I’m asked all the time:
- How much should I publicize my book?
- How much should I spend on book publicity?
- What is the most important thing to do to promote my book?
Unfortunately, just like putting an incredible book together is messy and huge, there is no self-evident right or wrong path to book publicity.
On the initial call, the JKS Communications team asks the author lots of questions to find out some key points that help us help determine how much book publicity is enough for them personally. Here are some questions we ask authors we are considering working with:
- What is your lifestyle like? Do you have a full-time job? Small children?
- Where does your book take place (geographically, who might be interested?)
- What is your sphere of influence and your experience with media and public speaking?
- Is this the only book you will be writing, or do you have more planned? Are you building a brand as an author?
- What are your specific goals for the book beyond selling as many copies as possible?
- How much money can you budget for publicity that doesn’t include putting your financial health at risk or in debt?
Obviously, the more publicity you do, the better it is. But, there is the 80/20 rule to consider. What can you do that will most likely gain the most traction for you?
Book publicists are kind of like farmers. We plant seeds in the soil and know some will grow to different heights – we water and care for each stalk (or relationship). It’s impossible to know exactly which seed we plant will have the greatest return because serendipity happens. And, we’re there to help create serendipity.
My favorite example is an author we represented who had a very limited budget…shoestring. But, his book was bold and amazing…a memoir. I wanted him, a Southern author, to go to the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) trade show to make a presentation on a panel. He really struggled with whether he could afford to drive and stay in the city for the event.
Eventually, he found a friend to bunk with in the city. We had 20 authors at this event, and really cool things happened for a lot of them. But, in this case, special serendipity created a magical force that changed the trajectory of his book’s success. A highly respected and involved bookstore owner met him and got a copy of his book at the tradeshow. She called me a few days later:
“I choose one book a year to get behind and really push. I’ve chosen this book. I will be calling and emailing personally 300 bookstores across the U.S. and encouraging them to order this memoir,” she said.
Because this one bookseller decided to champion this author and memoir, the publisher could not keep up with the demand, a good problem to have. (This happened a few years ago, before POD was as easy to use as it is now for traditional publishers).
Did I know that would happen? No. But, I knew that he would be meeting “his people” and tastemakers that could create book sales if they liked him and his story.
Maybe you’ll catch your break through an online book review that a movie agent happens to read, or talk to a reader who gives your book to a friend on the Pulitzer nominating committee, or a school librarian invites you to present to her class and she happens to post a highly complimentary message about your book on the American Library Association list serve that results in many library orders, or a local feature will catch the eye of a TV booker in New York that is looking for a segment that you can fulfill. A book publicist tries to place you in as many opportunities for magic to happen as is possible.
It comes down to the amount of time spent, the experience and connection of the publicity firm, and how much this will cost you. For some authors, $1,500 is going to be a real stretch. For others, a $25,000 campaign is doable.
Publicity, unfortunately, is not like advertising in which there is a clear measure of ROI (return on investment). Publicity is getting others to endorse your book and third parties to talk about it. It’s a long haul. An author who goes on book tour and pays for it himself or herself (which is virtually all authors today!), can’t expect to make money back on each stop. But, it’s the accumulation of good will created. By the second book, more people are engaged. And hopefully by the third book, you are getting good sales on your new book and the back list is selling. I have seen situations in which the new book comes out with buzz, but it’s an earlier book that actually catches the attention of a new audience and sells even more copies than the new book.
If you’re going to go to the trouble of writing a book – the blood, sweat and tears of so much time and energy – then make sure that you don’t just orphan it without a plan to get it in the hands of people who can help spread the word.
How much you spend on publicity is up to you. But remember: you only capture the imagination of the book world once as a “debut author” and you need to make it count. The sky is the limit on how successful you will be. After this, you’ll have a sales record that follows you.