QR Codes: What are they, How to get one, and What do you do with it?

Hi! My name is QR Code.

You've probably seen these little black Tetris boxes on everything from your toothpaste tube to subway billboards. We call them QR (Quick Response) Codes and they could be a secret weapon in your book marketing arsenal. Tweet This!

QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes. I like to think of them as upgraded version of the scan lines on grocery store products. Viewers can use a free app (I like i-nigma) on a smart phone to scan the QR code and be directed to a website of your choosing.

The great thing about QR codes is that you don't have to be tech savvy to use one. There are lots of websites that will convert a web address to a QR code for free. I've previously tooted the horn for bitly.com based on their link shortening and tracking services. As a bonus, they will also convert your link to a QR code at the same time.

Yes, I did draw the arrow by hand. Thanks for noticing.

The bonus of using bitly to create your QR code is that you are creating a unique link that will allow you to track the number of users who scan your code. You can create different codes for different uses and gage which one is performing the best. And it's free. Pretty cool.

Now that you know what a QR code is and how you can get one for free, what do you do with it?

Above all else, a QR code is designed to be mobile.  Tweet This!

It is pointless to put a code on your website or a piece of mail or email. Think about places people might be out and about where they can run across your work. If you are printing swag, these can be a nice addition to bookmarks, totebags, etc. I've even seen them on the back of t-shirts.

You might also consider added a code to the inside back cover of your physical book. A reader flips to the last page and desperately wants more. Imagine seeing "Scan here for a sneak peek of book two!" These can also be great if you are running any print adds since people tend to flip through magazines standing in line at the grocery and waiting at the doctor's office.

Remember that the code is a quick way for readers to access you and your work when they aren't sitting in front of a computer. To get more ideas, consider taking a walking tour of your city. When you are out, make a note of all the times you wish you had more access to information. While the situation might not apply to readers, it should help to jump start the brainstorming.

Before you start printing QR codes on everything, think very carefully about where you want to send your readers. This will be determined by what action you want the viewer to take. Do you want them to buy another book from you? Send them to the "Books" section of your website. Want them to sign up for your mailing list? Send them to your mailing list sign up. Are you building buzz for a book that hasn't come out yet? Send them to a sneak preview page or your book trailer (keep in mind that videos are hard to load on phones so you should keep any video or audio files to 30 seconds or less).

Like any marketing effort, it pays to know you audience. If you write cozy mysteries for the 60+ crowd, QR codes are probably not going to be very useful. If you write sassy romance for the 35-year-old busy mom of three, you may have hit pay dirt. If you aren't sure, experiment with it. Choose an item you are already printing and add a code. It won't cost you anything and it might just be the extra exposure you were looking for.

Bonus code idea: QR codes aren't just for selling books. Try this out next time you're at a conference. Print out a QR code sticker to add to your name badge. When new friends scan it, they are taken right to your Twitter account and in one click you have a new follower.

Do you use QR codes to market your book? Where do you use them? Is it working? I'd love to hear about your experiences.