When my first books came out, I was hesitant to do much marketing on my own, fearing that I would appear too pushy. But with publishers' limited marketing dollars, if I don't get the word out about my books, who will? Vicki Palmquist of Children's Literature Network said to think of marketing as "giving information to people who want to know about your books," and that has helped me feel less like a used car salesman.
A few marketing ideas I've tried include:
* Finger puppet ghost/postcards for my book The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories. These mailable cards included book information on the reverse side. They were expensive to produce, but I was able to fund this idea through a career initiative grant that I received from a local literary agency (free money to promote my books!). I sent cards to children's bookstores across the country, gave cards to my publisher to distribute at bookseller conferences, and handed them out at book signings. Did they create a huge difference in book sales? I don't know. But they were a unique advertisement for my book, something that people would hopefully want to keep (at least for a little while), and that's what I was striving for.
*Free teaching guides/extension activities for most of my books. Teachers, librarians, and booksellers can find coloring and puzzle sheets, a readers theater script, writing projects, cross-curriculum tie-ins, and party ideas (such as "13 Ways to Host a Hilarious Haunted Book Party") ready to download at my website. Remembering my own experience as a teacher, I tried to make all of these activities fun and practical (easy ideas are going to be much more appealing to a busy teacher than an idea that is going to involve lots of time). Once again, I don't know if these activities sell a lot of books, but when I visit a school, frequently I'll see the library lined with projects that have come directly from my website.
* Press releases. Sending press releases to various media has resulted in plenty of free publicity for my books. A friend who writes press releases for the state of Minnesota gave me some excellent pointers: include brief anecdotes or "sound bites" that could easily be fit into an article, include your contact information and a photo, and keep it short enough to fit on one page. I write a standard press release for each new book of mine, and then make minor tweaks to tailor it to each outlet where it's sent (when I send it to my local paper, I highlight that I live in the area; if I send it to my alumni magazine, I'll highlight my school connections). Numerous times papers have printed these press releases word-for-word. Reporters, like teachers, are busy, and the more you can do to make their job easier, the better.
*Pumpkin carving. With marketing, I try to take advantage of my strengths. I'm not aggressive, I'm not a technological whiz, but I'm a good pumpkin carver. For many of my books I've carved a related pumpkin which I've brought to book signings. The pumpkins are great conversation starters and sometimes lead to book sales. Pumpkin carving might not be your hidden talent, but maybe you are a skilled musician, photographer, seamstress, baker, etc., and you can find a way to combine your unique talents to highlight your unique book.