I'm about to open a can of worms. I'm going to bring up the "p" word.
With a new book coming out next week, I've been thinking about promotion a lot. Heck, I'll admit it—I've been spending a lot of time on it. No more than I enjoy, however. That's the key.
The self-promotion discussion is perennial in our field. Some writers swear by it, others think it's useless. There are genre-specific trends, too. F'rinstance, I've heard science fiction writers turn up their noses at promotional items like bookmarks, keychains, etc., yet these same writers spend many weekends a year and much of their advances attending science fiction conventions. Well, they like the conventions. That's fine. But it's still self-promotion.
There are a million ways to promote one's fiction. A lot of them also drain away one's precious advance. As in all things, balance is key. I can't begin to say what others should do, beyond what works best for them. So I'll just mention what works best for me, and why.
Here I am, contradicting myself right out of the gate, because this one thing is important for every writer: your website. I'm not the only one who considers this important. In an industry full of guesswork, almost everyone on the marketing side agrees that a website is the single most important promotional tool an author can have. Fortunately it can be done without major expense. Or it can be done with major expense, and lots of bells and whistles, if that's what you like.
Cheapest way: do it yourself. Easy to do on many of the free blog sites.
Invest a bit more: register a unique domain name that will be easy for readers to remember (i.e., short and simple). Yourname.com is a great one, but if that's not available, the name of a series character (harrypotter.com) or world (discworld.com) would work. Have a web designer build you a site if you don't have the time/skills to do it yourself.
I've found bookmarks handy so often that I make sure I always have a couple with me. If my writing comes up in conversation, and it feels comfortable, I offer a bookmark, usually promoting my latest release. I use them like business cards. I always get them printed on one side, so I can write my email address or other information on the back easily. Some people like to have them autographed, too.
Cheapest way: make a small quantity at home if you only need a few. Print them on glossy photo paper and cut them up yourself. A paper cutter is handy for this.
Invest a bit more: order from a print shop. I give away a lot so it's actually cheaper for me to order online. Several services available but I've been happy with gotprint.com.
If you're going to do a mailing reminding people about your book release, printing up nice postcards of the cover art is a good way to go about it. Address label and stamp on the back, and you're done. Leftovers make a nice giveaway at signings or tucked in with correspondence. I get these from gotprint.com too.
4. Book Giveaways
Contests draw attention. I've learned some things to avoid, like getting listed on websites that publicize giveaways, so that people come and enter who aren't interested in my fiction, but just want something for free.
A targeted contest that hits the market for your book can attract a lot of interest, though. It's helpful if you can do it in a venue where new people will see you, like a guest blog or interview. I like asking questions that require a thoughtful answer.
This is fairly inexpensive. Cost of mailing one book.
Over the years I've done a lot of signings. I've had lines out the door, and I've had signings where I sat alone and the only people who talked to me just wanted directions to the restroom. And signings where the bookstore didn't order my books. Or didn't publicize the event. Most veteran authors have experienced all these, and know that signings can be excruciating.
I've figured out some ways to make them fun. (OK, revealing a big secret here...drumroll please...)
My favorite way to do a signing is with a friend. We can take turns talking about each other's books, which is both easier and more effective than talking about our own. Two writers at a signing are never lonely, even when there's no traffic. More than two and you can make it a panel discussion, which draws more listeners than a solo gig.
So there are some ways of promotion that I've found helpful and fun. I'm experimenting with others. I'd love to hear from other writers, not so much about the failures or the "I don't know if it helped" things, but about promotional strategies that have worked well.