Bang For Your Buck

On Reasonable Marketing Expenditures

Hi friends,

How was last week for you? I spent it buying lots of books at independent bookstores (like the great Oblong Books!) in the Hudson Valley and reading different books that I brought from home while my child watched hours of Disney TV shows and it was amazing. Now I’m back and it’s full-fledged summer and I want to talk more about marketing, to pick up where we left off two weeks ago. Today I want to talk about how to approach spending your own money on promotional things in a realistic way. Isn’t it obvious how that’s related to my summer vacation? Hang on, it’ll make sense.

Someone in my wonderful group chat—which is 57% book publishing people (and two in magazine publishing), but 100% of us are book lovers—took a picture of a plane towing a banner advertising a book from her spot on the beach on her vacation. (See? I told you it was related.) We all scrambled to Google the book and find out more. (The author’s desired effect!!!) What we learned was that it was a self-published memoir about a disaster at sea. And we then proceeded to analyze why this was not a great use of the author’s marketing funds! Even if it wasn’t a self-published book, it’s HIGHLY UNLIKELY that a traditional publisher would have paid for this, uh, nontraditional marketing campaign.

What the author was probably* thinking

(*I have no idea who this author is and what they were thinking but I’m going to make some educated guesses here.)

I really need to do something DIFFERENT to get the word out about my new book. You know what no one’s ever probably done? AN AERIAL BILLBOARD. It’ll get so much attention! I’ll run it after a big holiday at the beach! Thousands of people will see it!

How this idea was effective

A lot of people probably saw it! And seven people with deep ties to the traditional publishing industry saw it, and looked it up, and talked about it. I’m even talking about it here (though I don’t want to link to it because A: I haven’t read it and don’t know more than the Amazon listing page tells me and B: I don’t want to put the author on blast here, even my gentle and encouraging brand of “blast.”) Even visiting an author’s page can very slightly juice the algorithm on a retailer’s site, so maybe this really did impact the book. It did not, however, result in any sales from my group chat.

This could have a cumulative marketing effect, if the author also invested in other forms of advertising, like digital or print ads or had an event in the area that week. It could have been building on a larger marketing plan.

How this idea was ineffective

Lots of people saw it while they were enjoying a day at the beach, mostly away from phones and computers and bookstores. I mean, clearly some of those people were on their phones on the beach, but for this tactic to result in sales, the potential reader had to:

  • be looking up at the banner when it passed

  • been able to read/see the banner (hope their sunglasses were Rx)

  • be enticed enough to stop what they were doing and google it, if they were at that minute holding their phone

  • or remember enough info about it to google later

  • be persuaded by the online information to hit BUY

That’s a lot!!! And a lot rests on the potential reader’s immediate action and/or memory to look it up later. As a person who can walk into the next room and forget why I went in there, that might be asking too much.

What YOU can learn from this

Well, for one, if you’re going to do something big and flashy, I would make sure that it’s easy for the recipients of your message to find out more about your book, whatever your ad doesn’t tell them. This might be why so much promotional energy is spent on digital advertising/promotion. When we see promo for a book online, we’re one click away from hitting BUY, which is the ultimate goal. If you’re going to go as big as a plane towing a banner ACROSS THE SKY, you want it to work the best it can.

Of course, most out-of-pocket promotional expenses authors consider are less lofty than this. Many consider pins or tattoos or branded notebooks or other things that are easy to produce and ship or hand out. And this is great! It’s fun! You are totally allowed to have FUN while marketing your book, even if the $52 you spend on the swag does not result in $52 in royalties for your book. You can just do it because you want to and because it gives you another thing to talk about in the channels you promote your book, on top of reviews or cover reveals or reader responses. All those things can add up.

The primary takeaway I want to leave you with here is that there’s no one thing that will work in promoting your book. It’s the CUMULATIVE effect that matters. Someone might see your tweets about your preorder campaign and even if they don’t preorder, they may recognize your bookcover on the shelf in a store (or on a list online or in someone else’s instagram) and pick it up (or click or follow or whatever) and end up buying it. Or they do this after they’ve seen your tweets, a review, a friend tells them about it, and then they happen upon it in a bookstore six months later when they’re looking for a book for their vacation. This is how book marketing works. If you can shift your focus to ADDING to the pile of book marketing you and your publisher are doing, instead of hoping for the ONE BIG THING that will result in best-sellerdom or higher Amazon rankings or whatever you’re aiming for, then you will have better perspective on what to spend your own money on, and how to manage your expectations when things go live. Should you get an aerial billboard? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It certainly makes for a good story.


  • Publishing Tuesday, July 13th is SWORD STONE TABLE, edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington! This collection of short stories breathes new life into Arthurian myth and you need is ASAP. NPR loves it! loves it! Bookriot says Sagittariuses will love it! Gizmodo loves it! Preoder here and get a cool sticker! Join one of their online events here! (See what I did there? Is that enough marketing hits to get you to click?)

Stay well, friends. Get vaccinated. Summer safely.