Regular patrons of the Word-Whores' Bordello know I've done laps in the soulless privacy-is-fantasy I-can-make-you-pay-for-shit-you-can-get-for-free bog of marketing. Once one drinks the triple-espresso with lemon twist, it never really leaves one's system. That disclaimer aside...
If you're writing fiction and have no book to sell, then my suggestion for the Most Outrageous Marketing Plan is:
FINISH THE DAMN BOOK
Then you can have a product to sell. Yes, yes, I know the school of thought that believes You are Selling You. And if you're a non-fiction writer, that's somewhat true. If you're a mid-list or debut novelist, You are secondary to Your Product. (That's not to say You can't destroy Your Product's value in one online rant, but that's another topic for another time.)
If you have less than FIVE books to sell, my advice is:
Publish FIVE Quality Stories
Why FIVE? Assorted sales studies reveal FIVE books are the necessary threshold to growing your audience. No, really, why FIVE? The human brain is weird, complex, and baffling. Aka, don't know, just is. Novels, novellas, whichever; but FIVE of them. Anthologies and magazines are wonderful for raising awareness about You but don't seem count toward the magical FIVE stories. Something about the solitary work hooks a very specific kind of reader ... the reader You The Marketer wants.
The Activist Core Audience (ACA)
Once you have your ACA, you have the very potent seeds of word-of-mouth direct marketing. Setting aside mind-control and stats that accurately link X ad to Y purchase, the Holy Grail of marketing is word-of-mouth direct marketing, aka viral marketing. It is the most effective and least costly means of getting a consumer to buy your product. Consumers are so accustomed to the barrage of Buy This in everything they see and hear that they're inured to traditional ad placements. Ads are progressively annoying because they have to work harder to grab attention.
Your ACA is your means of bypassing all the noise and getting to the audience most likely to buy your book. Audience --> Consumer --> Purchaser is the refinement of the people you want, the people who are going to pay for your works. The ACA is the audience you need to cut straight to the Purchasers. (Not that You The Author doesn't love readers who get your books from the library or borrow the books from friends; however, You The Mortgage Payer needs the income from Purchasers.)
The Most Outrageous (Yet Effective) Marketing Ploy For The Not-Yet-Famous I've ever heard involves free books, a ball-point pen, a metropolis, and one determined author. Parts of this story may have fallen into the realm of Urban Legend, but the root value remains.
Determined Author took fifty copies of her book and inscribed inside each one something to the effect of: This is a free book. Please read it then and pass it on. If you like it, buy a copy or buy the sequel. Next, she placed the books in random locations throughout NYC -- subway trains, park bench, pub chair, etc. Many of those books sprouted legs, gathering all sorts of ACA from unexpected demographics. Within weeks DA's books -- yes, books plural-- hit the Best Seller lists, courtesy of her ACA.
Reading Harper's Magazine on a Train: Vintage Ad
Part of what makes this story memorable is that it defied conventional marketing rules of targeting audiences by filtered demographics for distribution while removing every barrier to consumption by placing the book in the readers' hands. The reader didn't have to download anything, didn't have to go to a storefront or a signing, didn't have to have a coupon or mail-in rebate. They weren't pre-sorted based on education, previous purchases, age, or ethnicity. The only refinement was location.
Book-In-Hands. Simple. Effective. Distributed by the ACA.
What DA did is different from how most authors and publishers use ARCs. Afterall, ARCs are typically distributed to reviewers with an established audience. There's a known estimated Return on Investment. DA wasn't backed by a publisher, so there were no ARCs. Instead, DA took her marketing budget and used it on a direct-to-consumer plan. Will it work for all of us? Probably not. But it does prove that small innovative efforts can make a huge difference.
So, dear readers, if you could do a small-scale marketing blast in your city, what would you do? For those of you who have done it, what did you do?