The book officially came out on June 13th, so most of the "heavy lifting" for launch was done in the weeks and months prior. My blog "Singing the Book Promotion Blues" detailed how and when things were done, which were the responsibility of my publisher, and which were on me. So what didn't I tell you? Note: I did factor these costs into my overall budget, so I'm not going to break them down here, except to demonstrate the payoff (or lack thereof).
Weeks ahead of the launch.
The likely response and attendance rate to event invitations varies widely depending on the event, the target audience and the relationship of the sender to the sendee. You can expect an 83% RSVP and attendance rate from most wedding invitations, according to RSVPify—a stat borne out by my daughter's wedding in February. Even though she was married in Hawaii (or maybe because of it?) approximately 80% of the invitees attended, regardless of whether they lived on island or on the mainland. That said RSVP and attendance rate for direct mail is more like 2%, according to McCarthy & King. That's two for every 100 mailed.
Just to set the stage, the Tattered Cover-Colfax launch had about 40 or 50 in attendance (depending on who was counting). A great turnout for me, and I was thrilled to learn that I had sold the bookstore out of all but five books. I couldn't have asked for better. To be fair, there was a mixture of family and friends, but there were also a number of people I didn't know that showed up. So what helped the most?
Who knows? Maybe it was the TC promotion (the ad in the paper they always take out, and/or the in-store promotion they do prior to launch), or maybe it had something to do with my efforts. To up the hope that I would have good attendance at TC, I did a couple of things:
1. I sent snail mail postcards to 180 people—friends, family, grade school classmates (I grew up in Evergreen, so we're talking locals)—inviting them to come to one of two signings: TC on June 15th or Hearthfire Books in Evergreen on June 22nd, and adding a personal note. The list can effectively be divided in half for who would come where. Out of 90 postcards sent, at least 10 of the people attending the signing would have received the postcard. That's 11% on a direct mail campaign. Better than the norm for attendance. The cost of that mailing (90 pieces, postage, etc.), meant it cost me $7.16 per person. I needed to sell 26 books to break even. Was it worth it?
2. I did an email campaign. My email list has over 3,000 names on it, so I sent an e-blast about the release and included my signing dates. I have no idea how many people that were in attendance received that, but that comes out to something like .02%, so much lower than the estimate for attendance. Still, how many of those folks bought the book? Who knows? The cost of getting that info in front of that many people totaled about $40, and as a traditionally published person I need to sell 110 books from that mailing to break even. Was it worth it?
3. I posted events on Facebook and to the various writers' list serves I belong to, put notices in the writers' organizations newsletters, etc. Of the group in attendance, there was only one person who would have heard about the signing from ONLY that venue. Of the rest, there were seven or eight others who received at least one of the other type mailings—snail or email. Big plus—this notice was free to send. No reason to question whether or not this was worth it. The answer is yes.
Spreading the Word
That is how one has to think about this. A basic marketing tenant says that someone needs to see or hear about something three times. With some folks, they've seen RED SKY or my name at least three times. With others, you hope they mention it to a friend, who then reads about my signing in TC ad, who then sees the book on the shelf at the Barnes & Noble, and buys it.
What about the people who I didn't know from anywhere? Were they TC patrons? Had they read about the book in a Publishers Weekly, Kirkus or Booklist review? Were they fans of Lee Child or Catherin Coulter, and found me because of the blurb on the cover of my book? (FYI, I've received several emails saying that someone read my book because, "If Lee Child liked this, I knew I would, too.") Were they waiting for the release because they'd read DARK WATERS?
I have no clue. A signing where so many who showed up and wanted books signed, was not the place for a survey. One person, I learned, was an old classmate of my daughter's who hoped to run into her there. He bought a book, so...
The Bottom Line
For me, the promotion is worth it. Locally, it's easier to have a profile. I do a lot of volunteering for my writers' groups—I present workshops, judge contests, participate. The more you give or give back, the more you receive in return.
National recognition comes harder. But I know I'm increasing my profile, if only because more people are offering to buy me drinks at the bar. More agents, editors and "big namers" recognize me. Does it mean I'm ever going to reach "star" status? Who knows? Would I love to have someone make a movie of one of my books so I can complain like every other author I know who has had a movie made from one of their books? Hell, yes!
There's only one thing I know for sure is I am thankful every day for the support of such a wonderful writers' community—thankful for all the pushes, for all the tips, for all the critiques, but mostly for all the friends that I've made. You guys, rock!
Now, however you decide to do this, go forth and tell us your stories!