1/29/08

How Much Should an Author Spend to Promote Their Book?

Do you think it's a good idea for an author to send copies of his/her book out to reviewers (in addition to those that the publisher may contact) to help create a buzz about the book? How much should an author spend to promote his/her book?

An author should definitely be willing to invest in the promotion of his/her book. Whether that investment is put into review copies, a launch party, postcards or whatever depends on what the publisher is doing. Coordinate your efforts—know what they are doing and let them know what you are doing—so that you work together, not against each other.

If writing is a career for you, or you want it to be, you need to look at this as a business investment. If you were opening a burger shop, you'd expect to invest in that. Your books are your burgers. Expect to invest in them.

How much you invest depends on what you can afford, whether it's your first book or tenth, what your publisher is doing, and if you get/how big your advance is. I can't tell you how much to spend, but this is what I would do if it were my first book in the LDS market.

If I got an advance, I'd take my family out to dinner then spend the rest of that advance on marketing the book. If I didn't get an advance, I'd look at what I could personally afford and make a marketing plan/budget. I'd be willing to spend up to 75% of the royalties I could reasonably expect to earn. For example, if my royalty was $1 per book and my publisher was doing an initial print run of 2,000, I'd probably spend between $500 and $1,000 on marketing. If the book sold through in the first 6 months, I'd increase my budget. If the marketing is done well, I'll earn this back in royalties.

This is what I'd do:
  • I'd buy the two books mentioned in this post and study them. I'd also surf the Internet to see what other authors are doing. Then I'd choosing at least a dozen ideas that appealed to me and that would bring me the best return on my investment

  • Two websites (URL my name and URL title of my book); they wouldn't be fancy, but they'd look professional and have newsletter sign-ups and online sales capabilities (or a link to Amazon). There are several inexpensive and/or free hosting sites, templates, and shopping carts out there. You can do this for under $100.

  • Business cards, postcards and bookmarks—whatever my publisher didn't supply. My goal would be to personally give out 500 business cards and 500 bookmarks in the first 30 days after release. I'd also mail the postcards to everyone I know.

  • Internet campaign/promo with prizes (copies of my book)—Use something like Constant Contact to send out regular newsletters, promos, contest announcements, etc.

  • Get my book listed on Amazon.com

  • Set up speaking engagements for my target audience and give away at least one free book per event

  • Give comp copies of my book to anyone who contributed to it in any way whatsoever; two comp copies to family and friends who you mentioned in the Acknowledgments (one for them to keep, one for them to give away). Also give each of them a handful of bookmarks and ask them to give those to their friends. Their excitement will help spread the word.
If this were my second or third book, I'd estimate what I'd earn in advances and royalties (based on sales of book one) and spend 1/3 to 1/2 of that on marketing. I'm still investing most of my earnings back into the business of being an author. Hopefully, I would also be able to upgrade some of my equipment and pay for expenses involved in writing future books.

By the time my fourth book came out, I'd start keeping most of the book earnings as income. I'd have a good idea of what types of promotions worked best for me, gave me the largest return for my investment, and concentrate on those promos, spending about 10% of my advance/expected royalties on marketing (min. $500), over and above what my publisher was doing.

21 comments:

Rebecca Talley said...

Thanks, LDSP. Looks like I'll be busy :)

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? Write a great book. And as soon as that's done spend all your time and money and energy writing another greater book. And when that's done, write even another greater book. As soon as the LDS publishers mature and the LDS reading public increases in size, there won't be any need for these goofy book launches. Let the publishers spend the money. For heaven sakes, they get nearly every bit of profit from your efforts. Get them to pay for the launch party, the cookies, the website until you finally land a publisher who can do some serious media buys. Yeah?

LDS Publisher said...

You are, of course, free to market your book, or not, in any way you choose. But the reality of the LDS market is what it is, like it or not--and I posted what I, personally, would choose to do.

And yes, publishers do keep a large chunk of the profit from your book, but if you look at what most of them are driving right now, you can get a good sense of how big a chunk that really isn't.

How important is promotion? Take a look at the Whitney finalists, for example. IMHO, some of them should not be there but they got lots of nominations. Why? Marketing. Promotion. Getting the attention of the reader.

If the publisher can't or won't promote your book, then you must. It doesn't matter how stellar your book is, no one will read it if they don't know it exists.

Anonymous said...

Authors: put down your hershey kisses, leave off the post cards, email lists and book lanches. Free yourself from the slavery of marketing and go home and write your next good novel. Then write a great novel. And then write a novel for all time.

What publishers forget is that some great books are not noticed in the first three months after publication and, sadly, that doesn't fit nicely into the business plan for survival in the LDS market: get the book out, get some word of mouth going, ride the wave for three months and then on to the next product. And isn't that just a terrible thing to call a novel anyway? A product? Ewweee. If a publisher called my novel a product I'd slug em.

I was recently nausiated by the requests of a number of authors to visit the Whitney Award site and nominate their book. Whitney Awards should be found. They should rise to the surface like so much cream. They should be obvious selections. Not another product lurking on the shelves. Maybe next year Robinson Wells will come up with a list of novels that will not be considered no matter how many board members from LDS Readers send in nominations.

It is a paradox that LDS publishers rarely defer to the author for cover art, titles or release dates since those marketing decisions are the pervue of better-suited professionals who understand business, marketing, and the world of retail book selling. While at the same time arm-twisting the author to accept their calling as a neo-marketer for the critical three month period after the novel is released and during which 99 percent of their product will sell. Apparently publishers believe the author should feel their pain. Sadly, the best book launch, post card mailing and email blitz increase sales by one tenth of one percent.

Look, if the publisher is driving a corolla you can bet your inventory less the return reserve that the author is driving a used, out-of-production corona.

When will LDS publishers stop teasing authors with dreams of huge sales if they would just bring gummy bears to ten book signings and do some creative marketing? Authors go home. Put your creative talents to work on your next novel, not on another book launch.

And if you get slugged in the near future its likely because I write novels. Not product.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but if the marketing and sales aren't there -- is that book you are writing even going to be published?

And if it isn't then and you really want to get it out there then you'll need to self-publish. Which means, oh yeah, some experience with marketing your work and a pre-built-in, persistent connection with your fans would come in very handy.

~Wm Morris

Anonymous said...

I believe the greatest books written won't be read unless the public is aware of those books. You have to market your book to survive and it isn't just the LDS market where that's true, either. Talk to any published author and you will find that most, if not all, marketing is left to the author, unless you have a big name (and how did you get that big name in the first place? Yep, marketing).

I don't think we can sit back and expect the ideal situation where our book is simply "found" among all the other books and rises to the top. That's idealisitc and while it would be great to only have to write and never have to promote or market, it's not realistic.

Anonymous with the attitude--are you published? Have you marketed any of your books? What are your sales? Do you have a big contract?
Perhaps, you are the exception, but from what I know, authors must market. I'd be interested to have you post, anonymously of course, your stats.

And, LDSP, thank you for sharing your knowledge and for your labor of love in maintaining this blog by giving sound advice for this market. People can take it or leave it. I choose to take it.

Rebecca Talley said...

No, I wasn't kidding. I appreciate LDSP's advice and plan to take advantage of it because it won't matter how many more books I write if no one ever buys them.

Anonymous said...

The best leverage you have for marketing is your skill as an author. Not your skill as a "marketeer". Write a novel that a publisher is willing to put a lot of money behind, a novel they are willing to fork over for meida buys, TV spots, radio blurbs, newspaper buys. A novel the publisher believes will give them a tidy return on their investment is the best tool at your disposal. You can do the book launches, the post cards, the gummy bears and you will increase your sales. But if you really want some serious marketing behind your work, go home and write something for which your publisher will mortgage the farm.

Anonymous said...

You don't need to market your works to thousands of people. That's the publisher's job. Your job is to convince the publisher that your work is worthy of more than a few posters and a book mark. And about the only way to do that is to write a novel compelling enough that your publisher will invest their current profits for an anticipated larger return. I dare you to write a novel for which the publisher is willing to do something they don't normall do. A TV spot!

Anonymous said...

Have you written such a novel, Anonymous? You seem ready dispense a lot of advice, but can you put your money where your mouth is? Can you say you've taken your own advice? Are you now writing the greatest novel we'll ever read? How will we know about it?

Please, tell me of an author that doesn't hope to write the "Great American Novel." Tell me of an author that doesn't work hard with little return, only to dream of writing a book that will touch lives, a book that will make a difference, a book that the publisher will throw money at to promote. Isn't that what we all strive to accomplish?

Do you honestly believe that any author hopes to only write mediocre books? Do you really think that authors look for sales on gummy bears so they can escape writing and spend time marketing?

It is what it is. You have an idealistic view, but what will sell books? Idealism or realism? And book sales is what allows authors to keep doing what they love--writing books.

William said...

Zarahemla Books has published some fantastic works. Not every title is blow your mind amazing, but there's some really good stuff there. In fact, I think "Long After Dark" is the Mormon "The Dubliners" and one of the most significant pieces of Mormon fiction to be published in years.

And Chris Bigelow has been kind enough to share his numbers. Not real encouraging.

Another example: There are some incredible young adult novels out there that have not sold anywhere near the numbers that Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series has. Same thing could be said of Harry Potter.

This is not to say that either series' success was simply because of marketing. A book's success is a matter of timing, audience, marketing, quality, luck and some other ineffable force that we can't identify but I'm positive exists.

~Wm Morris

William said...

"A novel the publisher believes will give them a tidy return on their investment is the best tool at your disposal."

Absolutely. But one of the factors in their belief is how well they think you as an author are going to aid the marketing efforts. The belief is never solely in the text itself. It's in that, the market category, the author's public persona, etc.

Anonymous said...

Okay. One more time for my friend who would like both my money and my mouth.

Your job is to convince your publisher that your novel is worth more marketing and advertising dollars than would normally be the case. If your publisher prints a poster and book marks for most releases, then your job is to write a novel which will encourage your publisher to risk some ads in the newspaper and maybe a few plugs on the radio. If your publisher usually plugs most books on the radio, your job is to write a novel worth risking a full radio campaign and may a couple of TV spots. And if your publisher regularly participates in radio campaigns then write a novel for which a TV campaign is worth the investment along with a couple of I-15 billboards (no matter where you live, an LDS release on an I-15 billboard will increase sales).

It is not about writing the great american novel. Leave that to the dreamers. Its about writing something compelling enough, something marketable enough, something well-written enough to merit an extraordinary investment from your publisher.

Let your publisher determine what is an extraordinary investment. You worry about writing the extraordinary submission.

Anonymous said...

PS: I am the publisher. Got anything worth my investment?

Anonymous said...

Let's clear the air here just a little bit.

I carefully read LDSP's post and the suggestions for how to market, and nowhere did she suggest gummy bears and Hershey's kisses. The frequent mention of those items in the comment trail were either indicative of hyper-caffeinated hyperbole or perhaps anonymous was hungry.

There is simply no way for an author to just sit back and write, as suggested, allowing themselves to be "discovered." I would love to be able to do that. It doesn't work. I'm posting anonymously as well, just so I don't get in trouble with my publisher, but I personally have sold more books than my publisher has sold for me because I go out and market. I talk to people. I interact with buyers. I don't take gummy bears, I take a good book, and every time I get a royalty statement, the vast majority of the books sold were sold by me. I would love to be able to say that I convinced my publisher I was worth promoting. I've worked my tail off to convince my publisher of that very thing, and they talk a pretty talk and then do nothing. That's why I am the one who sells the most of my books.

Furthermore, before we go too much further with the Whitney-bashing, this is the first year. As it becomes more well-known, those books will rise like cream. How are people going to know it exists unless people talk about it?

Listen, oh embittered anonymous. You generally make some pretty good points. But I think you'd make them just as well if you dumped the sarcasm and outrageous hyperbole and just talked. I know that I, for one, would take you more seriously.

LDS Publisher said...

The point about writing something that your publisher will willingly choose to promote with all they've got is a good one. That's absolutely what you should do--and what every author thinks they have done.

The publisher doesn't always agree. Therefore, your choices are to look for another publisher, risking never getting published, or accepting the contract and working as hard as you can to promote your book and your name and to build a loyal readership so the publisher is willing to pay for more marketing and promo with your next novel.

Anonymous said...

Of course, you need look no further than Mylie Cyrus/Hannah Montana or even Britney Spears to see what a difference marketing can make. These girls are mildly talented, but their talent alone would never have pushed them to the superstardom they now have, marketing/promotion did that. They have extremely brilliant promoters that know their target market and know exactly how to market to that audience.

It seems very simple: If you want to be a long term author, you must market/promote your books.

Anonymous said...

You should have your publisher market and promote your books...

Anonymous said...

But you can't *make* anyone do anything. The only person you can control is yourself. If your publisher decides they don't want to market your book, it falls on you to get it done if you want it done.

Anonymous said...

Find another publisher...or write another book. One that inspires risk-taking and investment...

Anonymous said...

obviously anonymous-who-doesn't-believe-in-marketing is not a writer or in the publishing industry. if he/she were, he/she would know that you can write the greatest book ever written and publishers STILL won't market it.

take a look at what is on the best seller lists. it isn't high quality literary fiction, for the most part. some of it is just about unreadable.

no, what publishers will put their money behind is sex, celebrity, money, and the airing of dirty laundry. the quality of the writing has very little to do with it.

if you are an author of serious fiction, or even serious non-fiction, maybe your greatness will be discovered after you are dead. in the meantime, you better have a trust fund or a wage-earning spouse.

the authors who get the really big advances and sales are the ones who slogged for years to flak their books.

sad, but true.