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.
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.