Saturday, February 06, 2010

How many books will I sell if I invest $10,000 in a book promotion campaign?

An author emailed me today to ask a very reasonable question:

How many books will I sell if I invest $10,000 in a book promotion campaign?

I wish I had a reasonable, pithy response. Unfortunately, the best that I could do was to send him the following reply:

It's very hard to equate dollars spent on book promotion with book sales. Here are the challenges inherent in even taking a guess.

First, the results of PR efforts are, to some extent (although not wholly) unpredictable. I can make predictions (based on my twenty years of experience as a book publicist) about how the media might respond to my pitches (note, though, that I take on only book promotion projects that I feel show a great deal of promise). However, I can't know for certain how the media will respond until the media does (or doesn't) respond. While I work with the media and know have a very respectful sense of how they think and what they want -- the producers/hosts and editors/writers with whom I'm in touch make their own decisions about which books and authors to feature. I can nudge them, and I can influence them, but I can't control them. The fact that I've booked other clients on media outlet A is no guarantee that I can book any other particular client on media outlet A. My media contacts make their booking/featuring decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Second, as a book publicist, it's my job to conceptualize and execute creative, professional book promotion campaigns. Simply put, I pitch stories and articles to the media, and I communicate the results of my efforts to authors, and sometimes, to their publishers. Neither authors nor publishers (nor self-published authors) would have any reason to report their book sales to me. As that's sensitive information, I never ask for it. And I haven't yet had a client who has volunteered it. Frankly, I consider that private business, and I don't want to know it.

Even if I did know how many books a client sold, I'd be unable to take credit for those sales, much as I might want to (particularly if the book were a bestseller). Some successful authors I've represented have had more irons in the fire than a book promotion campaign, and those other activities have helped the cause of book sales. Also, to be fair, nearly all of my clients have received -- and count on receiving -- benefits from their book promotion campaign that transcend book sales. A successful book promotion campaign gives authors an opportunity to build their brand, gain credibility for themselves as experts, disseminate their messages, find speaking engagement opportunities that will pay (or reasons to increase their fees for speaking engagements based on their high media visibility), and so forth.

In short, I can't offer you a scientific formula for deciding how much money to spend on a book promotion campaign. I can, and will, offer up two thoughts, though. First, if you invest nothing in promoting your book, readers are unlikely to find it. There's just too much competition out there for shrinking book-buying budgets to fail to promote a book and expect positive results. To give your book a fighting chance to succeed, you must gain media visibility for it. Second, book publicity is a risky investment. Sometimes, an author's investment pays off in book sales (etc.), and sometimes, it does not. Never invest more money in book promotion than you can afford to lose.

Finally, I've had the great fun recently of promoting my own self-published novelty cookbook, "101 Recipes for Microwave Mug Cakes." While I will not divulge sale figures, I can tell you that -- with an appearance on Harpo Productions' "The Rachael Ray Show," a mention on CNET and on, and a steady stream of placements and interviews and reviews on radio, in newspapers, on blogs, and elsewhere on the Net (you can click here,, to see an overview of my book promotion campaign to date), I've been delighted with the results of my book promotion and self promotion efforts. I've been tickled to find proof of concept. Book promotion can work very well, and help you achieve your goals (of selling books and beyond) if your efforts are meaningful and creative and sustained.

If I were willing to give you a ballpark guess in answer to your question of "how many book sales would a $10,000 investment in book promotion buy me," I'd feel disingenuous, and I just can't compromise my integrity to give you less-than-honest response. Therefore, as counterintuitive as it may seem, I think I help you best by declining to "fudge" an answer to your question.