A book is not a brownie. We all know this, right? So why are we authors approaching novel marketing like it's our turn at the card table outside Mrs. Smith's 4th grade class after school?
If you're not a veteran of the elementary school bake sale, you won't get this analogy. So let me explain: if you want to raise money for a worthy project and you're the mother of a child under the age of twelve, you call all the other mothers of kids in whatever grade, ask them to make some baked goodies and parcel them in small/hand decorated bags, which you then hand-sell to mothers and kids after school. Viola, bake sale.
Bake sales are not by nature designed to raise a huge amount of money. The one we just did at my kids' school brought in about $500, enough for our goal (paying to bring a traveling fun-science show to the school). The problem is, we mothers likely spent at least $500 in supplies and labor while making the goodies, packaging them, transporting them, etc.
A bake sale is not a cost-efficient endeavor, and it's not meant to be. It's a Mommy thing. You do it so you can bake things with your kids, and show support for the PTA, and demonstrate your solidarity. It's also an opportunity to once again marvel over how many women use packaged cookie dough, or the mystery ingredients used to make Mrs. Jones's disgusting green and black Easter Rice Krispy treats, which somehow always tragically fall out of their ziplock bags into loose dirt before they make it to the sale table.
How does this correlate with the marketing authors do for their books? If you've ever been to an RWA National Conference, you will immediately get this. Note the resemblance of the goodie room to the bake sale table: Bookmarks, postcards, magnets, cutie little advertising things, all cleverly packaged to catch the eye. Completely useless as marketing tools, but oh, so pretty.
Many homemade web sites -- we're all guilty of them, so don't anyone turn up your nose -- are tragic. They should fall into the dirt somewhere, but they don't. And their authors are determined to save that hundred bucks by working out of that Websites for Dummies book. You militant do-it-yourselfers, don't yell at me and say you can't afford a professional web designer. Not when you spend a thousand bucks to go to a conference so you can, yes, sit at a card table and sign five copies of your novel.
Homegrown marketing: aka the guy who will do [fill in promo service] for your book for a hundred or five hundred or even a thousand bucks. He will always have a great web site. He talks professional. He's at all the conferences. He makes it sound so wonderful. He actually makes no promises, but he doesn't have to. He has your vanity and paranoia upon which to make his buck.
There has to be a better way to market our books, but until we find it, don't bake sell yourself. Think before you order three thousand heart shaped plastic bookmarks emblazoned with the name of your debut romance. Don't follow the herd to the next conference. Fold up your card tables and put away your ziplock bags. We can do better than this for our novels and our careers.