9 Ways (and 2 Rewards) of Marketing Your Own Book

Today’s guest post is by writer Beth Alvarado.


When I found a good home for my essay collection Anxious Attachments, I knew I would have to take an active role in marketing. After all, while Autumn House Press is a fine press, it’s also small and independent, with no marketing department and limited funds. I published both of my earlier books, Not a Matter of Love and Anthropologies, through university presses—also wonderful, prestigious presses that don’t have marketing departments.

The main problem, however, was me: I knew nothing about marketing and, honestly, didn’t realize I would need to do it.

Because university and small presses published all three books, I can describe to you what those publishers are able to do with their limited resources:

  • They send emails and your book to their own lists, including reviewers, as well as to a list of people and possible reviewers you provide.
  • They nominate your book for prizes.
  • They might advertise your book in magazines or online venues.
  • They might help you network with other writers who might promote your book.
  • They might do a book launch, if you can travel to their site and they’re launching a spring or fall list.
  • They might help you set up readings, but you would have to pay for your own travel.

While this isn’t a marketing campaign like one you might get from a big press—which would only occur IF your book happened to be one of the books it wanted to push—it does help you cover all four areas outlined in Jane Friedman’s post, A Book Launch Plan for First-time Authors with No Online Presence:

  1. Market and promote to the people who know you (existing readers or fans, even if there are only a couple).
  2. Encourage existing readers and fans to share your book with their network.
  3. Get influencers to help spread the word.
  4. Market to strangers or readers who don’t know you yet—but have demonstrated interest in work similar to yours.

I soon recognized I would have to fill the marketing gaps myself. It’s not that hard; it just takes time. And the rewards amount to more than just book sales.

The first two steps are definitely easier to take than they used to be even ten years ago. Email and social media go a long way towards notifying readers and helping you network so you can set up readings and get reviews. With my first book, I created a website. For my third, two friends completely updated and revamped it.

With my second book, I’d done one very important thing: Because Anthropologies was a lyrical memoir and very unusual in structure, I decided teachers of creative writing were important influencers, so I sent a copy of the book out to every teacher I thought might want to teach it. I’d been training teachers at the university level for eleven years, and I’d been in the job market, meeting faculty at interviews. So I sent quite a few copies to this network, each with a personal note, reminding the recipient about when we’d met. I knew that course adoptions would be great and, that if teachers liked the book, they would tell other teachers.

This must have worked because the book has been taught by people I’ve never met and those to whom I sent a copy. I had hoped that some of those teachers might also write reviews, a gamble that didn’t pay off but could have.

Steps 3 and 4 on the list are the harder, of course—reaching influencers and strangers. Just how do you do that?

1. Hire a publicist

By the time the third book, Anxious Attachments, was accepted for publication, I knew at least two people who had hired publicists for their books. One had done an excellent fund-raising campaign to hire her publicist, and she probably got more online exposure from the fundraising than she did from the publicist. The second friend had very good results from a partial campaign. I interviewed both friends to find out what they recommended, and I read a few articles about hiring publicists, including a really helpful entry, again, on this site: Choosing a Publicist: Ruling Out and Ruling In. Then, I interviewed a few publicists.

Anxious AttachmentsI ended up hiring the publicist who would do a partial campaign, partly because that was all I could afford, partly because my friend recommended him, and partly because he’d worked in small literary houses for ten years in New York City, with contacts possibly receptive to my work. He coordinated with my publisher to avoid duplicating efforts, and my publisher, of course, had my list of contacts for reviews.

Both of their lists increased my potential influencers exponentially, but, as it turned out, the only reviews so far have come from people on my own list. This doesn’t mean the publicist’s partial campaign was ineffective, in my view. There may be reviews yet to come, and for some contests or prizes, books cannot be submitted or nominated. Instead, reviewers out in the world select books.

The more reviewers see your book, the more likely it is to be selected. Any campaign is a matter of increasing your exposure, and the publicist has helped me do that.

2. Make readers out of strangers

As for reaching strangers or new readers, again I bought boxes of my books and gave them away at readings, asking people to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads in exchange. I gave one to a perfect stranger in a restaurant who commented on my book because I had it sitting on the table. But so far there are only seven reviews on Amazon and five on Goodreads. I’ve received many more emails than that from readers, those I know and those I don’t, and people have posted on Facebook. All of that is gratifying, but it doesn’t help me reach those people under item #4: strangers who don’t yet know my work. I am trying to encourage people to post, though it feels self-serving.

So here are a few things I’ve done—that I feel good about—to reach new influencers and readers.

3-6. Make events connected to but not “about” the book

3. For instance, Lisa Bowden at KORE Press in Tucson sponsored a salon called “Matters of Life and Death,” where my friend and I each read short passages from our recent books and then facilitated a conversation with other people about those moments where you realize you are in the presence of mysteries you don’t understand. There were at least 40 people there, over half of whom I’d never met. I sold all of the books I’d brought, so did my friend, and it was a moving and enjoyable evening.

4. Also, I participated with five other women in a fundraiser Bowden held for KORE, a kind of Moth storytelling event, where we told stories about motherhood, riffing off earlier essays that we’d had published on the press’s blog. There were probably 100 people at that event, most of them unknown to me. So again, I reached readers who otherwise would never have heard of me and, in preparing, challenged myself in ways that were totally scary and rewarding.

5. At a bookstore, I arranged an “in conversation with” event with another woman who’d written an essay collection. Together we discussed recent essay collections by women and read from our own. The bookstore was interested in sponsoring this event because it was different from the usual readings where, typically, a small number of the reader’s closest friends show up.

6. I also hosted a more conventional reading but, again, with another writer and we were both reading about borderlands issues. Again, we both sold out.

These experiences have taught me that finding an unusual approach will attract both venues and an audience. I especially like events that also lift other writers. And so, as I go on to set up future events, I’ll apply what I’ve learned. I like approaching marketing sideways. But how could I do more of this? And how could I do it online?

This is where my publicist really helped me with ideas.

7. Write a craft essay

When we weren’t getting the reviews that we’d hoped for, he asked if I could write a craft essay. Fortunately—or not—my daughter had just opened my book to a random place, a scene she found objectionable. This resulted in a long conversation where she told me I was no longer allowed to quote her without her permission, and that conversation led me to write an essay called “When Your Daughter Refuses to Be in Your Essay.” The publicist was able to place it on LitHub, just in time for Mother’s Day. Because this essay was funny but conflicted, it generated many responses and reached quite a few new readers.

8. Design a playlist

Next, he asked if I could write a playlist to go along with the essay collection because Largehearted Boy, a blog about music and literature, publishes playlists by authors in its Book Notes section. This was quite an undertaking for me because the events in my book take place over the 40 years of my marriage to my late husband, Fernando. I was reminded of everything from opera to mariachi music to seventies rock and roll to the indies rock my children loved. I found myself listening late into the night. My playlist turned out to be an essay in its own right, about 3,000 words.

After I had a draft, I read the instructions in the publicist’s email: “one track, explain the track,” so I whittled my list and my essay down to a manageable length. The entry for the final essay in the collection is: “If I were to make a playlist for Fernando, it would be filled with guitar music. Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Duane Allman, Jerry Garcia, Santana, B.B. King, Steve Winwood, Mark Knopfler. And Hendrix. Of course, Hendrix. Especially ‘Little Wing.’ If, when someone dies, the person we were inside of them also dies, then this is the girl I am mourning when I mourn Fernando.”

Again, something I undertook to promote the book turned out to be valuable in and of itself, and my book was exposed to a number of new readers, 150 of whom liked the playlist.

9. Write a review essay

The third thing I’ve written with the sole intent of promoting my book is a review essay. My publicist asked me to write a few reviews, but I ended up writing an essay tentatively called “What is it? A memoir in essays? A collection?,” wherein I consider ten recent books by women essayists, 12 when I add my own to that list. My own struggles as a writer have often been about structure, and so I was interested to see how other writers structured their collections.

I didn’t want to write critiques, as some reviewers do, but instead an analysis of others’ projects: How is this working? What are its strengths? In what ways is it unique? I learned a lot by articulating, in this essay, the differences between a “memoir in essays,” “an essay collection,” and “a book-length essay,” something I would not have done otherwise and that will be, I’m sure, valuable when I go to market other projects. And, in the meantime, I am filling the role of influencer for others’ work. At least, that is my intent.

Marketing and creativity

In short, like all of you, I have limited time, so doing this marketing has meant I haven’t had time to write anything brand new. However, I’ve realized that, through marketing, I’m laying the foundation for my story collection, Jillian in the Borderlands, which comes out next year. In the process, I’ve learned two crucial things about the role of marketing in a writer’s life:

  • Marketing can become a part of your creative life, adding fuel and clarity to your writing.
  • Whether you’re also promoting others’ work or simply making new connections, marketing can help expand your literary community.

The line between creating something and selling it doesn’t have to be a hard boundary, and crossing that line need not be painful. Instead, let it be a zone of creative exchange supporting your work and its readers.

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion.

Beth Alvarado is the author of Anxious Attachments, an essay collection, as well as Anthropologies: A Family Memoir and a short story collection Not a Matter of Love. Her collection Jillian in the Borderlands: A Cycle of Rather Dark Tales is coming out from Black Lawrence Press in 2020. Her essays have been published in literary journals like The Sun, Guernica, and River Teeth, and have twice been chosen as Notable in Best American Essays. Visit her at www.bethalvarado.com.

20
Join the conversation

avatar
9 Comment threads
11 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
11 Comment authors
BethCARL R D'AgostinoCynthia ArgentinePat McNeesMarie Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Kyla

Thanks for the useful advice, it is always interesting to hear how other writers are working through the deep ocean of marketing.

Beth Alvarado

Deep ocean! Perfect way to describe it.

Melanie Bishop

Great ideas. I especially love the Play List and before you told me about it, I didn’t even know about Largehearted Boy, which is a great site, and the name! Love it. Thanks for sharing marketing ideas!

Kayleen Reusser

I’m interested in the Largehearted Boy site as well for my book about stories of WWII vets I’ve interviewed. I love 1940s music– so I’d just choose certain tunes from that time period for readers to listen to as a means of encouraging them to read the book? Interesting concept.

Beth Alvarado

I was just writing to Melanie about this. With my dad, it was Big Bands, too. Largehearted Boy is a great site and the playlists are fun to read about and listen to. Not sure how you submit, though. The publicist I was working with did that.

Deanna Cabinian

Hi Beth- when scheduling your events how did you approach that? Did you email the venues first, then call? Call first? Visit in person? How far in advance did you plan them? I’m always curious about the details of how an event is scheduled.

Beth Alvarado

Deanna, So I was really lucky, and I should have put this in the blog, but I think Lisa Bowden, who runs KORE Press, the press that sponsored the Salon: Matters of Life and Death, and the Moth storytelling event. contacted me. They are based in Tucson and I’d lived there for most of my life — so when she heard the book was coming out, she emailed to ask, probably at least 2 months in advance, to see if I’d set any events up yet. She asked if I had any ideas for a Salon and so I read… Read more »

S.S. Mitchell

I love the idea of reading evenings and engaging the audience that way however if you’re totally alone and unattached to a press it does seem somewhat daunting.

Beth Alvarado

For sure, it’s daunting, especially if you don’t have many connections to other writers. I always love collaborating with others — like maybe 2 or 3 people going in together to rent a space and then each person knows at least 10 people. I just saw this post on FB where a writer was saying that if people wanted to have small groups of readers, she would go to their houses, and I knew a woman in Tucson who did this, essentially offered to go to book clubs. But I for sure would not have done the Moth storytelling event… Read more »

Beth Alvarado

I am thinking, for instance, of approaching a really liberal church where I live now, and asking what I could do to help bring writers to town that their congregation would be interested in. Would they be interested in hosting readings? Or weekend classes?

Marie
Marie

I’m not trying to be flip here. What took more time, writing your book or publishing/marketing it? I ask because I too have published with a university press that did NO marketing of any kind, and this time around I’m looking to self-publish. But it sounds like getting the word out about your book is a full-time job in itself, and I’ve already got one of those…

Beth Alvarado

For me, definitely the writing! If I didn’t have to work as a teacher, then I could easily spend 8 hours a day writing — and maybe 4 marketing? Plus I have twin toddler grandchildren that I care for — and that’s from 4-8 hours a day. So. We’re talking time-crunch!

Pat McNees

This piece itself is a great example of self-marketing (in a helpful and not offputting way). I’d clicked on at least three links before finishing it (which could be a distraction, I suppose, if what you click on doesn’t open in another window). If collections of essays are hard to sell, as I have been told, this kind of “practical tips” piece clearly seems to be one way to sell them!

Beth Alvarado

Oh, thanks! And for me, part of it is I think there is a huge market for my book — women who are professionals and artists AND mothers/grandmothers/aunts. It isn’t a how-do-we-do-it-all book, but I do think it reflects how rich and complicated our lives are. We DO write about the important stuff, maybe not war so much, but birth and death and everything in between.

Cynthia Argentine

Such a thoughtful article! I appreciate the conclusion that marketing our work can be a creative endeavor that eventually helps us develop new ideas and build our literary community.

Beth Alvarado

Oh, good. This is what I feel like I’ve learned in my first attempt at marketing. And because I don’t have time to do both, I have to make sure the marketing part feeds me, somehow.

CARL R D'Agostino

“They send emails and your book to their own lists, including reviewers, as well as to a list of people and possible reviewers you provide.” I receive a lot of requests to do a book review but I do not do kindle and can’t imagine reading a book on my screen in a pdf form. But if they will send a book I usually do it. So if the publisher will send free books to a list of possible reviewers you provide that would save author a lot of money and get reviews. If the person passes the book on… Read more »

Beth Alvarado

This is true. If the publisher will send ARCs or copies of the book to reviewers, the book is much more likely to get a review than when digital copies are sent AND it will save the author from having to do that. Some publishers might send only X number of copies, though, or you might have better luck contacting people you know, so it just depends, I guess. The publishers I’ve worked with have been very good at sending out review copies.

Beth

Wow. Loads to think about. Love your writing. Can’t wait to read some of your essays.

Beth Alvarado

Thank you!