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Promo Don’ts


As I gear up for Her Grace’s Stable’s release next week, I’ve had promo on my mind.  What has worked.  What hasn’t.  Where I made mistakes.  The lessons I’ve learned.

Then I thought, hey, a blog post!  And more importantly, a chance for discussion.  I’d like to hear from YOU about what you do and don’t like about author promotions.

It’s really sad, but there are some really basic don’ts that we shouldn’t have to talk about, but they’re done often and it’s annoying to the readers.


  • Never add someone to your newsletter who didn’t deliberately opt in themselves.  It’s SPAM.
  • Never @reply someone on Twitter with a random “hey look at this! buy my book!!!” that has absolutely nothing to do with the original Tweet.  It’s SPAM.
  • Never post on someone’s Facebook wall or timeline with “buy my book” sort of garbage.  It’s SPAM.
  • Never rate or review your own book.
  • Don’t create sock puppet accounts to rate/review your own book.
  • Don’t go out and negatively rate/review the “competition” just because you think it’ll make your book look better.
  • Never attack a reader or reviewer because they didn’t like your book.  Certainly don’t send death threats, hunt down their personal information online, etc.  (Yes, this has been done.)

Now here’s some facts/opinions I’ve picked up over the years.

1. Does advertising work?  Honestly, it’s impossible for me to tell.  Even when I’ve done an online ad and saw several clicks through to my site, you never really know whether it led to a sale or not.  I do advertising for name recognition, but I don’t count on it helping sales.  I probably ought to sign up as an Amazon affiliate at some point, but I just haven’t had the time.

2. Do blog tours work?  Again, honestly, it’s impossible for me to tell.  All I can tell you is it’s EXHAUSTING.  I did two huge tours last year and my blogging mojo has been out of whack ever since.  (And I’m pretty sure that my Twitter friends got sick of me tweeting about which blog I was on, sorry about that.)  It’s especially hard to keep coming up with unique ideas — much easier if the site provides a basic questionnaire or interview.  Small unique excerpts are nice too.  But the whole 500-word unique blog post is TOUGH.  There are only so many different things I can say about a book after blogging about it for months+ on my own blog!  Again, it probably helps with name recognition, but most of the commenters are hoping to win a free book (as they should) and may not go out and buy the book on their own.

3. Do mailings work?  I used to belong to Pat Rouse’s romance bookclub/bookstore list and for my first two print books, I mailed out a fairly extensive number of ARCs (considering they were all out of my own pocket and I’m with small presses).  It certainly didn’t hurt, but my print sales are an incredibly small piece of my royalty pie.  I decided it made more sense to concentrate on where 98% of my market is, and that’s electronic.  Plus I did have one bookstore return the opened package back to me marked “refused.”  Boy talk about a blow to your self esteem!

4. Are bookmarks, postcards, etc. worth the cost to print?  I find it incredibly ironic to have bookmarks printed when most of my sales are electronic…!  But it is nice to have something to sign and hand out.  If you’re not going to conferences or mailing gifts/prizes out, then save your money.  Some other notes…

promoSee this big box of stuff?  I went through it today and everything in there needs to be recycled.

Back in 2007-2009, I had a bunch of stuff printed with my Drollerie Press releases, and then the pub went out of business.  ALL of these listed the publisher, some had the ISBN, and even the ones I self published since all have new covers.  So be wary when printing up 1000 bookmarks!  Consider creating bookmarks that support your author brand beyond a single book if possible, too.

I will say that I’m very glad that I still have several hundred Dear Sir, I’m Yours bookmarks.  I love the cover, it supports the brand I’m trying to establish nicely, and it’s convenient to hand out.  After all these years, Dear Sir is still my #1 seller every single month.  Isn’t that crazy?  So it’s definitely been a nice investment. Plus I hope that if someone new finds me through this book or bookmark, they’ll go out and buy the other books in the series too.

If you do send out bookmarks, I think it’s nice to sign them.  People are more willing to hold on to something that’s signed, even if they’re strictly ebook readers.  I personally haven’t found postcards, etc. very useful.

Also, if you’re not a whiz at Photoshop or design, do consider hiring someone to design your print promo for you.  It seems “so easy” to create a little postcard based on your cover, etc. but I wasted hours and hours of time trying to get things just right and I was always disappointed in the final product.  I know exactly what I want — but I often can’t figure out how to create it!  A professional designer has definitely been worth the cost to me.

5. Do giveaways work?  Again, who knows?  I *hope* that whoever wins a free copy of my book will a). give it a try and b). love it and c). maybe review it somewhere or talk about it to a friend, etc.  But you just never know.  People do love to win free things, so I do think giveaways help with name recognition.  The bigger prizes will often draw contest-junkies though – not necessarily readers.

For me, I like giving stuff away, especially books or cute/cool little things that made me think about the book.  As soon as I saw the Jane Austen Royal Mint Stamps, I had to have a set for myself and I also knew it was the perfect thing to give away for any of the Jane Austen Space Opera books.

I love the personalized giveaways that Lynn Viehl always does – like her fantastic quilted totes.  I can’t sew, but if you can do something like that, what an awesome prize!  Handmade, beautiful items are always a treasure to win, at least to me.

Gift certificates are nice too, but you never know how the winner will actually spend it.  e.g. don’t expect them to use it and buy ONLY your books!  That’s a totally unfair expectation.  I like to giveaway a free copy of my newest book along with the gift certificate, so people can feel more open to buying whatever they want, while giving me the feeling that at least they have one of my books to try.

What else do you have to say about promotion don’ts — or better yet — what you wish more authors would do?

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The Best Kind Promo

This is something you can’t buy or plan for.  You can only hope that it spreads.  It may start gradual and move so slowly that you have no idea that anything is happening at all.  You may catch a whisper every now and then, but that’s it. 

I’m talking about word of mouth.  Nicole referred to herself as my “book pimp friend.”  Of her own volition, she has blogged about my books and offered giveaways at her expense.  Sharon has nominated Dear Sir, I’m Yours for best erotic romance of 2009 on Beth Kery’s blogPearl, Marissa, and Susi regularly chat with me on Twitter (watch for an interview with Susi, coming up early April, too), often retweet my posts, and have all reviewed at least one book of mine.  Nadia kindly tweeted that Dear Sir is available for pre-order.  Soleil and Sherri and so many others have reviewed my books on their blogs or rated them on Goodreads and Amazon.  Larissa Ione took the time to read Rose while on deadline and gave me a fabulous cover quote.  *sobs and hugs her gratefully*

That kind of promo you can’t buy and it’s INVALUABLE.  Word of mouth is the best kind of promo of all.

So how do you get that kind of momentum going?  You write the best darned book you can.  You write a book that people enjoy — and then want to talk about.  You write a book that is unafraid to deal with politically incorrect elements or harsh realities.  You write characters that people talk about like they’re real people.

As authors, we sometimes have little control over our books once contracted.  We hope the editor likes it, but if she says change the hero’s name or delete this subplot, or how about this instead?  Then you do it, or find a better way to address her concerns.  You hope you get a great cover.  You hope that your book gets loaded to Fictionwise (ridiculously slow and stubborn sometimes) and that it actually keeps its cover on Amazon.  You hope that the big review sites will review it, good or bad, but obviously you’re praying that everyone will love it, even though you know that’s impossible.

In the end, the number one thing we can control, that has the most impact on word of mouth, is the book.  Write a damned good book, and then hope that people start talking about it.

I’m so grateful to everyone, readers and other writers, who have helped me spread the word about my books!   THANK YOU!

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Promo For Print Books

As I said last week, I’m a relative newbie in this arena.  The first point I’d like to make is that everything builds.  All the promo I’ve done for e-books, like blogging, free reads, etc. will help the print promotion, too.  

Some readers of the e-book may want the print copy too.  However, there’s a whole other market of readers that opens as soon as the book is in print, that have no idea the book has been released over a year in electronic format.  Those are the specific readers I’m trying to target with my print promotion efforts.

The most helpful article I’ve found was an interview Sherry Thomas did (here).  My books are coming from the electronic world to print, and so I don’t have an advance to use for my promo budget.  However, I do have my royalties.  So as money comes in each month or quarter, I decide what I can spend on promo.  Since I work full time, pretty much all my royalties are going back into the business as promo.  The more I earn electronically, the more I can afford to do for print, and eventually, I’m hoping those royalties will help fund the electronic release of future books.  It’s a cyclical process that I’m trying to build.

So here are a few things I’ve done specifically for print releases.

  1. Ordered extra copies at my author discount, as many as I could afford.  I ordered two full boxes of Rose (I had to take my own copies to the library signing back in Dec.) and I have a full box coming for Dear Sir any day, because my 10 author copies are long gone. 
  2. Lots of giveaways.  I’m still a new author and I’m published by small presses compared to the NY big guns.  One of the ways I’m trying to reach new people is to simply give away my book.  I know, that sounds crazy, but I’m banking on the hope that they’ll love it so much, that they’ll tell at least one friend about it.  If I give away a copy and at least one person buys a copy because of that, then I’m breaking even, and I’m reaching a person I never would have found otherwise.
  3. I bought Pat Rouse’s romance list mentioned in Sherry’s interview.
  4. For Rose, I ordered a butt load of flyers (cover flats) from VistaPrint.  I still have a ton of them if you’d like one (ordered waaaaaay too many — Vista Print does a “but wait, double your order for only $10 more!!” thing which I totally succumbed to!).
  5. For Rose, I used those flyers to participate in the RT Booksellers who care program.  At this time, I can’t say how effective it was, and it was rather pricy.  I have not gone this route for Dear Sir.  I had planned to participate in the bookmark RT mailing, but money got tight and I chose to buy another box of Roses instead.
  6. I used Pat’s list and sent out at least 20 copies of Rose to her high-interest ARC list, including flyers and a few bookmarks I had left over from when Rose first came out electronically.  I can see a payoff from this effort:  several reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are directly attributable to that mailing, and another club added my Free Reads page to their listing.  This is something I will definitely always do as funds allow.
  7. For both Rose and Dear Sir this year, I ordered a box of bookmarks from PrintPlace.  Deena created some lovely bookmarks for me that look way more professional than anything I ever did myself through VistaPrint.  As I run out, I’ll just order more.
  8. For Dear Sir, I’m participating in a Samhain RT ad (July), hoping, of course, that it is reviewed (I sent the review copy last week).  It was extremely pricy.

As soon as my box of Dear Sir arrives, I’ve selected my top priority list from Pat’s of places to send ARCs.  I’ll also do a broader mailing of just bookmarks using her list.  And of course, I’ll continue to giveaway copies, here, on Twitter, and in person.

Of course, I’ll continue to write free reads, too, especially as Victor’s release nears.  I’ve promised Thanksgiving at Beulah Land, after all.  I just have to decide who’s there.  I’m pretty sure Victor and Shiloh will be together, but Vicki will be alone.  I also have to decide on POV.  It’s a hard one, because technically, Thanksgiving will be a sequel to Victor’s book, not a prequel like Letters for Conn (so I can’t spoil Victor’s book!!).   But I will write something this spring/summer once it all falls into place.  Maybe I can come up with a different idea that happens prior to Victor’s book, use it as a prequel, and then write the sequel too for later in the year.  We’ll see.

Readers, is there anything else you love authors to do for promo?  Anything you especially hate?  Authors, is there anything additional you can share about promo you’ve done?

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Promo Don’ts

The great Paperback Writer has a fabulous post on promotion:  Lady RaRa

These are things that annoy me personally and so I refuse to do them.

  • E-mail spammer.  I once e-mailed an author about coffee, of all things, and later I got an invite to her newsletter.  I guess I should be thankful I wasn’t automatically added to her newsletter, right?  Never send an uninvited e-mail to a reader solely for promotion.  It’s like getting a telemarketer call in the middle of dinner!
  • Self nomination.  If there’s an award and I’m eligible, I just can’t nominate myself.  Ugh.  Even the Predators & Editors annual poll — I just can’t put my own books in there.  I’m certainly not going to go on every list and public venue I know and beg for votes.  It doesn’t mean anything if I do it!
  • Review Infomercial.  “Review my book favorably on Amazon or Goodreads and I’ll send you a second book for FREE!  *fine print: as long as you’ll favorably review it too!!!*”  This reminds me of the “but wait, there’s more!” annoying sales infomercials on TV.  If you loved my book enough to review it, THANK YOU.  If you bothered to give it a few stars somewhere, THANK YOU.  The best, most priceless reviews are the honest word-of-mouth ones.  Those are the ones people are going to pay attention to and respond to favorably, not the “this book was great, 5++ stars!” in exchange for freebies. 
  • Blog rapist.  Go to another blog or site and post “buy my books” links all over everywhere on a totally unrelated post, forcing myself upon an innocent blogger.  Comment, sure.  If people are asking for recommendations, that’s different. 
  • List hijacker.  Join reader lists only to post “hello, I’m new, buy my books!”
  • Blatant flamer.  In other words, “negative attention is just as effective as positive attention.”  I swear some authors start a blogwar just for the attention, and it drives me nuts.  I abhor that kind of attention and would die if I suddenly found myself in the middle of a nasty blogwar.  *shudder* 
  • Anonymous Fangirl Disguise.  For all that’s good and holy in this world, PLEASE do not rave about your own books in the guise of an anonymous fan!  Yes, I know people who have done this.  Equally repulsive to me is an author encouraging fans to gang attack a reviewer or other site where less than glowing information has been posted.  Hey, we all get bad reviews.  We all say something stupid and regret it.  It’s much easier to wad up a scathing retort and throw it in the trash than live down a blogwar started in the heat of the moment.
  • Reader Basher:  this one I just totally do not get.  I know bestselling lists are important, timing is crucial, etc. but it’s so disrespectful and ungrateful to berate a reader for buying your book: a). too early b). at the wrong store c). in the wrong format.  Hello, did you catch the part that you SOLD a BOOK?  If a reader bothers to buy my book, THANK YOU.  I don’t care where, how, what format, if you found a copy early or you’re reading at home in the bathtub with a plastic baggie to protect your device!

I’m sure over the years I’ve done stupid things out of ignorance.  I’ve said too much about a book I didn’t like.  I’ve complained about slow response times or whined about rejections.  Just remember that once you post something online, it’s out there and available for a very, very long time.  In especially juicy blogosphere showdowns, people are going to capture screen prints of your comments or rants. 

Remember, too, that “anonymous” will only protect you so far.  People can figure out who you are if they’re so inclined.  If I’m afraid to put my own name on a comment, then I’m going to think really really hard about whether I should post as anonymous.

What else do authors do as online promotion that drives you nuts?

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E-Book Promo

A friend asked me about what promo I’ve done online, so I thought, yay, a blog topic!

These are only my observations.  Other people are going to be better at different things and have entirely different experiences.   Plus there are so many factors involved, like the size of your backlist, your comfort zone with things like Twitter and Facebook, whether you have print books involved, etc.

My number one rule:  never spam anybody.  That means:

  • I never keep the e-mails from my giveaways.  I’ve had a few people e-mail me and ask if I had a newsletter, and since I don’t, I promised to let them know when I had new releases.  Otherwise, I don’t keep contacting people, never without their permission!
  • I never bomb people on Facebook with “become my fan!” or “Join my group!”  Honestly, I really don’t use Facebook much (other than connecting my blog to Twitter and Facebook).  My oldest monster likes to play FarmTown sometimes, and both she and my husband “manage” the account for me.  I’ve given them instructions to ignore causes, pages, fan groups, etc.  Sometimes I do pop over to say hello to high school friends, and I do try to respond to people who comment on my status.

My second rule:  only do things I enjoy.  Big chats intimidate me, so I usually only participate when I know several or most of the participants.  I participate on very few reader yahoo groups, mostly because I don’t know which ones to visit.  I don’t like to come onto a new list and say “Hello, buy my books!”  Argh, I hate that!

I love to write.  I hate to sell myself.  So if anything, I’m not as aggressive as I maybe should be, but I’d rather my work speak for itself.

At the heart of my promotion efforts (for both e-book and print) is this blog.  I’ve been blogging in some form since 2004, although the early years were lost when I moved my domain off yahell.  I’ve made some great internet friends through blogging, and I love keeping in touch with them.  I do sometimes begin to run out of interesting things to blog about, but I try to be myself all the time, to be honest, and not make it all about “buy my books” because yeah, I already said I hate that, right? 

I’m an amiable personality, so I avoid conflict, especially on my blog, so I don’t blog about politics or the latest blogwar.  I have small children, so I try to protect them as much as possible online by never using their names or giving away key information.  I’m probably the most easy-going person around, so I don’t rant.  Gee, why are you people still reading?  I’m starting to sound really boring.

But I do appreciate all of you who read my feed or take the time to comment.  I do try to respond to commenters as often as possible, but I do get behind.  *hangs head in shame*  I always respond to e-mail.  I always respond to mentions on Twitter unless TweetDeck just flips out and doesn’t notify me.

Using this blog as a foundation, the other things I have found success with:

  • Giveaways.  I love books and I choose to support my favorite authors like Larissa Ione and Lynn Viehl by giving their books away.  Sure, I give away my own sometimes too.  I’ve given away e-books and print, mine and others, and sometimes just gift certificates.  I made a personal choice to always keep mailings open to the planet, and since I’ve made some great Twitter buddies in Germany and the Netherlands, I’m glad to always include overseas contestants!  When the promo funds are running low and I can’t swing the postage costs, then a simple gift certificate to any online retailer is always a nice prize.
  • Free reads.  Lynn Viehl inspired me to give away short stories, and I’ve been doing it since 2007 or so.  I use Scribd and also have pdf downloads on the Free Reads page (note to self: still need to get epub formatted).  I have no idea how many have been downloaded over the years–I’ve had to reload some of the older ones on Scribd and my blog analytics aren’t the greatest –but from what I can tell, thousands of downloads have been made, which is stunning.  I’ve also given freebies to Samhellion and All Romance E-Books.  Talk about free promo–those stories are still there, didn’t cost me a dime, and I’m sure they’re continuing to help readers find me. 

Those are the two biggest things.  I happily do guest blogs and interviews when asked, but I don’t aggressively go out searching for them (I did say I hate selling myself, right??)  I’ve met some incredible book people on Twitter, which I use more than Facebook.

I’ve purchased small ad spots on a few review sites and did get a few clicks, but there’s no way to tell how much those affect sales.  It does help with name recognition, but personally, I’d rather give away a book or two than spend $20 for a tiny corner on a site already crammed with ads.

If money is tight, you can always give away an old story.  Have one sitting on your harddrive that didn’t work out for an anthology?  Run it through a quick edit pass, reformat it (I like to use larger font,  1 1/2 spacing), and let Word save it as pdf for you.  Make sure you include a backlist page detailing all your current releases, your website link, and a brief bio.  If you have the Photoshop skilz, create a cover for it — I think they do attract more notice on Scribd when the stories have attractive cover art.  Alas, my Photoshop ability is laughable.

On Monday, I’ll blog about some of the things I’m doing for print promo, but I’m a newbie in this arena.

Do you have any online promo recommendations that have worked for you, or that you’d love to see authors do more of?  Please let us know!