So, I’m way, way behind in posting this, but house repairs from a water leak, a sudden influx of design work, and a book release sort of piled on top of me all at once. But now, I’m back at it and am here to bring you another post in the indie author cost/recoup series. This time, we’re talking about physical promotional costs.
Let’s run the numbers first. Of 121 responses:
- 24 people paid $0 for physical promo items.
- 43 people paid under $100.
- 36 people paid between $100-$299.
- 11 people paid between $300-$999.
- 6 people paid over $1000 on physical promotional items.
So here’s where it gets interesting. The 24 people that paid nothing all made money on their book. That was as little as $5, but as much as $27,000 in three months. That was the ONLY category to do so, as the others went either way. However, I think a little clarification might’ve been needed in this particular subject. When I talk about physical promotional items, I’m including all of the following:
- Printed materials (postcards, bookmarks, flyers, etc)
- Physical giveaway items (could be hard copies of books or various prizes)
- Banners for display at signing events, and other decorative elements (I have a stand-up Loki for this purpose. Not even joking.)
- Cost of any physical appearance to promote a book (like paying to have a table at a convention)
- Donations of ebooks given away (while it’s a digital item, I count it as physical when it’s a gifted copy through Amazon or Smashwords, but not if it’s an electronic Advanced Reader Copy)
So, given all of the above, while it’s possible to spend $0 in this category, I don’t think it’s probable. Likely I wasn’t clear enough in my survey and some authors categorize their spending differently. Every author I know has given away e-copies of their novels, and they should be accounting for that. That giveaway is costing you a purchase of your book in a lot of cases, so while it might be a 99-cent book you’ve gifted, it’s still taking that 99-cents out of your pocket.
But why spend money in this category if it isn’t proven to sell books? Three people spent $1000+ in this category and lost money. Personally, I think that level of spending is excessive if you’re just beginning, but not necessarily to someone with a large following who goes to a lot of events. I’ve mostly operated on a break-even budget up until the last few months, so my spending in this category has always been under $300. For me, that includes a big giveaway prize for the blog tour I do (this has been everything from Funko POP! figures to nail polish to tea to superhero stuff), gifted e-copies through Amazon (10 or fewer), 5 or fewer paperbacks (including at least one for a Goodreads giveaway), and at least one type of printed item per book (postcard, bookmark, magnet, etc).
I order promo items based on whether or not I’ll be going to an event soon and what sort of item my audience likes to have as a memento. Right now, the prevailing feelings in MY audience are that magnets and bookmarks are the most liked swag items, but don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to a piece of paper for this. Get creative with it. A new thing I’ve been doing that people seem to really like is a personalized tea blend through Adagio teas. Check this out. By clicking on the Create A Blend link in the menu bar, you can create your own loose leaf tea blend and add artwork from your book cover as the label. Like this one for The Stillness of the Sky. They come in these really cute half ounce tins that people can reuse once the tea is gone, AND, if people like your blend, it’s possible to earn free tea when others order your custom blend. How awesome is that? In the past, I’ve also ordered personalized M&Ms for my Evolution series superhero books, as well as made book necklaces with my covers on them. Another author I know makes shrinky dink book covers and turns them into wine glass charms. I purchased a bulk order of fake mustaches and stapled them to postcards for the Endure series. There’s a trillion and one different ways to make promo items fun and memorable, if not useful.
Useful is really the key for me, to be honest. If I’m going to spend money on a promotional item, I need to know it’s worth it. I’ve straight up asked my readers what type of small swag they prefer to get, as I don’t want to waste my time and money on something that’ll just go into the trash. There’s no better way to figure out what people want than asking. Plus, it’s another way to engage your audience and get them invested in what you do. When folks know you listen, they’re more likely to return the favor when you’re the one with something to say. Communication is a two-way street, after all. I personally am far more likely to grab swag that I can use (bottle openers, pens, magnets, etc) than a bookmark (almost everything I read is electronic now) or postcard (cool for signing and giving away, but I don’t use postcards), so I always want to know what my readers find useful. If they’re using my swag, they’ll be looking at my name or book cover, so they’ll remember me/my work. That’s the whole point of promo items. Make it count, or it’ll go in the trash and/or be forgotten, and you’ve wasted your money.
But how to get the best bang for your buck here? Well, one thing I do is scan the Living Social and Groupon deals for items I can personalize. That’s how I got the superhero M&Ms. You never know what kind of nifty idea you might get there. I’ve seen people create journals with their book covers on them and print them through Createspace (probably not a good idea to do in large quantities, but you can sell them and keep some on hand for giveaways). Also make sure you get email notifications from the major online printing places to keep abreast of sales. Overnightprints.com did a 87% off sale in January, but that’s just one example. Gotprint.com, vistaprint.com, and plenty of other sites across the web all run some deep discount sales pretty often, so you never know when there’s a great deal to be had. All of those places offer templates you can use in Photoshop or GIMP (PS files are compatible with GIMP, BTW), and multiple other programs as well. They all make it fairly easy to create their items, so it’s not as much of a challenge as you think.
Here’s a little snapshot of what I paid for promo items for The Stillness of the Sky:
- Magnets: about $22 for 100
- Blog tour giveaway: 2 paperbacks and 7 POP! figures – $85
- Paperback giveaways on release day/on Goodreads: $30
- Ebooks: $15
- Shipping costs for giveaways: $90
That’s $237 total just on promo items. Did I make that money back? Yes, and in the first month. So, to me, the investment was worth it. That might not be the case for everyone, though. My spending here has increased as I’ve been able to do so. I couldn’t have done that a year ago. It’s a balancing act. The goal is to not go into debt in putting out new fiction, so I’m very careful with what I spend.
So now you’ve seen all the costs that can be related to self-publishing a book. If you’re not an author, you might not know exactly what goes into this, and while it’s different for every author, this is why it’s so heartbreaking to see our work pirated or getting criticism for charging $x for our books. It can be affordable if done right, but doing it as well as or better than a Big 5 author isn’t cost-free. It takes months and months of hard work and a good chunk of money. We do this not only because we love it, but because we want to make a living from the thing we love. Yes, all of us. If you’ve been in self-publishing a year or more, you know how difficult it is and how harsh the reality is.
There won’t be a post next week, as I’ll be off on a writers’ retreat in the Smoky Mountains, but when I come back I’ll be doing a wrap-up post and including some of the notes the contributing authors left in their survey responses. There’s some valuable insight to be had there, so I’m looking forward to sharing that with all of you in March. I’ll also be talking about my Big, Scary Book that’s my next release shortly after the wrap-up post, and I have a lot to say about that.
In the meantime, have you seen any awesome swag ideas out there that really caught your attention? Do you think that physical promo items have no value or are invaluable? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Thoughts. We needs them, Precious.