15 Book Publicity Commandments

book publicity commandments

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.


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From Independent Author To Professional Public Speaker



  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.

    • But it seems to me that considering these suggestions are better than not doing anything at all. I have successfully published and sold enough books to cover all my expenses plus make a good amount – all with some simple networking. If I had pursued even one of these suggestions, it would have even done better.

      I would be curious as to what you have found to work. That would help us all.

    • Stephen,

      “Realize that no one has any credible ideas on the black hole of book promotion.”

      This is probably the stupidest statement about marketing intellectual property I have ever read in my life. I wouldn’t bother to respond to it, except for the fact that someone might actually believe you.

      Who am I to question you? I’ve sold only about $10 million in intellectual property and related services (books, business newsletters, magazines, conferences and seminars, contests) for my own publishing companies over the years, and probably nearly as much for marketing clients in the past five.

      I learned what I know about marketing by watching what successful marketers do and listening to what they say.

      I clicked on your name. In the upper left corner of the link is a picture of a face in anguish and despair. Not knocking your “Come to Christ” message, but no wonder you can’t sell books: Your blog says the world is coming to an end.

      Last time I checked, anguish and despair weren’t the best of all possible sales pitches. Maybe change your message to one of hope.

      Also, do the research on how to market. You could start with Carolyn’s books. I plan to buy at least one, even though I already know a bit about marketing and promotion.

    • Hi Stephen. You sound very disappointed and despairing of what is possible. But it is very positive that you did read through Carolyn’s words-even if you now feel negative- they are embedded within your consciousness. Sometime soon, hopefully, you might ‘secretly’ give some of her advice-suggestions another try and potentially see some results. Then your cynical side might start to quiet down a little for you to try something else too. It so easy to become disillusioned when you look out to all the negativity that is spruced on the media but there is also some fantastic support out there by people who want to see others have success. So give it a try, and remember, the only failure is ‘failure to try’. Barbara.

  2. 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. 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. 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!

    • You have written another insightful, motivational, and logical article. Thank-you for generosity and for your practical advice. My mother’s dear friend Carol Connolly is also a poet and she leads a poetry group at the Minnesota Club.

      If you ever visit Minnesota, our guest bedroom is ready.

  6. Most of these comments are very helpful and constructive. As a musician and now author, I know that I create my work because I feel it – because I must. Of course, I hope to generate some income from it, but the inspiration does not come from merely thinking of the money.

    But then something amazing happens. Because I love what I do and do my best to radiate that enthusiasm, I get sales. I get fans at my shows, generous tips, and word spreads.

    But it takes effort, too. I regularly post news about my book (and gigs) in newsletters and wherever I can. I have to admit, I don’t pursue it quite a thoroughly as suggested above, but I am not afraid to “shout into an empty cave,” because it may not be empty after all. There have been times when I have been playing to an almost empty room and later learn that one of these few people was actually a promoter and they liked what they heard. Thank goodness I didn’t blow those few people off.

    And finally – it takes action to make things happen. Simply complaining about something without offering a constructive suggestion is not helpful. I learned that at a job a long time ago.

  7. Publicity set aside, facebooks, twitters, google plus and more… the worst part of this is piracy and peer to peer sharing. If you publish digitally, get ready for hundreds of thousands of “shares” of you book and no revenue. When I started this, I paid attention to these pirate sites, took screen capture pictures to document the amount of lost sales… Now I don’t bother anymore. Too may lost copies have been downloaded and for an independent it’s impossible to stop them. Consolation: people read the product. ;) ;(

  8. Being a professional writer is a tough job. Carolyn-Howard Johnson’s frugal tips have helped me get published and win awards. As an indie writer, I needed a mentor. She with her lists, books of frugal tips and personal contact has helped me feel more confident to swim against the tide of change in the publishing world.
    Thank you, Carolyn, for your dedication to our profession and your kindness in supporting upcoming authors like me.

  9. Advertising is paid for; publicity if prayed for.
    Persistence is the key to success.
    Do one thing each day to promote you and your writing and good things will happen.
    Do nothing each day to promote you and your writing and nothing good will happen.
    Very simple to figure out.
    Thanks to Carolyn for more ideas for marking ~

  10. Finding just the right way to promote your self-published book is not easy and may take a lot of trial and error. These suggestions are a worthwhile step in the process. If your story is good and you have put in the work necessary to produce a book worth a reader’s time and money, you have passed the first hurdle. At indieBRAG we read thousands of books a year to find those that are worthy of attention. One great way we have found to get your book into the hands of readers is personal appearances and book signings. If your book is good, this may help start the all wondrous word of mouth which moves your books up the sales list! Be creative, We recently had a romance author have her books featured in a fragrance store and they even created a fragrance named for her character. Not only did her book sell out, it provided her with a great story to promote, even the local paper picked it up.
    I hope we see you all in Philly – stop by and say hello!

  11. Hi Carolyn.
    Thankyou for your great advice-always. I have previously looked into the book you suggested and it is on they way. I also have published my first book and a second one almost out -at an older age-nearly 70. I remember hearing about a lady who always wanted to become a lawyer but her hubby was a traditionalist and wanted to be the ‘breadwinner’ while she was cared for. Anyway, even after the children grew up, he still felt that way but died just after he retired. So at 70, went on to study law- became a lawyer, worked in the family court area for 15 years and loved it. She made a difference to her clients and she sure gave herself that deep satisfaction. So, the moral to the story? Never ever say never-ever!. Namaste, Barbara

  12. Stephen, I think you’re more right than wrong. There is a lot of denial about this. Worse, the rules keep changing. What worked once to a limited degree no longer works. There comes a time when a writer must consider ROI; return on not just financial investment but time and energy. Life is short. Wouldn’t time be better spent with family or on something else that has a positive psychological return? Or if you enjoy writing for writing’s sake then what does it matter if books don’t sell and nobody reads them.

  13. You just have to “hit the pavement” and sell yourself to anyone and everyone. Eventually the “yes’ will come . I have been working on my memoir now for two years. I wrote it in 6 months but I have a Facebook page I launched in June, 2017, Too Phased, building followers and having them along for the journey. I have been writing queries to anyone I could think of and just heard no, no, and no. Finally, I wrote the two colleges I graduated from and they were all too eager to help me promote my memoir. Then, the hospital I got my first nursing job at want to help as well. Promote, do signings and speak. You just have to hang in there and believe in yourself and your journey.
    I am self-publishing because I believe in me that much. My story must be shared. As a college freshman, I was involved in a horrific car accident. Although I survived, I was now facially disfigured and would need over 30 operations to try and reach some level of normalcy. It spans three decades of me finally healing from the psychological trauma of being disfigured. My family’s journey as well, they were their with me and felt helpless. Too Phased by Christine Rucci coming in June.


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