That is a very good question, one I have been pondering for a long time. I have been doing various promos online for more than five years (I started with my blog in September 2007), and I don’t sell very many books, though my publisher assures me that ultimately I will sell many thousands of copies of each of my titles. I have come to the conclusion that promotion is what we do until luck finds us. If you don’t write erotic romances, horrifyingly violent thrillers, or vampire stories (or whatever the current fad is) that can catapult you into bestsellerdom, you will need luck to get your book discovered. Many authors who have found success will tell you they did it on their own through hard work, but almost every time, a bit of luck played into the equation. And it’s always possible to get discovered — the media (which includes online and offline means of communication) has a fickle and roving eye, and it’s anyone’s guess where that glittering gaze will fall.
It used to be that you could do giveaways and contests to get attention, but there are tens of thousands of books being given away every day, so it’s almost as hard to give a book away now as it once was to sell it. And unless a contest somehow captures the imagination of people, they will pass on taking a chance (even if it’s a sure thing that they will win something) because they are inundated with hundreds of such promos every day.
It used to be that blogging would bring you a readership, but now blogging is so common that it is simply an expected part of being an author. Blogging can be a satisfactory and fulfilling means of writing and communicating, and it does help to create an online presence, but by itself blogging doesn’t sell books.
It used to be that MySpace was a good way to find a readership — the first authors who promoted on MySpace became instant successes, but when other authors signed up for the site by the thousands, hoping for similar results, no one paid attention to them.
It used to be that Facebook was the best place to find and connect with readers. The first authors who used Facebook to promote made a fortune. One guy became a best selling author by maxing out Facebook accounts (5000 friends is all you are allowed, so he had several accounts), and he will sell you a book telling you how he did it, but recently it came out that he also paid for reviews, so who knows what the truth of his success is. One thing I do know is that most authors are not selling tons of books via Facebook because Facebook continually changes their algorithms to keep that from happening. Where once I’d get hundreds of people seeing what I posted, I get maybe thirty now if I’m lucky. And of that thirty, maybe one or two respond. (Respond to the post, I mean.)
The first authors on Twitter, Pinterest, and all the other sites also made a name for themselves, but the rest of us? Not so much.
As for offline: authors who do book signings and festivals and such do well to a certain extent, but you have to be careful — I know several authors who sold thousands of books that way, but when it came time to figure out profits and losses, it turns out they didn’t make enough to pay for all their expenses. They’d have been better off just standing on a busy corner and giving the books away.
So, what do you do until luck comes calling? The best advice I can give you is to do three things to promote every day. It can be something as simple as signing up for Facebook if you haven’t already done so, adding a few friends if you have signed up, posting a photo on the site, or commenting on someone else’s photo. You could do a blog post on your blog or ask someone if they will let you be a guest on their blog. You can comment on the posts of other bloggers so that everyone who reads those posts will also read your words. You could sign up for Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn or any of the other currently popular social networking sites.
You can get bookmarks printed up with your book cover, a brief blurb, and an online address or website where people can contact you or buy your books, then pass the bookmarks out to everyone you see. You can get business cards printed up with your book cover on the front side and information on the back where they can find you and your book. You can get addicted to Vistaprint — once you are on their emailing list, you will receive sales notices, and over time you can get all sorts of great stuff such as t-shirts and mugs, stickers and posters, for free or for a nominal fee. Then give those out or offer them as incentives for people to buy your books.
You can do book signings and other events such as fairs, festivals, and craft shows. You can offer your services as a speaker.
The best promotion is one that captures people’s imaginations, so maybe one of your promos for the day could be nothing more than brainstorming with someone to come up with a totally unique idea. Or you can check out my Book Marketing Floozy blog for tips from other authors. Book Marketing Floozy is an indexed blog of sixty-five different articles by various authors about book marketing.
I don’t think it really matters what you do. Just do three things to promote your book every day.
My final suggestion — keep writing. The more books you have, the greater the chance of having sales snowball, but you also have to keep improving your craft. Just throwing out any old thing in the hopes of making it big won’t help you stand out from the crowd.
And that’s all promotion is — trying to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+