Promoting Like a Pro Without Driving Yourself (or Anyone Else) Crazy

Today, I'm swapping posts with Donna Gephart, author of two published MG books with one more on the way. Donna is a smart, funny writer who heads my face-to-face SCBWI group in south Florida, and I'm so incredibly excited to hear what she has to say about promotion. When you're done being wowed by her expertise, pop over to her blog, Wild About Words, to see my post on Unraveling Story Problems.


      Now that I’ve sold three novels, I wish I could talk to myself when my first book came out.  I’d tell myself, “Stop freaking out!”  “People will read the book.  You will get amazing e-mails from young fans, teachers, librarians and old boyfriends.  You will even win a couple lovely awards.”  
  To you, dear reader, I say, “Do what feels comfortable.  Say, ‘Yes’ a lot.  Let people know about your book and about you as a speaker, then move on and write the next book.  If contemplating promotion gives you hives, think about the process as connecting and giving.”
        Here are some examples from my experience that may be helpful:
Gaining School Visits from Giving:
     When a friend told me a local middle school library was desperately in need of books, I gathered a bag of books our kids were not using as well as copies of my two novels and headed over.   
     The media specialist was friendly and enthusiastic.  When she found out I did school visits, she invited me to give a (paid) presentation to the entire sixth grade class (about 400 students) and sign books at the school’s book fair.
How Media Attention Can Snowball:
      A wonderful illustrator friend, Janeen Mason, suggested I contact her friend, Marilyn Bauer, who writes a local arts column blog.
      After Marilyn wrote about my book, a reporter from that paper read How to Survive Middle School, enjoyed it and wrote a review in a newspaper, saying my book was good for both children and adults.  
      A parent read that review and asked if I’d be the keynote speaker at an event they were planning.  I spoke to that group about surviving parenting a middle schooler and then sold books at the event.  (The payoff in connecting with other parents was greater than the generous check they paid.) 
  Another time, I wrote to a local reporter, telling her how much I enjoy her weekly “Meet Your Neighbor” feature.  I’d been reading and enjoying it for years.  The reporter asked if I’d consider being featured in the newspaper.
      Of course I agreed.  
      After that article came out, I was contacted by several area schools about author visits.
Don’t Blog in a Vacuum:
I’ve been blogging since 2007.  A favorite feature is my 6-1/2 list – a cleverly disguised guest blog.  Here are a few examples:
1.  Erin Murphy and author Audrey Vernick give great tips about how to elevate quiet books.  
2.  Cynthia Leitich Smith discusses How to Promote Your Book Like a Pro  
3.  Cynthia Lord shares tips on creating great school visits.
If you want people to follow your blog, follow and comment on other blogs.  Provide useful content, not just shouts about your own book(s).  Create guest blog posts because it’s a great opportunity to connect with new readers.  Thanks, Angela and Becca!
Your Book is Your Best Promotion Tool:
     When you hear the advice, “Write the best book you can,” there’s a reason.  Once your book comes out, it must stand on its own merits.  Take my word for it, you’ll be glad you spent that extra time revising.  
       My first book, As if Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President! had a lot of support from Random House.  They flew me to Philadelphia to meet with influential librarians at a cocktail party during ALA.  They promoted the book in print.  They even gave out “Vote for Mom” buttons at a few large shopping malls across the country.
      With all that support from Random House plus all my promotional efforts, the book did NOT break any sales records.
        But instead of spending all my time and energy promoting that book, I did exactly what I was supposed to do.  I wrote the next book.
        ARCs of How to Survive Middle School were sent to reviewers by Random House.  That’s it.  I sent out an e-mail letting people know my book was out.  And not a whole lot more.
      Guess what?
      How to Survive Middle School got starred reviews right out of the gate.  It landed on the Texas and New York state reading lists and got picked up by Scholastic for book fairs and clubs.
     All that had very little to do with what I or Random House did to promote it.
     It was the book not than the promotion that made those things happen.
So, here are my 6-1/2 tips for you:  
1.  Write the best book you can.
2.  Spend as much time as needed to revise and polish your book.  
3.  Instead of thinking about what you’d like to get (book sales), think about what you can give -- your time, advice, expertise, etc.  
4.  Connect in ways that feel comfortable and meaningful.  Blogs, FB, Twitter, school visits, library workshops, articles for magazines – whatever works for you.
5.  Don’t be shy.  Let your friends, family and colleagues know about how excited you are about your new book.  Give out your business cards liberally.  Include your book and Web site/blog information in your signature line on every e-mail you send out.  
6.  If you’re introverted, get thee to Shrinking Violet Promotions.  
6-1/2.  Here’s the most important advice:  My agent reminds me of it every now and again.  Don’t get so caught up in worrying about sales and promotion that you neglect to do the most important thing for a long, healthy career:  WRITE THE NEXT BOOK.
Donna Gephart tries to remember to WRITE THE NEXT BOOK from her home in South Florida.  Her newest book, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, about a girl determined to get on the TV quiz show, Jeopardy!, comes out March 13, 2012.  How to Survive Middle School is in its seventh printing.  As If Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President won the Sid Fleishman Humor Award.  Visit Donna online at and check out her blog, Wild About Words.


Charlie Pulsipher said...

Congrats on your successes. I'm pretty sure I'm starting to edge on annoying in my pomotions. :)

Charlie Pulsipher said...

...promotions...stupid smart phone!

Mac said...

enjoyed the post

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Loved this post, thank you, especially since my first adult novel came out in May and first tween novel comes out in March! I especially appreciate the advice about getting on with the next book - something I need to learn! More power to your elbow, Becca, as we say here in the UK.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Sorry, meant to address the previous comment to Donna!

J.C. Martin said...

Great advice, thank you!


Join me in the Trick or Treat Spooktacular! Could you help make the Grand Prize a brand new Kindle Touch?

Charmaine Clancy said...

Very helpful post - and great links too!
Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great tips Donna. I so agree that you have to follow and comment at other blogger sites to be followed. You've got lots of other tips I wouldn't have thought of to promote a book. Thanks so much. And I met you at a SCBWI conference in Michigan BTW.

Shilpa said...

A very timely post for me! Promotion can drive people crazy, I totally agree. Very positive post.

Sarah said...

What an incredibly useful post! I really appreciate it. I'm mostly focused on churning out books right now, but things are going to change in a few months, and I'm already feeling overwhelmed. It's great to have concrete tips--and a few "don't worry"s!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post and thanks for the links. :D

The idea of promotion is scary. It's nice to know it doesn't have to be, and that we can still enjoy writing the next book.

Traci Kenworth said...

Great advice!! And hopefully timely
for my future...

Martha Ramirez said...

Great tips! Thank you!

Clarissa Draper said...

Love your six and a half tips!

Angie Cothran said...

Love this list :) I'm not this far along in the process, but these are great for me to think about. Also, love the new layout!

Southpaw said...

Congratulations and thanks for the six -- and a half tips.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I LOVE this! It's very cool how exposure snowballs, starting *here* and leading *there*. Thanks, Donna! :-)

lbdiamond said...

Great post!

Carrie Butler said...

Great post! Best wishes for your continued success! :)

Lynda R Young said...

fantastic tips. I think the best one is "don't be shy" (I have that tendancy hehe).

Mirka Breen said...

Great advice.

Lisa Gail Green said...

Great advice! It's solid even if you haven't sold that first one yet. Focus on the writing and giving back.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Such good advice! And I'm working on that next book tomorrow...EVEN IF the kids aren't in school (please God let them go back to school). :)

Matthew MacNish said...

6 and 1/2 steps? Hah! Love it.

Wild About Words said...

A big virtual hug to your wonderful blog readers. It's been a blast being hosted by the dynamic duo of Becca and Angela. The Bookshelf Muse is an amazing resource for writers. Thanks all!

inluvwithwords said...

I'm loving this post. Thanks so much! Now I'm going back to click on all of the links =)

Gail Shepherd said...

Currently working on #1. Got the other 5 1/2 on my to-do list!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Such great advice. Writing the novel is one hurdle, promotion and all that goes with it is another--especially when working on yet another novel. : ) Thanks for these words of wisdom.

Riley Roam said...

Fantastic post, Donna! I love the idea of "snowballing" attention. You just never know what's going to come from something. You just have to put yourself out there.

Becca and Angela, I LOVE your blog! I'd recently heard about it, but this is the first time I made it over. I'm blown away! What a fantastic resource for writers. Thank you!

Becca Puglisi said...

So glad you found us, Riley!

Lydia Kang said...

Thank you so much for this! This advice will come in very handy for the next step in my career.

Michael Embry said...

Sound advice. Thanks for sharing.


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