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Guerrilla Marketing Ideas for Authors

Sometimes you need to think outside the box to get ahead.

Paid ads work well to accelerate the growth of many author businesses. Those who master them can identify their books’ ideal audiences, create low-budget ads, optimise those ads until they’re profitable, and scale them to huge proportions. Authors of all kinds crush it with this strategy, turning their hobby into a full-time income. Facebook, Amazon and BookBub ads can be expensive, but many will agree they’re absolutely worth it, providing they can keep them profitable.

But does this formula work for every author? In some cases, no. While many authors can find and grow an audience using traditional paid ads, a minority struggle for good reason. Say your books are experimental or straddle two genres. Yes, you may find readers that will love what you write, but reaching them en masse in a cost-effective manner using paid ads isn’t easy, particularly if there isn’t already demand. To reach those readers, sometimes you have to bypass conventional methods and cast your net wider until they notice you.

Guerrilla marketing is perfect for those situations. If you’re unfamiliar, the term describes the unconventional tactics small business owners use to compete with deep-pocketed rivals. Its etymology stems from “guerrilla warfare” — a similar term used to describe the tactics small soldier groups use to outmanoeuvre enemies with greater numbers and resources. For most authors, using guerrilla marketing isn’t the most efficient way to amass an audience. But, for some, it’s the only way. If you suspect that’s true for you, read on because today’s blog post will explore a range of guerrilla marketing ideas you can use to grow your author business.

Interactive Merch

Merchandise can be an effective guerrilla marketing vehicle. If you can turn it into a lucrative income stream, that’s great. But that’s not its primary purpose in this instance. Instead, consider it for its potential to spread your brand, whether you sell merch or give it away at events. After all, many examples of merchandise work like billboards, advertising their owner’s interests. See a person drink from a Harry Potter mug, for instance, and you could reasonably assume they like fantasy franchises. Spot a BTS backpack and you know there’s a good chance they’re into K-pop. Much like a tattoo or cultural garment, merchandise is tribal.

It alerts you to a person’s identity and starts conversations. Sometimes a Megadeth t-shirt at a grocery store is the primary instigator. Other times, it’s a Game of Thrones notebook at a library that creates a bond between two fantasy fans. If you can create merch that resonates with your readers, you can instantly turn your fans into brand ambassadors. To increase the chances of your strategy going to plan, also weave a call-to-action and QR code into your merch and it will actively feed prospective readers into your sales funnel. Drink sleeves work well for this purpose. They’re cheap, useful and appear in public by design, unlike bookmarks that are designed to be hidden. Tactically give away or sell merch at events and you can accelerate the process.

A Novelty Car

Have you ever seen a novelty car sporting all sorts of graphics and props? Parked in public, they can cause quite a scene. Some even cause bypassers to double back, read text scrawled across their paintwork and, occasionally, take photos to post on social media. Much like billboards, they command attention and summon curiosity. Only, unlike real billboards, they’re often far more noticeable, taking up space in pedestrians’ eyelines rather than hanging far above their heads where they rarely look. Indeed, it’s for this reason that you should consider using a novelty car, or decking our your existing one, for guerrilla marketing.

For a start, it’s cost effective. According to a 2021 article by signpost.com, renting an average billboard in the US can cost anywhere from $750 to $14,000 per month. Those in high-traffic areas cost considerably more than that top end. Getting your car wrapped with an attractive on-brand design that matches your books, however, can be as little as around $500. And the design can last years, providing you maintain it. Not only that, you can change its location to maximise its exposure to prospective readers. Imagine parking it outside a popular book fair or in a town that hosts a literary festival. Think of how many readers you could attract, and potentially convert into newsletter subscribers if your car design also includes a well-converting link or QR code.

Public Events

In 2012, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner conducted a stomach-rolling feat, jumping from a ledge 24 miles above the ground for the energy drinks company Red Bull. The event reportedly cost the business $65 million at the time. According to Sports Business Journal, though, YouTube recorded more than 340 million site views before the jump and over 8 million people watched it live. Plus, hundreds of national news stations pumped it to readers around the globe and Twitter recorded approximately 3.1 million tweets relating to the event. In total, the estimated combined interest equated to hundreds of millions of dollars in free advertising.

Now, nobody is going to claim the average new author has $65 million to promote a book in this way. That said, anyone could organise a low-cost event for guerrilla marketing purposes with a similar goal. You could, for instance, gear up for a historical battle re-enactment or promote a public zombie run. How about a beach cleaning walk that links to a key scene in your new romance novel? Contact local journalists and you can bolt on free marketing wherein you discuss your book. Organising events that align with your author brand can turn ordinary releases into memorable spectacles that readers love to attend and share with their friends.

Scavenger Hunts

The Batman movie The Dark Knight was a huge box office hit in 2008, partly due to clever guerrilla marketing tactics that created real-world buzz. At the time, the film’s marketing team engineered a viral strategy by creating an alternate reality game that pitted fans of the franchise against each other. Some supported Batman’s legendary nemesis, the Joker, while other’s rallied around his ally, the politician Harvey Dent. Playing the game, fans had to discover and share clues, attend fake political protests and conduct a global scavenger hunt to uncover movie teasers — all acting as though the movie characters were real.

As authors, we can replicate this creative strategy, albeit on a smaller scale, both in the real world and online. Say, for example, you told your Facebook group you were giving away signed paperbacks of an upcoming book but, to access them, they needed to follow a breadcrumb trail of clues across multiple websites to find a purpose-built landing page. The game will cost you some time but not a lot of actual money, despite being memorable for readers. You could even contact comp authors to involve them and reach new fans. Create a hashtag and drip-feed clues to teams who are lagging behind and you’ve got yourself a competitive scavenger hunt.

Product Placement

At one point in history, businesses paid TV show producers to feature products in their scenes. Today, this still happens. Only the process has become considerably more sophisticated, thanks to streaming platforms and technological advancements which now enable producers to refresh their product placement slots on existing shows. Indeed, Entertainment Weekly has reported in recent years that the studio distributor behind How I Met Your Mother has been “digitally altering old episodes with new products and brands,” superimposing new products onto old scenes to promote them to streaming viewers who are new to the show.

As indie authors, this strategy might seem out of reach, but we’re in the perfect position to capitalise on it given our ability to edit backlist titles. In the true spirit of guerrilla marketing you could, for example, add references to your upcoming book into a previous release. Maybe make it your heroine’s favourite romance novel. Running with the idea, you could even negotiate product placement deals with comp authors so they feature your latest release in the plot of some of their most popular sellers, if only for a few weeks. This is a slick way to create temporary easter eggs, as well as drum up interest from readers who enjoyed similar books from comp authors. Guerrilla marketing isn’t easy but, given its low costs, it can help you forge a path to readers without swallowing up your profits. Expect a lot of failures along the way but, over time, as your brand grows and more passionate readers flock to get involved, the success of your guerrilla marketing efforts will snowball. In fact, it can even give you a competitive edge over authors who only use paid ads in times when click costs climb. While they struggle with the squeeze, you can use guerrilla marketing to seize alternative opportunities and get on top.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.