promoting a book

Promoting a Book: It’s a Lot More Like Writing Than You Think

Book publishing workshop at Milton-Union Public Library.
Book publishing workshop at Milton-Union Public Library.

As part of Orange Frazer’s educational outreach, I regularly conduct workshops and sessions on book publishing for aspiring authors. Not surprisingly, a number of their questions revolve around book marketing and promotion. Typically, authors will point out that they don’t enjoy marketing, and that they publish books because they enjoy writing. I can empathize with this. I love writing as well, and book promotion and marketing (after the emotional rollercoaster of writing, editing, and publishing a book) can seem that much more exhausting, intimidating, and frankly, boring. But the more I work to promote and market our own books at OFP, the more I recognize that book promotion is not so unlike writing as we often assume it is: the two are, actually, quite similar.

1. Tell a Story Promoting and marketing a book—like writing—is all about telling a story. People buy products because of compelling narratives. For those who watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, this is particularly poignant. Budweiser won our hearts not because it laid out the facts: Budweiser is a cheaper, more cost-effective beer that provides the same taste quality, value, and availability as its more expensive alternatives. I’d guess no one would be running out the door for a Budweiser after that bore of a message. Instead it told us a story: the story of a puppy and a Clydesdale, of friendship, loyalty, companionship, of the potential for dreams to become reality. They told us a story that we wanted to believe, that made us feel good, that appealed not to our needs, but to our wants.

2. Consumers buy based on wants, not needs This strikes at the second crucial part of book promotion and marketing: forget about what people need and start showing them what they want. Oftentimes, marketers will expound on the needs of consumers: show them why they need this product and then why your product is their best available option. This seems like it will be effective; we assume that our target audience makes logical, fact-based decisions about which products to buy. But think of yourself, and you realize that this is hardly ever the case. While we would like to think we buy based solely on need, we almost exclusively buy products based solely on our wants. Right now I need a new clothes iron, but instead, I bought a pair of overpriced yoga socks. Why? I liked the idea of yoga socks, I liked their bright colors (especially in a winter that seems neverending), and I liked how comfy they looked. An iron, while necessary, did not invoke any of these feelings, and so, I essentially forgot about it.

Similarly, people will not buy your book because they need it. They don’t need it. At all. Book buyers are a niche audience, and they are not reading voraciously because their life depends on it. They read books because they want to, because they want to be involved in your story, swept up in it, transformed by it.

So stop thinking about book promotion like a formula, where well-placed ad + reputable book review + in-store displays + radio interview = bestseller. Start thinking about book promotion like your own writing. Tell your readers a story. Will your book sing them to sleep, remind them of their first love, suspend them breathlessly from chapter to chapter, revolutionize their understanding of the past? Marketing, after all, is plot, with all of the characterization and emotional integrity of a well-written book.

How to Promote a Book Without a Killer Marketing Budget

Or, Five Free Ways to Promote Your Book Right Now Independent book publishers have long found their niche in creative, bottom-up approaches to book publicity. Without the deep pockets of mega-conglomerates or the advantage of bestsellers to boost marketing budgets, indies have had to find innovative ways to connect with readers. Luckily, this makes independent publishers like Orange Frazer accessible partners to first-time and custom-published authors wondering how to promote a book. We understand and respect the budget limitations of our clients and help them find innovative ways to get their books to readers.

Here are our top five favorite methods for increasing book discoverability, connecting with readers, and increasing sales.

5. Special offers: In an Amazon-dominated world of steep discounts and free shipping, it can be difficult to add value to your offering and still profit on your book sales (and why shouldn’t you, you have spent an incredible amount of time and energy just to make it a reality!). Help direct readers to ideal retail outlets by adding value in any way you can. One of my favorite ideas, which I have seen authors do time and again, is offer signed copies of their book (sometimes even with a personal note) if it is purchased online or in-person through their favorite independent bookseller. Other authors will highlight independent booksellers and their publisher on their blog or website with clickable links to help direct readers to these retail outlets. Others will host an author event or talk at an independent bookseller, and consider the purchased copy of the book from that bookseller a “ticket” to attend. You are only limited by your own creativity on this one!

4. Smart social media: I preface this with “smart” only because the general din surrounding social media how-to articles offers generalized approaches that are rarely fine-tuned enough to be useful. Start with a good idea of your target audience: age, income, geography, reading preferences, hobbies. Be able to draw a picture of your ideal reader and understand the ideal reader’s needs, desires, and pastimes. Now that you know this reader, think about which social media platform he or she is most likely to flock to. Research Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, and others to learn more about their user demographics. Only tackle what is necessary. Consider what your strengths are, and only commit to social media platforms that you understand and enjoy. You will be ineffective on Twitter if you struggle to write anything in under one hundred and forty characters.

3. Email marketing: There is no excuse not to be using email to your advantage. Authors with effective email marketing campaigns will generate buzz for their books pre-release, promote events and book signings to their readers, encourage participation in giveaways and contests, drive traffic to their blogs and/or websites, and build a personable and open relationship with their readers and followers. Services like Mailchimp make it easy for first-time authors to build lists and create compelling emails—free of charge*.

*Mailchimp services are free as long as you stay below a certain number of subscribers, and then paid packages are tiered based on how many emails subscribers you have.

2. Giveaways: A well-coordinated giveaway can generate publicity, build your email marketing distribution lists, generate Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and build excitement for your release. People love the opportunity to win free books (which is why Goodreads giveaways often generate hundreds, and even thousands, of entries), and a creative and well-executed giveaway can be more than just a giveaway and a lost profit. Third party apps such as Shortstack and Woobox allow you to create fan-gated contests and sweepstakes through Facebook, allowing you to create a custom entry form that requires your giveaway participants to enter their name and email address and like your page before entering. Advertise this custom app with a Facebook ad to generate entries*, and you will build your fanbase and distribution lists while creating “buzz” for your book. Goodreads giveaways are also an excellent opportunity to build name recognition. While you are not able to fan-gate them or garner email addresses for your lists, you are able to put your giveaway in front of hundreds of thousands of active users.

*Facebook advertising does entail its own cost, so skip this step if your budget doesn’t allow it.

1. Author events: Author events are crucial in today’s fractured publicity world where online media is dominated by big ad money and smaller titles and first-time authors struggle to overcome the din of book discoverability online. Events give authors an opportunity to build on their expertise, share their passion, and connect with readers personally and emotionally. Events can be as creative as the author. Orange Frazer authors have had live falcons in attendance, stuffed buzzards, mini-quiches (for sharing and eating), and ten-foot snakes (for not sharing and not eating). They have held events in museums, bookstores, libraries, garden centers, elementary schools, and farmers markets. They have put on reenactments and book signings, illustrating workshops and rooftop parties. They have found one-of-a-kind ways to connect with potential readers, and they have sold books doing it. It should be the closest thing to a circus act you can imagine.

Of course, if you could somehow come upon a bookstore with a giant fishbowl, that would be ideal.

What are your favorite ways to promote your book and connect with readers?