The Seven Deadly Sins of Book Marketing – UPDATED!

The competition for book publicity is fierce! More books than ever are being published, which means more authors than ever are reaching out to the media to get on radio and TV and in newspapers and magazines. In the self-publishing arena alone, the number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287 percent since 2006, and now tallies more than 235,000 print and “e” titles.

With an infinite number of books and authors vying for attention from a finite number of media outlets, book marketing is becoming increasingly more challenging. An author must do everything possible to stand out from the crowd. The days of simply sending out a press release about a book and causally waiting for the media to call you (and there were days like this!) are long gone.

While social media has created exciting new avenues for book marketing with innovative new platforms and online sales opportunities, traditional book publicity via media coverage remains essential. There are many potential pitfalls for both novice authors and veteran authors. I’ve supervised or implemented over 1500 book publicity campaigns, and I know what can go right, and wrong. Errors of both omission and commission can derail a campaign, and human emotion and attitudes can adversely affect book promotion and book sales.

What follows are the “Seven Deadly Sins of Book Marketing” the mistakes and actions that can hurt an author’s chances to get substantial media coverage, and how to avoid these common pitfalls. I’ve put the sins in the order of priority from most problematic in book marketing, in my view, to least. However, they all cause problems!


How does lust come into play with book promotion and book marketing? I have both an extreme example and more common ones from my firm’s own ‘case files.’

Good book publicity can be intoxicating. Appearing on talk shows, reading articles written about you … it all makes you feel good, and it should. I always tell authors to enjoy the ride, because it won’t last forever. However, letting your good time change you, (or bring about actions that have nothing to do with the hard work of promoting your book) can be disastrous. Losing focus–taking your eye off the ball–is a surefire way to run into trouble.

Example #1: During the first conversations with a prospective client–a middle-aged author with multiple books–he asked me (and I must paraphrase here) if the publicity generated would “attract” women. He was serious. Needless to say, his campaign lasted only one month; we tried to keep him focused on the steps needed to get exposure for his books, but we couldn’t, and we parted company.

Example #2: The more benign type of book promotion “lust” comes in the form of letting success change who you are, and make you long for things that you never envisioned before. In our firm, we call these clients “addicts”–they become so enthralled with the success that the book becomes secondary. They seek more and more exposure, but not so much to sell books but to feed their own newly found lust for fame, popularity, and the overwhelming desire to have others simply notice them.

In the end, lust almost always makes for an unhappy ending to what can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Never lose sight of your ultimate book-marketing goal: to spread the word about your book and boost sales. You can have fun and should have fun during the process, but keep your eye on the ball!


One of the most common book marketing mistakes I’ve seen authors make is taking a negative review or bad interview to heart and derail their determination. If you’re really getting yourself out there, it’s possible, perhaps likely, your pride will be pierced a few times.

A book is an author’s baby, a labor of love. Criticism, consequently, can be brutally punishing to an ego. When the tough times come, pride begets anger, which begets frustration which leads to disillusionment.

Authors must go into book promotion knowing not everyone will fall in love with the book. I often ask my clients, “Do you like every book you’ve ever read?”

Roll with the punches. Put your ego on bed rest.


There’s no laziness in book marketing. All authors must “get out there” and spread the word about their book. Publicity doesn’t happen, you have to make it happen.

When an author is not only aggressive but also willing to put the time into a campaign— only good things can happen. Lazy authors will never achieve the success they might want, this, I guarantee.


Anger comes in many forms in book publicity. I once worked with an author who received a brutal review of his book, and was so angry he proceeded to drive over 200 miles to the reviewer’s location, storm into the office, and scream at the reviewer. This was, putting it mildly, a bad move.

The reviewer reacted by contacting reviewers at other newspapers in his company’s chain and urged his colleagues to review the book. Five additional negative reviews appeared in the ensuing weeks.

Another author thought a radio talk show host was mean to him during an interview regarding a controversial topic. He called the station manager. It turned out that the station was part of the largest radio network in the nation, and the author was blacklisted from being interviewed on any of their stations and shows.

Many authors don’t realize that “hostile” interviews can make for great talk radio, and actually get more listeners curious and interested in your book. If a host starts throwing punches at you on the air, throw yourself into the fight. Trust me, you will have a good time. When your juices get flowing, you will be more animated and colorful, listeners will love it and books will sell.

It is important to keep in mind when promoting your book, you are opening yourself up for scrutiny. In fact, you are inviting it. You want the scrutiny and attention. Assuming everyone will react positively to you or your book is foolish and naive.


Many authors who call me about book publicity tell me they want to be on only top national TV shows. I tell them that it’s probably not going to happen for them, that we can and should try, but the odds comparable to winning the lottery. But authors see others on the show and are envious. They ask “If that author is on, why can’t I?” or “My book is better than hers!”

Envy serves no purpose in book marketing and author promotion. The only way other authors get great publicity gigs is because they try. If anything, you should learn from them. Watch successful authors carefully, examine their topic, and then examine your own project. We all can learn something from others; I still do every day.

We helped a self-published, first-time novelist promote her work on vampires. A difficult project? Yes. Impossible? No. Were we able to get her on Oprah? No. Did we tap into the significant sub-world of vampire buffs? Absolutely. For eight months, we were able to generate consistent and targeted media coverage without even a mid-level media placement. The very top media outlets, like Oprah used to be, are a goldmine for any author. But shows like the Today Show or The View are very, very difficult to get on, and for many authors, they are not even appropriate targets.


Gluttony in book publicity touches upon several of the other sins. In its purest form, it is the insatiable desire to “consume” as much major publicity as possible, and not being satisfied with each opportunity. Instead of taking the time to enjoy each “course” in your book marketing journey, it’s easy to fall into a gluttonous trap. Local radio interviews, for example, become unsatisfying, and an author starts to shun them because she wants more and bigger opportunities. A book review in a small newspaper is dismissed as insignificant because she wants bigger newspapers. A local TV opportunity is declined because there aren’t enough viewers to fulfill the need for exposure.

When I run into these scenarios, the book marketing campaign starts to slowly dissolve because the author is literally never satisfied, and will not appreciate “smaller bites” of publicity while the bigger opportunities are pursued.

Book publicity is like a seven-course meal. You start slowly, testing the waters, then move onto the next course. You proceed in a steady, measured manner, enjoying every course while building confidence, momentum, and sales.

Don’t demand all seven courses be delivered to your publicity table at once. Enjoy the entire experience of the meal and be patient.


Like gluttony, greed is the offspring of several other sins, and perhaps the most common sin of book promotion. Here is a classic example:

  • An unknown, first-time author comes to my firm. He is nervous, unsure, and wary of what will happen in his campaign–all perfectly understandable and expected concerns. The campaign begins slowly, and a few radio interviews are secured. All is well.
  • The campaign starts to achieve momentum. The radio interviews start streaming in. Instead of one a week, we are booking four and five a week.
  • Our client has confidence now and is thoroughly enjoying the process, as he should.
  • Things start to change. The level of radio interviews takes a dip, and we encounter “the lull,” which happens in most campaigns. Instead of four or five interviews a week, it drops to one or two.
  • The author, having become accustomed to many interviews each week, demands more. He is not satisfied with the interviews we secure, and will not be satisfied until we reach and exceed the number of interviews we had achieved.
  • He becomes disillusioned and decides another firm can fulfill his hunger for more and more interviews.
  • He hires another firm, spends significant additional money, and is angry because the new firm didn’t fulfill his goals.

When clients truly understand the nature of book publicity, they are able to roll with the busy times and slow times, knowing it is the cumulative efforts of the entire campaign that count. As publicists, we gauge when the “party is over” for a particular angle, then work with the author to develop new and topical press materials with the goal of maintaining and improving media opportunities. In any book marketing campaign, there are highs and lows; periods of high activity, and lulls. I’ve never been involved in a book publicity campaign that maintained a high level of media activity every day … it just doesn’t happen, for anyone.

Greed is what I call a “coffin nail” in a campaign. Once it starts, it is very difficult
to control and typically ends in a campaign that veers off-track wildly.

Don’t become the Gordon Gekko of book marketing. Just like greed on Wall Street is NOT good, it isn’t good in book marketing!

We are all Sinners

Book marketing is a distinctly human process. It is an emotional, scary, exciting, and stimulating experience. Authors promoting a book will, at various times, experience both disappointment and excitement. All authors will also be tempted to “sin” at various times in a campaign. As a publicist, I expect this and understand it. I am usually successful at coaxing our authors away from the “dark side.”

As in life, recognizing the sins of book publicity, and stopping them before they cause problems is key. Book marketing is more a marathon than a sprint, and because of this, the opportunities to veer into negative promotional behaviors are many. Book marketing takes time and requires an author to steadfastly guard against slipping into a bad habit.

You can always atone for your sins by getting back on track, enjoying the ride, and realizing you are involved in a wonderful experience.

by Dan Smith

Dan Smith is the CEO and Founder of Smith Publicity, Inc., a leading book publicity and book marketing firm that has promoted over 1500 authors and books