Attending conferences. Buying ads. Passing out flyers, bookmarks, and postcards. Speaking at libraries. Doing signings. Attending conferences. All of these help a writer build name-recognition.
But the best form of self promotion is one that many writers don't actively pursue. You can reach millions of demographically targeted fans, and impress them greatly. It's possible to establish a fan base before your novel is even published.
And best of all, it's free, or you get paid for it.
Sell short stories.
Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock have circulations of 250k each. The Strand Magazine is 50k. (I've been in all of them, some several times)
www.Amazon.com/shorts is viewed by millions (my story should be up in a day or two.)
Anthologies range in circ from 5k to 200k (the new THRILLER anthology edited by James Patterson will be out in May and received the biggest advance ever paid for an antho---I'm in it.)
I've done several Writer's Digest articles, and have appeared several times in Crimespree (very big market for the mystery world.)
Also, in the past two years, I've appeared in Cemetery Dance, Horror Garage, Horror Express, Apex, Surreal, The Many Faces of Van Helsing, Spooks, Cold Flesh, Small Bites, FMAM, Requiem for a Radioactive Monkey, and on over a dozen websites (another reason to get your own website up ASAP, so people can link to you.
I currently have ten stories on submission, and eight stories scheduled for publication within the next six months.
This amounts to several million people reading my writing. If they like it, some will seek out my books.
You won't get rich writing shorts. Many pay in contributors copies. The high end markets pay between $250 and $1200. But this isn't about money. It's about exposure.
Your query letter should be the essence of simplicity.
"My name is JA Konrath. I've been published a few dozen times, and just signed a second three book deal for my Lt. Jack Daniels thriller series. Enclosed is a 1500 word short story for your consideration. Love the mag, hope to hear from you soon."
I always include a SASE. Why? Most magazines are labors of love. They barely cover costs. Help them out. You should also help them out by buying copies of the magazine you submit to, or getting subscriptions. This is essential anyway, so you can write a story geared specifically to certain periodicals. EQMM doesn't want the same thing as AHMM or FMAM or The Strand.
Always read the submission guidelines. They're mostly pretty standard, but occasionally the editors ask for special formats or extras (a bio, a picture, a bibliography.)
If you have no prior sales, here's the query you should use:
"My name is JA Konrath. I love your magazine. Enlcosed for your consideration is a 1500 word short called 'Editors are Gods.' Hope to hear from you soon."
That's all you need. Don't give them a synopsis of the story---why should they read it if they already know what it's about? Keep it brief.
In your query heading include your address, phone number, email, website URL, and Social Security number (optional.)
In some cases, I don't even include a cover letter. The editor is smart enough know it's a submission. The story is what sells the story, not your query.
In other cases, I use an email query. Find out the submission format they prefer. Some like Word doc attachments, or txt, or rtf. Some like the submission in the body of the email, with no formatting other than paragraph breaks.
Many markets are tough to break into, but once you do break in, it gets easier and easier. The more you sell, the more you sell. And pretty soon, markets will approach you. I've had several invitations to submit, as well as several reprints that fell into my lap.
Don't know where to submit? Go to your local bookstore and check the periodicals. Buy some magazines. Read them. Write a kick ass story that the editor will find familiar, yet unique.