Friday, July 14, 2017

My Kingdom for an Advance

Do the costs to promote a book sometimes equal the advance you got for it, and does that make you question A) writing it or B) doing all that expensive promotion?

by Paul D. Marks 

The question isn’t, or shouldn’t be, if the costs to promote the book = the advance, but if the money you spend pays off in terms of more sales, new readers and a higher profile in the long run. Of course, not everyone can have a perfect profile like these fellows.

W.C. Fields and John Barrymore -- AKA "The Great Profile"
In ye olden days of yore ye promotion was extremely expensive for the most part and largely out of reach of authors unless you were at the top of the heap and your publisher was hefting the hefty bill with hefty ads in various book reviews and papers of weight. Maybe even radio spots. Or sent you on a multi-city, multi-state book tour, flying first class of course…’cause isn’t that how we think of authors?

But in ye days of today things have changed. Many, if not most, advances are on the low end. And many publishers do little or nothing to promote a book once they birth it, whether you’re with a small publisher or on a big publisher’s midlist. They throw it out in the world, give it a spank on the rump, and then it’s sink or swim—unless, again, you’re one of the lucky few that the publisher decides to actually get behind and promote. So unless you’ve been through drownproofing you’re gonna sink and your book will go down even faster than you do.

But these days there’s so much you can do that either costs nothing or next to nothing. Hey, if you’ve got even 1/10 of Bill Gates’ money you can still do expensive promotion—take out TV ads, radio spots, full page newspaper ads…but with so many other outlets today you can probably get away with spending a lot less and getting a lot more bang for your buck. So even if your advance isn’t huge there’s plenty you can do.

Facebook, Twitter and a million online things, blogging, groups, conventions, promo materials (like PR releases, bookmarks, etc.) are a few things you can do on your own. Or you can hire a PR firm or person. Some work on an a la carte basis, others more on a retainer system. You can see more about ways to promote here: 

There’s also book signings that you can set up on your own, but I have issues with those. Unless you’re John Grisham or Louise Penny most likely you’ll be lucky if your family shows up. On the other hand, doing book signings can get you in with booksellers who can then recommend your books to future customers. It’s a six of one, half a dozen of the other kind of thing.

When my two novels, White Heat and Vortex, came out they both sold pretty well, all things considered. But I’m not living off the profits. What I’ve done is set up an account where any profits go and I use that money to promote future books as well as existing ones. There’s very few of us who can live off our book writing, so unless you need the money to cover some basic expenses why not take whatever you earn, both the advance on a book and royalties from any books, and plow it back into promoting your books and yourself? Or to be hip and cool: your brand.

So to answer the questions: I rarely question the writing, though who doesn’t on occasion? Anyway, we all know you have to be nuts to want to be a writer. As Dorothy Parker said, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

And as for doing all that promotion, expensive and otherwise, it’s all part of the glamour, appeal and prestige of being a writer, as much as the writing and all that “glory” heaped upon us. But without it there’s definitely no glory.


And now for the usual BSP:

My short story “Blood Moon” will be coming out in Day of the Dark (Stories of the Eclipse). Edited by Kaye George. Releasing July 21, 2017, one month before the big solar eclipse on August 21st. From Wildside Press. Stay tuned for updates.


GBPool said...

Promoting a book is tough, but even a few venues like Facebook or a writers' conference will get your name in front of a few readers and a book or two will sell. And as you say, doing nothing gets you nothing. The best thing a writer can do is let people know there are lots of good books out there. And encourage people to read.

Unknown said...

Good to hear your reasonable voice, Paul. Now my Tuesday post seems a touch histrionic. I was a little underslept and not quite sane.
Along with your level good sense here, I love that Dorothy Parker quote. :)

RJ Harlick said...

I agree with you, Paul, that social media can be just as effective as the grant costly tour, without eating into our meagre advances. But I also find the store signings very effective too. It gets your books onto the shelves in greater numbers than would otherwise be ordered by the bookseller and because they are on the shelves, the bookseller is motivated to sell them. I am often told by a bookseller that they sell more books after the signing than during it.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

You're right, Paul. It's one inch at a time.

D. J. Adamson said...

Whenever I go down for the millionth time, a post like yours reaches in, grabs my hair and pulls me up. Breathe.
It's not just me.
One inch at a time, Dietrich. One story then the next.
I wish you a million words, Paul. What a gift we have all been given.
I am a fan.

Jackie Houchin said...

I quote your marvelous suggestion - "There’s very few of us who can live off our book writing, so unless you need the money to cover some basic expenses why not take whatever you earn, both the advance on a book and royalties from any books, and plow it back into promoting your books and yourself?"
Good idea. I hope others will follow it.

Paul D. Marks said...

I agree, Gayle, the best thing is just to promote books in general and our books in particular and encourage people to read. It is tough, but it’s part of the game.

Thanks, RM. And you did hit the ultimate point on Tuesday, “Because what’s the point of promoting if I don’t have anything to promote?” We have to have product…and it is product. And I love that Dorothy Parker quote too.

I agree, RJ, even though we may not sell a lot of books at a signing the relationships with the booksellers is a good thing and it does get the books on the shelves. But I think it’s a cost-benefit type thing as to whether all the traveling and expense related to that is worth it. Maybe.

Thanks, Dieter. Yes, one slow inch at a time :-)

Thanks, Diann. I’m glad the post could help put things in perspective for you.

Thanks, Jackie. Glad you like that idea and, like you, I hope others will follow it. It just makes sense…at least to me.

Bob Kidera said...

The bottom line for me is that you start by writing a good book, otherwise your attempts to promote your work wither in the long run. Extending the floral analogy, a writing career seems to me like that of a farmer's. Your harvest depends on planting good seed, pulling the weeds (editing), working at it every day, knowing your marketplace, and being willing to plow your earnings back into the next year's crop. And like the farmer is at the mercy of the elements, we are all in need of a good measure of luck in order to succeed in this nutty business.

Paul D. Marks said...

Writing a good book goes without saying, Bob. But then comes the task of getting the word out and how to marshal resources for that.

Susan C Shea said...

Rhys Bowen once said the same thing: Take the money you make from the first or first few books and invest it back into your author business. It's not likely to be enough to live on, so use it to build your career. (And now look at Rhys, who is now one of our great successes.)

Paul D. Marks said...

I hadn't heard Rhys say that, Susan, but it makes sense. It's not enough to live on so plow it back into your "author business." I like that phrase by the way.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Paul,

What you've said is so true. Nowadays it's not enough to be a good writer or even an excellent one, we need to promote our work because publishers simply won't do it for us. Only those at the top of the game get that consideration.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Jacqueline. And for good or bad that's the way it is so we just have to do what we have to do.

Madeline McEwen said...

I am just getting to grips with the "marketing and promoting" side of the business. I'd always heard about it, mostly moans, because writers want to write, not promote. I'd like to turn back time and teach myself to tandem: write to improve your craft but at the same time learn about the nuts and bolts of marketing.

Paul D. Marks said...

Unfortunately, Madeline, it is something that we have to do and more so these days than in the past. I just look it as part of the "job". But you're right, all we really want to do is write.