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
Launch party game: $70
Launch party cake: $170
Curriculum guide: $500
Giveaway items: $600
Mailing supplies: $200
Professional dues: $180
Conference fees: $250
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?
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.
But selling books was never why I became a writer in the first place.