PART EIGHT: Estimating and Limiting Expenses
If you’re anything like most writers, when you reach into your pocket, moths flitter out. Empty, nada, poor. You have responsibilities. Perhaps you have children, maybe you’re single, between relationships or worse yet, between jobs. You’ve figured out the time management thing so the dog is walked and the cat is fed, hell, even the laundry occasionally gets done. Your primary focus has been to get your book written. For whatever reason, it looms and demands and you follow the call of characters and plot, nuance and surprise. So here you are, finally thinking about putting together a marketing budget and you realize … there is no budget. This is especially the case if you haven’t taken a serious look at lesson 2 in this series, the one that taught you to treat your writing like a business.
Yes, a business. Writing is a business and your book is the product your business has produced. We want to sell our products and it does take investment to do that, but before you begin to hyperventilate, there’s investment, and there’s investment – investments of time and creativity as well as investments of cash.
Things to Watch Out For
If you’ve crossed into the circle of writers who’ve finished a book, fiction or non-fiction, and begun to discuss this within various universes – writing and critique groups, online author groups and social networking venues – you will notice that suddenly you’ve become very popular. You’re receiving emails from businesses and professionals you never heard of. They’re offering free workshops and seminars, as well as workshops and seminars that cost a few (or more than a few) bucks. Someone has a plan, a system that can catapult you to the top, whether it’s a self publisher with a shiny, mesmerizing website, or a person with the right contacts to get you seen. Some are selling services they themselves implement, and others are selling a package of techniques that, though not complicated, are extremely difficult for the novice to use. No, they’re not all scams and I don’t want you to think everything that pops into your email box is a scam. Just be careful of the short cuts because guess what? THERE ARE NO SHORT CUTS.
Be careful to avoid the luring bells and whistles, at least at first. The key to this part of the process is to be like a choosy shopper, read every label, think about the “value” over the “cost” and be smart.
How to Avoid the Bad Juggling Act
Your book is written and you’re about to move ahead onto the next phase of the journey. Whether it’s to choose an e-publisher, a self-publisher or traditional publishing process by going the query route, you still must begin your campaign toward success NOW. Just as you wouldn’t query or submit a badly written manuscript laden with typos, you shouldn’t assume marketing solutions will magically become visible and work for you. Don’t think it’s not your responsibility to plan or implement marketing strategies until after your book is represented, printed or sold to a well known publishing house. You must think and do NOW.
Publishers want to see that you are on top of your game, that you have taken the reigns and begun the journey toward being noticed, recognized and desired as an author and for the book you wrote. This is how you get noticed in the first place. If you don’t think the first thing an agent you’ve queried does is Google, go on, send out your queries and set up Google alerts for your name. You’ll be amazed. The bottom line? Goggle only recognizes you if you’ve been active. Active represents seeds of marketing. Marketing represents visibility and voila! Now you have shown the big boys who control your destiny that you are not only ahead of your game, you’re in control of it.
Avoid juggling, it can go bad. Bad juggling is when you vacillate. When you choose one path or image for your plan then change gears halfway through. It’s like shifting lines in the grocery store because the other one seems to be moving faster and damned if it’s not going slower and slower. This is why your plan must be solid and clear. Waffling is a no-no. Be sure of your path and walk it. You can’t be dropping all your balls.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that new and exciting possibilities will never tempt you. Being tempted is okay, just remember to be careful.
How to be Tempted the Smart Way
You must set a budget for several reasons, if nothing else, to control your trajectory. At most, to control your cash flow as it goes out the door. Here are a few words that should be burned into your brain as cool, exciting and tempting promotional concepts cross your eyes.
- Effective, High Visibility
- Effective, Target Visibility
Free – First of all, nothing is ever really free, so always be watchful. Everyone wants something and if a professional or friend offers you something for free – time, a reading eye, suggestions or contact names – they will always want (and deserve) something in return. Field these opportunities carefully. Obviously you can’t get every service you need to market your book for free, but you can make good use of those offerings of free help, as long as you have something of value to the person doing the offering. Are they secretly writing a book too and might they want your good eye as a reader? If they’re stepping up to help with a book event, don’t forget to ask what special events they might have coming up and offer to help. There’s a mutual give-and-take that makes free services work. Never totally discount an offer of free service, but always look closely and consider the returned favor.
Cheap – Ouch, there is no uglier word in the budget language. Think about it. When something is cheap, it obviously is only a semblance of what it should be. It has holes or only works a short time, it functions only during the full moon or it only for left-handed users. When the price for a service looks too good, it usually is. Bait and switch is firmly planted into these offers too. Of course, you get what you pay for but hey, you can get so much more if you just pay so much more. If the service is significantly cheaper than the others, be a detective and find out why before you chance losing some of your precious budget.
Reasonable – Good word, reasonable. But what is a reasonable price for a promotional service? Let’s take book videos. Your genre and following have qualified this as a viable avenue for promoting your book. How do you know the best price? Think value. Look at every sight offering the service, write to the contacts at those companies, ask questions and never forget to inquire what additional services they offer that makes them better than the competition. Making a book video is cool, but what about marketing it? Does the company offer proven effective strategies for exposure of your book video? What is the added cost? How does it compare with other similar companies? Can you negotiate? Mix and match production packages? Does it fit in the budget? This takes some time but think about every element of this process the way you’d think about buying a house or a car. Reasonable is only reasonable if it has value.
Effective, High Visibility – Okay, this one gets a little complicated but let me simplify it for you. You have determined a budget. Let’s imagine the overall marketing and promotional budget is say, $2,000 and not a penny more. How you use and distribute that budget should depend on your strategy. A high visibility strategy is very different from a targeted strategy. It’s like shooting a bunch of pellets from a shotgun and watching them spray everywhere … or shooting an arrow aimed for the center bull’s eye target. Both approaches work for their specific goal, but what is your goal?
If you’ve chosen high visibility as your strategy, you’ll need to be very creative and careful with your pennies. Look for and at every free exposure you can get from book reviews to setting yourself up as an expert on something within your book. Connect with groups focusing on that subject of expertise, be willing to get on a plane where ever you need to go and speak to these people. Promote yourself online, use your strong platform then … and only then … start spending your budget wisely. Press campaigns can be free or they can be expensive. Release services rage from $25 to thousands. Be aware of when, how and where these services distribute your release. Choose one that allows attachments (i.e. book cover, author photo, etc.) for when you need them. Only use a service that reports that the press release did in fact go out and how many targets received them. Keep track of responses. Aside from a press campaign, budget for promo campaigns. Is your book one that should have tee shirts and mugs? What will you do with them? Will you sell them on your website? Give them away at events? Are they creative enough to be successful? Will you advertise and purchase ads?
High visibility means big exposure and while your book is waiting for publication, you need to be very vigilant about assuring that you are building a following that is waiting for the book. Keep in mind, you may need to expand your budget and hire a professional to assure your bucks get all the bang possible.
Effective, Target Visibility – Big difference here, and sometimes this is the most powerful way to build your following as it begins early and in your own back yard. You will focus your energies in your local exposure and expand it out. Speak at local book stores and libraries on your subject hook, and belong to local related groups you can easily participate in (i.e. vampire and fantasy lovers groups, foodie groups, gardening groups, whatever relates to your book will work). Create your own “completely” free press release contact list by calling local newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations and finding the correct contact. Make sure they know your name, so that when you email press releases, they recognize you. Get visible everywhere. If your book is coming out soon, announce it on a simple flyer posted at your dentist’s office, your vet’s office, your insurance man’s office, even on those local market and grocery store bulletin boards. Reach into your community and get some face time by helping with trash cleanup days or gardening days or even holiday local parades and picnics. It’s the original social marketing and it still works. Now you’re all friends and it’s no big deal to tell them you have a book coming out. Plan a big launch party and make sure you invite all your new friends in addition to the media. Celebrate the old fashioned way.
Now, combine this with online social marketing. Reach your fingers out further and further with a really powerful blog (updated at least twice a week), strong facebook and twitter presence and all along, keep building an email list. Notify all your subscribers of any news. Keep the excitement growing.
All this and you have yet to spend a penny, so plan your $2,000 strategically. Expand into purchasing broader press release services as you get closer to your book launch. Use your budget wisely. Choose the perfect professional to help you push through.
The Bottom Line and the Budget
Now, time to dust off that Excel program and get down and dirty. You have determined a realistic overall budget figure, now break it down.
Don’t forget the obvious. Your general expenses count too. Phone, postage, printer ink, internet service fees and phone expenses all count. Next comes the professional services you are willing to contract for, this includes an attorney, editor, webmaster, publicist or assistant to help make everything happen. Now on to the PR, marketing and promotional expenses, book videos, advertising in book publications, audio books, book signing events and launch party. Also in this category would be banners and signage you may want for your book events, book plates or even posters. Next, travel expenses. Yes, travel expenses, even if you are targeting your promotions primarily to a local or statewide market, you must include travel expenses. Gas, meals, tolls, parking and the occasional hotel room. Don’t forget gifts and gratuities, for example, if someone is kind enough to reach out and invite you onto their talk show, nothing makes a better impression than a small gift. Chocolate works every time. Let’s talk about Donations. Will you be purchasing or ordering books to donate to an organization to help raise money for a charity? Remember to add the cost of those books or at least the postage into your budget. Yes, it will be tax deductible but you must pay first, right? Now we should consider education. As part of your budget and your book business plan, you should always be open to ongoing education. When there’s an author your love coming to speak at a conference, you will want to attend and learn what you can from him/her. Not only have you seen an excellent speaker, but the other attendees have seen you. Budget for it. And finally, the all important slush fund. This is a little bit of budget set aside for the absolute perfect service or promo that has tempted you and passed the “great value” tests.
Now, this obviously represents a full budget, not just your $2,000 for promotion, but do not be intimidated by all this. A well planned budget works within the parameters of reality and stretches things a bit. Naturally, you shouldn’t create a budget for $100,000 when you only have $500, but a dream budget as an addendum to the real budget is a perfect way to open your imagination to creative thinking. For example, if there’s no way you can afford a professional publicist, surely you can afford a few wonderful books to teach you. If hiring a book video company is too far out of budget, you can learn how to make a video yourself.
Be smart. Budget not only your money but your time. Create a timeline that will take you from finished book to book launch date and beyond. Know you’ll get there and just put one step in front of the other!
Last and most important, watch and monitor you budget like a hawk. Be honest, be realistic and get value from every penny.
Next week is the final in this Platform Building Series: Time is on Your Side (Go on, sing along with the Rolling Stones in your head. I know you want to.)
Platform Building, One Plank at a Time
Lesson one, The Rhyme and Reason
Lesson two, Creating Your Book Business Plan
Lesson three, Developing Your Unique Hooks
Lesson four, Getting Attention
Lesson five, Knowing Your Market
Lesson six, Planning an Effective Pre-Launch