March 8, 2011

After The Call: How Should You Spend Your Book Advance?

"After the Call" is a new feature on my blog! It chronicles what happens after an agent offers you representation: how to choose the right agent, how to communicate with your new agent, what the revision process is like, etc. For previous posts in this series, please see the "After The Call" sidebar to the right.

I don't have a book deal. *Insert sad face*

But that doesn't mean I haven't thought about how I'd like to spend my advance! *Insert happy face*

In my daydreams, I often hope I'll get a large enough deal that will let me buy all sorts of stuff that I've been craving for years. A MacBook Air! A trip to Spain! A shopping spree at Anthropologie! A Ragdoll cat!

Short aside: I adore cats and I really want a Ragdoll because 1.) they're adorable, 2.) they have bunny-like fur, and 3.) they're very docile and friendly. But these freakin' cats can cost anywhere between $700 to over $2500! Yipes!

I haz high price tag. 'Cause I poop out diamonds.

But when it comes down to it, I'll probably spend my advance on more practical things. Like placing it into savings. (Exciting!) Or using it as a down payment on a house. (Whoa, so fun!) Or putting it toward marketing my book. Ah, yes. Marketing. The word we shy writers fear like the plague. (Marketing! Boogity boo!)

But marketing is a necessary evil when it comes to publishing. Thus, here are a few things you might want to think about once you get your first check in the mail:

1.) A website. 
About a month ago, I came across a cool-sounding book on Publishers Marketplace and I decided to Google the writer. Unfortunately, I couldn't a website. Or a blog. Or even a Twitter account. I was majorly bummed 'cause I wanted to learn more about this book! Moral of the story: you should get a website. After all, your website will be the number one way in which people will find you on the vast interwebs.

If you're a do-it-yourself kind of person, you can try your hand at making your own website. My agent-sisters Jessica Spotswood and Robin Talley created their websites/blogs through WordPress and their sites look clean and professional. As for me, I made my website through free site where you can create Flash-based web-pages. (I do, however, pay about $70 a year for my domain name and hosting.)

But if you'd rather hire a professional to create your website, there are a lot of options to choose from. For a more affordable option, you might want to poke around Etsy because a lot of graphic designers offer their services there. (I like this shop.) Or you might want to hire a designer who specializes in author websites. Biondo Studio, for example, has created some awesome sites for writers like Rebecca Stead and Jenny Han. (I'm in love with Jenny Han's site. Adorable!)

2.) Author pics. 
Ah, author pics! You know you've truly arrived once you get these taken!

In my mind, author pics are a lot like author websites: they're useful for publicity and marketing but you have the power to decide how much you want to spend. If you have a decent camera, ask your spouse/best friend/mother to take a few shots of you. Author Gayle Forman had her husband take her photo by the Manhattan bridge. (She blogged about it here.) If Gayle Forman is a DIY-er, then so can you!

But not all of us have photograph-savvy relatives. And so, you may also want to hire a professional to capture the picture that will grace the back cover of your book. Places to look for a photographer? Wedding websites, your local university, Craigslist. You'd be surprised--a lot of great photographers advertise on Craigslist. Don't hate!

3.) Book swag. 
Postcards. Bookmarks. Pens. Swag is a way to promote your book and get your name out there. it necessary? Agent Jessica Faust has a great take on this matter:

A client once asked me if I thought she should reorder her promotional items and my response was that she really seemed to enjoy her items. She loved passing them out to readers and potential readers and using them as a way of introduction. She agreed. To her they were fun. She reordered. Promotional items don’t do any good without a personal connection. If they are simply picked up off the table they only become another pen at the bottom of a purse.

So if you're the type of person who enjoys meeting new people and who doesn't mind a little self-promotion, then you should consider getting some swag. You can give it away on your blog or mail it to your friends or give it to your mom so she can do the work for you. (That's what mothers are for, right?) Plus, I think swag is a great way to do marketing if you're kind of shy. If someone asks about what you do, you can just hand them a bookmark! Easy as pie.

4.) Book Trailers
Book trailers are all the rage now it seems---I've seen trailers for books that won't come out until 2012 and I've seen trailers for books that don't even have deals yet! A book trailer can be a great way to celebrate your novel but here comes the ever-important question: is it really necessary?

Hmm, the jury is out for me. I think, right now, a book trailer is something fun to show to your friends and family. I also think a book trailer may be a good idea for a big-time author to stir up excitement for a new book. But I haven't bought a book based solely on a book trailer---and I haven't heard of many other people doing so either. Perhaps in a few years a book trailer will be necessary for marketing but I don't think this is the case at this point in time.

Still, if a book trailer is something you want, then go for it! A few book trailers I've liked include Maggie Stiefvater's video for "Linger" (it's pretty amazing) as well as the trailer for "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters."

To close, I'd like to post another quote by Jessica Faust because she is incredibly smart and spot on:

So what is my feeling on what you can do to sell your book? The truth is that the best thing you can do is write the best book of your life and follow it up with an even better book. The rest, the Web site, the blog, the pens, the postcards . . . should only be done if they are fun for you. If you use them to make a personal connection with potential readers. Remember, the point of promotion is not just to pass things out to those who love you and your work already, it’s to introduce yourself to someone new.

Bottom line: the best way to market yourself is to write a damn good book. The other stuff can help but it's all about the writing, baby.

Guess I'm going to buy myself a Ragdoll cat! I'm kidding! Kidding.

Kind of...

So what do you guys think? What do you plan on spending your advance on? And what do you think of book trailers?


  1. This is an awesome post. The ragdoll cat made me laugh super hard FYI. Um, I would suggest you add one thing to your list of dream wants if you get a book deal. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter my friend. We could meet there and go through Hogwarts together *stares off into space dreamily*

  2. Great post!
    But, um, do you mean that if I sell my ms I can't get to spend it ALL on chocolates? LOL

  3. Awww, that kitteh is adorable! And thanks for the website shout-out!

    I'm going to go with a) Macbook air b) Anthropologie shopping spree and c) paying off my Sallie Mae debt. Glamorous! Also, I foresee a giant Cupcakes & Cosmos-themed birthday party in early May.

  4. Awesome post Caroline! I love the pullquote from Jessica about only doing all that extra promotional stuff it is fun for YOU. First and foremost you are a writer, so churn out awesome stories. But then if pens and buttons and twitter outreach and blogging is also fun, by all means, do that too!

    As for how I would spend my money... I'd probably do something real exciting like drop it in my savings account. I'm a saver. But there may be a little book-buying spree in there too. I can never resist the opportunity to grow my bookshelf :)

  5. I agree author websites are vital. Fancy is fun, but they don't have to be. As long as there's a way to contact the author/ their agent and info about their books, that's the main thing. Re swag, I think bookmarks are great for publicity - useful, small, signable.

    What I'd spend an advance on? A long holiday. With a lot of sun :D (And bills, sigh)

  6. While this is well ahead of my stage in the game, it's definitely fun to think about. Your suggestions were great. Aside from promotional stuff and a Borders shopping spree, I'm thinking I'd end up saving the majority of any advance I made.

  7. Great post! I had never clicked on your website before, but it's gorgeous. Thanks for the links.

    I guess it'd depend on how much money so I'd either:

    *Buy a house, add it to savings, and put a bunch toward marketing
    *Put most into savings and the rest toward marketing
    *Buy six hardcover books and a nice dinner

  8. The first time I learned about advances I thought all of it had to go to marketing. But now I'd probably put some to paying off some of my debt. But if there was any left over I'd go on a spending spree at a bookstore and lug a dolly around with stacks of my selection all piled up. That would be an awesome day indeed.

  9. Great post! Although I would personally go for the cat :D

    Even though I majored in writing in college, I did a minor in web design b/c I knew I would probably need to eat between graduation and getting published. This means I've already designed my own website! Woohoo~

    Author pics? My sister is an amazing photographer. That cat is becoming more and more a reality!

    I'm still on the fence about swag and book trailers, but I love the quotes you included by Jessica b/c they are so spot on <3

  10. I love the idea of promotional swag.

    Although I've no intention of waiting for a book deal before getting a cat - in fact I was up at the rescue centre only yesterday, but I didn't manage to find one.

  11. Caroline, this is my first visit to your blog. Nice post!

    These are all great ideas. I actually think a photo and decent website are good to have beforehand, if people can swing them. And I hope I'd be mostly practical. But I'm sure I'd also arrange to meet--and take home--a nice new pair of shoes :)

  12. Linds, HELL YES! If I get a deal, I'm totally going to the Wizarding World of HP! We're going to have a very fun time together, drinking butterbeer and choosing our wands. :)

    Monica, thanks! This blog post only offers mere suggestions on what you should do with your advance. I think spending all of your money on chocolate sounds deliciously amazing! And amazingly delicious...

    Jess, we have such similar desires! I too want a MacBook, a shopping spree, and to pay off our student loans! Total twinners. And you're birthday party sounds AWESOME! CRAMAZING! :)

  13. Erin, isn't Jessica Faust great? I love her blog--it's so helpful! And yes, I forgot to mention that I'd buy books as well! There are so many books that I want...can't get enough!

    Girl Friday, that's a really good point! The more I think about it, the more I realize that bookmarks are a great way to promote a book. Plus, they're so innocent, you know? I hate pushing things on people but I think most people wouldn't mind getting a free bookmark!

    Katy, ohhh a book shopping spree! Now THAT would be awesome. I usually only let myself buy one book each time I visit B&N. It'd be amazing to be able to buy as many as I wanted! (And dangerous too.)

  14. Tracey, thanks! I'm super excited to go out to lunch with you again. We must discuss this issue further--like what six books would we buy if our advances only covered that? Haha.

    SM, I love that you thought about bringing a dolly with you on your book spree! That is a fantastic idea--that I need to steal. Bwahaha.

    Lori, you're a smart girl! I should've minored in something useful. Alas, I decided on English and Asian Studies. Interesting, yes, but not very useful. And I'm jealous you're sister is a photographer! You're well on your way to getting a Ragdoll cat.

  15. Kate, I'm so envious that you're getting a cat! You must post pictures on your blog once you find the right one! My husband abhors cats so I don't know if I'll ever be able to get a Ragdoll. Even if I get a big book advance... *Le Sigh*

    Leslie, thanks so much for stopping by my blog! I went to your site and it's awesome that you're in DC too! Yay! And thank you for your comment--I totally agree. I think it makes a lot of sense to try to build up a web presence before you get a book deal. That way, you can drum up more attention when you do get the deal!

  16. I'm honestly not a huge fan of book trailers, but I think that's because I don't tend to watch a lot of videos on the web.

    What would I spent my advance on? Probably way too many lunches at CPK! lol :) But definitely on marketing, and something boring like savings. And, you know, rent!

  17. Get that MBA - they're sweet!

    This sounds lame, but I haven't really thought about the advance part (sorry!), I'm too busy hoping to see my book on the shelves in Waterstones.

    However, now that you mention it, I've started thinking and I'd probably look at a shiny Imac to replace my ageing desktop PC, but then again I always did like new toys.

    I'd also consider spending it to fund taking an MA in Creative Writing.

    Another great post, and the ragdoll looks so cute (you could name it after one of your characters).

  18. Such a great post! You gave me a ton of ideas--especially in regards to author photos (even though I hate having my picture taken). I think I'd love to take my family out to a nice dinner and then pay the remainder of my car note. Big baller, huh? :)