To Market, To Market
Confession: I spent nearly $12,000 to market my debut, Survival Colony 9.
Don’t believe me? Here are my numbers:
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
Why did I do it? Peer pressure, I guess. Everyone told me that if I wanted my book to do well, I had to spend tons of money (and time; I’ll get to that momentarily) promoting it. Even though Survival Colony 9 was coming out from a major publisher, I was told that these days, authors had to bear the brunt of marketing costs. I figured if everyone else was doing it and I didn’t, then my poor little book baby would be doomed to a life of miserable failure. So like many an anxious parent who pays for pricey private schools and SAT prep courses so Junior can go to Harvard, I dumped much of my advance (after taxes) on selling my wares.
Survival Colony 9 sold neither better nor worse than many a debut. It turns one year old today; it’s out in paper; the sequel, Scavenger of Souls, will appear next summer. To my mind, that’s success.
But if you ask me whether any of the dollars I poured into marketing contributed to sales, I can’t tell you. There’s really no way to connect the dots, to determine whether marketing scheme X translated into units sold Y. I wish I had a time machine so I could test whether the book would have done any worse (or better) with zero marketing on my end.
But money is one thing. Time is another—and to me, as to many a writer, it’s an even more precious commodity than dollars and cents. Like most authors, writing isn’t my only gig; I have a full-time job, plus a full-time wife and children. Writing books, much less marketing them, can’t be allowed to take over my life. Yet that’s exactly what happened in the six months surrounding my debut: I can’t even begin to enumerate the hours I spent blogging, tweeting, emailing, driving, speaking, and what-notting in the name of making contacts, creating my “author brand,” and selling myself and my book. All I know is, I really wish I had that time back. I could have been writing instead. Or, better yet, living.
So what have I learned?
Only this: like everything else in writing, the decision whether (and how much) to market your books is a personal one. Just as there are no hard-and-fast rules about how to structure your story or shape your characters or place one word versus another on the page, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing the products of your imagination. If you have money and time to spare, use it as you please. If you love tweeting or blogging or speaking at schools, go ahead and do it. The harsh reality is that of the thousands of books published each year, most will sell modestly at best no matter what the writer does. Leaving aside books published by big-name authors, the few books that hit it big will not necessarily be the few that were promoted the most. In fact, those few will likely be a surprise to everyone, including the marketing experts in the publishing industry.
So think things through before throwing yourself body, soul, and pocketbook into the game. Be realistic; invest your time and money wisely; avoid scams (buying Twitter followers, etc.); don’t believe anyone who says s/he has a sure-fire way to become a top seller; don’t attempt activities in which you have no interest or confidence. Be yourself.
And keep writing. That’s the only thing you can control.