You’re at the point of marketing where things get tricky. You may be Dread Pirate Roberts, and you got the girl, but now we enter the Fire Swamp. We have fire spouts, lightning sand, ROUSes, and an evil prince waiting for you.

Let’s get down to honest brass tacks now. In a perfect world you will have blog tours, contests, and giveaways planned before you publish. And almost every writing website on earth will tout these. Though when used effectively they are the BEST promotional marketing strategies, with your first novel IT MAY NOT BE WORTH IT.

Let’s define these quickly, then we’ll cover what you need to make it successful, recap why this could be a problem for a first-time author, cover if/when it CAN work, and then get into the nitty-gritty of how to do it.

Blog tours are where guests write blog posts on another blog. When you are hosting, you may line up a period of time where every day, once a week, or somewhere in between, other bloggers are posting on your blog. You’ll both promote it in the hopes of both of you gaining more followers. When you’re touring you will arrange to write a blog post for several other blogs, and again both of you market it and you hope to get their followers to follow you, and they hope to get your followers to follow them.

Contests are pretty self explanatory. You choose a prize, such as an autographed copy of a book, and there is a challenge potential winners must meet. They may have to come up with a funny caption for a picture, or write a three line story, for example. The actual strategy of a contest is to gain more social media followers and buzz and promote the author’s brand, not necessarily selling more copies of your book. Contests tend to be for prizes better than a free copy of a book (an autographed copy, advance copy of a graphic novel format, a tie-in vacation).

Giveaways are where a prize is chosen, but people must simply enter by adding their name to a list and a winner is chosen at random. It’s less time-consuming than a contest, prizes tend to be small (free copies of the book), and is designed to promote social media buzz and sell more copies.

Before deciding if any of these are right for you, you need to know what you must have to in place to make each work. 

Blog tours are the easiest. When you first began your journey, you built a website, fanbase, and networking contacts within writing groups ( ). And to do these steps you need those things in place. Do you have at least fifty regular readers of your blog? Do you have at least five friends with at least fifty regular readers of their blogs? Do you find it easy to write blogs that are interesting, informative, or funny? Are you the kind of person who can commit to something and follow through? If you are, a blog tour may be right for you.

For contests…it’s as simple as this: do you have a large fanbase, enough that if your book was available for pre-order it sold well? Do you have enough followers on social media that you can reach one thousand people or more? The big questions is, and this applies more to legacy authors with publishing houses behind them than indie authors, does your agent or publisher feel you need a publicist? If you have pass those litmus tests, and you have something unique to offer, a contest may be right for you. The very short of it is that if you’re at the point where you want to begin discussing a book tour with your publisher or agent, that is the time to have a contest. For everyone else, this is not a good idea.

A giveaway works for indie and legacy authors. There is just one requirement: on social media, can you reach five hundred interested people? If so, a one-off giveaway of one prize may work. But in reality a giveaway should have three prizes, and for every prize you have, you need five hundred followers on social media, so realistically you’ll want to offer three prizes and to do so you must have fifteen hundred followers.

By now you can see where this may be a problem for first-time authors. Unless your first book is a runaway best-seller, ignore contests. Giveaways can work for first-time authors, but you might want to time it to actually promote your second book, the giveaway being your first novel, and above all you must be popular on social media.

Blog tours are probably the best strategy for first-time authors. However, there is a caveat: blogging has become serious business, and to have a popular blog it’s a part-time job at the very least. Writing is a part-time job (ha! It’s clearly a full-time job), and if you like having a roof over your head and food on the table you need to have a full time job, couch surf with your parents, be independently wealthy, or be married to a hard worker who is fine with a sloppy house. So this can be tricky and may have to wait again until you’re nearing your second book. However if you have an interesting subject and gained followers easy, and that charm extends into making friends with other successful bloggers, this can work for you.

Starting there, how do you do a blog tour? Remember this above all else: QUID PRO QUO, tit for tat, I do for you; you do for me. When you have that attitude, most other bloggers will be happy to host you, or tour on your blog. 

Behind the scenes get it set up. Contact and secure other bloggers. Pick a month, maybe one month away or more in the future. Aim for touring on four blogs each Friday (or whatever day you like, one piece a week) and having those bloggers write one piece for you over that that month, appearing on your blog on the same day you appear on theirs. Hammer out the subjects in advance, this is important.

The reason why you want your first blog tour to be spaced out over a month is because you have to market lead-ups to each blog. Whenever you do anything for the first time, do to slowly and carefully. Once it becomes easier, you can do it faster.

Once you have your schedule, in the week leading up to your blog exchange, you want to link to the other blogger, mention them, talk about similar interests, cross promote one another, and introduce your topic.

Try for a schedule like this: 

Monday: Post a blog about a subject both you and your blogger friend are interested in. Mention them and link their name to their website, and mention a blog post they did related to this one.

Tuesday: Know what the top interest of your upcoming host blogger’s blog is (e.g. highly critical reviews of Oprah Book Club selections, literary analysis of graphic novels, or using popular memes to make a 21st century choose your own adventure book) and write your own blog on the subject. Try to make it as interactive as possible to gain comments.

Wednesday:  Follow up your prior post with a related subject that the other blogger covered. Quote the blogger and link to them.

Thursday: Know what your Friday guest blog will be on the other blogger’s site. Have it written already, put it aside. Today, write an introduction to it, perhaps even a Part One where the guest blog will be Part Two.

Friday: Have your blogger friend post your guest blog and link back. All this week they should have been doing the same.

Now, just repeat that for a solid month and you’ll have some new blog followers. Make sure you have links to your book visible in your blog or on your landing page, and be sure there is preview available.

This can be done at any time as long as you have the blogging friends and followers you need. Treat it as fun, it’s meant to be, and even if you don’t sell any extra copies of your works you’re cementing a solid working aspect to a friendship, and as trite as it sounds, remember the childhood song Daisy Scouts are so fond of: “Make new friends, but the keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold.”

True Role Models 

To do a contest, remember that you must have something extra of value: you MUST have a paperback or hardback edition to autograph, or a sundry (a related item like t-shirts, mugs, etc). You must have many social media followers (we’re talking in the over two thousand category). And you must have either a lot of time, or a support system/assistant.

First, figure out an easy-enough-to-be-popular challenge such as captioning a funny picture, or answering a quiz about your book. You’ll need thirty days to plan and thirty days to run. In planning, that is when you collect all this, figure out the rules, and prepare press releases, social media posts, and website updates, as well as learn all the laws.

One week before the run time make the announcement, start promotion with graphics and hints. Link to your website every time! Figure out who will help monitor the contest and judge as your assistant or your second personality who comes out at night while you sleep (this is where a publicist can really help).

Beginning the run time, make sure you or your helper moderates and keeps trolls out, this will be very important. Every week try to pick a small group of the best responses, list them, set them aside. 

Now, over a one month run, you can structure it like this: 

Weeks One-Two – open responses
Week Three – semi-finals
Week Four – finals

For two weeks take all responses, set those you like aside. Next, for one week, allow general voting on the best, and narrow it down to five - ten. For the final week allow voting on those but ask the finalists do one additional task and let the general population judge that, or turn to your blog tour friends and let them judge the final round.

Alternately, over four weeks you can give away four items, and have four one week contests. Generally, the less well-known you are, the better this option is. The first option is fairly ironic: it works best when you’re a popular author, but when you’re a popular author it doesn’t help you sell any additional books. It does heavily promote your brand.

Doing the four small one week contests works better to sell your book AND promote your brand. You also have an opportunity here to sell copies of your book: wait until your second book has a publication date and is ready for a promo. Challenge your Twitter followers to leave a one word review and create a hashtag with your first novel’s title, and give away to randomly selected winners advance copies of your second book. Once your hashtag gets popular enough to be listed, it will gain interest in your first novel, particularly if the one-word reviews are positive.

Giveaways are much easier for newer authors with just one book out and are very simple. Again you need followers, but this time you can simply give away free eBook copies. It need not be anything special. Give yourself sixty days to prepare and run for just two weeks here. 

You can create a social media post or a blog post (and promote it on social media). Invite comments and pick a winner at random. It’s as easy as that. You need followers, however, because frankly if only three people respond it is going to look sad, and only make you feel sad.

All of these marketing tools are designed to help you once you’ve already got the ball rolling. Blog tours are going to be the most effective.

You might be asking how this translate into book sales. The answer is, not directly (in general). But if you have a solid product (a good book, a good blog) readers will come. Keep putting out good material and they will buy. 

In our next lesson we’ll talk about personal appearances: interviews in print, radio, and television, book tours, and appearing at conferences and conventions as a presenter or panel member. You only get to that level with solid sales and a strong brand, so let’s get the brand in place now to help drive sales and get you set up for the next evolution.

This is secondary or indirect marketing. It is not direct marketing (promoting the book) but promotes your brand: you, your website, and your book(s). Once you have a book out, you need to solidify and push your brand. This is the twenty-first century and this is how it’s going to be done from now on. You don’t just sell your book, you sell yourself, and you sell a dogma- George RR Martin has attracted as many readers due to praise for his writing of female characters (feminism would be the dogma) as his convoluted and engrossing plots. 

Work hard, and keep to it. It’s worth trying any of these, but you may need to work hard to build a bigger fanbase. Keep on that free writing, enter contests, join writer’s groups and network. Above all, never let your karma run over your dogma.