Thursday, May 25, 2006


Though the venerable MJ Rose differs in opinion (and makes some good points) I don't believe that print advertising is effective or worthwhile.

My rationale is simple: I don't buy books because I view their ads, so I don't expect anyone else to do so either. Why would I spend money---sometimes a lot of money---using a form of promotion that I don't think is effective?

The trap many new authors fall into is that they realize this business is hard and they feel they must do something. So they indulge in what I call the Unholy Triad:
  1. Send out postcards with their book jacket on them
  2. Have bookmarks made
  3. Buy ads in genre magazines

As far as my experience goes, none of these are effective forms of advertising, and none of them sells books.

Of the three, I believe ads are the least effective, while also being the most expensive.

Those who make their living by creating ads, and publications (including websites) that sell ad space, will tell you ads are effective for several reasons.

As an Announcement - For brand name authors, an ad informs the pre-existing readership that a new book is now available.

JA's Opinion - I slightly agree. If someone is a mega-huge bestseller, then an ad in a large publication (the New York Times, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly) will help to spread the word.

But that author's die-hard fans will have already known about the book. They'll have viewed the author's website, read genre magazines and reviews, and have been eagerly anticipating it.

If you're a new or midlist author, a big ad won't affect those who haven't heard of you, and your diehard fans will probably already know about the upcoming release.

As a Reinforcement - Advertising is just part of a writer's marketing and publicity arsenal; a prong on the multi-tined fork of book touring, conferences, media exposure, reviews, interviews, etc.

The goal of all marketing is to establish brands, and the more places a would-be customer can see references to your book, the likelier it will be lodged in their subconscious.

JA's Opinion - I disagree. Advertising is so pervasive, we tune it out. The passive nature of print ads makes this very easy to do. Because most ads offer little in the way of actual content (other than an announcement) they are instantly recognized as ads by our subconscious and dismissed.

I'll prove my point. Other than any ads for your own books, can you recall someone else's book ad? If you're a reader, you've seen thousands. You can remember TV commercials from 20 years ago. But can you close your eyes and visualize a book ad you've seen before?

And if you do in fact remember a few, did you buy the books?

As an Introduction - Ads arouse curiosity about new authors and books. If someone is a noir fan, and actively seeks out noir, an ad could make them aware of something they hadn't known existed.

JA's Opinion - I disagree. You can't judge a book by its ad. First of all, ads are biased, and people know this. Ads don't impart any information that would allow the reader to make an informed decision about whether or not to buy the book.

Second, even if the ad did pique interest, there is no forward momentum that will lead to a sale. If you see an effective print ad, what is the likelihood you'll put down the magazine and then rush to the computer or immediately jump into the car and head to a bookstore?

As an Incentive - A print ad that provokes action, such as a coupon, sale announcement, or contest, offers value. Ads like this give to the consumer, rather than take from them, and are effective.

JA's Opinion - I agree, if the ad is for a grocery store or Wal-Mart. No one has effectively used coupons to sell books.

Every once and a while a publisher will cut the price of a book (like $4.99 paperbacks or $15 hardcovers) as an incentive to buy, but that's a point of purchase incentive.

Publishers will also occasionally have big contests to launch books. Win money, or a trip, or a car. Considering how rarely this is done, I can't imagine they're having huge successes with this gimmick. I believe that people buy books because they like the books, not because they could win a cruise.

In my experience, getting people to enter a contest is difficult, because there is no momentum between ad and action.

Ads as Status - Big splashy ads, or a large ad campaign, tells readers that this is a big book which the publisher is behind, and they should see what all the buzz is about. If an author seems to be everywhere, they must be good, and they will be talked about.

JA's Opinion - The amount of hype it takes to impress a reader is beyond anyone's capacity, unless you're Dan Brown.

But I do think it is important to get your name in as many palces as possible. Instead of ads, do interviews, articles, and shorts stories. These are free (or they pay you) and you can still get a piece of the buzz pie.

Who are Ads Really For? - I think that ads are so pervasive in this world not because they work well, but because they appeal to the vanity of the advertiser, and offer a false sense of empowerment.

Author X has a book coming out. She places ads because she feels she has to be doing something. Publisher Y wants to impress Author X, so they take out some big ads to show her that they're behind her.

Lots of money gets wasted, both on creating and placing these ads, and this budget gets tacked onto the Profit and Loss statement for this book.

My publisher placed several ads for BLOODY MARY in mystery magazines, including The Strand, Crimespree, Ellery Queen, and Alfred Hitchcock, to the tune of a few grand. That meant I'd have to sell over 1000 books beyond what I would have normally sold, as a direct result of the ads. I don't think this occurred.

I liked the ads a lot (here's one at and really appreciated my publisher's efforts. But it wasn't cost-effective, and I wouldn't ever ask them to do this again.

Should You Ever Buy an Ad? - Well, I just did.

I know, I know---I just spent this entire blog railing against print ads, so why would I buy one?

Here's the story: The mystery zine Crimespree, run by the always charming Jon and Ruth Jordan, is putting out a special issue for Thrillerfest. This issue is being given away free, as a promotional item to get new readers interested in the magazine. That means everyone at Thrillerfest will get a copy.

Jon is reprinting a funny article by me, tweaked for the Thrillerfest audience, to put into this issue. So he's giving me free publicity.

For him to afford to give out magazines gratis, he needs authors to pay for ads. So me placing an ad is quid pro quo.

Plus, having an ad in conjunction with my article will perhaps help me stand out a smidgen while surrounded by all of those superstar authors. Or not.

I thought at length about the kind of ad I wanted to put in Crimespree. What would be memorable? What would get people talking and get them curious about my books?

This is what I came up with:

It took about ten minutes to put together, at no cost to me, and I think it's funny, effective, and unusual enough to stand out.

Will it sell piles of books?

I'm not holding out much hope.

But I think it will get a few second glances, and a laugh or two.

And if any author reading this is interested, I can do a similar ad for you, for the small fee of nine hundred dollars. Because without advertising, you might as well just flush your career down the toilet...


Kalen Hughes said...

And yet . . . I still want an ad in Romancitc Times.

Kalen Hughes said...

And I can't spell when I type. R-O-M-A-N-T-I-C. Not "Romancitc". Grrr.

Devon Ellington said...

I agree about ads. I don't pay much attention to them, and the one time I purchased one in a genre mag, it did very little.

As I've said before, I love both sending and receiving post cards, and I can't get enough of bookmarks. I'm always in the midst of a book and can't find one. So I try to keep some in my purse (yes, I can live out of my purse for a month in case of nuclear holocaust).

Nine times out of ten, if I get a postcard or a bookmark on a book, I'll buy it.

I know, I'm odd, but I love 'em.

JA Konrath said...


Email my your address. I want to send you a bookmark.

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

That is an awesome ad, JA. Absolutely hilarious.

And i think that's THE ONLY WAY a print ad will work - it has to NOT be like any others. Something that funny will surely get attention (and speaks volumes of your personality).

I work in public relations... and we've known the failure of advertising for a good long time.

That's why we get where people DO pay attention - the news. We schedule interviews, write news stories, send video news releases to television stations.

Since people know an ad when they see one, we need to stick one where they can't expect it.

Bryon Quertermous said...

For a new author, I agree, print ads are worthless. Same goes for bestsellers. Where I think print ads are important is when an author is trying something new or they're trying to break the author out.

While the actual ad might not be cost effective, its part of a package that shows how important the publisher thinks the book is. If other people in the house see print ads in major magazines it will get them excited about the book and spread down through sales and marketing etc.

I think.

Mary Stella said...

I agree that mass print advertising isn't effective for most authors. Specialized ads, like the one you've purchased for the Thrillerfest, are different. Prior to the recent Romantic Times Convention, my publisher ran a two page spread in the magazine promoting the Medallion authors attending the convention. It's a good reminder to the fans who also planned to attend.

Likewise, a full page ad in that magazine or Affair de Coeur can jog some interest -- even if it leads people to the (hopefully) favorable review.

The only ad that I purchased this year was in Romance Sells, a quarterly publication from RWA that goes to booksellers and librarians.

I have to disagree about bookmarks. There are still many readers who like them and bookstores that will display them for their customers. I gave out dozens at RT and I get requests for them from readers who have bookmark collections.

jill terry said...

What about the annoying banner ads that flit all over the screen on every romance site on the web...hate them.

Loved your ad. Where should I send my $900 : )

Kalen said; "And yet I still want an ad in Romantic Time."

Been there, done that and although it's a gratifying moment to open the mag and see your book ad, I didn't find it very cost-effective.

Bill Peschel said...

Coincidentially, I saw a book ad today in an unusual place.

Susan Wittig Albert, who writes about a "hot-shot lawyer turned small-town herbalist" has a half-page color ad in Horticulture magazine (May '06 issue, p. 14).

It seems she's trying for her niche readership.

JA Konrath said...

Perhaps I should advertise in liquor catalogs.

I've doen signings in bars that were successful...

Christine said...

Yeah, and when you put your package together for the chain buyers, they want a marketing plan...with print ads. The fewer print ads you have (despite having a long list of interviews and reviews lined up) the less likely they are to stock your small press book.

Which makes no sense to me, since I never buy books through ads either.

Kalen Hughes said...

Been there, done that and although it's a gratifying moment to open the mag and see your book ad, I didn't find it very cost-effective.

Which is why I won't be buying one . . . I'm hoping since my book is Zebra Debut (and they usually back those pretty well) that my publisher will do a few things prop the book up.

John Baker said...

Writers should be read but neither seen nor heard. Daphne du Maurier.
She might have added: Except, of course, on their blogs.

M.J. Rose said...

All I can tell you is I have the stats to prove that the right ad in the right vehicle works. We are not immune to ads. When we see the book cover we see the book cover. We don't look away. At when we look at the numbers - the days the ads run, the bookspan numbers go up. Pure and simple. We can prove ads work.

Not to mention that in most cases there is no other way to let readers know a new book is out as effectively or cost efficiently.

Sorry Joe.

ross hugo-vidal said...

Hi Joe,
great topic! In my very limited (totally non-professional experience) few vehicles have as high a risk/reward tradeoff as advertising.

But there is a place for advertising as part of an overall marketing plan. For example, one might be for new authors attempting to establish name recognition within the genre. Julia took out a few ads herself when her first book came out, and after her publisher informed her that ads never worked and that they never bought ads for their authors. We do think it helped a bit with the genre after her first book had the great good fortune to be nominated for some awards. The problem is that it is fairly costly. Julia had an instinctual sense of some of the stuff that you set forth in such magnificent fashion in your recent post on marketing allocation of resources. Which should be required reading for every new author in the biz, IMHO...But with limited resources, she only chose to do so much in that advertising arena.

The other area for advertising effectiveness may be classic niche marketing. Where you already have some name recognition and there is a great hook. Say, for example, you were several books into a critically acclaimed shrimping mystery. And many of the large shrimpers already knew of your work. The hub. And there was a national publication that appealed directly to 250,000 shrimper subscribers. A well placed 1/3 page ad there could, I think generate some "buzz" (TM MJ Rose).

Joe, you have much greater academic experience, and the practical application. What do you think? And when is Rusty Nail's launch date? Coming right up?

JA Konrath said...

Hi MJ--

I was hoping you'd chime in. :)

Are you comparing to a single ad in Ellery Queen?

I was under the impression that Authorbuzz was more akin to direct marketing, targeting audiences who are requesting the information, and offering more than a book cover jpg and some blurbs.

From what I've viewed on the Authorbuzz site, it sounds like it's providing a lot more than a one-shot print ad, and in many cases Authorbuzz costs less. I wouldn't think to say anything negative about Authorbuzz, because it looks like a smart idea, and my peers have nothing but good things to say about it.

But we're not talking about Authorbuzz. We're talking about print ads.

I'm not privy to Bookscan figures (doesn't that cost thousands of bucks a year?) but I've watched my Ingram numbers during various ad campaigns my publisher has done for my books, and haven't seen any significant leaps in sales.

But when I release a newsletter, or attend a conference, the sales measurably spike.

Saying "the right ad in the right vehicle" is fine---if that can be successfully repeated. But I'm betting no one knows for sure which ad in which vehicle will be the one that works.

If one ad works and ten flop, is that considered money well spent?

Are you saying that when you noted the Bookscan numbers on the days that those ads ran, that print ads were the only promotion being done for that book at that time? Or were there many different promotions happening at once?

As for letting readers know a new book is out, I believe that reviews are more cost effective than ads. So are: sending out your newsletter, announcing it on your website, blog, and Amazon plog, coordinating interviews with magazines, selling short stories, doing radio and local television, going to conventions, and speaking at libraries.

I believe ads have value, in distributor's catalogues and in publisher's sales material.

But spending $500 on a one page ad in a genre mag, or ten to a hundred times that for an ad in a major publication, is a waste of money, based on the experience I've had.

I'm lucky in that I hear from a lot of my readers. Many of them tell me how they found my books. Word of mouth, bookseller recommendations, browsing, the library, seeing me live, and discovering me on the Internet are the main ones.

No reader has ever emailed me and said, "I read your book because I saw your ad."

The only people who ever email me about seeing my ads are other authors. (If you're an author, did you smile when you read that? True, isn't it?)

And I've had about a dozen ads. In BookPage, PW, EQMM, The Strand, Crimespree, NYTBR, AHMM, Booksense, Audiofile, and others I'm sure I'm forgetting.

My wife has a dog-walking business. She gets her clients through word-of-mouth, flyers, recommendations from pet stores and vets. We've tried several different kinds of ads in several different venues, and haven't found a single client through them, even though they cost mucho bucks.

My advice stands. Spend your promotional money on something other than print ads.

JA Konrath said...

Hi Ross--

I spoke with a mystery author a while ago who had a series that had to do with bird watching, or something esoteric like that.

She bought ads in birdwatching magazines, and said it increased her readership. I think that makes sense.

But had she placed those same ads in a mystery magazine (also niche) would she have also increased her readership? I'm doubtful.

In the first case, the ad was unique, and therefore had a higher chance of being viable. In the latter, there a hundred book ads in a genre mag, and as such they seem to be ignored.

The way to truly measure the effectiveness of ads is using controlled experiments.

Running an ad vs. not running an ad. Running two different ads to guage which does better. Running the same ad in two different publications at two different times.

You can drive yoruself nuts trying to figure out if your ads are effective.

But if you assume this passive form of marketing is going to yield small results, and instead use that money for something more active, such as a direct mail campaign to libraries, I think that's a smarter plan.

David J. Montgomery said...

"As for letting readers know a new book is out, I believe that reviews are more cost effective than ads."

Wait a minute... You're buying reviews?

Why aren't I getting paid??


jamie ford said...

((All I can tell you is I have the stats to prove that the right ad in the right vehicle works. We are not immune to ads.))

I agree. But I also agree with most of Joe's assessments.

I'm the creative director of an ad agency. I have 27 employees. I bill almost $15 million annually. And I have to say that 95% of all advertising in the publishing industry is a waste of money.

I see many writers/publishers try to "advertise" themselves, and when they fail they blame the concept of advertising--rather than their limited ability as a marketer.

This is like performing surgery on yourself, failing, and then deciding surgery is a waste of money.

There's a reason big ad agencies get paid big fees. They know what they're doing.

Unless you really know what you're doing, unless you can define yourself, or your book, as a brand--in one tight sentence, then be prepared to learn the hard way.

With advertising, most book promotions just don't have the $$$ to attain the reach or frequency necessary to be effective. Not even close. You can't run a single ad and expect miracles. It doesn't work that way.

If you're an author and have $2000, I'd spend it on PR rather than advertising any day. And if you don't know the difference, save your money.

Advertising you pay for. PR you pray for.

Either way--if you want professional results, get professional help.

Aimless Writer said...

I do know a couple of women who buy Romantic Times for the ads to see who has books coming out and what looks interesting. Perhaps these ads work in certain genres?
As for the two ads you posted. I'd read the first one cause it looked like it was giving me something; recipe, ideas etc. The second one wouldn't have sparked me to look. (sorry!)
I first found you through your interview with WD-After the sale.
Two reasons I bought your book: I always buy from new authors (and hope they buy from me when my time arrives) and I was very curious what kind of book garnered the deal you discussed. But I really loved your book and have lent my copy to various people and told even more to go buy it so its like a spider web spreading out...
It doesn't matter why I bought it, it matters that I liked it and recommended it to others.
June will be an expensive month; three great authors coming out with new books-Evanovich, Kerley and of course the great JA! I'm going to have to call in sick to work so I can read all day!

Mary Stella said...

Advertising you pay for. PR you pray for.

Love that. A P.R. big wig that I work with a lot also says that advertising is what you say about yourself. Publicity is what you get other people to say.

PJ Parrish said...

Joe and MJ,

Gotta say I agree with both you on this ad thing.

IMHO, the wrongly placed ad is a huge waste of money. (Which is why I haven't advertised in any genre magazines; no way to make myself heard above the din). But a smartly placed ad that casts its net to a specific reader target? That seems to make sense to me. (MJ Rose talked about this tactic at a great MWA talk she did for us a while back, among other tactics.)

I've been lucky to get ads in PW, USAToday and NYT in the past and while it was a great ego-feed, I doubt it did squat for my sales. My pub finally focused in only on USAToday with the belief my books were good airplane reads and I was getting airport bookstore placement at the time. Did it help? Who the hell knows? (The fact I made USAToday list could be pure coincidence).

My next book in 07 launches a new series set in Michigan. I don't know what my new pub will do yet, if anything. But I am already working the independent stories up there, have set up a small "pave the way" tour on my own dime to introduce my new series to them -- complete with a teaser booklet (again on my own dime). I am also going to look into limited advertising in smaller newspapers in those areas where my book takes place (which is a well-monied resort area with big reader market).

Will this work? Again, anybody's guess. But I figure if I can win the locals (bookstores and readers) that can be a firm base upon which to build. I am also going to work really closely with my new publisher to maximize this as much as they will allow.

And for the record, I have never bought a book based on an ad. Hell, I can't think of anything I bought based on ads. I used to use these pink Bic razors because they did a good job. But a friend told me to try this gadget called Intuition (highly recommend it, girls!) and I switched.

I buy books with the same logic: the author has worked for me in the past or a friend has recommended someone new.

As someone here already said, advertising is just prettily packaged half-truths. And I believe most readers know that.

Carl Graves said...

Love the ad you created. Classic Joe (right up there with the Caravan O' Laughs ads).

JA Konrath said...

Thanks for the input, Jamie!

There's a reason big ad agencies get paid big fees. They know what they're doing.

Well, I partially agree. :)

Certainly pros can do better than amateurs. But a professional chiropracter is still a quack.

Not that advertisers are quacks, or disreputable in the least.

I know several ad folks, and a successful advertising campaign is all about making the client happy.
Sometimes the client is happy if the campaign boosts sales. Sometimes the client is happy if the campaign simply allows the status quo to remain. Sometimes the client is happy if they really like the campaign, no matter how it affects sales.

If advertising is about pleasing the client, who is to say how effective it actually is in regard to sales?

I wonder what would happen if, for a year, Coke stopped advertising. Would the sales they lose (assuming they would) be greater than, less than, or equal to the billions of dollars they spend on ads?

But Coke, or James Patterson, are in different stratospheres than a midlist fiction author.

People point to The DaVinci Code being huge because of the million dollar ad campaign.

But other books have had million dollar ad campaigns, and not done well.

In the case of TDC, advertising helped to get the word-of-mouth ball rolling. But my uunderstanding is that most of the advertising dollars were spent on advance reading copies and bookstore placement, not print ads.

I'm all for coop placement---I think that's the best use of publisher promotional dollars. Galleys are a close second.

But print ads for new or midlist authors? Even if I had a million dollar ad campaign, print ads would comprise a miniscule part of it. Big, splashy, full page NYT ads (at $50,000 each!) are not the way I'd spend that money.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks for chiming in, PJ!

But a smartly placed ad that casts its net to a specific reader target?

I think this idea has merit, but it isn't universal. if you write a hardboiled PI book that takes place in New York, where's your niche? Where's your unique platform? Even if it's a damn good book, that would be very tough to advertise outside the box--and I don't think advertising within the box works.

jamie ford said...

((I wonder what would happen if, for a year, Coke stopped advertising. ))

They actually went away from domestic consumer advertising for several years. They focused instead on what's known as channel marketing--which is marketing directly to the retailer. Their image tanked, but their sales still beat Pepsi.

This is what publishers should do.

Instead of touting a book to the consumer (which they don't have enough $$$ to effectively do), they should hammer/tease/bribe distributers. Worry about the sell-in, first.

The sell-through, that's what your 500-bookstore tour is for, right!

Bill, the Wildcat said...

When it comes to books, I don't think there's any better advertising than "word of mouth." A big pile of a book in the front of a bookstore might draw my attention, because I would wonder why said book is worthy of that much space (note this costs nothing save the time of the bookseller). But then it's up to the title, the dust jacket description and the writing on the first page to convince me the book is worth buying.

Stacey Cochran said...

Well, there's a distinction that you should make between tangible and intangible marketing and advertising strategies.

There is no doubt about it; if your publisher paid to place ads in Crime Spree, AHMM, EQMM, it helped build interest in you -- specifically among the crime fiction community.

This is intangible advertising, though; just because everybody in the crime fiction community caught wind of you doesn't necessarily mean that everyone bought your book the day after seeing the ad.

My question is: How much say did you have at Hyperion regarding how they advertised your book?

If your publisher wants to spend 5,000 bucks to run print ads for you, would you just call the publicist and say, "No, don't do that!"

Allison Brennan said...

I'm definitely not getting in the middle of this discussion about ads! I see both Joe's and MJ's points, and I tend to lean on the side of statistics because that was part of my former business. Show me the numbers and I'm there. (And I will be doing Authorbuzz for the next trilogy!)

Regarding bookmarks . . . bookmarks don't sell books. BUT they are relatively cheap, some booksellers love them, and keeping booksellers happy should be one of an author's primary goals (after writing a good book). Bookmarks are a cheap way to hand people you meet something about you and your book. They should look professional, not be too busy, provide key information (ISBN, book cover, hook/blurb/quote, website/blog) and the design should convey the tone/genre of the book.

They're cheap. They're easy. And they don't hurt.

But like anything, there's a way to use them and a way NOT to use them. Don't leave them on a table with 100 other author's bookmarks. Use them wisely--call booksellers and ask if they want them; if yes, how many. Send them to your newsletter list. Hand them to people you meet on the bus/train/plane. Someone asks what you do, whip out a bookmark. It's more interesting than a business card.

Just my opinion.

Susan said...

Hi Joe,

As a reader, I'm far more inclined to buy a book based on a review than an advertisment (though I won't say that's never happened).

However, as the former editor of a specialty magazine (Discover Diving) for many years, I'll tell you an ugly truth. You're far more likely to get editorial coverage (AKA reviews) if there's a little bit of advertising money supporting it. I suspect this is also true of mystery genre magazines. All pubs, really. It's just the nature of the industry.

So, while the ad may not sell your books, the support of the publication may buy you a lot more editorial space.

Incidentally, I was such a book whore, I'd run a press release for anyone who just sent me a free copy of a book. And sometimes even if they didn't. And usually with cover art, since that's a lot more interesting. A well written press release can be GREAT advertising and it won't cost you any more than the postage to mail it to relevant publications. Emphasis on well-written, but that shouldn't be a problem for you folks.


MLR said...

I'm forever finding books that sound interesting. Ads in genre specific magazines attract my attention.

Sometimes the ad directly sells me the book, sometimes the ad merely reminds me that I wanted to buy the book. But both instances have resulted in sales.

Ads in more general media affect me very little.

M.J. said...

Joe we have to have a debate on this in public somewhere - it would be a blast. But this stuff isn't me guessing, this stuff is based on stats and studies that I have been involved in.

First - I wasn't just referring to print ads in my long comment a few comments back - I was using my Authorbuzz stats. But if there is the right niche print vehicle I'm all for that too.

My biggest beef is when people say they never bought a book based on an ad.

I say - you don't know if you did or not.

Lets say you aren't on line a lot, and you don't read DL or many blogs and you were reading the NYT last week and you turned to the back page and saw the full page ad for the wonderful Lee Child's newest book.

Hey, you might say to yourself - I didn't know Lee had a book out. Great, I have to pick it up.

Or perhaps it wasn't even that conscious. Maybe you were on the phone flipping through the paper and didn't even realize you saw it. But you were in your local bk store the next day and saw this big blue cover and thought -hmmmm.... I heard about this book... gotta pick it up.

That's an ad working.

Basically here's the thing. You have to get your name, your book title and your book cover out there. People need to see it over and over and over before it sinks it and stands out.

To do that you have to do something.

Some people are better at different somethings. Some people have more money for different somethings.

The right ads work if they are in the right places.

And as for the DVC issue. The million dollar ad budget did get the book in the face of everyone fast and helped build the buzz.

In 99% of the cases when a half way good book gets over $500,000 is spent in marketing a novel, the novel hits the list.

Does it stay there for three years and become a phenomena? No. But the ads got the first few million people talking and they spread the word.

The three one hour tv shows helped a lot too:)

John Jones said...

Hi Joe,

I have to tell you, and I hope you're not offended, but that ad would *not* have encouraged to buy one of your books. Why? The tagline at the top, "don't be cheap," suggested that I was a cheap bastard for not buying your product. It's the same sort of thing that turns people off from greasy car salesman ("come on, buddy, you really gonna tell your wife you didn't spring for the in-dash cappucino machine? Just $499 installed!").

That aside, the ad was solid. If the tagline was something like, "my publisher swears the binding will hold," then it would've worked better as a sight gag.

Then again, you're published. I'm not. (Yet.)

The best advertising for your books, which I'm surprised you didn't mention, is this blog. Seriously, were it not for the blog, I would never have heard of you.

Keep up the good work!

Kevin Guilfoile said...


I'm a little late to the party here, but a couple of thoughts.

I was a creative director at an advertising firm for ten years or so and in general your instincts are right. You're also asking the right questions. But MJ is right, too. Print advertising can work, spectacularly even, despite the fact that almost no one says they buy a product based on ads. Most advertising is meant to work unconsiously. Every time you hear about a product (or see it) you are a little bit closer to buying it, even if you don't remember where you heard it.

But trying to sell a book with one ad is a little like trying to win a war with a grenade. If we're talking about an author taking out an ad for his own book and hoping to recoup the cost in sales, I think you're absolutely right. The odds of that happening are long.

But in the case of a publisher buying an ad for an author, there are many more considerations. First of all, publishers are not retailers, they're wholesalers. When a publisher takes out an ad, the reader is the secondary audience. The primary audience is booksellers and individuals in the media who might be in the position to talk the book up to a large audience. In your example, they won't reach 1,000 new readers with an ad for Joe Konrath's new book, but they might reach 20 booksellers or other influencers who have the power to recommend your book to 1,000 readers. The ad might bring your book to their attention and it might cause them to think of it when hand-selling. "I've been hearing a lot about this one..." etc.

Also, ad dollars have another purpose in publishing. Publishers love all their children equally but they signal to reviewers and booksellers that they have particular faith in ithis book or that one by the size of the marketing budget. That's a huge deal. Newsweek didn't do a feature on The Historian the week of its release because a publicist called them up and said "we really really really really think this book is good." They did a story about The Historian because Little Brown spent a fortune promoting it and that led Newsweek to believe they should pay attention. It's often so transparent that the article is about all the ads and billboards or, even more frequently, the size of the advance. Anytime you hear a reporter say "there's a lot of buzz" what they really mean is "there are a lot of dollars."

There's a third reason that publishers buy print ads, and your experience with Crimespree is sort of a micro version. Publications that cover books are good for the business and publishers subsidize those publications by buying ads. Maybe they don't make that money back specifically on the book advertised, but in the long run, across all their books, it's a good investment to keep those magazines and newspapers in business.

If you do take out an ad, though, I believe the most valuable thing you can do is to include the best blurbs you have for the book. Effective advertising is all about quality impressions--can you target the right people and can you reach them multiple times? Maybe you can't reach them with more than one ad, but anything you can do to multiply the impressions you get from a good review or a significant blurb is valuable.

JA Konrath said...

Lots of good stuff here.

I occasionally point out the danger of anyone taking my advice without thinking things through for themselves.

The information I offer is based on my experienc,e but other people can have different experience, and their advice can be worthwhile.

MJ's point about not truly knowing if ads affect you or not makes sense---subconscious reinforcement might lead to sales.

But speaking well in front of an audience will lead to sales, and on a conscious level. Hence I find that a more effective use of my promotional dollars.

I also like Kevin's "one hand grenade won't win a war" comment, but I wonder if an unlimited supply of hand grenades would make a difference.

I don't see how the cost of a full scale print ad campaign in major magazines could never justify itself in book sales.

One ad in one mag might not do anything, but a hundred ads in a hundred mags doesn't seem like it would do anything either, but it would be incredibly expensive.

I frown at bookmarks, but I have coasters, so I have something to give to folks. If you do have booksmarks, autograph them so their kept.

Having your publisher show their support through ads, and the importance of a good press release, can't be underestimated.

I'll do a follow up to this blog entry eventually, incorporating some of these ideas. Thanks everyone for participating!