Monday, 30 May 2016

Creation or Promotion? Is there time for both? by Abie Longstaff

I've been really busy with work recently. But not with writing; with events.

I love doing author events: school visits, literary festivals and bookshop readings. It gives me a buzz to meet children, hear their ideas, share stories and help them with their creative writing. But it takes its toll. It’s exhausting. There's the panic of
Will my train be on time?
Will the school’s technology be compatible with mine?
Will anyone come to the bookshop?
(see Michelle Robinson’s excellent list of other things to panic about - here)

In day-long school events I might run up to six sessions for Reception to Y6. So when I finally make it home I tend to crumple on the sofa for the rest of the evening.

There’s been a lot of talk about author events in the book world recently, including a fantastic post on author fees by Nicola Morgan, and an article in the Guardian on the budgeting pressures faced by literature festivals.

Pay is an important issue. Events are hard work and we should be compensated fairly for our time. But some events don’t pay (eg bookshop events); while others pay but not quite enough to reflect the work you put in (lit fests). Then there’s the wider question of promotion in general – hours spent (unpaid) on social media, blog posts, press articles.

As authors, how do we balance promotion and creation? How much time should we spend selling the product rather than making it?

Some authors see promotion as very much part of their role. I know a writer who does lots of free events, puts her own money and time into marketing her books and works incredibly hard on promotion. I know another writer who hates promotion – she devotes all her time to writing and, for her, the best way to sell books is simply to write more (and better) books.

There are a growing number of lit fests across the country, umpteen bookshops keen to have an author visit and oodles of book blogs to post on. A writer could spend the entire year doing shows, bookshop readings, articles and guest blogs - but every day spent doing promotion is one fewer in which we could be writing.

How do we know if the time we spend promoting is worth it? And what does ‘worth it’ even mean? There’s the financial angle: selling books, promoting your brand. There’s the enjoyment angle: connecting with children, seeing the impact of your book on the world. There’s also a doing-good factor: maybe you’ll help a child learn to love books, or help a library stay open.

A very wise person, author Liz Kessler, devised a clever 'is it worth it?' formula (her post about it is here). She’s listed the upsides and downsides of events, and devised a scoring system to weigh the pluses against the minuses.
You score the following (each has a different maximum value):
Sales (S) – out of 10
Payment (P) – out of 5
Word of mouth W) – out of 3
Time (T) – out of 10
Cost (C) – out of 3
Enjoyment (E)– out of 3
Good cause (G), ie where it’s for charity – out of 3

Then her formula goes:
(S + P + W) must be greater or equal to (T + C – E – G)

I like Liz’s formula and I often use it when considering doing an event. But of course, it’s just a guide and you have to factor in your personal preferences - for example, because I love doing events I allow myself to score the enjoyment out of a higher number than 3. And I might consider the good cause to be particularly worthy, thus worthy of being allotted more than 3 points. Also - sometimes the value of the event isn’t apparent until after it’s over. A few weeks after one of my lower-selling events I got a letter from a little girl saying how much she loved the book she had bought that day. That alone made it worthwhile.

But the scoring system is a useful guideline and I’ve never come up with a better one.

What about you?
How much of your time do you want to devote to promotion?

How do you decide which events, paid or unpaid, to give time to?


Juliet Clare Bell said...

Very interesting, Abie, and something we have to juggle, constantly. I have a friend who works in the creative industry and she once told me she'd recently been 'a busy fool' -spending loads of time on projects that paid very little and weren't getting her recognition -in the right places, and having no time for more valuable projects. I've really thought about that since and I asked myself with every project -am I being a busy fool? It's pretty much the same as Liz's formula, only hers is more carefully calculated. I'm looking forward to seeing people's comments. It's such an important area for self-employed writers and illustrators. Thank you. Clare.

Jane Clarke said...

It's something I've been thinking about a lot this year. I find it hard to say no and the admin involved required saps my creativity. Thank you for passing on Liz's formula. I'll try to put a version of it into practice!

C.J.Busby said...

Really good post, and definitely true that you need to be careful about balancing the time. Promotion is such an intangible and hard to measure thing, isn't it? I'm veering towards the position of your friend who does nothing but puts the time into writing better books...

Moira Butterfield said...

I wish I'd read this a few weeks ago. I've just started doing some events again after shying away from them, and I said yes to two bookshop events with absolutely zero payment and hardly any benefit to me, except as workshop practise (and it turns out they don't have the screen I need to show things). I wasn't thinking hard enough when I said yes. Now I will! Lesson learned.