WANTED: Self-Promotion Methods That Actually Work

As You Know Magic District Readers, my first novel comes out in February 2010. Just five months! That means I’ve entered the hardcore pre-release promotional phase — lining up readings, giving out ARCs to reviewers, planning my convention schedule for next year, etc. I’m a typical debut novelist; some things my publisher will handle, but other things are up to me. I’ve had some nifty bookmarks made, and will be taking those to World Fantasy in a couple of weeks. Have been scoping out spots for my book launch party, and think I may have just found the perfect place. And so on.

Among other things, I’m having a real debate with myself about whether to do a video or audio book trailer. I’ve seen a lot of the former on YouTube and authors’ websites; they’re trendy now. But frankly, I can think of only a few that actually served to get me interested in the book… and the ones that worked for me were clearly not made for cheap. An audio trailer is cheaper and easier to put together, and I think I have a better chance of snaring potential buyers by running ads on popular science fiction podcasts and radio shows — in particular those I’ve been on or will be going on in the coming months.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m shooting in the dark here. I have no actual clue whether a video or audio trailer is more effective. So much of marketing is conditional: if the trailer is good it might be effective, and if the trailer is poor it might actually hurt the novel’s sales. (I doubt that, actually, but you never know.) Bookmarks might help a potential reader remember to buy the book if the author is friendly and personable, but if the author’s a schmuck the bookmark could actually serve as the reminder of an unpleasant experience. So who’s to say what’s really effective and what’s not?

Well — marketing people, actually; they do research and stuff. But a lot of marketing research is proprietary and thus never shared with the public… and more significantly, a lot of the marketing questions I have are so small-scale that they’re beneath the radar of Srs Mrktg Bznss. I seriously doubt whether anyone has ever studied the efficacy of four-inch laminated bookmarks versus 3×5″ matte postcards. You’d spend more on conducting that study than on just buying the postcards and crossing your fingers.

So here’s where you come in.

Stats for the Magic District show that we get about 200 unique hits a day. Not bad for a bunch of n00b authors (two of whom don’t even have books out yet), and better than I usually do by myself on my own website. We do much better on days when one of us writes a really kickass post — like Maggie’s famously awesome text adventure, for example. That post has since gotten almost 6000 hits all total. More modest but still good numbers for something like my own Describing Characters of Color pt. 2 post for awhile back — that one’s at 1300 unique hits. Most of these come along in the day or two after the post is made. So basically, during any given week we’ve got a few thousand folks traipsing through here. Which makes you guys a handy-dandy research sample, for my purposes.

Now, OK, my old grad school research methods professor would come beat me if she knew I was doing this. A few thousand people is far too small a sample for statistical significance, and this is going to be just a quickie poll, not a proper survey checked for reliability and validity. Still, the information could be useful for me and the other Magic Districters, so please take a moment to fill out the poll below. Pass the word to other SF/F readers so we can get more responses. As you’re filling this out, some things to keep in mind:

a) Assume that all the promotional methods mentioned here are average examples thereof — e.g., think of typical bookmarks you’ve seen, not the craptastic ones that Joe the Author printed out on his spotty inkjet using MS Word Clip Art.

b) Please click on a method only if it caused you to buy a book or reserve it at the library, etc. If you thought, “Hey, neat bookmark”, then promptly forgot about the book, then it wasn’t effective. But if you thought “Hey, neat bookmark”, and hopped on Amazon to preorder it, then that counts.

c) If you’ve run across another method that was effective, please fill it in, or mention it in the comments. Fresh ideas are welcome here, folks.

So here goes:

ETA: Argh. For some reason, when people fill in an answer for “Other”, the answer doesn’t appear. Not sure what the problem is, but please put your answers in the comments of this post instead, folks. Sorry.

Your response can help impoverished newbie authors get their careers off the ground! Can’t you spare us a click for a good cause?


30 Responses to “WANTED: Self-Promotion Methods That Actually Work”

  1. October 8, 2009 at 4:08 am

    None of those get me to buy books. What does: people talking about it online. And that gets me to buy a lot of books. It helps if it’s other people saying I just read so-and-so’s new novel, and it was excellent. But it doesn’t have to be: a post from the author that mentions the book, gives a summary, and makes it sound interesting is just as effective (for me).

    You have to get mind-share somehow so that folks know to look for your book. The glitzy giveaways may do that for some people, but most of them don’t tell you anything about the book other than title and cover art.

    I’m not saying that you should beg all your friends for mentions on their blog. But give a few copies away, write up a catchy description. A giveaway contest will attract attention, and possibly entice people who didn’t get a free copy to buy one anyway.

  2. October 8, 2009 at 7:15 am

    Oh, I’m aware that word-of-mouth is probably the most effective method; that’s what works for me. I’m working on that; I’ve got a few ARCs that I’ve given to people I know who read and rec books, with the stipulation that they have to post something about it somewhere — an Amazon review, their own blog, whatever. (I’ll probably be giving one away here soon, actually, but I’ve got to get through WFC first.) I’m also going to conventions and volunteering for panels so people can hear me talk and decide whether they’d be interested in reading something I wrote — that’s worked for me, too. But I’m also trying to figure out what else I can do to help the process along.

    Hope you voted!

  3. October 8, 2009 at 8:36 am

    I agree with Phiala. I need a “none of the above” button. I read blogs, ask friends, read a review, then scoot over to the author’s website. Sorry. The “normal” marketing process doesn’t affect my choices at all.

  4. October 8, 2009 at 9:24 am

    I have to agree that none of these have ever caused me to want to buy a book.

    Consider this thought: I am a book reader, but I don’t go to conventions (so bookmarks, postcards, buttons, pins and flyers wouldn’t do much good unless I ran across you somewhere else), I don’t download and listen to podcasts (probably my loss), and I pretty much ignore all banners and ads online. I have seen one video trailer on an author’s website for a book that I was already planning to buy, so I can’t say it influenced my decision. My biggest thought about that was “I hope the author didn’t pay a lot of money for that” so interpret that as you will. It was really lame. 🙂

    I don’t know how typical my behavior is, but there you go. I am a reader and I buy a lot of books – chosen because of author loyalty, word of mouth (and blog) AND by encountering them at the bookstore. Sometimes I follow the “big river online store” links of “If you like this, you might like this as well”. Have gotten some good tomes that way…

    So, I guess that I see it this way: Any of the your proposed methods have the potential to work if they are attention-grabbing enough, but it is the manner of distribution that might be an issue. If they aren’t put out where your potential readers will encounter them, then you won’t get your money’s worth.

    Sorry, that may not be the answer you wanted, but it is an opinion.

    And I can’t wait for your book.

  5. October 8, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Unfortunately, while bookmarks are a nice bonus or promo, they don’t make me buy a book. None of the options given cause me to buy books. Word of mouth, whether through reviews, friends, or other authors, helps a lot, but my biggest trigger for buying a book is whether or not I can read the first little bit for free.

    Free first chapters are probably my biggest motivation: I pick up a new book or author because I read the first few pages, I get hooked, I have to know what happens next, so off I go to pick up a copy. (I love Amazon for its LookInside feature for this very reason.) For debut writers, this is the biggest draw for me – I have no backlist to help me decide whether or not you’re what I want to read.

    I’d rather see Suzanne feature your book on DearReader.com, where I’d get to see the first 15 – 20 pages of the book, or a free chapter posted here or pushed by the publisher, than any other type of marketing effort.

    And those video/audio “trailers”? Sorry, I find them really dorky and offputting, no matter how much money is poured into them (St Martins’ marketing efforts for Sherrilyn Kenyon as Exhibit A). It’s more a reason for me not to consider buying a book than anything else.

  6. October 8, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    As most of the commenters mentioned above, “none of the above” would be my choice. If you’re worried about branding or visibility for your book, I would try to incorporate your online marketing efforts with a web analytics package like Google Analytics.

  7. October 8, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Lately all of the books I’ve bought have been from podcasters, or from people who ran promos on podcasts. I’ve made two audio promos myself for friend and author David Williams. He’s written two sci-fi novels (The Mirrored Heavens and The Burning Skies), and I made audio promos for both books. He seemed very satisfied with them. You can reach me at my website, and I also have a writing podcast called the Dead Robots’ Society (www.deadrobotssociety.com).

  8. October 8, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Interviews on book review blogs or giveaways there.
    Also if someone does a book review, that is also great promotion.

  9. 9 kap
    October 8, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I’m a new author interested in the responses for my own marketing. I have bookmarks and have done some blog interviews. I’m on several online writer sites that allow displays of novels as well as Facebook. I’m not sure how many sales these sites have generated, but they seem to help a little.

    I sometimes have nice low numbers on Amazon, although I’m upwards of 500,000 now. I’m getting good reviews there, and I get good reveiws from outside sources and post them on the social sites and my blog and website. I’ve noticed Amazon sales improve sometimes when I post a new review.

    I’m entering contests, and learned recently my novel STRUCK is a finalist in all three of it’s categories at the New Mexico Book Awards. I hope a win in any category will help. I’m entering another contest now, but I don’t know how contest placings will translate into sales yet.

    With a small publisher, my novel is online everywhere but only in a few local stores here in Albuquerque, so I concentrate on online mediums, mostly. I’m newish to Twitter, certainly not running viral on anything there, but that’s how I found this site. Someone retweeted you.

    I pay little attention to trailers, so I won’t spend money on those. I don’t pay attention to online ads either.

    I do talks (have one at a local writer org. Saturday), and I sell pretty well at those. I have a couple booksignings at local bookstores scheduled, starting this weekend. Hoping for the best.

    Hope some input helps, and I appreciate the input others have offered.

  10. October 8, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    It’s really not a single factor that makes me buy a book, but the repeated impressions I get. Receiving a button? Doesn’t do much. Seeing someone else wearing one, maybe. Seeing a lot of people wearing them makes me think that there’s a fan base and that maybe the book is worth checking out. Not consciously, of course, but seeing book marks and ads and banners builds up over time.

    The only single items (without additional layers of marketing) which have made me buy a book was a book trailer and a podcast interview. Naturally, I can’t find either when I want to link to them.

  11. October 8, 2009 at 2:51 pm


    Trailers are lovely to look at or hear but I’m not actively hunting for them.
    Amazon reviews are usually my first stop when buying a book even if I don’t buy it on Amazon but at Borders,
    B &N, or an independent bookstore.
    It’s that damned word-of-mouth thing all over again. Or book review pages in periodicals would sway me if I wasn’t
    standing in a store touching and turning pages myself in a brick and mortar.


    Her Tangh-i-ness

  12. 12 Jeremy
    October 8, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    I’ll add my voice to the ‘none of the above’ crowd. I think the only times I’ve seen book trailers is when they’ve made it to Hulu, which is probably a more expensive place to advertise than most new authors are going to care for. I also haven’t attended a con since ’99 or ’00, though given the choice of promo material, I’d rather have a bookmark than a postcard (since I can use a bookmark), although I’ve never actually bought a book because of one. With banner ads, I don’t see most of them because I’ve got software that filters the majority of them out.

    Reviews on Goodreads are a source I definitely make a point of checking if I’m curious about a book; likewise with Amazon. Otherwise, it’s pretty much whether I’ve heard about it by word of mouth (which includes blogs) or happen across it on a shelf and found the back cover blurb amusing/interesting enough to pick up (that’s actually how I discovered Steven Brust — I was a young teen bored at the supermarket twenty years or so ago browsing the books while his mom shopped, cover image caught my eye, blurb was amusing, and the novel was good…I’ve bought nearly everything he’s written since then.)

  13. October 8, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Buttons, cards, bookmarks, ads, etc all raise my awareness that the book exists and will make me check it out in the store or online, but the only thing that makes me buy a new book is excerpts. I think all authors should post them, or have videos of themselves reading from their book on the web page, etc.

  14. October 8, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    I just preordered your book because my daughter (who is a Magic District contributor) “encourages” me to “support the industry.” She has also pointed out the value of pre-orders.

    (I’ve also been reading sf for more than 60 years.)

  15. October 8, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    So I’ve been keeping, unofficial, track of this. My book went on sale about a week ago. Of the people who have taken the time to contact me:

    4 wrote to say they bought my book because they heard the audio drama of the first chapter on one of the 4 podcasts I dropped it onto,
    8 wrote to say they bought it because they read a review that recommended it,
    3 read an interview or saw a guest blog, and
    5 got sucked in by Orbit’s paper doll app.

    I usually estimate a %10 rule on social media (for every 1 user who is a contributor, 10 are ghosting) – in other words, if 4 said they were sucked in by the podcast and took time out to write me about it because they liked the book, 40 actually were. The largest majority, by far, <10 wrote to say they bought the book because of the cover.

    I know these aren't any of the options you listed above, but, there you go.
    ~ Gail

  16. October 8, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Hi Gail,

    I bought the book after googling Steampunk Romance — you were listed as one of the authors who had a Steampunk Romance coming out. Another one was Katie MacAlister (normally writes Vampire Romance), but hers isn’t coming out till next year.

    I wanted to read a Steampunk Romance to see if that’s something I would like to write myself (rather than straight paranormal romance). I liked your style a lot, even though it’s quite different from how romances are normally written. It’s very witty and reminds me of the writing of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward.

    Wishing you lots of success!


  17. October 8, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    I also have to chime in “none of the above”. I listen to one podcast, with brandon sanderson, and I forget the sponsor book the second after they say it. Don’t look on myspace, trailers are cheesy, and swag doesn’t affect me because I don’t go to cons. I rarely if ever read reviews.

    What does get me:
    Word of mouth, on forums and blogs
    Seeing it on the shelf and being interested from the title, blurb, and first few pages.

  18. October 8, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    A postcard once made me buy a book: Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial, when I got a postcard with a copy of LCRW.

    I prefer bookmarks to postcards because they’re actually useful. I never use the postcards I accumulate and wind up just recycling them after a while. Bookmarks stay with me for a long time.

    Generally, though, none of these methods lure me. I prefer recommendations, word-of-mouth, chance discovery in a bookstore, reviews — something that tells me a bit more about the work.

  19. 19 Angela Parson Myers
    October 8, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Bookmarks and postcards that give a good pitch for the book have influenced my book buying, but I’m influenced more by reading a pitch and the first chapter either on a website or as a handout at a workshop or conference.

  20. October 8, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    My Other answer: “Word of mouth, or great blogs from the author themself.”

  21. October 8, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Bookmarks and postcards have gotten me to read books mainly because they remind me that a book is out. I find postcards especially handy, as I can drop them in the mail to friends to let THEM know about a book. Just yesterday, I handed a book-promo postcard to a friend, who later passed the information (by phone) on to a third party who might also like the book.

    — I’m much less likely to pick up a full-page flyer for a book, because I already accumulate too much paper as it is, thanks. Besides, bookmarks and postcards take less room on freebie tables at conventions (and may be cheaper to mail).

    — Remember that it helps when promo materials are easily readable and stuff. I’ve seen lots of bookmarks that were so crammed full of tiny type that I needed reading glasses. (Okay, I already have reading glasses, but I don’t need to use them for everything.)

    — Buttons can carry lots of nifty factor, but due to cost they’d probably work better as special giveaways at a launch party or signings or something.

    Let us know what you decide!

  22. 22 kaigou
    October 9, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Buttons, postcards, bookmarks and the like are no good for those of us who are distractable — I end up putting the things somewhere and completely forget about the object as well as whatever it was supposed to remind me to do. I suspect that’s b/c those of us who can’t remember without some kind of aid are just as likely to forget the aid as we are to forget what we’re supposed to remember.

    Which means I didn’t fill out the poll, because you didn’t have a “none of the above” option. There are two things that get me to buy books, and pretty consistently at that: the first are reviews* and the second is reading the opening chapters. Not a hook or a tease or an excerpt — which often comes from somewhere in the middle and gives me no idea of the book’s pacing or opening — but the first two or three chapters. Preferably the first three chapters, since the first single chapter, I have found to my dismay, is not nearly as good of an indicator as I wish it to be.

    [*Reviews only get me to buy a book if they’re actual critique reviews, as opposed to gushing. The latter does more damage than good, because that kind of squeeing turns me off, and now I have association of book with squeeing. Bleah.]

    The interview-with-author on blog-posts, where another author ‘hosts’ the interview… I guess that works for promotion, but I ignore those now. Even at first, when I did read, I never bought a book thanks to the interview. I’m even less likely to buy a book when promotion gets into the gimmicky or kitschy, like when an author “answers” questions as one of the characters, or writes a meta-filled convo between two of the characters. Or maybe it’s because most authors just say the same basic things in their blog-interviews, and it starts to run together.

    What if, instead of arcs, and instead of interviews, you had various online authors who hosted the first, second, and third chapters instead of an interview? So instead of giving out arcs, you’re passing out chunks of the book itself so everyone can read, and asking possible/likely fans/readers to act as hosts for that reading?

  23. 23 Luckykitty
    October 9, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Count me as another person who doesn’t really buy books for any of the above. Reviews, word of mouth, free first chapters–perhaps if they read a little on a podcast I’d be intrigued? Some way in which I get a little more on the story and am teased enough into buying more. I think if you go the bookmark way, better to doubleside it, have title and art on one side and then some sort of grab you by the guts excerpt or blurb on the back, plus a website where they can read more. Otherwise it’s just another pretty free thing which I may or may not use, and which stands as much chance of going in the trash when I find it three months later as being another unnoticed placeholder in my current read.

    For me, book trailers are the worst. So often badly produced with ugly stock photos and telling me little to nothing about what the writing itself is actually like. The good ones might make me go “ooh pretty” but I never, ever have even gone to a linked website on one. It’s a visual medium and books are a totally different realm in my mind. Flashy trailer not equal to good writing ability. Waste of time, IMO.

    Audio trailer sounds more intriguing–at least it requires words, good words, well-chosen ones.

    I’ve also heard of people making little chapbooks of their first chapter or an excerpt to give away, but again, not sure how many people read those or would chuck them. Still, I think that’s more appealing and showcases you better than a web banner or a sticker/button.

    Fascinating poll, thanks!

  24. October 9, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I know only what you’ve mentioned about your book, but with a title like “hundred thousand kingdoms” it would seem to me that you could do a promotion that allowed people to name a kingdom. A fun, but simple website, a widget or facebook app or iPhone app and you might be able to generate a viral fan base. Just a thought.

    Something that I hear over and over is that you can only be the first to do something once. Find ONE thing original (for a certain value of original) and you might be able to stand out from the crowd.

  25. October 9, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Yay! Gail reads our blog ^__^! Hi Gail! I bought my (non-ARC) version of Soulless! Nom nom nom!

    This is an awesome discussion, and I’m noticing a trend. It seems we book buyer types aren’t really visual when it comes to buying our books. I have to agree with pretty much everyone, I’ve never bought a book because I got a nifty widget.

    I have clicked on adds for books though, especially the flash ones with changing text that give you the hook (http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com has some very good ads, I think), especially if they’re showing up on sites I like! But yeah, pretty much all my Amazon impulse buys happen by one of the following:

    a) Blogger/author/random person I like says “this book rocks” and gives compelling reasons why. Book is bought within the hour.

    b) I see cool cover art, click/pick up book, hook/setting sounds awesome, buy.

    c) Book pops up on Amazon’s book suggestions when I make impulse purchase, and since I need $25 for my super saver shipping, I add it in if it sounds cool. I get more random/awesome stuff this way.

    Seriously, Amazon’s super saver shipping has sold me more books than any bookstore clerk in America. It’s like getting a book for free… I CAN’T SAY NO.

    Anyway, I hope that was helpful/interesting. I’m actually going to hold off on my post for a bit since this is so much more awesome than what I was going to say!

    – Rachel

  26. 26 Ardiril
    October 13, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    The only method that I can remember influencing me to read new authors–and continues to influence me–is the Bram Stoker Awards. Sometimes a review will prompt me to buy/pre-order a book, however the last time that happened was Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

    My primary method of discovery is spending hours in a bookstore or library reading first paragraphs.

  27. 27 Avalon's Willow
    October 14, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Other (in no particular order):

    1. Library / Book Displays

    2. Blog Reviews ( I follow like 10-15 blogs and look for more)

    3. Seeing every Tom, Dick and Harriet reading it (Harry Potter got me this way)

    4. Author Reading / Meet The Crowd (course I was pointed there by my friendly neighbourhood librarian)

    5. Friend Reccs

    6. Librarian Reccs

    7. Amazon reviews

    I don’t think a book trailer has ever made me remember the name of a book or the author. And I don’t associate bookmarks and post-cards with specific books.

  28. July 17, 2016 at 11:05 am

    What’s up, after reading this awesome article i am as well delighted to share my
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