February PANorama: Wendy Toliver

Creative & Effective Ways to Promote Your Books

Dear Readers,

We’re happy to announce that the fourth Monday of each month we’ll be holding a “PANorama.” In other words, one of our chapter PAN members (PAN stands for Published Authors Network, a professional designation within RWA open to members who reach a certain level of sales) will be visiting the blog to share some of their their wisdom and expertise.

Here to kick off the new series is PAN member Wendy Toliver, who’s going to share some tips on promotion.


Preliminary Steps

Before you can promote your books, you need to figure out who your audience is and narrow it down as much as you can. (You probably already did this when you wrote your book in the first place, but if not, don’t delay.) Next, ask yourself how to reach that particular audience. Where do they shop, what sites do they visit and participate in online, what do they watch on TV, what do they read (newspapers, blogs, books, magazines), where do they spend most of their time (at work, at school, at Star Trek conferences?), what music do they listen to, and what is important to them (are they vegan? Environmentalist? Republican? Etc) and keep your answers in mind as you explore different promotion options.

Also, you’ll want to talk to your publisher’s marketing or publicity department to see what they are planning and coordinate it with what you can do.

1. Giveaways (“Swag”)

This is oftentimes one of the first things authors want to do when they have a book coming out. It’s fun and relatively painless.

Many authors have bookmarks made to help promote their books, which is a pretty good tried-and-true giveaway. After all, people who need bookmarks read books and people who read books buy your books. They’re also relatively inexpensive and easy to make, either on your own computer, at a local printer, or online. I’ve used Promotion Xpress (www.promotionxpress.com) with great success. They’re also good for advertising more than one book if applicable. I like to slip a bookmark into a book at a signing, and for school visits, some kids don’t buy your book but ask for a signed bookmark. Also, some book bloggers request authors to send “swag” and they put them out at bookstores they visit or slip them into books they give away as prizes. I send bookmarks to relatives and ask that they drop them off at any bookstores they happen to go into. Bookstores are happy to put your bookmarks out (usually at the info desk or cash register).

If you can think of something else that’s relatively inexpensive to give away, go for it. I gave little purse-sized lotions away for both of my YA romantic comedies. I just had a friend of mine who makes soaps and lotions make some up for me and then I printed out stickers with the covers of the books on them and stuck them onto the lotion bottles. This is particularly good because it’s something a) they probably won’t toss out as soon as they get it, b) they will have for a while. Plus, c) it’s relatively inexpensive (they cost $1 for the lotion and pennies for the stickers) d) it speaks to a certain audience (for me, teenage girls), e) other people will see when they take it out to use it, and f) it will create buzz because people will think it’s so wonderfully creative.

There are lots of businesses who can help you decide what kind of swag will work best for your particular audience. I see pens, bumper stickers, lip balm, notepads, and even personalized M&Ms. In my opinion, food isn’t the best giveaway (though it’s a good idea to bring candy to book signings and school visits) because once it’s eaten, it’s gone. Make sure your name, the title of your book, and your web-site, at a very minimum, are on the giveaway.

2. Get active online

One of the best ways to promote your book is to join online groups, such as writing groups, reading groups (like Goodreads), social sites (like Twitter and Facebook), etc. Ask yourself if it’s something your audience will be into. Be friendly and “real;” don’t just go online to shout about your latest book release. It takes some getting used to, but even publishers’ marketing plans involve certain 3rd party blogs and web-sites. Networking is an important step before and after publication. Before you know it, people will be asking you to be a guest on their blog or interviewee in their chatroom.

3. Piggyback noted authors

A lot of people buy books that have won awards or show up on popular best seller lists. For this reason, knowing a bestselling or award-winning author can help you. Maybe they will mention you or your book on their blog, blurb your book before it comes out, or do a book signing event alongside you. I always remember to thank the author, maybe even give them a gift or buy them lunch, and pay it forward with an up-and-coming author someday.

4. Media relations

Another important step is to find something interesting or unique about your book or you that might can “make news.” For example, a book being your first novel and you being a local author are both basic but great distinctions to make clear. Another thing to look at is when your book is coming out. One of my ro-coms came out right before Valentine’s Day last year, and I had fun pushing the holiday connection.

Writing a media release is simple once you figure out a news angle. There are many good examples of media releases online. Send a media release to any TV station, newspaper, or radio station you think will be interested in your book. That part of it takes a bit of research because you want your media release to get into the right hands. I haven’t had any trouble just looking at their web-sites and following the “news idea submissions” directions, which usually involves emailing the newsroom or the book editor. Also, many TV stations have community calendars and sometimes if you add a book signing, someone will call you to do a coinciding news story.

5. Be sneaky

I mentioned a Salt Lake City radio station in my second book, and I called the radio station and told them. They invited me to be a part of their Valentine’s Day Massacre, a crazy digging-in-wedding-cake-to-find-a-diamond-ring event. I have a friend who name-dropped a brand of clothing in her book and called the company and asked if they’d be interested in donating some T-shirts for a contest she was having and they said yes! There are all sorts of possibilities.

6. Web-sites, blogs, etc.

Many authors have web-sites (usually their name.com) and blogs. I prefer group blogs because I’m not sure I’m interesting enough to draw a regular readership by myself. Getting a good web-site shouldn’t cost too much; probably about $500 with a minimal yearly fee. If you are serious about writing and haven’t secured your domain, do it immediately. I use Godaddy.com but there are others that are just as good and inexpensive. You might also want to get set up with Skype so you can do virtual interviews and presentations for various groups.

7. If you are comfortable doing so, let area schools (if you’re writing children’s books), universities, libraries, your publisher, and conference organizers know you’re available. In time, you can even make a pretty good supplemental income doing these things.

8. Book signings.

Go into local bookstores and whenever you’re on vacation or whatever and introduce yourself. Leaving brochures or bookmarks or swag behind is a good idea. Many times, the bookstore owner or community relations manager will ask if you’d like to do a book signing. In my experience, it’s best to coordinate it with another event, such as a school fundraiser or group author signing (especially if they’re similar genres) or during or immediately following a school visit or conference. Some book signings will feel successful and some not, but you can’t gauge it on book sales alone because you’re planting seeds of interest with readers and making a great, professional contact with a bookseller. Also, ask if you should sign the remaining books because then you know they’ll put them in a good spot to sell.

9. Organize your “street crew”

These are your relatives, friends, writing buddies who want you to succeed and form a grass roots effort. They’ll talk about your book in public places, post glowing reviews on Amazon.com and similar, and face-out your books on bookstore shelves. They’ll choose your book for their neighborhood book club and invite you to come for Q & As.

10. Newsletters and postcards

While I don’t do any of these, many authors do. A good way to populate your emailing or mailing list is to offer various contests on your web-site or Facebook page or whatever and keep track of all the people who enter. Also, whenever anybody contacts you directly from your web-site, be sure and add them to the list.

Thanks so much Wendy! What fantastic advice. 🙂

If you have any questions for Wendy, feel free to leave a comment.

Wendy Toliver is the author of  YA novels The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren, Miss Match, and Lifted. She lives in the Utah mountains with her husband, three young sons, and other such wildlife. Visit her online at www.wendytoliver.com.

4 thoughts on “February PANorama: Wendy Toliver”

  1. Some great suggestions here, Wendy. Thanks.
    One in particular which has helped me ‘circulate’ — “online activity” — is my involvement (since about May last year) in blogs and mail groups. I had never done anything like that before and it’s been a blast. Nearly everyone welcomed me and most have been quite gracious. As a result of that activity, I was invited to join a new group blog, Four Foxes and a Hound, where I have a weekly post. I’m really enjoying it.

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