David Farland’s Writing Tips: Stealth Advertising


There are a lot of ways to publicize books. Your publisher might pay bookstores to create special displays or to place your books with the cover facing outward instead of having the spine out. This is called point-of-sale advertising. They might pay “comp” advertising fees to make sure that your book is displayed in five or six key locations in the bookstore, so that the customer has a better chance of stumbling across it.

Indie authors have their own kind of point-of-sale advertising. They advertise heavily by placing ads on Kindle so that readers can see their books displayed with comparable titles on a “virtual bookshelf.” But you can also target fans of your genre on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and so on.

Of course, just about any author may seek to advertise by garnering book reviews. Many times, review are given freely by celebrities who love the book, but some traditional review sites now will offer book reviews to Indie authors, for a small price. 

These are just a few forms of up-front marketing. I won’t even go into things like billboards, t-shirts, or radio ads. Suffice it to say that there are thousands of ways to sell a book.

I mention all of this, because this morning an article popped up on Fox News that is a good example of what I call “stealth advertising.” In the ad, author Vince Flynn speculates about what would happen if the U.S. power grid were taken down for a year. The article has a great picture of the author, discusses the real dangers, shows the cover of his new novel Total Power, and even has a quote from the director of the CIA. 

It’s an effective ad, but it was posted as a news article.  Creating it didn’t cost a lot, and the article is likely to get re-posted by hundreds of newspapers. In short, it’s an ad disguised to look like news.

You can do the same thing to create feature articles for the Arts section of newspapers or magazines.

However, creating an ad like this requires an investment of both time and money.  You can go to companies like PRWeb or Newswire and buy a “press release package.” It might cost two or three thousand dollars to buy a package, and with this you’ll get help from professionals to create half a dozen releases. These releases typically must be used within a year or so.

When you write a release, you can write articles that relate your story to newsworthy events, the way that Vince did, but I’ve seen authors use press releases in other ways.

For example, one author used a great picture of herself that had a strong horror theme. It worked well for a near-Halloween book release, getting picked up by 97% of the newspapers she sent it to.  

Another author hyped the growing popularity of her books and over a period of six months was able to boost her sales to hit #1 on the Amazon bestseller list.  By using this and a couple of other tactics that cost very little, I found that she made over $2.2 million dollars in a single day.

But there are other ways that this tactic might be used. Another author might talk about how she was influenced by someone like Tolkien or Herbert, thus gaining the interest of (coopting) that author’s audience.  So instead of seeking quotes from living writers, she is able to link her work to that of a bestseller who has passed. 

Sometimes, just talking about how you became inspired works.  I first learned about Frank Herbert’s Dune as a child based on an article that talked about how he was inspired to write the book after doing some work studying sand dunes near my home in Oregon. My dad was so inspired by the article, he took us all to the dunes for a picnic, and years later I became a fan of the books.

Typically, when I’ve used press releases, I’ve been able to get articles placed in anywhere from 100 to 300 newspapers around the country. Think about it, for say $2.50, I can get a “stealth ad” placed in a newspaper. That ad space would normally cost hundreds of dollars if I purchased it outright.  Some papers only have a circulation of a few thousand, but some of them have a circulation in the millions. So even though it can cost a couple of thousand, this type of ad can be much cheaper than traveling on a lengthy book tour.

If I were planning to release a major novel this year, I’d go shopping for a press-release package and then decide how I might tailor a publicity campaign through stealth ads. 

Would I want to relate my tale to current events? 

Would I try to coopt the fans of authors who influenced me, or encourage readers to jump on my bandwagon?  

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

***Important Announcements ***

David Farland will be teaching a Masterclass at Fyrecon on November 12-14 on “Strategies for Success—presales, launches, and long-tail strategies.” For more details, go to


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