Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Cost of Promotion

 Self-promotion is my least favorite aspect of writing. Not that I don’t enjoy live or virtual appearances; I love them. Setting them up is painful. Bookstore slots have been harder to get for indie writers such as myself for quite a while, so I know to meet them halfway. I’m working to set up a panel for a local bookseller that has been good to me in the past so they can have four or five of us there, broadening the potential draw as well as the number of books that might be sold. I’m all in on that.


What brought me up short last week was a response I received from another store:  “We require a $100 deposit prior to the event. We will return this deposit if we sell $100 worth of books.”


My initial thought was, “huh?” Then, “I don’t think so.” After which it occurred to me to ask my author friends on Facebook these three questions:


Am I being unreasonable?

Am I missing something?

Is this now the way of the world?


I received 36 responses, of which 32 ranged in tone between “No” and “Fuck no.” (My favorite was a suggestion to send then 100 virtual dollars.) Two described similar situations they have encountered, though neither was a straight-up “pay to play” deal. Two others provided reasons why it was okay for the bookstore to do this.


As one might presume from the breakout of responses, I consider my initial thoughts confirmed. The folks who pointed out things I had not thought of did so in a (mostly) respectful manner, so I feel I should address them here. (By “mostly respectful” I mean there was one comment that strongly implied I was too big for my britches, which is not the case. At least not here.)


Their key point was that promotional efforts aren’t free. I get that. All business have overhead. It’s called “the cost of doing business.” The vast preponderance of the store’s promotional costs are things they’d do whether I made a virtual appearance or not. Web site. E-mail lists. I have to assume they place ads in local media as a matter of course; listing this month’s events is part of the ad copy.


The cost of bandwidth and order fulfillment came up. For bandwidth, see above; it’s a sunk cost, and they’re not adding to it for me. As for the costs of order fulfillment…really? If they don’t sell any books, order fulfillment is free.


One commenter went on to say, “In other words, why don't all authors just set up a Zoom call and tell people on Facebook to drop by? Because the bookstore has a cachet. It has vetted you.”


First of all, setting up Zoom calls and telling people on Facebook is exactly what some authors are doing; I’m considering it myself. That would cut the bookstore out of the deal altogether. Cachet is nice, but while this is a mystery bookseller with an excellent reputation, it’s not like I’m asking for a spot at Powell’s or The Strand. As for vetting, not to blow my own horn, but this is my seventh professionally published book and I have two national award nominations. Another hundred bucks doesn’t add anything to my seriousness of intent.


 One commenter asked the person who raise the above points “in what other form of entertainment and sales does the headliner have to pay to show up and entertain?”

Only one comes to mind: Strip clubs. I might be willing to risk $100 for an event at the Bada Bing.

1 comment:

Mark Bergin said...

I bought a book last year at an art shop in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina by a local OBX author. Now that I am one, the shop owner has agreed to sell my book too. But to set up a table at one of her weekend open markets elsewhere on the beach carries a small fee. For me to sit next to her and sell my books that I’ve consigned to her, and give her a cut. Maybe? (Maybe I’ll stand on the other side of the table, pretend to be a customer, and talk up the book as people approach.)

Are ya sure Ross Thomas done it this way?