Book promotion: What really works?

That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?  I wish I had the million dollar answer. But I’m a problem solver by nature. I enjoy that. That’s probably why I like mysteries as much as I do. There’s a puzzle to solve. A question to answer.

And, since I’m a book publicist by trade, I guess this is a question that I need to consider more than most. When it comes to book promotion today, what does really work?

Well, when trying to find any elusive answer, I often work backwards. The process of elimination. What doesn’t work?

For the purpose of brevity (something for which I’m not well known but I do try), assume that the point of said promotion is to sell books. There are many other apparent points to book promotion but I won’t go there now.

What doesn’t work?

Expecting the publisher to do it. I think we all know that won’t work. We once thought it would if the publisher was one of the biggies but I’m not sure that was ever totally true. Today, I’m sure it’s totally not true unless you’re the biggest author on the list, which most of you aren’t.

Expecting immediate results. I hear it all the time. “I was on the Blah Blah Radio Show and I checked my sales an hour later and hadn’t sold a single book. Guess that doesn’t work!” “I had a book signing at Buy a Book Store and nobody came. That was a waste of time!” Seriously. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard something like that. In our so-called microwave society I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it always is. Think about it for a minute. I’ve been at a lot of signing events, and I do always make a point to

Janet Evanovich signing event – I’m guessing her first book signing didn’t look quite like this one.

check out the author/book and usually buy one. But it’s really easy to see the difference in how the author behaves having a huge impact on outcome. Some authors are standing, friendly, laughing, engaging with customers who pass by, while others are sitting, often staring at the table or the wall, with body language that screams don’t come near me! I’ll post about book signings another time. The point is, when is the last time you heard an author interview on the radio and dropped whatever you were doing at the time to rush out and buy a copy of their book? Think repeat exposure – building name recognition and STOP expecting immediate results.

Expecting to wait on book signings until your third or fourth book when you’re better known. I understand the logic in this, but I’ve seen from experience how it can backfire. Book signings are challenging enough these days, but building a following – particularly for a series – starts with the first book. I represented one author who had a lovely series that I really enjoyed who had employed this line of thought and didn’t hire me until the fourth or fifth book. I was shocked when I started contacting stores to set things up and found repeatedly that they weren’t interested. The reasons given primarily focused on low sales and lack of promotional activity for the earlier titles. While it doesn’t seem like entirely sound reasoning from my perspective, I heard it often enough to know it makes a difference to a lot of booksellers. I completely understand why an author would want to avoid the what-if-nobody-comes fear of a book signing event for a little known name, but I think if you’re in it for the duration, you’ve just got to plunge in and start from the beginning.

Expecting social media to do it all for you. This seems to be the most popular one these days. Tweeting and Facebook pages are all the rage. Blogs, blog tours, LinkedIn, Pinterest, whatever. You could easily spend 8 hours a day or more in your jammies from the comfort of your own home without even trying. And you could genuinely be busy doing things (besides playing Farmville) during all that time. But is it working? Is it effective? If you’re reading this, chances are you’re familiar with the blogosphere, Twitter or FB so it must be at least somewhat effective, right? Yes. In fact, it can be quite effective if utilized properly. However, it’s deceptive in its ease of use. A HUGE majority of authors using these social media outlets either don’t use it well (tweeting incessantly something along the lines of “buy my book, buy my book”), or don’t know how to use it well, or find that most of their friends or followers are other authors who are trying to do the same thing. Be honest. Of your 739 followers on Twitter, if 500 of them are authors, how many of those 500 books have you bought? And how many of them have bought yours? Honestly, if all 739 bought yours, which is highly unlikely, how many days/hours of tweeting time investment did you make to get to that point and can you do it again with 739 more followers? Maybe in time. I’m not saying it’s not worth your time to tweet. I tweet. I’m saying look carefully at the time investment vs. outcome. Because even the smallest radio program can put your book in front of several thousand potential readers in about a 15 minute time investment. Sooner or later the numbers will win out.

I could probably go on and on. Those are some things that don’t work, at least not if you focus all of your attention in that one area, which leads back to the original question. What does work?

I wish I could offer you a magic wand that would make your work instantly appealing to every potential reader that sees your information. Wouldn’t that be fabulous? But wait. The key isn’t making your work appeal to every potential reader. Hopefully if your work is good, it already does that. The key is in getting your info out there so more potential readers can see it. Then we trust that many of them will make the right choice and buy it. Book promotion – the effective kind – requires that you consistently increase the number of potential customers who repeatedly see your product information in a variety of venues over an extended period of time. That requires a well-thought-out plan with specific long term and short term goals. In other words, the shotgun approach probably won’t work well for you. Then again, even a broken clock is right twice a day and a blind squirrel finds an acorn sometimes.

What are your thoughts on what does and doesn’t work in book promotion these days?


3 thoughts on “Book promotion: What really works?

  1. I am self=published and trying to be more invested in the process. The only thing I noticed is that they are right when they say multi pubs help and word of mouth. I have trouble with the word of mouth thing so it’s going is going slowly for me. But one thing I want to mention is my experience with Twitter. I noticed that lately there are less and less of the so and so wants to follow you and less and less of the retweeting through courtesy thing. But. Earlier today I posted a blog and I tweeted the announcement. In one hour I had eleven blog post views. (I have ranged lately from 100+ to eight a day.) My post for the day contained the first chapter of one of my books that someone asked for. Hey, I know. They could have gone to Amazon and read the sample. But I couldn’t tweet about that could I? I am not completely clueless although I tend a bit more toward that side. Anyway, maybe not everyone who linked to my blog read the chapter, but probably some of them did, and on Smashwords I saw a bump in pageviews already. This is a bigger response to any kind of promo I have done except for the KDPSelect freebie. I have had varying results with that so the jury is still out.

    My blog traffic is on the increase for sure lately. And the commenting has been way up lately. But maybe my blog is more well-written than my books.

    (My first pub went up about a year and a half ago.)

    I am going to follow you. Thanks for the nice post.

  2. pjnunn says:

    Hi Virginia!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. And best of luck to you in promoting your work. Sounds like it’s working for you!


    • radine says:

      I loved these comments, PJ. They were encouraging, informative, and made me realize that obsessing over what I cannot do-promo-wise (like a complete and elaborate Internet presence on every imaginable list, twit, and group) is wasted fuss when there are many things I can do well–some of them with your excellent help. Yes, I am on lists, yes I blog, yes, I post on facebook groups I am a member of, and much more, but am at the limit of allowable time there. I also still find much value in face-to-face events and am in the middle of working with non-traditrional venues and bookstores to plan several fairly elaborate fall publicity celebrations for A FAIR TO DIE FOR.

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