How to Use the Internet to Promote a Book (without really trying).


Alright.  The title is a bald faced lie.  While there is always the possibility that a new author might experience some accidental, viral internet fame for, oh I don’t know, writing silly captions for cat photos, or posting the worst music video ever, it’s far more likely that she’ll be hit by lightening.  Twice.  And survive.

And of course, nothing beats writing a good book.

So let’s say you’ve written a good book.  You’ve got a year to eighteen months from the time the book is acquired until it hits the shelves – or you’re wondering how to get attention in the self-publishing gold rush. Keep in mind, the key time for social media marketing is at least a year before the book hits the market.  Much of what I’m saying can be applied to both traditionally and self published books, but obviously, strategy must be revised… but there is no substitute for that pre-launch time.

That said, there are some great, unexpected ways you can build an online platform, and promote your book… by doing something that is not directly related to your book.

Here are a few examples:

John Green had already successfully published LOOKING FOR ALASKA, and AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES when he started Brotherhood 2.0, better known as the Vlogbrothers project, in which John and his brother Hank agreed to cease all “textual” communications for the year, and instead converse via video blogs, which would be available to the public.  Of course, John and his brother are brilliantly funny, but I’m pointing to a fresh, exciting way the author John Green built a brand that keeps him in the viral eye.

In 2009, Kay Cassidy began The Great Scavenger Hunt Contest, involving YA and Middle Grad authors, in a trivia contest sponsored by libraries.  The participants choose from a list of over 200 books: if they can answer 8 out of 10 questions correctly, they are entered into a nationwide drawing for a $50 gift card to a bookstore of their choice.  Coincidentally, in 2010 she came out with her debut YA book, THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY.  For $600 a year, Kay is building positive relationships with librarians, authors and readers.  That’s probably the best $600 she could have spent on a promotional budget.

Scott Sigler started podcasting his books for free in 2005.  In 2007, his trade paperback ANCESTOR briefly hit #1 on Amazon’s SciFi and Horror charts, #2 in overall fiction.  Subsequently, his manuscript for INFECTED was purchased by Crown in what in what became a five book deal, and a film option.  In 2008 he had a fan base of 100,000 when he decided to self publish a high end, hard cover book in a limited press run which sold out in a matter fo days to long term, diehard fans.  Too find out more about how Scott created a kind of perfect self publishing/traditional publishing storm, click here.

While extremely different in focus, duration and execution, here’s what they have in common.

Self Containment: none of these initiatives dealt directly with SELLING the author’s next book.

Low Cost: these initiatives could be sustained with very few resources, time being the key requirement.

Duration: each project or initiative built the author’s platform and reputation over time (100’s of hours over months or years), creating mass.

Uniqueness: each project was based on the unique talents, concerns

Passion: Each author chose to do something that they could commit to, and enjoy, regardless of the outcome.

There’s an adage in social media, which played a key role in each strategy: be interesting (or conversely, don’t be boring).  So while bookmarks and blog tours and trailers are all standard, and may produce results, do something unique and interesting to produce breakaway results.

7 thoughts on “How to Use the Internet to Promote a Book (without really trying).

  1. This is really interesting. A few friends and I recently started a blog and I am trying to read all marketing strategies I can find. I know this does not relate directly to blogs, but its still quite interesting to see what others have done to promote their product.

    • Actually, blogs are a form of self publishing… which sometimes then become traditionally published books, or even television shows. But that’s another post…

  2. Thanks so much for the shout-out, Gabriel! What lovely company you’ve put me in. I’m flattered. 🙂

    I did want to add a couple of points that may not be apparent in the notes above. In reality, the national Great Scavenger Hunt Contest reading program for kids and teens costs *many* times the $600 that goes toward the reader prizes. The prizes are actually a very small % of the overall expense. The Hunt also takes up 100s of hours of my time each year to manage the program for 800+ libraries across the US and Canada. Time that could be spent writing (which is, of course, my job). 🙂

    So just a caveat to any authors out there considering something of this magnitude, please keep in mind that this particular program costs thousands of dollars to run each year and all of that money comes out of my own pocket, regardless of whether I happen to be under contract at any particular moment. Plus, if I didn’t have the Hunt to run, I could easily write another book each year in the time I would save.

    Those are two huge trade-offs I recognized up front when I designed the Great Scavenger Hunt Contest. I consciously decided I was willing to make those trade-offs because I’m passionate about keeping kids reading when they have 101 other things vying for their attention. For me, the Hunt is about philanthropy rather than marketing. It can serve as a marketing vehicle as well – both for me and for the 200+ YA and middle grades authors participating – but it’s first and foremost a charitable outreach. And since it eats up a large chunk of my writing income plus keeps me from writing an extra book a year to generate income for my family, it’s a trade-off I wouldn’t recommend to every author unless the program they’re designing is something they are truly passionate about.

    The last thing to keep in mind is that, with a program like this, it’s an ongoing year-round reading initiative. In my case, that means I don’t get to take a break from it when I’m deep in deadline mode or am finally taking a vacation with my family. There are plenty of days where I feel like I have a second job… except instead of paying me, *I* pay *it*. 😉 It’s only because I’m passionate about keeping kids reading that it makes it all worthwhile in the end. 🙂

    • Thanks for pointing that out Kay… Each project profiled took hundreds of hours over months or years of time, and none were designed to market a specific book. My point is that they were original, took a great deal of time, and created a special community that supported the author in the long run.

  3. I think that the ideas are sound, but marketing just for the sake of marketing negates some of the initial inspiration.

    FUN is so overlooked in marketing. Be sincere and try not to think of the project as one in which you are looking to “score.” (Ya know, profit before all.)

    I think that promotion should be a sort of performance art piece in which you truly interact with the people who are reading your stuff. I love all the conversations that I have with people who visit my blog. Also probably one of the most important things is to have incredible quality content.

    The other thing that Kay points out, is to give something away. (For example I give away original fine art that depicts the characters.) I also spend a ton of money which Kay seams to do.

    • I couldn’t agree more: that’s the whole point of this article.

      I believe that marketing is simply a way to reveal a product to the consumer that’s looking for it. Meeting a desire or need rather than convincing someone to buy. The best marketing is really just an extension of the product, in this case, the author and her works.

      In the cases that I mention, the author put a great deal of work into creating a community around a project about which he was passionate. Passion and commitment are key… hence this model which does not relate directly to selling a particular book: rather creating a project that delivers value;

      This sort of initiative has to be something the author would be committed to doing even if there were no book to sell. That sort of originality and service are what make this sort of initiative work!

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