At least in the romance genre, it has become a standard technique for authors to hold regular giveaways in exchange for readers signing up for the author’s newsletter, with the usual prize a couple of free books. It’s a good idea, and nearly every author has embraced it. The downside, though, is that there are now many contests out there and it’s hard for an author to stand out in the vast crowd of giveaways. But a couple of weeks ago one author in particular really made me take notice and got me thinking about the various promotional avenues open to authors, and how important this issue is during a serious recession.Kyra Davis has a juicy prize for readers: A trip to San Francisco, and the Sophie Katz Experience tour of the city given by the author herself. Other prizes include a $300 Sephora gift card; a $200 gift card for a chocolatier; and a $100 Starbucks gift card. Seriously, wow.

I read this and was blown away. But what really made me sit up and pay attention was what entrants have to do to get their name in the hat: Promote her newest release Lust, Loathing, and a Little Lip Gloss in some form or another. Every time you write an online review, you’ll be entered in the drawing. If you create a book trailer and post it on YouTube, you’ll be entered. If you blog about the book, you’ll be entered. If your reading group reads the book and chats with the author via speakerphone/Internet during the meeting, you’ll be entered. The possibilities are endless.

So why is Davis going to such lengths to promote her book sales? The state of the economy. Book sales are down and more traditional forms of promoting books are drying up, so she’s asking readers to help and offering a significant incentive for their efforts.

This got me thinking about how authors can drum up publicity—which  seems especially important given the current recession—and curious as to what measures others are taking to keep sales up and readers engaged.

A lot of authors hold regular giveaways for free books. There are a few others, though, offering other very unique prizes in lieu of free books. Lisa Hendrix gave the winner of her February contest a hat that she personally hand-knit. Nicole Jordan is offering a $75 gift certificate to Victoria’s Secret. But probably the most interesting contest prize I saw was Catherine Anderson, who’s promising a personal 15-minute phone call to the winner of her February-March contest.

A number of authors are also creating buzz by making video book trailers. These are like movie previews for books—kind of like a long commercial and they’re a great way to drum up interest. Lisa Jackson, Lisa Kleypas, Lucy Monroe, Emma Holly, Sandra Hill, Christine Feehan, Robin Schone, Catherine Anderson, Jayne Ann Krentz, and Karen Robards are just a few of the authors taking advantage of the mega-popularity of YouTube.  And their trailers are definitely attracting both attention and thousands of viewers.

Other authors are providing freebies for tech-savvy readers to express their love of a book by offering free electronic goodies and I think it’s a fantastic idea. Some authors provide other e-goodies. I liked the cover of Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave so much that when I saw she offers it as wallpaper, I immediately put it on my office computer. More than a few people have asked about it, thus prompting a discussion of the series. That’s built in promotion right there.

More and more authors are jumping on the social networking bandwagon and creating MySpace or Facebook pages, but some of these authors are doing even more to tap into the potential of these resources. Take Jane Graves for example. On her site she offers an interactive widget promoting her latest release, which fans can easily add to their blog, MySpace, or Facebook page.

While it’s impossible for me to tell if current financial woes have prompted authors to expand their promotional activities, it does seem as though many are focusing on new and innovative ways of capturing (and keeping) reader interest. How much of this is due to just keeping up with technology is hard to tell, but I would theorize that given the current economic climate, more authors are or will be taking advantage of every way they can to get those sales up.

Have you noticed a change in the way authors are promoting their books? Which ones are your favorites? For those authors out there, how has the current economic climate affected what you are doing to keep book sales up?

-Katie Mack