Self-Promo and Marketing Materials that Work

My sequel comes out in week and I’ve noticed a drastic difference in the amount of self-promotion I did this year compared to last year. For my debut, I tried everything, mainly because I didn’t know what worked and/or what was worth spending money on. But looking back, some of those things I did for Taken had a very small payoff. Some of them had a small payoff and managed to drain my wallet and energy at the same time.

So I wanted to take a moment to chat about the marketing materials and self-promo that I think gives you the biggest bang for your buck. These are the things I did for Frozen this year, and at least for the foreseeable future, I can imagine doing them for all my books to come.


promotional materials, bookmarksForget business cards as an author. All you need are bookmarks. They hold all the same information as a business card, but they have a very functional purpose. (Can you remember the last time you saved a business card someone handed you?) Furthermore, bookmarks are fantastic marketing tools both pre- and post-launch. Stick them in any ARCs or finished copies you mail out. Give them to readers at book signings. Leave small batches at your local library and/or bookstore. Carry them with you everywhere (in your purse, car, etc). You never know when you’ll run into someone who asks what you do. If they seem interested, give them a bookmark.

A well designed bookmark should introduce both you and your book. Here’s the info I make sure to include on any bookmarks I order:

  • Book cover
  • Release date
  • Author name
  • Publisher logo
  • Author website and/or twitter
  • ISBN, space permitting
  • Blurbs, space permitting
  • Tagline, space permitting

Like many print products, the larger your order, the less you’ll pay per bookmark. If your budget’s tight, bookmarks might feel like a hefty investment upfront, but I swear by them. If I could only budget for one type of promotional material for my next book, I’d go with bookmarks every single time. (My bookmarks for Frozen are shown to the right.)


promotional material, postcardsI mail these to local libraries and indies within a one hour radius of my home. For some people, that radius can result in a lot of establishments. It’s about 200 for me, and I realize that might be a bit more than some people can handle. Trim your radius down to a half hour, or hand select 20-30 libraries or bookstores you’d like to target most.

The front of your postcards should contain all the info that exists on your bookmarks. (Mine for Frozen are again shown to the right.) The back should be BLANK. Why? Because you need room for stamps and addresses, but also because you’re going to handwrite a note to the library/store. These businesses see a lot of promotional material, much of which gets tossed directly into the waste basket. But if there’s handwriting on your postcard, it will be read.

Your message should be short and sweet. Saundra Mitchell has fantastic advice when it comes to postcard marketing, and I tweaked her proposed messaging to work for my needs. Like Saundra, I have booked a ton of library visits from postcard contact, so I know this method works!

And lastly…


promotional materials, ARCsIf your publisher only gives you one or two ARCs, this method probably won’t be an option. But if you’re like me, and you get 10-15, that’s more copies than you know what to do with. Take two copies and hand deliver them to your local library and local indie. Take another 3-5 ARCs and plan a series of giveaways on your blog.

The key to a succesful giveaway is exposure. Yes, only a small handful of readers will win a copy, but over the course of the giveaway, word-of-mouth will hopefully put the book on hundreds or thousands of people’s radar.

If you give away all the ARCs in one giveaway, I suggest having the giveaway run for at least a month. Another option is to run several giveaways back-to-back, each with one ARC up for grabs. With either route, considering asking readers to tweet or blog about the giveaway for an additional entry. Rafflecopter is a free service that helps collect and moderate entries, as well as draw winners, and I can only speak positively of it. (It’s that widget tool you often see here on Pub Crawl for our giveaways!)

If you don’t have a personal blog, or just want a super hands-off option, try goodreads’ giveaway service. You specify the prize, how many copies you’re offering, end date, and the territories you’re willing to ship to. Goodreads will handle everything else, including drawing winners and providing you with their mailing addresses.

Once you have your winners, don’t forget to send the prizes using Media Mail. This special USPS rate is available for  parcels that are books only. Send ’em anywhere in the US for around $3!

So that’s it—my suggested 3-part marketing plan! Timing wise, I recommend ordering bookmarks about 3-4 months prior to launch. Stagger any ARC giveaways in this same timeframe. Postcards should be mailed out about one month before your book hits shelves.

There’s lots of other stuff you can do (blog tours, preorder contests, custom swag, and on and on), and they do indeed help. But for me, they sucked a lot of time and enthusiasm, and I’ve chosen to focus most of my energies on bookmarks, postcards, and giveaways moving forward. If you’re pressed for time and/or pinching pennies, I suggest considering one or all of these options yourself.

Done other types of self-promo that was super successful? Seen marketing materials you thought were incredibly clever? Tell us about them in the comments!


29 Responses to Self-Promo and Marketing Materials that Work

  1. Kimber Leigh Wheaton Apr 7 2014 at 9:20 am #

    Erin, I love your bookmarks and postcards! I’ve been wanting to order some bookmarks for my new release but am stymied by all the options. Do you have any suggestions for reputable online companies where I could order some? I need more help with the design than just copy/paste. Thanks for the great idea about the postcards.

    • Erin Bowman Apr 7 2014 at 10:04 am #

      I ordered my bookmarks and postcards through I’ve been really happy with their paper and print quality, and their prices can’t be beat.

      As for the actual designs… I was a web designer prior to being an author, so I’m very fortunate in that I’m able to design my own materials. I know there are lots of freelance designers out there who specialize in book promotion design, I just unfortunately don’t have any names to direct you to. (Because I’ve never had to research them.) Still, I’m sure with a little google work, you’ll be able to track down some options. I suggest asking for client referrals before you go an hire anyone though! Good luck. 🙂

  2. Jessica Lawson Apr 7 2014 at 9:34 am #

    This post is SO helpful. I’ll be ordering bookmarks in the next month or so, and you’ve given me all the information I need. Your postcards look amazing as well~ not sure if you’ll be checking comments here, but can you let us know where you got them done?

    • Erin Bowman Apr 7 2014 at 10:06 am #

      Hi Jessica! So glad you found the post helpful. I order my bookmarks and postcards through (More on that in my above comment.) I’m also very fortunate in that I was a designer prior to being a writer, so I handle all my own promotion design. If you need help with the design/layout, you’ll likely want to hire a freelance designer who specializes in bookmarks and/or postcards. (Again, I have a few more tips on that in the above comment.) Good luck with everything!

  3. thejordache Apr 7 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Erin, this is such a fantastic post. I love the postcard idea. What a great way for authors to connect with their local stores and libraries. Authors should never feel scared to approach indies and libraries!

    • Erin Bowman Apr 7 2014 at 11:02 am #

      Thanks Jordan! I’ve made a bunch of connections through the postcards. Can’t speak highly enough about that marketing route. 🙂

  4. Meredith McCardle Apr 7 2014 at 11:01 am #

    This is so helpful, Erin! Thank you!

  5. jen Apr 7 2014 at 11:20 am #

    I love read-a-thons for a first book where you can win the second book.

    • Erin Bowman Apr 7 2014 at 11:33 am #

      Ooh, that’s a really interesting promo idea I hadn’t heard of! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Laurence King Apr 7 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    Great post, Erin, and so helpful! Thanks for sharing! Cant wait for Frozen 🙂

  7. Kimberly Giarratano Apr 7 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    This is so timely as I’m working on my bookmarks right now. Literally, I have a tab open and am editing them. Thanks for the helpful info and advice.

    • Erin Bowman Apr 8 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      Yay! Glad to hear the post came along right when you needed it. Good luck with your bookmarks.

  8. Patrick Stahl Apr 7 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    I could even make bookmarks (or have them made) just to advertise my blog…That’s definitely something I’ll think about. Thanks for the idea. Oh, and those bookmarks and postcard are beautiful, not to mention the novel cover itself.

    • Erin Bowman Apr 8 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      Very true! I think they are far more useful than business cards. People tend to hang on to them and, well, USE them as bookmarks. Better than spending time/money on a business card order that just gets tossed.

  9. Natalie Aguirre Apr 7 2014 at 5:55 pm #

    Thanks for the really helpful advice. I’m going to bookmark it. And can’t wait to read Frozen

  10. Jennie Marts Apr 7 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    What a great post, Erin! I am a HUGE fan of bookmarks and see them as my most valuable tool! It is so easy to talk to people about books and I always have them in my purse to hand out to whoever! I give them to sales clerks, the post office clerk that is mailing out my giveaway books, whenever people are talking about books! My hairdresser even has a stack that she leaves on the shelf by the chair! I use the Killion Group for my covers and all my promo material. they also do trading cards, which are cute too! I LOVE your postcard idea with the handwritten note! I think VistaPrint does these fairly cheaply! I am going to try this myself! Thanks for sharing your great ideas!

    • Erin Bowman Apr 8 2014 at 12:15 pm #

      Jennie, that is too funny! My hairdresser has a huge stack of mine as well. You really never know when someone will ask about your books. Always good to have those bookmarks on hand.

      I’ve heard of VistaPrint, but haven’t used them. I typically order through — love their paper and print quality. Prices are pretty darn awesome too.

  11. Mona AlvaradoFrazier Apr 7 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    This is the best post on self promo and marketing I’ve read in the last month. Thanks for sharing your direct experiences.

    • Erin Bowman Apr 8 2014 at 12:15 pm #

      Thank YOU. Glad you found the post helpful.

  12. Kendall Apr 7 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Great post and so so helpful!

    I’d be curious to hear about what things you tried that you feel like didn’t work or were maybe more hassle than they’re worth.

    Can’t wait can’t wait for FROZEN!!!

  13. Erin Bowman Apr 8 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    Hi Kendall! Thanks for dropping by.

    As for what drained me last year… interviews and guest posts. They are absolutely worthwhile and I think they DO help to get your book on readers’s radar, but I just did too many of them. With Taken, I didn’t say no to a single request, and I found myself spending full days answering interview questions (some of which overlapped between requests and/or I already have answered on my personal blog). I started resenting the interviews and running out of things worth discussing in blog posts. With Frozen, I’ve done a couple of these types of posts here and there, but I’m picking and choosing. It’s kept my sanity in check. So my advice is to do what you want, but don’t be afraid to say no to some requests — you want to save time to write more BOOKS, after all. 🙂

    • Laurence King Apr 8 2014 at 12:40 pm #

      You are right, Erin, saying no keeps our sanity intact. I, too, tend to say yes to everything that comes my way, but I’ve learned that it is not necessarily the best way to go. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  14. Maura Statman Apr 15 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    Bookmarks are a great idea for authors! Your target audience is readers, so you know that they have a use for it. When they finish their book they already know which one to read next!

  15. Sheyna Galyan Aug 8 2015 at 11:15 pm #

    Hi Erin,

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I’ve been researching author bookmarks in preparation for making my own. (I also have a graphic design background, which makes the creation itself easier—or harder, depending on how you look at it.) I’d chosen a printer based on my experience doing a mounted poster with them, and there were few printers I could find who did bookmarks.

    In my research, I came across this blog post and, upon reading the comments, immediately checked out Their price was less than half what the other printer was charging for the same size/quantity! So, of course I ordered from I should have them in a week or so.

    I love your idea also of hand writing on postcards. For this second book, I’ve hired a publicist, which has been a huge sanity-saver, albeit expensive. For my third book, I may well try your postcard idea.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and recommendations!

    Sheyna Galyan
    Author of the Rabbi David Cohen suspense series
    Destined to Choose (2013)
    Strength to Stand (Coming September 1, 2015)

  16. Den Lim Sep 7 2015 at 1:04 am #

    Thank you for the article. Extremely helpful to starting authors like me.
    I’m curious about the small squares beside the bookmarks. Are they also bookmarks?

  17. Sam Li Feb 8 2019 at 4:35 pm #

    I like your advice about keeping your message short and sweet on marketing postcards. I think that mailing postcards is a great way to spread the word about a particular organization or event. If I were to work for a non-profit, I would make sure to work with a marketing company in order to help me create visually-appealing postcards for advertising.

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