Secrets to Marketing Fiction

by | Apr 27, 2009 | Book Marketing Basics

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When my first book (The Cliffhanger) was published nearly seven years ago I had high hopes of its success. I mean I am, after all, a PR person so how hard could it be to market fiction? Granted up till that point I hadn’t taken on a lot of fiction, well to be honest I hadn’t taken any fiction. Fiction is tough and everyone knows it. But now I was going to get my chance and what better way to start than on my own book. When The Cliffhanger hit the #1 spot on Amazon it was no accident, it was a creative push that got it to #1 and ironically, the pitch that prompted this Amazon soar had nothing to do with the book. Curious? Then read on.

When I was first pushing The Cliffhanger I did all the things a good fiction author is supposed to do. I sent out review copies, created a stunning press release, scheduled book events. All of these things were great but they didn’t give it the momentum the book really needed to succeed. The book signings were good but a tad boring, the press was interested but not enough to feature me more than once. I knew I needed to do something but let’s face it, when you’re writing romance it’s tough to find a pitch that has the stickiness to it to, well, stick. When you’re taking a fiction book to market you need to have more to hang your star on than a groovy story you need something the media can sink their teeth into, you need grit. That ‘grit’ is the reality piece of your story. The truth is there’s always a thread of reality that weaves through each piece of fiction. Find your reality and own it, if need be craft your pitch around it. So let’s say you wrote a book about a woman overcoming domestic abuse. You’ve done your research, you know the stats, in fact, you might even be considered an expert. Why not then turn a portion of your campaign into turning a domestic violence pitch? The same can be said for just about anything. They key here is to find that grain of reality and see if it’s interesting enough to create a new peg. Once you’ve found your hook, own it. What I mean by this is become the expert on that “hook” and familiarize yourself with ever statistic, every study and every new trend.

When The Cliffhanger was released I soon realized that marketing romantic fiction was only going to take me so far, but marketing the method of printing was more unique. Why? Well, The Cliffhanger was one of the first books in the San Diego area to be published via print-on-demand. Hence, that became my story. Until of course the Presidential race of 2000. Now that was an entirely different story.

No doubt many of you will remember the counts, recounts, chads, and hanging chads, right? Well, one morning I woke up to find our local paper with the following headline: “Cliffhanger” I knew right then that if I couldn’t find a hook to hang my star on that angle, I may as well hang up my marketing hat forever. It was at 3am that I woke up with an idea so stunning, I knew it had to work. I raced out to the office supply store the minute it opened to pick up several packs of clear labels. I got out the postcards I had printed with the book cover on them and stuck on labels with the following slogan:

Getting tired of the Presidential cliffhanger?

Try this one.

The Cliffhanger, a novel.

No politics involved.

I mailed 500 postcards out that day while praying the election wouldn’t get called. I mailed these postcards to everyone in the media I’d ever contacted.  Ever!

Days after my mass-mailing, I was walking through my living room when suddenly I spotted my book cover on the screen. I was stunned. The local TV anchor was saying, “This has got to be the best thing I’ve ever seen. This lady wants you to go buy her book. I say everyone should rush out and buy it.” And everyone did. That afternoon my book shot up to the #1 spot on Amazon where it stayed for three months. It even beat out Harry Potter (which was #4 at that time) yet Harry got the movie. Go figure.

The point is that finding an “anchor” will help you push your campaign. This works for book events too. If you’ve written a crime book why not “theme” your event with DO NOT CROSS Police line tape (if you can get your hands on it) or some other prop. The key is to be unique, carry your theme throughout your marketing and hang your star on unique ways to promote your book.

But the second piece of this, the piece that’s become all the rage recently is the visual aspect of your book. Now I’m not talking about the cover, I’m talking about the movie. Yes, you read right. Your book, a move. Now I’m not talking about a full-blown two hour motion picture. I’m talking about a movie trailer. Most recently several major publishers have started using book trailers to promote the fiction books they publish. Why? Because we are a very visual society and if you’re trying to distill the core of your book into a thirty-second elevator pitch why not distill that same information into a trailer. Studies have shown that book trailers can increase book sales in excess of 30%. This is why most of the major publishers are jumping on the book trailer bandwagon. Still not convinced: Check out this book trailer of Candlewood Lake and see if it doesn’t entice you to buy the book:

Now here’s a short list of tricks we’ve used to promote fiction:

•    For a series of detective novels we worked with we told the author that instead of pitching the book, we were going to pitch some of the intriguing unsolved mysteries. He became the unsolved mystery expert and when he did a book event, that’s what he talked about. People were enthralled and it also got him quite a bit of radio too!

•    For a chick lit book last year the author had one of her recipes (for Orgasmic cookies) come to life when she partnered with a local cookie company. The result? We had people writing us for copies of the book just so they could try this fabulous cookie.

•    And what better place for a romance reading than a romantic winery. If you live near some wineries don’t hesitate to stop by there and ask if they’d like to invite you in for a reading.

•    Have you ever considered partnering with another author who has a similar title? Last year I consulted with two authors who’d written books about Paris, I decided they might want to meet and partner up for events. They did and the result was manifique! Everyone loved the “evening in Paris” they’d created and needless to say they got lots of bookings!

The trick is, with all the fiction out there you have to find a way to be different. Selling the story isn’t always going to sell you a book, but entertaining the reader or selling how the story affects the reader or how it can benefit them will. Find your anchor, hook, or story and you’ve found an audience. Becoming a marketing story-teller isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be and whoever said fiction can’t be marketed just didn’t know how to tell a great story.

Penny C. Sansevieri

The Cliffhanger was published in June of 2000. After a strategic marketing campaign it quickly climbed

the ranks at to the #1 best selling book in San Diego. Her most recent book: From Book to Bestseller was released in 2005 to rave reviews and is being called the “roadmap to publishing success.” Penny is a book marketing and media relations specialist. She also coaches authors on projects, manuscripts and marketing plans and instructs a variety of coursing on publishing and promotion. To learn more about her books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at To subscribe to her free ezine, send a blank email to:

Copyright @ 2007 Penny C. Sansevieri


  1. Ann

    Wow, what a great story and what great suggestions! Having just finished my textbook manuscript, I’m now at the idea stage for a related tradebook. I’ll definitely come back to this post as my thinking progresses!

  2. P.A.Zimmerman

    Jon from CBI recommended I visit your website. I’m glad I did. I have only read your first suggestion and am sure I can incorporate the concept into my marketing plan for Olivia’s Magic Conch.

    I started with the revelation that fables were ageless. But the book is not novel length. Now I can extrapolate my marketing by playing up the slant I used,( to educate the tweens,of the serious problems with our beaches and oceans while giving them a,mystical, modern day fable.)

    Thank you, I will be visiting you often. Pat

  3. Penny

    Thanks, Ann, I’m so glad you like the article! Good luck with your work!

  4. Yvonne Perry

    I would love to use this article (with full credit given to Penny) on my blog!

  5. Dr.Mani

    Great article, great tips, I’ll think about this and come up with an angle before “The Double-Crosser” is finished 🙂

    Just one thing. What if the author does NOT know that many folks in media to ‘pitch’ the angle, like you did with the Cliffhanger postcard? Any tips on creating buzz through a groundswell, rather than using mass media (which, frankly, 99% of authors won’t ever have a chance of attracting, enticing or manipulating).

    Thanks for sharing this advice, Penny.

    All success


  6. Penny

    Hey Yvonne – I would love that! Thank you —- Penny



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