How to Publicize and Promote Your Book: 7 Pieces of Advice

GIVEAWAY: In celebration of the Aug. 1 release of my new humor book, RED DOG / BLUE DOG: WHEN POOCHES GET POLITICAL, I am hosting a giveaway with this post. After one week, I will choose three (3) random commenters as winners, and those winners can chose any one of my books that they want to receive as a prize. Good luck to all! (UPDATE: Ronda R, Kenny K and Cathy won.)

Only 8 days (!) remain until the release of my latest political humor book. That means it’s a time for me to do what I can concerning promotion and publicity in support of the project. A bit of good news for me is that I’ve been down this road before. In 2010, my first humor book about garden gnomes was released and I got a close look at how the publicity machine works and why writers get coverage in some outlets but not in others. So as I start down this path a second time, let me share 7 pieces of advice concerning book promotion and publicity — all of which were shaped from what I learned during my first go-round in 2010.

1. Coverage is insanely hit-and-miss, so don’t be afraid to fire in multiple directions. After my book got mentions in Reader’s Digest and AOL News, I thought it would be a shoo-in for coverage when I notified the local media. Not so. The fact is: You never know who will be interested in your book, so your only option is to blast numerous outlets, big and small, local and not. (I often compare trying to garner book publicity to a blindfolded person firing in all directions.) That said, remember to personalize all your communication. Sending out a press release accompanied by a short, personal note will be much more effective than just a cold press release.

2. Your connections matter, so reach out to friends. Eventually, after contacting a dozen or so local media outlets, I finally did get print coverage in a magazine and two newspapers. So why did these particular outlets choose to help me while the others passed? Simple — I knew the editors! I used to write for these publications, and my former editors were happy to share news of the book. So work your connections. If you don’t have media pals, put out a call to your friends and family, and ask for introductions. If an old college buddy knows a local morning show producer or a relative knows a writer at a weekly newspaper, utilize those leads!

3. Bookstores cannot return signed stock, so autograph books where you can. In the bookselling business, stores can ship back all unsold titles to their respective publishing houses for a refund. This means that while Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million will order and stock your book, you get no money unless the books actually sell. But authors need to know that autographed copies with a sticker on the front cannot be returned. So every time I travel out of town to writers conferences to present, I stop by large chain bookstores and offer sign my books.

 

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The book is a humorous photo collection of dogs doing stereotypically liberal and conservative things. The official website, www.reddog-bluedog.com, shows examples of the book’s images/jokes. As my own dog is a rescue himself, I am very excited to donate portion of the book’s proceeds to no-kill shelters and pet rescue operations.

 

4. You want to get on TV as soon as possible, so never turn down an invitation to be interviewed. When How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack came out two years ago, my literary agent got a call from a major late night talk show inquiring about me and the book. The show’s producers wanted to see some prior footage of me being interviewed on television. But wait a second … waah-waaaaah. That wasn’t going to happen because I had never been interviewed on TV before. After hearing I was an on-camera newbie, the producers’ interest dissolved. This lost opportunity is what drove me to try and secure some on-camera time in 2012 so I had video clips on file for the future. In the summer of 2012, I was interviewed by a local news morning show and got permission to share the clip. Success.

5. Radio interviews are easier to secure than TV appearances, so seek out local stations and blog radio outlets. The simple truth is that books are not visually exciting and do not often translate well to the medium of TV talk shows. When my first book was released, more than a dozen radio stations interviewed me, but I did not appear on television once in support of the book.

6. Book signings are also hit-and-miss, so don’t spread yourself too thin. Almost no authors these days go on book tours. Unless you’re selling thousands of units each week, an ambitious self-funded tour is not financially practical. If you’re considering planning events, I suggest doing a few local and regional signings/readings (such as a book release party) to tap into your network of friends, relatives, coworkers and acquaintances. But once you start organizing readings beyond those local shindigs, it’s not uncommon to have 25 people show up for one out-of-town signing, then 3 at the next. And if you’re not attracting big numbers at a book signing two states away, you end up losing money on hotel and gas costs. To strengthen your sales, consider hosting “group events” — where several authors (connected either by region or genre) all participate in a single bookstore event. You’ll work together to promote, and fans of one writer quickly become fans of another.

7. Time is limited, so understand your publicist’s roles and responsibilities in the promotion journey. With both of my humor books, I have been assigned an in-house publicist who helps promote the book. If you are assigned an in-house publicist, or you hire an independent publicist on your own, the most important thing is to understand what each of you brings to the table. When Gnomes came out, my publicist handled all the “big” media. She was in charge of contacting national outlets and big TV shows and such. It was her efforts that led to press in USA Today, The New York Times Book Review, and more. My own promotional work complemented hers. I was in charge of contacting as many garden bloggers as I could and assembling a large list of names and mailing addresses for review copies. I was also in charge of contacting my own local media, as I had established connections from before. Because my publicist and I understood each others’ roles, we were able to work simultaneously and effectively without hindering one another by accident.

Remember that writing the book is only the first step of your journey. Writers must do what they can to help spread the word about their books. If you’re currently promoting your own books, I wish you good luck!

 

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About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.

Comments

  1. says

    Okay, I learned a couple things reading this. My only question for the moment–and I’m bound to think of more–what if you’re promoting an e-book. I mean, you can’t sign those and bookstores don’t stock them. So, any thoughts? Thank you.

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    • says

      Hi, Marta, I’m in the same boat…but mine are “estories” not full-length books. Social media is the game when no physical books are involved. The main thing is to make friends on social media, not to keep shoving “buy my book” messages. As I’ve studied this, people keep saying: keep social media social–and once the contacts are established you know who to pitch to.

      You may already know this–just my two cents!

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    • says

      I’m just learning about Kindlegraph, which will allow you to “autograph” an e-book. If you Google Kindlegraph, you should be able to watch the video on how it works!

      Great tips!

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  2. says

    Loving these tips. Very different to the usual set you come across

    It’s hard to get on TV and Radio, and I’m not sure what impact it would have, but you have to try to get somewhere. Thanks for the thoughts, Chuck

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

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  3. says

    Chuck,
    Thanks for the great tips. I had good results with 1 and 2 because of my background as a former newspaper reporter. Knowing how to talk in sound bites also helps. I have the same question as the previous commenter about e-books. Also self-published authors face daunting challenges getting a foot in the door at bookstores. Thanks again, Chuck, and good luck with your new book.

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  4. says

    Great post. I’m working on revisions of my YA novel about a dyslexic teen girl who wants to write for her school newspaper. When I’m not revising, I’m researching promotion. Thank you and best of luck with your new book!

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  5. says

    Great tips, Chuck, especially about the audio/video clips. I have media offers (blog radio, super-station radio, local TV) and hadn’t thought to request permission to use the clips.

    As for #7: Should self-published authors hire a publicist?

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    • says

      Not sure. I have heard positive and negative things. Publicists tend to be pricey, and there is no guarantee what you will get back. Your best option is to go with a publicist after hearing excellent, specific reviews from clients you admire/trust.

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  6. says

    Chuck, I learned a couple things about promotion, but what I’m really interested in is getting a good laugh out of politics. Can it be done? Are you the one who can make it happen? Dogs? They’re so nice. Did you have to involve them in politics? You should have used cats.

    It’s pretty clear, isn’t it, that I’m commenting just to win a book? I’m transparent that way.

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    • says

      To my way of thinking, Nora, you have to be more vigilant about promotion with literary fiction, but it might look different. One-line pitches aren’t as effective. You need the chance to talk about the structure of your story, and, especially, the process. Literature readers love that sort of background. Look for media outlets that appeal to literature readers. I listen to Writers on Writing religiously. Here’s a link to the host’s website: http://www.barbarademarcobarrett.com/. And she does a podcast.

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  7. Ronda Roaring says

    Great post, Chuck. It brought back to mind a non-fiction book titled Seasons of a Finger Lakes Winery by John Hartsock (Cornell University Press). Unless you’re interested in wine or live in the Finger Lakes, both of which apply to me, you might not be interested in this book. But I saw it for sale Saturday in one of the liquor stores in Ithaca. Then I read in the Finger Lakes Wine Gazette that the author recently won first place at the International Gourmand Awards in Paris. It reinforces what other writers have blogged on this space, make sure your book is displayed at all relevant sites, perhaps even your local church or synagogue. And don’t forget to submit it to all relevant awards. One must be as unboxed about promoting and selling a book as about writing it.

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  8. says

    I like most of these tips, but I have an ethical problem with number three. It’s one thing if you want to sign the books to add value to them and endorse the bookstore, but to do it because you want to trap the store into keeping the copies is disingenuous. Bookstores rely on the fact that they can ship the extras back before they settle the monthly bill; that’s how they can afford to take risks on authors and publishers they don’t know.

    By trying to thwart it, what you’re essentially doing is handing merchandise to someone with the promise that you’ll swallow the loss if it doesn’t sell, and then showing up to their business and sabotaging the inventory. So when they try to give it back per contract, you say, “Whoops, can’t take damaged goods. Guess you’re gonna have to pay me for them.”

    I’m sure it’s an excellent technique for the mafia, but writers should be classier than that.

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    • says

      Very nicely put, T. K. — I worked in bookstores for a lot of years, and that tip did not sit well with me at all. Plus, it does nothing to get your book in the hands of readers, which is really the heart of what you’re trying to achieve by promoting your work.

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    • says

      It is a myth that booksellers cannot return signed stock. They return signed stock all the time. I know writers who have found signed stock in warehouses, bought them as remainders, seen them in other stores which meant they were shipped back to warehouse and resold.

      This myth, however, is often believed by booksellers, who use it as an excuse to forbid writers from signing stock at bookstores. Signed books DO get sold more easily, so spreading this myth actually damages authors and no one else.

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  9. Rebecca Burke says

    Nice tips, e.g., the one about personalizing news releases.

    However, in response to Nora’s question: I really don’t think these great strategies and efforts work as well for literary fiction. You only have to look at the sales numbers of any decently written and promoted genre book compared to any work of lit fic.

    I have self-published three YA novels that can’t really be fit into any genre, and so they’re a tough sell despite some decent reviews, a nice award, and my credentials (university writing teacher, editor, newspaper book reviewer) that signal potential readers the books are at the very least well-written and edited.

    But how do you attract those readers’ eyeballs in the first place?

    I’m starting to think a writer of literary fiction has to do something more radical than pounding away at the usual social media. Like write a book that DOES slot into a popular genre–memoir, travelogue, paranormal dystopian steampunk (!) etc. I have to admit to a little bit of despair (or a chuckle, depending on my serotonin levels) when I see that cookbooks, diet books, and erotica with horribly clumsy production values leave my books–written and revised over many, many years–in the dust when it comes to sales.

    Fact is, more people want to READ those kinds of books than literary fiction.

    Fortunately, more and more websites are forming to help promote quality indie works. One of the best I know of is The Bookcast. Interviewer Bill Thompson has been reviewing books and interviewing authors–traditional and more recently indie–for decades, as a radio journalist and now on the web as well. If he likes your book and decides to interview you, prepare to be asked astute questions–and to bask in his enthusiasm.

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  10. says

    Great tips and reminders, thanks! And congrats on your new book. I can’t imagine a canine being a republican these days. Guess I’ll need to grab a copy and get the low down.

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  11. says

    Chuck,

    It’s great that people like you exist in this world. Most people are constantly throwing around their useless advice that has no benefit to anyone, other than to be heard. I’ve always said that if one isn’t sharing his or her valuable secrets with me on how I can make money, then his or her advice is worthless to me.

    Thank you for freely giving away valuable advice.

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  12. says

    Thank you for your informative article! Given that you were limited by seven tips, it was inevitable that you would leave out other, just as important, avenues. Here are some tips that have worked for me over the years. With four books published in the last eight years, I found the following to be valuable:

    1) Mail order – if you are a member of an association, or church, etc. You can get a hold of their directory and write to the members personally; include in the envelope a cover letter, a brochure with your book info, and ordering information. I usually gave them a discount with a time deadline. My orders were 50% filled, and I found that the best time to do this is two months before Christmas. This doesn’t get my Amazon rank up, but it sure sells books…

    2) Speaking and booksigning – the next best thing for promoting my books were speaking engagements. Although I haven’t done video clips, and I think that’s a good idea, I believe that a live person is so much better than a video.

    3) Donate books to libraries – this is much cheaper than filling out an ad in a newspaper. Your book gets to be read over time, and your readership grows.

    Best,
    Patty Apostolides
    http://www.pattyapostolides.co

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  13. says

    Thanks for sharing these. Very timely for me, as my memoir will be out in a mere 2 months and 9 days (but who’s counting??!) and I’m in the throes of publicity work now. I will keep this in mind and cast the net wide! (Also, loving your new book–can’t wait to read it!)

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  14. says

    Chuck – Interesting, thanks. As a PR pro, however, I’m not sure I agree with your comparison of garnering book publicity with “a blindfolded person firing in all directions.” Targeting is so important, even when casting a wide net. What’s really needed is intense, thorough research and careful aim coordinated with messaging appropriate to each person you reach out to — no matter how many there are!

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  15. says

    These are some really great tips. My only question is, how do you approach your connections / friends without coming off like a door-to-door knife salesman? Sometimes I find it hard to talk about my writing / music without it seeming like I’m trying to unload product. Any suggestions?

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    • says

      If you’re approaching friends and contacts with the whole message of “My book is for sale, please consider buying it,” then the trick is to only ask them ONCE. That’s it. Just one time.

      You can mention and promote the book elsewhere through time and platform.

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  16. says

    Great tips, especially Tip 6 about book signings. Not quite there yet, but I like the idea of several author’s working together to promote their work. Thanks Chuck!

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  17. says

    Chuck, these are great tips and suggestions. I don’t have a problem targeting AND using the shotgun approach. :)

    BTW, I had the priviledge of reviewing/blogging about your little garden gnomes. I can’t see one that I don’t think of you and your book. :)

    Best of luck with Red Dog/Blue Dog.

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  18. says

    I’m one who will save your hints. I’m also wondering if they will work on an historical adventure memoir. (Did I just invent that genre?) And I love dogs, political or otherwise.

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  19. says

    Chuck, thanks—I haven’t been killed by any gnomes since I read your last book. And since I’m trying to promote my new book of short stories, your tips are timely.

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  20. Diana Cruze says

    Your tips are informative as I am new to social media and also 70 years old. Yuk!

    But I have written and am almost ready to publish my first book. How about that?

    My question to you is that I am Blue (Democrat) and my cat is Red (Republican.) Do I try to convert the cat? Give her away to a nice Red household? Or just live with it?

    Thanks,
    Diana

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  21. Merri Jamieson says

    My book is at the editors and I am fearful of even thinking about publicity. I am a newbie who thought I’d just write and the rest would take care of itself. Thanks for all the advice.

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  22. Cathy says

    Love this compilation of tips! I never would have thought of some of these. I hope that I will have to put them to use one day.

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  23. says

    Thanks for the great tips! I recently was able to plug my middle grade book in my local newspaper when they asked for pictures of residents with their pets. I sent in a picture of my cat wrapped around my shoulders ‘helping’ me write on my computer with a mention of my book which, of course, has a cat in it! You never know when an opportunity will present itself!

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  24. says

    Hi Chuck. Thanks for the tips. Your dogs are cute enough to sell the book on sight.
    I’m a new indie. l Just recently published my first book. Currently mailing cards and handouts about the book. I also have some library talks on the schedule. I’m hoping to fineness my way into some radio and tv stations. It’s going to take some work as I am my own publicist. Please give me some hope and tell me I have a shot.

    Thanks again,
    C. Lynn Hightower

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  25. Leanne Flanagan says

    Chuck–Thanks. I self published a terrific memoir,
    “Swimming in Circles is Better Than Drowning.” It was my first self publishing effort. Did not sell well. I naively thought that the publisher I used and their “extras” for promotion would help.
    Your tips are enlightening and I am inspired to push forward to try and sell more copies!

    Lee

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  26. says

    Chuck, I bought your gnome book when you spoke at French Lick Resort a couple of years ago and you actually did a crit review of a synopsis of mine. I have two gnomes I can look at out the door when writing, but you know, after that book, I can’t look at gnomes in the same way anymore. I keep thinking they are going to sneak into my house and play havoc! The best with the new book. Looks fun too. Thanks for the tips. To the ebook authors-I sign post cards and hand out whenever I’m talking about my books.

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  27. says

    As one who has hopes, dreams, and aspirations – I enjoyed reading your tips based on your experience. These are great to help me along my journey, and as I plan. Congrats on your upcoming release!

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  28. says

    Very helpful information. I am hoping to finish my book and have it ready for publication by mid-year, and I think self-publishing is probably the way to go. As such, I realize the the publicity for the book will fall squarely on my shoulders. This article gives me several ideas of ho to orgnize my efforts to that end. Thanks!

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  29. Louise Szabo says

    this is a timely article for me as my self-published book – Travel Dreams and Nightmares – is soon to be in my hands. Now the real work begins and it scares the hell out of me. Thanks for the great advice

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