Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Do You Do What You Do?

When you do any sort of promotion, you need to judge its cost vs. benefit.

Of course, it's rare to actually recoup your time/money investment in any kind of promotion, let alone profit from it. But authors know they have to build brands, and you have to spend money to make money.

That doesn't mean you have to be stupid about it.

Before you do a single thing to promote your book, ask yourself this question:

What is it you want to accomplish?

The more specific your answer, the better job you have of attaining your goal. "Selling 30 books" is provable. "Building name-recognition" is not.

When you've decided on your goal, the next question you need to ask is:

What works on you?

So many authors pursue self-promotional venues without actually thinking about them. There are reasons for this:

1. They know they have to be doing something to promote their book, and it's better to do something than nothing.

2. Everyone else is doing it, so it has to have some merit.

3. They've given zero thought to expectations and return on investment.

The problem with people in general, and the publishing industry in particular, is that very little time is spent analyzing why they do the things they do.

Human nature tends to lean toward self-preservation. This means that people spend more time trying not to look stupid, and justifying their actions, than they do actually thinking about options.

Why do authors go on tours when it's obviously cost ineffective? Why do publishers buy huge ads that could never pay for themselves? Why do authors continue to hire publicists when their fee is never justified by books sold above and beyond what would have been sold anyway?

Because that's the way things have always been done, and humans would rather make excuses for wrong behavior than figure out better mousetraps. No one wants to make decisions, because that requires culpability. So we allow decisions to be made for us by following the same ineffectual paths, and then spend our energy rationalizing their failures.

When I do any sort of promotion, I follow this formula:

1. Decide what you want to accomplish.

2. Decide how much you'll pay to accomplish that, and be able to defend your decision.

3. Figure out a way to judge the effectiveness of your effort.

If that's too complicated, save your time and money and don't promote.


Tom Schreck said...

I like measurable.

I like not wasting time or money

I like not being stupid.

So I try to do the following:

Write and get paid. The people who read the magazines and short stories like reading enough to buy or at least pick up the article. I think it would be semi-logical to think that if they see my name and the fact that I have a book coming out then this may lead to a sale.

Do free stuff. Network, write Internet articles, be on TV, participate on the Internet. That's buzz, right?

Do stuff that's not too time consuming. If it's time away from other essentials then I have to weigh its value.

Listen to people who have been successful.

Martha O'Connor said...

I love this idea of goal-setting and getting into specifics. Goal-setting is a wonderful thing, and WRITTEN goals are very powerful.

Melody Beattie has some good ideas about goal-setting in her book, Codependent No More. They really work!

Anonymous said...

JA What are the benefit of getting a section of a novel in a neighborhood news paper? 1. It's free. Completely. And I know almost everyone in my neighborhood reads it. It often has poems in it anyway.

BUT 2. It's very local, like 20 blocks or so. Would it count against any efforts I make in getting an agent/publisher?

3. What about writing a long short story/novella specifically available for free download as a pdf on my website? To sort of give a taste of my style... An audio file of me reading a short story?

Allison Brennan said...

Joe, I completely agree--but figuring out what's effective is difficult at best (unless you invest in focus groups and all that, but even that is not a perfect science!)

But having a goal and a plan to reach that goal, which includes promotional efforts that are at least in some way trackable, is a fantastic idea. I'll admit everything I do I run through the big picture meter. For example, bookmarks don't sell books. We all know that, just like campaign signs don't win campaigns. But there is a large segment of the reading public (and booksellers!) who like bookmarks. You're trying to please them, so the cost-benefit is actually huge: bookmarks are cheap, they make some people very happy. The key is identifying the right people to send them to so you're not wasting your money and your bookmarks don't end up in the trash.

BTW, when the publisher buys ads, it tells their accounts that they are getting behind a book, and the account is more likely to order more copies, which in turn gets more copies on the shelf (face out if the order is large enough or co-op is involved). So indirectly, ads sell books.

anne frasier said...

i've decided 2007 is going to be my slacker year. not doing anything that scares me. if i do any kind of promotion it will be something fun.

Mark Terry said...

I agree with Allison. Yes, it's Marketing 101 to do something that's trackable, but much of what's done in marketing has to do with face time and intangibles.

Seems to me we've had this dicussion before (ad nauseum, probably), but there's not usually a 1 to 1 ratio of marketing dollars or efforts to sales. It's nice when there is. It's nice when you have a positive review in, say, Library Journal, and you see a noticable jump in sales to libraries. It's nice when you do an interview somewhere and there's a jump in sales (what the hell would that be? Oprah? Larry King?), but for the majority of us, our marketing is more like Chinese Water Torture.

We'll keep dropping our books and signings and bookmarks and mailings on the reading public, one book at a time with the hopes that eventually they'll get their attention.

Mark Terry

Jude Hardin said...

I had something to say here. But my mind was completely seduced--and my comment subsequently obliterated--by Anne's smoking baby.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a more disturbing image. (It's funny, Anne. Not Knocking it here).

Maybe that's the key to promotion: To boldly go where no infant has gone before!

Or not. Who the hell knows? Write a good friggin' book, do what you can to sell it, let the bean counters worry about the rest.

I'm not saying writers shouldn't promote. I'm just saying it shouldn't be our primary concern.

Are we artists, or are we used car salesmen?

Writers? Or the next Ron Popeil, hawking the proverbial Pocket Fisherman?

Spend your time and money as you wish. It's yours, after all. I'll chose to spend mine on producing the best chunk of literature I have in me. That's the best I can do.

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

My bosses in the construction industry penny-pinch, get on to us for wasted steps, and do whatever it takes to ensure they make the most profit. Writing's a business, we should take lessons from businessmen. In my case, I am creating buzz before I get published. The more people know who you are, the more likely they are to buy your work. Something I have learned with all of my hob-knobbing with members of this industry is that a bookstore is the worst place to sell a book. Creativity is the key, and internet presence is a must.

Stacey Cochran said...

Hey guys,

I thought you might like to know. I'm finally following through with that 450-literary-agent snail mail query I mentioned about a month ago.

I've printed up the address labels, SASEs, and the letters. My plan is to send out 200 queries by Monday (Nov. 13) and then to roll out the rest at 100/week for two weeks and then 50 the last week.

This is for The Colorado Sequence, my fourth novel, and if I fail to land an agent, I'll do a similar kind of query mailing to editors after the New Year.

Wish me luck, man!


P.S. This will bring my total number of agency queries for this calendar year up over 700.

Tawcan said...

Stumbled onto this site, just thought I'd say hi.

Jana Oliver said...

Also, your goals may change over time. What results you were aiming for three years ago may be different than what your goals are today.

Initially my task was to get my name (and books) in front of as many people as I can. Now that I'm known on the convention circuit, I'm working on the growth of the current series. Less conventions next year, more presentations and book signings. Book discussion groups, in particular, intrigue me.

It's best to re-evaluate on a regular basis. What worked a year ago might not be the best tactic now. Or it might still be working and no alteration is needed.

And Tom S. is right on -- "I like not being stupid."