Not-So-Risky Business: Book Promotion on a Budget


tee_headshotWhen I meet new writers or writers looking to get published, I get asked often what advice I could impart; and pretty consistently, I disappoint because my advice is rarely on the craft. I usually go into the business side of books. Once upon a time, this was someone else’s job apparently. I’ve watched a lot of new authors stumble and fall — face first — in this respect, and watched seasoned, experienced writers stubbornly ignore this side of the publishing industry.

It’s a different world now, my fellow writers. It would be nice to think you can follow in the footsteps of Uncle George and enjoy a few years between books, but you can’t and you won’t. You’re measured by your last book. Not only in how it performs but when it came out. Back in the days of Butler, Asimov, Bradbury, and LeGuin the term R.O.I. never came into play. it’s a different game with Pip, myself and Ace. Our publisher has made a gamble on us and on a series in progress, and it is expected of us to make sure this gamble pays off.

Welcome to the world, better or worse, of a 21st century author.

I’m trying to take everything I have learned since 2002 when Morevi first rolled off the presses, and this is why I tend to talk more about the business side. One of the hardest lessons I learned over this decade-and-change of writing professionally is just how easy it is to find yourself in the red. Deep in the red. I’m not speaking of the red ink found in an editor’s pen, mind you, but the financial red of your bank account when it tells you in so many words that you—the professional author—are flat broke.

Between 2002 and 2004, I accrued over $30,000 of debt, and it took me just over five years to get myself out of that hole. An overwhelming majority of the debt was all in account of what I now look back on as a crazy gamble: book tours. I was, in those two years, averaging a convention appearance a month. This did not count the occasional book store and coffee shop signing. Some months, I had two cons back-to-back with one-night speaking events at libraries and colleges.

I still believe that face time is extremely important to the author, especially authors new to the market. However, it is more important to pay the bills, have a safety net in the bank, and make certain the roof you’re keeping over your head can be fixed at a moment’s notice.

Oh yeah, and writing. Writing is very important to the writer, last time I checked.

Yes, I know—con appearances are a tax deduction. While a book promotion is a deduction, I’m not getting all of it back. Only a piece of it. Believe me, the piece you get back will not be enough to keep you from serious financial trouble.

Here’s the upside of being a 21st century writer, though. We have options. Since the advent of social media, authors have a variety of cost-effective ways of promotion, all from the comforts of home.

Blogging. A blog tour, either organized by a third party or yourself, is when a series of blogs are networked and bloggers take turns in providing content for one another’s sites. The topics can range from a casual topic that tickles the fancy to specific topics pertaining to a writer’s career.  Blog tours can cover areas across your hometown, across the country, or even around the world. Provided you have a blog (you do have a blog you regularly maintain, right?), this introduces your readers to new bloggers, introduces yourself to new readers, and yields a healthy collection of evergreen content that can be repurposed for your own blog.

Podcasting. Similar to a blog tour, a podcast tour can be arranged across different podcasts before and after a writer’s release. Podcasts can also be easily syndicated on your own blog and shared in your feed, introducing new audience to your host podcasts after they have introduced yours to them. Another promotional avenue podcasting offers is producing short stories set in your works’ universe. The content can be either created by yourself or other authors you invite into your world. Free audio short stories are a fantastic way to introduce yourself to new readers.

FacebookPartyFacebook & Twitter Parties. Social Media tends to make many authors shudder, dismissing it as “just another distraction” courtesy of the Internet. Pip and I hosted a Facebook Party, though, and we’re completely floored by the results. A Facebook Party is where you schedule an event, invite and promote people to attend, and then — at the end of the party — host a giveaway for stuff. Originally, our party was planned to run for two hours; but due to the amount of special guests, we made it three. Three hours which flew by! There is a similar approach to this on Twitter where either you or another account hosts a discussion at a pre-set time. Instead of a “place” where users meet, a “hashtag” agreed upon (#MoPOParty or something similar) is introduced and users track that in their Twitter app of choice. Promotions on these channels should not launch too early or late but can run throughout the month surrounding a major event or book release.

When it comes to promotion, whether it is a personal appearance or a podcast, authors must be pennieseconomical. I look back on my schedule of 2002-2004 and understand why people described it as “aggressive” because a con a month was a gusty, rigorous, and risky move for a new author. I also shake my head because I could have — and should have — managed my finances with more scrutiny so I would have realized sooner rather than later the dangerous gamble I was taking…and losing. That was an education for me, a school of hard knocks that I would prefer not to attend again. Today, I pinch pennies, weigh the benefits, and make sound decisions. I must  stop being the artist and become a businessman.

That’s why this is still referred to as a business, after all.
dawnsearlylightTee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light and launch a new venture—One Stop Writer Shop—offering a variety of services to up-and-coming and established indie authors.


3 comments to Not-So-Risky Business: Book Promotion on a Budget

  • The problem with promoting oneself via the ‘Net or any other kind of network is that a network needs to exist before such efforts will have any effect whatsoever. I could promote the hell out of my books on my blog or Facebook and be reliably assured of being seen by three or four sympathetic readers. Cost effective, sure – but effective? Not so much.

  • I’m planning on a blog tour when my novella is closer to coming out. I’ve talked to some places, one a pretty good sci-fi romance blog run by Heather Massey (another right here). I also have a romance author or two who might be able to give me a blurb. Beyond that, I want to do at least one con next year (hopefully ConCarolinas, but Context locally will work if I can’t) and I have plans for a couple giveaways at the con. It’s a good thing my brother does printing. I might be able to get a deal from him on cards and such. Unfortunately, it’s ebook, so it’ll make it difficult to hawk my wares at a con, but for giveaways, flashdrives are pretty darn cheap and I can put some extra bennies on it. And hey, you get a flashdrive. I’ve found a 5 pack for 10 bucks. I also know a big art community local who would probably help promote my work.

    And Wolf. There’s always a network, you just have to do the networking before the book comes out and get people to help promote when it does finally come out. It’s not necessarily just about already having a fan base. Follow other authors blogs for a while, get to know what they like to promote, and then send them a nice email about the possibility of being in on a blog tour. Tell ’em you’ll give them a copy of the book to review first or do the same for them when they need to promote. It is true, if I just put my promotions up on my own site I’d maybe get a few hits a month, but if I expand the bandwidth by getting other authors to promote as well, that’ll get me out to far more people. And after that, word of mouth will help as well…if I’ve done my job as an author and put out quality work.

    David B Coe has a good breakdown, if he wants to add to the discussion.

  • Razziecat

    I can see how all of this would play out for a full-time writer. That’s never going to be me; I can’t afford to give up my day job. Cons are a possibility, providing I could get the time off when needed – which is very likely (seniority is a very good thing 😉 ). As for sinking large sums of money into it, I don’t have it to start with. So in my case, the lion’s share of promotion would definitely be blog tours, things like facebook (shudder) or my own blog, and possibly local book signings (I’m being pretty optimistic here!). This is still all good advice. Promotion seems to mostly be up to the author these days, unless they already have a huge fanatic following, in which case the publishers push them like crazy (go figure).