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Book Marketing Shots In The Dark

Book Marketing Shots in the Dark

Debbie holding book in the air

Shameless self-promotion by ALLi blog editor Debbie Young

While a lot of book marketing is common sense, now and again indie authors report amazing successes with off-the-wall, not-in-the-textbook tactics. When ALLi authors Christine Nolfi (in the US) and Belinda Polland (in Australia) started a thread on this topic on our Facebook forum the other day, plenty of authors chimed in from throughout our global community to share their own examples. We loved their ideas so much that we're turning them into the first of an occasional series of posts highlighting wacky ways to sell your self-published books.

I'd like to kick it off with my action shots of British author John Lynch at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival's pop-up stall at our village show last August. He turned up wearing a hat and t-shirt that not only had one of his book covers on the front, when he turned round the QR code was on the back.

John Lynch in t shirt with book cover on front

Spot the professional salesman – John Lynch , dressed to sell…

back of t-shirt showing QR code

…and here's what fellow ALLi David Penny was photographing on John's back. Brilliant!

Now let's hear from other authors ….

  • Lorna Sixsmith, Ireland: My most successful press release was entitled “5 Ways to attract an eligible farmer at the ploughing championships” (which is Ireland's biggest agric event). The event gets lots of publicity so the journalists were delighted to talk about something humourous and quirky. I was sick of talking about the different types of wellies and how they attract different farmers by the time I was finished!! but it worked – was quoted at length in an article in a national farming paper, got a national radio interview, about 6 local radio interviews from all parts of the country and about 3 local paper features. I was selling the book at the event so it was great.
  • Something else that worked for me was using stickers. The first year they said “Would You Marry A Farmer? I Would” or “Would You Marry A Farmer? I Wouldn't” and when selling the book at the event, it engaged people, and many stopped to have a look at the book then and ask about it (I found people became dazed looking at so many stands so this made them stop and look). Lots of people took a sticker and of course, wore them around the show. I had the stand number on the sticker too.
  • Wendy Jones, Scotland: I was part of a craft fair in a local shopping mall. I was at the bottom of the escalator between floors. I dressed up my book table with a purple tablecloth, a hangman's noose, some syringes and some bullets. As people came down the escalator they were looking at my table. I, dressed in my christmas jumper and a santa hat, said “This is your chance to get your crime books signed by a smiling Santa”. It worked as it made people laugh, and most of them came over and bought books. – Wendy Jones, Scotland
photo of book on display at dry cleaners

Ann Richardson recently wrote a guest post about how she's selling her books via a local delicatessen – now she's cleaning up at a dry cleaners, at the request of the store's manager, who sold 8 copies in the first two months!

  • Amy Shojai, USA: I have the best sales at cat shows. *shrug* Of course, pets are in my thrillers, too, but people there are primed for these types of things even if not necessarily there for books. I set up a give away (non-fiction) for my latest cat book for Valentine's Day – a gift to give all the “cat moms” out there. When the dog version comes out, will do that around Father's Day.
  • Di Castle, England: I sold my books in a beach hut before Christmas – read the full story here.
  • For a book targeted at kids aged 10-16, we did a few interesting things. We tied up with Hamleys to display a cutout of the protagonist, as well as have books on display. We tied up with Cafe Coffee Day (the Starbucks equivalent in India) to provide in-store branding for the book, have sample copies available for people to browse, as well as provide people a discount code for the book. We are looking to tie-up with airlines with international long-distance flights to have the book available for kids to read there. We are running a campaign which will reach 40,000 students in the top two cities in India, which will do a contest tied into the content of the book, as well as make the book available in their school libraries. – Ritesh Kala, India
  • Derek Murphy, Taiwan: Pretty easy one: Google your keywords – you'll probably see one of Goodreads' lists on page one. Add your book there and get your followers to voted it up. Easy to do and long lasting. 
  • Helen Kara, England: When people tweet or email to say they've bought one of my books, I offer to post them a signed bookplate for it, free of charge. I have no background in marketing, and this is counter-intuitive – why should I give something away to someone who has already bought my book? But I saw a couple of novelists doing it, and thought it was a way I would like to operate. I commissioned the bookplates from a professional artist and, while I have no way to calculate the return on investment, they seem to go down well. Some people tweet pictures of them, and I'm sure they promote conversation about my books and my work.



The artwork for Helen Kara's beautiful bookplate is by Carol Burns (https://www.facebook.com/ArtIsByCarolBurns/

  • Elizabeth Ducie, England: The most successful outlet for my first short story collection was the petrol station on Halden Hill on the A38 in Devon. The put the stand by the till and out very quickly. I reckon it was holiday makers on the way to Cornwall, anticipating wet weather. – Elizabeth Ducie, UK
  • Julie Day, England: One workshop I did with children aged 9-12 which was successful was reading from my mermaid book, then getting them to write their own ending and drawing their own cover. Another thing that is proving successful for me is including writing exercises in my newsletter and promoting the letter mentioning it. 
  • Kayla Dean, USA: We are running a Pathfinder campaign with our latest book. It's super fun and allows us to reach a whole new demographic! Pathfinder is a role playing game, much like Dungeons and Dragons. Its a great way to get readers involved in the story and somewhat make it their own. Then, they want to buy a copy. Or… If you have a large enough crowd who wants to play you could charge $10 to enter the game and give “free” books to participants.
  • Thomas Shepherd, England: I was sat in near stationery traffic for 4 hours on a bus on the A34 due to nothing more than out of phase lights and people's inability to roundabouts… I got talking to someone reading a book on her kindle on her Paperwhite. Managed to sell her my then debut novel and preorder my forthcoming book. 
Copy of tweet

Finnish author Helena Halme's tweet to local papers in two towns in which one of her novels is set led to a super article in the Helensburgh Advertiser (hundreds of miles from where she lives)

  • Christine Nolfi, USA: Several days ago I set up a link in Book Funnel for Second Chance Grill (Book 1 Liberty Series; Women's Fiction). Then I sent out a Goodreads Events invite to 3400 readers offering 200 free copies to celebrate the February arrival of my new Wheaten Terrier. I also linked to a blog post about losing Nala in December, and Lucy's impending arrival. I'll hit the 200 download limit today or tomorrow. More importantly (and this is important because I'm between heavy promoting months), I've seen a surge in downloads of the other Liberty books in the US, Canada and UK. Equally important, I received a flurry of comments from readers on the GR event page and in private message. Clearly I struck a chord with WF readers. I'll now expand the promotion to my newsletter this week. Take-aways: 1) People buy from people. The more “human” our author persona, the more readers with whom we'll connect. Those readers will then remember us–a critical consideration, given the abundance of books available. 2) The best promotions aren't necessarily the ones that cost money to implement. – Christine Nolfi, USA

ALLi Director Orna Ross rounds off this topic for now with another takeaway:

“The more fun you're having with marketing, and the more it connects to your book/reasons for writing, the more sustainable it is, long term.”

OVER TO YOU What fun marketing tricks have worked for you? We'd love to hear them!

#Authors - here are some fun and wacky ways to market your #selfpublished books: Click To Tweet



This Post Has 11 Comments
  1. “Derek Murphy, Taiwan: Pretty easy one: Google your keywords – you’ll probably see one of Goodreads’ lists on page one. Add your book there and get your followers to voted it up. Easy to do and long lasting. ”

    How do you do this, Derek? Goodreads won’t let you add your own book to a list as far as I can tell…

  2. Love the example of books selling well from a petrol station. A friend near Aberdeen took some books from me and put them in their local petrol station and they’ve been selling well. Sold 45 before Xmas and sent her another 20 a few weeks ago. I haven’t tried any other petrol stations yet though – they don’t seem to sell books in them over here (in Ireland).

  3. When I had stories in both Chicken Soup for the Soul My Dog’s Life and The Cat Did What?, I partnered with a newly opened pet products store. I did a booksigning in the store and they helped promote the event and had free homemade chicken soup available for anyone who stopped by. I donated part of my proceeds to the local animal shelter which also help draw people. It was a 3-way win: shelter got some $, store gained new customers, and I sold out of the books I brought and took orders for more.

  4. I always give one book away every week: ‘Seller Beware:How Not To Sell Your Business’. This is a memoir when I sold my estate agency business to two conmen. It usually goes to a taxi driver as I’m in London every Thursday. Obviously, it’s only if the conversation leads to that sort of subject, and if they enjoy reading. I pay the taxi fare and the book becomes the tip. The drivers love it and always make me sign the copy. In return I make them promise to give me a review on Amazon if they’ve enjoyed it. This has only happened a couple of times but better than nothing. I also ask their permission to leave a bookmark on the seat when I leave. You never know, I tell them, who might climb into their taxi next.

  5. I was once at an event where a minor Royal refused to take questions from the audience at the end of her talk, saying that people could ask them while she signed copies for them. The man sitting next to me, highly irritated by her arrogance and knowing that I’d just brought out a novel, handed me his money instead. Like Elizabeth Ducie, I always carry samples of my wares.

  6. I got chatting to a stranger as we watched a mutual friend abseil down a waterfall for charity. He sounded interested in my novel and told me he would have bought one if I had it with me. At which point I pulled one out of my bag. Sale complete. Moral: never leave home without at least one copy. You never know…

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