Marketing Off the Cuff

Thoughts on Marketing from Member Authors

I think one of the most important things to remember (besides buying Janet’s PromoPak!) is to start EARLY in the process with your thoughts about promotion. Planning your promotion after the book is written is late.
Planning it after the book is published, printed and available on the market is WAAAAY late. Not that it’s impossible, but it does make things much harder than they would have been.

When you are writing your book, you must (unfortunately) think about things in a mercenary manner:
How can I tie this book into some event or special happening? – what sort of neat promotional things can I do to make people talk in a positive way about my book? – who do I know, or can I get to know, who would be willing to blurb my book? – what are the review venues that I want to get into, and what are their requirements?

That’s not a complete list, by any means, but the important thing is to start EARLY. For example, we’ve been talking about reviews lately. Often the bigger review venues want a copy as long as ninety days before the book is available to the public. That means you need to produce ARCs. Most reviewers don’t want electronic ARCs–they want hardcopy. A few are flexible enough nowadays to accept PDF files to review, but not many and none of the major review venues that I know of. (I am, obviously, not omniscient.)

We can often get in a hurry about getting our book on the market, especially when it’s our baby and we have waited for SO long to have it published, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot by rushing it to market before you can get good blurbs and some advance reviews. It’s sort of a chain of events: You want to have blurbs for the back cover, but those come from those people who have actually read at least an ARC. So, you need to make those contacts for people to blurb the book. You want to have a press packet to send along with the book when you hit the bookstores. Good press packets have extracts from reviews, quotes from the blurbs. And don’t rely strictly upon your own synopsis for the press sheet: every mother or father thinks their own baby is beautiful. Get the comments of OTHERS who think the baby is beautiful as well.

Here’s an example of a “neat promotional thing”: I published Sunny Frazier’s first novel, FOOLS RUSH IN. In it, a fortune cookie from lunch in a Chinese restaurant plays a part in leading the heroine to succeed. So, Sunny had a bunch of fortune cookies made up with the title of her book and her website on the slip of paper inside, and gave them out–sparingly! –at speaking engagements, signings and so forth. People LOVED those things, and it was a very creative way of tying something unique to the book. Sunny thought of this idea, not me. I can’t claim credit for it, but it was a great idea that worked very well for her.

Seriously, money can only do so much if you don’t plan your promotional efforts well. And if you do plan it well, the promotion doesn’t need to break the bank. – Tony Burton

Author’s Den
I just signed up and the URL is What a great free venue to promote one’s work. – Barry Yelton

My Space
Are you on MySpace? That’s given me some great networking leading to interviews and reviews. Wikipedia is another cool place to have your name out there, linked with your historical topic and historical fiction in general and whatever else is relevant to your work. I write Arthurian fiction, so I just started with the main topic of King Arthur. There was a list of modern works already started, so added my titles there first. Then I studied some of the articles about other writers.– Debra Kemp

The Page After Page bookstore in Elizabeth City, North Carolina sent me a note through MySpace saying they’d love to have my “group” at their bookstore for a signing. This in response to an announcement I posted about my little Meet the Authors event. – Marva Dasaf

Book Promotion
I recommend you take a look at what Elizabeth Chadwick and Johnny Long are doing. These are two very different authors with diverse approaches to marketing. Chadwick markets via a blog with excerpts of her books. She also participates on various discussion forums where historical fiction is discussed. Long maintains a website. He also writes articles and gives seminars. He occasionally offers free excerpts. – Jane Consumer

Consider starting a Web site (or blog) or even an e-mail newsletter featuring short articles on topics you think might interest your target audience. While you can plug your books through these vehicles, you are really plugging yourself. If readers have an interest in what you have to say, they will probably check out your books. You probably know the story behind ERAGON. Christopher Paolini was a teenager plugging his book to libraries and independent bookstores. He caught a lucky break when the son of a published author read and liked his book. But he worked hard to get that break.

When I went into self-publishing I made up a postcard with my book’s info and as many reviews as I could fit on the card, and mailed it to every independent bookstore and music store listed on the internet.
– A. Cooper

You can try Publisher’s Marketplace, where editors from some publishing houses, some agents and some writers advertise their wares. It can sometimes be a useful tool. There are also people and companies that make their living as book promoters (a kind of hybrid of agent, packager and distributor). I know of a number of firms doing this. – Stuart Mirsky

Advertising package
I purchased an advertising package with ForeWord Magazine. ForeWord specializes in the independent publishing market and advertises not to the average book buyer but to librarians, book-sellers and agents; within the publishing field, rather than to the general public. The package also guaranteed your book inclusion in a trade fair, where it would be marketed to book-sellers, independent publishers, and agents. Did we sell any books or attract any agents this way? That remains to be seen — I’ll let you know! However … just buying the ad package caused one of their ad people to rescue my book from the review slush pile, and it then caught the eye of their editor-in-chief. This doesn’t guarantee me a review from their editor, but my chance suddenly increased ten-fold. – Diane Salerni

Press Releases
There’s a template for press releases on Lulu. Maybe such models are available on the other PODs? You might just check for that. – Marva Dasef

Big Name Book Stores
You can find listings for Borders stores, B&N stores, Hastings and independent stores online. You have to work at it a bit, especially on B&N, but if you are willing to spend the time and effort, it is well worth it. I find that it is much more effective to call than to send an email. It is harder to hit the “delete” button on the phone! If you do a Google search for “Janet Elaine Smith cold calls to bookstores” you can find an actual script I did for somebody.
A couple of things to remember are that enthusiasm is contagious, nobody knows and loves a book like the author, it is just as important to have a “hook” for these phone calls as it is at the start of your book, and make it brief as they are busy people. Start in your local area, then spread out to your region, then to the rest of the country. If you have won any awards or have some great quotes from some reviews, be sure to use them. That way they can tell that other people think it is as good a book as you do.
Many Barnes & Noble stores have a “small press day” when they invite all the local/regional authors in for such an event. Check with the manager at your store and ask to be included. Borders are pretty good about doing signings too. – Janet Elaine Smith

Barnes & Noble
The most effective thing I found was to do very heavy marketing online of your book, directing all of your sales to B&N. The store managers can’t tell the difference in their database between an online store and a brick and mortar store. When it is selling quite well on there, then you can start calling some of the stores and telling them that it is selling well at B&N. They will check in their database and see that it is. It is sort of sneaking in the back door. Also, don’t ask them to order 10 or 20 copies. Ask them to order 1 or 2 to see how they sell. In some cases where I thought my books would sell really well (when I was with a former publisher that didn’t have them returnable) I even offered to buy them back at their cost if they didn’t sell within 6 months. I never had to buy one back.

A little secret I learned is that with almost all of the big chains, if they sell 2 copies, their computers automatically reorder 4 copies with no human interference. If the 4 sell, the computer orders 8, then 16 and it stops there, reordering 16 copies at a time if you reach that level.

And now, my apologies to Amazon for the above referral. As soon as my books were in the B&N “system,” I moved my online promotions back to Amazon. Why? I like giving my readers a break, and my books are almost always on sale for 32% discount here.– Janet Elaine Smith

Hastings Entertainment Centers
Hastings Entertainment Centers are the most friendly, fun people I’ve ever met in this industry, across the board! To find out go to and check the store locator. They are very open to book signings and if they can’t get your book in directly, many of them will let the authors bring in their own books to sell and then just collect a % at the end of the signing. Next, if that doesn’t work, I have found that by and large the independent bookstores are the most open and accepting of self-published and independent authors. – Janet Elaine Smith

Getting books into brick and morter stores – First the books MUST BE returnable or they won’t even consider them. Second, they must have a FULL 40% discount, which means 55% going into Ingram…
Also, make sure you have a good press kit up on your website. It is much more apt to get the attention of busy editors, interviewers, etc. these days than sending it by snail mail.– Janet Elaine Smith

Promo Paks – Janet Elaine Smith
I have put most of the “secrets” of the things that have worked for me, both online and to the bookstores, into my PromoPaks, which are available as an ebook from in their e books store. I am presently updating them, adding three new exciting chapters, and in a couple of months the “new and improved” version will be available both as an ebook and a print book.

One thing I will say is… distribution is critical. If your books are not available through Ingram, you are pretty well sunk in the water as far as getting them into bookstores. Returnability is a huge factor as far as the bookstores are concerned. They have limited shelf space, and they can’t afford to have the same old books there month after month if they are not selling. Another issue is the amount of discount your publisher (or yourself, if you are truly self-published) offers. If a book from a NY publisher offers 40% discount to the store (which means 55% to Ingram), even if it is a new author they have never heard of, and your publisher offers 10% (25% to Ingram, as iU does), they know they will make a few cents off the lower discount rate, whereas they can make a couple of bucks off the one with a “full discount.”

The bottom line is they are all in it to make money, and that means the publishers, the distributors, and the bookstores. If the author makes a pittance, it really doesn’t matter to them! And personally, I would much rather sell 1000 copies of one of my books and get less per book than to sell 10 copies and make a dollar or two more per book. And yes, the appearance of a book does make a big difference not only in the stores being willing to order the books, but also in the placement in the stores once they are there.

Promotion Tips
Leave a copy of your book on the table. I’ve sold a ton of books that way–one at a time. Also, if you see somebody sitting alone and reading in the restaurant (which happens more often than you might think) have the server take one of your brochures over to them, letting them know that you are an author. Also, if I hear somebody say it is their birthday or anniversary, I often give them a copy of whichever book I’m promoting at the moment. I hear back from many of them that they have not only read that one, but also that they have bought some or all of my other books. I make sure they are all listed in each book as well as my email address and website so they have a way to contact me.

Other places that have worked well are country clubs and golf courses. The people think it’s great to schmooze with the “not-so-rich and famous!” Also, coffee shops are great places. You usually can do readings there. Also art galleries, especially if they have a coffee shop along with the gallery.– Janet Elaine Smith

Promotional Services
Anybody else get an email from Substance Books? They’re a promotional service. – Marva Dasef
One of my favorite places is They have a paid subscription service, but they also have a free one that could keep you busy for months. They list a lot of places for interviews, and they have scads of book review places, many which will accept a pdf for review. – Janet Elaine Smith

Book Crossing
Another way to promote your book: send a copy traveling by signing up (free) with Book Crossing. They supply stickers that identify your book as a “traveling” book and give it a unique ID code. The idea is that you leave your book in a public place; someone picks it up, reads it, and posts information on the bookcrossing site (where they found it, whether they liked it, and where they left it for another reader to find). The best drop off spots tend to be places like coffee shops that are frequently mentioned on Bookcrossing, but almost anyplace will do. It is quite fun to learn that your book has made a cross country or even an international trip!– Rebecca East

Use Book Cover Picture as ID
Here’s an example of an easy one that you can all do. ALWAYS have a copy of your book in your purse (or for men, in your briefcase). When a clerk in a store asks for a picture ID, show them your picture on the back cover of your book. They might still insist on seeing your driver’s license, but you have introduced your book to one more person, and they were probably pretty impressed by it!

I stopped at the local pharmacy tonight to get some cold meds for my hubby. Some woman came up to me and said, “You write books, don’t you?” I said “Yes, but how did you know?” She replied, “I’ve read quite a few of them, and I recognized you from your picture on the back of your books.” Even if you are shy, that doesn’t even hurt!– Janet Elaine Smith

Vista Print
Something that might help is to have some printed promotional materials to hand people. It is easier to do that than to outright “brag.” I get all of my stuff from VistaPrint. If you haven’t used them, you are missing the boat. They send out sales (often for free products except for the shipping costs). It is loads of fun. They come up with the “most popular” offerings, but if you put a subject that relates to your book in the search spot at the top, well, the sky’s the limit! My all-time favorite is a hermit crab that is eating two little crabs. The words I put on it are “Feeling crabby lately? Lighten up with a Janet Elaine Smith Novel.” People love that one! I just sent an order in for Christmas promo items. Their quality is top-notch too. – Janet Elaine Smith

Business Cards

Ol’ FJ printed out her own business cards with pictures of book covers, address, telephone, email details on the front and on the back the ISBN details of each book of my trilogy. Then I laminated them and stuck them in my purse and filofax.– F. J. Warren

Using a Nom de Plume

Go into a bookstore and go to the section where they keep the genre you write in. Look at two very popular authors in that genre that sit side by side. Then pick a name that alphabetically would be right between them. How did I discover this fantastic truth? I always kidded my husband that he did me no favors by making me a plain old Smith–until I discovered that I fit right between Beatrice Small and Danielle Steele on every bookstore in the country! – Janet Elaine Smith


I highly recommend taking a gander at another free tool to see how I have used the tool search for the user name “merryhearts”: I have used these linkable multi-editor pages for a fictional convention flyer for shapeshifters, MorphCon, as the place to get info on my writers’ group, Ghostletters, where members can also collaborate on stories and a place to store research on my era–another place to put together a bibliography of books set in the dark and middle ages. Try that one, – you can click on the link to merryhearts to find the others.– Nan Hawthorne

Sell Sheet

I looked up the Yellow Pages Bookstores on-line and immediately was able to download the list of several hundred Bookstores in the Knoxville area. I now have a basis for a campaign to distribute my “sell – sheet”. This sheet has a color picture of my book cover and my face, plus all the stuff on the book cover, the ISBNS, and the fact that my book is fully returnable through Ingram Distributors. – David Linwood

Independent Publishers Marketing

Jjoining small press organizations is also helpful. I belong to PMA (Independent Publishers Marketing Association) and IPNE (Independent Publishers of New England). By joining those I have gotten my books into a lot of big book fairs that I otherwise would not be able to afford.

– Kathleen Valentine

Selling to Senior Readers

I received an invite to speak in Nov. to an organization called RAP (Retired Active People) and was told to expect about 50 people. That might be an avenue to explore for speaking engagements. Most states have an RSVP chapter (retired senior volunteer program) or similar active senior groups who are always looking for speakers – and they usually like to read. Or what about all the 55 and over communities that are popping up. Most have clubhouses and regular meetings.

– Donna Aviles

Caveat for speaking at Senior Centers

I think the worst speaking engagement I’ve ever had was at a local Senior Citizen’s Center. They asked me to come do a reading from my Patrick & Grace Mysteries (they are senior. sleuths) and to discuss my writing. Well, they asked me to speak right before the noon meal. Nobody wanted to listen because they were hungry. So, they asked me if I would mind waiting until after the meal. I said “No problem.” As soon as they finished eating they all wanted to get to their card games.

– Janet Elaine Smith

Absolute Write and Book Signings

Are you folks aware of Absolute Write? Don’t read too much or your feelings will be very hurt by their somewhat jaundiced view of self-publishers. On the other hand, there is a lot of good information in the forum. Here’s one link I found there on how to do book signings.

– Marva Dasef

Individualized Marketing Plan

As a work in progress, under a different title, I drove traffic to my website and gave away copies in a word document for the first year. The requesters gave me their e-mail, and I sent out the document and followed up with a request for feedback one and two weeks later. About 2500 outgoing copies yielded 300+ comments which allowed me to refine my story, but more importantly, provided further affirmation as to its impact on readers.

I took some of those comments, along with copies… to about 30 local merchants, asked them to read it, and followed up in another two weeks. Most of them agreed to carry the book in their stores for my launch and six months thereafter. A few of the shopowners continue to carry it a year after launch. They just like it. None were bookstores. – Dan Maloney

Books and

You might want to try I’m a member and they track when agents and publishers take a look. Everything is categorized so interested parties can pinpoint what they’re looking for. I wouldn’t expect miracles from this site, but who knows? All you need is one. Authorsden is another place where you can put out your stuff for anyone to view. Again, they track how much traffic your site draws, so you have an idea if anyone’s interested. They claim to have a million hits a month. Authorsden (to me, anyway) is a “who’s who” in vanity publishing, although there are plenty legit (meaning non-vanity) authors there as well.

Once your book is on Amazon, reviews help tremendously to boost sales. I’ve had folks tell me that favorable reviews convinced them to buy my historical fiction novels, despite the fact that they’re overpriced vanity books. – James Larson


I’m on Author’s Den and have never sold a book from anything I’ve posted there. I have not paid the monthly fee required to have my books posted in the author’s bookstore. – Marva Dasef

Historical Novel Society

Some of you may be interested in the Historical Novel Society . They publish a quarterly review of historical novels that is really excellent. They do review some POD books. With membership you receive two publications; one is all book reviews and the other interviews with authors and news about their annual conference. You don’t have to be a member to submit a book for review. – Rebecca East

Bloggers News Network

Consider looking for reviews from Blogger News Network ( Send an email with some sort of news release about your book and a contact e-mail and she’ll post it in the discussion group for those of us who write reviews. – Celia Hayes

Philadelphia Historical Society

I heard back from the President and CEO of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania who said ” I would love to learn more about your books and idea of having a book-signing event. We are always looking for public programs on Wednesday Evenings. We are programming from February next year..Are you able to send me some further details?”

I told her we’d provide a copy of our newsletter when it’s available. We don’t need to point out that some of the contributors are from outside the Philadelphia area, but we’ll stress that the book signing will involve regional authors.– Jack Dixon

Non-traditional book sales

My best off-line sales come from a soap and candle shop!

– F. J. Warner:

I have a little display of them at the private postal service I use. I give my friend, the owner of the postal service, a cut of the sales, and the books do sell, little by little. What’s been even better is that a couple of buyers invited me to speak to their book clubs – and members bought books!

– R. Poole Carter

Another good place to put them is in bed & breakfasts, especially in those near where your book is set.- Janet Elaine Smith

My wife buys a lot of Avon products from a local saleslady. She comes by every Wednesday evening to get product. When she found out about my book, she bought 10 copies for family and friends, which of course I signed for her. If you do business with anyone on a regular basis, be sure to let them know. There is often a sense of obligation or reciprocity at work that may sell some books. – Barry Yelton

Geneology Sites – We have a Yelton family web site on the general site. I got my book posted on that site and it generated a fair amount of interest because it centered on a common ancestor. I also sent an email or two to the web’s general mailing list, which is encouraged, announcing the book’s publication. If any of you have similar family web sites on the rootsweb network, you might try getting your book mentioned there. Some folks will buy it just because you’re family, no matter how distant. – Barry Yelton


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