when I naively thought marketing meant salesmanship and advertising. Now that I realize that marketing is more about branding, showing that you’re a person and not a name, and letting your target audience discover your passion—and more meaningful and subtle things like these—I’ve come to enjoy it. I hope to reveal the enjoyable and fascinating side of marketing—the parts that aren’t so obvious—to other authors. Focus on this side of marketing, and you may find yourself more motivated to do it, the process more rewarding, and hopefully better long-term results.
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Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers