Creative Marketing – Try Something New

Marketing. The dreaded M word that makes introverted authors like me shudder. It’s a good thing I am contracted with a major publisher. They’ll take care of all that marketing stuff, right?

Pop! Say goodbye to that delusional bubble.

Even though I’ve been blessed with a fabulous marketing and sales team, I’m not immune to the pressure of marketing my books. Publishing is a partnership, and I’m expected to market as much or more than my publisher. After all, they have an entire catalog of new releases to sell. I have only my own.

So when I first waded into the marketing waters, I looked around to see what other authors were doing and followed their example. I had my website professionally designed, I got involved in Facebook and Goodreads, I set up guest blog appearances and interviews to correlate with my release dates, I had a launch party, I offered giveaways and hosted contests, I handed out bookmarks, did book signings, and spoke to groups any time I was asked.

Did any of it make a difference? I think so. It’s nearly impossible to measure the impact of marketing, but occasionally I’ll get reader feedback from someone who mentions that they found my books because of an interview I did on a particular blog, or that they bought my previous books after winning my latest one in a drawing and enjoyed it so much they wanted to read more from me. These little glimmers give me hope.

But now that I’ve gained a year of experience, it’s time to branch out from the crowd. It’s time to aim my creativity brain cells not just at my WIP but at my marketing as well. So when it came time to launch my third novel this spring, I decided to try something new. Something that would engage readers on a more personal level and hopefully entice new ones to give my book a try. I sponsored a fan fiction contest.

I write historical romance, and knowing that romance readers live for happy endings, I thought to give them a chance to create their own. I can’t tell you how many times as a reader or movie watcher I have mentally re-written an ending or continued the story in my mind, imagining how the characters’ lives would play out. I thought it would be fun to give my readers the same opportunity.

Now in To Win Her Heart, my main characters had a very satisfying happy ending, but the secondary love story was left with a little more ambiguity. Therefore, the fan fiction contest challenged readers to create an epilogue specifically for secondary characters Chloe and Duncan. I enticed readers with generous prizes like a $40 gift card from Amazon, an autographed book of their choice from my list, and the privilege of having their winning entry displayed on my website for all to see and enjoy.

I advertised in my newsletter, on Facebook, and in blog posts on sites that catered to writers. I was hoping to snag some readers from the writing crowd who might not usually read historical romance or who hadn’t tried my books before, but who were interested in competing for my prizes.

To Win Her Heart released May 1st so I ran the contest through the end of June. I didn’t have a flood of entries, but I ended up with a wonderful collection of about a dozen epilogues to choose from. More valuable than the number of entries, though, was the amount of personal interaction with readers this contest produced. I even had one lady say that she didn’t realize how powerful a marketing tool the contest was for her until she found herself in a bookstore buying my book just because she wanted to enter my contest. I’m hoping others experienced the same sensation even if they ended up not entering.

In the end, there’s no telling how many actual sales this contest generated, but I’m hoping the effects will continue to ripple. The lady who won has her epilogue on my site, and she’s no doubt sharing that story with all her friends. The quality of her writing was wonderful, and she captured my characters so well, that I was proud to display her work and to point other readers to it as bonus material.

Whether or not this attempt at marketing generated many sales, I’m glad I did it. It was fun to try something different and to interact with readers in a new way. It gave my stale marketing practices a much needed shot in the arm, and I would gladly do it again.

Question for You: What is the most inventive marketing strategy you’ve ever employed or seen employed? What marketing ideas have you toyed with that you’d like to try? What have you seen other authors do that caused you to find yourself in the bookstore buying their book?

To see the winning entry, visit the fan fiction page of my website at:

32 Replies to “Creative Marketing – Try Something New”

  1. I had wondered how this creative marketing tact had worked for you. Thanks for sharing. I also liked your sewing kit with the first book.Even if you didn’t have an entrant or someone who picked up that sewing kit, like me, they might remember it simply because it was different. But as they say, the book itself if your best platform as a fiction author and reading your books made me purchase the other. So that works highly in your favor. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Melissa. Those sewing kets were fun for Tailor-Made. I even had a second batch made up after the first ones were gone because they continue to get good responses. And the fact that you still remember it must mean something, right? 🙂

  2. Love this & I love thinking out of the box. I’m still such a fan of Jody Hedlund’s first sightings picture slide show for her books. It gets my attention every time I go to her site.
    ~ Wendy

    1. Hi, Wendy.

      I love that, too! Jody and I are great friends and I think she has mastered the power of the blog. I love that she rewards her readers with that slide show and gives them their 5 minutes of fame. It’s a great idea! Thanks for mentioning it.

  3. Wonderful post, Karen! I love your ideas – they go along with my own philosophy about marketing: it’s important, but do what’s fun. Thanks for starting my day so enjoyably.

    1. Maureen – Thanks for coming by today. You are so right about finding things that are enjoyable. It’s impossible to do everything when it comes to marketing, so why waste precious time doing things that drag you down? I think, too, that readers can sense when your heart isn’t in it.

  4. That was a great idea. Recently there seems to be a bunch of package giveaways for new releases, like gift cards, Kindles, limo rides and candlelit dinners, and even vacation getaways. I’m wondering how those will translate into book sales. Guess the jury’s still out.

    1. I wonder about that, too, Erica. Some of those give-aways are very extravagant. Even when all you’re giving away is a book, there are tons of people who do whatever is required simply for the chance of getting the prize, not because they are invested in word of mouth marketing. I guess the hope is that once they get their hands on the book, they’ll be so enraptured by the story that the word of mouth will follow. I hope that is the case.

  5. I like your marketing idea, Karen. It’s fun and unique. The most important thing when it comes to marketing is that it is something readers will enjoy. In my experience they like bookmarks and postcards, especially over-sized ones, and contests. I use rack cards for my bookmarks, and extra large postcards with the book cover fitting the entire front. These cards are the same size as a trade paperback. Something I do that has been received enthusiastically is I fill a basket with both the bookmarks and postcards, and give it to my closest Lifeway Christian bookstore. They put it out on their counter as freebies for their customers.

    1. Nice idea, Rita. I had wondered about things like that. I handed out piles of bookmarks to local Christian book stores with my first release but never really knew if they were being given out or not. I like your basket idea.

  6. Your idea sounds so cool to me and I bet it was really fun to be able to read the writing of some of your readers. Quite ingenious! One of the marketing tools I, as a reader, enjoy are book trailers. I know, I know, I’ve heard they are useless as a marketing tool by many people, but I like them. If they’re well done, they will pull me into a story and I’ll buy the book.

    1. Hi, Patti.

      I’m glad to hear that you love book trailers. I’ve never had one done, but I have seen a definite improvement in the quality of them in recent years. It’s one of those things that I don’t think I’d want to invest my own money in, but if my publisher was willing to give a whirl and had it professionally done, I’d be eager to post it all over the place. I don’t know if it would garner any new readers, but I think current fans enjoy seeing them. And who knows, maybe it will help create some buzz.

  7. Loved your fan fiction idea, Karen. One of the marketing strategies I’ve utilized that I mentioned in a previous post is selling to hospital gift shops. Erica mentioned the package giveaways we’re seeing. There’s something about those packages that make me nervous. I think they’re good ideas for those who can afford them. I don’t know if the authors or the publishers are actually paying for these but it worries me a bit. Is this a sign of the future? Will we have to give away more and more to get attention for our novels? And what if we can’t afford to do these kinds of promotions? Maybe we just need to stay as creative as we can and utilize the opportunities that we think up. The books will stand on their own merit so how far should an author go?

    1. I’m with you, Jillian. I think publishers are trying new things and seeing what comes of these large giveaways, but personally, I don’t think they will make a big difference in sales numbers. Word of mouth is still the best seller. I like your hospital gift shop idea. I hope that continues to be a good outlet for you. All we can do is keep brainstorming and trying things. But I think the best things are those that include reader interaction. If the reader feels like she’s made a personal connection with the author, she’s more likely to buy future books or backlist as well as the current one.

  8. Love your post and sharing your experiences with us. LOVED TAILOR MADE BRIDE!! So my take-away is READER INTERACTION. My website has a setting that lets me keep track of people who visit and if they come from searches or links from other places. Its helpful to monitor what works as far as drawing readers to my site. But many do the one click and then they’re gone, which is an arrow to the heart. It’s hard to get them to join my reader’s page without a contest. To win over readers who actually go out and promote for us is the key. I have a few that I know are doing that for me, but it is a slow process. We just have to keep plugging away at it.

    1. You’re so right, Dianne. Building that dedicated readership is a slow process. I do offer some giveaways and monthly contests for people who sign up for my newsletter on my website, hopefully as a way to continue that reader interaction, but it’s hard to figure out the most effective methods. All we can do is keep trying!

  9. What a fun idea, Karen. Fan fiction has got to be the ultimate compliment, and talk about getting people highly engaged! Your website is beautiful, by the way. (:

    1. Thanks, Rebecca. It was a lot of fun. I read each entry as it came in and always ended up with a smile on my face. Each one was so different and unique, but all of them showed how the reader interacted with the characters. Priceless!

  10. I find word-of-mouth and reviews by everyday people very important in marketing (and in my own buying). Getting featured by book bloggers or non-book bloggers interested in that subject can get your book good exposure to the right crowd. The more popular the blogger, the better. Additionally, an interview on a blog brings your personality to people, and if they like you they’re more likely to want to buy your book – hence, not book trailer, but short clip of you talking to your audience about a fav character or how the plot came to you and posting on your website (I need to do this, although I have a no-cost trailer, too). I’ve just discovered the Goodreads giveaways – authors/publishers have to offer one book minimum and I see at least a hundred people sign up for chances to win them, and of course they are supposed to then review their win on Goodreads. That’s a popular site for readers, so looks like a good way to get exposure.

    1. Book blogs are an excellent way to get the word out, Linda. Great example! I try to do as many guest blogging appearances as possible when I have a new release. And I always try to have unique content so readers don’t get bored seeing the same information posted over and over.

      That’s the one thing I dislike about some of the organized blog tours. Everyone posts the same information (book blurb, author bio, cover pic) on the assigned day, but only a handful actually post a review. I know these bloggers are incredibly busy, and I’m happy when they leave a note that says the review will be coming soon. But I don’t like all the carbon-copy content. The more personal we can make it, the better relationships we can build with our readers.

      Like you said, if they like our personality, they are more likely to try our books.

    1. Thanks, Megan. Marketing is definitely the biggest challenge for me on the professional side of writing. I keep telling myself to just do what I can do, and leave the rest in God’s hands. Death by self-promotion is not my idea of a good way to go. 🙂

  11. Karen, I thought your fan fiction contest was a great idea. Like you, I really enjoyed the winning entry. Do you plan to hold another fan fiction contest, or will you be trying something new when your next series launches?

    1. Hi, Keli.
      I haven’t decided yet if I’ll use the fan fiction contest again. My next release, Short-Straw Bride, does have room for an epilogue, but I worry that the idea might not be fresh enough. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll have to do a FB poll or something to see if there is interest in doing it again.

  12. Hi Karen, I’m all for trying new things to get readers interested in books. And thanks, Wendy and Karen, for mentioning Jody’s idea. What a cool promotion tool. I may have to borrow that idea. LOL.

    One marketing idea that went over really well for my first book was a Flint Hills Getaway, which offered a one-night’s stay at a bed & breakfast, along with a meal for two at a 5-star restaurant in a small town in Kansas. It received a great deal of interest from folks in a 200- mile radius, and the items were donated by the merchants in that town. So, it was a win-win situation. Broad marketing for those merchants AND that town, and hopefully, it captured a few readers for me.

    Thanks for sharing your idea. I’m looking forward to reading your new release SOON!

    1. Great idea, Deborah. I LOVE that you found local merchants willing to donate items for your grand giveaway. I’m so shy, I hate asking for things like that. I might have to force myself to try it, though. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I’m posting this comment before reading the winning entry to your contest, Karen, but I’m heading there next!
    Loved the creativity of your idea and the other ideas shared here. I’d heard that book trailers are waning as far as marketing goes … and yet, people seem to like them. And the giveaways … yeah, mixed reviews on that one.
    So … discovering what works seems to be just that: a discovery in process for writers. I am thankful for the ongoing dialogue on this blog where we can toss ideas and experiences back and forth.

    1. Hi, Beth. Thanks for checking out my contest. You are so right about things being a discovery. There is nothing guaranteed about this marketing biz. What worked for one author may or may not work for another. All we can do is keep sewing seeds and see what takes root.

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