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No Sweat Marketing 03/4/23

Marketing one’s books can be a daunting task. Like most authors I have a well-developed plan including good use of social media, a solid website from which I also blog, make an occasional presentation and promote my books by writing articles for various magazines. But over the past two years I have developed an additional strategy and all due to my wife!

As an Xmas gift I received two sweatshirts, both with slogans on the front; “Ask Me About My Book” and the other, “Careful or you’ll end up in next novel.” At first, I just thought they were whimsical and wore them in the house. Then one day while I was shopping with my wife in Costco wearing my “Ask Me” shirt, a lady came up to me and asked if I was a writer. “Yes, I am,” I replied and asked her, “Are you a reader?” When she nodded, I gave her my business card. As we were loading the car, another lady walked over as if she knew me. “That’s a cute sweatshirt” she said, “are you a writer?” Again, I asked if she was a reader and answering in the affirmative, I gave her a business card.

That evening as I reflected on the day, I realized I had missed a potential marketing opportunity. Yes, I had given away two business cards, but what if I had given each of those ladies a signed copy of my book. Maybe they would have read it and recommended it to their friends. How in fact, I thought, could I get to their friends? I needed people to buy my books, so I decided on two things. Firstly, I would always carry a few books in my car that I would have at the ready for any marketing opportunity and I would give them away. But with one condition! It was clear I had multiple opportunities, daily, weekly, to build up a client reader base. Simply by giving away a signed copy the market would come to me. Secondly, it was clear that I needed to ask more than the one question, “are you a reader?” I should also ask, “do you belong to a book club?” If the person responded in the affirmative, then I would give them a free book on condition that they took it their club as a possible read. I also would offer to meet with their club either physically if it was local, or via Zoom.

As I started my marketing Pyramid Book campaign, I began to learn even better ways to improve my home-made marketing system. It all started with Big O Tires. I took my car into the local shop and the owner Eric, saw my sweatshirt.

“So, you’re a writer,” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied. “Are you a reader?”

“Yes, I love to read.”

Within minutes I knew what kinds of books he enjoyed best and them popped the question.

“And are you a member of a book club?”

“Absolutely. We meet every month, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

“Can you wait for second while I retrieve something from my car?” A minute later he was holding a signed copy of one of my books.

“But how much is it?” he asked.

Learning that it was free, his face broke into a huge smile. And when I mentioned his taking to his book club he was thrilled.

“No problem. I’m sure they will read it and be delighted to have you join us.”

“But I have another question.”

“How many people in your book club might know people in other book clubs?”

“There are eight or nine of us usually,” he answered, “but I would imagine there are at least two or three people who have other connections.”

“Then pass on the good news,” I urged, “I will give them a free signed copy if they will present it to those other clubs or groups.” “This is amazing,” said Eric, “I will certainly do that. But what about my daughter?”

“What do you mean?” I asked quizzically.

“Well, she is a voracious reader and also a member of a book club.”

“Hang on a minute,” I replied and scurried out to my car and retrieved another copy.

“What’s her name?” I asked, and inscribed it to her.

That was the very beginning of my Pyramid Scheme, and like Topsy it has just ‘growed and growed.’ Through that one connection I was soon contacted by seven book clubs and two other ladies’ social groups who wanted me to talk to them about why and what do I write.

I understand writers in general are not great social animals and are often shy about contacting or simply striking up a conversation with people who are usually strangers. But sometimes we have to. Last year, wearing one on my sweatshirts, I had to visit my dentist. Five or six young ladies were working in an administrative pool, and one of them called out to me, “are you a writer?” And so, it began! By the time I had my teeth cleaned I had signed and donated two books and was later connected to four books clubs.

I now get phone calls from people I don’t know but are asking for copies of my books so they can later take it to their clubs. I have been invited to speak to church groups, multiple Rotary clubs, Red Hat groups, Soroptimists and branches of SIRs. The latter are mainly men, but I have been contacted by many of their wives! At these presentations my focus is not on selling books but on expanding my market, so I always ask that second question, “How many of you are connected to a book club or any other kind of club?” And so, I collect names and contact information, offer to give away free copies and continue to build my pyramid. And the royalties keep coming in!

Michael Barrington is a member of CWC Mt Diablo. The author of five books and numerous articles, he also blogs on his website:

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