New Grub Street: Writers And Advertising

A couple of months ago I told a Venture Capitalist that I was thinking of starting a company that focused on providing marketing and advertising services to writers, particularly self-published writers. I had only just started to create my own “marketing platform” (and still have a long way to go) for my own book, but I had noticed that, especially on Twitter, there was a lot of “echo chamber” noise, as N.V. Binder has called it. Now writers are, of course, readers, so they are a good audience to market to, but I’m sure we will all agree that we writers are still very much in the beginning stage of learning how to market our books–to the right (buying) audience, that is.

It struck me that one could, potentially, build a tool that crawled the social web to find one’s unique audience, and having found them, engage in conversations with them, follow them, friend them, and advertise to them. A Writer’s Dashboard, if you will. Something Bloombergian.

After my soft pitch to the Venture Capitalist, she looked at me like I was from Mars, and replied, “Why, Mark, don’t you know that writers don’t have any money?” I felt like launching into an explanation of how the new revolution in self-publishing would change all that, would place the responsibility and financial burdens of marketing back on the writers themselves, that most self-published writers have “day” jobs, that the image of the penniless writer is a Romantic legacy, and so on, but I’ve always found it best not to try to persuade someone that one’s vision is the correct one. In any case, most writers know that we are a hard-working group, toiling away during the day to make ends meet, and spending late nights and weekends pursuing our dreams. Not for us the Nietzsche observation: I went in search of man, but only found the ape of his ideals.

But still, I’ve been around long enough to know that intuition is best corroborated by hard data, so I decided to “crowd verify” some of my initial assumptions. I’m pretty confident one can build a social media analytics tool for writers. What I have been less confident about is the most appropriate business model for a company that built just such a tool. While “most” writers are not scribbling away in dingy garrets, money is still an issue for all of us, and I want to develop something that creates real value for writers at an affordable price. Identifying “where” to advertise and then providing a cost-effective platform to do so is one of two business-model options I have envisioned.

My first step in testing the assumption that the advertising model would work was to poll some writers on what they would spend to advertise their books, assuming they had “located” the right audience. 111 writers responded. Here is the question I asked and the responses.

How much would you spend to advertise your book to a targeted audience?

$0-$250  42.34%  (47 votes)  

$250-500  18.02%  (20 votes)  

$500-$1,000  12.61%  (14 votes)  

$1,000+  12.61%  (14 votes)  

Nothing  14.41%  (16 votes)  

Total Votes: 111

 85% (95 of the 111) of the poll responders indicated that they would advertise to a targeted audience. Average spend is hard to measure, but it is probably in the $300 range. Almost 13% indicated that they would spend more than a $1,000. Of course more responses might skew the results in a different direction, and I make no claim for reliability or validity of the poll results, but I will note that the responders were geographically dispersed and were practicing in different genres (YA, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Erotica, etc.).

I think that most writers, myself included, are hampered by the notion that if our work is “good,” then someone will read it. But that is not necessarily the case on the web. Indeed, I would make the claim that there is only a tenuous connection between quality of content and views. A perusal of the most popular You Tube videos provides one convincing data point for this perspective.

Rather, we need to adjust to the rules of the web, and think about the most cost-effective strategies that will place our work before a possible buyer. Quality of our work only becomes an issue once someone buys and actually reads our work. At that point, they either become a negative or positive referral, as the greatest source of reading suggestions comes from friends, family, and co-workers. If the work is good, then the advertising should pay off in spades.

At first blush, it looks like there is a compelling economic case for going forward. In my next post, I will upload some screen shots of what I am talking about when I refer to something Bloombergian. In the meantime, I would welcome your comments! Thanks.



Filed under EBooks and Advertising

16 responses to “New Grub Street: Writers And Advertising

  1. Great idea Mark. I’ve just ticked off 0-250 as being the amount I would be prepared to spend to market a book. However, I’d like to qualify this as being for an initial outlay – I would be prepared to spend much more than that over time. And by that I mean to imply that some kind of incremental spend structure, as used by many online services – could be a good way to go. For example, if authors could obtain an initial level of use for very little or even free, they may be prepared to pay a lot more once they start seeing results. Thanks and good luck!

  2. ashedit

    Hi Mark, I think this is a great idea, but I almost didn’t click the link because you got my name wrong,

  3. wes

    Advertising dollars need to be measured and scaled against ROI
    If I make $2 in sales for every dollar spent on promotions then
    sky’s the limit until diminishing returns set in. every element needs to be tested to discover the right message to right audience.

    • Hi Wes, thanks for the post. Yes, I think the key thing is to remove the subjective aspect of this. That is, how does one create an objective way of finding one’s audience? Obviously, the reader will be “subjective” in his/her assessment of one’s work, but the key thing is to first find those readers:)

  4. I think Andrew’s got the best point above. A lot of us might be prepared to gamble some money, but if we don’t see some sales result, we’ll stop throwing good money after bad. As you say, a good product would reapy the investment in spades, but what writer is ever going to admit that their product is no good? But well done for taking the time to do that survey and good luck with your plans; I’ll be tracking how you get on for sure.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. What I’m interested in is actually finding those
      folks who would be predisposed to giving one’s book a read; after that, quality
      of the cover, description of the book, and the book itself go a long way:)

  5. I was too late for the poll, but I’ve already spent about $500 in software, and have an artist on the line for about $300 worth of artwork. This is just for Web design and pre-promotion. I am dedicated to this, and I will invest in my future. I think you will find that those who have worked harder and longer on their novels are ready to do what it takes. People who write as a hobby will be less willing to spend to promote.

  6. Jane Thorne

    Mark, well done for an intelligent and business like approach to the changing and somewhat daunting world of self-publishing. I am glad I found your blog and I’m following you now…Jane

    • Jane, thanks so much for the comment and the nomination! I think we are right at the beginning of this revolution in publishing,
      and having worked with publsihers on technical projects in the past, I don’t think they are the ones who will introdcue the great new tools. Just look at what Penguin is doing, for example. Thanks again!

  7. Jane Thorne

    Mark I have nominated you for The Versatile Blogger Award…I am glad I found your blog and you deserve this….the link is at
    Have a great 2012 – Jane

  8. I think this is a great idea, but admit I have no clue how to make it work. There is so much self published garbage floating around out there, with no time spent on even correcting misspelled words. Yet somehow some of these dumps rise to the top and start getting lots of hits (in spite of people reviewing it poorly on story and editing).
    I’ve just started trying to market my work, but I’ve got a lot to learn about advertising on the net. Seems like it’s uphill in all directions, so I would be more than happy to assist and be a part of something like this.



    • Hi Tom, love the work you are doing and that cover is great! Yes, I’m not sure that quality has ever been the key element on the Internet:) Most folks just want to get viewed…I’ll keep you informd as to where I am heading with all of this. Thanks again!

  9. Thank you for sending me this link to read.
    I’m working somewhere parallel but not same focus. If you need some Angel Fund names and your start up budget is under one million under Regulation D you will be able to find money. The V.C. world is so conservative about funding an idea.

    The problem is convincing the consumer (authors) that you actually have a search ability to connect with exacting parameters. Zuckerberg and J Scott Armstrong have the information about a consumer’s beliefs and habits. How can you show you have an accurate “list” by genre or buying habits?
    How would it work for an author such as myself who writes across genres?
    There are many websites who claim they can deliver this objective, and publicists for a big $10 to thirty grand fee but without testamonials from some successful author it will be a hard sell to make them hit paypal or checkout. I look forward to your project!
    Caroline Gerardo
    Performance Poet

    • Hi Caroline, thanks for the post! Yes, I’m thinking about developing a Writer’s Dashboard, something that would live in the cloud and give writers a real-time view across the social web of where they should be, either in terms of following, friending, conversing, or advertising. I think one can build a complex search alogorithm that goes beyond genre and goes beyond one site (e.g., Twitter). I’m crowd-verifying that writers need a tool like this — seems like they do. I know I would use it:) Putting together the business plan now.

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