In my short time owning a bookstore, I’ve had the opportunity to view the marketing of a book from a whole new perspective. Frustratingly, good marketing doesn’t guarantee success for your book or for yourself as an author, but without it at some point in the chain – publisher, author, media, distribution point (in my case, independent bookstore) – the chances of a book becoming successful dwindle fast.
As someone who majored in marketing, I have a lot of strong feelings on the subject, and pay attention to it. I think there are a lot of things that authors can do to set themselves up for success. For our purposes here, I’ll stick to the things I like to see as a bookstore owner, though I’m always happy to talk about more general marketing practices. These three items are sort of events-focused, but they are applicable even if you’re not doing an event with the store. A store can only host so many events, after all, and there are thousands of books in each store that won’t have an event tied to it, and we like promoting those books too!
We want to promote you and your book. If you’re doing an event at the store, we are going to promote the event. I am particularly fond of promoting the event on social media. You can almost never guarantee a good audience for an event, but beyond the actual event’s attendance, you’re trying to create a perception that you’re a part of an exciting event. You know the old saying, perception is reality. As authors and writers who try to shape reality, we’re a little more likely to scoff at the notion, but it’s true. I won’t fill the bookstore for every event, but when I talk to people in my community, there is a distinct belief that there is always something exciting happening at the bookstore, and the main reason for that is social-media promotion.
So, help us out. Do you have a specific author photo you want us to use? Is there a review you’d like us to quote, or a phrase or tagline you’d like us to use in promoting the book? Can you get your publisher to foot the bill for a poster we can put up in the store? Usually not, but it never hurts to ask.
I’d use Rebecca Kim Wells as an example here. As an Indies Introduce author and a manager/buyer at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Rebecca has experience on both sides of the equation. At the Indies Introduce Breakfast at Children’s Institute, she encouraged people to help her come up with other taglines for her book than the “angry bisexual dragon novel.” I think it’s instructive to think of your book as a marketer would. When I say things like “everyone should read it!” people’s eyes glaze over. If you don’t give people a description, they’ll invent their own, or worse, they’ll simply ignore it.
Don’t be afraid to make your own graphics either. Are you doing a tour? Most authors don’t get a proper tour, because publishers are only willing and able to pay for a select few. But if you have a few events planned out ahead of your release, there’s no reason you can’t group those together and call them a tour. I’ll single out Rebecca again, because she’s doing a fantastic job. She has nine events lined up ahead of her release at the end of the month. The majority of them are local, but they’re in four different states, and when presented together in an attractive graphic, they look really impressive.
At the very least, this sort of organization is a signal to bookstores and the industry at large that you are a person who knows their business and is serious about promoting themselves. But a lot of bookstores either don’t make their own graphics in Canva or Illustrator or run out of time to make them properly. So if you have a graphic they can use, they’ll likely be more than happy to use yours.
The best events are the ones that have something fun and unique. Susan Tan brings a cardboard cutout of her main character, Cilla-Lee Jenkins with her. We call her Cardboard Cilla like she’s another person at the event. People are excited to take pictures with her, including me!
When we did Casey Robinson’s launch party for Iver and Ellsworth, she brought a stuffed Iver that someone had made for her (her mother, I think?). Kids loved squeezing it and holding it. When Gina Perry came for her book, Too Much! Not Enough!, she brought mini kazoos for kids, because one of the characters (Peanut), plays the kazoo in the book. I’m not sure parents really appreciated that giveaway, but the kids sure did! When Scott Magoon came for story time, he took requests from the audience when he was showing how he goes about drawing a picture, and even had some kids come up and draw with him. April Jones Prince prepares a very specific activity/scavenger hunt for each of her books. Brian Lies wraps his car in the graphics from his newest book.