This friend is extremely savvy when it comes to promotion, and one of his methods is to analyze cost vs. benefit.
Cost can be measured monetarily, or measured by the amount of time something takes, because time=money.
Benefit can be the tangible immediate return on investment (book sales) or an intangible, longer-term benefit, such as building name-recognition, brand awareness, or contacts for use further down the road.
Before marketing, advertising, promoting, or doing any publicity, the writer should figure out if their efforts are truly worth the time and money involved.
This is a sound philosophy. When combined with my personal philosophy of "don't do what doesn't work for you" it turns into a savvy marketing and publicity plan that can be tailored to any writer's budget and availability.
Remember that one of the keys of building name recognition is word-of-mouth. People talking about you is more important than any single thing you or your publisher can do. When promoting, one of your goals should be to encourage world of mouth.
Also remember that momentum is important. After any sort of publicity, promotion, marketing, or advertising, the chance of a sale diminishes as time passes. Out of sight, out of mind. The best promotion has immediate effects; usually a sale.
Here are a few things many writers do, with my comments. Your mileage may vary.
Placing Ads in Newspapers, Magazines, Programs
Monetary Cost: Ranges from free to $50,000 for full page NYT ad.
Time Cost: Variable, depending on if you're creating your own ad.
Benefits: Intangible. No one in the multi-billion advertising world can say for sure that ads work. They do reinforce brand awareness, and announce the arrival of new products. But unless the brand is already established, their effect on consumers is negligible.
Word of Mouth Potential: Small.
Momentum: Small. Going from reading an ad to rushing to a bookstore is unheard of.
Does it work for JA? I have never bought a book after seeing an ad. Because of this, I don't normally buy ads. But if my publisher pays for them, or if I get a good deal from a niche mystery magazine like Crimespree, then the benefits outweigh the cost. I'd personally never pay more than $200 for an ad.
How much to spend: 5% of your promotional budget, 2% of your time.
Going to Writing Conventions and Conferences
Monetary Cost: Ranges from free to $1500 for overseas travel
Time Cost: High. Travel is the second most time-consuming promotion.
Benefits: Intangible and tangible. Networking is important, and meeting fans is essential. If you do well on a panel, you'll sell some books, but you'll never sell enough to cover the expense of the trip. Depending on your marquee value, you may be invited to attend for free, or may even get paid.
Word of Mouth Potential: Medium to high, depending on how hard you push yourself.
Momentum: High. Do well on a panel, you'll have a line of people buying books.
Does it work for JA? I attend a lot of conferences, and whenever I do, a group of authors wind up at the bar openly wondering if it is worthwhile to attend a lot of conferences. The consensus: You should attend some. You can learn a lot, and help build a brand, and meet many key people. But if you're going to 15 cons a year, at $500 each, you might want to spend some of that time and money elsewhere.
How much to spend: 35% of your promotional budget, 25% of your time.
Monetary Cost: Ranges from a penny each up to $20 for T-shirts.
Time Cost: Small to medium, depending on how much of the printing you do yourself.
Benefits: Having something to hand out to audience members during a talk is essential. So is having something on the goody table at cons. These reinforce the brand, but they don't make people rush out in a buying frenzy.
Word of Mouth Potential: Small.
Momentum: Medium. I've seen many people in the dealer room at conferences, holding my coaster or flyer, and buying my book.
Does it work for JA? I give away chapbooks that I make myself (about ten cents each), signed coasters, and occasional flyers. None of these lead directly to sales, but they supplement my appearances by showing customers and fans my book jackets, blurbs, or writing samples. Many fans also keep them.
How much to spend: 5% of your promotional budget, 5% of your time.
Postcards and Letters
Monetary Cost: Between 35 and 85 cents each to print and send.
Time Cost: Small to medium, depending on how much of the printing and mailing you do yourself.
Benefits: Reinforces brand, alerts customers to new book, sometimes gives author appearance information.
Word of Mouth Potential: None to medium.
Momentum: Medium. A letter can make a librarian or bookseller pick up the phone and order a few copies.
Does it work for JA? I've never bought a book because I received a postcard, so I never send postcards. In fact, I'm frankly staggered at what a bad idea it is sending postcards out. A slick postcard costs 60 cents to print and mail. An author gets 55 cents royalty on a paperback sale. Even if I do buy their book (and I don't) they're still losing money. Why would anyone think this is effective?
But... I do send letters to libraries and bookstores. They're inundated with postcards, but a personally signed note is always welcome, and can lead to sales. Sending to sellers rather than individual customers means your small investment can pay off in large numbers.
How much to spend: 10% of your promotional budget, 10% of your time.
Website and Blog
Monetary Cost: Free to $3000 set-up cost, then about $100 a year.
Time Cost: Small to medium.
Benefits: You must have a website. The bigger, the better. I've gone into this on previous blogs, and on JAKonrath.com. Basically you want a lot of info, a lot of links, and a lot to make it sticky.
Word of Mouth Potential: Medium to High. Being a successful blogger has little direct effect on book sales, but becoming well known is key to branding.
Momentum: Medium. The Internet allows for clicking directly to sales via Amazon and other online retailers. I sell a good number of books this way.
Does it work for JA? Yes. I get lots of hits, lots of feedback, and lots of new fans because of my website and blog. After initial set-up costs, maintenance and updating is minimal in both time and money.
How much to spend: After initial start up costs, 5% of your budget. 10% of your time. If you can be your own webmaster, it will save you a lot of money, but you'll need to invest more time.
Speaking Events (Libraries, Colleges, Book Clubs, Writing Groups)
Monetary Cost: Free or you get paid.
Time Cost: Medium. This is usually an all day time expenditure. Possibly two days if travel is involved.
Benefits: It's important to do these, but it may be a loss leader if you spend three hours on the road to speak to a crowd of four people. Often these events are very good for selling books, and many times you get paid to speak, or compensated for travel expenses.
Word of Mouth Potential: Medium to high, depending on size of audience.
Momentum: Medium to high, depending on how good a speaker you are.
Does it work for JA? Yes. I believe that fans I meet in person are fans for life. I do as many as my schedule allows.
How much to spend: 5% of your budget (for travel.) 15% of your time.
Book Signings and Drive-Bys
Monetary Cost: Medium to high, if you finance your own tour.
Time Cost: Medium to high, depending on how many stories you visit.
Benefits: Meeting the booksellers is one of the most important things you can do in your career. They can handsell your books. They can put you in key display spots without coop. They can keep your books in stock even though they've been told to return them. Meet and schmooze the booksellers.
Word of Mouth potential: Medium to high, depending on how good of an impression you make on the bookseller.
Momentum: Medium to high. Sometimes a bookseller will make a display on the spot, and I often sell books just by stopping in for fifteen minutes.
Does it work for JA? Yes. This is what I spend the most time doing, and it has the most tangible and intangible benefits. While you won't dazzle every bookstore employee you meet, you only need to impress one out of ten, because that one can sell dozens, to hundreds, of books.
How much to spend: 38% of your budget, 30% of your time.
Writing Short Stories and Articles
Monetary cost: Tiny, for postage, and you usually get paid.
Time Cost: I don't count this as marketing time. I count this as writing time.
Benefits: Huge. Getting your stories into magazines, anthologies, and online, is the best form of advertising, bar none. You can reach large audiences, and hook them with your words. This is a key way to establish a name for yourself.
Word of Mouth Potential: Small. While short stories can lead to book sales, they aren't usually gabbed about.
Momentum: Small to medium. Reading a great short story may make a reader seek out an author, but there's a delay between the reading the the book purchase.
Does it work for JA? Yes. I write a lot of stories and articles. Each is like building another road that leads to Rome, or in this case, me. The more roads, the more traffic.
How much to spend: 3% of time and 2% of money, mailing these out. Don't count writing time as promotion time, even though these work as promotion.
Things I Avoid:
- Paying a Publicist. If you're a fiction writer, I haven't seen any evidence that justifies hiring a publicist. They can get you on the radio, but unless it is NPR or some huge syndicated show, I don't think this is worth paying for. I've done some radio, and haven't seen any effects. And I give good radio. You can set up events yourself without a publicist.
- Paying for Internet Ads. Banners, pay-per-click programs, Google ad words, search engine submissions, paid search engine rankings, advertising on websites, etc. I don't think this is effective. In fact, I think it annoys people. If you have a good website, people will link to you and find it automatically.
- Bulk Mailing to Fans. Besides the aforemetnioned postcards, I occasionally get newsletters, and sometimes books, because I belong to organizations like MWA, SinC, and HWA. Authors will buy mailing lists and send their junk mail to everyone on the list. I think this is a big waste of money. I've never bought a book that I heard about through the mail. But mailing free stuff to fans who request it is a great way to spread goodwill and word of mouth. If you're going to send a newsletter, use the Internet. It's a lot cheaper. And most people are annoyed getting something they didn't sign up for.
- Paying Amazon. Amazon has several programs that can suck money from a writer's pocket. Buy X get Y is one. If You Like X, Here's Y is another. I know authors who have tried this with miserable results. Amazon has a lot of free programs that can help steer people to your books. Amazon Shorts, Amazon Connect, Amazon Lists, Amazon Reviews. Use those instead. And remember that Amazon is a very small piece (less than 5%) of the bookselling pie.
- Mucho Freebie Crap. I give away signed coasters. My publisher makes these for me, so it is cost effective, and I sign them, which is unique and collectible. But while people seem to enjoy them, coasters don't sell books. Authors who invest big bucks in bookmarks, pens, food products with advertising wrappers, mugs, and clothing with book covers on them, are wasting their money. Have you ever bought a book because you saw the title on a pen? Neither has anyone else. A flyer is much cheaper, and offers much more information that can lead to a sale.
If your promotional budget for a year is $2000 (which really isn't much) here's how you should break it up:
- $100 on advertising
- $700 on attending conferences
- $100 on booksmarks/flyers/give-aways
- $200 on letters to bookstores and libraries
- $100 on your website costs
- $100 on speaking events (For gas. You'll spend much more than this per year, but you'll be compensated for much of it)
- $760 on booksignings (travel)
- $40 on postage for queries
If you spend 1000 hours a year on self promotion (which is close to three hours a day, which really isn't enough) here's how to break it up:
- 20 hours creating and placing ads
- 250 hours attending conferences
- 50 hours on bookmarks/flyers/give-aways
- 100 hours on letters to bookstores and libraries
- 100 hours on websites and blogs
- 150 hours on speaking events
- 300 hours on signings
- 30 hours sending out short stories and articles
Things get lopsided when you have more time and money to invest in promotion, because certain categories max out at how much you can do. You can never do too many appearances (unless they are all in the same area.) But you can print too many flyers.
Balance is the key. Try different things, figure out what works and what doesn't, and spend your time and money accordingly. Promotion is an organic process that changes and evolves. Some writers don't even believe it is necessary at all. Some writers spend a lot of time and money doing the wrong things, and become discouraged. Some writers swear their way is the only way, and your way sucks.
Only one thing is certain: Like everything in life, you get out what you put in.
Now go get 'em, tiger.