Monday, April 24, 2006

Satanic sputterings

There are 3 things about JA Konrath that I like.

1. He lives far away from me.

2. He thankfully keeps his face covered with a pitchfork

3. He says stupid stuff on his blog I can ridicule

That Joe, he’s an endless source of amusement.

I managed to hijack his latest blog post, about how hard it is for publishers to make any money. How, you ask?

By posing a legitimate question about whether or not a publisher would see a higher return if they doubled the piddly amount they allot for promotion. Out of a $36,000 launch budget (not including publisher staff costs) a measly $1900 is allotted to ads and promotion, and $300 to galleys. $1900 is approximately 5% of the total initial investment.

The model goes on to show how the publisher doesn’t make money because not enough books are sold. Well, duh. Yeah, if you don’t sell books, you won’t make money. That’s a no-brainer.

But what I said I’d like to see is some cost comparisons for what the returns are if that promotion budget is doubled, for example.

And in typical stick a pitchfork up your butt and screw with you fashion Konrath has been mocking my points in his comments.

What I don’t get is, Joe has often said you should reinvest your advance, that authors should self-promote. Okay. But now he’s mocking me when I suggest publishers should assess how much their promotion budgets are if they want to see a return.

If there isn’t a return for investing extra energy and resources into promotion, why should authors shoulder that expense to earn nothing? They shouldn’t. I’m not saying publishers should throw caution to the wind. They should show discretion.

But a business is a business. I grew up in a home that served the dual purpose as headquarters for the family business. I was answering business calls when I was 8. If there was one thing we understood in our house, it was that you had to work to build a business.

And you had to advertise. Simply put, you needed to be seen. Need an electrician, don’t know one? Who do you call?

You check the yellow pages.

Which is why A.D.A.M. Electrical replaced the original name of Ruttan Contracting – using the initials for Arden Douglas and Annie May put them at the top of the yellow pages listings. Did it cost money to change the name? Yep. New stationary, business cards, signs, lettering on the business trucks. Plus the advertising costs.

Was it worth it? 25 years and still in operation, still turning a profit. You tell me?

Bottom line is, nobody will buy your book if they haven’t heard of it. We can debate all day what the best ways are to reach people.

Have I ever just picked up a book off the shelf, read the back and bought it? Yes. Ian Rankin, The Falls, for example.

Have I bought books off of author referral? Yes. Val McDermid, The Wire in the Blood. To name one Joe. Have I bought books I’ve heard about over the radio? Yes, I have. Advertisements? Not exclusively, no. Reviews, yeah, but not for ages.

Bottom line is, to hire a web designer, register a domain and secure half-decent web hosting costs on average $500 US. A really fancy site with lots of graphic design work costs even more. When my husband (a business analyst and software developer by day) designs them for businesses, the costs soar into the thousands.

That’s a quarter of that promotion budget, right there. Then you’re supposed to go out and meet booksellers, do signings, all of which cost gas money at least, sometimes hotel, sometimes plane costs. There are phone calls and business cards to consider.

We haven’t even touched the cost of going to conferences like BoucherCon.

In other words, that money is gone in the blink of an eye. Not to mention that it actually costs money for shipping to send out arc copies to get the Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus reviews, as well as others.

It’s true it’s very hard for publishers to make money. It’s hard for authors to make money too. In a perfect world, it would be easier. Good books – the really good books – would sell by the hundreds of thousands and bad books wouldn’t be made into movies.

It isn’t a perfect world.

We need to invest time, money and energy in promotion. We also need to look at the long haul. It can take 3,4,5 books to grow a series.

Just look at Ian Rankin. An “overnight success” on book 10 of the Rebus series. Years of thinking he’d be dropped by his publisher for failing to deliver more than tens of thousands of sales.

And now he sells millions worldwide.

If publishers and agents want to see more Rankin’s make it to that level, it takes faith and commitment.

And if writers want to get there, they have to work their ass off too.

We’re all in this together.

Big blogging news! Naked Authors have joined the blogsphere!

And Tarquini’s trying to re-write a quote from me, shamelessly! Lies! Slander! Perjury! Okay, maybe not perjury, but still. She should be handcuffed and spanked – where is Rickards when you need him?
Deleting comments I made on his blog, apparently. It was there earlier. Didn’t want me showing him up over the horsefucking thing, no doubt.

And the real three things I like about Joe?*

1. He’s committed to giving advice to aspiring authors.
2. He works like hell to sell his books.
3. He may be wrong, but he’s never dull.

* There might be others, but I’m not publicly admitting to them.


M. G. Tarquini said...

Know what's weird about all this discussion? Why authors buy books has nothing to do with why people who aren't authors buy books. Why people who read blogs buy books has nothing to do with why people who can barely find their computer's 'on' button buy books.

I'm going to start asking people why they buy books. Not authors, not people who haunt authors' blogs, but normal, everyday Joes who I know read books and wouldn't know a blog, a writers' conference, or a Kirkus review from their Church bulletin.

I'll get back to you.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Exactly Mindy - I pointed out in the comments over there I'm an oddity. I'm always looking for people to interview, for example.

But how do you reach the masses? Well, chances are, if they've never heard of you, you don't!

JT Ellison said...

Here's one for you to chew on. I think it's obvious that we're all doing one helluva job marketing to other mystery writers and readers. How do we get outisde the market? Where do we go to advertise to get a commercial following???
BTW, Sandra, you and I definitely need to share a bottle and hang.

Sandra Ruttan said...

All for the bottle and hanging - um, hanging out, that is!

As for the other, maybe hold everyone hostage at a bookstore until they pick up crime fiction?

You'd die if you knew what I told John Sandford to do last summer JT...

Boy Kim said...

Ummm... is that all it takes? Trying to rewrite a quote from you, shamelessly?

Now she fucking says.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, you've been going about it the wrong way Boy Kim! LOL!

James took a shot at you in the comments on his blog for Saturday (Ironic or Irony - James Oswald, that is).

You'd best set him straight. I answered him on his post today.

JT Ellison said...

You must share. Sandford's the reason I'm writing Crime Fiction in the first place. I'm half in love with Davenport too...

Sandra Ruttan said...

I told him to kill the wife and kid.

Nearly gave him a heart attack, but I did come up with a plan B.

Moral of the story: never discuss on a panel wondering if you did the right thing by marrying off your character and giving them a family. Not if Sandra's there!

JT Ellison said...

Ouch. I like Weather. I thought he was toying with that when he had her overseas for this last one. I just re-read his earlier ones and he really is a good example of how to grow a character over the course of a series.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, to be honest, I like the idea of growing a character and it's refreshing to have married protagonists out there, instead of womanizers everywhere. This is one thing that bothered me a bit about Banks - I liked the early books and was starting through the series, and I heard about how things changed.

That took a lot of the steam out of it for me. I'd really been enjoying a character that wasn't so completely screwed up.

But I figured if John really regretted the move, I could offer him a way out...

sandra said...

I may be way off base here, but the public library is where I find authors. Our library stocks mostly mysteries. That's where I found Sandford, Burke, Edna Buchanan (sp?) and a lot of others. Our librarian is great at pointing out the new authors. If I like what I find, then I buy. If you want to know what the public is reading, hit your local library. They'd love having authors come in. Where I live, the nearest book store is 60 miles away. I depend on the library to find great books for me. And libraries buy books.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You aren't off-base Sandra - that is how a lot of people find books. The only thing there in terms of marketing is how libraries decide to buy books. In the US, the libraries consider the Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus reviews and base purchasing off of them, as well as some other reviews.

Which means getting those arc's into the hands of reviewers, although that isn't as much of a cost as sending an author on a tour.

I live in a small village with virtually no library, and I really miss being able to wander and look around, find really old books that are fantastic but nobody's talking about today...

"A Friend" said...

Watch out Sandra -- JA Konrath is a VERY powerful figure in the mystery community. You don't want to mess with him...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Friend.

But I figure I could kill him and get away with it. He's practically made the case himself for justifiable homicide...

Gabriele C. said...

Hehe, one of the reasons I picked Campbell as my pen name is the C.

And I just invested in some books about webdesign, it comes cheaper in the end if I can do it myself. I've also applied for an Europa Domain with my provider.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I taught myself HTML code, Gabriele. Then I taught myself CSS. You can do it.

Lisa Hunter said...

Excellent post, but I want to point out that PR (as opposed to advertising) is practically free. I spent several years as a publicist for non-profit institutions, and because we didn't have a lot of advertising money, our focus was on getting journalists to write about us or interview us on TV. If you can swing that kind of coverage, it's actually better than advertising because it comes with an implied endorsement.

Even if you aren't in a media hub, you still have access to major media. Wire services like AP and CanWest frequently pick up quirky, fun local features and run them nationally. Also, find out if major newspapers elsewhere have bureau chiefs or stringers near you; they're usually more approachable than editors at the same publication. (I used to get a lot of coverage for my organization in the Los Angeles Times this way, even though we were 3,000 miles away.)

Some television networks use local features as fillers. Find a reporter who seems ambitious and likely to send his or her stuff to the network honchos. Radio affiliates, like your local NPR stations, will do the same. (I was once stumped trying to get something on NPR in New York, so I found an angle to convince a reporter in Missouri to do the story -- and it got picked up nationally.)

Don't believe "consultants" who say that you need a fancy expensive media kit to do this. Journalists throw those things away. Most of my media placement was done with a single email crafted to appeal to the specific reporter. All you need is an ANGLE that will appeal to the reporter's audience.

For example, if I'd written a mystery novel, I might try to organize one of those murder-mystery weekends with a local inn (with them fronting the expenses in exchange for my PR). I'd find a quirky angle that would make the event interesting to a wide variety of people (a famous case, etc.). Then I'd work, work, work to get media.

All it takes is one big break. Once your story is in a major publication, the other ones start calling YOU. And if you score some major media, your publisher might think again about shelling out some additional money.

OK, I'm going to stop hogging your blog now.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh Lisa, you hog my blog any time!

The only thing with authors for newspaper coverage is promo books. I've heard local authors gripe about sending out tons of books hoping for reviews and getting nowhere.

There are things you can do, like the cable tv networks. They have readings, and of course, radio, which has wide distribution range.

And I think those are solid options, and people should chase every avenue.

I'm not quite sold on the idea of bookmarks or postcards personally.

#1 thing I think you can do: always be available for an interview. If anyone is interested, never turn them down.

But it's all muddling through at this point. I am going to pay attention to my investments and try to figure out what's worth it and what isn't.

And delete your comment so nobody else can steal the suggestions! (Just kidding!)

Lisa Hunter said...

Thanks, Sandra. I should clarify something, though. I'm not talking about sending the books to the book editor. You're competing with everyone in the world for that space, and John Grisham is going to win.

What I'm saying is that authors should find/create a story RELATED to their book, so that they can get a feature story (as opposed to a book review). Think of an angle that's quirky, nostalgic, related to a famous/notorious person or event, etc. You creative writers ought to be able to do it!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Something to think about, for sure. If you can come up with a related angle.

I've actually heard people discuss writing a book for a specific marketing angle, which I find a bit disturbing. I just write what's in me to write...

I mean, imagine trying to come up with a marketing angle for Fucked Again. Not easy.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Good ol' Sandra...the bolg see....this is funny stuff! I did notice that your comments were longer than his post...LOL the lower right sidebar of my blog, there's links for learning htmy and css code!

Bonnie Calhoun said...'s late!

Gabriele C. said...

I'm pretty good with html already. What I want to learn is the more advanced fun. Like creating your own templates or starting your website with a mini-movie like PBW's Darkyn site.

thanks, I'll check it out.

JA Konrath said...

Tremble before me! Tremble I say!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, you aren't threatening to uncover your face again are you? (LOL Joe!)

E. Ann Bardawill said...

Is that you??

You're a LOT shorter in real life.