Promotion Is Key to Selling Books

From The Scarlett Letter, Summer 2004


When I talk to groups, something I seem to be doing more often these days, I confide that promoting books is a more daunting task than creating them. Writing, I love. That’s why I was able to turn out eight novels before the first one sold. However, the euphoria brought on by the contract for that first book didn’t last long before I realized what would be necessary if other people were going to read what I had written. I would have to promote with the same zeal I employ when writing.

My small press publisher promised to help with such things as distribution through the major wholesalers, artwork for the online booksellers, a page on his website, promotion of his catalog (including my book) at Book Expo America and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

As the book made its way through the editorial and production processes, I attended my second SleuthFest in Florida and began to get a better picture of what I faced. Published authors talked about the problem of getting publicity for their books and themselves. Armed with this advice, I got online and began checking email lists like Murder Must Advertise, All About Murder and MWA’s EMWA, all Yahoo groups. I soon understood the daunting task I faced.

Start a year before the book comes out, more than one savvy author advised. I was already five months behind. Another suggested making a list of every organization I belonged to that had a publication. With list in hand, I started making queries and writing articles. I thought a good hook would be the age at which I would become a published author—76. I used that kicker in articles for the University of Tennessee Alumnus, this newsletter and the alumni newsletter of East Nashville High School. My character Greg McKenzie is a retired Air Force OSI agent, so I got an article in the magazine of the Association of Former OSI Agents.

Everybody said you need a website. I searched web providers and found a “starter” package for $5.95 a month. Fairly proficient with a computer, I bought Microsoft’s Front Page program and designed my own site, electing to go with a URL using the name that appears on my books—www.chesterdcampbell.com. I started simple with the book cover and plot blurb, author bio, where to buy, and sample chapters. As things progressed, I added more. With the website up, I posted the news on various internet lists and asked for comment. I also began getting my URL listed on all the mystery-related websites I could find.

As soon as I had a good idea when the book would be available, I began lining up book signings. Starting locally (Nashville), I contacted Books-a-Million near my home. I learned my book needed to be handled by American Wholesale Books, the BAM supplier. Thankfully, my publisher had taken care of that. I also set up a signing at the local independent. I found Barnes & Noble booked through November, and the CRM said they didn’t do events in December, so I settled for January. Then I moved to other cities across the state. With BAM I talked to store managers. For B&N, I called to get the Community Relations Manager’s name, mailed book info and followed up by phone. Most were quite cordial and readily agreed to a signing date.

I knew reviews were vital for getting my name around and for promoting my book, but I had no ARC’s. I had to wait for finished books. I made a list of internet review sites and requested reviews. Mailing books whenever I got an address, I received great reviews from some highly respected sites. I also searched for interview opportunities. That put my name on another group of websites where my URL was displayed, bringing more hits to my own home page.

To get name recognition in the mystery community and make useful contacts with other writers, I asked to be on panels at SleuthFest, Southern Festival of Books, Bouchercon, and the Cape Fear Crime Festival. Besides selling a few books, the experience netted cover blurbs for my second book from authors Phillip Margolin and Don Bruns. I also volunteered to organize a Skill Build for SEMWA in Nashville.

I joined Sisters in Crime, affiliating with both the Middle Tennessee and Internet chapters. I have spoken to the local chapter and appeared in the SinC-IC Spotlight Profile and Guest Author features.

Have all of these efforts paid off? No doubt some haven’t, but most have. I know it put my books on lots of store shelves. I learned that Saturday signings are the best, and I’ve found December signings are terrific, with customers eagerly buying for gifts. Whenever I travel for personal reasons, I try to line up bookstores along the way. I must be doing something right. Book clubs are beginning to call me. Stores are eager to have me come to sign again. I still have a long way to go, but I feel my promotional efforts have me on the right track.


Chester Campbell turned to writing novels after retirement from a long career in journalism, advertising, public relations, and association management. His first Greg McKenzie mystery, Secret of the Scroll, was published by Durban House in 2002. The second, Designed to Kill, was released in March 2004. His website is www.chesterdcampbell.com,