So you’ve published your first book, and now you’re wondering just how to attract readers. Promotion doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are a few cheap and easy things available to anyone can do. While some may seem obvious at first, it’s still good to be reminded what works for others.
The first — and MAIN — thing is simple:
GET A WEBSITE!
Even a free site, made with a template, you need a place online that’s your little slice of the World Wide Web. If you don’t know the first thing about making websites, ask around. Make sure you keep the site updated regularly, and consider adding a blog to keep the content fresh.
Here are a few other things you can do to help spread the word about your website and your writing:
- Email signatures: If your book and/or website URL isn’t linked at the end of your email, you’re missing an opportunity to plug your writing every time you send an email message, whether to a friend, a company online, a newsgroup, or a Yahoo! group.
- Newsletters: If someone other than your mother has bought your book, create a newsletter (either through a listserv, your webhost server, or a free group such as those through Yahoo!). Add a prominent link to your website so readers can join your group.
- Contests: People love freebies, that’s a fact of life, up there with taxes and death. So run contests on your site or through your newsletter: give away free copies of your books. If you have advanced marketing swag depicting your cover art, such as note cards, journals, etc., consider giving these away as well. If people think they have a chance to win it, they’re going to enter.
- Handouts: Make business cards, bookmarks, flyers, or postcards of your website and/or your books, and carry them with you everywhere you go. Send your promo to other authors attending literary events! Consider adding a bookmark in with your bills, or leaving some in places where readers will find them, such as on the counters of bookstores and cafés, theaters, restaurants, small downtown businesses that offer bulletin boards, anywhere local newspapers are distributed. If you write a specific genre, pick places of interest to your readers — fantasy or sci-fi, try a local comic shop; erotica, try adult bookstores or night clubs. Talk with small business owners in your area. Many times they’re willing to give counter space to postcards from a local author. You can make fairly sophisticated products with Microsoft Word and a color printer, or you can search online for places that print paper products cheaply. A good place for postcards and business cards is Vistaprint — Google “Vistaprint coupons” to find discounts and sales.
- Your URL: Don’t limit yourself to displaying your link online. I print it on address labels I use for both bills and correspondence, and my last order of personal checks included a line above my signature for only $2.50. You never know who might see your URL and write it down to look up later. Some websites offer personalized bumper stickers — why not put your URL on the back bumper of your car? Cheap advertising, no?
- Reviews: There are numerous websites out there willing to review your book. Sure, your publisher may send out copies to a few, but if you find a blog or site that does reviews, or even someone willing to write a review for you, send them a free copy of your book. Their commentary may be worth the cost.
- Comments: Speaking of comments, visit websites similar in content or genre to your book, including communities, search engines, and blogs. If there are places to comment, particularly on blogs, do so and add your link — it doesn’t have to be a blatant “check out my book!” but rather an intelligent comment about their most recent post, leaving your URL behind. I notice a lot of my incoming links are from comments I’ve left on other sites.
- Blogs: Create a blog (even if it’s on a free site) and update it regularly. Try to keep your entries focused — what you’re working on now, what you’re publishing next, etc. Join blogging exchanges to increase traffic to your blogs. Traffic to my website increased 100-fold when I did this, and I have more readers of my fiction visiting my blog now I use it to talk about works in progress and upcoming publications.
- Freebies: On your blog, post snippets of prose, either complete stories or scenes from works in progress, to keep your readers coming back. The same is true on your writing website — add excerpts from your books, or offer free stories to your readers. People like free stuff, and if you’re not a household name, it’s hard to gather new readers online without giving them a taste of what you write.
- Communities: Join writing websites or social communities such as MySpace or Facebook and link to other writers … and readers! Add your links and use your book cover as your avatar.
- Website: Join link exchanges, web rings, and search engines of interest to readers and/or your genre (there are plenty of link sites out there — look for them!). Anywhere it says “Add Your Link,” if you think your site will fit, then do so. Be sure to create accurate an ROR file or meta tags for your site to help search engines catalog and display it properly.
- Amazon.com: If your books are available on Amazon, create a profile page through Amazon Connect. This includes a free blog whose entries will be linked to the pages where they sell your book. It’s a great way to get in touch with readers who may not have found you elsewhere online. Have you been published in anthologies? Create a Listmania! list to link readers to all your books in one place. The list will appear on the Amazon’s pages for each book in the list, linking them all together. If you’re self-published, retain the electronic rights to your books, or have recently regained your rights to out-of-print books, consider uploading them to Amazon’s Kindle store. You get 60% of each sale.
Even if you’re more prone to novels, consider writing short stories. They’re a great, quick way to get your name out there. You get more exposure to readers this way, and any bio should include a link back to your site.
- Offer free short stories on your site or via your newsletter to your readers.
- Sell short stories to online writing/genre publications or small press ‘zines, even if there’s no pay involved. Anywhere it says “Submissions,” consider submitting a story or article.
- Writing contests are great exposure, even if you don’t win. In 2004 I entered a flash fiction contest in February and didn’t win. In December of that same year, one of the judges of the contest contacted me and asked if she could publish my contest entries in her online site, updated weekly, for $10 each. I sold 11 stories to the site, each one for pay. I wouldn’t have written any of them if not for that first contest.
- Look for submission calls for anthologies or collections in your genre. They’re a great way to gather new readers to your work, if you are included in the finished book.
- If you offer free stories on your website, upload them to sites online with heavy traffic, such as Smashwords. The more people who see them, the better!
While some of these things may seem simplistic, you’d be surprised how many times we overlook the easiest ways to get our names out there in front of potential readers. Use the web’s resources to help boost your sales and spread the word about your stories!