Wednesday, October 15, 2014

YA Guy Reports: Marketing Madness!

When YA Guy's debut novel, Survival Colony 9, was accepted for publication, the first thing people in the industry told me (after they said "congratulations!") was that I'd have to spend lots of time and money marketing the book.

Gone, they told me, were the days when publishers--even big ones like mine, Simon & Schuster--put up lots of money to promote unknown authors. Nowadays, they said, only celebrity authors like Hillary Rodham Clinton (whose autobiography appeared from S&S earlier this year) got the sizable promotional budgets. In other words, the authors who really needed the help--like me--got nothing, while the authors guaranteed to sell--like Clinton--got everything.

Turns out it's not quite that dire. I got plenty of promotion from S&S, ranging from mass mailings to book giveaways to conference pitches. I had my own very energetic and capable publicist on staff (though of course, I was only one of her clients). But I believed I needed more; I believed I needed to put significant amounts of time, as well as part of my advance (which was actually quite substantial for a debut), toward promoting my book.

And I did.

When it comes to writing, I don't believe in secrecy. I believe in honesty. So here, in more or less actual numbers (a few of the following figures are estimated or rounded), is what I spent to promote Survival Colony 9:

Publicist retainer: $5800
Publicist expenses: $225
Website hosting: $60
Website design: $850
Swag design: $100
Swag printing: $280
T-shirts: $120
Launch party game: $70
Launch party cake: $170
Curriculum guide: $500
Giveaway items: $600
Mailing supplies: $200
Postage: $400
Professional dues: $180
Conference fees: $250
Travel: $300
Miscellaneous: $1545

Total: $11,650

Amazing how things add up, isn't it?

And that's only the dollar amount. A lot of my PR I got for free--from friends, fellow authors and bloggers, and others. But even that PR wasn't free in terms of time spent.  How many hours did I devote to tweeting, responding to interview questions, updating my website and Facebook author page, writing guest posts, arranging appearances, and so on? I can't begin to calculate it.

But money's cheap. So is time. The real question is: was it worth it?

That depends.

The people I worked with were great. My in-house publicist and the freelancer I hired, my swag and website and curriculum guide designers, the companies that printed my various items, the conference contacts, the regional coordinators of my professional organizations, the folks who interviewed and/or hosted me--all of them, without fail, were great. It was a joy to work with them, and it's cheering to know so many good people are out there to support authors.

So if "was it worth it?" means "do you have any regrets?"--the answer is "no."

But if "was it worth it?" means "did all this time and money produce tangible results in terms of books sold, name recognition, and/or brand development?"--I honestly have to say I have no idea. So far as I'm aware, unless you have a clickable ad that tracks how many people actually buy your book after clicking, there's simply no way to know if one's marketing efforts paid off. Survival Colony 9 appears to be selling reasonably well--not appreciably better but not appreciably worse than many a debut. Would it have sold worse without the marketing push? No way to tell.

The only thing I can tell is this: the time I spent marketing is time I certainly could have spent writing. Every hour online or on the phone, every trip to the post office to mail a contest winner my book, every moment spent writing a guest post is time I didn't devote to my primary objective as a fiction-writer, which is to write fiction.

When it comes to marketing, everyone has to make her or his own decision. The numbers I've provided might help you to make yours (or they might help you to shop for better bargains than I did!). In my own case, though I don't regret how I marketed Survival Colony 9, I've determined to approach any future works I might publish very differently. This isn't to say I won't market them at all. But I won't do it in the way or to the extent I did with my debut.

Instead, I'll write. And write. And write some more. Maybe that won't sell books. Maybe it will.

Who knows?

But selling books was never why I became a writer in the first place.


  1. Thanks for posting this information, Josh. I just was signed--can't release the name of the publisher yet--and there is marketing plan being put together. But I am also working on give-a-ways, blog tours, Twitter, my web site, networking, etc. It's a little dismaying how many hours I spend promoting my book, when really what I want to be doing is editing part two in the series. It's part of the process, so I'm not complaining, in fact I beyond thrilled to be going through it. It's what I want to do. The company is great and the people I get to work with are awesome. But, not getting to write...I feel the frustration.

    Good luck to you. I wish you many successes in your writing career!

    1. Thanks for the comment--and congrats on being signed! Drop me an email if you have any marketing-related questions or need to bounce ideas off someone.

  2. Dude, wow!! Thank you so much for sharing this information, Josh! I will be telling everyone to read it because it's an amazingly informative post!

    Best of luck, my friend!!

    1. Thanks, Erin. In general, I'm averse to keeping things about authorship secret. I think one of our obligations as authors is to help other, aspiring authors--and that means telling the truth. I'm glad you found this helpful, and thanks for spreading the word about it!

  3. My one experience with a freelance publicist was very, very bad. I paid her a lot of money. She did nothing that was effective for me. But that doesn't mean all publicists are a waste of money. Just that mine was a bad choice. I can tell you, I've never seen a display like the one you show in your picture for one of my books!

    But I agree with you. It is nearly impossible to tell which of your efforts gets you the most return for your money. I've attended author events -- paid money for booths at book festivals -- driven a couple hours to be at events where I've sold very few books ... And I don't have a sure-fire formula for success. Today I presented at a librarian's conference in Maryland. I sold 4 books. (Although many others picked up my promo materials to check out whether they are available in library binding -- They are!) I talked to a lot of interested librarians. I gave out business cards for potential school visits. I even talked to people who had already "heard good things" about my book and already had it in their libraries. In terms of my ego, I consider that a success. I'll take validation wherever I can get it.

    BTW, I owe you a review. It is coming!

    1. My sense of this is that many of the good things that come from marketing activities--meeting people, hearing nice things about one's book, etc.--can't be quantified. Today, I did two library talks and sold only 5 books. But I met some great teens and provided some aspiring writers encouragement and advice. Can't put a dollar figure on that!

  4. Thanks, Josh. I finally got around to reading this. Great post. My biggest mistake was focusing so much time on promoting and not enough time on writing the next book. Now, it's been almost a year since my first book came out, I should be ready for my next release, but instead I'm almost ready to submit it to my publisher. What I should have done, is treated time like anything else in limited supply, and budgeted it, allowing a certain amount for marketing every week. The good news is, my mind is going crazy with ideas for the third book. And since I've learned my lesson, I'll get started on it as soon as I hit send on book 2.

  5. I checked yesterday and in our library system north of Seattle there are 5 copies of Survival Colony 9 total. 3 are checked out, one is on hold and in transit, and one is on the shelf. So that sounds like success to me!

    1. Thanks, Jenny! Yes, I've had a lot of success with libraries, which I attribute primarily to the clout of a publisher like S&S. But other aspects of the marketing program certainly helped too. (And though I know this is silly, there's nothing more fun for me than looking on some random library's catalog and realizing that someone I'll never know is actually reading my book!)