The ethical way to get the word out about your project

When we started the Seattle Review of Books we had two options for trying to fund our content: put ugly ads on every page, or try something experimental with a sponsorship program. There were three points that made this an easy choice:

  1. Ad rates are falling across the internet. Many sites need to place more and more ad slots just to make the same amount of money they used to.
  2. The ads are gross. They track you from website to website, and the publisher has no control over what pictures or message they carry. Can you imagine a print magazine with no control of what ads are published? We didn't want to expose our readers to this.
  3. Ads put downward pressure on editors to create clickbait headlines and sensational posts in hopes of going viral, because going viral means a payday. It homogenizes content, encourages hopping on popular bandwagons, and undervalues taking unpopular stands because they won't pay.

But we're not trying to reach millions of people with this website. We're trying to reach a self-selecting passionate readership, who is interested every day in what we do.

Last year, Martin ran a Kickstarter, and during that time he was looking for inexpensive ways to reach book lovers to advertise what he was doing. The big networks were too expensive, the buy-in to even the smaller ad networks was beyond his means. That's why, on some book websites, all you see is the same book advertising from major publishing houses that you see in magazines.

But what about the indies? Surely the internet should be excelling at helping small publishers, self-published authors, and local event venues a place to talk about their products. But no, there was really very little out there.

So we started our sponsorship program. It has a few key metrics:

  • One sponsor buys out the entire site for a week.
  • We run a full chapter, or a few poems, or spreads of the book in question, so readers can fairly and accurately see if they're interested in the book without having to wade through yards of marketing.
  • We clearly denote what is sponsored content and what is editorial content, and any book that is a sponsorship is ineligible to be considered for review.

So how's the program going? We sold out our full year, save for a few reserved weeks. We couldn't be more thrilled about it, and measuring our response in time-on-page shows us that you are clicking on the sponsorship and giving each sponsor a chance. That's all we ask. Give each sponsor a shot. Don't like it? No big deal. If you do, pick up a copy of the book, or go to the event, and tell them where you saw it.

We've just released our next block of sponsorships — through January 2016. Take a look, and if you have a book to advertise, try a week. It's inexpensive, effective, and helps get your work out into the world. If you're an indie writer, or have an event coming up you want to get the word out about, give us a try. We'd love to show you what we're doing to make ads on the internet something we're proud to run.