Promotion is like Costco

“Whazzat you say, Pricey?”

You heard me – book promotion is a lot like Costco.

The Effective Tease

Case in point; I went to Costco the other day. You know how if you get there at the right time they have all those freebie goodies to try? On a good day, you can eat your way through Costco and almost be full. So I passed by one table of a man slathering Phillie cream cheese on a mini-bagel. Why not, methinks. I helped myself to one and lurved it.

Now, I never eat bagels, nor do I eat Phillie cream cheese. But the tidbit was so good, I blew another $13 on a gynormous bag of three different flavored bagels and a huge tub of Phillie cream cheese.

That, my dear friends, is good promotion. Had they not teased me by putting up that table and passing out freebies, they’d be $13 poorer. Multiply that times the number of people who visit Costco on any given day and the number of freebies they hand out, and you have a boatload of impulse sales. Cha-ching!

And that’s exactly what we accomplish when we put a lot of thought into our book promotion. You can either be like Albertson’s (Tesco for you across-the-ponders) and do the bare minimum, which will make you blend into everything else that’s sitting on the shelves, or you can be proactive like Costco, and put your best bagel foot forward.

The Book Sign Bugaloo – have something to say

I’ve always maintained that doing the usual booksigning event at the local bookstores is like shopping at Alberson’s/Tesco. You stand behind a table and wear a plastic smile while wishing you were elsewhere – even if it’s getting a root canal. Or you can be inundated with people who want your book.

There are no guarantees people will show up and it’s a crapshoot. So what to do?

Give a talk. Have something to say.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or nonfiction – there is always something relevant you can pull from your book that you can turn into a talk.  Mr. Surfer Dude started out by talking about fitness. He finessed his talk to default directly back to his book and even though many in the audience weren’t SF readers, they bought his book. Why? Because they liked him.

And this leads me to…

Showing Your Pretty Face

I know many authors are shy and would rather hunker down and write and never have to meet a single fan or do a lick of promotion. Good luck with that. People buy more books when they’ve seen you. They get a feel for who you are and your personality – which defies logic when I think about my own books selling…But I can say that for every seminar I give, Tackle Box shoots out the door faster than the beagle can cut open a lime.

Let’s take our author, Chris Baughman, for instance. His book, Anomaly, is amazing. He’s a modern day hero, so let’s just get that out there right now. When I read his book I grunted to his agent, “Me want. Must have.”

However, when I saw him on several installments of Chris Hansen’s NBC Dateline Undercover “To Catch a Predator,” I was blown away. This soft-spoken man just oozed compassion for the victims of prostitution, and I was instantly hooked. He made me want to know more about him…hello Anomaly. Tra-la!

You simply cannot get that kind of emotional reaction from a blog or social networking.

Don’t Rely on Bookstores for your events

I’m sure Thor is pulling out a lightning bolt to punish me for my blasphemy, but bookstores are shying away from doing author events because of the time and expense involved. And as I mentioned upstream, getting an audience can be iffy. Think outside the bun (sorry, I’m having a Taco Bell flashback), and consider other venues that may lend itself to hosting an author event.

  • Restaurant/bar – An author did this with their novel a few years ago. She proposed a couple ideas to the owner – he could charge a set price to include the book and an appetizer or a drink – or he would discount appetizers and drinks for the two hours the author was there. The important thing is she gave him a choice. The author printed posters and fliers to advertise the event. The place was a zoo that night, and the author sold all the books and the owner filled the bar. Yay.
  • Libraries – we’ve had great luck doing the library circuit in my local area. They are eager to bring in speakers. Several nights a month, an indie editor and I do seminars, and we always sell plenty of books and create a buzz. What’s also nice is that the librarians and The Friends of the Library are always happy to push your book.
  • Schools – depending on what you write, your best venue could be doing school events. Mr. Surfer Dude got some terrific gigs doing talks at schools. He wrote a SF/F involving two surfer dudes – a near impossible sell. His message to the schools, however, was about making smart choices and that surfing not only kept kids out of trouble, but they made new friends and stayed active. Since he’s well known at the beaches, the kids looked up to him like some kind of god. He sold the patootie out of his vanity-pubbed book.
  • Hospitals – I know, sounds weird, right? But one of our authors had a wonderful book event in the hospital commissary. Her talk took people’s minds off their troubles, and she sold a bundle.
  • Church – If you write an inspirational type book, churches are always looking for speakers at their various meetings. If you’re good, they may have you speak at their services. They’re always looking for gifted speakers


I could go on forever talking about offsite venues, but you get the idea. Thinking about the venue is actually fun. But now comes the hard part.


Media Training: Public speaking is an art. Not everyone is tapped into their inner hambone, so a case of nerves can ruin a great talk or interview. If you blow either one, you won’t be asked for a second chance. I hope you stopped to watch the Chris Baughman links on To Catch a Predator because he’s being interviewed with a camera stuck in his face (go ahead and watch – I’ll wait). Chris is Mr. Super Detective, not a talk-show host. Yet he maintains his composure and stays focused on getting his message out.

That’s grace under fire.

And when you’re talking or being interviewed, you’re under fire. Get yourself some media training. Another big pro at this is Kate McLaughlin, author of Mommy I’m Still In Here. If you go to the link and scroll down, you can see her spontaneous interview I did with her at the BEA. In fact, she did far better than I, and I wasn’t even on camera (thank GOD).

There is nothing that delights a crowd more than someone who knows how to talk in front of a crowd. I’ve gone to events where authors spoke into their chests and stumbled about. It was painful.

Prepare your speech and practice: Sounds like a numbnuts thing to say, right? Of course we prep and practice. Again, I’ve been to many an event where the author didn’t do this and the audience was fighting to stay awake. Don’t be afraid to use humor because it keeps the audience engaged.

Have a clear outline of your talk and practice it. A lot. Stand in front of a mirror or enlist your family to hear you out. The point is to get comfortable standing in front of an audience (and possibly cameras).

I know what you’re thinking: “I wrote a fantasy, so what can I talk about?” Puhleeze. You’re clever. You wrote a book, didn’t you? Pull out some elements from your book and talk about it – like Mr. Surfer Dude did.

What can I do for you? Always be prepared when you talk to a potential venue about hosting an event for you. Don’t look at it from the standpoint of what they can do for you, but what can you do for them. It’s always easier to agree to host an event when an author comes at it from the angle of how she is going to help you, the venue owner.

In the case of the author’s bar event, she asked the owner if he had a slow night. Oh, Mondays, sez he? Well, maybe we can increase your Monday nights with a book event, sez she. It was so successful, that the owner held Author Night on Mondays as a way to attract business on a slow night. He’d of never thought of it had the author not proposed a book event in the first place.

Make sure your proposal offers options from which the venue owner can choose. This shows that you’re easy to work with and genuinely interested in making this a win-win for all.

Who’s selling the books? You need someone to handle sales while you’re off being charming signing books and answering questions. Who you choose depends on the venue. You can have a friend handle sales, or the venue owner might want to handle it. If so, be sure you take a good inventory at the end of the event.

Or you can have a bookstore come in and handle the sales. If you are involved in a very big event, this is the way to go because they’ll order the books in for you so you don’t have to schlep in a hundred books. The added bonus is they can handle credit card transactions. We’ve noticed that more books sell if they can use their Visa.

Social Networking

Maybe I’m just a dinosaur, but when I see a query that lists social networking as their sole means of promotion, I’m turned off. This is just part of the promo arsenal, not the whole enchilada. The problem I’ve seen with social networking like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, is that there is so much white noise out there.

Yes, one can make a ton of friends, but that only hits the first wave of sells when a book first comes out. Will all those friends actually go out and buy the book? Perhaps. The thing I love about social networking is that it’s a marvelous way to make a book go viral because everyone isl talking about it.

But like I said, your book is one of hundreds of thousands out there competing for attention, so it’s very hard to break through and rise to the top.

Start Early and Plan

The thing with promotion is to give yourself enough time to implement your plan. Chris Baughman’s book, Anomaly, is coming out in March, and we’re talking promo now. Why? Because TV specials and interviews require plenty of lead time to schedule.

Promotion goes in phases: The first three months, the following four months, and  to infinty and beyond.

The first three months after your book’s release is going to be the most intense, so be prepared to have no life. This is where you’ll be doing the majority of your interviews and appearances with the print and TV media.

The following four months the big media hoopla slows down, so it’s important to keep up the momentum. This is when you might think about planning smaller events, but not quite so many. Hopefully you’ve received invitations from people who saw or heard you during your first three months, and you’ll be scheduling those events. You might branch out into writing articles to magazines.

To infinity and beyond is exactly what it says. You never really stop promoting your book. Sure, it’ll slow down, but keep in mind that when the author stops promoting, the book dies. Why? Because there is always another new book coming out to fill the hole you just vacated.

People are always looking for speakers for their luncheons or dinner meetings. Ferret these groups out – sorority/fraternity alumni groups are a hot ticket. Golf countryclubs also have groups who meet, and they’re always looking for speakers as well – and it doesn’t have to be golf-related.

As you can see, promotion is dropping little seeds for some very nice, hungry birds to pick up and enjoy. Everything you do is planting that seed for other birds, and you never know who is in the audience who might be able to do great things for you.

As for my bagels and cream cheese, I’m enjoying them very much.

10 Responses to Promotion is like Costco

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    There’s this bar two blocks away that is big on live events. I wonder if they would do a reading.


    Nice place, too.

  2. Every town has a cool bar that would enjoy something different. Go for it.

  3. angie says:

    Most excellent points and suggestions. Did a great couple of signings at a popular local coffee house during their “down hours.” Gonna tap ’em again for the next book…and *beg* to have the book info. printed on some of those hot coffee cardboard sleeves.

  4. Great tips! I’m sharing and bookmarking this post. Thanks!

  5. Gina Gough says:

    Playing catch-up with your blog (which i love) and have to thank you for introducing me to “Slush-pile hell.” Made me cry with laughter.

  6. So I’d like to know your thoughts on something, Lynn.

    For a novelist (particularly an aspiring one), is posting an excerpt of their WIP considered an effective tease, or is it a no-no?

    I’ve posted a small, small piece, just for a taste (because I feel a blog is more about sharing one’s style, not necessarily one’s specific project), but then I see some who regularly post whole chapters of their works on their blogs.

    Is there a right or a wrong about it? (Maybe that’s subjective, like so many things.) Is it individual to the writer?

  7. kimkircher says:

    Great post Lynn. Thanks for the thorough discussion on promotion. I especially like the idea of reading at a bar. After all, I always get a little more “talkative”, shall we say, after a glass of white.

  8. Kim, I know for a fact that this is true!

  9. kat magendie says:

    Of course, writing the next book(s) is good, too! Readers begin to look forward to your next book.

    Comprehensive and detailed, and oh so informative – thank you!

  10. Fab ideas. Thank you. 🙂

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