Marketing Your Book: How To Create Your Own Plan That Doesn't Make You Feel Like a Used Car Salesman

Image by Artist Sammy Slabinnick (love him!)

Books are being published daily and with this, authors are trying to figure out how to get their book into the world, or more honestly, how to get more sales.

Jeannine Hall Gailey wrote a great post called: Why We Do Readings, Running to Stand Still, Book Tours Take a Toll and How Not To Build a Platform inspired by Anne R. Allen's take on book marketing with her post (which is also great): 7 Ways Authors Waste Time "Building Platform" on Social Media.  I recommend reading both.

So I decided to offer my thoughts on book marketing as in 2014, my newest book, Hourglass Museum, will be published by the wonderful White Pine Press. 

If you've read my blog before, you know, there are certain things one needs to do as an author that makes me uncomfortable, such as asking for blurbs (which I recently wrote about here.)  Asking others to do things for me is not a strength of mine, I've had to realize that and work with it. 

I realize there are also things about marketing I dislike, like the name "marketing," I prefer "sharing." I want people to know about my book so if they are interested they can buy it, but I don't want to wear my metaphorical Author Nametag around town or have my book peeking out of my shirt pocket -- 

(Note:  I have seen two separate authors do both these things and it made me feel dirty and icky --oh, and his wasn't a metaphorical Author Nametag, it was a real-made-of-plastic Author Nametag and he wore it everywhere he went (whether giving a reading or not).  And honestly, I lost respect for both authors and never bought their books because I felt they were the stereotypical used car salesmen, I think they're interested in me as a person and the next thing I know I'm driving out of the lot in a Yugo.) 

I've learned we each have our own individual strengths and "weaknesses" traits we need to work with.  "Weaknesses" such as general anxiety, ADHD, social anxiety/shyness, bi-polar, OCD, etc. (By the way, I put "weaknesses" in quotes because I'm reading a book called  Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional by Dale Archer which talks about these traits and a few more and how you can use them better.)

I realize is there is no one right way to market a book and you don't have to go cuckoo trying to make an "author platform" (a term I hate, a term I want to jump off of into the comfort of the sharing pool, where we share our book, but don't shove it down people's throat.)

So here are my suggestions to help you market your book:

(my hope is you'll get a few ideas yourself and find ways to highlight your talents):

What I Do to Market My Book 
     (or My How-Not-to-Hate-Marketing Plan):

1)  Send something cool to the readers who have supported me before.

Usually it's a postcard I've created with Photoshop that I hope is more like an interesting art-piece than a marketing piece.

When I started with my first book, I sent about 100 of these out.  Since then my mailing list has grown, but I like to send something of beauty to the people who I appreciate.  It will say something about my new book coming out, but it hopefully is something more than they will want to keep or display in their own writing room.

Why to I do this?  Because I like to send regular mail.  I send valentines and Christmas cards. I have a penpal.  I think stamps are awesome and my favorite museum in DC was the Postal Museum.  Writing letters is part of my personality, something I love to do, as is art and graphic design.  So I mixed the two and came up with this.

2)  Send Out an Email Announcement, but try to keep it short, fun, and simple.

I get a lot of emails these days.  So many that I don't even open some of them, I read the subject line, then delete without reading.  Yes, that's my tough love approach to email. I love my time more than I love being overwhelmed by things I'm not interested in.  Even Barack Obama, I've deleted yours (and Joe Biden's) email without reading them.

So when I send out mine, it's to the point, a couple links where to buy the book, a thank you for anyone who has supported me before and some interesting info about something that isn't my book--maybe another poet, maybe another book.

Why do I do this?  It's the fastest, cheapest way to connect with my friends, family, and readers.  It's just another way to let them know my book is out and if they want a copy, here's how to get one.

3)  Mention it on Facebook.

It's not a hard sell, in fact, it's not a sell at all. It's more of a "guess what happened to me?" or "My box of books just arrived!'

I will mention it on my regular Facebook account and on my author page.

I put up events and info on my author page and if it's something I think my regular Facebook might be interested in, I share it from my author page on my regular account. 

Note:  Not everything on my author page is about my books, in fact, the majority of content is funny typos, misspelled graffiti, and book lover humor and images.  Why?  Because hearing about someone's book and only their book is both annoying and boring.

Why do I mention my book on my personal page on Facebook? I mostly do this so people know it's out and I'm excited about it and share the news.

I know a lot of people (writers) hate Facebook, but honestly, while I dislike wasting time on it, I like meeting other writers, poets, and artists who I wouldn't have known without it.

4)  Do some readings.  
(With one to three of them being more in the category of Book Release Party).

  a)  Book Release Reading/AWP Party:  Since AWP is in Seattle this year, Susan Rich and I are lucky enough to have White Pine Press here, which has rented out a room at Taste Restaurant in the Seattle Art Museum, so we will get a book release reading there (it's Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 from 5-7 pm if you want to join us.)

  b)  Book Release at a Bookstore:  Another will hopefully be at Open Books, our poetry-only bookstore in Seattle, the coolest place in the world.

  c) Book Readings with Others: Ask my favorite poets to do readings at local venues or just outside the city venues. (Things are much more fun with friends.)

   d)  Book Party at my Place!:   When my book comes out, I have a book party at my house for my favorite friends.

Okay, honestly, this isn't at all to sell my book, it's an excuse to have a party.  And I love to shower my favorite friends with fun times and cool things.  In 2010, I gave out small birdcages with Emily Dickinson's image in them (for my book Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room.)  We made Emily Dickinson masks, had good wine and good food and yes, I had my guests come in costume, dressed as a version of Emily Dickinson which included grunge Emily Dickinson, punk Emily Dickinson, biker Emily Dickinson... (see images below).

Different versions of Emily Dickinson

As you see, this is not about marketing, but about celebrating-- YOU JUST PUBLISHED A BOOK, you should celebrate!

5)  Submit My Book for Book Awards:  This is something your press can and should do for you, but if you have a press who doesn't, most of the time, you can do this on your own.

Letting people know about your book is hard, however, if it wins an award, it moves right on up the ladder into Book Prize Winner, or Book Prize Finalist!  Sometimes it even gets a sticker.

The prize that choose your book usually has a larger audience than you do, so their marketing of the book prize and winners, will hit a lot of people you wouldn't normally reach.  People who have never heard of you and can't believe that this is your third book and yet, they've never heard your name before (yes authors, this is true life, we are unknowns in the world for the most part.)

But that's okay.  The goal is to create art and get it to readers who will love it.  Really, if you bring being an author down to its basic level, that is it.  Write good work. Share with good readers.

So for me, those are my top 5 ways to market (or share) my book.

But I do have a number 6.-- This blog.

I started this blog many years ago when there was no Facebook, no Twitter, but there was a community of poet bloggers.  Many have moved on or are now just on Facebook, but for me, I like having this up-to-the-moment (or close to the moment) place where I write about living and writing creativity.

As a young poet, I read Kim Addonizio's blog and she wrote a post about being rejected by New Yorker (after they *asked her* to submit).  That post was honest and showed me that yes, even "famous poets" get rejected and have bad days.

When I started this blog, I promised to share the good and the bad.  From blog posts on how many times I submitted Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room (um, about 70!) before it was accepted (read History of a Manuscript here), to being rejected in general, to the good of creative clusters.

While I don't think a blog is for everyone, for me it's a good way to connect with other writers, artists, and creative people in general.  It's a place I can sort out my feelings about life and share the ups and downs.

I try to post at least once a week because the worst blogs are the ones that sit for over a month without any posts, not even an image of something, just nothing.

I appreciate the "long form" way of communicating--letters, blogs, books, stories, essays.

Why I do blog? Sometimes (most times) I can't say what's on my mind in under 140 characters, and Facebook doesn't appreciate the art of the paragraph, so here I am, still's been over a decade, three blogs, two platforms, but I continue.

Final Thoughts for Other Authors, Writers, and Poets:

 1)  Do what you love doing and use it to market your book

If it's sending postcards, interacting on Facebook, giving readings, cooking, driving, painting, playing guitar, drawing pictures, etc.) find a way to incorporate that into how you market (or share) your book.

2)  Stretch yourself a little, but don't change who you are or your values.

I want to say "Just do what you love!" but dear introverted authors, I understand if I told you it was okay to sit in your house and not do anything except write, you may be good with that!

You need to do some things that take you out of your comfort zone-- like readings, or asking for a reading, or asking for a blurb or...

As humans, we need to stretch ourselves and live outside our comfort zone, and as authors, we owe it to ourselves.  We worked hard on our books, let others at least know about them--you don't have to be the hard sell, (in fact I suggest not doing that), but you need to do the minimum, plus a tad more than what's comfortable to you.

3)  Don't feel you have to do everything.

If you don't like blogging, don't have a blog.  It will be a waste of time and just frustrate you.
If you don't like Twitter, don't tweet or feel you have too.

Find out how you like to connect with readers--GoodReads? Facebook? Red Room? In Person?  By mail?  By email?  Standing on a ferry playing guitar?  Choose your own path, but don't feel you have to continue to promote your book day in and day out, you don't.

4)  Be Open to Opportunity & Allow for Happy Accidents to Happen and Most of All-- Don't Self-Sabotage!

If someone writes you and says they found your book and like for you to drive 2 hours to their college to give a talk and that absolutely petrifies you, do not *not* answer their email because you're afraid or nervous.

If there's a deadline for a book prize or to get your proposal in for a writer's conference, don't blow it off.

These places are where happy accidents happen--you do one thing and it leads to another.
You apply to read at a poetry festival and you meet your favorite poet, who is fantastic and then blurbs your next book.  Or who has a blog and shares your blog on it.  Or you just become friends and well, that's fantastic!

Be open for opportunities. Listen to your instincts.  And most of all, have fun and enjoy your success--you published a book, you're a published author.  That's important and good and should be enjoyed, appreciated, and celebrated.


I'm going to do another blog post on my thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other ways people market their books, but I think that's enough for now.

Marketing your book should not be overwhelming, but enjoyable.
Thanks for listening.

~  Kelli Russell Agodon is a writer, editor, and poet from the Northwest.

She is the author of Lettersfrom the Emily Dickinson Room (White Pine Press, 2010), Winner of the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Prize in Poetry and a Finalist for the Washington State Book Award.  She is also the author of Small Knots (2004) and the chapbook, Geography (2003).  She co-edited the first eBook anthology of contemporary women’s poetry, Fire OnHer Tongue and recently completed The Daily Poet, a book of poetry writing exercises she coauthored with Martha Silano, which will be available in late 2013. Her third full collection, Hourglass Museum, will be available in February 2014.

Kelli is the co-founder of Two Sylvias Press and the editor of Seattle’s literary journal, Crab Creek Review.  She's an avid mountain biker, paddleboarder, and kayaker.  She loves museums and dessert, but despises cheesecake.

Her most recent book Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room was released for Kindle and is available here at its lowest price of $4.24 on Amazon

Connect with Kelli:

Twitter:  kelliagodon
Or on her websites: or

She writes about living and writing creatively on her blog, Book of Kells at:

~ Kells  

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  1. Thank you for this post and the links, all of which I am trying to get to.

    I don't tweet. I have no author page on Facebook, but then again, I have no books to sell. I blog when I have something to say and I enjoy having a forum to say it. I delight in readers, but mostly I don't write about writing. Why should I? You are doing it so much better than I would.


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