Champagne wishes and caviar dreams... And all that stands between you and your lifetime of fame is getting a copy of this book into every pair of hands in America (or Canada, or the UK, or wherever it is you wish to be famous).
But at the end of the day, they're going to tell you what they told me, and what every single author I know heard with their first (and usually second and third and fourth) books. The publisher expects you to spend your advance on marketing and PR. They say (and they're right) that the more you spend promoting your book, the more you'll make up on the back end in royalties.
You can do a few things:
Buying print / tv ads. If you're a millionaire, and you just really want the world to know about your book as fast as possible, you can do this. It's expensive, and no one gives a crap about ads, especially for books. But you can do it.
Book reviews / mentions on blogs. Building relationships with people with a voice. The thing is, everyone wants a piece of these people, and blindly sending them your book meets with slightly less resistance than sending it to a publisher sight-unseen. And then, they may hate it. But it's an avenue.
Buy your way into the New York Times Bestseller List. Yes, you certainly can do this. The NYT Bestseller list is NOT a chart of best-selling books. It's editorialized. And if you hire the right number of old ladies in the right cities to buy your book on launch day from the right bookstores, you can end up there as an unknown author selling a billion copies. You're not actually selling a billion - more like a thousand. But because those stores are set up with BookScan (like Neilson ratings for tv), they register as a boatload of books. This service is very expensive, but hey... NYT Bestseller.
Hire a PR rep / publicist. Just like an agent is to the publisher, a PR rep is a shortcut between you and everyone in the industry with a voice who can chirp about your book. Unlike an agent, these guys get paid up front. They have to, because it's how their job works. There's no commission with publicity. With PR / publicity, the work gets done, and the performance of your book actually rests on your ability to a) communicate what it's about, and b) convince people they want it. You can get ten interviews in ten days on the top ten talk shows in the nation, and if your book is crap or you're unable to convince people quickly what it's about, there will be no sales. A good publicist will tell you how to handle this. For the record, I don't have a publicist, outside of the one Gotham assigned to me (and in-house publicists are not people you can command the time of too often, especially as a first-timer). I can't afford it, and I just don't see it as necessary.
Other things that cost a lot of money. Skywrite your book's title in the sky over every NASCAR event. Sponsor a NASCAR car. Buy an NFL team and take them to the Super Bowl, and stitch your book's title on the jersey of every player. You get my point.
Marketing is expensive. But one thing you can do that is relatively inexpensive if you do it right:
Tour. Tour like a motherfucker. Arrange signings in stores. If you're with a publisher, or if you hired a publicist yourself, you can have your publicist arrange signings, but there's no reason on earth why you can't do that yourself. It's as simple as calling the store of your choice, asking for the community relations person (or asking the person who answers the phone who you speak to if you want to arrange a signing), and you're off. If you've self-published, being in Ingram (the big catalog every store orders from) helps a LOT, because it shows the person making the decision that you're taking it seriously. But if you're not, it's not game over - they'll just ask you to sell them copies and ship them so they can prepare your signing. If you can bring 20 people to the store, they'll consider your day a success. Even if you can't, you can sell lots of books by being interesting. Be a carnival barker - don't be afraid to stop people walking by and ask them if they'd be interested in hearing what your book is about.
And touring gets a LOT easier if you...
Build an audience first. This is what I did, albeit by accident. I didn't actually intend to build a huge audience who would eventually help push my book along, I just thought it was a very cool thing to write a book, and a very cool thing to let readers tell me what they wanted in the book. When I released my first book, I had a base of people I could ask to show up to my signings and bring friends, and a network of couches I could crash on as I toured around to keep costs down.
The internet makes things so easy these days - you stick your stuff out there and you tell people about it, and if it's not shit, you can build an audience. I fully believe that EVERY SINGLE BOOK ever written has an audience somewhere. There are people out there who build bat boxes, people. These are boxes that bats live in. People build these. And trust me, before they built one, they bought a book about building a bat box. You get my point?
And by sticking stuff out on the net, you open the door for people to discover you and, much much much more importantly, share you with someone they know. How you do this can be discovered in detail on other marketing, web development and social networking blogs - and yes, I'll write a guide on how to do this part as a supplement to this guide eventually. For now, it's important to know that in 2010, this is not only a great way to market and promote your book, it's pretty much essential.
Because I had an audience first, I could put my book on pre-sale before I printed copies so I could gauge how many to print in the initial run. When it came to promoting it, I found college campuses the best place on earth to get the word out - if I could reach one motivated reader in college, before I knew it, I had 100+ fans from that school, and they appreciated greatly the fact that they could read what I wrote without having to buy it first. It actually encouraged them to buy the book as a souvenir.
I got to a point where, if I could sell 20 or so books per signing, I could break even. And I did, a lot. I targeted independent bookstores who had mailing lists of committed, happy customers who came to events, and found those to be the best signings. The bigger stores were cool, too -- just harder. We had parties at night, and I kept my food expenses low by stopping at grocery stores and buying bread, peanut butter and jelly and eating that nearly 3 meals a day.
And now that Kindle and iPad / iPhones are making books just a click away from being read, the market is completely reinvigorated - it's a huge wide-open market. Now, I personally read paper books. I HATE reading e-books. I just can't stand them. I don't know what it is... Maybe I'm just a crusty old curmudgeon. But there are millions of ebooks sold a year via Amazon and Apple's iBook store, so that means there's a gigantic market full of people who DO like reading digitally.
Having a solid internet presence makes it easy as hell to make your book one simple click away from purchase and delivery. And if you self-publish, this is doubly exciting, because the actual return on investment is huge - there's no physical product to produce or ship. Profit goes up. You have more money to promote your book. Rinse, repeat, success.
And how do you know when you're successful? It's a question I get constantly when I do talks and whatnot. And my only answer: when you've reached your goals. If your goal is to write a book, you're a success the moment you type "The End." If your goal is to sell a million copies, well, you have a LOT of work ahead of you. My goal was to sell 100 copies of my first book. I beat that goal in the first hour of pre-orders. I had no idea what sort of community I was sitting on. I hope the same happens for you - I hope you set a low goal that would make you happy beyond your wildest dreams, and you beat it into oblivion. And there's the cautionary tale - set manageable goals. Or, to get all Buddah, be happy with less, because you'll be way happier with more if it comes. It'll be a great ride. No need to set yourself up for disappointment.
But whatever you do, and I cannot stress this enough: Don't quit your day job.
I hope this guide has done two things: 1) discouraged the people who think it's all writing jackets and pipes and being a "writer", and 2) encouraged the rest of you. You CAN do it. You just have to understand that it's a lot of hard work.
That doesn't mean it's a job, however. I consider jobs things you do in return for money when you'd rather be doing something else. To date, I have not found anything else in the world I'd rather be doing than writing, producing and sharing my books with you guys. Every single ounce of the process is amazing for me, even when it's painful and my brain's being stubborn and bookstores are being difficult and radio hosts try to make you the butt of the joke. It's a fantastic experience to watch someone who started off ready to make you sorry you ever showed up change into someone who believes in what you're up to.
And if you believe in it - really, seriously, honestly believe in it, enough to do the work and push through the hard times and make this happen - you can convert them. All you have to do is make them feel what you feel... And that's what you do, isn't it? You're a writer, after all.
So go write.