Monday, February 25, 2008

The Great Self-Promotion Debate

What should an author do to promote themselves? Something? Nothing? We've been around the block about this issue a couple of time here already, but this question seems to be out there in the blogisphere right now. Over at SF Novelists, Jim C. Hines is talking about Promotional Madness and at Fang, Fur & Fey, Jes Battis is wondering what she should be doing for Early Promotion. (The comments for both are particularly illuminating, IMHO.)

The general consensus seems to follow that of our own dear Kelly McCullough, which is that most of it isn't worth the effort. For myself, I'm still on the fence.

However, I've always agreed with Kelly and others who say that a lot of money can be wasted on doo-dads that aren't proven to do much in terms of sales. And, honestly, even really intensive promotional work probably won't help an author's sales much.

I think, though, this is genre specific. Romance readers expect goody bags when they attend conferences and conventions. Pens can actually be kind of helpful to find as well as notepads and bookmarks and the occassional free book. I've actually sent out hundreds of copies of my "backlist," which is to say, my out-of-print books. Silly? Maybe, but they were just collecting dust (and no new readers) in my closets at home.

It's funny this topic should come up because just this weekend I just spent some money printing up 5,000 promotional postcards for my alter-ego's May release ROMANCING THE DEAD. I'm shipping about 2,800 of them to Norwescon today, and a few more are going to Odyssey Con as well as a romance convention. The rest are going to be set out to all my friends and contacts with a schedule of my upcoming signings and appearances.

I do think this is money well spent -- if targetted appropriately. I'm not sure what SF/F fans are going to think of my postcard, since, generally, they're not used to these kinds of promotional items and will probably ignore them. Romance readers, however, have written into Tate's blog to tell me that they're planning to check out my book because of a postcard I sent to a conference they attended.

Worth it? Maybe, as long as you don't spend too much. Everything in moderation, I always say.


Kelly McCullough said...

I think a lot of the self-promotion stuff is really a matter of personal authorial choice and sanity saving.

Authors are by and large a bit OCD and have a tendency toward control freakism. Witness building entire obsessively detailed worlds and controlling all of the actions of all of the people in them over periods that range from months to years.

So, when the author's book goes off to fend for itself in the wild world, the author has a dilemma, because in the real world the author has little to no control over a key aspect of their creation: sales.

This drives us all a little crazy. How we handle the crazy varies, but for a lot of us it helps to do self-promotion and believe that's going to have effect on the issue. For some of us it helps to believe that it has now gone completely beyond our control and to surrender it to the gods of reading.

I tend to believe the latter is more objectively true, but that suits my own personal authorial craziness so take it for what it's worth.

My ultimate rule is do what promotion you enjoy, or alternatively that you need to do to stay sane.

Jim C. Hines said...

The genre point is a good one. And of course it also depends on the publisher. If you're self-published, for instance, self-promotion is all you've got, and you'd better be good at it.

There's a saying I'm misremembering, that only a very small percentage of marketing is ever really effective, but nobody knows which percentage it's going to be.

For me, it's mostly the OCD issues Kelly mentions, along with the (naive, perhaps) belief that it really does make a difference ... even if it's not a large one.

Kimberly Frost said...

Hi guys,

I'm convinced that the idea of authors needing to organize their own marketing & promotion was a brilliant idea made in hell...

Last year, my book and a sequel sold just before I went to a big national convention. I thought it was great timing because then I knew I needed to attend all the workshops on promotion. (Right, Kelly. OCD)

I attended about eight workshops on promotion, collected handouts, read materials, made lists, & listened to stories on how people spent the price of a new car on promotion. As you might expect, shortly thereafter my head spun in circles a la Linda Blair for about two months. I was burned out on promotion and I hadn't even started.

The good news is that when it becomes apparent that a process is insane, it actually makes me feel better because then I know it can NOT be controlled.

From what I've heard:

#1 priority = write great books, they are the best form of promotion

#2 priority = have a great website & keep a mailing list

#3 priority = don't try to do everything; choose promotional opportunities that you believe will work and don't hate doing. I can definitely do bookmarks, etc. I can also go to places where writers and readers are online and at conferences because I like people who like books.

So far that's my list distilled down from about 900 million pages of materials I collected between June & Aug 2007

Have a wonderful day. :)