Many first time authors assume that, upon publication, their books will be immediately covered by all national news outlets.
Then they wake up. Peter McGraw, a marketing and psychology professor, and coauthor of the recently published book The Humor Code, says that an author friend warned him that "publishers print books and authors sell books. That was useful to have that perspective early on." Authors have to stand out in a crowded marketplace, and they’re often footing their own marketing bills.
The need to reach readers on the cheap has inspired plenty of innovation among writers. Borrow their tips to build buzz for anything you’re trying to sell.
As McGraw notes, people like humor, but they’re not exactly sure why something is funny, so a book about the science of humor is an intriguing concept. But whatever you’re selling, remember this: "The question isn't: ‘What is it that I want to say?’ but rather ‘What is it that people want to hear?’" says McGraw.
Be accessible. Realize that people share and talk about things that help them. There’s a reason I write about time management and not the academic study of time use. You have to meet people where they are.
People buy books (or any product) when they feel part of a community. So grow your blog with content people find intriguing, and get email addresses when you can—with special inducements for people who want to be the "first to know" about new things you’ve got coming out.
On Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog, for instance, many posts feature a message at the bottom about her next book, and a link to sign up to hear when it’s available. The world in general is hard to market to. But people who’ve already expressed interest? Any time and money spent there is spent well.
In a crowded market, people purchase things that people they trust tell them to try. Oprah is the ultimate influencer, of course, but several influential bloggers could each move 1,000 copies of a book, or any product. That adds up.
The most straightforward approach to meeting these influencers? Give, give, give. Nika Stewart, owner of the social media marketing company Ghost Tweeting tells authors (and others) to research and find influencers and "monitor their social media accounts. The author then shares good content from these accounts, promotes the influencers’ content, comments, favorites the posts, etc.—every day. Sharing and promoting other people’s content is a much more effective way to get noticed and create buzz than to promote your own content."
If people want to talk about you, give them tools to do so. Meagan Francis’s first ebook, Beyond Baby: Creating a Life You Love When Your Kids Aren’t So Little, will be published May 1st. Ahead of that, she invited recent webinar participants to apply for her "launch team"—a 100-person squad that gave her feedback on cover design and marketing ideas, and got advance copies of the book. They’ll write reviews, blog, and share news of the book with their friends and via social media. People who like your product may want to help, but giving them exact instructions on what to do will make their lives that much easier.
Sandra Beckwith, owner of the Build Book Buzz marketing service (and herself a veteran author), notes that few people attend the typical, non-celebrity book signing event. "Most authors are underwhelmed—even discouraged—by the turnout," she says. The solution? "Moving your tour to the virtual world significantly increases the number of people you can reach with information," Beckwith says—be that about your book or any other product.
Volunteer to do Q&As with bloggers about your story or mission. Write guest posts. Do podcasts or video interviews. Let bloggers give out prizes. None of this costs much (if anything), and publicity begets more publicity as each blog’s readers see your message and invite you to share it with their audience too.
If you are going to do live, in-person events, figure out what people will really want to attend, and journalists will want to cover. The Humor Code authors are staging events in well-known comedy clubs with well-known comics who enjoy appearing a bit more cerebral by teaming up with a psychology prof for the evening. Such events aren’t scalable, per se, but "the key is not the 3-100 people in the audience, but rather the people who are going to read the newspaper article about it or hear it on the radio," says McGraw. "It’s a matter of reach: ears and eyeballs."
The Humor Code crew teamed up with the Cheezburger network to do an "Ultimate Funny Venn Diagram Tournament" where people could vote on their favorite joke.
Matthew Inman, the artist behind "The Oatmeal" comic, is hosting a 10K/half/full marathon in Carnation, Washington, as part of promoting the September launch of his book, Beat the Blerch. A friend of mine told me that "I even signed up for the 10K, only because I love The Oatmeal." She tells me that she’s "really hoping I can run 6 miles by September." Everyone she tells about the run now knows about the book launch. As do you. That is buzz.