It is the most asked question I receive from authors. It comes in many forms. Even if it isn’t asked directly, most authors who are paying for a media campaign wonder if they should. After hearing it so many times in the last three decades I honestly don’t blame them for asking it. So here goes: “How many books will I sell from doing interviews?”
The real dilemma with publicity work is that answers to marketing are often elusive. What’s true for one author may not be true for another. The best answer to this question is unsatisfactory because there isn’t a good one. It is an intangible. I have seen an author receive 11,000 phone calls in three days from an interview on marriage and I have seen zero calls and no sales for other authors. It happens. Both happen.
There are other intangibles to publicity. These may not pay the bills but they are outcomes that would not have otherwise happened. A producer I work with in Florida heard an interview I set up with Dr. Katariina Rosenblatt for her book Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor (a book written by my friend Cec Murphey). The producer writes, “Her story sparked a fire in me to do something to fight human trafficking, the fastest growing industry in the world.” She now donates twenty-five percent of her income to help victims of sex trafficking.
Perhaps you remember a New York Times bestselling book, 90 Minutes in Heaven. That was a book written by Cec Murphey to recount the incredible story of Don Piper. I sat next to Cec Murphey several years ago at a conference in St. Louis. I leaned over and whispered, “Do you remember who your first publicist was for 90 Minutes in Heaven?” He looked at me and said, “No, I honestly do not.” I reminded him that his publisher, Fleming Revell, had asked my agency to handle publicity for it. No one, not me, not Cec, and not Revell had any clue what would happen with the story. My guess is that once people read the book they started talking about it and this is exactly the viral impact you want as an author.
P.T. Barnum once said, “Without publicity, a terrible thing happens: nothing.” Perhaps your book will be the next bestseller. Maybe. Probably not. If you do nothing I can guarantee nothing will happen. As my dad used to say, “You can’t steer a car unless it’s moving.” And publicity helps you move. Will it sell hundreds or even thousands of books? Maybe not. Poor sales are not an indictment on the quality of a book or ministry any more than a lot of interviews and publicity are evidence of a great product. As an author, you likely write for reasons other than fame or money, or so I hope.
Write for the right motivations and trust God for the results. Do what you can. Be smart about it. You may sell a lot of books and cover your publicity and printing costs and you may end up with a garage full of books you can’t sell. It happens. A smaller percentage of people I have worked with see their ministry or speaking take off after they promote their book. I always like to see this happen. Positive results are not always monetary.