Marketing Fiction – Selling the Make-Believe

Photo courtesy of C. Hope Clark.

By C. Hope Clark

When an expert sells their book, they are selling their expertise as well as the print volume in their hand, on the screen, across the billboard. A reputation serves as most of the author’s platform, which many consider an extreme advantage of nonfiction authors over fiction, those who choose to live in the land of make-believe.

But fiction authors are experts, too. Marketing and promotion isn’t natural for most writers, and for those steeped in fiction, the idea of stepping into the real world to sell books is akin to standing nude in traffic.

The mental gymnastics that go into prepping for a talk are similar to promotional posts, interviews, and advertising a novel. As author of The Shy Writer Reborn, I consider myself expert in evolving from a traumatized new writer to today’s confident speaker. I taught myself mental tricks to enable me to stand on stage. Let’s look at some of those angles:

  • You are the expert of whatever you wrote. Nobody was in your head as you created your world, characters, and plot. Nobody can negate your fiction and what you meant.
  • You are a three-dimensional person. You have your own personality, hobbies, genealogy, ethnicity, upbringing, humor, hair color, education, music preferences, reading likes, family, and address. Those are yours to use as you deem necessary.
  • You love what you do. Sitting at a screen for months on end to make a story work is not purgatory. We talk best about that which we adore.
  • You are a storyteller. So why not tell stories every chance you get? People love stories.
  • You have passion. Tap it when you speak, sell, and promote, not just in your writing.

So you have tools, talent, and passion. How can you use those in marketing your fiction? I’ve written two mystery series – Carolina Slade Mysteries and The Edisto Island Mysteries.

Photo courtesy of C. Hope Clark.

Appearing first with Lowcountry Bribe, Carolina Slade works for the government, in a rural setting, often assisting farmers and those affiliated with them. During my self-imposed book tour one summer, I focused on states that understood agriculture. I continue to have rabid followers in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri. I own chickens, a spin-off from my interest in nature, so I post pictures of me enjoying them. I’ve posed about my garden, and expounded on how it relates to writing, or how I’ve used it to weather the self-doubt moments. Having worked for agriculture, I pull upon experiences, the funnier the better, because Slade has a wicked sense of humor.

Echoes of EdistoBeginning with Murder on Edisto, the Edisto Island Mysteries have a great protagonist in Callie Jean Morgan, but I’ve garnered more mileage out of flaunting the setting – Edisto Island. I’m continually talking about my visits there, sharing pictures of surf, flora and fauna. I relay to readers about turtles, the environment, and how it’s known for its lack of commercialism. The soothing, getaway factor of the beach captures lots of attention, especially such an unusual beach set in the middle of nowhere.

With a husband and sons in law enforcement, and with my experiences in minor federal investigations, I try to talk the talk of crime. With a history in South Carolina, I talk the weather, culture, scenery, and food. Since I adore dachshunds, they appear in pictures or become the objects of lessons I teach. Sometimes I talk simply about being happy with life.

And last but not least, I am passionate about the stories I have managed to put together, and the methods I’ve used to bring them to print. So I teach, write, speak, and interview about writing. I’m currently under contract under a library grant to teach new writers.

Become known for being passionate most of all. The general public is starving for some sort of magic that makes their lives better, brighter, happier. As an author of a wonderful story, maybe even a series, you have the potential of helping them find that happy place. But you have to be excited about what you do for others to believe you.

Not long ago, after teaching a class on publishing, a lady around thirty came up to be and stated she wanted to be me. I’d never met her and she’d never read my books; however, I somehow conveyed to her that writing and publishing my stories was heaven on earth for me. “You’re living the dream,” she said. “You’re where I want to be.”

That’s how you build fans.

I can give you tools to use to market yourself as a fiction author (guest blogging, social media, speaking, signings, readings, podcasts, conferences), but the magic is in the pool of talent you’re drawing from, and how you use that magic to make someone else’s world better.

Take some time to define you just as you would in developing a character. Interview yourself. Create that bible of resources you would for a new character. Define your likes, dislikes, interests, history, friends, education, and so on. Note everybody you touch. Note your talents. Then imagine reaching out people. Step it up a notch and imagine the opportunity to share your passions with them, whether it’s in a ball room speaking, or on a postcard in the mail. You are empowered with enthusiasm. You’ve created a fictional world nobody else has. You cherish your characters and the lessons learned in the tale. You love your life and the chance to be a writer and share stories!

Just remember, however, it’s about making their lives happier, not yours. You are already happy. Your goal is to take all those connections in your world and strive to use what you know and who you are to entertain them. In other words, drop the screen you’re hiding behind. Let the world know who you are, what you love, and how you hope your writing makes their day brighter.


Photo courtesy of C. Hope Clark.


  1. Hope Clark adores writing and reading mystery, loving the challenge of solving crime. She exudes that enthusiasm in both The Carolina Slade Mysteries and The Edisto Island Mysteries. Her latest is Echoes of Edisto, the third Edisto book. Hope also is founder of FundsforWriters, a website and newsletter chosen by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers. And yes, she loves what she does. /


Cheaper Isn’t Necessarily Better

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It’s a dilemma all of us face, particularly authors and writers with limited budgets–how to get the best deal for the best price.

As a small business person, I use email marketing for my advertising. It’s a great tool, and it’s gotten me customers. However, not all email marketing platforms are the same. I had one I really liked. Classy, easy to use mobile friendly templates with social sharing, followed by nice, detailed campaign reports, and good telephone tech support. But my subscriber list was fairly small, and they were expensive. So, I tried another company.

The first thing I noticed was they had no templates. Themes yes, but they were just empty boxes. If I wanted something that looked classy, like I had before, I’d have to build it myself. Like I had the time. Then, once I was finally done, I discovered that only three of the names on my subscriber list had imported over. YIKES!

So, I had an ugly newsletter, that I could only send to three of my subscribers. Mind you, they’re three nice people, but where were the all the others?

I’m not sure, but I think, somewhere, my mother may have once said something to the effect of, “You get what you pay for.”

While we certainly want to get the best bang for the buck, the lowest bidder isn’t necessarily the best one to go with. So I’m back with my old email marketing company. And if you want to sign up for my newsletter, there’s a link on the side bar. Just saying.


How to do a Book Trailer Video for a Nonfiction Book

Book trailers are a great promotional tool for nonfiction books as well as novels. Their purpose is to tell viewers, in a visually interesting way, what the book is about, but without giving too much away.

Rosie’s Riveting Recipes is a cookbook, and, as with any cookbook, it’s mostly about the recipes. However, in this instance, all of the recipes are historic. So rather than do a cooking demo video, we opted to have a book trailer emphasizing the nostalgic theme which makes this book more unique. To that end we started with a little footage from an old U.S. government film about food rationing, (all public domain). We then added our own footage, which goes from nostalgia to the present time. The end result is a book trailer that looks and feels more like an old time newsreel than a pitch for a cookbook.

The book trailer was written and produced by Rob Resetar, who also wrote and produced the book trailers for my Marina Martindale romance novels. If you happen to live near or in Tucson, Arizona, I would highly recommend his services. If not, then talk to other authors in your area and find out who does book trailers. Again, you want a book trailer that’s visually interesting and engages the viewer.




Is Entering Your Book in a Literary Competition a Good Idea?

5 Star Cover Billy FRONTFrom time to time my email box fills up with calls for entries for all kinds of book awards, and I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about entering them. So, here is my list of pros and cons regarding book competitions.

First, I’ll start with the pros. I’ve entered competitions in the past and I’ve won awards. And I’m not going to lie. There’s nothing quite like the euphoria you feel when your book has beat out dozens, if not hundreds, of competitors and has either won, or placed, in a competition. It’s also a great marketing tool, as there’s nothing quite like having that award sticker on your book cover. In fact, I’ve included one of mine, so you can see it. Not because I’m bragging, but because there is a downside to just about everything in life, and that includes winning a book award. If you look at the cover closely, you may be able to see what the “con” is.

I won the award in 2007. However, by 2010, it was starting to make my book look dated.

The other potential con is the expense of entering a competition. Back in the mid 2000s, when I entered Billy the Kid in that competition, the entry fees were reasonable. Ahh, those were the days…

Times have indeed changed, and, depending on the competition, even early-bird call to entry fees can be quite steep. Along with the entry fee, you may have to provide printed copies of your book, oftentimes more than one copy, which adds to the cost. For example, I once considered entering one of my Marina Martindale novels in a competition for book cover design. The entry fee was $90, and they wanted four printed copies of my book. By the time I added in the cost of the books, and the postage, it would have come to about $125, just to enter one title, in one category. After thinking over I decided not to enter as I honestly thought the $125 would be better spent on advertising my book.

So, is entering your book in a literary competition a good idea? That’s really up to you to decide. If your budget will allow it then by all means you should consider it. Your book might be a winner, and that award certainly won’t hurt. But if you choose not to enter then don’t worry about it. Experience has taught me that you’ll sell a lot more books by getting good reviews. As a book consumer, I pay a lot more attention to the book reviews than to whatever awards a book may have won.

My thought for the day.



So Who is Responsible for Marketing Your Book?

dollarsignThe other day I had an interesting telephone conversation with a prospective author who was lamenting that his current book just isn’t selling, and he wondered if it would even be worth his time to bother publishing his next book. I asked him what he had been doing to market his book. He told me he hadn’t done any marketing. He honestly believed that all he had to do was list his book on Amazon, and people would come along to buy it.

“Build it and they will come,” may have worked in the movie Field of Dreams, but that mindset simply doesn’t apply in the business of selling books. Nor is it up to your publisher to go out and sell your book for you. They can distribute it, but unless you, the author, go out there and start marketing, it will not sell.

There are a number of things that you, as an author can and should do in order to effectively market your book. These would include:

  • Getting your book reviewed.
  • Having a website or a blog, or both, about your book.
  • Promoting your book on social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook.
  • Listing your book on websites such as Goodreads, Author’s Den and Red Room.
  • Doing some speaking gigs.
  • Having book signings.

All that I have listed above are either free or would cost very little. There are also a number of books on Amazon about how to market your book. Likewise if you do a Google search you’ll find websites about book marketing, some of which offer free newsletters.

If you have the means you can hire a publicist, but be sure that he or she has experience in book promotion, as book promotion is different from other kinds of public relations. Also be sure to talk to them about the cost. Some firms may charge as much as $3000 a month for their services. Others charge much less, and they may do just as good of a job as the higher-priced publicists.

No one ever said marketing a book would be easy, especially now that we’re living in a time when anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can upload a Word file onto Amazon Kindle and call him or herself an author. However, unless your name is Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, don’t expect people bust down the doors to buy your book just because you’ve listed it on Amazon. You’ll have to get off your fanny and do some work.

My tip for the day



Book Signing Etiquette


It’s that time of year again when I get busy doing book signings, and while my intent with this post is not to sound preachy, I would like to point out that we authors can sometimes let our enthusiasm get the best of us. Please consider this a gentle reminder that we all need to mind our manners at book signings.

Looking back, the worst experience I ever had was while I was signing books down in Tombstone, (Arizona). It was one of their big event weekends, and the bookstore had me, along with another author, seated out on the boardwalk in front of the store. Unfortunately, the author they’d seated next to me was a non-stop talker. He talked and talked and talked about anything and everything. Yak, yak, yak, yak yak. He just wouldn’t shut up, not even while I was trying to talk to potential readers about my books, or trying to close a sale. As if this wasn’t bad enough, he started blabbing about a rather controversial book he was planning to write concerning his religious beliefs. So, not only was I stuck with him yapping my ear off as I’m trying very, very hard, to talk my customers, he’s quoting Biblical scripture, chapter and verse, in a very loud voice, in a very public place. So instead of stopping at my table, potential readers were literally running away.

Please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against religion and I strongly believe that everyone should be free to practice his or her faith. However, there is a time and place for a religious debate, and it is never on a sidewalk in front of a secular bookstore, at a secular event, where other authors are signing non-religious books. So instead of a successful weekend, as I normally have at Tombstone events, I had a disaster. I hardly sold any books. All because the author seated next to me couldn’t keep his freaking mouth shut.

A book signing is where authors come to connect one on one with their readers. So if there are other authors at the same venue then please show some common courtesy. That means keep the conversations with other authors brief, and try to limit the conversations to those times when there are no customers around. Most importantly, keep your mouth shut while other authors are talking to potential buyers. Nothing is more unprofessional than interfering with another author’s sale.

My tip for the day.



Business Cards–an Overlooked Book Marketing Tool

sample bcardThe lowly business card. It has to be one of the most overlooked, and underused, tool in an author’s promotional arsenal.

Back in college, where I studied graphic design, one of my instructors taught us to think of a business card as a billboard in miniature. It’s an advertisement for the product or service that you represent. Sadly, too many people don’t see it that way. It seems most of the business cards people hand to me are so poorly done that I immediately dump them in the recycling bin. It’s really not that hard to design a good, effective business card that promotes your book. (Or your product or service.) Here are a few tips to create a more effective business card.

Use Easy to Read Serif Fonts

If you want your message to be quickly and easily understood then it needs to be easily read. I suggest using serif fonts, like Times New Roman, Baskerville, Century Schoolbook or Garamond. They all work well, and I highly recommend using them for your most important information, such as your name, your phone number and your email address. If a fancy, decorative font makes this information too hard to read your card will end up in the trash.

If Using a Dark Background Use a Light Colored Text

Someone once handed a business card with a dark brown background and red text. Both colors had the same value, which meant there was no contrast whatsoever between the two colors. This made her phone number and email address impossible for me to read. Her card went straight to the recycling bin.

Keep the Font Size at Least 9 Points

I have been frustrated to no end trying to decipher phone numbers and email addresses printed with a 6 point, or smaller, font size. Even with reading glasses, the type is too small for me to see clearly. My graphic design instructors taught me that anything smaller than 9 points is very difficult to read. If I can’t read it, the card goes into the recycling bin.

Don’t Look Cheap

I understand money is an issue for many of us, but you want to avoid cutting costs on your business card. A cheap card is like a cheap suit, and it makes you look, well, cheap. No one wants to do business with someone who looks like they don’t have any money.

Nothing turns me off faster than to look at a business card, turn it over, and see stamped on the back. That tells me they were too cheap, or too broke, to spend $50 to get some decent cards printed. At that point I’m done. The other problem with using on-line business card templates is that other people use them too. I have, on occasion, ended up with virtually identical business cards from different people who used the same template, making too easy to pull the wrong person’s card out of the Rolodex.

Another big no-no is printing out your cards at home on your printer. (Something I was once guilty of doing myself.) Again, it looks cheap. The paper stock is flimsy at best, and dot matrix printers do not have the clarity of a real press.

For you authors out there, I recommend a simple card, with your book cover, your name and contact info, including your website, or a website where your book can be purchased. You don’t need to use the artsy-fartsy Vista Print background template that everyone else is using. A plain white, ivory, or pastel background should work just fine. If your budget is small there are plenty of on-line printers, such as, who can print 500 4-color cards for about $50, including shipping. Now how hard is that?

My tip for the day.



How to Write a Good Description of Your Book

From time to time I’ll receive emails from other authors announcing their latest books, and I always enjoy reading them. They’ll of course include a description of the book, but one must be careful not to say too much.

For example, I got an email the other day from an author who’s been in this business far longer than I have. He included a copy of the book cover, (which is important, by the way), but then his description must have been a good 500 words long. His book was fiction, and he described the entire plot. By the time I finished reading the email I had no incentive to buy the book because I already knew the whole story from start to finish.

One the trick I was taught early on was to write descriptions of ten to one hundred words long, but nothing longer. Over time I’ve learned that for most promotional purposes, fifty to one hundred word descriptions work very well. I write teasers, not plot summaries–enough to give you a general idea of what the story is about, and, hopefully, entice you to want to read more. I’ve pasted a copy of my description for my Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion. Please feel free to use it as an example for a teaser description.


Gillian Matthews is becoming famous in the art world. All her hard work has finally paid off and her paintings are being sold in several highly prestigious art galleries. Yet in spite of her success and accomplishments, one thing has always eluded her—true love. Then one night, during her opening at a Denver art gallery, a man from her past unexpectedly appears. Her long lost true love. The one man she never forgot, never got over, and never expected to see again. After being apart for twenty-five long years, will Gillian finally have a second chance for happiness?


Do Business Networking Groups Help Burgeoning Writers?

Business Group-001
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It’s a question I’m sometimes asked, and ponder myself. Do business-networking groups help burgeoning writers? The answer is…it all depends on the group.

If it’s an association for writers, authors, publishers, or a combination thereof, absolutely. Networking with your colleagues will certainly help to make you a success. It can be something as simple as a small writer’s group where you can get feedback on your latest project from your peers, or a professional organization, such as The Independent Book Publishers Association. A word of caution however with large organizations — make sure they have a local chapter in your area that meets regularly. Otherwise you won’t get the benefit of networking.

If you are a copywriter you should consider joining your local advertising club, if one is available in your area. Likewise, if you’re a nonfiction writer, you may want to look into professional associations related to your area of expertise. For instance, if you write about finance, check into associations for accountants or financial planners.

Public speaking is an invaluable sales tool for authors, however many writers tend to be introverted, so the idea of speaking to a large group of people can be extremely daunting. If that describes you I highly recommend Toastmasters. You can learn the art of public speaking in a positive environment, and while it’s not a leads group per say, many Toastmasters do network with other members. If you’re an author of how-to or self-help books you could, potentially, make a good living as a motivational speaker, and if you do twenty or more paid speaking gigs a year you may qualify for membership in the National Speakers Association.

There are many referral groups out there. These organizations are usually limited to one member per profession per group. They typically meet weekly, or bi-weekly, for breakfast or lunch, and the members exchange business leads with each another. My recommendation for this kind of association is a definite maybe. No two referral groups are the same, and it all depends on the make-up of the individual group. If you find the right group of people with the right connections it could be very beneficial, but if by chance you end up with the wrong group you could be throwing your money away, as the cost of dues, and meals, can quickly add up. My recommendation would be to visit them as many times as they will allow and try to get a feel for the group before you commit.

Remember your local Chambers of Commerce and other community business associations. Check and see what kind of networking opportunities they have, and if they offer workshops or boot camps that would benefit you. Keep in mind too that offering to do volunteer work for these associations can also open doors for you.

Regardless of what kind of professional organization or networking group you may decide to join, it’s all about building relationships, and once you build good relationships the leads and referrals will usually follow.

My tip for the day.



Weeding Through Website Hosting

keyboardOne thing absolutely essential for 21st century authors is a good website. In this day and age, websites are no longer optional. More and more readers search for books on-line. However, setting up a website can be daunting, especially to a new author who, prior to publishing his or her first book, may have never had a need for a website.

First things first. Before you can have a website you need a domain name. The optimum domain name for an author is If it’s already taken, as is the case with me, put it on back order. Sometimes patience pays off. In the meantime you can try However, if the .net for your name isn’t available either then you may have to tweak it a little bit. Try adding your middle initial, or words such as, “author,” or “books.” I’ve registered both “” and “” They work well. You may also want to consider registering a domain name for your book title, or, if it’s part of a series, a domain name for the series. I have and (Remember what I just said about patience paying off? I had the latter one on back order for four years, but I eventually got it.)

Now, where to point it…

I firmly believe that you can never have too much Internet presence. You never know how or where a potential reader will find you. If your funds are limited, you can start with a blog, as you can set up a blog for free or for very little money.

In addition to a blog site, I also recommend having a formal web site if your budget will allow it. You’ll look more professional, and you can do all kinds of cool and wonderful things, such as add animation, slideshows, forums–all kinds of neat stuff, depending your individual needs and on how much time and money you’re willing to invest. There are many people out there who design websites for a living, and if your vision for your website is something that does everything but wash the dishes and do your laundry, I suggest letting the pros handle it for you. However, if your funds are limited, there are hosting companies out there with easy to use site-building tools which will allow you to do it yourself. I’ve been creating my own websites for years. I’m quite happy with the results, and I’ve had many nice compliments on them too. Hey, if a technophobe like me can build a website then you can too. I use Go Daddy, but you may want to shop around to see what works best for you.

When webhost shopping you should also consider whether or not they offer live, 24/7 tech support. That to me is more important than anything else. Things can and do go wrong with websites, so it’s nice have live people out there when bad things happen and you really do need the help.