BREAKING NEWS: I wrote a guest blog for author Benjamin Wallace on my thinking about book covers. It’s a good one, and you might want to check it out and introduce yourself to Ben, who is a talent. It can be viewed here.

BREAKING BREAKING NEWS: Fatal Exchange is the featured book at The Kindle Book Review.

* * *

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about writing. Specifically, about why I write, and positing that there are two general camps of authors — those who write for their love of the craft, and those who write to create a commercially-viable product. Put another way, those who would write if there was no money in it, and those who wouldn’t write unless they could get paid, or thought they could.

The response was unprecedented, with 113 comments at last count

In this new blog, I’d like to examine the opposite side of the coin I flipped the last time, namely effective book promotions. The overwhelming consensus of the last blog was that most write as members of Camp B (if you don’t know what that means, read the frigging blog), but once they’ve written something, the question that arises is, how to best promote it?

To start off, I’ll share a few promotions I have going on, or will have within a week. Some of these were a bit unorthodox, as I’m leery of the efficacy of things like contests, trailers, blog tours, and the like. That’s not to say they don’t work, but merely to admit that I don’t know how well they work, when they work at all. I’m hoping I’ll find out more by the time this blog has run its course. That will of course depend on the feedback I get.

The first promotion is a cross promotion in all my thrillers with NY Times featured author David Lender, whose work I’m a big fan of and who’s been very supportive of my efforts.

The way this works is that each copy of Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach and (when I release them within the next 7-10 days) the Zero Sum trilogy, has an excerpt summary page right after the copyright notice in the front featuring samples of my three thrillers, and then an excerpt summary page featuring David Lender’s three thrillers. The actual excerpts are at the back of the book – three samples of my work, and then three of David’s, from The Gravy Train, Trojan Horse and Bull Street.

We figured our audiences would enjoy each others’ books, so have put this into place to see what kind of cross-traction we can get. We’re betting that if someone likes my new Wall Street thriller trilogy, they’ll like his Wall Street thrillers, and vice versa.

This is not uncommon with traditionally published authors under the same publishing house, but I haven’t heard of a lot of self-published/indie authors doing it. If it’s successful, I’ll keep everyone posted on how well it worked, and how long it took to do so.

Another promotion I’m getting ready to launch is with the way the Zero Sum trilogy will be marketed.

I’m going to make the first book in the trilogy free. Then the second and third book will be for sale, with a bundle of book two and three at a special discounted price.

My reasoning is that once a reader has had five or six hours of familiarity with the first book, they’ll be convinced enough to buy the rest of the serial, as well as possibly try my other thrillers. I believe this is a good premise, because the hardest part about breaking to new readers is to convince them that not only can you write, but you are worth an investment of their limited time. In short, you need to get the reader to trust you as an author. But they can’t learn to trust you if they’ve never read you, so my solution is to reduce the barrier to entry to zero.

Free is a pretty low hurdle, and one could look at it as a loss leader, or as an investment — the reader’s willing to invest their time in the book, so I’m willing to invest my cost to create it. My writing time, the cover and the editing.

And third, I’m lowering the price of all my books to .99 for two weeks. For the rest of the month. Again, on the theory that familiarity might breed something besides contempt.

I have no idea how well this will work, but my hunch is that it will work better than nothing, or sending out 100 tweets per day telling you to buy my crap, or a blog attempting to capitalize on a topical figure.

So I’d like to hear from other authors out there. What’s worked for you? What marketing or promotional efforts have yielded results for you, or perhaps as importantly, what hasn’t worked for you? What was ineffective that you’d never do again?

I’m open to being taught new tricks, and I believe that encouraging a constructive discussion can benefit everyone, so I’ve just tossed out my two best ideas for marketing over the next few months.

What’s your input? Don’t be shy; let’s get a discussion going so we know how to save our valuable time and money.



  1. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 5:03 am

    Your promotional efforts do make a lot of sense, especially the cross promotional idea with David Lender. I think that especially would have a big boost in sales. I hope that goes well for you.

    Honestly promotion is something I’ve always struggled with. I read John Locke’s How To book and while there are some good ideas in it, I haven’t found much success with his methods. I really want to make people aware of my work, but I don’t want to be the kind of person on Twitter who constantly only tweets sales pitches and absolutely nothing else since I personally detest. I find that behavior rather transparent and annoying (frankly, when I see someone doing that on Twitter, it usually makes me much less interested in their book). I guess I’m just trying to find a good balance, which is hard to do.

    Anyway, I do appreciate this post. I hope your ideas increase sales since, frankly, your work is awesome and deserves it.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 5:31 am

      Thanks for the kind words. I hope that the promotions translate into wider readership, but truthfully I’d probably give the books away to get 10,000 readers. I think that there’s a tipping point where people tell other people about the work, and that’s when the sales start. Unfortunately, it would stigmatize the value of the work if I did so, thus I need to come up with something else. We’ll see how this works.

  2. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 5:15 am

    I started off so enthusiastically, but although I’ve had some success from emails, Twitter and Blogs, none of those seem to be ‘the red button’. I’ve had success in Australia with donating paperbacks to High Schools (for a while I was transformed into a YA author!) and lucky door prizes at business functions. The schools worked best, then those sales have petered out. The business ones work in spurts; e.g., Fathers’ Day. So Christmas may be good. Books make good gifts. Failure to sell much of my existing work has dampened my enthusiasm for writing a bit.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 5:34 am

      Kath, I think you write the next book because you have a burning idea you can’t wait to get out on paper, and sod the rest of it until you do. Whether or not promotions have boosted your sales, you should write because you need to tell a story, or want to. At the end of all this, we’ll be dead. Until then, do what makes you happy. If writing makes you happy, write. Promotions are a way to market, but I’ll still write whether nobody, or everybody, reads my work. Because I enjoy the process and the act.

      Oh, wait, that’s the last blog. Doh!

  3. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 5:29 am

    Let me be the first to comment. It’s what the publishing houses do. Deals of 3 for the price of 2. That was explained in my contract and I think they’re all going down that route. I see it in Waterstones and the publishers are driving it to sell hard copy.

    I think you’ve hit on a winner. I was hooked at the end of the first page of Geronimo Breach and would have bought the others, had it had been a series, lined up and waiting for me.

    All the Kindle buyers get your work for peanuts anyway, considering the work you put into them and you take them on a journey I wasn’t expecting, as it’s not the sort of book I usually read.

    Reading ‘How to sell a Gazillion eBooks in no time at all’ should lead people to buy your books. It was the funniest book I’ve ever read and wanted to read more. I’ve left this short comment for now and will come back to it, after reading some of the comments from others. This is a very interesting blog as it crosses all our minds, on how to get the word out.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 6:01 am

      Thanks for the warm wishes. I suppose I’ll see over time whether this was a good road to go down. My thinking is that in the end, the quality of the work will out. So now the challenge is to get it into as many peoples’ hands as possible.

  4. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 6:25 am

    You’re right, as always. Word of mouth stood me in good stead in the past and I’m hoping it will in the future but we’re all hoping. Marketing is a difficult one, that I find daunting, like most writers starting out. It still remains difficult for published authors, like yourself, but it won’t stop me writing and I know you’re the same.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 3:01 pm

      It’s certainly challenging, that’s for sure. Here’s to hoping things work out…

  5. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 2:30 pm

    I’m excited for you and will be watching the results. Sounds like an excellent idea, especially since you and David Lender are doing this on your own and not through some agency. I think that the future of publishing will be collaborative and that authors with similar genres/readers will just end up working together. I certainly hope so. I’ve found that the community of writers on Twitter alone has made my creative efforts more interesting and worthwhile than many of my “pre-Tweet” endeavors. Hell, I’m just now really getting my feet wet.

    I have no marketing experience and not much to offer this discussion. Yet. I look to begin marketing my first book around Christmas time and plan to be as creative and “out of the box” as I can. Lead the way, Russell. You’ve already done so much just by being you. Sincerely.


    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 3:04 pm

      I’m very excited about the cross promotion with David Lender, as the fit seems like a good one and he’s an all around good guy. As with most things, time will tell.

      Can’t wait to see what you come up with for promotional ideas, as you’re a pretty creative guy.

  6. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Pairing with David Lender is a great marriage (in terms of genre & finding readers) Active readers will pick up a couple books based on the recommendation of similar, avid ones will buy a pile. Your personal styles are a little different but this is actually genius- David being the straight man (comedy routine not as in …) I see writers promoting to other writers and that sells 10 books. We want to extend and influence worldwide to readers – these can be anyone like minded. Work four silos – you are funny and creative on twitter but is all the time investment funneling to bottom line sales? One silo must be face to face /belly up. The old fashioned “reading” book signing is not effective in “crowd sourcing” . With bookstores closing the arena shrinks. I sold out a poetry book doing performance art, when I was told “stick to long form only novels sell” I think I’m renting a 10000 square foot empty Mervyns and we are hosting a giant bookbrawl. As to the free give away I have a Harvard and Cornell study by a friend I want you to read that Groupon and Living Social deals actually diminish a brand right after the discount ends. Find the price point and stick to it, just produce better, greater, more thrilling art and more of it. That said, I appreciate your passion – hugs C. G.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 3:09 pm

      I believe you’re right about low-priced sales discounting the brand perception, but my perspective is that if you don’t have any brand perception, there’s nothing to impact. I do think that this will likely be the last .99 sale, as my gut says it’s a long term negative.

      What is a book “worth?” We have to set the price, but in the end, the consumer will set it long term. For a while I thought that this was going the way of iTunes, and .99 would become the expectation, but now I’m not sure. $2.99 and $3.99 haven’t been deal killers for me to buy a book, so I can’t imagine they would stop many others, either.

      I think you have to try a whole bunch of things, and then focus on what’s working for you.

      I’m hoping we’ll hear from quite a few of our author peers chiming in, too, so maybe the juices will flow and we’ll all create some better ideas.

  7. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 5:38 pm

    I have no great ideas. I am trying to learn from those that have gone before me, such as you. Keep the ideas coming!

  8. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 7:20 pm

    All three of my books are now up with excerpts from Russell’s in them as well, and I’ve also cut my prices back to $0.99 for the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes. Russell and I agreed from the outset that this cross-promotion is unlikely to steal readers from each other, but rather to expand the size of the overall market for each of our work.

    I’m not sure this type of promotion is for everyone, but I admire Russell’s work and am pleased we were able to strike this arrangement.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 7:27 pm

      Hats off to you, as in truth, the idea was yours. I’ll gladly take credit for it, but it’s not entirely truthful to do so.

      Here’s to hoping a rising tide raises all books. I’m in the process as we speak of uploading Zero Sum with your excerpts in it, although it will take a while to go active, and for Amazon to adjust their pricing to zero for book one.

  9. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I, too have tried the Twitter, Facebook and blog route but not much success. Tried the book giveaways on goodreads, and although a lot of people added my book to their ‘to-read’ list, I’m not seeing a real increase in sales.
    I have started contacting book clubs, inviting myself to their meetings so I can introduce my book and see if they are interested in purchasing for a future monthly selection. So far – two book clubs have responded. Will keep you posted.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 10:46 pm

      I was considering Goodreads as well. Anyone else have any success with that?

      • Katie  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 11:35 pm

        Can’t say I’ve had much luck with Goodreads, Russell. Made a few friends, found out what they like to read and such. Good research tool, I find. Maybe I’m not using it correctly though.

      • Austin Briggs  –  Mon 26th Sep 2011 at 7:34 pm

        I was getting quite a few sales when I was running a promotion at GR. I’ve also received surprisingly many reviews per sale.

        These days I’m too stretched out to be everywhere, but GR is one of those rare sites that enables you to engage with readers directly.

        Just make sure you hang out with readers, not writers.

        • Russell Blake  –  Tue 27th Sep 2011 at 3:55 am

          What was the promo, if you don’t mind my asking?

  10. Tue 20th Sep 2011 at 12:54 am

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. The idea of cross-promoting with another author sounds great. I am skeptical about “selling” books for free. The number of free, indie-produced books on kindle is astounding. I assume the vast majority are trying to do the same thing you propose. If that’s the case, then how do you differentiate your free book from others? That’s the rub. My guess is that twitter, facebook, blogs, have been tapped out — everyone’s using them. There are about 3,000 book review blogs out there. I am hoping to come up with a marketing strategy that hasn’t yet been thought of to create some buzz around my free or .99 book. What that might be, I have no idea. You, Russell, may have come up with one: write an insanely funny parody of the whole business. Then you have name recognition.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 20th Sep 2011 at 1:22 am

      True, but the number of kindles out there looking for content is also massive, so I’m guessing that if you put one out that is extremely high quality, and it’s well received, it could get some buzz. I’ll let everyone know how it goes.

  11. Tue 20th Sep 2011 at 12:55 am

    I hadn’t thought about cross-promoting with other same-genre authors, but I am putting out the first two books of a series in Oct. and thought I would start off with the first one free and the second at 99c. Then, if it goes well, raising the prices to 99c and 2.99 after a month.
    When it comes to marketing, it’s hard to know where to spend the time.
    I wish you the best with your strategy. I really think it will work!

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 20th Sep 2011 at 1:21 am

      Well thanks, Diana. It’s a tough road, that’s for sure, no matter how you decide to go down it. Best of luck with yours as well.

  12. Tue 20th Sep 2011 at 5:09 pm

    As someone who is just wading into the world of writing and publishing, I really appreciate reading about your experiences and strategies. I love that these go beyond the typical “blog tour/book trailer.” I’ve found some authors that I love through cross-promotional excerpts (a fantastic idea to start implementing in the e-pub world). And from my perspective as a reader/book consumer (dunno how widespread it is), I’d say that the strategy of making the first book in the trilogy free is one that would definitely draw me in.

    Anyway, good luck with all of this! Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

  13. Wed 21st Sep 2011 at 4:30 am

    I’m a reviewer and I’d just like to pop in and say a bit about blog tours.

    you’re right.

    no one knows how well they work. We just don’t know. But, there are some supporting figures. I’m going to use Colleen Houck as an example. 8 months ago, if you said to the average teenage girl “did you read about Colleen Houck” they’d say ” I have no idea who that is.” Colleen Houck self-published her book and within a year, was picked up by one of the big six (publishing houses, scholastic, simonschuster etc.) and within the month of her first books republication was an EPIDEMIC. she’s like flippin stephanie meyer. What does this have to do with book tours?

    Well, the reason the big six picked her up, was because of some really awesome PR. Usually, with blog tours, one blogger gets a book. Then hands it to another reviewer…who hands it to another reviewer. One book, twenty or more reviews, you’re chances of getting at least one good review are pretty high. Not to mention, if your first book is free, it won’t cost you anything. Each blog tour usually has a ‘schedule’ per say. bloggers will post their reviews seperately, and a viewer can see everyone’s opinion by the end. Then, on top of that, many will do author interviews, or author guest posts. Anywho, i’m just here rambling hoping I can bestow any sort of nonsensical wisdom. (make sure if you do a blog tour, you give it to bloggers that are in your genre.)

    Hope I helped,

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 21st Sep 2011 at 5:26 am

      Sounds like we should all be looking at adding blog tours to our investigation items.

      Anyone wanna help me schedule a blog tour?

      I got game, and there’s free photos of me in the Russeller in it for you…

      • Jeffery Rowan  –  Fri 23rd Sep 2011 at 5:37 pm

        As tempting as those photos sound I think I’ll pass on that part. blog touring is an interesting concept. At some point my blog will begin generating more than 4 hits a day and I might take you up on that. Of course if I finished a novel I might be in a better position to get my work out there.

  14. Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 4:15 am

    I recently found another author to cross-promote. I just re-uploaded content on Smashwords with a sample of her book in the back of mine. Amazon and B&N are next. She’s doing the same for me. We’ll see how it goes.

    The one thing that gave me measurable results was the “Labor Day Indie Book Blowout” sale sponsored by the folks at the Indie Book Collective. I signed up for their 12 Days of Christmas promotion as well.

    I’m fairly active on Twitter. Facebook, not so much. My blog has over a 1K hits, but I don’t update consistently.

    I hired a publicist to help promote my book and I know she’s made a difference.

    Best of luck to all of you in your marketing endeavors!

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 4:59 am

      1K a day or 1K total, or 1K when you post something?

      How do yo know the publicist has made a difference? Have you got some milestones or criteria set to measure performance? I’m curious about that, as I’ve toyed with the idea as well.

      I appreciate your sharing with us. I suspect there’s no magic bullet in all this.

      • Charlotte Abel  –  Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 5:18 am

        1K total 😉 so not very impressive.

        My publicist is actually one of my beta readers, but she is a marketing pro and was doing all sorts of stuff to promote my book for free so I decided to pay her.

        She comes up with lots of great ideas (contests, etc.) that I’d never think of on my own. The only thing I have any measurable results was the indie sale since it was a 3 day event and it was obviously pushing sales. (Kris advised me to participate in that.)

        She finds stuff on GoodReads for me to participate in such as Read2Review. My book is coming up Oct. 10th and I except to see some results from that.

        If there’s a magic bullet, I think it would be to never give up and to keep writing.

        • Russell Blake  –  Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 5:34 am

          I think you’re right on that.

          I also think we need to look at costs as investments. To start most businesses you need to make an investment, and there’s a period where you don’t make any money – merely continue to invest. So we’re all investors.

          That sounds way better, no?

          • Charlotte Abel  –  Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 5:48 am

            I think it takes most businesses 3 years to break even. So yeah, I agree.

          • Russell Blake  –  Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 6:03 am

            The rule in the restaurant biz is one year open to break even on a cash flow basis, if you’re lucky. And most take at least 3-6 months building out and prepping.

            However it works, I think you need to be prepared for a long haul to make it. And most won’t. I’d like to, but in the end, I write. It’s what I do. If what I do pays, super. If not, so be it. We shall see. In the end, we’re all dust nonetheless. So between now and then, I’ll write.

  15. Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 4:44 am

    I tried Library Thing’s give-away and gave away 100 books in total with a response of one review. It was a GREAT review but that seems a little labor intensive. @Rachel–didn’t know that about Colleen Houck. Just read her latest book and it was fantastic, so glad she found her audience.
    Love the idea of the cross-promotion. Hope it does well for you.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 5:01 am

      I guess I’ve been pretty lucky so far, then. I can’t complain, as a fair number of folks have done book reviews, with more coming.

      @Rachel is awesome, as far as I can tell, and knows quite a bit about her space.

      Thanks for the warm wishes. Hope your book goes through the roof.

  16. Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 3:24 pm

    I feel like we’re the modern day Lewis and Clark, only we don’t need a new walking stick or boots, we need an entirely new way to travel. We, myself included, keep using mass marketing mentality and merely change up the tools, when mass marketing no longer addresses the needs of contemporary buyers. “Free” means little to us. If we’ve forked out our $140 or so for a kindle, we’re not about to argue a buck or two about book pricing. I’m going to make the common error of the self-absorbed and suggest that my world mimics enough others to say TIME, lack thereof, and all that implies, represents a major present day need. More promoters are clamoring for more of it and that sends us further into the bushes. The question isn’t what new tools should we use. The questions appears more like what would promotion look like that would address our 21st century needs created by too little time, increasing mistrust of one another, yet a definite need for connection. We need a more expansive view. And we need one another in dialogue to bring it to the surface.

    • Andrew Harding  –  Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 4:40 pm

      Maybe many people don’t know this. Amazon download Kindle, FREE, to your pc.
      I couldn’t believe it either, but took the plunge. I know it’s not generally known as a member of my family, who is talking to media guys, every day, was really surprised when I told him.
      There’s no excuse for anyone with a pc, not to be reading ebooks. It must have paid Amazon tenfold to do it. The price of the Kindle alone put me off and I didn’t like the idea of having such a small screen to read from.

  17. Sat 24th Sep 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I think the cross promoting thing is a good idea. Might be something I’ll have to try one of these days.

    As for my marketing strategy, I have my blog, Twitter, and an FB page that serve as my author platform. I post to my blog and hope that my subject matter will attract like minded people. With social media, I want to get to know other people for networking and marketing purposes, and of course for fun.

    I also have (or am going to have when I have more books) put previews for my other books and a book list in each of my books. I consider cover images as a part of marketing, and I know a graphic artist who does a great job with mine.

    Pretty much the biggest factor in marketing is time. Whatever you do, you have to give it time to work. For me that’s the hardest part…I feel that social marketing is relatively simple, but it takes a ton of patience.

  18. Mon 26th Sep 2011 at 3:21 am

    I read a blog; sorry forgot his name but he put his book to 99c
    for one month and $2.99 for another and the results were the same in sales. So I say don’t devalue your work to much it took a long time to write.

    When looking at novels I don’t bother with 99c ones as I think I will get what I pay for so to speak.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 26th Sep 2011 at 4:49 am

      I don’t disagree in terms of revenue, however if your goal is to get the maximum number of people to read your work so they can tell a friend who tells two more, then the .99 tactic has some merit. In terms of net, $2.99 is the sweet spot, and that’s where I generally price my work. But at this point, the game isn’t to make the same from 1 book as I would make from 7 cheapos. it’s to have 7 people read the work, as opposed to 1. Different objective.

      So we are in agreement, however my objective is to be as widely read as possible, not to try to eke out as much as possible from paltry sales.

  19. Tue 27th Sep 2011 at 11:22 am

    Thanks for posting your efforts. I hope to learn something by your real-time posts that I won’t learn from this-is-how-I-think-I-did-it “how to” books.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 27th Sep 2011 at 3:37 pm

      That’s the general idea. So far, dropping the price has resulted in a spike in traffic, but I’m not on the bestseller lists yet, so it’s less than a magic bullet. Still waiting for Amazon to drop the price on Book 1 of the Zero Sum trilogy – Kotov Syndrome – to .00. They won’t until Barnes and Noble has it listed at .00, which could take another week or so, thus we won’t see how that works until well into October. Just as I wouldn’t expect a surge in sales from the cross-promotion. Again, that’s a slow builder.

  20. Tue 27th Sep 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Loved the blog. I have done the free promo and had great results. The cross promotion is a super idea. Can’t wait to hear how it works! Thanks for sharing. Much appreciated.

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 28th Sep 2011 at 1:50 am

      Well, the brave new world of self-publishing is definitely not a sprint. I’m hoping that Amazon will get Kotov free soon, as I believe that will drive readers to the paid work. I’ll keep everyone posted, and thanks for stopping by.


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