Secrets To Successfully Marketing Fiction

by | Jun 30, 2010 | Book Marketing Basics

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When my first book (The Cliffhanger) was published several 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. 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 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 is become the expert on that hook and familiarize yourself with ever statistic, every study and every new trend.

Back of a postcard postmarked 1908; old postcard.

Image via Wikipedia

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 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 might as well hang up my marketing hat forever. It was at 3 a.m. 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.

Coat of arms of Hogwarts, the fictional school...

Image via Wikipedia

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 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 movie. Now I’m not talking about a full-blown two hour motion picture. I’m talking about a movie trailer. The major publishers use 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 jumped 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 we worked with 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.

ST. HELENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Galen Turner fr...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

* 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? 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 magnifique! 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 your 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.

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  1. james o. clifford

    How do you get reviewed when the target of your book is the news media?

  2. Sheila Deeth

    What a neat story. Certainly got me thinking. (And there’s time yet. I will think hard…)


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