What Works When It Comes to Book Promotion?

lbmugA new author asked me if I ever found a series of steps to take that have at least a small chance of working when it comes to book promotion.

That is a very good question, one I have been pondering for a long time. I have been doing various promos online for more than five years (I started with my blog in September 2007), and I don’t sell very many books, though my publisher assures me that ultimately I will sell many thousands of copies of each of my titles. I have come to the conclusion that promotion is what we do until luck finds us. If you don’t write erotic romances, horrifyingly violent thrillers, or vampire stories (or whatever the current fad is) that can catapult you into bestsellerdom, you will need luck to get your book discovered.  Many authors who have found success will tell you they did it on their own through hard work, but almost every time, a bit of luck played into the equation. And it’s always possible to get discovered — the media (which includes online and offline means of communication) has a fickle and roving eye, and it’s anyone’s guess where that glittering gaze will fall.

It used to be that you could do giveaways and contests to get attention, but there are tens of thousands of books being given away every day, so it’s almost as hard to give a book away now as it once was to sell it. And unless a contest somehow captures the imagination of people, they will pass on taking a chance (even if it’s a sure thing that they will win something) because they are inundated with hundreds of such promos every day.

It used to be that blogging would bring you a readership, but now blogging is so common that it is simply an expected part of being an author. Blogging can be a satisfactory and fulfilling means of writing and communicating, and it does help to create an online presence, but by itself blogging doesn’t sell books.

It used to be that MySpace was a good way to find a readership — the first authors who promoted on MySpace became instant successes, but when other authors signed up for the site by the thousands, hoping for similar results, no one paid attention to them.

It used to be that Facebook was the best place to find and connect with readers. The first authors who used Facebook to promote made a fortune. One guy became a best selling author by maxing out Facebook accounts (5000 friends is all you are allowed, so he had several accounts), and he will sell you a book telling you how he did it, but recently it came out that he also paid for reviews, so who knows what the truth of his success is. One thing I do know is that most authors are not selling tons of books via Facebook because Facebook continually changes their algorithms to keep that from happening. Where once I’d get hundreds of people seeing what I posted, I get maybe thirty now if I’m lucky. And of that thirty, maybe one or two respond. (Respond to the post, I mean.)

The first authors on Twitter, Pinterest, and all the other sites also made a name for themselves, but the rest of us? Not so much.

As for offline: authors who do book signings and festivals and such do well to a certain extent, but you have to be careful — I know several authors who sold thousands of books that way, but when it came time to figure out profits and losses, it turns out they didn’t make enough to pay for all their expenses. They’d have been better off just standing on a busy corner and giving the books away.

So, what do you do until luck comes calling? The best advice I can give you is to do three things to promote every day. It can be something as simple as signing up for Facebook if you haven’t already done so, adding a few friends if you have signed up, posting a photo on the site, or commenting on someone else’s photo. You could do a blog post on your blog or ask someone if they will let you be a guest on their blog. You can comment on the posts of other bloggers so that everyone who reads those posts will also read your words. You could sign up for Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn or any of the other currently popular social networking sites.

You can get bookmarks printed up with your book cover, a brief blurb, and an online address or website where people can contact you or buy your books, then pass the bookmarks out to everyone you see. You can get business cards printed up with your book cover on the front side and information on the back where they can find you and your book. You can get addicted to Vistaprint — once you are on their emailing list, you will receive sales notices, and over time you can get all sorts of great stuff such as t-shirts and mugs, stickers and posters, for free or for a nominal fee. Then give those out or offer them as incentives for people to buy your books.

You can do book signings and other events such as fairs, festivals, and craft shows. You can offer your services as a speaker.

The best promotion is one that captures people’s imaginations, so maybe one of your promos for the day could be nothing more than brainstorming with someone to come up with a totally unique idea. Or you can check out my Book Marketing Floozy blog for tips from other authors. Book Marketing Floozy is an indexed blog of sixty-five different articles by various authors about book marketing.

I don’t think it really matters what you do. Just do three things to promote your book every day.

My final suggestion — keep writing. The more books you have, the greater the chance of having sales snowball, but you also have to keep improving your craft. Just throwing out any old thing in the hopes of making it big won’t help you stand out from the crowd.

And that’s all promotion is — trying to find a way to stand out from the crowd.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Ready or Not, Change is Coming Your Way

Most of my internet hangouts and hang-ups (meaning obstacles to smooth progress for those of you who are too young or too erudite to be familiar with the term) are going through massive changes. I checked in with MySpace (one of the aforesaid hang-ups — it never seemed to be worth the effort) and didn’t have a clue where I was or what I could or should do once I arrived. I did like some of the changes — it’s easier to find things, but the constant barrage of ads is enough to give one a headache. Still, it might have possibilities, though many long-time MySpace fans seem to be abandoning the site. They say Facebook is easier.

Facebook itself is going through major changes. Not only did they revamp the group feature, which will eventually undo everything I have accomplished on the site, it makes it virtually impossible to keep control of your identity. Anyone can add you to a group without your consent, and that means that their friends and the friends of their friends have access to your information. For me, that’s not a problem. I go by the assumption that everyone in the world will see what I post on the site, and so only post what I want people to see. So far, no one seems overly impressed.

Facebook is unveiling a new message system, which supposedly combines email, facebook messaging, instant messaging, and texting, which means you can interface with anyone, anytime, anywhere. Quite frankly, I have a hard enough time keeping track of the people I am connected to. Most of them I’ve never met, so gradually I’m checking them all, and weaning out those I would never, could never be friends with. Perhaps a page, with it’s unlimited number of potential fans, replaces the facebook profile, but so far I don’t see the point. I do have a fan page, but haven’t figured  out how to make it work for me. Maybe frequent status updates? Or even unfreqent ones?  I do know sending an update (a type of message, not a status update) does not work. No one reads them. Or at least very few. How do I know? I sent out a coupon for a free ebook and to over 1400 fans and only three people took advantage of it. Of course, that could be me — maybe none of my fans want a free ebook. In which case, I’m back to wondering why I even have a Facebook fan page.

WordPress is undergoing changes. They retired the theme I used when I set up the Second Wind Blog. Perhaps the new one will work. I’d like to add book covers to the sidebar to make it more like a website and offer visual-oriented people something to look at besides the header, and the new theme has an extra sidebar. My main problem with the change is what it portends. I did not know Wordpress retired old themes. What if they retire the theme I use for my many blogs? I always liked the color variations I created (green, blue, purple, red, orange) and I would not be pleased with a forced change. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another blog that uses this theme, which I always thought was wonderful since I could be unique. But unique means obsolete in cyberspace. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Twitter is also making changes. I like my twitter profile, and even left space for my fourth book, Light Bringer, which will be coming out in the spring of 2011, but now twitter has added more features, the main section where the tweets show up is off-center (I prefer my main reading pane to be smack-dab in the center of the screen), and my custom made screen is defunct.

The friends I’ve made online remains the best thing about the internet. I’m hoping that will never change.

“Now That My Book is Out, What is the First Thing I Should Do?”

A newly published author asked me an interesting question today: “Now that my book is ‘out,’ what is the first thing I should do?” I ought to know the answer to that since I was in the same position not that long ago and will be again next month when Daughter Am I is released, but I’m still a bit mystified about how to promote effectively online.

So much of book promotion on the internet depends on social networking sites, which means that one’s promotion efforts have to start long before the book is ever published because you need people to promote to. That was the big lesson I learned during my first months as a published author. The internet is so vast that any message thrown casually out into cyberspace has about as much impact as a child’s balloon set free to drift on the wind. If you hand a child a balloon, however, at least one person for sure will see it, maybe even two or three. If you have “friends,” on social networking sites perhaps a few of them will see the messages you post on your profile and be glad for you. Or at least they will pretend to be glad for you since chances are they are promoting a book, too, and responding to such messages is part of their promotion campaign.

(Do I sound cynical? I don’t mean to. I am a bit disappointed that promoting on the internet hasn’t had the impact on my sales that I’d hoped, but on the other hand, I’m having a wonderful time meeting new people, discovering new books, rediscovering old friends, creating new relatives. In essence, I’m developing a whole new life, which is a thrill in itself.)

Some new authors send email messages to all their contacts, but unless you know the people personally, I don’t think it’s such a good idea. I’m hearing through the grapevine that spamming generally doesn’t have much impact on sales, and it only irritates people, which might cause a backlash. On the other hand, status updates on MySpace, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter are good, especially if you link the update to a blog article that tells about your struggles to get published or something else of an equally personal or helpful nature.

The secret to social networking is to be social. I admit I don’t do the one-on-one thing that well. I have a huge list of people I owe blog comments to, but somehow the days pass, and the list keeps getting longer. I’ve started responding to comments on my blog, though, which is a big step in the right direction. I used to think it was better to give commenters the last word, but recently my blog readers have convinced me they like a bit of dialogue, if only to let them know I read and enjoyed their comments. And I do. Read them and enjoy them, I mean.

I’m starting to ramble a bit here.

The point is . . . heck, if I knew what the point is, I’d be sitting back and counting my millions. Still, I have learned one thing — websites, blogs, tweets and status updates all work together to create something more than the individual parts. Who knows, that something may eventually turn out to be book sales.

Daughter Am I will be released by Second Wind Publishing, LLC in October, 2009

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I’m not a big fan of slang or lingo, but certain words are so simple and perfect in their way that it’s hard not to embrace them. Like “duh.”

My favorite duh dialogue comes from the movie “Love Actually”:

Karen: So what’s this big news, then?
Daisy: We’ve been given our parts in the nativity play. And I’m the lobster.
Karen: The lobster?
Daisy: Yeah!
Karen: In the nativity play?
Daisy: Yeah, first lobster.
Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?
Daisy: Duh.

How perfect is that? A single grunted syllable that takes the place of, “Yes, of course. It’s so obvious that even you should be able to see it.”

I had a duh moment last night. I’d been trying to figure out where to have my virtual book launch party, wondering if it would be better to have it on Facebook, MySpace, Gather, or try to find another venue entirely, when it dawned on me: have it here on this blog. I can set it up in advance, prepare a printable book mark, find images of scrumptious-looking food, and then when the books are finally published, all I’ll have to do is post the party, send invitations, then sit back and enjoy myself.

It’s so obvious, I should have been able to seen it immediately.

In other word, “duh.”

(BTW, you’re all invited.)