Selfless Promotion


With millions of books to choose from, it’s necessary for most authors to promote their books in order to help readers in their target audience discover them.

We sometimes see blatant self-promotion, like going to external websites and posting, “I just published my new book, Whip It Out There. Buy it today.” You should mention your book occasionally on your own site; after all, it is your site. At other sites, this behavior is often strongly discouraged, if not against the rules.

Many of the people who come to your site already know about your book. What you really want to do is find your target audience at external sites, where nobody knows about your book. And this is exactly what you should do, only at most sites you need to let people discover your book by checking out your profile or mentioning your book in the proper context, where this is allowed and acceptable. Some sites allow a brief signature, where you can include a link to your book; where it’s common to post with a signature, you can blend in nicely, and if you make a good impression, people may check your book out.

A milder form of self-promotion is mentioning your book in context. Instead of saying, “Check out my book, In Your Face,” try to find something else you can post where mention of your book is relevant. For example, asking for opinions about your blurb gets you a little attention and helpful feedback while not coming across as a salesperson. Obviously, you can’t ask about your blurb three times a day all year. Use the creativity that you obviously have as a writer and find relevant ways to mention your book. Study the ambiance of each site first and be sure not to behave in a way that may be frowned upon.

“Self, how would I feel if I were just chillin’ with my pals online and some other author posted that?”

Before you post it, think about how it looks from the other side.

Most marketing isn’t about instant sales. When you see an advertisement on t.v., do you run right out to the store and buy the product immediately? “Sorry, dear. I know it’s 3 a.m. Saturday morning, but I just saw an advertisement for honey and I really need to get some. Could you please watch the kids?”

It’s about branding. You learn about a product enough times that you recognize it. But you don’t want to be branded as annoying. Strive to find less obtrusive ways to get discovered. Come across as a professional. Make a good impression. Brand a positive image as an author to help get your target audience interested in your book over a long period of time.

The best exposure you can get is selfless promotion—i.e. when others market on your behalf. One way you can do this is to seek honest online book reviews or arrange a blogger to interview you. However, most of this is beyond your direct control.

Imagine a reader who discovered your book online, enjoyed your book, and posted a good review for your book online without your even knowing about it. Or imagine a reader who loved your book and told all of his or her friends about it. Recommendations and word-of-mouth sales are golden. They’re also very hard to come by. If a book is truly exceptional in some way, or if the book elicits strong emotions, this is more likely. The first step is to perfect your book from cover to cover and include some wow-factors in your writing. This is quite challenging, but ask yourself this: “Will people recommend a book if it’s just so-so?”

What good books have you read lately? What are you doing to help spread the word about those amazing books? Don’t just review and recommend books because you’re hoping for the same in return. Do it because you discovered a great book and believe others would enjoy it, too. Definitely, don’t recommend books that you don’t honestly believe to be worth recommending. There are many good books out there, and they can use your support.

I see plenty of selfless promotion in the form of reviews and recommendations. It’s a great sight to see. You might notice that I recently added a couple of pages to my blog, highlighting a few books by other authors. It’s a short list, presently, but it will grow.

Brace Yourself, Here Comes the Self-Promotion

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Creative Marketing Ideas for Books


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.

Target Audience

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.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

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.

Author Image

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.

Chris McMullen

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.

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

The Publicity Paradox

Double Edged

Do you remember the days when you first applied for a job? Scouring the want ads, preparing resumes and cover letters, going to job interviews.

It seemed like everybody wanted you to have experience. The only problem was that you didn’t have any. You may have thought, “How will I ever get experience if I need experience just to get hired?”

Publicity suffers from a similar seeming paradox: You may feel that publishers, agents, publicists, editors, bookstores, reviewers, and even the media want you to have publicity before they will help you get more publicity. That’s great if you’re a celebrity.

Breaking through as a new author is a challenge. You’re an unknown. There are too many uncertainties. How will people react to your storytelling, characterization, and writing? How good is your idea? How will you handle the pressure? How effectively will your market your book? How well will you follow through with your commitments? How much help do you need? How professional or amateurish are you? How much do you need to learn about writing, editing, formatting, marketing, publicizing, social media, and making connections? And most importantly, how will you go from being a nobody to becoming an author with much publicity? Ah, if you only had that publicity (among your target audience) to begin with, that would help to make the risk so much more worthwhile.

How do you get publicity when you don’t have it to begin with?

If you had publicity, it would lend you credibility as an author; it would lend your book credibility, too.

If you credibility, it would help you gain publicity.

If you could lay an egg, you could make a chicken out of it.

If you could make a chicken, it could lay an egg for you.

It’s like you’re on a deserted island with no chickens or eggs, but you desperately need one or the other.

Baaak! Baak, baak, baaak!

I see a similar hurdle for Read Tuesday, a Black Friday type of event just for books.

If we had authors with more name recognition, it would greatly improve the publicity that we could receive from the media, internal promotions, paid advertisements, etc.

If we had more publicity, it would help us attract authors with greater name recognition.

However, Read Tuesday has a big advantage. There are many indie authors who are experiencing the challenges of marketing their books firsthand who have been very supportive of the Read Tuesday event. This has helped to give Read Tuesday much initial support, and we are fortunate to have the participation of some authors who have achieved some modest levels of success (e.g. top books in their categories at one time, or ranking at around a thousand on Amazon for a limited time in paid sales). We also have a couple of small publishers who will be participating.

(We are fortunate to have every author who has agreed to participate, no matter how big or small—everybody is vital to our success, all participation is valuable, and each author is much appreciated. I wish for every author to have a successful Read Tuesday.)

Read Tuesday also has something to offer. An author with name recognition could gain increased exposure from the Read Tuesday promotional efforts, as the Read Tuesday publicity and promotions would feature this author’s name.

On the other hand, would the author who has risen to the top want to come back down and play with the small fish? Would he or she remember his or her roots? Would he or she support his or her fellow indie authors? Surely, it’s much easier to say what you would do if you get there than it is to do it when you’re sitting at the top.

The thing is, all indies have the same advantage that Read Tuesday has. There is a very large readership that supports indie authors. Why? Because there are hundreds of thousands of indie authors and hundreds of indie publishers, and their friends, family members, acquaintances, and coworkers raise this number to the millions.

Although some people try to paint a poor image of self-publishing, there are millions of people who support it. “This book was published with CreateSpace, was it? My niece published a book through them.” The books that have serious issues aren’t hurting anyone, while the large number of very good indie books and the growing number of successful indie authors show that indie publishing has much potential.

Ultimately, what the reader wants is a professional book. Whether or not the book is traditionally or indie published is secondary. A book that looks professional, pleases the target audience, and is discovered by the target audience can gain much support.

Read Tuesday also has the opportunity to help indie authors promote their own books. The event itself is far more popular than any single participating author. By promoting Read Tuesday in addition to the author’s own book, Read Tuesday has the potential to help authors market their books.

It can be a win-win situation for any author, tiny name or big name. Every author’s participation helps to improve the credibility and success of the event, and the event can help any author promote his or her own book in conjunction with the event.

Back to the publicity paradox. What you have to do to break out of the paradox is start small, work hard, be wise, be patient, market effectively and diligently, keep writing, and spread outward.

You gradually build a following, increase your number of connections, gain a little exposure, and build a little publicity. Continue writing and you’ll have a few books out.

The better your books are from cover to cover, the more they will help you grow your following, connections, exposure, and publicity. The better your marketing efforts, the more they will help you grow your sales.

Eventually, you may achieve some small measure of credibility and publicity. Once you finally get your foot in the door, you have the chance to run with it. Once you have a little credibility, it will help you gain publicity, and once you have a little publicity (with your specific target audience), it will lend you credibility.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook, Twitter

Read Tuesday, Facebook, Twitter

How to Create Book Publicity


That’s one-half of what you need: publicity. The other half is having a marketable product. With this post, I’ll focus on the publicity side.

How do you get your book discovered when there are millions to choose from?

That’s the million-dollar question, and every author is trying to answer it with two cents. 🙂

Too many authors are hoping for instant publicity, or at least to have someone else create the publicity for them. Shortcuts are hard to come by and even if you do hit the lottery, this kind of short-term publicity often doesn’t bring the success that you’re hoping for.

Let me illustrate this with a specific example:

Indies in their Undies

Just imagine a dozen sexy indies promoting an event called “Indies in their Undies.” Maybe they’re wearing Victoria’s Secret undies. They’re going to do a supermodel sort of walk onto a catwalk, wearing just their sexy undies and each holding up one book during the process.

(You’re ready to sign up, aren’t you?)

Sure, this could get a lot of publicity. But it’s not going to be a magnet for publicity.

If you just go out and do this, do you think the news van is going to happen to pass by, see a group of people walking around in undies holding up books, film it, and show it on the six o’clock news?

No. You have the same problem as getting a great novel discovered. Even though it’s a newsworthy idea, it doesn’t just make the news. You have to go to the media. The media isn’t coming to you.

To make this work, you need to know how to generate publicity for the event.

You see, most authors think this through backwards. Authors intuitively think that if they do something that would intrigue the public, that this will generate publicity for them.

But that’s not how it works.

You do need something that’s newsworthy. Heck, that could just be the release of your book. Whatever the news is, what you really need to do is publicize the news. The news itself isn’t going to get you publicity all by itself.

So if you wanted to make an idea like “Indies in their Undies” work, here’s what you would really need to do:

  • Build credibility for the event.
  • Create buzz for the event.
  • Prepare a press release.
  • Distribute the press release to the media.

This will help to get you media coverage. Media can be a professional cameraman for a major newstation, a reporter for a local newspaper, or a blogger with a popular podcast watching from your laptop camera.

Regardless of the form that media takes, you need to prepare a press release and distribute it to the media. That’s the only way you’re going to get the media to help you spread the news (apart from happening to have a personal connection with someone in the media).

If you have something newsworthy, this is a way to go beyond your blog and social media platform to reach new members in your target audience—i.e. if you can get some form of media to help you publicize your news.

Again, your news could just be the release of your book. It doesn’t have to be some wild scheme like “Indies in their Undies.”

Let’s look at another problem with “Indies in their Undies.”

Target Audience

Who’s going to show up for this event? This is very important.

If the news spreads, but the vast majority of people who see, read, or hear the news aren’t in your book’s specific target audience, all this publicity (if you can get it) won’t translate into near the sales that you’re looking for.

How about the few people who watch “Indies in their Undies” who happen to be in your target audience? Do you think they’re going to take you seriously as an author? Do you think they’re interested in your book when they watch this? (Unless maybe your book is an around-the-world photo shoot of sexy writers in their undies.)

If you want your publicity to be effective, keep these things in mind:

  • Strive to gain publicity with your specific target audience.
  • Strive to be seen as a professional. If the media views you as an amateur, it will deter their interest in you. If your audience views you as an amateur, this will also deter sales.
  • Strive to get positive publicity for your book and yourself. Negative publicity isn’t a recipe for long-term success for the vast majority of authors.

What Would Be Better?

The problem isn’t creating news. You already have that. You wrote and published a book. That can be newsworthy.

What you’d really like to do is use this to help generate publicity: an article, a review, an interview, a podcast, etc. You want some entity (or several entities) with a large circulation, viewership, readership, or following to learn about your news and help spread it to your target audience.

Here is what you need to do this:

  • Create a marketable book from cover to cover. Ultimately, it’s the perception of professionalism versus amateurish that really counts. Why spread the news about something that seems amateurish (not just the cover; your entire presentation will be scrutinized, and the book, too).
  • Build credibility. Experience and qualifications are highly relevant. The more you look like the perfect fit to write the book you wrote, the more you’ll be taken seriously.
  • Be factual. If you get a job as a journalist, you’ll learn to think this way: Can this statement be verified? When the media looks at your cover letter and press release, they’re looking for anything that may be false, and anything that can’t be easily fact-checked (e.g. “better than Harry Potter”). Spend time studying how journalists write and try to think like a journalist when you prepare materials that you will submit to the media.
  • Learn how to prepare and distribute a press release. There is a specific formula to follow if you want to look professional, and you do. You want to research this formula. (I’ll provide a reference to one such formula in a coming post. It’s not my own formula, so I won’t post it on my blog, but I will help direct you to it. Sorry, you have to wait a couple days, or use a search engine to find one such formula.) In addition to the formula, you’ll want to learn how to distribute your press release to the media.

Remember, media doesn’t have to be the Times or the eight o’clock news. Bloggers are in the media, too, and some have very large followings or widely spread email newsletters.

Indies may find media coverage more challenging, though it isn’t easy for a new author who is traditionally published, either. But it’s not a dead end. In addition to the explanation that follows, see the note at the end of this post.

It’s kind of like bookstores. As an indie, you’re going to find widespread distribution with national chains nearly impossible, but small local bookstores and non-bookstores that happen to sell books tend to be more receptive. The more professional you come across and the more marketable and professional your book, the better your chances. That’s how some indies are getting stocked in big bookstores, maybe not nationally, but on a store-by-store basis in their own regions.

Similarly, the more professional you come across in your press release, cover letter, and presentation and the more marketable and professional your book appears (and qualifications and experience factor into this, too), the better your chances of getting media coverage.

Start small and work your way upward. This gives you experience and confidence as you approach the Big Boys and Girls.

Small local papers often have inches to fill. A small local radio station may have minutes available. You’re local. You have news. It may be a good fit. Check it out, but approach it professionally.

Media that coincides with your target audience may be a good fit. Explore these options.

Don’t just think television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. There are many, many online opportunities, from websites to podcasts to online magazines to bloggers and more. Getting coverage with the most visible channels will be extremely competitive. But there are so many avenues open that you can find a good fit if you have the will to find the way.

You can prepare content that attracts your target audience and the target audience of a website, for example. Instead of simply advertising or reviewing your book, this way the website has something to gain in return for giving you publicity. There are many sites with varying degrees of traffic that have a need for frequently updated content. Publishing an article is an opportunity. You can’t do it if you don’t try.

Looking beyond the release of your book, there may be something unique about you that will help you gain publicity. For example, if you’re lucky enough to be a triplet, that’s newsworthy. Think about yourself in addition to your book.

Whether your news is the release of your book or “Indies in their Undies,” you still need to build credibility, prepare a press release, and distribute it. So an idea like “Indies in their Undies” really isn’t a shortcut to publicity. Maybe it will help a lot, maybe it won’t. Either way, to get publicity for it, you still need to do all the work of publicizing it—really, you could just skip the middleman and focus on publicizing your book.

However, if you have a newsworthy event that relates to your book and would be of interest to your book’s target audience, if you’re having trouble getting media coverage of your book, you may find the media more receptive of your related news. So in this case, an event may create news that attracts the media better than your book does. “Indies in their Undies” doesn’t relate to your book and doesn’t attract the same target audience, so it’s not the best example. But if you’re struggling to get the media attention you desire for your book, another possibility is to think about how to generate news that relates to your book.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)