If you can’t really afford to spend a lot on a book publicity campaign, carve out some time to do it yourself and apply these 15 commandments.

If you read the newspapers or watch TV, you know that advertising sells. But even those big guys who do all the advertising aren’t sure what works best when it comes to advertising.

A huge retailer once said that advertising works, we just don’t know how, why, or where it works best. Publicity is advertising’s less mysterious cousin. It is the more reliable relative because it is judged on its merit alone and carries the cachet of an editor’s approval. It also is surrounded by the ever-magic word “free.”

Book publicity and marketing are easily identified as kin. They often walk hand-in-hand and yet they can be incompatible. The editors of good media outlets will not allow the advertising department to influence them. Still, in an effort to be completely impartial, they reserve the right to use advertiser’s stories editorially if they deem them newsworthy. That is why it is helpful to use advertising as a vehicle that plays to the audience you would like to see standing before your cash register or clicking to buy your book online.

Advertising can be an entrée to the decision-makers. A contact in the advertising department may be willing to put a news release on the desk of one of his editors, maybe even encourage her to look at it. They can make no promises, but it does sometimes work. If you’re going to try this route, choose a “little pond” – a bookish brochure, an “arty” weekly, or a literary site – so the dollars you spend get noticed.

Sometimes a magazine or newspaper runs a special promotion called advertorial. These are sections where you pay for an ad and then the newspaper assigns a reporter to cover the story you want told. The article carries some of the prestige of editorial copy – that is the general reader may assume the article has been chosen only on its merits. The writer or editor you meet can be approached later when you have an exceptional story to tell. Publicist Erin Shachory handles consumer publicity and consults on advertising strategies. She knows that her clients hire her – at least in part – for her “great database.” It is something that, over time, you can build for yourself.

Still advertorial isn’t free when you have to pay to see yourself or your book featured. If you can’t really afford to spend a lot on a book publicity campaign, carve out some time to do it yourself, and apply these 15 commandments.

  1. Educate yourself. Study press releases that come to you from suppliers, stores, and other authors. Read books like the multi award-winning Frugal Book Promoter, now in its second edition. Take a marketing class especially designed for people in your field. Authors will find online classes given by most universities these days.
  2. Read, read, read. Read your IBPA and writers’ groups’ newsletters, your newspaper, your e-zines. Even read your junk mail. My daughter found a flier from the local library in the Sunday paper stuffed between grocery coupons. It mentioned a display done by a local merchant in the library window. Now we’re going to install one for my book, too! Rubbish can be the goose that laid the golden egg.
  3. Keep an open mind for promotion ideas. Look at the small details in your book. There will be hidden angles there you can exploit when you’re talking to editors. My first novel, This Is the Place, was sort of a romantic piece, so romance avenues were the obvious choice, but as it was set in Salt Lake City, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, I pitched it to sports’ desks and feature editors as Olympic fervor grew and after the Olympics were over when editors needed stories but weren’t receiving as much information in their in-boxes.
  4. Cull contacts. Develop your digital Rolodex by adding quality recipients from media directories. You reference librarian can help you find amazing resources that list every newspaper and magazine in the US. A good research librarian is like a shark: she’s tireless, and once she has her teeth in something, she won’t give up until she has what she wants.
  5. Etiquette counts. Send “thank you” notes to contacts after they’ve featured you or your book – hand-written notes are best. This happens so rarely, they are sure to impress, and your contact will be certain to pay attention to the next idea you have, even if it’s just a listing in a calendar for an upcoming book signing.
  6. Partner with your publicist and publisher. If you are working with a publisher or PR company, ask for help from their promotion department – even if it’s just for a sample press release.
  7. Publicize who you are and what you do. Reviews are great, but there are other angles of your personal story that can draw attention. What if you’re very young? What if writing a book is a new endeavor for you? What if you are a senior and therefore qualify for the many sites and weekly newspapers aimed at that demographic? Several editors were drawn to the idea that I wrote my first book at an age when most people are thinking of retiring and that I consider myself proof of the fact that it is never too late to follow your dream.
  8. Develop new activities to publicize. Don’t just do book signings; use your imagination for a spectacular launch. Get charities involved. Think in terms of ways to help your community. All the profits from my poetry book, Imperfect Echoes, goes to Amnesty International, and I let my audience know about that.
  9. Send professional photos with your release. Request guidelines from your target media. It never hurts to include a stellar Kodak, er, iPhone moment – properly labeled – along with your release.
  10. Frequency is important. The editor who ignores your first release may pay more attention to your second or twenty-fifth. She will come to view you as a source and call you when she needs to quote an expert. This can work for novels, too. I received a nice referral in my local newspaper because I am now an “expert” on prejudice, even though my book was a novel and not a how-to book. I now write poetry with tolerance as a theme and that adds to my credibility as a source.
  11. Follow up. Shel Horowitz, author of Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, reports that follow-up calls boost the chances of a press release being published. Voice contact builds relationships better than any other means of communication.
  12. Keep press clippings. Professional publicists do this for their clients; you do it so you’ll know what’s working and what isn’t.
  13. Evaluate. One year after your first release, add up the column inches, or the number of words you’ve generated in online press, including headlines and pictures. Now compare the ideas you pitched that got published vs. the ones that didn’t and figure out how to improve your efforts in the coming year.
  14. Set goals. You now have a quantity of press generated by your year’s efforts. If you were new to this, you should set a goal to increase that quantity by 100% in the next year. If you already have a track record, aim for 20%.
  15. Observe progress. Publicity is like planting bulbs. It proliferates even when you aren’t trying very hard. By watching for unintended results, you learn how to make them happen in the future.

Join Carolyn and a host of great presenters, speakers, and exhibitors at BookBaby’s Independent Authors Conference, November 3-5 at The Sonesta Hotel in Philadelphia! The Independent Authors Conference is the only writing conference dedicated to helping independent authors publish successfully. Register now! Don’t miss this opportunity to listen and learn from some of today’s leading self-publishing experts!


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Carolyn Howard-Johnson

About Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson has written 2 posts in this blog.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books for writers including USA Book News' "Best Book" winner for The Frugal Book Promoter. She has been an instructor for UCLA Extension's renowned Writers Program for nearly a decade and favors speaking and getting reviews as the top ways to market a book. Learn more at HowToDoItFrugally.com.

5 thoughts on “15 Book Publicity Commandments

  1. Not very helpful. Sounds like a lot of shouting into an empty cave. Not one of these suggestions would likely produce much visibility. Realize that no one has any credible ideas on the black hole of book promotion. This is what may ultimately set back indie publishing a decade or more b/c no solutions are emerging. In fact it keeps getting worse. Releasing an ebook now is worse than buying a lottery ticket … the odds are massively against you, millions to one you’ll gain any traction at all.

  2. lgj says:

    This is a wonderful set of positive ideas worth pursuing, obviously from someone with experience in this field. Forget the negative trash that the combative Carter character above spouts for he knows not what he sayeth. From first hand knowledge, her tips do work….I know because I am an award-winning author with first-hand knowledge of what works and doesn’t work. Climb back into your dark cave, Carter!

  3. Erika Lamoureaux says:

    I am a consultant who specializes in helping small mom and pop businesses grow and I use most of these “commandments” on a daily basis. Most of us don’t have huge advertising budgets so we need to learn to do it for ourselves. The above reviewer talked about “shouting into an empty cave”, I’d like to say that label can be applied to all promotion. I get that advertising and promotion can feel that way, but there’s a reason successful businesses, both large and small, do it: it works.

    It is notoriously hard to be able to track success. In fact most promotion doesn’t yield readily visible results, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. My clients who are dedicated and do things like work out cross promotions with other businesses and charities, join clubs, do their best to write press releases to get free promotions tend to experience double digit increases in their sales by the end of their first year. So, although strategies such as these tend to feel as if one is yelling into an empty cave, if done diligently they will pay off in the long run. What will not yield results is sitting back assuming promotion isn’t worth the effort; I can guarantee if you do nothing you will get nothing in return. So, try a couple of these commandments on your own, and devote a year to doing it, or you can hire me, pay me a few thousand dollars to do these things for you.

  4. Wow! These are great tips. I am working on gaining more exposure for my children’s books and I know that getting out in front of the right audience is the most difficult thing to do. I believe all these suggestions will help me find that perfect audience who needs my work and will love it. The only way to really know how to craft a great press release is to do research and see what works for others and what resonates with yourself. Making contacts is hugely important. I just went to a book event in my area this past weekend and met to librarians who were going to order my books after the show and offered to have me come and do an event at their library! I’m always looking for a unique angle to get my book out there and unique venues to host an event. Marketing is an on-going effort and doesn’t usually come naturally for us authors, but it doesn’t mean we can’t make great things happen for ourselves if we are diligent and persistent. Thank you for this post! It gives me encouragement to keep trying different things.

  5. Joanne Kenzy says:

    I read, read, read, trying to put together a great plan to promote my soon to be released one of a kind story poetry book. I have been wrestling with soft-cover vs hard-cover, as that affects costs tremendously. I visited my local hospital gift shop and they said all books must come through Ingram. If so, there goes 50+%. No, no, say I, I’ll give something else a try! I see first a commitment to a daily focus. Listen to one’s inner voice, as it will lead you to the best choice. “Excursions of the Mind” by JKenzy……www.thepoetqueen.com (still under construction), See you there!

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