Book Exchanges: A Treasure Hunt and a Marketing Tool

For independent presses and self-published authors, marketing is one of the most important factors in a book’s success. Oftentimes we associate marketing with the publication date, but really it’s a process that starts at the very beginning, when a manuscript is acquired, and lasts for as long as you want it to. But with new projects and a busy schedule, sometimes it can become difficult to actively promote a title for years to come. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be all about scheduling social media posts and newsletters: there are other ways to gain exposure for your titles!

Book exchanges have become increasingly popular in recent years. Generally, the process involves swapping books with strangers for free. This allows readers to expand their reading collection and discover new authors. With over ninety thousand registered libraries in ninety-one countries worldwide, the nonprofit organization Little Libraries has become very successful in inspiring more readers. The general idea of “give a book and take a book” draws people in to browse the little wooden box’s contents. Imagine the excitement if a curious wanderer happened upon a brand-new, freshly published book from a local press! This is a great way to gain free local support and exposure for new independent titles or even self-published authors. Slipping in free bookmarks or postcards with your press’s name and website is a great way to market your booklist; if the reader likes the copy they’ve picked up, no doubt they will want to learn more about the press and the author.

For even more widespread exposure, there are book-exchange sites like BookCrossing, which comes with a neat benefit—you can track where your book ends up! You register your book on the website for free, receive a code and a label, then release the book into the wild to get “caught.” This can be interpreted in many ways: the BookCrossing community allows its members to connect and personally exchange books, leave a book in an “Official BookCrossing Zone,” or place a book somewhere random and register the location on the site. Some readers even set up wishlists, where you can send the book to them directly. This book treasure hunt is appealing to many: the site has garnered over 850,000 active BookCrossers to date worldwide. Sending copies (along with marketing materials) to BookCrossers is another innovative way to execute free, passive marketing for your titles. As a bonus, if you keep track of the book by utilizing its individual code, promoting the treasure hunt on your social media platforms can be a fun way to engage readers and fans.

Marketing can be one of the most exciting elements of publishing: it pushes one to be constantly innovative in order to bring exposure to fresh, exhilarating stories. When strategizing for how we can market a book to the right target audience, we often forget that for readers, sometimes the best way to find a book isn’t online through a search bar, but organically. After all, nothing beats the serendipity of stumbling upon a book that catches your eye and rifling through the pages that are just waiting to take you on your next adventure.

The Indie Presses of Portland

In Portland, there’s an independent press for every sort of project you can imagine. More importantly, each press has a unique mission statement that will help you, the writer, find the best match for your personal and creative goals. Let this guide to local indie publishing houses help you decide where to submit your next piece.

  1. Tin House: Although they were part of the literary world for years beforehand, Tin House officially became an independent press in 2005. Tin House publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as out-of-print and underappreciated books. Titles include Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing by David Naimon and Ursula K. Le Guin, Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid, and Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett.
  2. Overcup Press: Overcup specializes in nonfiction books with a strong design element, including books on travel, art, literary nonfiction, and design, as well as epicurean titles. Their titles include Volcanoes, Palm Trees & Privilege: Essays on Hawai’i by Liz Prato, 99 Ways to Make a Pipe: Problem Solving for Pot Smokers by Brett Stern, and The Tall Trees of Portland by Matt Wagner.
  3. Perfect Day Publishing: Perfect Day Publishing has been an indie press in Portland since 2011. They focus on emotional stories in the form of literary nonfiction, essay collections, and memoir. Titles include Stranger in the Pen by Mohamed Asem, What About the Rest of Your Life by sŭng, and Yeah. No. Totally. by Lisa Wells.
  4. Microcosm Publishing: Microcosm Publishing began as a record label in 1996 and has transformed into a press that focuses on building skills, exposing hidden stories, and fostering creativity through nonfiction books and zines about self-improvement, gender, and social justice. Recent titles include Chainbreaker Bike Book: An Illustrated Manual of Radical Bicycle Maintenance, Culture, and History by Ethan Clark and Shelley Lynn Jackson, Coping Skills: Tools & Techniques for Every Stressful Situation by Faith G. Harper, and The Practical Witch’s Almanac 2019: Expanding Horizons by Friday Gladheart.
  5. Forest Avenue Press: Forest Avenue Press was founded in Portland in 2012 and largely publishes adult literary fiction related to Oregon and the surrounding area, focusing on works that involve activism or that put new twists on fairy tales and folktales. Titles include Parts Per Million by Julia Stoops, Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum, and The Hour of Daydreams by Renee Macalino Rutledge.
  6. Future Tense Books: Future Tense Books began in Spokane, Washington, in 1990, briefly moved to Arkansas, and settled in Portland in 1992. This press focuses on publishing the work of groundbreaking authors in the form of novellas, story collections, and novels that go in unexpected directions. Titles include I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do) by Tatiana Ryckman, Liar: A Memoir by Rob Roberge, and Pretend We Live Here by Genevieve Hudson.
  7. Burnside Review: Burnside Review, formed in 2004, puts out a journal issue every 9–12 months in addition to publishing full-length books of poetry and chapbooks through their contests. When their submissions are open, they accept fiction and poetry to be published in their journal. Titles include Such a Thing as America by Sarah Blackman, The Volunteer by Andrew McAlpine, and MEOW by Mark Baumer.

And, of course, there’s our very own student-run Ooligan Press.

Inspired yet?

Creative Book Marketing for Local Publishers

This summer I returned to my hometown and one of my favorite literary communities to learn more about how small independent presses build brand awareness and market their books. Kore Press in Tucson, AZ, is well known in the community as being a leader of feminist publishing. As Kore’s marketing intern, I was given a firsthand look at how small indie publishers get creative to spread the word about their books.

I arrived at Kore in time to pick up on a backlist marketing campaign. In the past couple of years, Kore has published several wonderful books of poetry and fiction. One of the major ways Kore finds talented writers is through seasonal writing contests judged by lauded writers and poets such as Tracie Morris, Roxane Gay, Lidia Yuknavitch, and most recently, Cheryl Strayed. With books chosen by writers such as these, it makes marketing a much easier undertaking.

Publishers market their books through three types of media: paid, earned, and owned. Things such as print advertising, direct mail, and display are examples of paid media. Owned media are websites, blogs, or social media pages. Earned media are the hardest to get, and because of that, the most important. Word of mouth, Facebook comments, Twitter mentions, and reviews are examples of earned media. Getting earned media is a great way to gauge how much genuine excitement there is circulating about your press, book, or event. That’s not to say it’s all a shot in the dark, though. Marketers in the publishing industry work hard to write compelling copy about presses, books, and contests for press releases, blog posts, and social media messaging in an effort to garner excitement. This summer I saw how a press can work with a community to generate buzz about their work.

Tucson is a tight community, and I was impressed with Kore’s commitment to working with local professors, writers, artists, and makers to not only talk about their work, but also about how to make the community a more creative place as a whole. Before I arrived, Kore collaborated with a local musician and English professor to create a series of events about noise, including a performance by Tracie Morris. Kore regularly works with local printers, designers, and venues to share promotion and messaging through community events.

Working with Kore and the Tucson writing community made me think a lot about Ooligan Press and the Portland writing community. Ooligan often works alongside local authors and events, and it reminds me of what an advantage it can be to be a small press in an established literary town. I’m lucky again to live in a place with such an enthusiastic population of writers, and luckier still to live in a city that’s home to Wordstock, Powell’s, and community-oriented presses such as Forest Avenue Press. Smaller and independent publishers may not have all of the same resources of Big Five publishers, but in an industry that is fueled by creativity, smaller presses have proven that there are always new ways to reach readers.