Thursday, December 25, 2008

The never-ending promo slog.

I'm not overly fond of promo, but after eight months of trying out various venues for it, including Yahoogroups, Facebook, Twitter, my website, paid ads in RT and on the Romance Studio's site, having postcards, bookmarks and business cards printed, doing several interviews, running contests and starting this blog, I think I can safely say I've tried just about everything.

So you do all that, then you wait for your royalty statements and try to figure out what works and what doesn't. To be honest, I'm still not sure. All I can tell you is that in 2008, I spent more on promo than I've earned on the two books I now have in print. A lot more. But I expected as much. A new author's like any other type of small business - you have to spend money to make money. Every new business ends up with red ink on the books at the close of the year. (And believe me, I know from red ink - in my previous working life, I used to be a bookkeeper.)

I know how much it hurts to be out there swinging as long and as hard as you can, yet not seeing much, if any, results in the bottom line. It's frustrating to be just one of many different voices out there on Yahoogroups, all vying for the same small group of readers, all jumping up and down at the same time, yelling, "Hey, I've got a new book out too! Pick me! Pick ME!!!!"

One problem I've seen with a number of different authors is that they're always in promo mode, always pitching, always ON. And that gets real old real fast. People don't like it when they feel that you're constantly trying to sell them something. After awhile it all turns into so much white noise, and they'll start tuning you out. They see your name, and they instinctively cringe. That's what happened to me yesterday afternoon. I was on Twitter, reading tweets from all the people I follow, and there was this one author with one entry after another, all of it promo - and on Christmas Eve, yet! It was beyond obnoxious. I thought about sending the guy a private message advising him to cool it, but in the end I simply deleted him from the list of people I follow. Which was too bad, because he seemed like a nice guy, but he just didn't know when enough was enough.

I've never been a fan of the hard-sell. I don't even like putting myself out there on Yahoogroups or Twitter or Facebook, but it's something I've learned to do pretty much on auto-pilot. I slip into my alternate "author" persona, paste on a virtual smile, and go out there and work. I envy authors who aren't nervous and tongue-tied when they talk to people they don't know about their work, but I doubt I will ever be completely comfortable doing it myself. In that respect, I'm grateful that venues such as Yahoogroups and Facebook exist, because they provide that extra layer of separation (or should I say, protection!) between me and all those scary people out there.


Angie said...

Definitely agree with you about the hard-sell; I don't like it in stores and I don't like it online. People who never say anything unless they're selling annoy me and I tend to edge away from them, whether literally or virtually.

I haven't been terribly agressive about promo. Part of it, I'll admit, is that I don't have a lot to promo. Once I've published something long enough to have its own individual cover art, I'll probably do more -- the bookmark route, that sort of thing. Right now, though, all I've got is a few shorts and a novelette, so I have a hard time figuring out what to do. A synopsis and a brief excerpt and... there you go, LOL! Much more and you'll have given away the whole story.

When I have something new come out, or news like the EPPIE thing, I post it to most of my blogs and journals. That's two blogs and four journals BTW, each of which has its own audience, some large and some small. One or two practically zilch, but anyway. [duck]

I have plans for my web site (which right now is my announcement blog and nothing else :/ ) once I have something substantial out -- character notes, world/universe notes, timelines, that sort of thing. Once I have more than a short or two set in any given universe, there might be people who are interested in that sort of thing (I always liked series companion or lexicon or concordance type books, anyway) but for right now I just don't have the body of work to support it.

I'm determined to get a novel submitted in '09. It's not like I don't have any in the works, or even mostly done. One novella is finished but needs a rewrite to straighten out a major pacing problem which manifested at the end; I'm pretty sure fixing that will extend the whole thing to novel length. And I have other stories set in that verse, so.... It's just a matter of getting back into that world and working on it.

That's one of the worlds I'd love to chat about, on the meta level. But I need to have a few other people out there who know what I'm talking about first. [wry smile]

It's like going to conventions or book fairs -- if you don't have a physical book to sell, or even cover art to show off, then what exactly are you promoting? I'm not a photogenic individual, so I doubt I'll impress anyone in person simply because it is an in-person meeting. I'm much more eloquent with a keyboard than I am speaking out loud. And e-book authors can't even do autograph sessions, really.

I guess it comes down to wanting to have more product to promote before I switch into high-gear promotion. [ponder]


Cat Grant said...

Geez, Ange, what're you doing up at this hour? Writing smut? ;)

As far as promo goes, I plan to be much more conservative in my spending in 2009. I won't be going to RWA or RT, so that'll save me a nice chunk of change. (The trip to EPICon in Vegas will be relatively cheap for me by comparison.) While the bookmarks I've had made up for my first two books are absolutely gorgeous, they were also very, very expensive. I can probably get as much mileage out of the much-cheaper postcards from VistaPrint.

I've been adding friends steadily on Facebook, and I'm now up to more than 600 people. Whether that's 600+ people who will actually buy my next book remains to be seen. A goodly portion of that 600 are other authors, and they're not my target audience. One thing I've learned over these past few months is that writers, in general, don't wish each other well. They don't see each other as colleagues so much as competitors. Everybody's fighting for the same tiny slice of market share.

Angie said...

What, it's barely midnight?! ;D

And if I were working I'd be doing my edits for the story that's coming out on the third. But I'm not -- shh, don't tell Anah! [eyedart]

EPICon will be the first event I've ever gone to as a writer. [nod] I don't expect to make it back; so far as my husband is concerned (you know, the person who supplies 99.9% of the household income?) it's a junket for fun, just like when he goes milerunning to Germany or whatever.

I've avoided Facebook and MySpace for various reasons, but that's another good one -- I don't have time to establish myself in yet another online community as an entertaining and/or interesting presence, to get people to be interested in this person in the community and want to buy my fiction. And just swapping "friends" tags with other writers probably doesn't help much, I agree.

And I just find the whole Twitter idea weird. I haven't joined there either, and I get incredibly annoyed when people post their tweets on their journal or blog. Seriously, Folks Who Do That, if I were interested I'd join Twitter and read your eight-word posts directly. :/

At this point, though, I think the best thing I can do to promote myself as a writer is to write more good fiction. I have a web presence, so it's not like anyone who notices me won't be able to Google me. And there aer some folks who've noticed me because of my posts or comments on blogs, or my RTB columns, or whatever, so that's cool. But I think the best promotion time for me right now is spent writing rather than actually promoting per se.


Cat Grant said...

Facebook and Twitter are a bit weird. I've got a few acquaintances on Twitter, which makes it a bit fun, but on Facebook, it feels obnoxious to go around "friending" people you don't know, all in the hopes of selling one more book. If it doesn't work, that $1000+ I spent going to RWA this past August really will be money down the drain. "Get yourself a Facebook page" was pretty much the only pertinent advice I gleaned from that conference.

I agree, writing good books should be an author's number one priority. But when you're with a small startup publisher that has no money for promo, you have to get out there and give yourself the biggest pus you can. Doesn't make much of a difference if you write great books if nobody ever hears about them.

Cat Grant said...

Uh, that should be "push," not "pus." *facepalms*

Angie said...

Doesn't make much of a difference if you write great books if nobody ever hears about them.

That's certainly true. (And I knew what you meant. [grin]) It just seems to me that going around shooting off fireworks and shouting through my publicity bullhorn about a handful of short stories will get me the wrong kind of publicity, you know?

I have the same feeling about a Yahoo group. I'd feel pretentious starting one now; I don't have enough fans to need one. It's not like I have three hundred people a month frantically e-mailing me because they want to know my plans or anything. [wry smile] Anyone who's that interested can subscribe to either of my two writing blogs -- Angie's Desk if they want chat and issues and some humor along with the announcements, and AngieBenedetti if they only want just the announcements -- and get all the info. If I had a Yahoo group, I'd feel obligated to come up with posts for it at least once or twice a week, and I already push to do that for Angie's Desk. I'd feel dumb just cross-posting, so I'd have to come up with new stuff, which... gets back to the time issue. [laugh/flail]

I don't know, maybe Facebook is the way to go. I'll be paying attention to how it works for you. Right now, though, I have all I can do to keep up with my journals and blogs, and plan for expanding the web site.

You know what I'd love be able to do, is to have a way of tracking each publicity effort. If the publishers could set you up with, say, a set of discount codes. Give people 10% of the price of Book X if they use one of those codes. Then put a different code on each publicity effort. So your blog publicizes CatDiscount1A, your Facebook publicizes CatDiscount2B, your Yahoo group publicizes CatDiscount3C, the bookmarks you give away at RWA publicize CatDiscount4D and the magnets you give away at EPICon publicize CatDiscount5E. It's all the same discount, but it lets you track who's responding to what. The publisher could total up how many books were bought with each discount each month and give you the data with your royalty statement. You'd be able to tell exactly which publicity effort was bring in sales, and could quit bothering with the ones that don't help.

So if you sell 500 books under CatDiscount4D in the month after you went to RWA, and another 200 the month after, then maybe attending was worth it. If you only sell 20, then maybe it wasn't. If magnets bring in ten times as many sales as bookmarks, then maybe they're worth the extra cost. Etc.

Because it seems to me that the main problem we have is a lack of data. Especially if you're doing multiple promotion activities within the same royalty period, even if your sales do go up, you have no way of knowing which activity caused it, or whether it was a combination of all of them except this one over here, or whatever. If all are contributing about equally, then maybe they're all worth doing. If not, though, then it'd be good to have that info so we could ignore what doesn't work and do more of what does.

Right now, though, we're shooting blind. I really don't know if Angie's Desk actually helps my sales much; I've only had one or two people there say they had or were planning to buy any of my stories. I don't really know whether posting anything on my AngelaBenedetti LJ helps. Maybe I should just keep it to post on my days in Torquere_Social and ignore it otherwise. For that matter, does hosting for a day on Torquere_Social help? I don't know whether cross-posting announcements to my JournalFen and InsaneJournal journals helps. I don't know whether popping in on the Torquere Social Yahoo group helps, or participating on Torquere's promotion days on other Yahoo Groups. I'm just sort of flailing around hoping something helps, and without actually data I'll never know. [sigh]

There's got to be a better way of doing this, but without some programming support on the publisher's side, I don't see it happening. So I'm just left doing my best to divide my "work" time between writing and promotion. And I still think that at this point, most of my working time should go to writing. I'll know in a couple of years how that's worked out for me. :)


Cat Grant said...

I'm not starting my own Yahoogroup either. Too much %$#@! work, for one thing. I should probably go through my royalty statements and tally up how many copies I've sold, but I doubt that both my books combined have moved more than 200 copies, most of those to people I already know.

So like I said, I'm cutting way back on my spending for promo in 2009. I've agreed to participate in my publisher's May 2009 RT ad, but I won't be doing any more print advertising after that. (And then there's the galling realization that, in essence, I paid RT to give me a lousy review!) No more overpriced bookmarks or contests for anything other than .pdf copies of my books.

The whole point of writing books is to build a professional career. Sadly, I think what I've got on my hands right now is an expensive hobby.