So you’ve got a book coming out and the marketing director at your publisher calls you up, very excited about your book. You’re excited too, until she tells you all the things she wants you to do to promote your book. Put up a web site. Create a blog. Make a Facebook fan page and hang out there. Get active on Google Plus. Starting tweeting. Build an e-mail list. Get on Goodreads. Print bookmarks. Speak at libraries. Do book-signings. Run a contest and give away a new Kindle. And on and on.
About now, you’re probably wondering when you’re supposed to find the time to do all this stuff when you have a day job AND you’re trying to write your next book. The first thing to remember is that when a marketing director gives you a laundry list like this, she probably knows very well that it’s really just a menu. You don’t go to a restaurant and order everything on the menu. You order a couple of dishes and leave the rest for next time.
By the same token, you’re going to choose one or two things on your marketing director’s menu to focus on. The rest, you’re going to do badly or not at all. She’ll probably be very pleased if you execute even one of these really well. She’ll probably be very displeased if you make a half-hearted stab at every single suggestion and end up doing all of them badly.
How do you decide what to do and what to leave undone?
Many authors seem completely unable to answer this question. So they do whatever their instincts tell them, or they do what a friend told them to do, or they do nothing at all. I learned a simple principle from my friend, marketing guru Perry Marshall. Perry likes to divide up all the work you COULD be doing into rough categories based on how much they earn you:
* Ten dollars per hour work
* Hundred dollars per hour work
* Thousand dollars per hour work
These are broad categories. “Ten-dollar” work is anything that earns you between three and thirty dollars per hour. Here’s an important principle that will save you mountains of grief: If you have all the hundred-dollar work that you can handle, then don’t do any ten-dollar work unless you absolutely have to (or unless you love it). Instead, hire somebody to do it for you. Likewise, if you have plenty of ten-dollar work, then don’t take on one-dollar tasks, unless you have to (or unless you REALLY love them). Believe it or not, authors violate this principle ALL the time.
One big problem writers have is that they can’t easily tell the difference between ten-dollar work and hundred-dollar work. How do you know what your work is earning you?
Let’s start with the easy things, which are writing and speaking. Suppose you know that you can write a novel in 500
hours and your last advance was $5,000. These are typical numbers early in a writing career. Then writing a novel is worth about ten dollars per hour to you. Later in your career, you might be earning $50,000 per book, and now writing a novel is hundred-dollar work. Nice, if you can get it! Likewise, it’s not hard to compute your hourly rate for doing public speaking. Generally, you’ll get paid an honorarium for this, and you can also sell books at the back of the room. It won’t take very many speaking engagements to figure out what your actual pay rate is.
But what about all those other tasks you’re supposed to do? How much does hanging out on Facebook earn you? What about Twittering? Or maintaining your blog? It’s hard to say for sure, but here you can harness your good common-sense instincts. (Most authors are cheapskates, so let’s put that to work.) Suppose that somebody offered to do all your Twitter work for you. How much would you be willing to pay per hour for them to do that? A dollar an hour? Five? Ten?
I suspect that very few authors would be willing to pay a hundred dollars per hour for somebody to tweet for
them. I doubt many authors would pay even ten dollars an hour. I’ll bet most authors wouldn’t pay more than a
dollar an hour. Whatever number you’d be willing to pay, that’s probably a decent estimate of its actual value to you.
If you’ve got the common sense of an anthill, you aren’t going to overpay or underpay very much.
Suppose you decide that you couldn’t possibly pay more than a dollar an hour to hire somebody to Twitter on your behalf. This means that Twittering is probably only earning you a dollar an hour. Now here’s the simple question: If you have an extra hour in your day, should you spend it Twittering or writing? If writing earns you even ten dollars an hour, then this is a no-brainer. For you, it makes more sense to write than to tweet.
One caveat: If you like to hang out on Twitter and you’d do it for free, then there’s no harm in doing so when you’re not working. But call it what it is –entertainment, not work.
You may be thinking, “But what about all the intangibles of marketing? Spending time on Twitter or Facebook keeps my name in the front of people’s minds. It keeps me in the conversation. That’s good.” That may be true. Those pesky intangible values may be very significant. But be honest with yourself. How much would you be willing to pay for them? That’s the best indicator of their real value to you. If you think it would be worth paying somebody $1000 per hour to gain those intangibles, then do it yourself. If you wouldn’t pay ten cents per hour to do the job, then why in the world would you do it yourself?
You can apply this same kind of thinking to just about any marketing activity your marketing director throws at you. How much would you pay somebody per hour to do this task in your stead? If that number is very much less than you’d earn from writing, then it probably makes much more sense to do the writing, not the marketing. If you can hire somebody to do the marketing for less than the rate you’d demand, then it probably makes sense to pay them to do it. If the number is very much more than what you’d earn from your writing, then do the marketing.
You can use this principle to figure out how to say yes and how to say no on just about any required task that comes your way. What about optional tasks? Does the same calculation apply? Yes, but there’s another decision to make for optional
tasks — the decision whether to just leave it undone. That’s a simple decision. If you can find somebody to do it for less than you’re willing to pay, then hire them. Otherwise, don’t worry about it because it’s just not worth it to you.
There are a zillion ways to market your book. Your marketing director knows you can’t do them all. Make her happy and do at least one of them really well. Make yourself happy and do only the ones that are worth it to you.