Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The value of self-promotion

I had dinner with some fellow writers over the weekend, and we wound up talking about self-promotion.

One of the writers, who has won some prestigious awards and has much higher print runs than I do, doesn't see the benefits of doing writing conventions.

His logic is sound. He spends a few hundred dollars flying to another state, a few hundred staying at a hotel, and a few hundred on convention fees and food, and appears on a single panel where he speaks to sixty people. He's away from his family, doesn't write during those days, and by convention's end has only sold a few copies of his books.

His opinion extends to touring as well. It's very difficult to break even on tour, let alone make money. Here's some quick math:

An author earns about $3.00 for each hardcover sold, and 60 cents for each paperback. A publisher earns about the same, after the author, bookstore, distributor, printer, advertisers, and shipping folks are all paid.

Flying an author into a city, putting him up in a hotel, paying for an escort to cart him around, and paying the bookstore co-op money to advertise the event, can run anywhere from $300 to $3000 each destination.

That means an author would have to sell anywhere from a hundred to a thousand books at each stop, just to break even.

Not an easy feat, even for bestsellers.

Even local signings that the author drives to can fail to earn out. If the bookstore takes $50 in co-op from the publisher to advertise the event, the author has to sell sixteen hardcovers to break even. Add in the cost of gas, the time involved, and the fact that the average signing yields only a handful of sales, and I can understand this author's aversion to public appearances.

But I still believe he's wrong.

While the return on investment may not look good on paper, it doesn't take into account the intangibles.

At a convention, it isn't just about selling books. It's about building a brand. Getting your name out there. Becoming known in this industry. I might only sell ten books at a convention or a signing, but I'll meet hundreds of people. Fans. Booksellers. Media folks. Librarians. Each of them has a mouth, and may talk about me afterward, or help my career somehow.

I spent a lot of time and money going to events and doing signings. Still do. But something interesting has happened. Last year, I went to libraries and bookstores and conventions and begged for a chance to speak. This year, half of the events that I'm doing are the result of people approaching me. I'm doing more appearances than ever, and they're falling into my lap.

Will this translate into sales? My publisher seems happy with the effort I'm making, and my sell-through is better than average. I also feel good that I'm doing something to help my career other than crossing my fingers and hoping.

The author saw my point, and will be doing some touring and some conventions this year.

Not that he needs the sales, the successful bastard...