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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thinking Outside of the Box - Authors' Tips 101

For years I've heard authors complain that nothing they do seems to improve their sales.  After thirteen years in the business, I have come to the conclusion no single thing will.  There is no magic biffity-boppity-boom and suddenly you are selling like hotcakes.  So what do you do?  Work.  Sorry, that is the raw truth.  Another sad truth?  Indy published, Small Press or Tradition published, it doesn't matter.  It's all going to fall on you.  Your money, your time.

Writing THE END is truly just the beginning of your journey as an author.  If you are a hobby writer (and I am not putting that path down) then marketing probably won’t be pressing for you.  But to the career writer, you must accept that you will likely spend as much time promoting as you do writing.  It’s a hard fact all new authors have to face.  There are days I do nothing but  promote...promote...promote.  It’s not fun, it’s grinding, and often you simply have no idea if any of it has impact.  So lose the idea I am going to offer you a golden key or a witch’s recipe to help you sell more books.  What I will do is impart some ideas to make you think about how you promote.  Most of this is old ground, but I continually see authors asking these same questions, even from authors a decade in the one more time.

(Full Page Romantic Times ad 2009)

Paid Promotions —

There are various venues, which promote books for you.  I have gone that route with full page ads in The Romantic Times, Realm of Fantasy, and even history and Scottish magazines.  Did they help?  To this day I am not  Sad fact.  Actually, I did see heavy traffic to my website the day The Romantic Times came out.  So the ads I did with them drove traffic to my door.   

(Half Page Ad for Romatic Times 2007)

All my novels had high sell-through.  Sell-through is that point where your book begins to earn the publisher money, after all their expenses are covered.  My novels all have gone into third printings, and the Historicals are now in the fourth printings.  Was that because of the magazines ads?  I simply do not know.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Frustrating, eh?  Maybe the ads were just a brick in the wall to building your brand.

As I said, most venues of PR leave authors scratching their heads.  So unless you have a $1000 or more to toss around you may not wish to consider this option.  If you do think you might want to opt for magazine ads, consider going in on ads with several authors—from the same publisher/ have the same subject matter.  I have done several of these.  Did they help?  Same redundant answer.  Possibly.

Positive side—you reach a lot of people all over the country.

Downside—high cost with no real assurance of a return.

(Double Page Ad in Realm of Fantasy Magazine 2009)

Reviews and Review sites—

There are a lot of places that offer reviews for free (NEVER pay for a review!).  Some also offer other author services, such as a web page on their site, or special showcase, chats, etc.  There have probably been fifty—maybe a hundred—over the last decade.  A lot didn't survive a year or two.  If you are looking into promotional packages with an author’s promo site, ask questions.  How much traffic do they have?  How will they promote you?  How often? 

Many have come and gone, but there are some solid ones that were there when I began and are still going strong.  Romance Junkies is one of the best.  Another top one is The Romance Studio.  I have done individual PR promos with them, but have also bought full service packages and have been very pleased with them.  Night Owl Romance is another I used and felt gave me plenty for my money.  As with print PR—be sure to weigh how much you are comfortable with spending for advertising.  Maniac Readers and Long and Short Reviews are two more I would recommend.  Two others I recommend that are more professional writing communities that let you promote all you need: Booktown and Authors Den.

Plus side—some of these venues have a big following, message board on Yahoo, website and social media presence.  Side Note:  Many of the social media pages are open to join free.  So check around.  You can find a lot of PR groups or pages on Facebook you can use.

Down side—they often are heavy with authors, too, so are not reader groups.  Meaning you are preaching to the choir.  Authors are there to promote their books, too, not buy yours.

Blogs and blogging—

Blogs were super hot ten years ago.  Now, everyone has them.  An author’s web site and blog are losing their importance in PR scheme of things.  Several reasons.  Most people seek out authors on spots like Authors Central on, or Facebook and Twitter.  These are updated frequently so they get fresh information and have a more personal feel.  Also, the average reader doesn't have time to read the blogs of 20-30 authors every week.  Generally, I use my blogger account as a personal showcase of what is happening in my life.  When I post about going to the Renfaire, or special restaurants or happenings in my town, I get as many if not more hits on those posts.  I give people a personal hello, what is happening, what books are out or coming.  I post excerpts or promotions.  Image intensive posts tend to get more attention.

Plus side—you can post daily where a website is more static.  You can get information out there quickly, run contests, and get PR rocking.

Downside—when you are doing frequent postings on a blog, requiring long articles, organized with images etc.—that is time away from your writing.  Since PR is already a big drain on your time, you have to make choices of what is more important.  Using your words takes those words away from your novels.  It has also been proven people respond to quicker, sharper posts, than long reading.  So keep that mind.

Social Media --

You might say well, duh.  Everyone knows about Facebook and Twitter.  So I won’t spend a lot of time pushing them.  But are you using Google Plus?  Google has groups and chat options, but I mainly use it as an information site, doing promos and such.  I often get more hits off postings there than either Facebook or Twitter.  Are you using Linkedin?  It’s less social and more business feel, but you can promote.  The neat thing about Linkedin is I can set it so my account reposts all my posts to Twitter—neat way to save a little time.

Right now my Linkedin account posts to Twitter.  My Blogger posts to Amazon Central, Booktown and Goodreads.  Twitter can be set up to post to MySpace and Facebook.  Word of warning--if you do that watch promo posting.  You are likely already posting to Facebook, but if you set up Twitter to post there too, you end up with double posts and someone will scream you are spamming everyone.  You can create a professional page on Facebook.  With a professional page you can add more people than you can on a personal page, and you can actually set your books up to sell right from the page.

Yahoo Groups

they are showing some age after two decades and really no improvement for about ten years, but they still work to find reader groups and promo groups.  Again, you will run into the authors stampede, but you do what you can at times.  There are two means of postinggoing to the individual group and posting on the message forum.  This is sent out to everyone on their list, and remains on the forum board.  Or you can be an mail box memberallowing you to post and reply through your own email, but if you chose this option you cannot post on the forum boards.  If you join at the Yahoo Groups site itself, you will have both options available.

Authors Central on—

They provide you free of charge an author’s page.  You can load about half a dozen photos, bio information, and set up your book list.  You use their claiming option to claim your books, and they will place them on your page, so when a reader checks in, they will have every thing about you in one spot.

Book signings—

Book signing are another option.  Personally, I do not enjoy them, but I know many people who love doing them.  The downside is getting people into the bookstore (which requires PR to do!)  Unless you or the store promotes the event, don’t expect a line like Stephen King gets.  You might try to organize a multiple author signing.  That tends to be a bit more fun.  Also, check and see if you have any big book fairs near you.  Don’t just offer to do a book signing at the local bookstore.  Offer to give a master class in romance writing, or how to realistically write a specific time period.  This will draw people in that are interested in learning to be a writer.  

But all these options are in the box thinking, and by my title I said we would be thinking out of the box.  Here is where you have to put your thinking cap on and see what venues are out there where you could do signings.

What events are happening in your area?  A farmer's market?  A craft fair?  Small shop Saturdays or events around holidays?  See if your local tea room might want to have a book signing.  Your local library branch?  You might combine it with a talk on how to get into publishing, or something along those lines.  One I have suggested to Historical writers—Renfaires.  There is a natural target.  They are into history, reenacting, costumes—you have someone who speaks your language.  I once discussed this targeting your audience, and Jacquie Rogers decided to go after rodeos, which is perfect for Western writers.  So is your county fair.  Many offer booth space for very a reasonable price, and often can do multiple days.  

One of the best book signings I did was at Keepers Seafood and More, just outside of my town.  I went there expecting not to sell a book.  I was totally surprised, selling hundreds of dollars of books in just three hours.  

The point being, you simply don’t know what will work until you give it a try.  You could organize a book launch party.  Tea rooms or cafés are a great place to hold a launch party.  Have a sheet cake and several pots of tea or punch, and invite people in to help you celebrate.

Craft fairs are another place.  These tend to pop up around late autumn and holidays.  They are generally merchandise orientated, but most are very open to you having a booth to promote your books.  Splurge on Vista Print poster—sometimes you can get them for $10 or less.  So far, I haven’t found authors going in this direction so you generally have a good showcase.  Books, especially, sell well around Christmas, since they make great presents.

Getting your name out there— 

Not just as you are a romance writer—get you name into various other venues.  There are a wide variety of options.  Some might even pay you.  Consider penning an article for a magazine.  Today it is easy enough to check out magazines on-line.  Writer’s Digest accepts articles.  But don’t just focus on  romance writing venues.  Pen a short story for Alfred Hitchcock Magazine or Ellery Queen Magazine for example.  By getting into a different genre you widen your exposure.  Look at area magazines.  There can be a wide range of different focuses, from ones covering a whole area such as Southern Writers Magazine, to others more localized.  There is a monthly magazine that covers my county.  Maybe you have a historical society that puts out monthly pamphlets.  Consider doing an article for your local newspaper.  Consider doing seasonal recipe story about what people ate then and include recipes.  Same for Western writer – especially good in the summer—Cowboy tips to open-fire cooking.  Look for a fashion angle.  See if you can tie in your period clothing to an article about women’s changing fashions.  These are just a few suggestions to help you think outside the box.  Getting your name—your brand—out there can be done outside of the normal perimeters of fiction writing.  Check out the magazines or news sites you haunt next time.  See what submissions they accept, how to submit.

(Romantic Times Half Page Ad - February 2007, shared with Cynthia Breeding)

Bottom line, it’s ALL work.  Sorry, there is no way around it.  Writing The End isn’t the end of your dream.  You have birthed you baby, now you must continually feed and nurture, and like all children they require a balanced diet.

Several bestselling authors I know were not big overnight successes.  It took years for them to sell.  Years to build an audience.  Most will tell you without a strong backlist they would have never made it to the top.  That means never stop promoting all your novels, stories and novellas.  Keep your works in print so the readers can find you.

Selling takes three things 1) talent/skill.  Talent you are born with.  Skill can be learnt.  Never stop honing your craft.  2) Opportunity, being at the right spot at the right time.  An editor may want a Scottish novel now, but two weeks from now the door has closed.  3) Determination—it’s grinding work, but if you don’t do it, what happens?—generally nothing.  Marketing is not hard, it’s persistence and time.  It takes a bit of imagination.  Don’t look at other authors and say, “What are they doing?”  Ask instead, “What they not doing?”

Don’t be afraid to try some PR venues that haven't been done before.  You just might surprise yourself.


  1. Your marketing and promotional experiences are interesting. Thank you for sharing your insights. I appreciate that you emphasized the importance of visibility and persistence as critical aspects of an author's success.

  2. An excellent reminder of the work involved in this business. @hen I decided to pursue this career, I set a plan in motion. It has served me well, but it is not written in stone, but fluid. It does help that I love learning and researching most anything. Your ideas have sent my mind to searching. If there is one thing I've found, it's not a one size fits all business. We find what we are comfortable with and willing to do. It's a matter of accepting the results of our choices. Doris

  3. Deborah, I am looking forward to more posts of yours like this one--so enlightening and helpful, and just crammed with information that we can all use and remember. I'm going to definitely refer back to this in days to come! Thanks for sharing with us!

  4. As always, a very helpful article, Deborah. I have used many of the venues you described here with varying results.

    Romance Junkies is my favorite group. If I participate in discussions on their yahoo group, not posting book promotion, but talking about the subject of the day, I think it helps establish my name and my brand without pounding my books down everyone's throat. My signature gives the information for all that. I think signatures are important when posting in a yahoo group.

    I run a yahoo group The Romance Room, and I see clearly that those groups are dwindling in popularity. I enjoyed the group when we would have discussions about books and writing, but readers and authors have gone to Facebook and Twitter.

    I have LinkedIn and Google Plus accounts which I rarely use. Maybe I could give them a bit more attention. I have started using Twitter more, thanks to you and Kaye Spencer. I haven't seen a significant rise in sales yet, but I understand the entire book market is flat. But still, my name and brand are out there.

    You're right, promotion is a big time suck. I do spend as much time promoting as I do writing--sometimes even more. One of the things I noticed about Facebook is that I get more response from personal stories about my weird family and some of my misadventures than I do with actual book promotion.

    You are right about lengthy blogs, and I think this is true of lengthy excerpts as well--people don't have time to spend reading them. I am working on finding ways to make them shorter and inserting more personal commentary in my blogs. I try to keep excerpts around 200 words.

    It might be a mistake, but I don't submit for reviews any more. I think it seems more genuine to readers when they see a review on Amazon written by someone who bought a book. I never really saw much response from reviews in a review group.

    And look--I've written a comment as long as a blog here. It's hard to keep it short when I have so much to say, but for now, I'm shuttin' up.
    Thank you for this wonderful and helpful article, Deborah.

  5. Thanks for putting this together, Deborah. I've saved this post to my Pinterest board for future reference.I learned a lot from Sarah too! I admire writers who are not only talented at their craft but also understand the marketing labyrinth. Doris makes an excellent point too about doing what your comfortable doing and then accepting the results of our choices. I'm constantly redrawing the line between how much time goes into writing and how much goes into promoting. Gone are the days I wished the readers would just discovery me! I know I have to fight for visibility. One thing that's helped me is being in anthologies where I have an obligation to others to step up my game. It's also an excellent way to be discovered by readers and learn from other authors.
    I've also been toying with the idea of submitting short reads to magazines. I even have in one of my tabs right now a list of periodicals with themed submissions. Like being in anthologies, there are times it helps me to keep writing skills by answering a call to submissions.
    It is an ever-changing landscape of what works and what doesn't and I applaud you authors who keep on top of things. You do the rest of us a great service by sharing your experiences and breaking it down the way you did!

  6. Personally, I think hanging naked from a helicopter would get instant notice. It may not get an author sales, but lots of notice.

    Otherwise, I don't know what works. EXCEPT: Getting bookings and speaking before an audience at a library, VFW, etc. You walk in and you couldn't give a book away. But do a Power Point with lots of pictures about the history of the WEST (or something else), read from your writing, and pull out a guitar and sing along with the audience, and you will have 70% to 90% in sales!

    It takes work and nerve to get a booking, set up your equipment, and talk before an audience!

    Thank you for this post, I read every word, and you are right, Ms. Deborah MacGillivray marketing is much harder than writing the book. It is a lot of work. But then, if you have a name like MacGillivray---that must sell a lot of books all by itself!