Sunday, 24 March 2013

How To Promote Your Book

This subject seems to be on my mind a lot this week. First, I went to a book fair with the small press I work for, spending a (very cold) day promoting our books and authors. Second, there’s been a lot of really fantastic advice around the blogosphere at the moment about blog tours. And finally, I’m putting an application together for a dream book-publicity job, so have been thinking about all the different ways in which I’ve been involved in the publicity and marketing of a book.

You see, I’ve actually seen this process from almost all sides now. I work with a small press, helping to promote and sell their books. I go to book fairs and conventions. I’m a reader and a fan. I’m a book blogger. I’m an editor. I’ve worked in a book shop and put up those pop-up promotional display thingies (those things are a nightmare!), not to mention BOGOHP-stickered my way through the bestsellers chart a gazillion times, and helped customers choose that special something for them (“I’m looking for a book and I can’t remember the author but I know the cover is pink, do you have it? Also do you sell blue-tack?”).

In fact, I think the only perspective I haven’t directly experienced is the author’s, though I’ve worked quite closely with a few, and, well... hopefully one day I’ll be in that position too! *eyes manuscript-in-progress and guiltily closes Pinterest*

So, I thought I’d expand on the whole blog tour advice thing and give some thoughts on how to promote your book. This is aimed mainly at debut authors, as well as the independent and small press authors who don’t have the power of a major publishing house’s publicity team behind them. But it’s important to remember that even big authors are expected to take an interest in their own publicity, and really, the more anyone can do promote themselves well, the better. (N.B. the word ‘well’ is important there. Despite what they say, not all publicity is good publicity, especially if it comes from spamming people on Twitter or having a meltdown on public forums.)

This is going to be quite a long post, but I hope some will find it useful! I’m so grateful to authors for all the wonderful books they’ve given me... if I can give something back, even a little, then I’m happy to do so.

Editing and Book Design

This is so important. Even before you begin to promote your book, think about what the cover and overall design says about it. Not everyone will have control over this stage, of course, but if you’re self-publishing, do spend some money on good editing and design.

If there are stupid mistakes, or if the plotting, characterisation or pacing seems sloppy, then the book won’t get very good ratings. If the cover is not intriguing, people might not even pick it up in the first place. Both of these will damage sales because your book is more likely to be ignored. Even the best blog tours and social-media wizardry might not be enough to recover from this.

Never underestimate the power of the cover. I’ve seen first hand at book fairs that the small press tables with the prettiest, most colourful book covers attract the most attention. (And a bowl of free chocolates helps too!)

Covers That Pop

One of my favourite covers
So how do you create a cover that grabs attention?

DON’T just slap stock art on it. There are a lot of posts on the internet giving advice about how to manipulate stock art on Photoshop to turn it into something eye-catching. If you don’t feel confident enough to do this, there are also plenty of people who offer these services online. Check out their previous work and choose carefully, but there are some great people out there and this will be money well spent!

DO consider commissioning artwork for the cover. I don’t see this done a lot by independent authors, and the danger with stock art is that it can pop up on several different books. Check out DeviantArt – there are some amazing artists on there. Do make sure you set all terms etc beforehand and offer the artist a reasonable fee. And whatever you do, NEVER take someone’s artwork without asking.

DON’T use standard or cheesy fonts. You’ll have to manipulate the font to make it look less... well, font-like. Go to a book shop and look at book covers. Consider paying for fonts online rather than using the standard ones. Don’t go crazy. Don’t use too many effects on one word. If in doubt, as with the images, consider paying a professional to do this for you.

DO look at other book covers for inspiration. What works for you and what doesn’t? Which books are popular and what makes them stand out? Type in ‘great book covers’ into Google and analyse what comes up. Don’t copy other people’s covers; come up with something unique and interesting.

Getting Your Book into the Shops

ProfDEH/wikimedia commons

This is hard. Really hard. Supercalifragilistically hard if you don’t have a major publisher behind you. And even then, books are always competing for shelf space and if you don’t sell well enough, then the shop won’t order more of your book.

But... want to know a book shop secret? If you can offer the shop an event, something to draw in customers, then they may just order in your books to sell at the event. They might not accept a book signing if you’re self published or small press and they haven’t heard of you. So that means it’s time to get creative...

Try offering a writing workshop. Or a talk on something that relates to your book but that can be expanded, such as women in the fantasy genre, or a particular historical period in fiction. Make sure it’s something interesting that will be likely to draw people to the shop. For example, if a particular town features in your book, why not go to a book shop there and suggest a talk on that town’s history and its appearance in fiction? Go to bookshops in your home town too; there is often a section for promoting local authors.

If the shop agrees to the talk or workshop, they are likely to order in a bunch of your books to sell at the event. Anything left over will hopefully go on the shelves. Bam! Your book is in a book shop that would probably have said no otherwise.

The Power of Blogs

Matthieu Riegler/wikimedia commons
Blogs can be very important in the promotion of a book, but they are not magical and bloggers aren’t miracle workers. You need to know how to approach and interact with blogs correctly if you want to see results.

RESEARCH. Find the blogs that are right for your book. Have a look at their content and the kinds of books they usually review. Don’t try to send an erotica novel to a blog that says it is child-friendly. Don’t send crime books to someone who doesn’t review crime.

That’s pretty simple, yes, but you also need to think about what kind of books they review. Don’t just send your fantasy book to someone who reviews fantasy. Let’s say you’ve written a very dark, gruesome kind of fantasy and this reviewer hates that kind of story. Let’s say you’ve written very mind-bending science fiction, but this reviewer tends to prefer a space opera romp. You might still decide to send them your book, but at least try to get an idea of what the blogger likes and doesn’t like.

Also consider NON-BOOK BLOGS. If you’ve written a story based strongly around cooking, or knitting, or another hobby, it might be fun to look at some of those blogs too. Don’t solely target them, but taking a chance on one or two might reach an audience you would otherwise have missed. If you’ve written a TV or game tie-in story (make sure you have the rights to do so if you have!), or if you’ve written a superhero story or something that strongly connects to geek culture, then check out those kinds of sites too. E.g. Gaming sites and blogs might be interested in a story in which games feature heavily.

Some sites might also review books even if this is not what they are primarily known for. If these reach a wide audience, they are definitely worth approaching too. SFX, for example, for science fiction and fantasy stories.

READ the site’s guidelines. Most blogs have review guidelines. Read them and stick to them. Don’t pester people.

APPROACH bloggers politely. When emailing bloggers, use their name (most will provide it on their ‘about page’ or in the side column on the blog). Don’t attach the book in the review request email; it can seem a bit presumptuous. Don’t tell them you expect a good review, and if you need the review by a certain date, politely make this clear and don’t be surprised if the blogger can’t guarantee this. Never ask the blogger to buy your book and then review it.

Don’t assume that everyone will jump at the chance to have a free book either. There are a lot of free or very cheap books on Amazon. Library books are free. Book bloggers are doing this because they love reading. They buy books anyway, and usually have a huge ‘to read’ pile. Most book bloggers probably consider time more important than money. If you want to convince them to read your book, you have to convince them that it is time well spent, time that they could have been reading something on their ‘to read’ shelf. In most cases, bloggers are very interested in hearing about your book, and if it sounds good, they’ll probably say yes. If they say no, accept this and move on.


Estoy Aqui/wikimedia commons

The main kind of book posts we see on blogs are reviews. This is probably what you’re thinking of when approaching bloggers. Reviews are important, and they can make or break books, but there are some misconceptions about them. The biggest is that only good reviews sell a book.

Well, obviously good reviews are important, but bad reviews can be helpful too. Bad reviews show potential readers that this book isn’t just being hyped by friends and family members. Bad reviews show that some people were passionate enough about the book to hate it. Bad reviews have sometimes made me pick up a book, if I thought the reviewer disliked an element that I would love. I’m more likely to read a bad review than a mediocre review because I know it will be interesting.

Bad reviews are often well-written and funny. However, they can sometimes be snarky, and will certainly come across as mean to the author involved, so it may be a good idea to leave bad reviews unread. A lot of authors do this; in fact, it’s fine not to read any of your reviews.

And please don’t ever argue with a reviewer or leave nasty comments on a bad review. I realise how much of an author’s heart and soul goes into their book, but remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and that bad reviews can actually be good for you. It’s too many ‘meh’ reviews, or, worse, no reviews at all that should worry you.

And don’t forget, when looking for bloggers to write reviews, don’t neglect Goodreads! There are some people who review only on Goodreads, but nevertheless I read their reviews and listen to their opinions. Many bloggers will also cross-post to Goodreads as well as their blog. But don't overestimate Goodreads either. There are plenty of readers who don't use it, so don't focus all your efforts here.

Don’t just target the bigger blogs either. Some blogs have a lot of followers but only write very short reviews. Target some of those, but also look at the smaller blogs that have a smaller but more tight-knit community of followers. Look at the blogs that write very thought-out, in-depth reviews too. Look at how bloggers interact on social media. Look at whether they take part in blogging events such as read-a-thons or challenges. A review linked up to a challenge page, even if from a small blog, could attract a lot of readers. Go for a range of all of these.

Finally... it’s not just about blogs. Admittedly this will be harder for the new author or the independent author, but think about sending review copies to newspapers and magazines too. Blogs are important, but traditional forms of publicity still work!

Remember: bloggers are usually unpaid and doing this for a hobby. They do not owe you anything. Approach them as you would approach anyone you’re asking a favour of.

Guest Posts and Interviews

Reviews are really important, but are not always the most useful kind of post to attract new readers. Consider asking a blogger if you can provide a guest post for them.

Okay, but what’s a guest post about? Well, it can be anything you want. You could talk about yourself and your writing, you could talk about the characters in your book, you could offer writing advice, or talk about other authors you love, or tell us how you created your cover, or share your favourite romance scene, or talk about a day in the life of you, or talk about the historical context of your book, or anything you like. I’ve seen all of the above done very successfully.

You could also offer an author interview. Let the blogger come up with their own questions and try to give interesting answers. Remember, you’re selling yourself as much as your book at this point! You could even try to do a skype or instant messenger chat with the blogger so that the interview is more of a dialogue. Or have you thought of doing a Google+ hangout, or a Twitter chat? What about a video interview for a vlog? Get creative!

The advantage of non-review posts is that they allow potential readers to see more about who you are, or learn more about the world and characters of the book. When done well, these are fun and engaging, often much more so than a review. It’s important to promote your book, but just as important to promote its author... you!

Book Fairs, Cons, and Signings

Luigi Nova/wikimedia commons
Make sure you attend conventions if at all possible! I’ve met so many lovely authors at conventions and then gone on to buy their books. If you can take part in panels, do readings or give workshops, these are all incredibly helpful for getting you and your book noticed. It’s not just authors who attend these either. You’ll see the big publishers and their publicists there (often at the bar), agents (also at the bar), and small presses (bar!).

Hang around the bar and the cupcake table and talk to new people. If you’re an author, sitting at a table and trying to sell your book probably won’t be as useful as simply joining in with the events and talking to people. Publishers, small presses and book sellers might set up stalls somewhere or run workshops (we’ve had some successful workshops at events). Go see them and network with them too. Politely point people to your own publisher’s table. If authors are at the same convention or book fair where we are selling their book, we tend to see a significantly higher amount of sales of that book. Direct people to your friend’s book too, and they will do the same. Authors of the same presses and agents unite!

And remember, if you are sitting at a table doing a signing or selling your book, anything to attract people to you is good – posters, colourful signs, piles of your books displayed nicely, bowls of chocolates, free wine, cupcakes... Don’t forget the details either – a shabby poster and stained table could make a bad impression. Bring wipes to clean spilled tea, spare pens for signings, fresh promotional material, a pad of paper to write down someone’s details or prop under a wobbly table leg, and so on. Be prepared!

Blog Tours

Blog tours are a virtual book tour. Instead of physically travelling to different book shops to do signings, you stay at home and virtually travel to different blogs. The advantages are that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on hotels and travel, and that you get to engage with a lot of bloggers and readers, potentially more than if you’d toured book shops. Disadvantages are that you don’t meet readers face to face, and you’re unlikely to sell huge amounts of books as a direct result of the tour.

As long as you go into a blog tour knowing that it is more about the publicity than the sales, then you shouldn’t be disappointed. Make sure you research well and choose the right blogs for you and your book. If using a Blog Tour company, have a look at their previous tours and ask them questions about the process.

You will only get out of a blog tour what you put into a blog tour. Engage with the blogs, engage with the readers, answer comments and interact. Give guest posts and interviews and don’t just rely on reviews. Offer your book as a prize in giveaways. Paying for a blog tour and then not engaging with it is a little like paying for a cardboard cut-out of you to sit at a book signing, and then wondering why people are not more interested in you or your book.

And remember that blog tours might not always be the answer. You can still approach blogs about guest posts, interviews and reviews even if it’s not part of a tour.

There are a lot of excellent posts around the blogosphere at the moment about blog tours, with more information on the process and how to get as much out of it as possible. Here are some of the best that I have seen:

Strange Chemistry

Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

Nyx Book Reviews

Tor Books Blog (about publicity in general)


eyehook/wikimedia commons
Giveaways are a good way to drum up interest in your book, but there are some things to bear in mind:

- Not all readers are in the USA. International giveaways will gain more goodwill and excitement, but may cost you more. Check postage costs first. Remember that the Book Depository ships free to most places in the world.

- Physical book giveaways will always be more popular than e-book giveaways.

- Signed books make a great prize.

- Consider offering swag – bookmarks, posters, bags, pens... get creative. The more personal, or themed to your book, the better.

- There are events called ‘Giveaway Hops’ on blogs, where each blog gives a long list of the other participants in the hop. These are going to get a significantly higher amount of entrants, so offering your book to these could be a good idea. In fact, why not consider adding your own blog to the list of blogs taking part?

- Blogoversaries. Every blogger has them... the birthday of their blog. They usually give away prizes, and they might be delighted to offer your book as part of them. Don’t be offended if they don’t want to give it away, though. It’s their choice.

- Goodreads! Goodreads is your friend. Try to do at least one Goodreads competition for your book if you can.

- If you really want to get a lot of people interested in your giveaway, you could offer a more generic prize such as a book of their choice or an Amazon voucher, and then give away your own book as a second prize. Giveaways with more generic prizes tend to get more entrants, but make sure you don’t make it look too much like you’re undervaluing your own book. Don’t make it the ‘runner-up’ prize, but rather one of a number of prizes.

- There are some sites that do author-collective giveaways. They team together to offer something amazing like an I-pad, and then put their own books in as additional prizes. This might be expensive, but the more authors taking part the cheaper it is. It’s the entry options that really benefit you here. Lots of entrants are attracted by the grand prize, and in order to win it they may add your book to their Goodreads shelf, or follow you on Twitter. You’ve then gained a little more interest in you and your book... use it wisely and convince them to stick around after the contest is over!

Other Stuff

Peter Marquardt/wikimedia commons
There are so many other ways to promote a book that I couldn’t possibly go into them all here, and this post is already diabolically long. It’s about being creative and thinking outside the box, but also about understanding your book and its target readers. Here are some quick ideas:

Podcasts. Research, listen, ask. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Short Stories. Shorts set in the world of your book. Send to magazines, post on your blog, or guest post on other blogs. An author who recently used short stories in a unique and very successful way to promote her book is Emma Newman.

Launch Parties. Invite bloggers and reviewers. Invite readers and fans.

NetGalley. A site where reviewers can request ARCs (advanced review copies). You have to pay to put your books on here, however, so this is really only viable for publishers, or for independent authors who team up.

Social Media. Don’t spam messages to buy your book. Be a fun, kind and interesting person and people will find your book. I’ve seen lots of different suggested ratios – e.g. 1 in 10 tweets should be promotion, or only 1 message a day should be about promotion, or always balance every promotional blog post with one about something else... but really these all boil down to the same thing: don’t make it all about you all the time.

Interaction. Talk to your readers. Offer for them to give ideas or character names for you to weave into your stories. Join in conversations about other books, or films or games. Be somebody that people want to talk to.

New Online Ideas. Keep a look out for new bookish internet opportunities. E.g. You could make Pinterest boards inspired by your book (something Trudi Canavan does very well). You could add your book to Book Drum or commission a profile. You could chat on forums dedicated to your genre, like many fantasy authors do on the Fantasy Faction forums.

Book Trailer. I actually don’t like these very much and probably wouldn’t be swayed by one, but other people are, so they are worth doing if you have a video camera and know how to edit. Pop it on YouTube and on your blog, and see if other blogs want to share it too. Unless you have the skills, however, this is probably best avoided. A bad book trailer might do more harm than good.

Library Events. Don’t neglect libraries!

Details Details Details. Don’t arrange your own blog tour and not make a banner for it. Don’t go to an event without business cards or other promotional material. Be prepared to sell the book with a few quick sentences to anyone! We asked someone at the book fair what his book was about and he rambled for a bit and I still don’t know what it was about. Another person had a mini-blurb and a one-page synopsis prepared.

And Always Keep an Eye Out for Opportunities!


  1. Wonderful, well thought out post...and so many great tips!

  2. hmmm.. interesting! promoting a new book is lil hard, we need to have more publicity in order to market our books. Thanks much for sharing this great post, you made my day. :)

  3. Dear Ms. Hooper, Excellent advice! And a volume of it, too! Many thanks. You are extremely helpful to emerging authors, and your karma will benefit! At some point, could you address the difficulties facing the non-fiction author? There seem to be absolutely no blog tours for them! Best, Mary Harris