Book marketing – It’s not always about sales

Photo by Larry Baker's wife, Ginger Russell, at an appearance in Cedar Falls in 2009.

Now what?

Author Larry Baker (The Flamingo Rising, A Good Man and others) posted this picture to his Facebook page this week, and I laughed. It captures a fear most authors harbor: ‘What if nobody comes?’

It’s not a groundless fear. It happened to me this week. I spend considerable time in advance of events to help ensure their success. But what I can’t do is guarantee people will come.

Over the past week I participated in six events to market my novel Go Away Home: a writing conference, two bookstores signings, a gift store signing, and two library book talks. The marketing side of the writing life.

Here’s an abbreviated look at how I promote and work events.

Bring my own audience – The event host isn’t the only one responsible for getting people to come. Authors need to work their own contacts, too. I use email marketing and social media to generate interest. A ‘save the date’ mailing three weeks in advance, and a reminder three days ahead of the event. I create Facebook events and invite. I tweet. Results of this effort reinforce the importance of using many ways of reaching people: At one book store event, all but one person came as a result of my email campaign. At one library event, none of my contacts came.

Alert media – I sent news releases to media in each town. To the best of my knowledge, none picked up the news for these events. I’ll keep doing this, though, because particularly in smaller towns, I’ve seen terrific pick up.

Stand and deliver – Even though I could sit down, I communicate enthusiasm by standing. I smile and make eye contact, then I ask anyone who meets my gaze if I can tell them about my books. Most will say yes. I pitch my book in 30 seconds or less. Once I’ve given the pitch, I ask questions to keep the person engaged. I put a book in their hands as we talk.

One of my events was in a gift store that also served lunch. The owner had me set up at a table at the edge of the lunch area. I took my books to the tables as guests waited for their food to be delivered. I kept this pitch very short and made sure not to overstay my welcome. An idea for next time: Create table tents to alert people I’m there and to keep my books in front of them as they eat.

Be flexible – I was on the road mainly to market my new novel, but at one library, the book discussion group had just read my memoir and that’s what they wanted to talk about. So we did. I included messages about my novel when it was relevant.

What if no one shows? In spite of all my efforts, at one library, that worst-case scenario happened. I was all set up and the audience didn’t show. I felt worse for the librarian than for myself. She’d done a lot to get the word out, but for who knows how many reasons, no one came.

I’d whiled away a half hour on my own, then a miracle. One young girl walked in the door. Turns out she was the librarian’s daughter. I learned she’d written a story and in that small town, she had found no writing support. We talked one-on-one about what she was writing. How she could get support from her teachers. How she might engage her classmates.

At that library, I didn’t sell any books. I didn’t share the story of my novel or my memoir. But I did something more important. I encouraged another writer.

Now that I’m back at home, feet up, glass of wine in hand, reflecting on the week, I count all the events a success. Everything that happened is part of the writing life. I reconnected with friends. I made new friends. I sold quite a few books. And I encouraged another writer.

That last achievement? Priceless.

* Photo by Larry Baker’s wife, Ginger Russell, at an appearance in Cedar Falls – 2009.


  1. It’s great t;o get advice form someone who knows what their talking about. Excellent tips, Carol, and you’re right…connecting with the little girl was priceless.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      You’re very kind, David. I keep trying things and from time to time something works. I’m delighted to share. But nothing works all the time, and that’s where serendipity comes into play as it did with the little girl.

  2. Marketing – it’s my biggest downfall. Thanks for the article.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Michael. Hope you found something in here you might try. Marketing is a building process.

  3. Carol,

    This happened to me at a library in Orange County, so I asked a lady in the hallway to come and listen to me so that I could record my session on video with at least one person in the audience.
    Thanks for the post.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      You made the best of the situation, Sonia. Even one person in the audience provides an opportunity to practice.

  4. Carol, thanks for this sound and practical advice. I appreciate your focus on having meaningful conversations even with only one person. Also your point about taking responsibility for finding and “bringing your own audience” resonates. Thanks for sharing these valuable marketing tips. I’ve only just begun and I appreciate all I have learned from watching you!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      We learn from each other, Kathy. As you’ve expressed so well on your blog, one connection leads to another, leads to another. And you never know which of those connections will be the one taking you to the next level. Thanks for commenting and best of luck as you market your new book “Ever Faithful to His Lead.”

  5. Though, yes, it hurts, I think it’s bound to happen once at least. I know that once my book is out, I’ll have some problems with marketing. It’s not any fun for me.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Everyone has to find their own comfort level with marketing, Joan. For those who prefer the solitude of writing, “getting out there” can be a real challenge. I psych myself up by telling myself I’m just telling stories, not really giving a speech. That seems to work. To some extent, just being aware that things like empty rooms happen to all of us keep it from feeling quite as personal.

  6. As one who has benefited from your marketing expertise and has finally had the pleasure of meeting you in person, Carol, I particularly enjoyed this post. Singer-songwriter Christine Kane tells the story of a turning point in her career when she was expecting a large audience, got a very small one, but decided to do a more intimate approach and told stories about the retreat she had just led. Her whole career pivoted. Today she is a huge figure in online coaching to women entrepreneurs. Who knows where that talk with the librarian’s daughter may yet lead?

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      So true. We never know. As Steve Jobs said, it’s only when you look back on your life that you can connect all the dots. I have high hopes for that young writer.

      Now that we’ve met face-to-face, Shirley, I can imagine our partnership blossoming.

  7. Chuck Robertson says:

    Writing is tough enough. It’s the promotion that really scares me. It would be nice if books rose on their own merits, but with so many books out there you need to take it on yourself to make sure your book stands out from the pack.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Marketing scares a lot of authors, Chuck. You’re not alone. And you’re absolutely correct, it rests with the author to make sure a book gets noticed. Even authors who are traditionally published have to do much of the marketing work themselves. Fortunately marketing isn’t brain surgery. You can learn to do it. Lots of free resources in cyberspace to help – including those of us who’ve walked the path before. Don’t hesitate to ask.

  8. Great article Carol. I enjoy marketing when I can think of it as meeting new people, helping other authors, and knowing that my book’s topics might help readers. Sometimes it’s those facts that bring me more gratification than writing and publishing the book.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      You’re so right, Michelle. Connecting with readers and knowing what you wrote touched them and made a difference makes all the hard work worthwhile. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Hi Carol,

    This reminds me of times when only a few students showed up for my 7:30 AM college classes. A student would frequently remark “Nobody’s here today.”

    I would respond by saying that it wasn’t true. “The right people are here.”

    I think it’s true when the turnout to one of our events is low. The people or person who was supposed to be there shows up. There is no way to measure the benefit for them or for us.
    We have to just keep showing up.

  10. Thanks for all the tips, Carol. The human connection is the greatest market value and so often overlooked in our materialistic society.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      One of the joys of social media has been making human connections even when I’m not seeing people in person – like my connection with you Pat. Two girls from the Midwest still feeling a connection when one is in France.

  11. You’re certainly right when you say “nothing works all the time.” In the late 1990s I produced a series of benefit concerts. I knocked myself out promoting each one. The one I expected to be the biggest success turned out to be just the opposite. Our headliner was the lead vocalist and lead guitarist for a Grammy winning rock group. We received a month of free radio spots by the station with the biggest audience for the performer, as well as by several others. His fan club promised to fill the hall. After all, they said, this would be his only appearance in the area for the entire year. We had lots of newspaper publicity. We had been given an 800 seat concert hall gratis on a Saturday night—most venues give benefit concerts Tuesday thru Thursday dates—on the only weekend that did not rain. After all that, we sold 123 tickets and barely paid for the sound and lighting technicians.

    Show biz is a crap shoot. That’s what public events really are. The important thing is to put as many of these events into motion as possible, knowing that some of them will work, hopefully the majority of them.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Your experience is my nightmare, Raymond – and why I’m not a fan of event planning. You’re on point though with putting as many events into motion as possible. Some WILL work – and if you have a number of events in the same market, you have a better chance of attracting media coverage. Thanks for sharing, Raymond.

  12. Your really beautiful blog! I enjoy it! I will be glad to read your new news:)

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