You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone came out about 5 months ago (!!), and for a while, I've wanted to blog about everything I did to promote it. Now that I've had the space and distance to think about all of it, here we go!
I went into the debut process knowing I'd do some of my own promo—I'd always wanted to. It's not something I was required to do; rather, I wanted to get creative and experiment. This post will focus solely on what I did to support my book. You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone, a contemporary YA novel published in January 2018 by Simon & Schuster's Simon Pulse imprint, had a long road to publication, and I put my whole heart into it. I wanted to give it the best chance at success that I could, and I didn't want to look back at my pre-pub months and wish I'd done more.
When I started thinking about promo, I expected to analyze each potential opportunity for return on investment. What I quickly realized, though, is that it's hard to predict ROI because we don't have access to perfectly accurate, up-to-the-minute sales information. That's why I based my promo strategy on two things: 1) Does this particular thing bring me joy? and 2) Does it increase visibility for my book? If I could answer both questions with a yes, then I'd do it. If I could only answer one, I'd have to think a little harder before making a decision.
Please note this is by no means a recommended or required list! This is simply what I did to promote my debut and some transparency into my process.
Also: keep your receipts! All marketing expenses, including postage, are tax write-offs!
I'm going to open with this because I think it's the best investment you can make. If you only do one thing for your book, I highly recommend bookmarks. They're relatively inexpensive (depending on how many you get), easy to give out and mail, and they have a clear purpose. Because I had a limited number of ARCs, I dropped off stacks of bookmarks at local indies a couple months before pub, and once my book was out, I gave them out at events.
Design: $45 (I used Kristin Rae, whose work is amazing and affordable! She does tend to get booked up, so I recommend reaching out a couple months in advance or being ready to wait. There are a lot of other great designers out there, too!)
Printing: $70 (I made two separate orders for a total of 300 bookmarks, and I ordered through GotPrint. Originally, I went with matte bookmarks, and once I ran low, I decided to try glossy. I think I prefer the matte look, and they're easier to sign. Some of the extra features cost more money, but you can, however, get 100 bookmarks for ~$20!)
Timing: I ordered my first batch of bookmarks in July, about 6 months before my January debut. I ordered another batch in November. As I'm writing this blog post, five months post-debut, I am out of bookmarks! You'll definitely want to wait to order these until after your cover is public and once your book is available for preorder in case you want to include the ISBN.
A bookplate is essentially a sticker you sign for readers to place in front of their book. It's a great alternative if you can't sign the book in person.
Design: $35 (again, I used Kristin Rae)
Printing: $50 (I used UPrinting and ordered 75 bookplates. Five months post-debut, I haven't run out.)
Timing: I ordered these in September, 4 months before my January debut.
I want to emphasize again that this is not something required of debuts or any authors! I'd always loved seeing the creative preorder campaigns authors dreamed up, and before my book sold, I knew it was something I wanted to do one day. As a debut, I viewed it as a "thank you for preordering!" campaign as opposed to an incentive to preorder. This helped my mindset—as a debut, I didn't have the kind of name recognition that would spur someone to preorder my book based on author alone.
I wound up with about 70 preorders for the campaign, and I'm still so, so grateful to everyone who preordered!! I'm cooking up another preorder campaign for my second book—again, as a way to show my gratitude and because I loved doing it the first time around!
Everyone who sent me their proof of purchase received flat swag (bookmark and bookplate mentioned above) plus a digital short story I wrote that followed the protagonists five years after the book ended. I didn't send that out until after the book was released. The campaign was open internationally, which was important to me because there were some amazing international bloggers supporting YMMWIG!
I picked two grand prize winners for one of two themed boxes of goodies that represented the main characters in the book. These were mostly a collection of local products and jewelry, pins, makeup, and bath products I found on Etsy. I wanted all the items to be things people could use because that reduced the chance they'd get tossed or sit somewhere collecting dust. Some authors hire designers to create gorgeous character art, and while I really love this kind of thing, I couldn't justify the cost for myself. I've received some of this from preordering other books, but because I live in a small apartment, I sadly haven't had anywhere to put it. I'm not ruling it out for the future, though.
Cost: $200 (total for everything included in the grand prize boxes, flat swag costs not included)
Timing: I started collecting items for the grand prize boxes about 4 months before my debut. The campaign went live 2 months before my debut, and I mailed everything the week my book came out.
Plenty of successful authors aren't active on social media, so this is definitely not a requirement. What I recommend (and what I've seen other authors recommend), if you're interested in growing your author platform on social media, is focusing on one thing you enjoy that plays to your strengths.
For me, that was Twitter. I'll admit I love Twitter—something about the bite-sized pieces of information, or maybe the fact that I've met most of my closest friends there. Because I work from home, Twitter is kind of my water cooler. While I participated in Twitter chats and tweeted about my book when I had news to share or felt like tossing out a Goodreads or preorder link, my book wasn't the only thing I tweeted about. Thanks to ARC tours, I read a lot of 2018 debuts, and because I loved them and their authors, I wanted to shout about them online. I also shared my writing process, pictures of my dog, and other random life tidbits, plus engaging with people 1-1 and with the greater book community—all things I'd done pre-deal, too. Basically: being a person and not a promo robot. That said, I know a lot of authors feel awkward about promo, especially women, because we are often taught to act modest and downplay our accomplishments. One thing I recommend if you feel that way is to balance promo of yourself with promo of others. For every tweet about your book, for example, tweet five times about other books before you come back to yours again. You can also schedule tweets. Maybe you plan to reveal a quote from your book every Thursday along with a graphic. That's easy to plan out, and that way, followers know to look for a teaser from you on Thursdays.
I use squarespace, which I highly recommend if you're designing a site yourself! The podcast ads don't lie. No joke, I even contacted their customer support chat twice while writing this post. I use the Montauk template, which is super easy to customize, and my site background is a stock image background I switch out when I'm feeling mercurial.
Cost: $144 annual fee, $20 domain fee
Timing: I had a free blogspot site until my book deal, after which I made the switch over to squarespace because I wanted to be able to do more with it while keeping it easy to maintain.
The lovely folks at Fantastic Flying Book Club reached out to me about a blog tour, and they were wonderful to work with! I also participated in interviews with a number of other bloggers and fellow authors, in addition to writing guest posts for YA Interrobang, Pop! Goes The Reader, and the Jewish Book Council. You might get some repeat questions, which is totally understandable, so I wound up making an FAQ for myself. That way, I had a go-to answer for questions like "What inspired you to write this book?" that I tweaked a bit each time.
Timing: The tour ran the week of publication, which I think is pretty common for blog tours. It included reviews and some content I created, such as answers to interview questions. Other blog posts ran anywhere from 6 months before pub up to pub week.
This varies—sometimes, your publisher will organize a reveal for you, and sometimes, authors set up a reveal themselves. My reveal took place on YA Books Central, and I included a note about the design process. People could enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for the first ARC, along with the chance to win some swag. My hope was that, since one of the options on the Rafflecopter was to add the book on Goodreads, I'd get a significant bump in to-read adds on there. But when I checked my Goodreads stats, I didn't really see a huge bump during the days the giveaway was going on. If you're setting up your own cover reveal, it's a great way to make a personal connection with a blog or blogger. But unless your reveal is happening on Entertainment Weekly or Teen Vogue or somewhere similar, the general consensus in my debut group was that it's unlikely to significantly move the needle on sales at this stage of the process. So I wouldn't stress too much about your cover reveal! For my second book, the publisher will reveal the cover on Simon Teen, which is less work and less stress for me :)
I was also interested in revealing an excerpt of the book because I was excited to share it and thought it might encourage preorders. Sometimes this is revealed along with a cover; sometimes it happens after the cover is revealed. I wound up revealing my first chapter (with publisher permission!) on my blog 2 months before pub.
Timing: For me, cover reveal happened 6 months before pub, but this varies a lot depending on publisher. First chapter reveal was 2 months before pub.
Instagram tours were starting to gain more popularity around the time I was promoting my book. Because I'm not great at Instagram (yet! One of my goals for this year is to develop more of an aesthetic on there and to post more regularly) and because there's a fantastic YA readership on there, I wanted to try this out. I went with Storygram Tours, though there are several options out there.
Cost: $200 (I chose their Custom Tour, which offered longer captions and interview questions.)
Timing: I've seen people do Instagram tours with ARCs and with finished copies. I went the finished copy route—partially because I decided only a few weeks before pub that I wanted to do an Instagram tour, and with my book coming out in January, there wasn't enough time for me to get everything organized or space in the tour schedule. My tour happened end of January/early February, and my book came out on January 2.
Stats: The tour hosts provided these stats for the 8 days of my tour: 13,572 total likes on all posts combined. I have no way of knowing how many of those likes turned into sales, but that was a lot of eyes seeing and thumbs double-tapping on my book. Even if there's no concrete ROI, visibility is GREAT.
I received 6 physical ARCs, so I knew I had to really think about what I wanted to do with them. Here's where they went: 1: cover reveal giveaway on YA Books Central, 1: Goodreads giveaway, 2: Twitter giveaways, 2: ARC tours. I slipped in right before Goodreads started charging money for giveaways, and I'm not sure I'd do one in the future. It is good visibility, but it's also pretty pricey, and there's no way of knowing whether the winner actually received it or is even interested in the book. As far as giveaways go, Twitter and Instagram are probably the most effective. Especially with Twitter RTs—make sure your giveaway tweet has an image, and that's potentially a lot of people seeing your book. I also wish I'd only sent one ARC on tour as opposed to two, since physical ARC tours move somewhat slowly and I had so few to begin with.
Your publisher will be distributing physical ARCs as well: to bookstores, conferences, festivals, reviewers, and other industry folks. You might also ask your publisher to send physical copies to specific people.
Timing: My ARCs arrived about 6 months pre-pub, and I was giving them out up until 1 month pre-pub.
Your publisher will put your e-galley up on Edelweiss (in my experience with S&S, this happens first) and then on NetGalley (this happened a couple months before pub). Your pub approves requests as they come in, but you may also be fielding requests from bloggers interested in a review copy. I made a basic Google Form for people to fill out if they were interested in receiving a review copy, electronic or physical. I noted on the form that requests were out of my hands, but I would make sure the publisher got their information. I then sent this list to my publisher every few weeks or so.
Timing: Anywhere from 1-6 months before pub, sometimes earlier
This is something your publisher might set up for you, but you can reach out to news outlets as well. Because my degree is in journalism and I worked in the field for several years in Seattle, I already had some local connections. I targeted organizations related to the topics in my book (Jewish organizations, Huntington's disease organizations), as well as local media. I had a really positive response from my university's alumni association and my former college newspaper, in addition to Jewish and HD organizations.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make anything happen with a couple of my former employers (a newspaper and a public radio station), which was definitely disappointing. I reached out multiple times and had the requests punted around to different people, but nothing concrete ever took shape.
I'm putting shipping in a separate category because it's absolutely something you should budget for, and it really shocked me. Whether you're part of an ARC tour or mailing out a few hardcovers or even just sending out some bookmarks, it adds up! My costs here include two ARC tours I was part of (Electric Eighteens and Class 2K18). I'm including postage, tape, and mailing envelopes of various sizes. Buy these in bulk for sure.
Total shipping costs: $300
Total amount spent: $1,100
And that's an approximation. Again, I want to emphasize that every dollar I spent was entirely my choice.
Total time spent: a lot! My book came out January 2, and November and December are naturally pretty busy months in general, so I did feel like I was scrambling a bit, on top of working full-time and being on deadline for my second book.
Was it worth the time and money? Of course, ymmv, but for me, the answer is yes. I loved the connections I formed with bloggers, booksellers, and librarians online, and I loved working on my preorder campaign. Collecting the items was tons of fun (I mean, just look at this molecule necklace), and once the campaign closed and I sat down to mail everything, I was bowled over with gratitude. At least half of my preorders came from people I didn't know, which was an indescribably amazing feeling. I am still so, so grateful.
Ultimately, what your publisher does to promote your book is largely beyond your control, as is the case with most things in publishing. They're focusing on multiple titles per season, and you just have one: yours. So if you're wondering whether to invest a good chunk of money or time into your own promo, ask yourself whether it's something you'll genuinely enjoy doing. Like I mentioned in my intro, that was my barometer. I think it's also important to accept that the unpredictable nature of this business means you may not see results right away—or at all. It's a guessing game for just about all of us. And definitely keep your publisher in the loop about everything you're doing!
I asked on Twitter what people would want from a post like this, and below I'll respond to questions not answered in the post.
Is there anything I wish I'd done differently? I'm not sure. I know I'd like to experiment with sponsored Instagram posts for my second book. I'd do more Twitter giveaways for ARCs because I do think they gain the most traction there. I'd also buy more bookmarks at the beginning because I hadn't anticipated running out. But there's nothing I necessarily regret not doing. I would like to start a newsletter in the future, but it wasn't something that was calling to me this time around. Custom enamel pins are also a super cute promo item I'll be looking into for my second book. I love the idea of street teams, too—another thing on my "maybe I'll do that in the future" list.
What did I do that had the most impact? I really wish I had a concrete answer here. I wish there were a magic formula, like 20 tweets + 1 preorder campaign + 5 news articles = 100 books sold, but this is so hard to measure, especially because I haven't yet seen concrete sales numbers. There's no way for me to know if any one thing I did had an impact on sales. I have no doubt it's hard for publishers to know this, too. That's why I focused on things I enjoyed that I hoped would increase my book's visibility and serve to supplement what my publisher was doing to promote the book. In terms of things I spent money on, for me personally, I would say bookmarks were the #1 most worth it, and my preorder campaign was #2.
Did anything surprise me? Shipping costs. They really add up.
Overall, just like everything else in publishing, there is no average, no standard, no guarantee. This is only one experience. Feel free to ask questions or share other experiences below or @ me on Twitter. Thank you for reading!