Major Marketing Campaign: Where Does the Money Go?

By Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University. Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, and was awarded her M.D. in 1979. After completing her internal medicine residency, she worked as a physician in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1987, Tess’s first novel was published. CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, a romantic thriller, was soon followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, “Adrift,” which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson. Her thriller, Harvest was released in 1996, and marked Tess’s debut on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list. Film rights were sold to Paramount/Dreamworks, and the book was translated into twenty foreign languages. Now retired from medicine, Tess writes full time and lives in Maine.

(Reprinted with permission)

I’m probably going to hear from someone wiser than I am that I shouldn’t be talking about this, but I can’t help myself. I’m fascinated by the dollars-and-cents side of publishing. So let’s talk about the price of promotion. Specifically, how much it costs to promote a blockbuster book.

Most of you writers know what the usual self-promotion strategies will cost when you shell out for everything yourself. You know what it’ll cost you for printed bookmarks and the author website and maybe, if you’ve got the energy, the drive-yourself-and-eat-at-McDonald’s book tour. But do you ever wonder what it costs a publisher to promote the really big books? Do you ever wonder what a publisher’s announced ”$250,000 marketing budget!” actually does for a book’s sales?
First, let’s talk about what you might spend that much money on. Let’s start with ads.
A full-page, color ad in the NYT Book Review will run you around $30,000. Since the Book Review comes out only once a week, this ad will, theoretically, get you some prolonged exposure. But not everyone reads the NYTBR; they just focus on the rest of the Sunday paper. And there are some areas of the country where people don’t read the New York Times at all.

A full-page, color ad in the NYT daily newspaper will cost you even more — $50,000 or so. But it has a huge visual impact if it’s on the back page of, say, the arts section. While you sit on the train reading your newspaper, the passenger across from you is going to be staring at the ad on the back of that page.

Then there’s a whole host of other publications you can choose to advertise in. USA Today features book reviews in its Thursday edition, and it’s a popular place to advertise because it has nation-wide circulation and the newspaper is read by just about every traveling businessman who happens to be on the road that day. The other national newspaper that seems like a good place to advertise is the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. It has a huge circulation. It goes to high-income households, right? It’s a way to catch the attention of those elusive male readers, right? So why does the WSJ carry so few book ads?

Because the price of their ad space will take your breath away. Last year I called to find out what a modest little ad in the WSJ would cost. I can’t tell you the exact amount, because I was so stunned I must have blocked it from my memory. All I can tell you is that it makes a NYT ad sound like a bargain basement deal.
So you can see how you can easily blow a hundred grand or more, just paying for ads in major newspapers. But do they actually sell books?
Most publishers will say that the cost of the ad isn’t justified by the number of sales the ad generates. I believe them. Still it’s true that an ad DOES cause a bump in sales. I watch my Amazon numbers whenever an ad runs, and I can see the effect on my sales ranking. But the effect is very short-lived — only a day or two. So no, I don’t think paying fifty thousand for an ad results in fifty thousand dollars’ worth of book sales.

What a big ad does do, however, is give a signal to booksellers that this is a major book. It tells them that if they didn’t bring in many copies, they’d better get on the phone and order some more. It tells those in the publishing and reviewing industry that this is a book they should pay attention to.

And it makes the author and agent very happy. I mean, let’s admit it– one’s vanity MUST be stroked.

If you want to blow a lot of money fast, try TV advertising. You’ll get lots of splash, will catch the attention of lots of eyes on the ad, but it’s also very ephemeral. Thirty seconds and poof — it’s gone. And because of the price of TV, chances are, you’ll only buy into limited markets. Channels that cater to women viewers for instance, like Oxygen and Lifetime. Or in certain regions of the country.

Again, the question must be asked: does it sell books? I don’t know the answer to this one. But there’s no mistaking the impact it makes on booksellers and others within the industry, as far as getting attention for your book.

I’m leaving out all the other fun and different ways to advertise, such as magazines, transit ads, radio spots, airplane tow-ropes, etc. Because no one really knows how well any single one of them works to sell a particular book.

But they’re all valuable in one regard: they get your name out there. Even if consumers aren’t actively paying attention, your name will become embedded in their subconscious.

I was once in a bookstore where I saw a woman eyeing the paperback rack. My book, BODY DOUBLE, was there. When she picked it up and looked it over, I couldn’t help asking her, “have you heard of that author?”

“I’ve never read anything by her,” she said. “But you know, I’ve heard her name about three times in the past month. So I guess I should buy this.”

Then she told me that “three times” is her rule of thumb. That’s how many times she needs to hear about a product before she’ll try it out.

So it may be that ads are effective in ways that aren’t immediately measurable.
Free publicity is what DOES work. Feature news articles, for example. Interviews on TV and the radio. Stories ABOUT your story.

And that’s where publicists and book tours come in. Publishers don’t send an author on the road so that she can sit forlornly in some half-empty bookstore and sell two copies of her book. She’s on the road so that the local newspaper will run a feature, and the local radio station will invite her to talk up her book. She’s there to get FREE PUBLICITY. And if her subject matter is unique and interesting (not just another ho-hum serial killer story) she’ll get the media’s attention. Since VANISH is about a corpse who wakes up in the morgue, when I went on tour, I brought along a whole file of real-life examples of awakening corpses, which I’d gathered from national news sources. (One of the reasons I subscribe to Lexis-Nexis is that it makes newswire searches so easy.)

This fall, when I go on tour for MEPHISTO CLUB, I’ll be ready to talk about the Nephilim, an evil bloodline mentioned in ancient and Biblical texts. (see the historical background for MEPHISTO CLUB.) The fact I’ve written a crime thriller won’t interest the media. What will interest them, however, is the fact there’s a whole community of conspiracy theorists out there who believe that Nephilim have hijacked the leadership of the world in order to foment wars and bring on

Armageddon.

In order to snag the media’s attention, though, reporters have to know about your book. So some of those marketing dollars go toward printing up galleys, assembling press kits, and mailing them to reporters. Most of the time, these efforts are done in-house by the publisher. But occasionally, with a special book, the publisher (or the author herself) will bring in an outside publicist to help with the effort.
How much does a private publicist cost? There’s a huge range of prices here. I’ve heard of publicists who charge only a few thousand dollars. The big names, however, will charge upwards of $20,000 for a national effort. Then there are others who will charge you by the region — $2,000 to publicize you in the San Diego market, for instance, or $3,000 for the Los Angeles market.

Along with the cost of a publicist is the cost of the book tour. Which means hotels (usually very nice ones!) and media escorts and airfare. Most authors fly coach, but because travel itineraries can change on a dime, the airline tickets must be flexible (meaning expensive.)

Finally, there’s the price of co-op. This is the money publishers pay to major booksellers for front-of-store display and in-store promotions. I haven’t been able to find out what it costs, but I’ve been assured that it’s “very expensive.” (And I wish someone who knows will email me with the numbers. I promise to keep it secret!) Co-op is the one thing that WILL increase sales of a book. A book on the front table in Barnes and Noble will immediately catch the eye of the consumer. Once the book is moved to the back of the store, its sales drop drastically.

I know. I’ve compared the sales figures on my own books, both on and off co-op.
The real problem is that you can’t just throw money at the chains and expect to get that front table; Barnes and Noble has to AGREE that your book should be on co-op. The space on that front table is limited, and only a select few titles are deemed worthy of it.

And only the rare title gets to purchase the best space of all: the Barnes and Noble stepladder.

For years, my books have hit bestseller lists, but I can’t get more than two weeks on the front table, even though my publisher is willing to pay for it. And the stepladder remains an impossible dream for me.

So, what’s the best spending strategy for a marketing campaign?
If I were a publisher, here’s where I’d put my money, in order of priority:
First: galleys, press kits, and mailings to the media. This can be done most cheaply in-house. (Ths is one of the things an author can do herself if she finds herself without publisher back-up.)

Second: bookstore co-op. If the book’s not at the front of the store and easily spotted, it’s not going to sell. The publisher should try to get as many weeks as possible on that front table.

Third: Book tour. You’ve got the author working for free as a traveling salesperson. If she’s media-genic and has a good story to tell, the publicity will come.

Fourth: hire an outside publicist. Yes, there are some things a well-regarded private publicist can do that an in-house publicist can’t. The private PR person often has special contacts within the media. Also, when a journalist gets a press kit from a nationally known publicity firm, he knows that this must be an important book, and will take a closer look at it.

Fifth: Newspaper ads. I’d start with USA Today. If the budget can absorb it, then also ads in the NYT Book Review or the NYT daily. You can back this up with additional ads in magazines such as People or Entertainment Weekly. Or in a fanzine like Romantic Times, which offers quite reasonable ad prices.

Sixth: If you’re really serious about promoting this book, there’s always TV.
(I haven’t mentioned online promotions here, because I’m not certain about their effectiveness. Also notice that I didn’t mention an author website; I just ASSUME that an author will take care of that absolutely essential promotional tool herself!)
Unfortunately, even a million-dollar promotional budget won’t ensure that a book will hit bestseller lists. Sometimes, the book’s just a dog. There are plenty of examples of publishers who’ve thrown fortunes behind a new author, only to get back 80% returns. But that’s the business. There are no guarantees.

What’s your Pitch?

If you want to have television and radio interviews, you need to pitch to producers. A lot of sources will tell you to find what’s hot in the news and find a way to weasel in on the story.

So, let’s say you wrote a novel about an earthquake and suddenly San Francisco has its long-awaited shake down. Hmm, sounds like CNN might be interested in having you on as a guest. Should you pick up the phone and demand that your publicist call them?

Well…, hmmm, I don’t recommend it.

This might sound a little silly to you, but you’d be surprised at how many authors call their publicist and request something like this. Chances are, however, that CNN will be able to find a real seismologist. Chances are also equally high that the viewers would be more interested in watching said seismologist explain why the earthquake was a certain magnitude, then listen about how you came up with the concept of writing a novel about an earthquake.

Another mistake that writers can make is to focus their pitch solely on their writing. Because every author writes, interviews about the writing life are not going to stand out. Unless you typed your manuscript with your toes, or were forced to pen your Magnum Opus on a park bench in NYC because you were homeless, why not make your Q&A stand out from among the other author press kits?

When looking for radio, magazine and television opportunities, the best tip I can give you is to make yourself interesting to their viewers or readership.

So, let’s take our scenario earthquake book and consider this for a bit. For our purposes, let’s also pretend that San Francisco is still standing.

You could try pitching something like this:

Is San Francisco really ready for the big one?

Nearly a million people live in San Francisco yet have no idea how devastating the expected earthquake will actually be. John A. Doe was shocked by what he discovered during his research for his novel, Earthquake—The Big One, and your listeners will be too. For a start, did you know that there are millions of little pockets of fossil fuel waiting to implode on us? The Queen of the Pacific has never been closer to sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I propose a guest appearance with John, where he’ll tell us where the fiction ends and reality begins.

Okay, so I’m feeling a little tongue-in-cheek tonight, but you get the idea.

Barbara Warren ~ Author Interview


Barbara Warren lives on a farm in the beautiful Ozarks. She is a writer, editor, and Sunday school teacher. Her hobbies are reading and raising flowers. The Gathering Storm, her first novel, will be released from Jireh Publishers in September.

Plug time. What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

My mystery novel, The Gathering Storm will be released in September this year. It’s set in the Ozarks where I live, close to the Missouri-Arkansas border. Stephanie Walker, the heroine had always felt rejected by her famous songwriter father, Marty Walker. When Marty is killed Stephanie becomes the main suspect and tries to solve the crime herself with the help of Brad Wilson, ex-con. The book deals with rejection, love and forgiveness, with a healthy dose of mystery.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

It’s been a long road. I can’t remember when I first started writing. Even as a child I took a writing tablet on family trips and wrote. But then I married Charlie and I had a job and somehow writing got pushed aside. One day a local group held a writers conference in my hometown. I attended and won the humor contest and all of a sudden I had to write. I called some of the people who were at the conference and we started a writing group, which is still active. I started sending out stories and articles and sold several. Then I started working again, wrote off and on until I retired, but stopped sending anything out. Then after I quit work I finally I got serious about writing.

When I received the news that Jireh wanted to publish my manuscript I had a hard time believing it. A letter arrived in the mail saying they would send a contract in a few days.

I have enough rejection slips to paper my office. So it was very exciting.

The Gathering Storm is my first published novel, but Jireh is looking at the second in the series and I have a new project that I love. It’s a mystery about a group of women my age who talk like me and act like me. They’re bored and they decide to start a club solving murders as soon as they find one. It’s called Murder and the Sisters of the Do-Right All Faith Church. I’m having a wonderful time with it.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Yes. I think everyone does. Writers are a strange blend of arrogance (we believe people want to read what we write) and inferiority (we are sure no one will ever want to read what we write) When I have doubts they usually come at night when I’m tired. Then I’m sure I’ll never be able to write another word. I’m wasting my time. A real no one loves me, I’m going off and eat worms kind of mood. Then in the morning I turn on my computer and get started again. The problem is our writing is so much a part of us that we would have a hard time stopping.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I wasn’t persistent enough about marketing. You have to keep sending stuff out, keep studying to learn the craft. Accept the rejection slips as part of the business and keep trying. I love writing. I don’t love marketing, so I get lazy and that has hurt me. I’d do it differently if I had a chance to go back and start over.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Study the markets. Get a Sally Stuart Christian Market Guide or a Writer’s Digest Market Guide, or both and study them. Look for publishers who handle the type of writing you do and target them. And I’d like to add, don’t be afraid of the small publishers who don’t pay advances. Get your foot in the door and keep trying.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

I was at a local writing conference and a brash young man was speaking. He told us to keep our group as a close community. Not open our writing groups to everyone, otherwise we’d have a lot of little old ladies in tennis shoes showing up and driving everyone crazy. Well, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are, if you have the ability to write, then write and let God decide how He will use it. I’ve learned something from almost everyone I’ve met, regardless of age.
And I’d like to introduce myself. I am a “little old lady in tennis shoes.”

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wish I’d known more about how the publishing business actually works. All too often writers learn about the business of writing but neglect learning about the writing business, two entirely different things. We need to know both.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

There are so many scripture passages, which comfort me and speak to me, but the one on my editing brochure is a favorite. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 KJV. Those times when I have doubts I remember the Lord has promised I will fly like an eagle.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

Other than all of those rejections you mean? The funny thing about rejections, the more you get the less you mind them. They’re just a part of the writing life. When I took time off from writing to go back to work I had a difficult job, managing a deli in a grocery chain. I worked nine hours a day, but I had limited work hours to use with my employees, so if they didn’t show up I usually ended up working their shift too. By the end of the day I was too tired to write. After I quit work and started writing again and it was very difficult to pick up where I had left off. It was like starting over from the beginning. Since then I’ve tried to write something every day. Our writing muscles are like the rest of our muscles, they grow slack when we don’t use them.

What are a few of your favorite books?

I’m a great fan of the late Ann George. Her Southern Sisters mysteries like Murder Carries the Torch, Murder on a Bad Hair Day, Murder on a Girls’ Night Out, and Murder Boogies with Elvis, were the inspiration for my own Do-Right Sisters. Her books may be out of print now but I think they’re still available on Amazon.

I like Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn mysteries.

Anything by Hannah Alexander and Lori Copeland. And since I’ve started doing book reviews I’ve discovered so many great Christian writers. I’ve particularly enjoyed Judith Miller’s Freedom’s Path series and Kacy Barnett Gramckow The Genesis Trilogy. I could list a ton of others. All of the books I’ve reviewed were good and I enjoyed them very much. Christian Fiction has come a long way the last few years. I buy very few secular books anymore, and those are writers I’m familiar with and like.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

This is going to sound rather strange. But I used to do Children’s Church on Sunday morning and I wrote my own lessons. They are very simple, but I enjoyed them and the children I taught really seemed to like them. Those lessons used to teach godly principles to young children stands out as something special and important to me. They never earned me a cent and never will, but I believe God used them in His own way. I put the lessons in book form and handed them out to the Sunday school teachers in my church and they are still using them today.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Okay, this is going to sound very petty. Sometimes, because we’re writing for the Christian market, we can get the feeling that our stories came straight from God wrapped up in tissue paper and tied with a red ribbon. That attitude can affect our growth as writers. God gave the talent and it’s our job to learn all we can about writing, to constantly grow as writers. We should never stop striving to be better with every thing we write. It’s not glorifying God to do bad writing in his name.

I have an editing business, Blue Mountain Editorial Service, and ever time I get a manuscript with the words that “God gave me this. It practically flowed and I know it is inspired.” I cringe, because I know I’m in trouble. Any correction I make will offend. Because you see the writer didn’t write that. God did. And who am I to critique God’s writing. At a writer’s conference, an editor from Guideposts addressed this problem. She quoted from a reply she got from a rejection letter. “How dare you reject my manuscript? God dictated that. Don’t you recognize His writing?”

Funny, but a warning to each of us. If we write for the Christian market, we need to do the very best we can at that point in our writing career, but never be satisfied with our best. Keep learning, keep growing, and keep on getting better. God will bless our efforts.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I start by checking my e-mail right after breakfast. Then if I have a free morning, which doesn’t come all that often, I’m at my computer, writing or editing until eleven. I try to be back at the computer by one thirty and work on my manuscript, or some one else’s, or on my newsletter, until six. Then after dinner I sit at the kitchen table and do editing or work on my own manuscript using my Alpha Smart, or read books to be reviewed. I know that’s more than most writers can manage, but I’m retired, have no children, live on a farm, and hate to shop. So I have more time than most. Also I read fast and can write fast and that helps.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

Oh my. I need so much. Could I just have a smorgasbord, take a little here and a bit more there? I think every writer I read helps me in some way. I get an idea for a story of my own, I learn a bit more about characterization, or how to develop a scene. I really believe we learn more from reading other writers than we do from reading books on writing. So I’m not sure I can answer that question by naming one writer. So many people have helped me in so many ways.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

Well again, this is off the wall. I have a humor/ inspirational book, non-fiction, I’d like to see published. I’ve sent it out and people like it very much but it doesn’t fit their list. I teach a woman’s Sunday school class, and the book has most of the principles I’ve taught over the years, linked with funny stories about real people. I’d like to see it published. But God knows about it and if He wants it published, He’ll open up a way.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

No. I get discouraged, but I don’t think I could quit. My head is too full of stories and ideas. No matter how much I might want to quit, I think I’d still have to pick up a pen and put words on paper.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part is rewriting. Once the story is down on paper I enjoy reading through it and making changes. That’s when the story really comes alive. My least favorite part? I suppose sending proposals out and waiting to hear. I got a rejection on a story the other day that had been out so long I had forgotten sending it out.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I’m a newbie at marketing. I’ve read everything I can find about marketing and it seems to me that the most important part, other than getting stores to handle your book, is name recognition. I know when I go to a bookstore, the names I recognize jump off the shelf at me, and those are the ones I reach for first. All we can do to get our names out there helps. Interviews like this one gives us a chance to show people what we’re like and maybe they’ll remember. Another thing I’ve learned is to thank everyone for everything they do for me. The other day I did an edit of a proposal for a writer. It didn’t take long. A few days later a lovely bouquet of flowers was delivered to my door. You can bet I’ll remember that writer’s name. But I also remember the ones who thank me for doing book reviews or putting their news in my newsletter. That’s one thing we can all do and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Parting words?

I really want to thank you for interviewing me. People like you do so much to promote others and I really appreciate it. And I’d like to say, never get discouraged if you don’t seem to be going anywhere. Just keep writing, keep learning, keep entering contests and sending stuff out. Never give up. There are more quitters than failures in this business. Do your best and God will do the rest.

10 Tips to Help You Along Your Writing Journey ~ Mary DeMuth

I’ve learned a lot of surprising things as I’ve realized the dream of being published. For those of you in the midst of the pursuit, I offer a few snippets of advice that may help you along the journey.

1. Make friends.
When you go to a writers conference, be more consumed with making relationships with other writers who are in your stage of publication. These dear folk will become some of your closest friends. As you get published, you’ll be able to seek advice, ask for prayer, and kindly request endorsements.

2. Get used to rejection.
It happens on every level of the publishing process. You’ll be rejected by publishing houses, agents, magazine editors,people who DON’T want you to speak. And as you get published, there’s more rejection heaped on. Now that I’m a “midlist” author, I experience yet another level of rejection, getting messages like, “Well, we’ll talk to you in a few months, when we see whether your numbers are up.” Ouch.

Repeat to yourself: rejection is normal; rejection is normal; rejection is normal.Rejection is the air you breathe in this crazy business.

3. Realize that publishing is a BUSINESS.

Though you may view your writing primarily as a ministry, the folks paying you advances see it in bottom-line terms. Be prepared to be a part of that. Realize that a lot of the onus for marketing will rest on your shoulders.

4. Kindness will preserve you.

Don’t burn bridges. Don’t be petty. Shun gossip. Yep, this is a weird business populated by all sorts of people. Realize it’s a small community and word gets out.

5. Do your best NOT to be difficult.

Meet deadlines. Answer emails promptly.Listen, really listen, to your editor. Unless it’s deeply important to you, acquiesce to their changes. That will allow you to go to bat for the things you think really shouldn’t change. But always, always communicate with kindness and respect.

6. Make friends with folks in the industry whether they help your career or not.

I’ve made some lovely, lovely friends who I will probably never publish with. The fun thing, though, is that this is a fickle industry. Editors and agents and publishers move hither and yon all the time. Connect with all sorts of folks, not for the sake of your gain, but because Jesus is fascinated by people and you should be too. Pay attention to the people God puts in your life. Perhaps that editor will become a lifelong long friend.

7. Don’t become so hootie-tootie for your own britches that you are beyond editing.
Make it a goal to write a better book (or article or column) each time. Be teachable. Become a lifelong learner of the craft. Go to conferences.

8. Give back whenever you can.

Teaching enables you to learn more. Consider that helping other people become better writers is a gift you give to the future. You never know the impact Jesus will make through another writer.

9. Get rid of jealousy.

Life’s way too short to brood on someone else’s talent or success. Rejoice with those who succeed. No sticking pins (or pens) into the hands or brains of successful writer voodoo dolls. (Say THAT ten times fast!)

10. Continue to read widely.

Read different genres, classics, poetry by Siouxsiepoet, pithy articles by the Bertrand-one, writing books, comics,and, of course, Watching the Tree Limbs. (Sorry, I’m simply obeying number 3. . . yeah, baby, the marketing onus is on my shoulders!) If you’d like to add more advice, start with number 11 in the comments section.

Mary E. DeMuth
Christ Follower. Novelist. Freelance Writer.
Author: Building the Christian Family You Never Had
and Watching the Tree Limbs:
www.relevantblog.blogspot.com
www.pioneerparenting.blogspot.com
www.relevantprose.com