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8 Book Marketing Shots In The Dark

8 Book Marketing Shots in the Dark

Debbie Young on the terrace of the House of Commons wearing a bright red beret

Wear something noticeable – Debbie Young has made berets her trademark, though they're not always as bright as the one she wore to fly the flag for ALLi at the House of Commons last year where she was a guest of ALCS

On the last Thursday of the month, we round up off-the-wall book marketing ideas and serendipitous book promotion success stories  that have worked for ALLi members. We hope these posts inspire you to try some of these ideas for yourself – and if you have more to add, please send them in for next month, or add them as comments to the foot of the post.

1) Wear something memorable

If going to a big writing event or conference, I find wearing a hat helpful for getting noticed, especially when at an event with lots of people or when speaking on a panel. I heard someone say after a conference panel session recently “I want to talk to the lady in the red hat”. I've even added “fond of berets” to my Twitter profile, and it's effectively turning into a bit of branding. Historical novelist Helen Hollick even has a specific author hat that she wears in her publicity pictures, and people recognise her straight away at events. While not everyone likes hats, there may be other items of remarkable clothing that you can make a bit of a trademark. I'll leave you to think up your own ideas on that one!

Helen Hollick wearing a cream hat

Helen Hollick, with her author hat on – literally!

2) Chat up strangers on a train

I don't know whether or not he'd specifically trained her (groan) for this, but the wife of Welsh author and ALLi's technical manager David Penny recently sold copies of his medieval Spanish crime mysteries to American tourists to whom she'd got chatting on a train journey. When they asked what she did for a living, she said “We're retired, but my husband writes books” and proceeded to give them an enticing summary. “That sounds like just our cup of tea!” came the reply, as they pulled out their ipads to make an online ebook purchase. That was their holiday reading sorted.

In a similar vein, I recently had a phone call from the landlord of a pub in a part of the country in which my husband was spending a couple of days with his best friend touring in our camper van. The landlord's opening gambit: “I don't know what his name was, but your husband was in here last night, he says you're the person I need to speak to about how to sell self-published books.”

Moral: keep your nearest and dearest informed about your books, because you never know when they might get the chance to be your ambassadors.

3) Use your car as an advertising vehicle

Leave your book or promotional material on public view as a conversation starter. Leaving the Cheltenham Authors Alliance meeting last month, I spotted local author Alan Moyes‘  poster for his book on the back shelf of his car, carefully placed on the pavement side where people would walk past and see it. (Alan had just joined our group.) It's a striking cover, and the rest of his car was immaculate, so my eye went straight to his poster. A helpful subliminal message was that  he has a very smart car, so not only did it make an attractive backdrop for the poster, it suggested high sales! (Note to self: must tidy car.)

4) Pitch books to non-bookstores

Table display in shop featuring book

Self-published book of stories about marriage prominently displayed in the weddings section of a gift shop

Jump aboard the new trend for non-book shops to cherry-pick and display a few books that match the lifestyle they're selling to customers. Think laterally about your readers – where would they shop? What kind of specialist shops would they go into? For example, US novelist Karen Myers has been very successful selling her fox-hunting novels through hunting supplies stores. I've sold my Christmas collection of short stories via gift shops before, and I was thrilled to spot my stories of love and marriage, Marry in Haste, not only in a wedding-themed window display at Kondi Gifts in Bristol, but also prominently displayed on a table inside. Strong covers can work as handy accessories for window-dressers. Ask yourself what shop window your books would look at home in.

5) Find other places your target reader might shop

Irish author Lorna Sixsmith, who writes books about being a farmer's wife, I contacted a henparty online shop (www.henparty.ie). “They are now stocking my books (just ordered another twenty of each one), so it must be doing okay,,” she reports. “I guess people look for fun gifts that will give a laugh at a hen party, and the price point of a book works too.” 

Screenshot from hen party website showing book

Lorna Sixsmith's book now for sale on a hen party website

6) (Book)mark your territory

US author Ky Owen loves the power of the bookmark. “I leave bookmarks at places like my dentist's office,” he advises. “I've sold at least one book that way, which is one more than I've sold through Twitter. And if you see me, ask for a bookmark. I always have some with me!” There's definitely still a place for low-tech solutions in the modern author's marketing armoury!

7) Take up offers from volunteers

English children's author Julie Day  says “My author client is also a children's author and takes his grandchildren to school now and then. He has offered to take postcards from me promoting my books to the school and hand them out to the parents who are interested.” Word of mouth recommendation – the best kind of marketing there is! 

8) Run joint online events with other authors

Another English children's author, Chris Casburn, reports “Our local group of indie authors are running a‪ #‎summerreads‬ promotion on Facebook.  It's a mix of book promotion and writing tips. I sold 90 books from my Creatures of Chichester series at my last one.” There's only one word for that: wow! Chris is kindly going to write a guest post giving more details of how to set up and run an online promotional event like that.

Chindi Authors's photo.
OVER TO YOU Feel free to add your own top tips via the comments box – or if you're an ALLi member, send them in to Debbie Young for the next monthly round-up of book marketing shots in the dark.
Some previous posts in the “Book Marketing Shots in the Dark” series:


This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Fun and fresh ideas, Debbie. Thanks for sharing.

    Here are a few more non-traditional book marketing ideas. (Warning: Satire ahead.)

    -Hiring a sign-spinner to stand outside of Barnes & Noble dressed as my front cover.

    -Announcing on social media that I’m holding a puppy hostage until five thousand copies of my novel have sold.

    -Paying a publicist $20,000 to ensure I sell at least half that amount in books.

    -Posting a Photoshopped picture of Oprah holding a copy of my novel.

    -Writing a book that doesn’t totally suck. (Though evidence has shown that writing one that DOES totally suck might be even better for sales.)

    I know, I know — I am not right in the head.

    Thanks again for your post!


    Greg Levin

  2. Perhaps one of my most successful moves was to accept a commission to write for a miniature book press in the United States. The Press had been creatively inspired by the first in my hist.fantasy series and that was the start.

    The whole tale of my involvement with them is a serendipitous journey from end to end. From the beginning, sales of both my hist.fict and hist fantasy series have been nicely generated by that ongoing business partnership. And I am very grateful!

  3. I can second the notion about wearing a hat or article of clothing that will gather notice. I tend to wear a steampunk hat and a stuffed dragon on my shoulder at conventions, and I sold a book at a local signing because one of the guys who was walking into the store noticed the dragon and asked about it. It was a neat experience. 🙂

  4. The ‘snail mail’ version of promotion, still lives and can put new life into dormant titles.
    Probably few DIY published writers can pop for a portion of a page in the NYT Lit Sup; or even a classified. BUT, those same readers who skips the Ads may very well be members of the BSA, VFW, British Legion or Women’s Institute local newsletter, DO read the local one or two page newsletter.
    Hard-pressed volunteer editors might welcome an article, feature or classified advertisement. Providing its in synch with readership.
    An action, adventure, history, war book might appeal to some readers; or gift-buyers looking for something beyond ties, socks or under-wear (depending on how close the relation ship is) for dear old dad’s birthday.
    Take it from there. You’re the inventive one!

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