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Memoir author’s book marketing success story

I met freelance writer Jen Miller when she took the inaugural Build Book Buzz Book Marketing 101 e-course several years ago.

At the time, she had just authored a regional travel guide to the Jersey shore. Today, she’s coming off the successful launch of her memoir, Running: A Love Story: 10 Years, 5 Marathons, and 1 Life-Changing Sport from Seal Press (March 2016 publication date).

I’ve been following Jen’s book marketing activities through her Facebook posts and have been impressed not only with her effort, but with the results, as well. She has done a masterful job of leveraging her skills, experience, and platform to create a book marketing success story.

I recently asked Jen several questions about how she marketed her memoir. I hope her experience inspires you!

The back story

[BBB] Please provide a brief description of your book and why you wrote it.

Memoir author book marketing success story 2
Jen Miller

[JM] Running: A Love Story  is a memoir about how I became a runner, but also how I used running to get over some tumultuous periods in my life. I wrote it after a piece I wrote in the New York Times called “Running as Therapy” garnered a huge response. I’d been toying with the idea of trying to write a running memoir before then, but that really pushed me to make it happen.

[BBB] In what section is it shelved in a bookstore, and what are your Amazon book categories?

[JM] In bookstores, it’s usually shelved in sports. As for Amazon book categories, I’m going to make a confession: I don’t know. I try not to look at my Amazon page because, with the last book, I got too wrapped up in how rankings would change. I have peeked though. The bad reviews have been more about what people think about me than the book so – pass!

[BBB] What’s your target audience?

[JM] I had a male runner and a female non-runner read the book as I was writing it because I wanted this book to reach more than just female runners, which seemed the obvious focus of marketing energy (for good reason). My goal was to make this for anyone who wanted to read about someone overcoming challenges. That’s pretty wide, but it seems I’ve hit that mark. I’ve gotten a lot of emails from readers that start with “I’m not a runner, but . . . .” It’s been embraced by the running community, too, which is also great!

[BBB] What was your overall strategy for reaching this audience? 

[JM] In addition to the publicist reaching out to her and my contacts, I tried to write pieces where I’d be mentioned as the author of my book in the byline. Of course there was a focus on sports and running-related media, but we tried to go beyond that.

For events, I zeroed in on running stores, mostly because they all already had a group run at least once a week. I’d hook up with the group run and then do a reading after, sometimes with the store providing beer and pizza. This way, I was guaranteed an audience. Only once did no one buy a book (the running store forgot I was coming!). These events were open to non-runners too, and they showed up for the reading parts. This was fun, though tiring! I didn’t realize how much of an impact running at each event would add onto the already stressful and tiring experience that are book events.

Publisher support, author responsibilities

[BBB] What did your publisher’s publicity/marketing department do to support the book?

[JM] They had a contract publicist work on the book (a contract that is now over), but since this is my third book and I have a boatload of contacts in the media world, I really took the reigns and did most of the work myself. Already being known as someone who writes about running really helped.

When the New York Times excerpted it, for example, they asked me – no one pitched it to them. SELF magazine reached out to me too (though they didn’t know my book was coming out in the same month they wanted a running essay from me). I was also able to have the book added to my bio line for a lot of stories I wrote, including two features and an essay for espnW, which helped and was something only I could do. 

The only thing I wouldn’t do is write articles or blog posts for free in exchange for a book mention. I held fast on this one. I write for a living, and I wasn’t going to compromise on that. I told this to the publicist before the campaign started and reiterated it for the period of time she worked on the book.

[BBB] What did you have to do yourself?

[JM] IN addition to what’s outlined above, I arranged my own signings and events. My publisher gave me a budget to pay for book-related travel, though I went over that (in part because I just wanted to go more places) and paid a small part myself.

Memoir author book marketing success story 3[BBB] When did you start marketing the book and what did you start with?

[JM] I started before I even finished the book. I made an announcement of the book’s sale on my blog, and then would sometimes post pictures of me working on it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram during the writing process.

Then I made my list of potential media targets, which was merged with the publisher’s list.

My agent also came up with the idea for a pre-order giveaway: if you pre-ordered the book online or at a bookstore, and sent me proof, you were entered into a contest where you could win swag from my local running store and an encouraging letter from one Jen A. Miller (my publisher paid for this, though most of the cost was shipping). This was a great idea!

I also saw that Women’s Running magazine would let people of note take over their Instagram account for a day. Most of the people who did this were famous runners, but I figured it was worth a shot so I asked — and they agreed! I posted about my book launch on my book launch day — which they timed along with running an excerpt from my book. That worked really well, too. 

After the first two months, I shifted into reaction mode since press begets press. The Wall Street Journal and Outside were two publications that found me through other press, for example. Most journalists reached out to me directly, so I made sure to reply quickly with what they needed.

Book marketing results

[BBB] What have you accomplished in terms of exposure? 

[JM] I lost count! That’s a good thing, right? The mentions I’ve linked to already are the big ones. I’ve also been in Parade, Runner’s World, Well + Good, NJ Spotlight, and the book was named a best book of 2016 by the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

I also (most weeks) write the New York Times’ running newsletter, which includes the name of the book every time I write you. You can’t beat that. 

I’ve done 26 events so far, most at running stores. I have two scheduled for 2017 – one at another local running store, and another where I’m being flown out to a college in Minnesota to give a symposium. They found me!

[BBB] Describe the sales success this has generated.

[JM] This is so tricky since sales numbers are reported so infrequently to writers. I do know that it’s selling better than the publisher expected (and they are absolutely JAZZED about it) that it’s still selling steadily. I may earn out my advance, which would be amazing!

[BBB] When you look back at everything you’ve done, what promotional tactics do you think worked best for you and your book?

[JM] Using contacts I already had got the most press for the book. I know those things aren’t something everyone has, but that’s where I started out. Taking over Women’s Running‘s Instagram account was something I did on a lark but I think was incredibly successful. Also: I don’t see this book as having a time limit, so to speak. It’s not going to go stale, so I’ll keep on keeping on.

[BBB] What did you enjoy doing the most?

[JM] Radio or podcast interviews. I love talking. TV, not so much, though I did that, too. I was lucky that a friend who works in local media set up a few interviews for me in that realm.

[BBB] Based on this experience, what advice would you offer other authors?

[JM] No one is going to care about your book as much as you do — not your agent, your publisher, the publicist, no one. That’s not me being snide, but it’s true since this is the only book you’re working on, and their attention is needed elsewhere. If you want to make something happen, don’t wait for someone else to do it.

Also, be available. Reporters reached me through my website, Twitter, and Facebook, and I responded quickly.

Got a question about Jen’s book launch? Ask her here! 

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  1. I really loved this article and this overview of her experiences. I would love to encourage everyone to use her as an example. Don’t worry if you don’t have contacts in the media… All it takes is a few phone calls and a couple of emails to get some! You may need to take one extra step more than she did but it’s worth it!

    1. Great advice, Amy! Thanks!

      When I was promoting my first book, I got myself on all kinds of national TV talk shows by studying each, figuring out what I could offer that they would love to use, and doing the research to find the right person to pitch. Yeah, it takes effort, but the pay off is sooooo worth it!


  2. Excellent post, Sandra and Jen. Congratulations on your successful launch, Jen! You show us very clearly how important it is to take responsibility for our own marketing efforts even if you have the support of publicists and publishers. Best wishes on your continued success and thank you for sharing such helpful tips.

    1. I’m so glad that message came through, Kathy. You’ve done an awesome job with your memoir, too.


  3. Sandy,

    Thanks for featuring Jen’s book marketing success story. How wonderful and encouraging to have her share what I believe are absolute essentials to publishing success:

    1. Know your niche and audience.
    2. Live your book’s advice.
    3. Start wherever you are, with whatever contacts you have.
    4. Work hard on your own behalf whether you have contacts, a publicist or not. No one cares about your book as much as you do.
    5. Be available and respond fast.
    6. Don’t compromise your values and goals.
    7. Got an marketing idea? Try it. It may work.

    Yay for Jen!

  4. As a woman who picked up the sport of running in my sixties, and am working on my first memoir (not my first book but my first memoir), I read with interest your interview with Jen Miller.

    Great insights into marketing a memoir by tapping into the running community.

    Loved the post.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Kathleen! Jen is all-around amazing so I was thrilled she could make time for this e-chat.


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