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
T-shirts: $120
Launch party game: $70
Launch party cake: $170
Curriculum guide: $500
Giveaway items: $600
Mailing supplies: $200
Postage: $400
Professional dues: $180
Conference fees: $250
Travel: $300
Miscellaneous: $1545

Total: $11,650

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.

The result?

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.


5 Comments on “To Market, To Market

  1. Great advice, Josh! I’m pretty sure my marketing bill was around that number for my first book. And just like you, I’d give anything to have the money and time back. I completely agree with the do want you want angle. It’s too easy to get swept along by the momentum of social media and the publishing world at large. Writing really is the most important thing. 🙂


  2. It’s so much money, and it’s so frustrating that authors have to go it all alone like this. I was promised a publicist with my first release (that didn’t happen), not that it would have made a difference. I’ve scaled back on my social media just because it cuts into my life way too much. And you’re absolutely right that we can’t predict what will do well and what will just do okay. In the end, as long as we’re putting out the best product we can, it doesn’t matter. Happy writing, everyone!


  3. These are the posts that new authors and writers need to pay attention to. I’ve been there with my first three books…spending thousands…seemed the more I spent, the less books I sold. But that’s another post for another day. Thank you Josh!


  4. I was just talking to a self-pubbed author today about this. She talked about the difficulty of marketing herself and the guilt that she wasn’t doing enough. Ultimately, she said her books were available on Amazon and they were selling a little, and that made her happy. This was a really informative, timely post!


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