Four years ago, a month or so before my first book came out, I wrote a post for the now defunct blog Writers Plot, about what little I knew about promotion. In advance of the publication of my eleventh book next week (Fire Engine Dead), I thought I'd revisit the topic, to see what I may have learned in those four years.
In 2008 I created a formula for deciding what promotion any individual writer should do. Let's see how well that stands up! (Original bits in italics)
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.
Well, that hasn't changed too much. I should have included agents and publicists, not to mention the ubiquitous Joe Konrath.
Let's assume you have a published book in hand and you want 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.
Okay, that's still true, sort of. Except now the publisher is not the controlling factor. You now have the capability to publish through a small press (an ever-growing number) or even go straight to electronic publishing yourself. You have more choices than you did four years ago. Whether that's good or bad, for either the writer or the reader, is still up in the air.
But whatever medium or vehicle you choose, you still may need to promote yourself and your book(s). So here's the formula from 2008:
T + M + W + E = PromoScore
Time (T). First, set aside time for writing. Then figure out what time you have to allow for (a) a job, (b) a family, and (c) eating and sleeping. What's left is T, your time for promotion.
Money (M). If you don't have a trust fund or a rich spouse, you need to decide what you want to spend on promotion. Assign an amount of money M that you are willing to put into each kind of marketing for 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 [substitute FaceBook and Twitter here]; 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.
All of these are still possibilities, although some have emerged as more effective than others.
Willingness (W). 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 activity, on a scale from one to ten? Call this W for willingness. You hate large groups? Then conferences get a 2. You love blogging? Give that an 8.
This is something I think a lot of writers overlook. For example, All your friends tell you that you have to spend time on Facebook, connecting with your readers. You hate Facebook. Therefore you would give it a low W score (you don't have to tell your well-meaning friends). Remember, this is a comparative number.
Exposure (E). How many people can you reach with each type of effort?
Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? If you love talking to book clubs but only six people attend, is that a good use of your resources?
Put together the variables: T (time), M (money), W (willingness) and E (exposure) and you get the equation:
T + M + W + E = PromoScore
Apply this formula to each of your promotional opportunities. Give each a score, and then rank them and figure out what you think will give you the results you want: sales. Without losing your sanity.
So what do I think, four years later? Having tried (in no particular order) blogging (four different blogs), conferences, paid ads, library and bookstore talks, Facebook, a website, writers groups, and sweet-talking a widely-varied group of vendors to please, please carry at least one of my books?
I still think the formula works. You're one person and you can't do everything, so you have to find a way to decide which ones will be most effective—for you. Guess what: people still don't know what actually works. The most consistently-cited factor is word of mouth, but that still assumes that you can get your book into the hands of someone who will like it and will tell their friends about it. So never be shy about talking about your writing—you're still your best promoter for your own work.
And don't forget Fire Engine Dead! An arsonist targets a Philadelphia fireman's museum...but what was the real target?