Back in 1897, novelist W. Somerset Maugham, now best known as the author of Of Human Bondage, was having trouble selling his first novel Liza of Lambeth because his publisher wasn't interested in advertising the book. So he took matters into his own hands.
He placed classified ads in a few daily newspapers in London. The copy read: “Young millionaire, lover of sports, cultivated, with good taste of music and a patient and empathetic character wishes to marry any young and beautiful girl that resembles the heroine of W.S. Maugham’s new novel.”
By the end of the week, the first edition had sold out. The novel went on to get critical praise and many, many more sales.
Now, in today’s world, a classified newspaper ad like that won’t work because people don’t read the classifieds like they use to.
But the basic strategy of tying your book into your potential reader’s dreams and aspirations, that will always work. Maugham tapped into his potential reader’s desire for love (a universal perennial yearning that every romance novel taps into).
For more such success stories of debut novelists, see http://www.bookmarket.com/debutnovels.htm.