Friday, May 6, 2016

Breaking Out of Your Circle by Melanie Hooyenga

I’ve been a self-published author for over three years, and while I’ve had great reviews and enthusiasm over my books, my sales left something to be desired. At the beginning of 2015, I challenged myself to break out of my circle—to get myself and my books in front of people I didn't know through book reviews, guest blogging, interviews, personal appearances, book signings, etc.—and in one year, my sales increased eight-fold.

Here’s what worked for me:

Make Goals

If you’re starting from nothing like I was, aim for getting yourself in front of one new audience per month. Take an afternoon to scour the internet for bloggers and review sites, then designate one day per week to contact them. Keep your list on a physical calendar or whiteboard to hold yourself accountable—it’s harder to ignore goals when they’re staring at you from the wall.

Make Connections

Reach out to book bloggers. Talk to your local bookstore. Join Facebook groups, both local and national. I found book fairs, art fairs, and farmers’ markets through those groups, and while they weren’t all successful in terms of sales, they helped me hone my pitch and meet more authors, teachers, and librarians—the people you want to know. Book reviewers and bloggers looking for authors to interview frequent these pages as well.

Have a book coming out soon? Write a press release and send it to the local newspapers and radios—and don’t forget high school papers and college alumni magazines! Stop by the local bookstore when they aren’t busy and ask if they’d be willing to host a book launch party.

Watch the Sales Roll In

I wish it were that easy, but it takes a lot of time and persistence. The connections I made at the smaller events led to invitations at larger venues, and it’s snowballed from there. But don’t be afraid to think differently. I live in craft-beer land, so I approached the owner of a brewery to host a book event there. I met a radio station manager at a work event and asked if he’d be interested in interviewing a local author. (He was.) Brainstorm with other authors.

Final Tips

Looking back, I was quite pitiful at my first event. I had my books, my autograph pen, and my credit card reader—what else did I need? Let me tell you what’s in my “event box” now:

  • Black tablecloth (some places provide one but you don’t want to the only author stuck with the bare table)
  • Newsletter sign-up sheet (and depending on how large the crowd will be, a sign stating they’ll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card for signing up). TIP: add a signature or two to the top of the list. No one likes to be the first name.
  • Candy (Bonus if it ties into your books)
  • A sign with book prices
  • Display copies of each book so people only handle one copy—this also keeps the table neater.
  • An 18x12 poster with book covers that clearly says author name & genre
  • I plan to add a pop-up banner to my arsenal this year.

My biggest advice is don’t be afraid to speak up and tell people about yourself—especially at events. Make eye contact, smile, and be friendly. There’s a fine line between being persistent and being obnoxious, but when you find it, good things will happen.

Melanie Hooyenga first started writing as a teenager and finds she still relates best to that age group. She has lived in Washington DC, Chicago, and Mexico, but has finally settled down in her home state of Michigan with her husband Jeremy. When not at her day job as Communications Director, you can find Melanie attempting to wrangle her Miniature Schnauzer Owen and playing every sport imaginable with Jeremy.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: We're still recovering from the jam-packed weekend at the Wild, Wild Midwest SCBWI Conference, but we'll have a recap soon. You can help by sending your conference photos and take-aways (a few sentences about what you learned, or an ah-ha moment) to 

But first, Patti Richards is coordinating another Writer's Spotlight. Who will it be? Find out next Friday.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Wonderful advice for all us looking for more book-selling ideas! Thank you!

    1. Thank you Erin! I hope it's helpful for you.