Stealth Marketing

Like many writers, I have issues with shameless self-promotion: I really hate blowing my own horn because isn’t that exactly what Christian humility tells us NOT to do?  Like every writer, though, I have to get myself into the marketplace to not only make sales and gain a readership, but also to spread the word that God has given me to share.

What’s a humble Christian to do?

One answer I’ve found is what I call ‘Stealth Marketing’ – marketing that doesn’t feel or look like traditional book selling yet still puts my name and book in front of new audiences I might not otherwise reach. Basically, I do non-profit events.

In particular, I donate books to silent auctions or hold a book signing to benefit a local charity. I’ve found that what I forfeit in cash revenue, I get back many times over in free publicity, good will, new readers, and a personal sense of contribution.

In the past year, I’ve donated books to local, regional, and national silent auction fundraisers. I started with the annual dinner auction at my children’s school, which is usually attended by some 300 people. I wrote up a brief sketch of the book and submitted it along with a photo to be used on the display card at the auction, as well as in the auction booklet. After the event, I had a call from another school parent who told me that she thought the books were such a great item idea, that she was going to buy a set of my books to donate to another group’s auction. I estimated that would double the exposure I’d just gotten from the first auction. Out of curiosity, I checked my website tracking to find that the number of hits clearly rose after the dinner. Good intentions and a book donation can go a long way, I realized.

Deciding I’d found a productive way to publicize my books and generate sales without the self-promotion I dreaded, I began to look for non-profit groups that corresponded with my target market – birdwatchers and mystery readers – to reach new audiences. In the past year, my books were listed in  programs for a variety of fundraisers, including the Raptor Research Foundation’s annual (international) meeting, the national conference of MIA/POW families, a Savannah (GA) Rotary Club, and the International Festival of Owls. After each event, I’ve seen increased traffic to my website.

Closer to home, I really enjoyed the book signing hosted by my favorite local eatery. It was a success for all of us involved: I asked customers to bring items for the local food shelf, and I discounted each book they bought. We collected bags of food to restock the shelves just before the winter holidays, the diner had increased business that morning, and I got free publicity in the bulletins of area churches that support the food shelf, not to mention that warm feeling of doing something good for my community!

Do you practice stealth marketing?

30 Replies to “Stealth Marketing”

  1. I really like this idea! It seems more like something I’d do. I have the same problem as you, self-promotion makes me uncomfortable. Not having a published book yet makes it even more difficult.

    1. Self-promotion gets easier, Ann, the longer you’re a published author – at least it has for me. I often wonder how many writers would quit writing if they knew what they would have to do for marketing their books later!

    1. You’re welcome, Kimberly. It’s amazing how many opportunities there are for this kind of ‘painless’ self-promotion, once you start playing with the idea.

  2. Lovely, Jan. When we do things with a right heart, then God responds. 🙂 This is how all marketing should be done, with what we can do for others, not just on the basis of what they can do for us. Thanks!

  3. This was an inspiring post. Last night at writer’s group this was one of our conversations – I’ll be sharing this with my group for sure. I like the idea of donating books to non-profits connected with our books. Although I am still seeking publication I have started to speak to various women’s groups and churches and this has opened doors. I’ve also reserved a table at local craft shows so I can meet the people and share my story, even without my book there is an interest and it was a successful day. Thanks for the great ideas!

    Lisa M Buske

    1. Thanks, Sharon. It’s very satisfying to share ideas with other writers, and if I can help another author along on the crazy path of marketing, I’m happy!

    1. Absolutely! Every charitable organization has fundraisers, and smart authors looking for exposure can always offer a book or two and reap the benefits!

  4. Jan, I’ve seen this work for a children’s author as well. In addition, since her books are about horses, she’s given away large model horses and a set of her books at book signings and other events that she sponsors on her website. Marsha Hubler and I brainstormed the idea for her series rocking on the porch of Montrose Writers Conference about ten years ago, and her books are still selling. Mothers and her faithful tween girl readers love this idea. When a girl can’t afford a book, she sends them a free one. Any adult author would love to receive the type of fan mail she gets. Good post!

    1. The whole idea of collateral freebies/merchandise is one I’ve toyed with, Barbara, but I just haven’t explored it enough yet to commit myself. After my first book came out, my sister put my book cover on a t-shirt and sent it to me as a gift. Since it was the wrong size for me, I donated it as a door prize at a birding festival, and had people asking where they could get the shirt! Hmmm….

  5. Excellent suggestions, thank you so much. I wouldn’t have thought of offering books like that…and what a great tie-in to charitable causes. Bravo!

  6. Great ideas!! Yes, I have had the pleasure of leading a Writing Workshop at a public library and was not allowed to sell my books there. However, the librarian told me to market my books “on the side” or in “stealth” mode as you suggest. As a result, I used my book as an example throughout the workshop. At the end, I sold a couple of copies and got the word-of-mouth going.

    Self-marketing takes creativity and finesse.

    1. This is a great idea, Ruth, to use your own book as an example in teaching. When I speak to any group, I use my books as props, which always leads to inquiries/sales later.

    1. You’re welcome, Jordyn. Finding the charitable groups you want to work with is half the fun of this approach.

    1. You’re welcome! I often tell myself that very thing – especially after a disappointing book signing. If I’ve connected with even one person, I trust that I’ve done my job. God works in mysterious ways, for sure.

  7. LOVE it! Thanks for making the point that we as Christian authors often struggle with the idea of profit…I know I have a huge sense of guilt when I think of making a profit from ministry. In fact, when my children’s books were published, i donated every cent I made to charity b/c I couldn’t come to terms with being paid for my faith. This time around, I’m trying to approach it with a more realistic state of mind, but still…it’s difficult for me…and the marketing part is just icky all the way around. I’m glad you pointed out donating books. I think the whole reason we write is to connect with readers, anyway we can. Donations to auctions are wonderful…but it’s also wonderful to donate to schools, libraries, prisons, boys & girls clubs, and domestic violence centers. I’m glad you point out what most of believe…it’s not about the money. Thanks, Jan! And happy writing! j

    1. I’m on the same page with you, Julie. If it were about the money, how many of us would still be writing?

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