One of the things that I do automatically, which I realised I’ve never talked about was how I evaluate promotional tools and tactics that come across my board, figuring out if they’re worth it.

So, I guess it’s time to talk about what I do in my head and how this might work for others.

Cost

The first thing you do when you come across a new promotional tool or channel is evaluate the costs. Cost comes in, obviously, either time or money cost or both.

Social media is (mostly) a time cost. You have to create the posts, create the media and images and then schedule the posts. If you’re lucky enough to do well, some replying and commenting is required to keep the post active and running.

Advertising is some time cost (scheduling or creating the advertisements and creating the media); but a lot of the cost is actual financial resources ($). You can’t get away from the $ cost of paid advertising.

Direct media and sales can be a mixture. If you’re making individual appeals to people, you are trading your time for the sales pitch. If you are asking for sponsorships or doing newsletters or press releases, you are purchasing their time and influence in many cases via your own dedicated time to get hold of them / craft together the pitches.

This math still works even in things like public relations and reaching out to bloggers or journalists or the like; though often the cost is in terms of connections and expertise and time rather than in actual expense. One of the bigger factors for public relations is the variability in reach, which is another area that I consider.

Reach

When looking at a new promotional tool or channel, I want to know its reach. There are two aspects of reach that need to be discussed (well, three, but I broke out the third in a point by itself because it’s that important).

Firstly, you need to understand what their theoretical average maximum is. This is easier with things like newsletters – you can find out the total number of people in their newsletter list. Or newspapers – they have circulation numbers, some of which has fluctuations (Sunday papers sell more than weekday papers mostly).

This is harder when you are dealing with social media (or to a lesser extent, public relations), because everything COULD blow up. In the case where reach is variable based off how good the content does, what you’re looking for are three points – their lowest, their highest number and their weighted average once you remove outliers. You’ll want to (mostly) assume it’s the weighted average, since basing off what their best is great.

Subscribers, followers, etc. can be useful too, but individual promotional channels have different ways of showcasing information; so this can actually be significantly less useful. Especially when you are looking at accounts where it’s extremely easy to ‘game’ the system and get lots of followers. You’ll want to see actual viewership numbers or interactions.

So, for example, if you go into a social media account, check out their follower count, check out the views on their videos. If they have only one video with 2 Million views but the rest are 200+, well, guess what? The promotion they’ll do for you is likely to hit 200 views. That’s what you’re evaluating them on.

With ads, you’ll want to see how easy it is to hit higher numbers. In most cases (Facebook, Google); you can reach as many people as you want, you’re just paying for it. Amazon is stricter in how much they’ll show your advertising, no matter how much you offer; but that’s because they’re also evaluating their total revenue (including sales of the product); whereas Facebook and Google only make money when your ad gets clicked.

Audience Segment

Part of reach is also the audience or market that the promotional tool or channel is reaching. The other rather important question that needs to be placed on top of that wider reach segment is whether it’s an appropriate audience for you.

If you could reach a million dog lovers for five hundred dollars, would you? How about if it was for five thousand dollars? Or fifty thousand? What if you were selling cat treats? Makes a big difference there, doesn’t it?

You need to ascertain, as best you can, if the audience being reached is the right one.

As authors, we might need to ask questions like

  • what genres do they read
  • what format do they enjoy reading in? (trad readers are more likely to be book buyers, so if your work isn’t available in paperback or hardcover, marketing to them is a bad idea)
  • what tropes do they enjoy? what spice level?
  • what demographics are being hit here? Age, sex, geography.

Place in your Promotional Plan

So, let’s talk about the sales funnel. If you start out with very little awareness, you’re going to make it much harder on yourself if you’re trying to do a ‘cold’ sales pitch; hitting them with Amazon advertisements. People are less likely to be receptive to it, than if they’ve been ‘warmed up’ earlier in the funnel via other forms of advertising and promotional tools.

In that sense, understanding where this promotional channel or tool falls in my promotional plan is important. For example:

  • awareness can happen via social media and Facebook advertising and working on ‘brand building’ things like podcast or Youtube appearances, appearances on panels, etc.
  • interest & consideration can be generated via blog posts, reviews, ARCs or some of the brand building activities.
  • intent and Evaluation are often closer to the purchase behavior, so it often happens on Amazon or whatever retailer, which means other aspects come into play (merchandising, product page, covers, blurbs, pricing) as well as retailer centered advertising.

Social media for example generates awareness and interest, can drive some small number over to retail sites to purchase and buy. However, in most cases, it just becomes background advertising noise.

The trick is to be able to….

Repetition / Repeatability

Repeat the message over and over again. Which is the other aspect that I try to evaluate promotional tools on. How often can I repeat this message, what message can I repeat and how effective could it be? Often, you’ll want to ‘touch’ upon a customer multiple times. As an example, if you can for example:

  • run an ad in a sci-fi magazine
  • then get a review from that magazine and/or in other blogs or review sites
  • then maybe they see an advertisement in Facebook or social media that it’s on sale
  • and they go to their preferred retailer and see your product there, available to buy.

You might short-circuit this a little, go from the ad in the magazine mentioning your book to getting reviews and then running a Facebook advertisement that gets them to the retailer where they buy it. Or you could sneak in your book ad on Amazon when they are already browsing for books to buy.

Or a million other ways, but the goal, of course; is to remind them again and again about this great work.

If someone only sees my work once in a promo space; that is fine – but it might be better if I could use it again and again to show it to them. Within limits of course. You don’t want to bombard someone too often.

Learning Cost & On-going Time Investment

Lastly, some methodologies are high on the learning cost. They might only cost a little to utilize, but the learning cost and time investment to get used to the particular channel or promotional tool might be high. In such cases, even if the overall cost might end up being lower, the learning cost might be too much for people to spend.

Facebook advertising is one where the upfront cost of learning the system is high and the on-going cost as they keep changing the backend is high. This is particularly frustrating, especially when they change the algorithm which changes your target audience somewhat.

As another example, we can look at the recent Twitter exodus. Threads was simple enough to make use of, but Mastodon requires a very high learning cost. As such, it’s not picked up as well as the other social media sites. Bluesky limited their reach (and the reach of those entering it) to try to keep their systems stable, but because of that; very few people have gone to Bluesky compared to Threads. It’s why more people from my experience have been going to Threads than Bluesky; even though many are still on Twitter. And Discord, of course, is barely in the discussion because it’s reach is so small and inorganic, meaning that your audience is almost always the same (and eventually, slowly decreasing).

Another example? TikTok with its videos. The process of learning to do videos is high, and doing them regularly is high too. It’s better for us to not directly get involved in that, just because of how much work is involved.

And that’s it. Hopefully that’s useful for all of you evaluating new promotional tools as they come in.


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