Use the Power of Local Promotion
by Patricia Fry
Yes, the Internet offers a wealth of marketing opportunities for books, but you can still generate a great deal of interest and spur a great many sales by marketing a book in selected physical communities, including regions, states, cities, and neighborhoods, that have something to do with its content and/or its author.
Here’s a checklist of options to consider.
Solicit interviews in local newspapers. For small-town papers, the simple fact that “a long-time resident” or “local author” wrote a book can be news, and the editors may be interested in interviewing the author. At the very least, see if you can get the book mentioned in the calendar or entertainment sections.
It’s more difficult to generate interviews in cities, but certainly not impossible. Although “New Book by Hometown Author” isn’t newsworthy in large metropolitan areas, editors might be interested in interviewing the author if the book relates to a current or upcoming event, something trendy, something interesting to a fairly wide audience, and/or a celebrity.
Is the book about seniors, pets, finance, travel, health/fitness, business, inspiration, or the arts? Editors of sections that relate to its content and columnists who write about its subject may also be interested in doing an interview or a feature story.
Marian Clayton started the marketing campaign for her true-crime book, Murder with a Twist, which takes place in her hometown in Colorado, by getting press in local newspapers. “I contacted reporters for newspapers in two different Colorado cities,” she reports. “They interviewed me and both wrote great articles that attracted a lot of attention. The publicity was great. I sold approximately 25 books in each community after the articles appeared. And,” she says, “the stories created additional opportunities for promoting my book.”
Arrange for press in regional publications. Your geographic area and the author’s may have numerous large and small regional periodicals. I’ve found good lists of local magazines through chambers of commerce, and of course you can do an Internet search, and cull leads from Writer’s Market.
Then study the periodicals on your list to see which ones are for general audiences and which specialize in, for example, sports, home and garden, fashion and beauty, children, or writing.
Do they run book reviews? Do they publish human interest stories? Explore the possibilities and then contact the appropriate editors and suggest a story or stories that should appeal to their readers.
Get involved in local events. Every community is a-bustle at one time or another. Think county fairs, school events, book and art festivals, flea markets, cook-offs, community barbecues, auctions, wine-tastings, and fundraisers of all sorts. Many of these events provide opportunities for selling books.
I once took a booth at a county fair to promote my local-history book. I designed my booth like an old-fashioned living room and spent the entire 10 days talking to people about the early history of our area. Of course, I also sold books—lots of them.
I’ve rented booths at numerous other events too, including book festivals, flea markets, and art fairs, and I led historical tours via trolley at our annual Ojai Day celebration for several years and sold books to many of the passengers.
Sources of information about upcoming local events include the calendar sections of local newspapers, the chamber of commerce, and the local library. For information on events related to specific topics, get on the mailing lists for camera clubs, historical societies, quilting groups, and more.
Cherie Brant, the author of several Ventura County history books designed for long-time residents, newcomers to the area, history buffs, and tourists, promotes locally through talks, historic home tours, and book festivals. She recommends creating “a marketing plan that identifies every local audience you can think of and the most effective ways to get your book in front of them.”
Attend meetings of local groups. Since networking is vital for successful book promotion, it makes sense not only to join groups related to a particular book but also to join more general local groups where you can interact with potential buyers (and recommenders) face to face.
I have sold books at my Toastmasters club meetings, chamber of commerce mixers, writing group gatherings, meetings of executives and retired executives, women’s club meetings, Red Hat Club luncheons, class reunion committee meetings, church auxiliary meetings, and others.
You generally meet new people at these gatherings, and everyone you meet knows many other people, some of whom might be interested in your book on World War II, cats, celebrity pets, automobile recalls, Dancing with the Stars stars, or anger management made easy.
Pitch a book as a premium to a local business. If your book involves a product or service, you may be able to sell thousands of copies to a company that will use it as a giveaway for customers or as part of an employee incentive program.
A local pig farm or pork packaging plant might be interested in using a cookbook featuring pork recipes to attract more customers. A local bank that is gearing up to observe its 100th anniversary might use a book on financial planning for the stages of life or money tips for college students as a giveaway for new customers as part of its celebration. A resort undertaking a major remodeling project might buy 500 copies of a novel set in its area at a discount to hand out at its grand reopening.
Give home parties. Although it may seem bizarre to consider inviting people over to hear a spiel about your book in Tupperware party–style, it is a way to get exposure. Call friends and acquaintances in your area and ask them to invite their friends and neighbors to your book party.
Make it an evening of fun: give a demonstration related to your book; provide costumes and ask guests to help you act out a part of your story; serve refreshments; and offer door prizes. For a novel featuring the Kentucky Derby, you could serve mint juleps in glasses with racehorses painted on them and give glasses to the people who purchase books or perform best as actors.
Consider inviting other local authors to your parties and asking them to bring their books so guests will have more titles to choose from.
Sell books at yard sales. When I have a yard sale or when a neighbor or friend is having one, I often take the opportunity to offer slightly damaged books to bargain hunters—the copies that were roughed up a little in the mail or on bookstore shelves and then returned and the ones that got a little dusty while I was storing them.
Ideally, the books will be autographed, and in any case, they should be displayed with a sign saying that they’re priced at a discount—say, 25 to 50 percent off. Keep books in the shade so hot sun won’t warp them and force you to discount them even more.
Go door to door. If this mode of commerce appeals to you, load a cart with books and start pounding the pavement in search of sales. I have spoken with authors who report success selling books door to door. They say that most people they call on find it such a unique experience that they buy books for the novelty of it.
Patricia Fry, the executive director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network; spawn.org) runs Matilija Press and is the author of more than 30 books. This article is derived from her new one, Promote Your Book: Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author, published by Allworth Press. To learn more or to order a copy, visit allworthpress.com, BN.com, Amazon.com, or Indiebound.com.