Inside A Grass Roots Marketing Campaign with Jeannie Lin

FLASHBACK!!!! In 2010 Jeannie Lin wrote this amazing article for my blog. I’ve been asked about it since transferring over to the new site, so here it is. Enjoy!



The publishing and bookish world moves fast & most of the specifics here are outdated.  Please take this as food for thought and not a road map. P.S. Jeannie is long overdue for a recap post that she promised in 2013.


ETA: Jeannie has added some great editorial in the comments – make sure to check that out!



I hesitate to write this post.

I started to write up a bunch of disclaimers: This is my first time, I have no marketing background, there are no sales numbers to correlate with these largely anecdotal findings….

Soon the disclaimers started to outweigh the rest of the post. So I guess I should say, these are just my reflections on what seemed to work and what I might do differently the next time around. I’m doing it to reflect, share info, and hopefully spark some discussion around this nebulous arena we call marketing. This post is in no way suggesting how another newbie author should market. No two marketing campaigns should be alike.

I am not saying that in a wishy-washy, it depends, blah blah blah, sort of manner. Bria knows I hate that. I’m saying, NO TWO MARKETING CAMPAIGNS SHOULD BE ALIKE. Otherwise, why do people pay publicists and marketing firms?

Oh there’s me making disclaimers again. Basically what I’m trying to say is I’m afraid. I’m afraid people will think I know something or somehow had a huge hand in the success that Butterfly Swords has had in getting buzz on the Internet.  Buzz, by the way, not sales. That’s another thing. I have an entirely different opinion on sales, which I won’t go into here. J

I’m afraid that people will think I’m a know it all or that I’ve been manipulative to readers with marketing strategy.  I’m also afraid talking about the nuts and bolts of marketing will ruin the fantasy. Writing is a business, and I know it. The way I envision my business team (which consists of Jeannie and Jeannie),  is that cold and analytical Marketing Jeannie sits in the basement and studies and comes up with strategies. Writer Jeannie, the friendly, imaginative one, is the persona who actually gets to go out and Twitter and blog and interact with people. Writer Jeannie feels emotional about Butterfly Swords. Writer Jeannie frets over bad reviews and gushes about geeky trivia. She worries about how to write her next story and how to add lushness and sexual tension without getting too purple-prosy.

Cold-hearted Marketing Jeannie cares about the book too. She just tries to separate out the promotion of the book from the writing/emotional ownership of the piece. She’s the business manager. She gives writer Jeannie marching orders.  She is never, NEVER allowed to blog or tweet or interact with readers at signings. She’s paranoid and fretful and perpetually trying to gather data, and she KNOWS these are not traits that sell books.

Writer Jeannie is writing this rambling post which the business team has now decided will be a separate intro, if Bria will post it that way. Marketing Jeannie will be allowed to post once, and once only, because both Jeannies wish someone had told them all this when they started.

Marketing Jeannie is kind of strict and academic. She’s all about business. Please don’t hate her.

(Inserted by Friend Bria: This rocks and is brilliant. All Jeannies need a big high-five)

Inside a Grass Roots Marketing Campaign

Marketing hat on.

I could write a dissertation on my thoughts on marketing and justifications for why I did what I did. But that would get boring for everyone but me very quickly. So I’m going to limit it to the key high points that worked and what I’d rethink if I could do it again.

Two biggest boosts:

1)      The cover. Oh my God, the cover. Not only is it red and eye-catching, it’s exciting and conversation worthy. And it looks like no other romance out there right now. “You’re the one with the beautiful cover,” people say when they meet me. It’s SO good for crossover (which is one of my marketing strategies). Men will read a book with a cover like that. Fantasy/paranormal readers will read it. Asian fiction readers will read it.

It’s an element that I had no control over, other than that this was new for Harlequin and my editor asked for some suggestions and pictures that inspired me. This picture has been my avatar for several years and is the one I sent them.  Other than that, I prayed.

 2)      ARC available through NetGalley. Bound galleys are not printed up for category romances. It’s just not profitable, given the business model. So I was trying to get ARCs to reviewers, some of whom were actually coming to me to request it, but I didn’t have an electronic or paper arc. The author copies wouldn’t be available until the release date was almost here. Being a newbie, I asked my editor what I was supposed to do to get review copies out because I know piracy is an issue. In a stroke of luck, my editor decided to put the ARC on NetGalley due to demand. And because it was on NetGalley, more people requested and reviewed Butterfly Swords. It was a feedback loop. By October, Butterfly Swords had moved up to being the top requested galley from Harlequin. (Disclaimer: they do remove older galleys after release date.)

Those two things helped boost the image and availability of Butterfly Swords more than anything I could have ever done myself. I think they both came from in-house support by my editor. Both were completely out of my hands.

Which leads to my next part. Sometimes you have to ride the wave. Search for the natural marketing messages surrounding the release. Find out what ripples your book may be causing and amplify it if you can. Butterfly Swords has a limited shelf life. It’s only out for one month in book stores. It doesn’t get the larger print run or the in-house marketing push that single-titles get.

So here’s the grass roots part of marketing BUTTERFLY SWORDS:

1)     Market it like a big book.

I only decided to do this because I felt there were some elements about the book that gave it a BIG BOOK feel. I’m not talking about the writing here. I’m talking about marketing elements. It had some buzz for winning the Golden Heart. It had buzz for being a hard sell. It had buzz for being an Asian historical. The story itself is high concept. It sounds like an epic adventure.

Big books with house backing sell better. Readers hear more about them. People become curious and the momentum builds. I had a little book that I wanted to be treated like a big book. I looked at how HQN was marketing some of their big books. This summer, HQN was pushing Julie Kagawa and there was an internet page they put up to showcase her Iron Fey series. When I enlisted a web designer to make a showcase page for Butterfly Swords, I literally told her, “Make it look like this:” . I wanted visitors to the page to perhaps believe that I had just as much backing behind me as someone like Kagawa. Did it work? I don’t know:

I didn’t have a lot of money for ads. I couldn’t afford print and couldn’t do much more online, so I noticed where big name, but relatively new, historical authors like Sherry Thomas, Tessa Dare, and Jennifer Haymore advertised. I decided to  buy ads at All About Romance because there’s a reader community there that’s not filled with writers and aspiring writers. They’re people who just love books. I also chose them because I had been mentioned on their forum two times on threads prior to the marketing campaign. Since the marketing campaign, I’ve been mentioned two more times in reader threads. These were spontaneous. They were not put up by me or friends. Maybe a couple of mentions is no big deal, but the books that get noticed on there are the big publisher backed books. The books headed for bestseller lists or books by long established writers.

2)     Blog Tours

I enlisted a publicity admin assistant (not a publicist, btw) to help me organize blog tours for The Taming of Mei Lin which released in September and Butterfly Swords for October. We were both pretty new at this. I was booked for over 40 interviews and guest blogs. Did traffic increase to my site? Yes. Did everyone seem to know about the book? Yes.  A lot of the guest blogs catered to the same audience in the book blog world, but repetition is not a bad thing in advertising.

Would I do it again? I’d probably scale down considerably. We got a lot of requests and invitations after the initial tour was set and I was a paranoid newbie, so I didn’t turn down anything. I’m very grateful we had so much interest, but the blogs did take a lot of effort. If I could do it again, I’d scale it back down to no more than two appearances a week. More than that and you can’t promote each event as efficiently. They start to collide with one another. The blogosphere gets saturated. In the future, I’d target sites with a larger following and also go cross-genre a little better.

3)     Cross-genre marketing

I only attempted this because I sensed the potential within the storyline. You need to listen to what phrases are being echoed over and over. One of the echo phrases was “I normally don’t read romance, but…” I was hearing this before release and I keep on hearing it now. I knew that Asian historicals were risky in romance. So this would seem to dictate that I had to try to get a non-romance readership or Butterfly Swords would be dead in the water.

I looked at markets that already existed: RPG gamers, Asian historical fiction, wuxia, martial arts and sword fighting fans. I believe there was crossover potential for paranormal and fantasy readers. Indeed, a bookseller told me she read the book and is pushing it to her paranormal and urban fantasy readers because of the action scenes.

Not all those markets are as book-bloggy as romance so I had to reach out and find how to reach those markets and members within each community. I did a Warrior Women series on my blog where I featured a stunt woman, a martial artist, and a swords practitioner. I had my mom send the book to several Vietnamese newspapers. I reached out to the DragonCon Silk Road track since they’re enthusiasts of Asian culture and Asian fantasy.

I don’t know the effects of these efforts yet. In retrospect, I don’t feel like I hit these cross-over markets well enough. I’ve only recently targeted gaming and wuxia sites for reviews and the book is almost out of stores already. Thank goodness for online ordering and ebooks!

4)     Social Media

These answers apply specifically to me and my particular style of interaction online as well as my marketing strategy. So don’t take this as general advice for everyone. Someone’s going to look at this and tell me they reach thousands of readers through Facebook and none through Twitter. That wasn’t going to happen with my campaign and my level on online activity. No two marketing strategies should be alike, right?

For each avenue, I put down how much effort I put into it along with my suggestions about it.

Own personal website:  Moderate. Keep it updated. People visiting your website are a little interested in you, which is good. Have stuff there to give them what they want to know, but don’t spend a lot of time trying to get followers there.  Most people on the internet don’t have time to avidly follow their favorite authors. Use it as a central station for promotions and updates and also to have a repository of info for your marketing allies. Bloggers, journalists, and interviewers very often go to my webpage to find info to put in their blogs and articles. Have good content for them to grab. Also link your blog up to Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads so they’ll automatically update.

Facebook: Minimal. A presence is good and some people use it as their preferred method of communication. I find it good to keep it updated, but I don’t spend a lot of time interacting there. As a result, my network there only consists of a closer inner circle and is pretty small.

Twitter: Moderate. I spend a lot of time on there because personally I like it. But that’s time suck stuff. You do have to invest some time to get the hang of it and garner enough friendlies to help you signal boost. This is authentic interaction you need to do, so if it feels weird and sucks, don’t do it or find another way. The bang for your buck Is actually pretty good because the nature of Twitter allows you to reach people outside your comfortable little circle. One of my marketing strategies was to hit international readers. I think Twitter has helped that more than any other social media.

Goodreads: GOODREADS IS FRICKIN AWESOME!!!  But you do not need to spend your time networking on there to get some leverage. Using the Giveaways will give you some exposure and the effort is minimal. There’s enough of an organic and avid reader base that if you can get traction in other media, you’ll start to see people marking your book to-read on Goodreads and reviewing it. Goodreads users simply LIKE being there. I’m a low-end member. I track my books and sometimes do little reviews. I don’t have much of a friend base and now I’m kind of afraid to. I kind of prefer to use Goodreads to gauge how much notice the book is getting “naturally” from my other methods and I don’t want to mess with that. BEST RETURN ON TIME INVESTMENT—because I’ve pretty much stayed away from interacting on Goodreads, but have still seen some interest based on reviews and giveaways on Goodreads.

Followers and Friends: I am a moderate user on all these media. I don’t expend much effort trolling for followers. Not that there’s a problem with that! I just don’t think I would be good at managing it. Most of the growth has been organic. The only time I’ve done a promotion to get followers is to entice people to subscribe to my newsletter, which is a mechanism for me pushing data out to interested users, not an interactive space. I’ve only done that lightly as it is.

Frankly, I don’t want people following me who are not in some way interested. I’m afraid of boring them. I’m afraid of being overly ignored. I know this is contrary to the “cast a wide net” mentality, but I’d rather have a small number of interested followers than a large number of people who could care less. It’s just my natural comfort zone. This is also one of my marketing strategies. I want depth versus breadth in the reader base. I think Butterfly Swords with its “geek factor” supports this type of small, but loyal following.

5)      Evangelists

People willing to hawk Butterfly Swords on street corners and blog corners. Once again, I have absolutely no control over this. I have more than a couple evangelists who’ve been willing to go to bat for Butterfly Swords. I’m not naming names, because I know I’ll miss some of them. Some are friends and I’ve done the same for them. Many are not. They just saw something in Butterfly Swords that made them want to take it up and support it. Did the promotional push have anything to do with it? Was it a timing thing? Am I just that charming of a person? (tongue firmly in cheek) Or did they read the book and just plain like it? I think about these things a lot, and I just don’t know.

So there’s the marketing story of Butterfly Swords, in a nutshell…and remember this is Marketing Jeannie speaking, so along with being paranoid and calculating, she is also all about SELLING THIS BOOK:

I think the real reason it worked is because Butterfly Swords has some killer marketing messages. On the surface, it’s got many crossover elements that can reach into different genres. The emotional message is compelling. It’s an underdog and a winner, all at once. It took some risks to bring it to market and that’s just plain exciting. On top of all that, it looks GOOD.  The book cover and the marketing campaign are sexy and red and euphoric.

And it’s in bookstores for a limited time only.
Don’t wait. November is too late!
(Sorry, I had to try J)

First I want to say thanks to Jeannie for one of the best posts ever written in history! THANKS!

And now, I’m sure you want a copy of Butterfly Swords for yourself. I personally guarantee you’ll love it! And to prove that, I’m giving another copy away this week. To win, we’ll stick with the marketing theme:

What’s the most interesting/best/most memorable way you’ve seen a book marketed? Did you buy it? If you did, did it live up to the hype? Let me know and I’ll be picking a random winner on Friday 🙂


EDITED TO ADD: Check out her Amazon Sales Page. She’s put out some AMAZING books over the years.


  1. OMG, did I write this? I was so young and shiny.

    I wanted to add to the disclaimer to say that 4 years is an ETERNITY in the world of publishing nowadays. Everything has changed and evolved and I’d take the original post as things to think about rather than a roadmap or even suggestions of what to do today. *eek*

    For one, Twitter, Facebook, blogging and Goodreads have changed DRAMATICALLY since 2010. My usage of each has changed dramatically too. There was no Pinterest or Tumblr. There was no Bookbub at the time. Self-publishing was still looked upon with some skepticism instead of a viable option for promotion and publishing. Borders still existed. My book was still being shelved in Walmart….*le sigh*

    The two points I still hold to be true:
    1) If you’re with a publisher, work to use that relationship to its maximum potential. Don’t be afraid to ask for them to do stuff for you. All they can say is no.
    2) Stand behind your books like they’re the next big thing and don’t apologize. Steve Jobs never stood up before those big projection screens and said, I hate to promote, but I made this little thing and I hope you like it.

  2. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought
    this post was good. I don’t know who you are but certainly you
    are going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.