Marketing Outside the Box


Today’s guest post is from Marci Nault, whose debut novel, THE LAKE HOUSE (Gallery/ Simon & Schuster), was a Chicago Tribune, Cape May Herald, CBS, and Amazon Premier summer read pick.  She is the founder of 101 Dreams Come True, a motivational website that encourages visitors to follow their improbable dreams. Her story about attempting to complete 101 of her biggest dreams has been featured in newspapers and magazines nationwide, and she regularly speaks on the subject on radio stations and television in the United States and Canada. Marci says,

I believe many writers have a hard time figuring out new ways to promote fiction. I decided to share the way I’ve marketed outside the box with the hope that it would spark a discussion on better ways writers can promote their material. I believe by working together we can get more people reading not only the bestsellers that get so much promotion, but the little-known writers making a name for themselves.

Follow Marci on Facebook and Twitter.

Marketing Outside the Box

At my first writer’s conference I asked a panel of agents, “How do you market fiction?” The room of aspiring writers and even some of the panel looked at me like I was crazy. One agent responded, “Well, that’s putting the cart before the horse. First you need to get a contract and then worry about it.”

But I was worried. I’d worked at a small press for nonfiction and had seen great books die because the writers didn’t believe they needed to promote. I’d also watched as mediocre books became great sellers because the author was willing to build their platform. I knew that the platform was everything in nonfiction, but how did the fiction writer build that same kind of following?

I worried even more as my novel, The Lake House, came to publication. There were online advertising campaigns, placement in stores, and book blogging tours. Reviewers raved about the story, but it seemed that everything was focused on the first six weeks and then the book would need to survive on its own through word of mouth and book clubs. I heard more than once, “No one knows what makes a book go, so move on to your next and build a career.”

I’m not the kind of person who can sit back. Call me a control freak, but I wanted a little more influence to get onto reader’s radar.

I came up with a plan outside the normal box. My book is aimed at women, so I’m sorry if my examples are focused towards the female population, but I want this article to open the conversation on how we can promote fiction better.

1)     Book Launch Party – These days it’s used mostly to celebrate with friends. I decided to cross-promote with local artists, wineries, theater companies, comedy clubs, and caterers. The outcome? I had a party that would’ve cost me over $5000, but instead was only $200. I signed more than 100 books, and people still haven’t stopped talking about the book or the party.

2)     Networking Meetings – Insurance companies, realtors, life-coaches, and businesses throw parties for networking. When I see an event advertised on Facebook, I’ll offer to do a reading at the end of the party when everyone is done with their pitches. It adds entertainment value to the function, and if there are more than fifty people attending, I have a local bookstore handle the sales. One party led to having a large online book club pick my story.

3)     Local Businesses — Look for wineries, small restaurants, and clothing stores where you can create events that cross-promote.  I found a struggling restaurant and a beautiful boutique that both needed help getting noticed. We’ve combined efforts to create a Women’s Night Out. My book is featured in their places of business and local media will be covering the event.

4)     Specialized Sales People — Everyone has friends who sell product lines such as Avon, Cabi, Stella-Dot. They gather their friends for home parties and display their wares at craft and street fairs. I offer to read at home parties with more than twenty guests. There’s always someone in the group with a book club. I also have relationships with many reps to have my book as part of their raffles. The sales people love opening the conversation with potential buyers by talking about my novel instead of trying to do the hard sell.

5)     Direct Marketing — Find a local company that ships products daily and ask if you can place postcards in the shipments. I do this through my bridal business.

6)     Your Activities — We all might sit at our desks working on our novels and marketing, but one of the best ways to promote is to have a life outside of writing. I’m an adult competitive figure skater and at each competition I ask to put postcards in the Goody Bags. Where in your life can you promote?

7)     Platform – With so many books on the market it’s hard to get media if you’re not already a bestseller. Look to your life and see what kind of story you can use to promote yourself.

I decided five years ago to make a life-list of 101 Dreams that I wanted to come true and to date have completed 90 of my dreams. By talking about making my dreams come true I’m able to promote my book through more media channels.

8)     Meet-Up Groups — Use meetup and find groups who might be interested in having you come to guest speak. is one of the fastest growing social websites where people get out and do things. There are groups of divorcee, sci-fi, yoga, mommy, pug-lovers, ghost-hunters, and everything in between. Be creative with your approach. Can they set up a special event? Can you do a tour with groups around the country?

9)     Specialized Tours – My book has many characters over the age of seventy. Instead of doing a traditional book tour I focused on retirement areas and found book groups in over-55 communities. How can you reach out to your character’s demographic?

Many of these ideas focus locally, but it’s all in hitting the tipping point where more and more people are talking about your book and sharing it on social media.

How do you promote outside the box? I’d love to hear about it.



  1. says

    Some great ideas here – I love the way you think out of the box. Although you’re doing it here, it’s not included in your list of ideas: guest posting. BTW, love the title of your book and looking forward to checking it out :-)

    • says

      Hi Mona, I hope you fall in love with THE LAKE HOUSE and it takes you away. I do agree that guest blogging is wonderful especially since it helps to cross-promote. I’m so grateful to all the wonderful authors who have had me on their blogs and also to the incredible book bloggers who tirelessly promote wonderful authors!

  2. says

    But I have a question: How do you market fiction? That’s an area everyone goes quiet on, and they start talking about things to do, rather than the platform. Most often, the “platform” is for one the one book and doesn’t think about the big picture of what the author will sell in the future.

    Several years back, I cowrote a (unpublished) thriller with a marketer. The novel was set during the Civil War, and we didn’t want to write on a regular basis about the Civil War. Cowriter got it in his head that we had to go reenactments and should dress up in costumes to help promote the book. I kept asking, “What about the next book?” because I could see he was thinking about the individual book as a product, not as us as writers who needed return readers. How do you market when the books aren’t all about the same subject?

    • says

      That’s a great question Linda. For me I have the platform of going after my dreams and I’m able to do more media than with just my book. But I don’t see a problem with promoting to different groups for different books. In fact, I think it would be wonderful. When people love an author they will return to buy their next book, this way you have more groups of people to grow your market. Does that make sense?

  3. says

    Great ideas. Although I have not had my own book published yet (I was published several years ago in an anthology series), I have spent countless hours developing ideas for self-promotion.

    Living in a small town north of Atlanta, creates many opportunities to self-promote any business idea that develops–radio station, community theater, coffee shops, where you could promote advertising on your website in exchange for 30-minutes of reading your work.

    I’m also in the process of creating a newsletter to spotlight my work, sending postcards with highlights from my work, and holding readings in the park gazebo.

    I also guest blog.

    It may be hard work, and sometimes tiring, but it is worth it to reach your dream. As writers, I believe we can just about market anything. We just have to do it.

  4. says

    Marci, thanks for these great ideas. One question: how did you throw a $5,000 launch party for $200? I am intrigued by the idea of cross-marketing with other artists. I have friends who are musicians and they face the same problem. It’s even worse for them because most venues only hire acts that do cover versions of other artist’s songs. Thanks for this great advice. Congratulations on publication of your book and best wishes to you for strong sales.

  5. says

    If you think it’s hard to write, just try climbing the marketing mountain to sell your book. I spent twenty years in advertising so I know a thing or two about selling. But unless you are Patterson or Grisham, forget advertising. So how to generate interest in a considered purchase of 5, 10 or 25 bucks when there are literally millions of alternatives? Marci’s on the right track with personal connections, word of mouth is key in selling books, readers believe other readers. And finding ways to make those reader-to-reader connections is the way to go. Other critical elements: make sure you get the “promise” your book offers across in your promotional materials, not just a description, but the emotional payoff your book offers. And think in terms of yourself as a “brand”–not just one book but an overall approach that appeals to readers. If you’re smart and lucky, you can get your “promise” to line up with your “brand” and get out there and make lots of positive connections with your potential readers.

  6. says

    Oh, Marci, your post couldn’t be more timely for me! My debut novel, Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel, is set for release on July 10 and I have been racking my brain on how to maximize marketing dollars and time. You have given me several very good ideas that I can adapt for my area. Thank you for being so generous in sharing your marketing plan. Like it or not, fair or not, publishers do very little to help launch books these days. I guess the upside of this is that authors have almost complete control over this aspect of their careers. Scary, but complete freedom often is!

  7. says

    Marci, I like your suggestions. Very smart! They do sound like they are aimed at authors who have a publisher. I’m a self-published author in fiction, so I don’t have that leg to stand on. A publisher’s name immediately gives the author credibility and acceptance into the industry. We s-p authors get a lot of no thanks when we try to open doors like you’ve suggested. Local bookstores won’t even consider putting a s-p book on their shelves or promote in any way. And readings at the local library create little or no turnout. As for trying to link up with other authors or artists or even social groups, many don’t want to be associated with an s-p author in fiction especially. And while I’m still building my reputation in fiction and getting some really good reviews, it’s a grind to know where to go to get exposure to readers for my 2 supernatural novels. Any other suggestions for s-p authors in fiction trying to break the barriers?

  8. says

    These are fantastic tips! I’m sharing the link on my Facebook, as well as my blog post for tomorrow. Thanks so much for bringing this information to us!

  9. Ronda Roaring says

    It’s funny that, despite the fact that I live in the Finger Lakes, a region in New York State with 11 major lakes and 50 lakes all together and 100 wineries, I’ve never even had an idea for a novel about about the Finger Lakes or a lake house. However, if I did, I’d certainly be making the winery circuit and have a book at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival (next weekend). Marci, I love the idea about cross-promoting as, in my mind, there would be nothing worse than arriving at a book signing and finding no one there. (I actually know of this happening to writers.) The meetup idea, too, is great. It does take a lot more creativity to promote a book these days, but isn’t that something we all have a lot of.

    Thanks for your post Marci, inspirational!

  10. says

    I love the idea of pitching your book to the senior audience. I can think of a lot of places to do that. Also I love tagging along with the “other” parties like tupperware. Lots of clever ideas I really found applicable, even if in somewhat different forms.

  11. says

    I live in a very small town, but we are part of a multi-county library system, and authors often tour the libraries giving talks, signing books, etc

  12. Margaret says

    Thank you, Marci — I’m with CG Blake, though. I want to know more about that $5000 party!

  13. says

    I have been worrying about marketing a lot lately and thus cannot thank you enough for this post. It was certainly one of the most original and hopeful list of tips I’ve found so far. Although some of your ideas sound very hands on and high toil, they are great ways to stand out. Marketing: we CAN do this. Thank you for helping to empower writers with hope and practical methods for promoting our own books!

    • says

      They can be hands on and high toil, but if you put your mind to doing something for three hours each week to market your book the rewards can be huge.

  14. says

    I love outside the box thinking and am just starting to think about marketing as my book debuts in April. Now I’m off to check out your book launch post–thanks!

    • says

      HI Kristi,

      I have to agree with you. It was one of the most amazing nights of my life! I can’t wait to see videos of everything I missed while signing books! Good luck with yours.

  15. says

    Some very good ideas, here are a few more:
    1. Your email should include a signature with links to your web pages and directly to a place to buy your book (amazon link, etc)
    2. In a web post, like this one, the image of your book should be a clickable link to the web page where you can buy it. (amazon, etc.)

  16. says

    This is a very interesting list, I don’t agree with all of your ideas, but it certainly is a great place to start. Writing the book is hard, no doubt, but selling is crazy hard.

  17. says

    Thanks for the post and the link to your book launch blog–already read it & commented on the page. I have another question: What do you have on the postcards you tuck in goody bags etc? Nice job all around.

  18. says

    Great post, Marci. I’m with a smaller traditional publisher so I decided early on that I needed to become known in my community. My humorous mystery series is set in the wine and gold country outside of Sacramento. Since scenes are set in real places, those venues hosted signing events for me. My character loves wine and chocolate so we’ve had very successful events at local wineries, candy stores and in Apple Hill. Most communities host art walks and those are a great way to meet readers and book club members. The best events are the ones where it’s a win-win for everyone participating!

  19. says

    Hi Marci,
    We would like to feature/repost this on our Author Marketing 101 site in August. These are awesome ideas/examples and in tune with our primary message.
    Thanks for posting this and let us know if you have any questions!
    Therese (and Morgan!)