Nicole Melanson ~
Here’s the second instalment on promotion. If you missed the first, you can read it here.
As always, I welcome your input. Have you tried anything unusual in book promo? Seen anything inspiring around the traps? I’d love to hear about it! Please leave a comment.
I’m not sure why some writers are reluctant to recommend others because here’s the thing: other writers are not the competition. The “competition” is a would-be reader’s work deadline, family commitment, favorite TV show etc. We writers need to work together to get bums on seats AKA buyers in the bookstore.
When I asked for examples of innovative promotions for this post, Annabel Smith and Cassie Hamer were quick to make suggestions. Showing that kind of support for other authors is a win-win situation for everyone involved and helps foster a real sense of community in what can be a lonely profession.
Look out for authors who are similar to you in style. Focus on growing readership in your genre. Draw attention to your topic. Figure out who else sits in your section of the bookshop – and if you want to be a bit cheeky, make friends with your shelf buddies!
Book posters have their place. I love seeing them all over the wall of my kids’ school library, for example – they really bring the space to life. And cardboard cut-outs can be very effective leaning behind a table where an author’s signing. But a little novelty can really energize your props. Is your novel about friendship between elderly women? Use a patchwork quilt as a tablecloth. Marketing your book as a beach read? Whack a potted palm on the table. Or copy Natasha Lester and have your book cover printed on your phone case so you can flash it around whenever you take a call.
It goes without saying that if you are writing for children, you should probably get yourself a funny hat at the very least, although if you have the opportunity to connect to your theme in full pirate regalia, go for it! However, if you’ve written a murder mystery for adults, you might not want to turn up dressed head to toe like a detective, but how about a subtle nod to the genre with a trench coat? Or a bandana if one of your characters is a rancher? Or take the idea of costuming and turn it on its head like Julie Koh in this custom-designed jacket inspired by her book, The Portable Curiosities.
Books have a tactile element, and possibly an aural component if you read them aloud, but they’re primarily visual objects. Unfortunately, they’re also static. To promote something in the most effective and memorable way, try to engage all the senses. If you’ve written a biography on the world’s most famous violinist, play some music at your stall. You’ll need to be careful including fragrance as a lot of people have sensitivities, but something like specialty tea can stimulate the senses twice – first on an olfactory level, then with taste – perfect for launching a travel memoir!
Everyone loves free stuff but not if it’s junk. Before you shell out for merchandise, ask yourself if anyone really wants it. If you put the title of your latest thriller on 500 buttons, are you confident you’ll actually find 500 adults who want to walk around wearing them? On the other hand, if you’ve written a picture book about frogs, children will probably be delighted with a thematically relevant sticker. Or why not hand out chocolate coins with a business card for your finance guide?
Book give-aways are a dime a dozen. They appeal to people who are already bookworms but it can be tough to break outside the usual literary circles and reach new readers.
Say you’ve written a book called Ducks of North America (apologies if that’s an actual title!) and you want to pique interest and get lots of people to join your mailing list. If you just throw a notepad down on your table, you might find traffic a little slow. But what if you get a paddle pool and fill it with rubber duckies, and every duck has a number on the bottom? People who sign up to your mailing list take a duck and a couple days later, you draw a number, with the winner getting a free copy of your book and a luxury bath set. Now you have visual appeal for your stall, fun merch, tie-in, added value, and memorable originality.
A final note on promotion: remember these tips are for promoting an existing book. Do not pitch an agent using these techniques. Trust me when I tell you that agents don’t want you sending them perfumed pages, pressed flowers, and glitter bombs with your queries. When you’re pitching, keep it professional. Reserve your creativity for writing and marketing.
I hope this has given you some new ideas. Please let me know what else has worked for you!
— Nicole Melanson