“A book is new to everybody’s who’s never heard of it before. So your job as a writer is incredibly difficult: Your job is to buzz your book for the rest of your life,” M. J. Rose explains. “Books never die, but nobody can buy a book they’ve never heard of. You can’t walk into Barnes and Noble and say, ‘I’d like to read that book I’ve never heard of. Do you know where it is on the shelves?’ [Readers] can’t Google your name or your book if they don’t know about it. So it’s simple, really: If people know your book exists, they might actually buy it.”
Of course, promotion and marketing aren’t easy, and Rose acknowledges that, as well. “I don’t pretend that this is fun. It can sometimes be fun, but it’s a lot of work. It’s worth it if you want to get sales.” So what’s an author to do?
This column by Adrienne Crezo, managing editor of Writer’s Digest
magazine. You can find her on Twitter as @a_crezo.
At ITW’s ThrillerFest Thursday afternoon, M. J. Rose—author, former corporate marketer and founder of AuthorBuzz, a marketing and promotion service for authors—held a Buzz Your Book session with Meryl Moss, of Media Muscle Public Relations, and Elizabeth Berry of ITW. The idea behind Buzz Your Book session is for the three panelists to help an author find niche marketing and publicity opportunities—on the fly, live, in real-time. Though these suggestions are specific to the book pitched by an attendee, the principles behind them can apply to all genres. Here are some methods for finding interesting, outside-the-box solutions for effective, creative marketing, regardless of your novel’s genre.
First, a distinction:
“The difference [between] marketing and publicity is that marketing you pay for, but publicity is free,” Liz Berry says. “You purchase ads, you pay for that, and your results are trackable. If you do an interview, that’s free, but you can’t see how many people read it or what sales came from that.”
Find an interesting element of your story that allows you to offer free content for potential readers.
One book on the Buzz docket featured a secondary character in a washed-up rock band. Rose’s suggestion: “Create a website for the [fictional] band, and for [your character], and then start building him up as a real character with a web presence. Put his music out for free. Include an excerpt of the book at the end of the music; so, the song plays, and then [listeners hear] you read a section of your book on the same audio file. It doesn’t do you any good to excerpt the book and give away music for free, but if you do it the other way around you can gather interest because there aren’t that many authors giving away music.” Meryl Moss adds her thoughts, as well: “There are many, many magazines and websites for … serious musicians. … Consider approaching those editors to ask if they’ll help you distribute the files, or perhaps you can offer an interview or review.”
Though this advice is extremely specific, the logic is sound: If your book has a character, theme or location that lends itself to interesting free content, use that angle to create new promotional avenues. And don’t be concerned if your secondary characters are the ticket to this new marketing. As Rose pointed out, “In The Da Vinci Code, Mona Lisa got all the attention.” Whatever draws readers in is worth pursuing.
Approach hobby or enthusiast publications.
If a character in your novel has a specific skill or hobby that appeals to a wider audience than your book itself, use that as a tool for intriguing potential readers outside of your typical audience. The same book mentioned previously also stars a character who is an Italian chef. That’s an excellent outlet for niche marketing, says Moss. “Take the cooking side of that character and go to food magazines [or] websites. Share recipes that your character might make in the book, or family recipes that character might cook at home. Whatever ties into the story and [reaches a] new segment of readers.”
Use controversial themes to garner media attention.
One thing to always aim for, according to yesterday’s panelists, is an element of your book that makes it newsworthy—and not only in publishing circles. An attendee offered his book for a Buzz session, which featured a GMO crop that wreaked havoc on the world. Rose was quick to offer this suggestion: “One of the biggest movements going on right now is anti-GMO, so maybe it’s worth it to get involved with some established groups who are anti-GMO. …. [Consider starting] a petition, and then each [person who signs] gets a segment of the book. … And there are a lot of stores … that have a strong organic brand that could help you by carrying your book [in stores].” Moss was also eager to point out that topic angle was extremely newsworthy: “You could be an activist and take it on as an activist, and you could make tremendous headway going that route if you take the newsworthy angle of GMOs. [You could] promote the story as a cautionary tale, and if you do interviews and [talks] on the GMO angle, it could work very well for you.”
Although most books won’t have such a timely, topical plot, the foundational argument here remains. Any angle of your book that makes it worthy of media attention is worth pursuing, and to do that, you should follow the same methods as the groups already working in that debate.
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Use teaser images any time you can.
Liz Berry also had a great idea for the same book: “You could have some scary graphic pictures and a whole “Did You Know” campaign with photos and [info] about GMO crops. And on those images, you [include] your website … so that no matter where it’s shared your address is there and people know it’s your campaign and your book.” These types of images shared through social media to promote your work are called teaser pics or teaser images. Teaser pics certainly aren’t available only to thriller authors who are taking on genetic modification of crops: any author can create one. Rose expands on the idea: “Teaser pictures are a piece of art where you’ve taken a quote from the book – just a little, not a page—and the name of the book, author, website, boom. Anyone can share it and they spread really well [through] Twitter and Facebook and websites.”
Location, location, location.
Another book, this one set in a specific region of California, inspired excellent feedback from the panelists. “If your character is an actress in [that region], then she’ll be familiar with specific theaters, and so will the people who live there. Look around for places where you can make something [like a reading or signing] happen because it’s local local local, and it’s fun for the area,” Moss said.
“When you have a local angle, the first thing to do is exploit that,” Rose said. “One thing I did [when I was promoting a book] was go to Patch.com. There’s a Patch.com for every town, every city. So [I went] to Patch and proposed a series of articles on what it’s like to do research [in that particular city]. And here’s the thing that no one will tell you: Doing research can be boring, and talking about research can be boring, but you can make [it less boring]. Not the research, obviously, but maybe you embellish your experience in a way that seems interesting, especially to the people who live in the area.”
Invest in help when you’ve gone too far to manage it yourself.
“I always tell people that you should spend as much of your advance as possible on PR and marketing. Most publishers have authors who are [hiring an outside PR agency], “ Rose says. “Your publishing house has its own publicists, and they work very hard 99% of the time … but they’re also working on 20, 30, 40 books at a time, and there are too few people and too many books passing through to really devote … that kind of attention to. … The best way to approach that is to say, ‘I want to do some additional PR, what are you doing so I can know what to do, or what not to do.” It may seem unbelievable that an author working with a publishing house might need an outside publicist, but if you want to really go all-in on promoting your book, you’ll likely need more help than your publisher can give you.
Editor’s Note: This article previously contained an offer for a free book from AuthorBuzz. Unfortunately, that offer is only available for ThrillerFest 14 attendees and has been removed.