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Spend Your Marketing Dollars Wisely

With a bit of imagination and initiative, you can gain publicity for your book without emptying your bank account.

More than 150,000 books are published each year. Whether you're self-published or deal with a New York house, you make the difference in your book's success. Most authors who successfully market their own books say they give it three to six hours a day for as long as a year before the book is published.

I know. I know. You're saying, "I want to write. Not market." But when you're breaking in and trying to break out, you can't skip the marketing. Here are several ideas to consider—some cost money, others don't. Whatever your budget, attract attention for your book!

Ads that work

When marketing my first novel, I took an extra freelance job to earn enough money to buy ads in Radio-TV Interview Report (, a magazine published three times per month and distributed to 4,000 TV and radio producers across the country.

For less than $1,000, those few ads got me on a dozen radio shows. I didn't sell $1,000 worth of books, but I got my name and novel out there.

Reading tours

Traveling is expensive, but many authors apply for and get grants to go on reading tours. Nicole Kelby, author of In the Company of Angels, received a grant that took her on a cross-country tour for her first novel. (You can find information about grants for writers at

Jim Gladstone, author of The Big Book of Misunder-standing, tackled the tour in two ways. First he posted news of his book on the Web and then he did a 20-city tour costing $4,000.

It worked. His publisher sold out the first 5,000 printing. And all of his in-store appearances attracted 15 to 50 people, which is very high for a first novel from a small press.

What Gladstone did differently was use his online connections to ensure an audience for his author tour. He cultivated online relationships for a year, so that when he finally did hit the road, he had connections all over the country who knew him and wanted to meet him .

Online reading groups

You can find readers all over the Web. Some of the first places to start are reading communities, such as The New York Times Web site, and Find out which is the best fit for your book.

Readerville leans toward the literary; Bookaccino on AOL is a mix of commercial and literary. Yahoo Groups offer large communities of readers in every genre imaginable.

Once you have found some communities, build connections. Then when you travel, you can use the online people you've met to seed your readings and signings. And friends have friends.

The local route

What if you can't get readings in local bookstores and you can't go on tour? There are many alternatives: Libraries hold readings, coffee shops hold readings.

Consider this: I live in a small town of 60,000 people. But that's about 18,000 women who read. If I could just get half the women in my town to buy my book, I'd have a very, very satisfying success.

With community support, the word will grow. You don't have to go on national tour. You can do a very local tour and get very serious sales.

In addition to coffee shops and libraries, most towns have a YMCA, YMHA, newspaper, local radio and TV station. Each are possible places for you to do a reading and promote your book.

At my local library, I offered to do a writers workshop. At the bookstore, I offered to give a talk on getting published. At the local arts center, I volunteered to be part of an annual art auction and give them free books to sell.

Visits to the local newspaper yielded an interview on what it's like to live and work in my town, and stopping into the radio station yielded an invitation to read five minutes of my novel on the air.

Of course, New Yorkers or those in Los Angeles will have a harder time. But what about where your parents or sisters or brothers live? What about where you went to college? What about that college itself? Do they have summer sessions—would they like you as a guest lecturer?


Sponsorship is a pretty fancy word, but it's a fairly simple concept and one that helps get attention for your book.

Chances are your town has some local industry—a manufacturer, a tech firm or maybe a corporate headquarters.

Get that local company to help sponsor an event. Ask them if they would like to sponsor a charity fundraiser at a local venue with local talent—an author reading, a local musician playing, several local artists show their work. (Guess who the author is?)

The idea is to create a venue where you will get some real attention and so will your book. Enough local press can lead to national media.

There's no end in sight to the public diversions you can create. All you need are ideas—and isn't that what writers are? Idea generators.

This article appeared in the November 2002 issue of Writer's Digest.

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