(excerpt from Your A Game by Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan)

Because publisher-sponsored advertising is dwindling and because securing advertising independently has become so easy, many authors elect to purchase public advertisements on their own behalf. From posters at conventions to full-color ads in magazines and newspapers and in public transportation services, authors have a number of ways to promote their work in a public setting. As always, how and why this happens will depend on individual authors’ brands, budget, and current position within the market.

Go Hard or Go Home

If you choose to do advertising for a title, do so with a strategy and with an eye for the long game. Do not take out one ad on one blog and wait for this to result in mass sales. You need a minimum of three exposures to attract new readers, and you need a variety of exposures.

Advertising is the price of being boring. — Andy Sernovitz, Word of Mouth Marketing

The best exposure will always be word of mouth, so make it easy for those mouths to spread the word. Work with your publisher to offer ARCs, and help ensure these are going to proper targets. NetGalley can be an easy way to reach a number of people quickly and easily. You can also cultivate a list of readers and offer to them directly. You can host contests for ARCs and encourage winners to leave reviews. (Since you’re giving the book away, this is a fair exchange.) You run the risk, of course, of these readers and bloggers not liking your book and therefore giving you negative attention, but the potential benefits far outweigh the risks. Remember, too, sometimes a negative review will still net you readers.

  • Establish a measure of success so you can spend your money wisely as well as analyze the results during and after the campaign.
  • Target any purchased ads to the time the book is released and ask that the link direct to a point of sale or your book page on your website where you redirect to a variety of booksellers.
  • Purchase ads in different venues. Try not to limit yourself to only one type of advertisement. Use some free social media options. Play with new markets and types of ads to increase your reach.
  • Bolster ads by creating social media content that sells your book without being noise. Offer JPG images of quotes, your cover, your tagline, your positive reviews, or some combination. Give behind-the-scenes facts. Design short, interesting bites of information about your book that is fun and easy to share.
  • Space out your efforts. Don’t drown your readers in promotion, but drizzle it lightly over a span of several weeks.
  • Make room for your readers to turn their excitement into casual promotion. Have some zinger quotes your fans are citing on Goodreads or social media? Turn these into visual memes and make it clear your fans are welcome to share them on social media. Allow your readers to engage with your characters or offer their favorite parts of your work and turn their responses into promotion, if only in the form of a retweet or Facebook discussion. Some readers enjoy attention, and their enthusiasm can work to your advantage.
  •  Purchase ads only within your means. If you don’t have the money to purchase a blitz of ads, don’t. You can still achieve serious visibility with free and lower-cost methods. Make a budget, and stick to it. If a perfect site is beyond your marketing means, it’s not actually perfect. Be professional. Pay to have your ads designed well or learn to design them yourself. Offering shoddy advertisements ends up selling your work as shoddy too.

Sight Lines: the Iron Duke effect

Part of the frustration with marketing efforts of any kind is not being able to see what, if anything, is working. The truth of all marketing efforts is that it’s impossible to know exactly what draws readers except in rare circumstances, and when measurable, it’s probable that technique will never work precisely in the same way again. Because of this impossibility, for your A game we suggest you learn the waltz of what we call the Iron Duke effect.

One summer several years ago, Heidi kept tripping over the same book wherever she went. On blog and website ads, in reviews, in contests—everywhere Heidi traveled on the web, she heard people talking about a new romance novel, an alternate history/steampunk romance called The Iron Duke. It had a striking, well-designed cover. It had an intriguing title. It had great buzz. Over and over readers and bloggers talked about how much they enjoyed this novel by Meljean Brook. The cover and the title kept resurfacing. Though she wasn’t generally drawn to that subgenre and had never heard of that author before, the repetition, variety, and consistency of exposure eventually got the better of her. She downloaded a sample and found she enjoyed it.

This, for Brook and her publisher’s marketing department, was a success. This is exactly what advertising is supposed to do.

People will insist they don’t pay attention to advertisements, but the truth is, unconscious attention can pack a wallop. If your cover looks just like every other cover in a blog’s sidebar, no, it won’t attract much notice. If it’s gorgeous and singular? Yes, it will draw the subconscious eye. That may not result in a click or a sale, but the brain retains the things that stimulate it. If that cover appears again, this time in a rapturous review, that subconscious association will become conscious. Possibly still very casually, but the more the exposure happens, the more chance it has to result in a sale.

Rather than focus on one piece of advertising, a single review, or general exposure, focus your marketing efforts on quietly situating your book in your market’s sightlines. This soft-sell strategy has the advantage of allowing the reader to “discover” your work for themselves. Blog tours are free. Ads can be had everywhere at a wide range of prices. Articles on related topics can attract nonreaders from the most unlikely communities.

Make sure your books are distributed to major reviewers. Consider entering contests. Offer giveaways, do teasers—whatever you can to get that cover, hook, and blurb out there on more than your website. Don’t rely on one thing to make or break you. Let a casual net of gentle reminders do your work instead.

Great advertising can’t sell dog food that dogs won’t eat.

Genre fiction is an impulse buy, but readers usually make the decision to purchase a novel after being primed to do so. Money is a limited resource, and even the most impulsive shoppers have a metric to help them decide when and why they will commit.

Your ultimate goal is to be considered an auto-buy author, to turn new readers into newsletter subscribers and people who whenever they see you have a new book, rush to preorder it. The road to that point begins with casual, repeated, mindful contact.

© 2016 Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan, All Rights Reserved

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