June 26th, 2008

Calling all authors: when has it been worth spending your own money?

If you’re an author, there are a lot of things you can spend your advance on besides food, clothing and shelter. You could also spend it on a book trailer, postcards, brochures, a tour, a publicist, etc.

If you’ve spent your own money promoting your books, what do you think has been worth it? And if the publisher spent money on you, which part did you think was well spent? (Anonymous comments from authors about your own experiences are just fine.)

What follows are my own experiences:
- Publicist. $1,500 (?? Don’t remember amount) for for Learning to Fly. That book went into four printings, got great reviews (even in Canada), got named to Booksense, got optioned for film, was in Costco, etc. All those things could have happened without the publicist. I will never know. The one thing I know for sure is that one newspaper reviewer told me when we happened to meet face to face that my publicist’s persistent but not annoying pitch got her attention – and she gave it a rave review.

- Postcards. For my last book, Shock Point, I got 2,000 oversize postcards from Gotprint.net for about $200 plus postage to send to my own personal mailing list (publisher eventually reimbursed me). For me to send these to my fan base seems worth it. I’ve done this with every book, even though the first one I just sent to people who had been to my high school reunion plus maybe some labels my local bookstore gave me. Oh, and I sent one to every other person named April Henry that I could find an address for.

- Brochures. I recently got 1,000 brochures from Gotprint.net to send to Texas schools promoting my school visits. Cost: $159 plus envelopes and postage (which adds up fast). Jury is still out on this one.

What have you or your publisher done? Was it worth it?

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I would make a terrible celebrity

Last night I met with a dedicated group of mystery readers that has had a book group inside a Barnes and Nobel for the past couple of years. I'm not the first author who has talked to them. Phil Margolin came fairly early on. (Full disclosure: Phil, who is a NYT bestselling author, lives in Portland, and did not quit being a lawyer until fairly recently, seems to have been to every tiny booksore or obscure venue. If I ever show up for something and hear that Phil has not been there, it will be either a) a sign of personal victory b) a sign that the event will not actually attract anyone. At all.)

Lately, I've been immersed in the YA world, so I'd kind of forgotten about the mystery world. Like many fans insist on reading the books in order, starting with the first one. (Heaven help the poor author who has an ongoing series, but the first book is no longer in print.) They talked animatedly about fair-play mysteries, and how cheated they feel if the killer is someone no one could have guessed.

But mostly they asked me a lot of questions, and were very attentive and laughed in all the right places when I told my stories. They complimented me. They seemed impressed.

Now imagine you were a real celebrity, and everyplace you went people hung on your words and told you how wonderful you were. I think that would quickly make you a bad human being. Because how could it not go to your head?

Luckily, I don't do this kind of thing very often.

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