How Do I Promote an eBook Without an Advertising Budget?
January 10, 2012 2:05 PM   Subscribe

My urban fantasy ebook on Amazon has done well enough to make me really happy, but I'd love to promote it more. Thing is, a pen name was absolutely necessary and I don't have money to do actual advertising. Options?

My novel has sold pretty well by self-pub standards and so far I've had nothing but positive feedback. I don't have illusions about making millions or anything, but I'd certainly like to promote it more. I don't really have money (let alone software skills) to buy adspace or anything like that. I'd love any advice from the hive mind.


*I honestly don't actually read urban fantasy. I'm a gamer nerd, but urban fantasy has never been a literary draw for me. Consequently, I don't know the ins and outs of the fan base.

*This was originally on Literotica, where it kicked a whole lot of ass last year. I took it down and cleaned out most of the excessive throbbing flesh and smutty choreography, but sex is still a significant theme. I really don't want this book to come up at work for a number of reasons (it deals with sex, religious icons, etc). Consequently, it's under a pen name. This seems to limit my promotional options.

*I've tapped the original Literotica audience, of course (no pun intended). I've gotten friends to post links to it on Facebook and such. It's on the MeFi Mall.

*I haven't sent it to GoodReads or any review sites like that...anyone have any advice there?

*The book is also up on SmashWords for e-readers other than Kindle.
posted by scaryblackdeath to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe do a short piece elsewhere, and cross-promote it that way?
posted by backwards guitar at 2:26 PM on January 10, 2012

Get a website for it. Blog on the website about it at least once every other week. The idea is to create pages about it for google to find as well as for readers to find and share.

Get a facebook page for it. And for your alias as well. Again, the idea is to let social media become a form of slow building social marketing. Don't try to sell the book or even promote the book in a sales way. Instead, share info and thoughts, and let your readers share to spread the word.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:50 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Query book blogs and see if they will review it.

Do you have a blog where you write about your writing?

Are you on Twitter/Facebook/social media as your pen name?

Keep publishing more works so that you build your fanbase and expand your audience.

It is well worth looking at Amanda Hocking's example.

Being under a pen name isn't a limitation and is par for the course with a lot of authors, even if they aren't writing smut. What you need to do is build an audience for your work with your pen name.

/former publishing publicist
posted by so much modern time at 2:51 PM on January 10, 2012 [9 favorites]

Or, a free short piece for the Kindle, and promote your main ebook in it. And if you're not an Amazon Associate, sign up for that, and use your Associate ID everywhere you promote your ebook. I'm not sure exactly how the program works (I'm sure it's documented), but you get credit for a lot more than whatever you're linking to.

I don't know how much you're selling the ebook for, but you might try dropping the price and seeing if it makes a difference in sales. It seems like a lot of Kindle users shop on price. And if it's inexpensive enough, you can promote it on the bargain ebook sites. Here's one, but I know there are a lot of others.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have an option to set up a pen name persona as more of a "real" person with a social media presence and website? Since a good deal of the buzz and social whuffie you generate will be online [I assume doing readings and the like are out of the question, though maybe not] Id start slow with this sort of thing. Get some friends of yours to give you some starter likes on facebook and/or blog comments, engage with readers in various ways, set up an author page at Amazon. Crosslink a lot to these various things. Think a bit about what your next thing is, if you have a next thing and maybe share that process with your readers. Check out the reception you're getting on places like Goodreads and LibraryThing and see if you can set up an author page there and have a presence And I agree with 2oh1 a lot of thid engagement doesn't have to be "buy my stuff!" it can just be creating genuine relationships with people who are predisposed to be into your thing and that's a great way to find future readers, if not buyers for your past work.
posted by jessamyn at 2:54 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have a website? Twitter feed? Facebook account? This will be easier to answer if we know what you've already tried.

Why not put it on Goodreads? I have a couple of friends with ebooks who have made author accounts there, and it certainly won't hurt.

The pen name is not an obstacle, it is just a thing. If you were writing under your real name you'd have to do nearly as much work to establish your online presence anyway. Give people something to find when they google you, and generate some content so that people have a reason to keep an eye on you between books.

And write more! Short stories, novellas, whatever - one of my author friends says "my self-pub sales seem to tick up and stay up whenever I release something new."
posted by restless_nomad at 2:54 PM on January 10, 2012

Do a bit of research on the book blogs that read your kind of book and send them free ebook review copies. They might not read or review it, but if they do, it's a great way to get people to learn about your book. I only read self-published ebooks on trusted recommendations, and I know a lot of people do the same.

Do you keep a blog under your pen name? If not, start blogging. Comment on other authors' and reviewers' blogs, get involved in discussions in your genre. People who like or are interested in what you have to say are more likely to want to pick up your books.
posted by yasaman at 2:58 PM on January 10, 2012

You can get a free $100 Google Adwords credit just by signing up; it's not a lot, but free advertising is free advertising, right?
posted by cgg at 3:15 PM on January 10, 2012

Definitely put up a GR listing. I've seen positively-reviewed self published novels spread like wildfire through GR. You can also make up an "author" page for your pen name and even do a give away of the book, all for free.

I'm a book blogger (not urban fantasy, sorry). If you're interested in having someone at a book blog review your work, send them an email that goes something like this:
Hi Reviewer,

I've looked over your review guidelines and archives and thought my novel, BLOOD MOON, might be of particular interest to your audience. It's a 100,000 word urban fantasy about Selena, a vampire with a taste for werewolf blood (and werewolf girls!) who is being stalked by her ex, the vampire king. It's self-published via smashwords, amazon, and B&N. If you're interested, I'd be happy to send you a copy in whatever format you'd prefer.

Thank you for your time!

Make sure you actually read the review guidelines of the sites in question before your solicit them to see if it's a good fit. Do NOT try to lie about who is publishing you (you wouldn't believe how many authors make up a fake publishing company to fool reviewers), invent bizarre measures of success (I had one recently tell me that his book has a "high success matrix" on facebook because of "the number of conversations pertaining to my novel--42.5%"), act entitled, hound reviewers if they're not interested, or respond if they negatively review your work. That might all seem self-evident, but seriously, it bears repeating. Just be pleasant and polite and people will respond positively.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

May I recommend the forums at as a place to compare notes with other folks doing the same thing vis-a-vis self-publishing and promotion?

And I agree with everyone who's saying "Make Awesome Pen-Name a presence on the Internets." Lots of authors do all their promotion under their pen names; nobody really cares if it isn't your legal name, so I'm not sure why you think that holds you back.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:19 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and put it on Barnes and Noble for Nook readers. You ignore the 10 million Nook owners at your peril, and tbh a lot of them are not going to bother to go to Smashwords to find your book.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:20 PM on January 10, 2012

I have no experience in publishing or anything like that but I do read a LOT of urban fantasy books and I have to agree with so much modern time.

Urban fantasy tends to lean towards the series rather than the stand alone book so one book isn't going to get you as far as multiple books or a series will. I've read all of Amanda Hocking's books and it wasn't because they were great books (I would put them in the "ok" range as far as my tastes), it was because there were a lot of them and they were in series format so I had to read them to find out what happens.

Urban fantasy tends to be something that people devour and want more. Whenever I download a new kindle urban fantasy book I first check to see if there are more by that author at least.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:51 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

The absolute cheapest and most cost effective thing to do is grab and blog for your book. It's free, gives people something to Google, and is a nice way to substantiate and promote your writing. Also consider a Goodreads author page, also free.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:06 PM on January 10, 2012

(Works in smutty romance epublishing, though not in publicity. Not a publicist, not your publicist, just passing on my opinion, etc, etc.)

First, it's my experience that the best way to increase sales is to expand your backlist, which is to say: write some more books. Or novellas, or shorts, or whatever. Bonus points if you can manage to write them under slightly different categories--this one's science fiction with horror elements, and this one has similar scifi elements but is also about vampires, for example. (Because then people searching science fiction horror will find you, but so will people searching science fiction vampires--and some of the people searching for one will then happily read your other one because hey, they're kinda similar, and I loved the first one I read...) Series books also tend to do well--it is not, in my opinion, coincidence that all but one of Hocking's novels are parts of series.

I'd also suggest that you set up a website. It doesn't have to be fancy--a blogspot or wordpress account would be just fine--but you want to have something that's easily found and, more importantly, frequently indexed by search engines, and you want that page to have links to your book. Also, if you've not bought the domain name that matches your pen name, do that now. It's $10 a year, and it takes ten minutes. Set this up to redirect to your blog--you know, the one we just talked about. Now, tada! Your blog, complete with links to buy your books, is, if not the first, then at least one of the first Google results for your name.

If you don't have a Twitter account (or if you do and you're not using it regularly), you're missing out. Not because you're going to draw hundreds or even tens of readers from your personal feed, but because you use Twitter to cultivate relationships with other, more established authors. (And with readers, and with editors, and with agents, and...) Their followers see your name, which increases your name recognition, which is one of the big things readers look for when book-shopping. There's also a non-zero chance that one or two of those more established authors will pick up your book, like it, and promote it to their readers--this, obviously, has to happen organically, but I see it happen on a daily basis.

What Jessamyn said about creating an author persona to go with your pen name is spot-on. My suggestion is to keep this persona fairly close to who you actually are, as readers have gone on witch hunts when they've felt betrayed by an author before. (At a minimum, I'd suggest keeping your gender, approximate age, sexual orientation, and ethnic background the same--those are hot buttons for people. I know multiple authors you've been "caught" fabricating one or the other of the hot buttons and, to a one, they've all ended up getting new pen names to avoid the harassment.)

Also, do like PhoB suggests and email reviewers. Target both the big sites that you think will never review you and the tiny ones that only have a dozen readers. I also know authors who've searched GoodReads for books similar to their, then contacted reviewers of those books offering a copy of the author's book in exchange for a review.

Keep writing, and be patient. Sure, there are some authors who write a single book and it just fucking skyrockets from day one...but there are many, many more who write a book, and it does well but not amazingly, and then all of a sudden, two years later, someone big author or reviewer tweets or blogs about it and they take off like lightning. And, frankly, there are even more authors who've built an entire career around having good-but-not-great sales, and they make a perfectly respectable living doing so.

Feel free to MeMail me if you've got specific questions I might be able to help with. Good luck!
posted by MeghanC at 12:13 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

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