Fifteen ways to achieve word-of-mouth publicity
By Jan Yager, Ph.D.
I remember when I first experienced the power of word-of-mouth advertising (WOM). It was a year after my book Friendshifts was published by my small press. My best friend called to tell me her daughter was in church, and the reverend gave a sermon on “friendshifts,” which he said was inspired by a book he had read.
Word of mouth could be defined as when someone else, often a total stranger, is getting the word out about your book. It is because that person is unrelated to you that makes word-of-mouth publicity so strong. It’s what’s known in the trade as a third-party endorsement. Someone completely unrelated to you is promoting your book, and they’re not getting paid to do it.
Here’s another example. Romance author EA Hunt’s aunt told her this awesome story. Hunt said, “My aunt was speaking with a coworker about books, and the coworker told her that one of her favorite romance authors was EA Hunt, and one of her favorite books by EA Hunt was Hiding a Wolfe. My aunt chuckled and said, ‘I like her, too.’ Her coworker didn’t know I was her niece. Then, the coworker added that she'd been told by a friend to read one of my earlier books and fell in love with my writing!”
Those are the kind of word-of-mouth moments that we all dream of, and when it happens, we are excited and energized because it reaffirms that whatever we’re doing to promote our book is working!
Here are a few tips and examples of how some authors have achieved word-of-mouth publicity:
WOM Begins with You
Iowa-based Joseph LeValley is a musician and author of Burying the Lede and four other novels in his Tony Harrington series. “In my experience, all good book marketing is based on word of mouth,” LeValley said. “I’ve spent almost nothing on advertising, and in the past four years have sold books in every state of the U.S. and in seven foreign countries. An author should not—perhaps cannot—be shy about instigating word-of-mouth about his or her books. One recent example: I was in New York City for a conference of authors, agents, and publishers. While in the city, I kept a pocketful of bookmarks promoting my books, and I gave one to anyone interested. Also, whenever I had to stand in line—waiting for a table, or the theater, or whatever—I chatted with the people around me. If the conversation allowed, I talked about being an author and handed out bookmarks. In the weeks following my New York trip, I sold books from New York to California and as far away as Vienna, Austria! My advice to writers: word of mouth starts with you.”
Get endorsements. The bigger the name, the better. Romance novelist Liv Arnold went to the websites of best-selling novelists and asked if they would read her second novel and provide a quote. She was pleasantly surprised by the positive reception she received. Some were too busy, but at least three provided advance blurbs. Here is the blurb provided to Arnold by Meredith Wild, a New York Times
best-selling author: “In Stepping Stone
, Arnold brings her readers on a journey of love, suspense, sexual awakening, and healing. This story pulls on the heartstrings while tackling important social issues."
A resource for asking for book endorsements is ContactAnyCelebrity.com
, started by Jordan McAuley, who suggests romance writers contact reality stars, soap opera stars, and “Bravolebrities” like cast members of The Real Housewives
. (The service offers a free seven-day trial with contact information for 59,000-plus celebrities; after that, it costs $39/month.)
Get Your Book to Bloggers
Bloggers are a wonderful way for authors to get exposure to book lovers in your genre. You may have your favorite book bloggers, but if you need a starting point, here is a list: https://bookreviewdirectory.com/book-blogger-list/
. The website where the list is housed notes that it does not endorse anyone on the list, and those who use the list have to do their own vetting since changes may occur overnight.
Add a Video about Yourself or Your Book to Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube
You can post a video on Instagram to get people talking about your book. You also can post one on TikTok. Tylar Paige, author of the self-published memoir F*ck You Watch This, which she describes as “a book about experiencing trauma, abuse, narcissism, and finding self-love and healing” posted a video to TikTok. Paige shared that her video went viral, garnering 2.2 million views, which translated into approximately 3,000 sales.
Have a Book Party
Have an in-person or internet book party. My very first book party for my two nonfiction books on vegetarianism, The Vegetable Passion (published by Scribner) and Meatless Cooking, Celebrity Style (published by Grove Press), was held at Sweet Basic Restaurant and written up in The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” Talk about beginner’s luck! (Read more about that party and how it came about in my new memoir, Looking Backward, Going Forward: Reflections on a Writer’s Life.)
Give Away Free Books
Hong Kong-based Robert Kienzle gives away books as part of his company’s overall promotion strategy. “Our small business makes most of its money from clients, not from publications. My Hybrid Live Guide book was the third book we released for free. Our strategy is getting our books into the hands of people who need them: meeting leaders, other facilitators and consultants, and educators. If someone likes our material, we are available to create and run tailored workshops for their managers and employees. I also present at regional and international conferences around the world and am constantly giving out our free download link.” (Robert’s guide is also available through Amazon.com as an e-book.)
Partner with a Business
Elease A. Wiggins partnered with a major U.S. furniture store in New York and New Jersey to host an adult book bag drive where they gave out book bags filled with supplies that were provided to low-income adult students who were studying for the GED. She also held a combination book launch and birthday party for family and close friends to celebrate the launch of her book. Other activities have included working with local libraries in New York and New Jersey as well as colleges, women’s groups, and community organizations to create book clubs that went from in-person to virtual. “Those word-of-mouth strategies helped to grow my fan base,” Wiggins said.
Work the Internet
Work the internet through email and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. Post regularly and often. Go out of your way to share useful information, so it is more likely that your posts or status updates will be retweeted or reposted. Avoid only focusing on yourself or your book.
Pitch Media Outlets
Pitch TV/cable, radio/podcasts, journalists, and websites for interviews, features, or reviews. Research and pitch potential media opportunities, work with a book publicist, or read Help a Reporter Out (HARO), which is posted three times a day for free with potential media opportunities. Romance novelist Jeannie Lin shared about the longevity of her debut novel, Butterfly Swords, which she credits to word of mouth. Lin said, “Butterfly Swords was published in 2011 by Harlequin Historical, a category line, which means the books are on the shelf for only one month before going out of print. Yet, more than ten years later, Butterfly Swords keeps getting mentions on various lists and recommendations.” Since Lin contacted me through my HARO query, she still puts in the time and effort to cultivate the PR that can lead to word of mouth twelve years after her book’s initial release.
Alina Adams, who has worked as a creative content producer for several soap operas, has a romance novel (The Fictitious Marquis) that still finds readers after more than twenty-five years. After Adams got the rights back to the novel from Avon, she re-released it in both print and e-book and “went about promoting it by word out mouth.” She focused on Jewish sites because of the heroine and the themes. Adams added, “And then it took on a life of its own, being picked up in other Jewish publications.”
There is a twenty-seven-page resource guide in my book How to Promote Your Book: A Practice Guide to Publicizing Your Own Title that should be useful in generating promotion that could inspire word of mouth.
Donate Part of Your Proceeds
Donate part of your proceeds to a nonprofit. Kathryn Starke (The Perfect Blend) donates profits of the proceeds of her book sales to the American Heart Association. As Starke explained, “Thanks to some incredible partnerships, the book was on display in coffee shops, gift shops, and hotels with postcards that allowed the owners and patrons to talk about how to spread the love with just that one title. I had readers contact me that they purchased the book, shared a personal story about heart disease, and posted lovely reviews.”
Cultivate Reader Reviews
If someone sends you an email praising your book, cut and paste part of that email into a reply, and ask if they’ll post it as a reader review. Most of the time, they will gladly do that, especially since the hard part of posting a reader review (writing it) is behind them and done in such a natural way!
Reader reviews are one of the most obvious ways to generate word of mouth because it is considered an opinion that is not from a source with a vested interest like the publisher, author, or publicist. Jessica James has 505 reader reviews on Amazon for her novel Lacewood. What does she think might have led to so many reader reviews? James did a blog tour when the book was released, and she thinks that helped to get the word out. However, she added, “I don’t think it was ‘one big thing’ that helped get attention for Lacewood, but a thousand little things.”
Create or Attend Author Events
Go to local, statewide, national, and international romance writer and fan events as time and budgeting allows. Apply to be a keynote speaker or get on panels since that is usually an excellent way to get your name and book’s title shared among the hundreds of attendees. Make sure you “work the crowd.”
Expand to Other Formats
Expand your book to other formats like an audiobook, e-book, app, online course, talks like TED Talks or TEDx Talks, or live events. Mark A. Herschberg, author of The Career Toolkit, created a companion app, the Career Toolkit app (available through Apple and Android), to help his readers to remember what they learned in his book. You will not get paid for a TED Talk or a TEDx Talk, but you can spread your name and message to potential readers and the media throughout the U.S. and globally.
Be visible through LinkedIn and/or a website that you keep updated. Sharing interesting information, including occasional updates about your book, on LinkedIn can generate interest in your book. Remember, whenever someone shares a comment related to what you have written, that is part of word-of-mouth publicity. If you are connected, you can consider following up on a comment with an offer of a free copy.
Use Promo Items
Use Promotional Items like a book trailer, a T-shirt, or a mug. Jessica James did a book trailer for her historical romance Lacewood
. Sophia Demas’s husband wears a T-shirt with a picture of the front cover of her book, The Divine Language of Coincidence
, prominently displayed on the front and the back.
So, whether you are trying to get the word out about your next book, your current book, or your backlist titles, generating that spontaneous word of mouth promotion takes time, effort, and planning.
Jan Yager, Ph.D. is a book coach, sociologist, adjunct associate professor, publisher, and an award-winning author of 50+ nonfiction and fiction titles, translated into 35 languages, including How to Promote Your Book, How to Self-Publish Your Book, Looking Backward, Going Forward: A Reflections on a Writer’s Life, the novels The Pretty One and On the Run, and other titles. For more information, go to: https://www.drjanyager.com