Posted by Sheila Connolly (caution: long post!)
In case you haven't heard, my first book is coming out in five weeks (eek! five? I'm not ready!). Therefore I am in the throes of promotion. Or rather, I'm trying to figure out what promotion is and what I can do about it. (I know, some of you out there are going to yell at me because I was supposed to start this the day I had a contract in hand. Or maybe earlier, like when I first started writing. Well, I did do some things right, but probably not enough.) So naturally I decided to blog about promotion–sure beats actually doing it, right?
There are many, many sources for information on what to do to promote your book, your series, yourself. Books, blogs, loops, websites, consultants–you name it, they're happy to tell you what you need to do. The problem is, they don't all agree. And even if they do agree on some things, it's not possible for a poor, confused and inexperienced author to figure out which parts to do and which are beyond reach. So, being an organized sort of person (mostly), and being possessed of a business degree (in finance, not marketing, but close enough, no?), I thought I would try to boil this down to a formula.
First step: define the parameters. What resources do you the writer have to put into this? The first is obviously a product, so let's assume you have a published book in hand and you want to people to buy it. Let us also assume your goal is to sell as many books as possible, so that your publisher is happy and you can keep writing books, so that you can keep promoting forever...oops, never mind. Let's just leave it at, you want to sell books.
First Variable: Time (T). You have written the book, but everyone tells you that you must keep writing, so that once you have whetted the appetites of your readers you will have more raw meat to throw to them. Set aside time for writing. Then there's the rest of your life. Presumably most of us writers have lives. This may include (a) a job, which eats up big chunks of time; (b) a family (ditto); and (c) a need to sleep sometime. (a) is probably pretty inflexible, but (b) and (c) you can fudge–after all, this is your book, right? The family will understand (especially after you get rich and famous), and sleep is overrated anyway. Assign an amount of time T that you are willing to devote to promotion.
Second: Money (M). In a perfect world, you can throw as much money as you want at this. But let's look at the "how much" is realistic. You need to decide what you want to spend on promotion. There are those people who say you should not spend more than the amount of your advance (snort, giggle–get real. That advance barely topped four figures, which won't go far.). There are those people who go out and hire a publicist for five figures. Let's assume that you aren't in the latter category, and you don't want to take out a second mortgage on your house. Assign an amount of money M that you are willing to put into marketing your book.
The core list of promotional efforts is fairly consistent among the "experts": set up websites and blogs and pages in the "social networks" such as MySpace; participate in writers and readers loops; attend conferences; arrange book signings; buy ads in industry publications; seek out interesting alternative venues (knitting stores, hairdressers, horse shows) that tie into your work; contact local libraries and newspapers. You will notice these vary widely in T and M requirements.
Third Variable: Willingness (W). But there are some other factors you need to think about. Perhaps the most important, if the least tangible, is your personal willingness to enter into any one of these activities. Lots of writers are shy and solitary, so this is an important consideration, and you can't just ignore it. How much do you like or hate each one, on a scale from one to ten? Let's call this W for willingness. You hate large groups? Then conferences get a 2. You love blogging? Give that an 8.
Fourth Variable: Exposure (E). How many people can you reach with each type of effort? For a conference, your name in the catalog, or better, on a panel, will be seen by a couple of hundred people (or in the case of the mega-conferences, a couple of thousand). The bigger loops may also have hundreds of members. On the other hand, for a book signing that doesn't go well, maybe ten. It's harder to pin a number on blogs or websites, but you can guess. (You could think about assigning a variable for number of those people who are likely to actually buy a book, but that just makes things complicated.)
Put together the variables: T (time), M (money), W (willingness) and E (exposure) and you get an equation:
T + M + W + E = PromoScore
What do you do with this? To use the conference example: T = high, M = high, W = ? (you'll have to figure that one out for yourself), and E = middle-high. You can assign number values to all of these. Using that scale of one to ten, let's call T = 8, M = 10, W = 6, and E = 7. Add them up and you get (where's my calculator?) 31 for a single conference. But this doesn't mean anything by itself; you have to look at it in relation to your other proposed activities.
Consider a book signing: T = middling, depending on how close the bookstore is, so call it 5. M = middling again, since it's mostly gas costs and handouts, so call it 4. W = let's say you hate meeting and greeting people face to face, so that's a 2. Exposure = for a single bookstore, low. Call it a 2 as well. Your Book Signing equation is T = 5, M = 4, W = 2, and E = 8, which totals 19.
Now, do this for all of your promotional opportunities. Blog = low M, low T, but you like to do it despite middle-range exposure, so bump up the W. Website = higher M, middle T (depending on how often you update it), potentially high E. Paid ads: T probably low, once it's designed, but M may be high. And so on. Look at all the opportunities, give them each a score, and then you can rank them and figure out what might give you the results you want–sales. Without losing your sanity.
Of course, somewhere along the way you have to assign real dollar values to all those M's, and real minutes/hours/days to those T's, and figure out when they run out. (And think about diversifying–don't blow all your M on a single conference in the first week.) You may want to juggle some of the values you have assigned in your individual equations. But in the end, you will have a plan, or at least the beginning of one.
We as writers want to feel that we have a little control over the fate of that book we so lovingly crafted. Maybe it's a false hope, but we have to try. And since we can't do everything, we do what we can. I'm just trying to impose a little order to the confusion. I'll let you know how it turns out.