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Key Elements of any Promotion Plan

by Dr. Lorna Tedder

Before you get started:

A. Define your market.

What's your book about? Who needs to read it? Who might be interested in it because of the subject matter, who the author is, something in the author's background, something in the characters' backgrounds, or where the book is set?

If you know your market, you won't waste valuable time, energy, and of course dollars on people who won't buy your book.

B. Make a plan.

Concentrate on getting the most for your time. Sit down with your calendar. Allow yourself enough time to have fun occasionally, enough time to write if you're working on a subsequent book, enough time to nurture your own soul by enjoying family, reading, and hobbies--all the things that give nourishment to your talents.

C. Make a budget.

Concentrate on getting the most for your dollar. Set a budget and stick to it. Don't be afraid to comparison-shop for services such as printing.


There are many, many ways to promote your book--you don't have to do every one of them. Pick what fits your budget and your calendar.


Key Elements to any Promotion Plan
(Pick as many as you like!)


1. Educate your customer.

People are begging to be led to buy your book. Think about it. When you walk into a bookstore, you don't want to spend a couple of hours pouring over the bookshelves, only to plunk down your hard-earned dollar for a book that doesn't hold your interest. You want to read a good book, right? You want to be entertained or informed, right? So do your prospective readers. So do the booksellers. They want to sell your book. They want to take customers by the hand and lead them to a great book and a sure buy.

To get the most for your time and money, don't go directly to the reader with your promotions. Instead, go to key people who can get the word out to potential readers about your book.


2. Reverse the risk. (applies moreso to self-pub and small press)

The reader sees the risk as being entirely on him when he buys a book. Offer a money-back guarantee. This risk-reversal takes the pressure off the reader. If they don't like the book, they can bring it back, right? But very, very few ever do.

3. Seek publicity.

Getting publicity is a matter of tying in what you have to say with what's going on in the world. Make your story timely and say something unique. If you're writing a book set in a certain area and that area is having a centennial celebration, make the most of that connection.

Hey, this is the FREE (or almost free) stuff! Send press releases or news stories to every newspaper, radio or tv station, magazine, and organization you've ever had anything to do with. Give your press release/news story a hook--that could be that you're a local resident, your profession, your age, your ancestor who was the Pastor to the Pilgrims in Holland, something unusual in your background. When the nearest big city newspaper does its stories on Grandparents' Day and if you're a grandfather, make sure they know about you! Make a connection they can't resist!

4. Create host-beneficiary relationships.

Readers and booksellers don't appreciate what you do for them unless you tell them. Educate your distributors, booksellers, and potential readers. Offer them your services-offer to do workshops that will bring people running. They provide the space and you arrange the workshop, publicity, suggested books to buy on the craft of writing, your subject matter, etc.

When you start filling their need, rather than yours, they'll see how much you have to offer. They'll remember you when your next book comes out, too.

5. Offer extra value, not discounts.

Sales and discounts rarely work for any business. How many times have you decided not to buy something because you knew it would be on sale in a few weeks?

What that tells a customer is that the product is worth only the sales price. Discounts devalue your product. What does work is a bonus. Make the customer feel they're getting something extra for their money. They want to think they're getting more, not that they're buying something worth less.

6. Maintain a core group of customers.

It's easier to sell to your existing readers than to find new readers. If you've got a mailing list, keep in touch with the people on it. Not just a Christmas card, either. Everyone should have a newsletter. Or write personal-sounding letters so that the readers and booksellers are familiar with you. Do not get so caught up in expanding your readership that you neglect your old faithfuls.

Who bought your last book? Have you kept a list of fans' addresses? Call on your last contacts, whether they were distributors, booksellers, or readers.


7. Make buying your book fun!

Make it easy. Give them an 800 number and the name of a mail-order bookstore if they're out in the boonies. Be a delight to the bookstores--offer to help them, chat with them, educate them.

8. Get quotes or recommendations.

Referrals are probably the biggest source of sales. How can you get your existing readers to refer your book to a friend? To a bookseller? Why not have your readers tell you where they bought the book or nominate a bookseller for an award? Then market to that bookseller. Or send copies of your last book to libraries and reader groups and ask for feedback? They'll be more likely to read your next one.

9. Test everything!

Just because you have a mailing list doesn't mean you have to send something to everyone on it. Test it. Send one type of promo to 10%, change a word and send it to another 10%, add or delete your photo and send to another 10%. If something works, then you can send to the rest of the mailing list.

How do you know if your promotional campaign is working? By testing. Don't use the same exact ad or flyer for everything. Change one word. Change the headline in an ad. Change the format. Change seven or eight different things. Then see which one draws the most attention.

It's been said that 50% of the advertising dollar is wasted but we don't know which half. But we should know. If you can track what works, that's where you can concentrate your dollars. If you get 80% of your sales from referrals and spend only 5% of your promo budget on referrals, you're wasting a lot of money.

You should be looking for ways to stir up more word of mouth so you can increase your referrals because that's something that's already working. And you're not putting a lot of money into it.

When you test, don't worry about the size of the market you're testing. Go ahead and test in small markets. It's cheaper that way. When you test, you're asking the market to vote on which approach works best before you put a lot of money into it.

A test here might be changing a word in your promotional material. Like "fulfillment." Some people are seeking fulfillment, others are seeking prosperity, self-confidence, self-validation. See which word has the greatest draw for your audience.

10. Follow-up on your past promotion.

Follow up on your contact with readers, booksellers, and distributors. One mailing might or might not hook them, but 1 out of 4 will "buy" on a repeat mailing. Haven't you ever received a letter and put it aside or forgotten about it and then been reminded of it when you got a second follow-up letter? Your follow-up could even be a thank you letter or a how- did-you-like-the-book letter.

11. Make sure your ads demand a response.

It costs just as much to run an ad whether one reader/bookseller responds or 20,000 respond. It takes just as much time, energy, and money to produce an effective ad as it does to produce an ineffective ad.

Most ads do not work. Flip through a book magazine and look at all those ads that look just alike. Somebody won an award. Somebody's a bestseller. Here's a picture of the cover. So what? What does that do for the reader? Hone in on the book's benefit to the reader. What need does it fill? What is the reader looking for? Know what need your book fills and use that as your hook. Always have a headline in your ad.

Ads that simply show a cover and a couple of quotes are called institutional ads and the only good they do is to flash your cover. They do not call for any action on the reader's part. Think of the real estate ads where a real estate agent has his picture and a blurb about how many millions of dollars of homes he's sold this month. Who cares? So what? He's saying, "I'm here, I'm a big shot, hand over your money." The other type of ad is a direct response ad and it requires the customer to do something. I t could be a coupon, a write-in offer, a contest, etc.

12. Sell your back-end.

Let me clarify. Your back-end is the residual part of your business. Don't be surprised if you lose money promoting your first book, but you should be able to make it up on future books.

With future books, tell readers about your back-list. Send them to used bookstores to look for what's no longer in print.

If they collect all your back-list, then they're more likely to buy new the minute your new book hits the shelves. Your next book may not be out for another 3 months, but by the time it comes out, they've been reading your old stuff and they're dying for more.

It would be even better if your publisher could offer your backlist and an 800 number in the back of your book.

Okay, those are the basic elements that suit any promo plan, and really for any business. You won't find these written exactly like this in my newest book, Book Promotion for the Shameless, but you'll see how these key elements are used again and again ­and in some very creative ways.

Dr. Lorna Tedder is an award-winning, best-selling author who routinely shares her writing and marketing expertise at national writers' conferences, online, and through her writing guides. Her non-fiction guides for writers include Book Promotion for the Shameless, Book Promotion Savvy and Reclaiming The Magic: a Writer's Guide to Success. All three books are available at

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