March 14, 2022

From Tik Tok to old-fashioned swag, genre authors share their marketing secrets

BlueInk Review Staff

It’s not easy to write a book. And it’s even harder to sell it.

While authors know all about the mechanics of writing, they aren’t likely to be marketing experts. So how can they get the word out about their book efficiently and effectively

We asked five genre writers about their marketing techniques during individual interviews. They shared their secrets, from how to use YouTube to making press kits, and even to mixing promotional cocktails!

For excellent advice on how to approach marketing, read on. (And for the full interview of each author, click on associated link.)

 David Ebenbach is the author of eight books of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, and his work has earned the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, the Juniper Prize, the Patricia Bibby Award, and more.

Folks, you’re going to need to be tough—and persistent, and creative, and energetic. I am fortunate to have a great press behind me, in Tachyon. If you don’t have that kind of engine driving your publicity, you’re going to have to do a lot yourself. And that means social media, and readings (when we get back to those), and blogging, and giveaways, and all sorts of stuff that you haven’t even thought of yet.

“Could you do some cross-promotion with an indie bakery whose name is similar to the name of your book? Should you give away candies where the wrapper features the title of your very sweet romance novel? Should you walk the streets in one of those The-End-Is-Near sandwich boards to promote your post-apocalyptic masterpiece…? Should you read one paragraph of your novel per day on YouTube? If you want to get the book out there, be as creative and active as you can.

“But, if you truly want to see your work welcomed warmly, there’s something that has to happen way before any of that promotional stuff. You need to be a good literary citizen. Spend your time on social media and in your book groups and e-newsletters promoting other folks; help your writer friends and talk them up when you get the chance. Being a good literary citizen is its own reward—that’s the main reason to do it—but it also means that you’ll build relationships and good karma and goodwill that will be very helpful when your own book comes out.”

Scott A. Johnson has been publishing horror novels for 16 years—both as a traditionally published and self-published writer.

“When a new book is coming out, I’ll go to a company (the same one who does my business cards) and have a small run of postcards of the book cover printed up. They’re cheap, easy to use as bookmarks, and easy to leave in public places. When I’m out to dinner, for example, I’ll leave one on the table.

“Another thing is the press kit. I’m a big believer in swag, so every press kit I send has a list of things in it: First, the book itself. Second, the marketing folder that provides the synopsis, target audience, author bio, etc. Then I add in something that somehow relates to the book that’s just fun for the reviewer. For example, for my bestselling book to date (Shy Grove: A Ghost Story), I included a pull-back racer toy truck of a 1951 Chevy stepside that was featured in the book. For the re-release of the first three books of the Stanley Cooper Chronicles, I found a seller on Etsy that made enamel pins, and I included one of those in every press pack. The thing is, going the extra mile for reviewers is a bit of goodwill. It can’t hurt, really.

“I also run contests and giveaways. When Bitten (Book Four of the Stanley Cooper Chronicles) came out, I included plastic vampire teeth with the press pack, and the winners of my giveaways got them, too…

“The other thing that I do is readings. I’ll read to an audience of one or more than 1,000. You have to be comfortable speaking in front of a crowd and to groups.”

Lindsay Merbaum‘s debut novel The Gold Persimmon was published by the Brooklyn-based feminist horror press Creature Publishing in October, 2021.  It mixes horror with queer feminist fiction, speculative fiction, and literary fiction about transformation.

[We asked Merbaum about marketing her book’s unusual mix of genres]:

“It’s both a challenge and a strength to write across genres. I’m hoping for a swath of reviews and interviews from magazines and blogs that cater to different sets of readers… In the meantime, I employ boozy beverages as a lure.

[Merbaum is a renowned mixologist with an Instagram account (pickyourpotions) in which she shares some of her literary-inspired alcoholic potions. Some of her drinks have been featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books.]

Whatever you may like to read, you can appreciate cocktails and mocktails inspired by contemporary literature. Booktails have become my hobby/side hustle and they do indeed bring a variety of readers to the yard… I created a compendium of six cocktail recipes (with corresponding mocktails) inspired by the moods and themes of the book. There’s one called The Fog, another favorite is Sex in Mirrors.

“All pre-orders receive a digital copy [of the recipes] and I’ll soon be selling print copies as well via my website for those who’d like a paper edition, or didn’t get a chance to pre-order before the book’s release. Readers are free to contact me to reserve their copy in advance…

“The Gold Persimmon cocktail contains bourbon, mezcal, Earl Grey tea, homemade hibiscus syrup, ginger shrub, and aromatic bitters. You can scope it out on my Instagram, along with a variety of drinks based off my favorite books of all genres, from memoir to poetry to sci-fi to feminist horror…

 “Additionally, I have plans to put together Zoom or IGTV events with fellow authors. I may even get some musical guests to join the party.”

Elly Bangs has released her debut, a post-apocalyptic thriller, titled Unity. BlueInk caught up with her just weeks before her highly acclaimed novel was officially released.  

“I’m pretty new at this—but in the grand scheme, I think the big one [marketing tip] is to be as prolific as you reasonably can be. That does take a lot of time… and it’s not compatible with all writing styles or all lifestyles—but when you put new stuff out there regularly, you keep your name familiar.

 “Publishing short stories and flash fiction in pro magazines lets a lot of new readers sample your style without a huge initial investment of time or attention, and that helps you build a readership that’ll look forward to your next thing, keep interest in your earlier works alive, and hopefully spread the word. Me, I try to get a few short stories per year published if I can. It’s hard work and comes with lots of rejection, but it also helps keep me sane when I’m toiling away on novels.

“As for promoting, I tend to think the less organic it is, the thinner its likely impact…Our minds are callused against anything that looks like an advertisement, and everybody’s already sitting on a to-be-read pile a mile tall. Maybe the best we can do is tell stories worth talking about—and when people do talk, appreciate them for it and amplify their voices. Treat their attention as a precious resource they’re choosing to share with you and reward them with your own.”

Brian James Gage is the author of six books, including two from his Nosferatu Conspiracy series— The Sleepwalker and The Sommelier—which blend horror, occult fantasy, apocalyptic fiction and alternate history. The Sommelier will be released this month.

“I despise social media. But I also understand the concept of necessary evils. So after having zero social media presence until basically early 2020, I then started serializing The Sleepwalker on Instagram.

“It started slow with a daily 200-word-ish post and an accompanying photo that I’d include from something I’d Photoshopped (badly) that was indicative of the post. I was also keen on making sure the hashtags were honed to attract people who might be interested in the topic.

“I then made an oath that no matter the response that I’d make a daily post for 60 days—no exceptions. And right about the 40-day marker, I was thinking, ‘OK, this is going nowhere.’ Then all of a sudden, people started sharing it around, more followers every day, comments, likes, etc.

“So then a friend taught me some [Adobe] After Effects and I moved on from photos to animated, parallaxed photos. Then it got even more attention . . .

“Then due to my love and curiosity of cinema, I started putting together very amateur-ish video promos that were essentially Ed Wood-level in their B-film hilarity.

“But each inception caught more attention. So by the time The Sleepwalker was released, I went from zero social outreach to roughly 6,500 organic followers across all available channels, which isn’t crazy impressive, but…everything takes time, and 6,500 people to engage with sure beats zero.

“I think now with The Sommelier, there is nearly an 11,000-person potential engagement across the channels I’ve been building out. Just hammer on it bit-by-bit, day-by-day, and you’ll get something out of it. …

“I’ve had the damnedest time getting any momentum on Twitter and Facebook, so I tried to focus more on TikTok this time around. Although the early numbers are encouraging, the success remains to be seen. Since launch though, we have tens of thousands of views and nearly 5,000 followers on the Nosferatu Conspiracy page. Pre-orders are pretty high as well, but I’m having a hard time actually saying it’s due to the TikTok page. Bare minimum, it’s not hurting.”

BlueInk Review offers serious, unbiased reviews of self-published books. Our reviews are penned by writers drawn from major mainstream publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, and editors of respected traditional publishing houses. Select reviews appear in Booklist magazine, a highly respected review publication that reaches 60,000 librarians.

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