Gay romance fiction

Happy Returns: gauging the impact and efficacy of your promo efforts  

by Damon Suede

(A-game Advice was a monthly column offering practical tips for winning promo that fits your personal style, strategy, and measure of success.)

In December’s column I discussed the Measure of Success: the clear personal goal which helps you strategize and motivate your career…the prize you’re playing for. Since that column, I got a ton of emails asking about the gauging results so it seemed time for a look at Return on Investment (ROI). For best results, once you know exactly what you want you should be taking pains to gauge your results to see just how good they were.

As authors, we take all kinds of chances and gamble at maddening levels. We plow time, energy and sanity into writing stories that might see publication, might find fans, might pay us back with royalties, raves, accolades, and more. We operate on faith (which is powerful) and we survive on hope (which is essential). Unfortunately faith and hope remain impossible and impractical to measure, which is where the fog and murkiness can leak into a career. How it go? Fine. What did they think? Great. Was it worth it? Sure. Burying our heads in the sand can feel comfy...easy…safe. It isn’t.

Once you know the prize you’re playing for, how can you measure how far you’ve come or close you got? With any given roll of the professional dice, what exactly is your personal ROI?

My mother called investment “gambling for people who know to do the math.” Yes you need to take risks, but they should be smart ones and they need to get smarter whenever possible. Risks and reward only improve if you do.

ROI gets tricky for authors because so much of what we do is subjective and isolated. Can you ever really know if the book was perfect, the lawyer was honest, that big signing worth it, or the big deal was ideal? The industry mutates daily, hourly even and technology keeps moving the goalposts. We don’t all want the same kinds of success, and when we aim at our personal goals, we can’t ever know precisely how close we almost got to them because art is subjective.

Inspect what you expect, before and after you take that gamble. Not only do we all want different things, we expect different kinds of dividends on our investments. One author’s whinefest is the next author’s windfall. The risks and rewards are generally vague and entirely personal. Knowing (and tweaking) your precise expectations will help you make savvier investments.

To do a clear ROI accounting you need to get pretty granular. Tally up all the things you actually invested allowing some time for things to settle and seed so you can gauge the actual dividends as specifically as possible.

  • Resources: time spent, money invested, emotional/mental/physical energy.

  • Allies: cohorts and cohosts, personal favors used and gained, support and sabotage.

  • Logistics: venue suitability, complications and shortcuts, unforeseen flubs and bonuses.

  • Consequences: positives and negatives, objective and subjective, personal and professional.

Once you have solid data, weigh the pros and cons so you know what you did right and where you could do better. If you don’t like the nitty-gritty or work better in tandem, try analyzing this with your spouse, partner or closest cohorts consider comparing notes and data with trusted colleagues. Look for the lessons that will straighten your path to the ROI you expect.

Even an RWA membership is an investment of time, energy, and at least a hundred dollars. But the return on that investment is exponential: professional education, supportive communities of practice, industry access and advocacy, career counseling, interpersonal support, networking opportunities, awards and advancement, even promotion of our genre worldwide. That doesn’t begin to cover the benefits of individual chapter memberships! I’ve belonged to six or seven writers’ guilds and associations in my life and I’ve NEVER seen an organization that offers a more concrete, hyperbolic return on my investment. Is RWA worth my $100-plus dollars? Sh’yeah! For me, that investment pays back crazy dividends every damn day…with cake, glitter, and a Bollywood backrub.

Because so much of our business is a crazy, pie-in-the-sky gamble some folks just roll the dice, jump of cliffs, and burn bridges while they’re crossing them… like anxious ostriches. Some people will tie themselves in knots to avoid getting specific; they exaggerate rewards AND ignore them. In the interests of courage or calm, they make light of risks or inflate them to conspiratorial levels. They “guess” something worked or they “suspect” that something has been done to harm them, but they don’t get the facts about their business. That kind of willful blindness and hyperbole may feel safe, but it does a world of damage to any serious odds of success.

Professional ostriches practically beg to be mauled and manipulated. By not examining or weighing the costs of their actions, they give themselves permission to continue as was. That’s a child’s strategy, like babies covering their eyes to make the grownups go away. Some people also thrive without balancing their checkbooks, but that doesn’t make it a smart strategy. To grow and succeed, we have to take our lumps along with the rewards. We have to do the math.

Everything in life is fun or educational.

For example, I love conferences. I enjoy them personally and I’m kinda built for them because I’m extroverted, gabby, and interactive. I know that conferences offer me superb ROI because after each one I do a post-mortem to see how and where it paid out. Over time, I’ve learned that genre gatherings invariably reward my investment like crazy rigged slot machines…in sales, advancement, fresh readers, professional hobknobbery, and more. That investment gives me a wackypants return. That said, not all events or authors are created equal. Just because the returns are good for me doesn’t make “Cons=Great” a universal truth. Looking at ROI has taught me which cons are worth my investment, so that I have a better and more successful time at each.

  • At the end of every conference (or contract or campaign or rollout or party) I sit down and do a hard accounting:

  • What did I spend in time, money, energy, and more?

  • What tangible rewards and downsides resulted during and after the event?

  • What intangible rewards and downsides seem to originate from or intersect with the event?

  • How can I invest my resources more wisely next time?

Part of your job as a professional is to get better at whatever you do, however you do it. As a career-focused author you have a responsibility to look at where the chips fall and try to improve your odds for next time. Balance that professional checkbook every time you time you take a professional risk to make sure you have more than a vague (often inaccurate) sense of how well you did.

By all means feel free to leap before you look, but at least look after the fact to see where exactly you landed.

Authors make mistakes, awful ones at times. Our business operates at a strange intersection of art and venality which encourages risky behavior on all sides. Some of your investments will go bust. You will absolutely attend shoddy events, waste money on risky promo, embrace iffy social media platforms, and do business with folks who probably belong in jail at some point. Just know that if you live and work as an ostrich, the leopards and hyenas will find you.

Regret is just wisdom in a fright mask.

That’s the delicious tension in any investment; if you weigh your results, do the math, take hard retrospective looks at what went down, I can promise you that next time may not be perfect, but it will be better.

Look…we’re all different, yo, a veritable blizzard of special snowflakes, so if you’re going to invest in something, you owe it to your sanity to tally those dividends so you don’t cheat yourself and your talent. Get your head out of the sand and look at where you stand and far it is to where you want to go. Hold yourself accountable!

When you try a new subgenre, attend a conference, test out a funky new advertising strategy, sign up for a new social media channel, hire an assistant, or sign with your dream agent, success isn’t anything close to guaranteed. For your safety, solvency, and sanity, you have a responsibility to weigh the pros and cons of your latest attempt and hold yourself accountable for the risks you took and rewards that resulted.

Always make sure the bang was worth the buck.

A professional development article for writers by M/M author Damon Suede

Copyright 2016. Damon Suede. All Rights Reserved

Originally published as part of A Game Advice for the Romance Writers Report.

If you wish to republish this article, just drop me a line.