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Authors and Writers: When the Formula Fails, Follow the Tangents

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

How the side stories of you, your writing, and your

books can lead to solid exposure and sales

Formulas used to work for my company—book marketing and promotion formulas that worked for years. Until they didn’t. Then we’d devise a new formula. When I went from tinkering with a model every year to every six months to every few months to every few weeks, I knew it was time to scrap the idea of a winning model.

At best I now work from very loose templates; I customize an approach for every book, author, and situation; and do a lot on the fly as opportunities present themselves. It’s been 10+ years since the formulas stopped working but that doesn’t mean that certain things don’t work for all books and authors. I’ve written about many of those things that do work for authors and writers promoting themselves and their work, things that can be relied upon for real results:

Another things that works to sell books, promote one’s writing, and increase your general exposure as a creative talent is putting forth stories and angles rather tangential to your books’ content, your writing, and you as an author.

Because many of these things are what I’d classify as spaghetti, just throwing things out there to see what sticks, they have the added benefit of not weighing on you — and, more important, paying off solidly for being so quick and casual. Here are some concrete examples of successes with tangents:

Good Old Neon: Signs You’re in Chicago is a book of Chicago neon photography that had been out for a few years and its sales had flattened. Just to keep the name in front of people, we promoted the author’s neon photography for Portland and Denver in newsletter articles to our individual and retail customers. Within days, we sold 35 copies of the book with no extra effort. A few days after that spree, we sold 250 copies to a Chicago hotel to place in their rooms, with one brief email exchange to one of our contacts on the newsletter list.

Bandstand Diaries: The Philadelphia Years, 1956–1963 is a wonderful, full-color book of Baby Boomer nostalgia I helped a client, Coney Island Press, put out. They had sold thousands and were about to go into their third printing when they landed a feature in the Sunday NY Post on the side story that American Bandstand kept the secret that so many of its teen stars were gay. It’s the kind of high-profile coverage what we all want for our books all the time!

It reminds me of the mileage we received years ago from a tangential story…one of our books, Muldoon: A True Chicago Ghost Story, was called on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times, “The New ‘It’ Book for Chicago Priests.” A story by a religion writer sold hundreds of books that month and brought us calls and inquiries for years afterwards. (No joke — the most recent inquiry from a priest was in the past year and the article came out over twelve years ago.)

Here’s another: we were in the process of securing early reviews for a new release, Your Breath in Art: Acting from Within, notifying the usual players and wracking our brains to figure out who else would be interested in covering “the story of the book.” We have an extra challenge with this title as the author had been dead for nearly fifteen years. But we did have the input of her son, who was the impetus behind the re-release of his mother’s work and he sent us bits of info about her as they occur to him. Two such ideas led to responses within an hour to five of five pitches.

First, an email telling us that author Beatrice Manley sometimes taught her breathing techniques to opera students…“maybe that’s something to go on”…led to some quick queries on our part and two responses from two top opera magazines for review copies. Then, a similar email mentioning that Bea had once taught briefly (once! briefly!) at the Chekhov Studio in NYC, prompted us to Google Michael Chekhov, and then query the NYC studio, a Chekhov association, and a Chekhov school. We received affirmative responses from all three regarding reviews and mentions in publications and making the book available in a school bookstore and to actors at a summer workshop. Total time for receiving ideas, Google research, writing pitches, replying to pitches, and mailing review copies? About one hour.


For you:

  • Consider: What are some tangential themes to your book? Who’s interested in covering those themes?

  • Consider: What are some tangential stories about you as an author? Who’s interested in covering those stories?

  • Research contact information for those reporters, publications, organizations, and influencers that may be interested in this new angle on your book and its contents.

  • Flesh out your ideas into media pitches and/or event ideas. No agonizing or overwrought wordsmithing on this. Think through the message. Throw down the words. Re-read and tweak. Proofread. Send. Develop a bias for taking action.

  • Contact those people by email or phone. If not now, today, then when? Put it on a to-do list or calendar.


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