Thursday, July 9, 2009

PROMO? Is It Worth It?

Delle Jacobs
Currently Working on: Damned and Dangerous (that vampire story I said I'd never go back to) and some final drafts of other stories, and getting ready to announce the winners of the Royal Ascot, and...

Mood: Mood? Who has time for moods?


I remember back in the Dark Ages of computers (when screens were blue with white letters, graphics non-existent, and I had no idea what a modem was) that I decided to take that big leap of faith and go back to writing. I'd been mildly successful back when I was just out of my teens with two confession stories, but they weren't satisfying to me. I had tried a couple of times to write a novel, mostly fantasies or harrowing adventures. I didn't know what I wanted to write, or what I wanted to write didn't seem to have a market.


(Yes, that's me, back in the Good Old Days, dictating my novel to my personal secretary. He was... very good...)

My very first romance was a Western/Indian story, written journal style, using Word Star. I actually found some of that recently, and it wasn't bad. It just didn't fit the genre. But I became persuaded that, yes, I could write a full length novel, and yes, I might even have a chance of selling it.

That was 1993. Who knew then I would one day have a laptop that fit in my purse, with more than a hundred thousand times the storage space of that clunky hand-built computer? Back then, if we entered a contest, we'd gotten word of it from a flyer mailed out to local chapters. We copied off the instructions so the flyer could remain available to other chapter members. There was an internet. Some of us had actually seen it.

(Below, two of my favorite promoters and authors, Sandy Blair and Jo Beverley, in 2005 at the RWA Literacy Booksigning.)


Back in those days I envisioned myself writing my book and shipping it off to editors, who would snap it up of course. I knew I'd have to do an edit or two, and there would be galleys. Then my book would come out and, once it was launched with champagne, I'd do a book-signing tour or two, and go back to finishing up the next book, which I'd sell and promote in the same highly successful way. Oh, and I'd have business cards, of course. They'd say in a quiet, understated way that I was a professional, a serious author.

It might actually have been like that once. But a few ambitious and enterprising authors discovered Promotion. Bookmarks. Mailing lists. Postcards, Christmas letters, and whirlwinds of booksigning tours. And not just a review or two. Reviewers were in newsapers all over the country, and authors tried to target them all.

Now, even that sounds completely obsolete, doesn't it? The internet moved into our lives, and authors found new and exciting ways to get our books noticed. We had to have a website. Yahoo lists. Then Yahoo newsletters. Blogs came in, and social network sites. Ebooks, which started out so small and insignificant, expanded, with more and more distributors every year. Kindle and Sony revolutionized the very thing we'd thought had revolutionized the publishing industry. Online reviewers almost completely replaced print reviewers, and multiplied into the thousands.


And then there are conferences where we don't just promote, we shmooze and network, and give impressive workshops. We know, of course, that nobody loves- or buys- more books than romance writers. And awards? If we think we have a chance, we go for it.

(Me, making like an author and winning the Golden Heart in 2005.)

Now we do blog tours, trading places on blogs all over the internet. We post our promo on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and about a hundred writer-and-reader-related sites. We buy space for our tower and banner ads and make videos, but magazine and newspaper ads and even space on TV and the movie theaters.



We have contests with fantastic prizes. We do key chains, hats, pens in all colors, shapes and sizes. Erasers, candy-- heck, I've even seen paper cut and pinned to look like an old-fashioned baby diaper. If it can be made, some author has done it.


Considering what we put out in time, money and inventiveness, we ought to be rich. Filthy rich. But there's a problem. The market is saturated. No, let's correct that. The market is super-saturated. While I've always supported ebooks, I have to say the ebook industry has allowed many more authors to get published than the print industry could have supported. And most of those books are now going into print, as well. And everybody is promoting. Aggressively.

(Kalen Hughes, who not only writes fabulous, sexy Regency Historicals, but also has her own interesting ways to promote, is giving a workshop on Regency undergarments to the Beau Monde Conference.)

I wonder, do authors spend more on promotion than they'll ever make with a book? I'm sure some do. I'm still trying to figure out what really works for me, and it seems every time I think I've got it nailed, it stops working and I have to get creative again. And I admit I'm a graphic arts junkie. I love creating promo material almost as much as writing.


But: It is worth it? I think I see at least fifty pieces of promo for other authors' books every day. I can't possibly visit all their blogs or watch all their videos, or read their excerpts and reviews. And I sure can't read all their books. So what makes me think I will do any better with my enthusiastic, carefully crafted promo?

How many people will see my banner ad and think my book is just so intresting they have to buy it? How many will win a prize and so decide to buy the book? Do people read reviews, and from them decide to buy? What does it take? And more worrisome, what will it take tomorrow?

What sells books? And does it still work? Or are we so inundated with promo that our proposed audience is too numb to buy? Like a lot of other authors, I keep asking, wasn't I supposed to be a writer? Might is possibly be better if I spent all that promo time turning out new books? There is, after all, nothing that sells books better than a fabulously written book. Unless maybe key chains...

I'd love to hear what you think.

1 comment:

Genene Valleau said...

Gosh, Delle, both you and Minnette have posed philosophical questions on the latest blog posts.

Promotion can take a lot of time. I had three books released within a ten month time period--not an unusual amount in the romance genre--and spent a good portion of that time promoting those books.

Then I have a year gap until my next release. Quite frankly, I'm glad for the break. I can catch up on the other pieces of my life. I can write. I can dream. I can slow down.

I can enjoy the promotion and books that other authors are producing. :)