Monday, January 17, 2011

THE PROMO CRAPSHOOT

This week we’re supposed to discuss how we publicize a new book, what makes financial sense, and share our marketing plan. My third novel released recently, and I’m once again on the promo merry-go-round, about to find out whether the third time’s the charm or if it’s three strikes and I’m out.

The book I’m promoting now, ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, is the first book of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. It’s also a departure from my last two books, a romantic suspense and a humorous women’s fiction.

I’ve learned that book promotion can be a real crapshoot. What works well for one author can tank for another. Or what works well for one author one day may wind up a total waste of time another day. I’ve done library talks/panels where I’ve sold nearly every book I brought with me and library talks/panels where the audience made a mad dash for the exit the moment the talk/panel ended. They obviously didn’t want to get caught in the tractor beam that would force them up to the front of the room to buy a book.

On two occasions I’ve been a guest speaker at women’s groups. These were upper-middle class women who arrived in designer outfits and lots of gold and diamonds. My sales were dismal, and I saw no uptick on either my website or my Amazon numbers afterwards. However, when I gave a talk to a readers’ group comprised of retired working-class women, I sold dozens of books. Go figure.

My first two books were sold to a publisher who did little to promote them. I knew that going in and was prepared to hire an independent publicist. I knew not to be swayed by grandiose claims. Publicists really have no control over the results of their efforts. They can make your book available to reviewers and the media, but whether or not their efforts pay off for you is, once again, a crapshoot.

Knowing this, I went with a publicist who targets booksellers, reviewers, and book clubs. Friends had used this publicist and spoke highly of her. I was impressed by her sincerity, candor, and her network of connections. She did for me what I would have had to do for myself. Because she’d been doing it for so long, she did it better and quicker. Her efforts resulted in some very favorable publicity for me and my books.

However, I also spent a lot of money. The old rule of thumb was that an author should spend 10% of her advance on promotion. With the advances most authors are receiving nowadays, 10% might cover the cost of producing bookmarks -- if you’re lucky. I spent nearly my entire advance for both books to promote them. In hindsight, I wasted a lot of money.

One of the things I did for my first two books was to keep a profit & loss spreadsheet. In the loss column I listed what I spent to promote my books, including attending conferences that I went to specifically for promotional purposes. In the profits column I listed my advances, royalty checks, and sales of books I made on my own at various events such as non-bookstore signings and street fairs.

I learned a lot from that experience. First, I learned that tchotchkes don’t sell books. Be honest. Have you ever bought a book by an author because you were given a chip clip? Or a bag of Hershey’s kisses? Or a Post-it Note pad? I haven’t. So why should I expect people to buy my books because I gave them a freebie doodad? I know authors who routinely spend more per tchotchke than the royalty they’re making per book. That’s a surefire recipe for landing in the red.

So you may be wondering what I’m doing this time around. For one thing, I haven’t hired the publicist. I’m with a new publisher now, and I was told by the head of their publicity department to save my money, that they aggressively target the media and reviewers for their authors. I’ve decided to take them at their word and see what happens.

What I am doing is concentrating my efforts online. Back in May I started a blog. Actually, it’s more appropriate to say my characters started a blog. Since Anastasia, my amateur sleuth, is the crafts editor at a women’s magazine, she and her fellow editors run the online version of that magazine. The blog is called Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. You can find it at
http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Mondays through Thursdays one of the magazine’s “editors” blogs about her area of expertise -- crafts, recipes, decorating tips, fashion, etc. On Fridays the blog hosts guest authors, many of whom give away copies of their books.

I’ve also lined up a blog tour for the month of January. I’m giving away 5 copies of ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN and assortments of crafts books to people who post comments to the blogs where I’m touring. You can find the schedule at both my website
and at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers.

I did order bookmarks. My very unscientific polling has shown me that readers like receiving them, and they don’t cost that much. My publisher provided me with postcards and cover flats. And yes, I’ve bought the occasional promotional item from Vistaprint when they’ve had a good sale. I’ll use those for future contests I plan to run on the blog and my website. As you can see, I haven’t gone cold turkey when it comes to spending money, but I’ve cut back drastically. Instead, I’m spending time. A lot more time. Will my new promo strategy pay off? Time will tell. As I said at the beginning of this article, it’s all a crapshoot.

9 comments:

Mary Vaughn said...

Honest, informative and all around helpful. Great post.

Jacqui Murray said...

Great summary. I've often wondered how each of those promo items works. Now I know in at least your survey of one, they don't. I work so I'm glad to know I don't have to give up every evening talking to writers groups.

Meredith Cole said...

Great advice, Lois. You're smart to have kept track of what worked for you and what didn't. I think new writers have a tendency to try everything at first (I certainly did), and then find out that "everything" is really expensive.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Great post, Lois! I wish I'd had the foresight and diligence to track all my expenses like that. I agree with Meredith--you do want to try everything and, man, it is ever more expensive that you expected!

Rochelle Staab said...

Great post, Lois. Good, solid advice and I like the idea of tracking expenses - I know from conferences alone that this is a costly profession! Hopefully the initial investment to get your name out there pays off through the rest of your releases.

Lois Winston said...

Thank you Mary, Jacqui, Meredith, Rebecca, and Rochelle! It's quite possible that others have had better luck with some of the things that I found a waste of time or money, but these were my experiences.

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks for your thoughts on all of this, Lois. I think you're right: it's a crap shoot. Now, if only someone would give us some loaded dice -- loaded in our favors.

Lois Winston said...

Michael, as long as we're at it, how about a winning lottery ticket, as well?

Kelli Stanley said...

Good post, Lois, and how true ... I think any creative career can be compared to a crap shoot. Keep rolling 'em!