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Eat More Custard

I always encourage authors to take responsibility for promoting their books.

Why shouldn’t they? They’re the ones who benefit most from the success of their books — -increased business, lofty speaking fees, elevated status, and name recognition, not to mention platform expansion. Publishers don’t experience these advantages. Publishers only benefit when a book is selling. They enjoy a few months of profits, at best. Meanwhile, a successful author with any kind of business acumen can turn one book into a lifetime of profits.

Yet plenty of authors still resist their promotional responsibilities, holding onto the old school mentality that anything marketing-related is the publisher’s obligation. But you can’t say that about bestselling author Paul Coelho, author of The Alchemist, who is taking advantage of “free publicity” by using file-sharing networks like BitTorrent to give away digital copies of his books on his blog, Pirate Coelho.

Coelho believes his strategy actually increases sales. And the numbers are hard to argue. In Russia, sales of his book The Alchemist jumped from 1,000 per year to over a million after he uploaded the Russian translation of the book.

Bravo, Pirate Man! Most people don’t have the gumption to give away the goods. Conventional business wisdom (oxymoron) says you’re supposed to make people pay to play. But what if by offering “the freebie” you’re knocking down the barrier to entry for an entire platform of people who would otherwise never have known your name?

If you ever drive through Osage Beach, Missouri, make a pit stop at Andy’s Frozen Custard. When they first opened, a marketing genius named Roy H. Williams advised them that the best grand opening plan was to give away free cones for an entire day. Initially, they balked at the idea. Then they went home, followed Roy’s advice, and introduced their product to over 11,000 customers in a single day. The franchise now has eleven locations across four states and does millions in annual revenues. And yes, frozen custard does taste good. Better than ice cream, and not nearly as much whipped air.

No doubt some of Paul Coelho’s digital hand-outs are being loaded onto Amazon’s new electronic book reader, Kindle. It debuted in November and sold out in six hours. It holds up to 200 books, weighs a mere ten ounces, and the text is just as easy to read as a hardback in bed. C’mon. You knew it was coming.

The digital age is here to stay, my key-stroking cronies. Learn to understand it, and use it to your promotional advantage. It may feel weird, but at the end of the day, you’re the one who stands to benefit the most.

Questions about book marketing in the digital age may be directed to Michael R. Drew at the Austin, Texas, headquarters of Promote A Book : 512-858-0040. You can also contact Michael via email at

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  • Mark Thwaite

    In the UK — I don't know the US figures, but they'd be comparable — 500 new books are published EACH week! By far the biggest problem for authors is invisibility. They work and work to write their book, struggle to get it published, and eventually it comes out. It is a big deal — a HUGE deal to them and their loved ones — but the world just doesn't care. And why should it!? In another minute another new book will be right along …

    One of the best and by far the easiest way for authors to self-promote is to embrace the web. And that means embracing web culture — which is FREE content. You are completely right Michael: giving away the custard is the way to go! I mean, if you are an invisible writer with no readers are you really a writer at all?

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