Friday, 27 January 2012

The ‘Is It Worth It?’ Formula - Liz Kessler

There’s been quite a lot of talk about promotion lately. Nicola Morgan’s excellent blog on Tuesday looked at the issues of how to promote ourselves without bugging the pants off people. In this age of social networking frenzies, that is extremely important. But another equally important consideration is how to promote ourselves without running ourselves ragged. I think we’re all aware that nowadays, it’s important for us to be willing to put in some work to promote our own books. But how do we make sure we protect ourselves - and our writing time - in the process? And how do we make sure that what we’re doing is worth it?

In an attempt to answer these questions, I’d like to share something that I devised for a workshop with the Scattered Authors’ Society a little while ago. I call it the ‘Is it worth it?’ formula. (Warning: if you believe that weird mathematical equations do not have any place on a writers' blog, look away now!)
(S¹º + P + W³) ≥ T ¹º + C³ – E³ - G³

Benefit...................must be greater than or equal to......................Effort


S = Sales; P = Payment; W = Word of Mouth; T = Time; C = Cost; E = Enjoyment & G = Good causes              

OK, before you run screaming for the hills behind which you left your maths ‘O’ level many moons ago, let me explain. 

The idea is that the potential benefit to you of any promotional activity you take on has to outweigh (or equal) the amount of effort you put in. I’ve categorised benefit in three ways: Sales, Pay and Word of Mouth. Effort is categorised as the Time and Cost minus a couple of mitigating factors.

One of the mitigating factors is whether the activity is something we enjoy. We are likely to feel a lot more comfortable about putting time into something if we’re not hating every minute of it and resenting everyone in the world for the fact that we are doing it. And I've called the other one Good Causes. Is the activity something that’s going to help the local community in some way? Is it for a charity? If so, again, you might be more willing to put yourself out to do it. So these last two are offset against the time and cost.

Now then - putting it into action! The idea is that you give each element of the formula a rating, up to the number shown for each one. Bear in mind that as much of this is about trying to assess things that in reality we haven’t got all that much chance of knowing, the formula is really just a fun guide rather than something to seriously sit down and do before every bit of promotional activity. But it does have a tendency to work.

So let's put it to the test. As blogging and social networking in general constitute a big part of our promotional pie, let's start with that. 

As an ABBA contributor, I write a blog per month. Is it Worth It? Let's see...

Sales – This is always going to be virtually impossible to assess, but we can make a guess. I don’t think that ABBA will put on that many sales, but you never know, it could alert a few new people to my books. So let’s give that a 3 (out of a possible 10)

Payment – Well, I don’t get paid anything, so that’s a zero.

Word of Mouth – I think this is the main strength of ABBA, so I’m going to give this top marks. So that’s a 3. My total 'Benefits' score, then, is 6.

On the Effort side of the equation…

Time – it does actually take me quite a while to think up, write, post and illustrate each blog - but there again, it’s only once a month. So I’ll give this a 6 (out of 10).

Cost – it doesn’t cost me anything, so that’s zero.

I enjoy doing it quite a lot. I’ll give this 2 (out of a possible 3).

It doesn’t contribute to any good causes in particular, although I have used it to mention a charity that I’m involved with, so I’ll give this a 1. 

So the effort side of the equation is 6 (from T & C) minus 3 (from E & G) which equals 3.

My end result is that ‘Benefits’ equals 6, and ‘Effort’ equals 3. Which means that the benefits of being an ABBA contributor exceed the effort. Which is quite a relief. Yay! I'll keep on doing it then!

It doesn’t always work out like that though, and there are times when all of us find ourselves putting in many hours, shelling out our own cash and not getting much back in terms of sales, pay or ‘buzz’ about our books. Those are the times when we have to practise doing something that all self employed people find hard to do.


The world won’t end. Your book sales won’t sink into oblivion. Your publisher won’t turn their back and refuse ever to do anything for you again. Honest! It’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of the time, our reason for saying no is that we need more time to actually write our books. And at the end of the day, that’s something that publishers and readers alike will always be pleased to hear!

Why not try putting the ‘Is It Worth It?’ formula to the test with your own promotional activities? It might help you to feel more positive about something you have to do, or might help you have the confidence to say no to something you've been dreading. At the very least, it’ll give you an excuse to mess about playing with a silly idea and put off doing any work for another half an hour!

If you do give it a go, let me know how you get on – I’d love to know if the formula works for you!

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Celia Rees said...

Once I got my head round the Maths, this seems a very sane and sensible way of looking at it, Liz. I'm going to print the blog out, 'cos I'll never remember the formula, but it gives us a way of evaluating something that is difficult to quantify, but is an important part of what we do. As for bugging the life out of people, that is a hazard, but I don't think it should stop us from letting people know if we have a new book coming out, or spreading the word if we are going to be at a Festival, or something. It is getting the balance right. One aspect that is not in the formula, is the amount of time we spend stressing about doing all these other things and not getting any writing done. That really is a 0 scoring time waster. Thanks, Liz for this very interesting post, and thanks to Nicola for atarting the whole discussion off.

Flowerpot said...

I've got a walks book coming out in June, Liz, and another next year, so this is going to be very useful - thanks!

Liz Kessler said...

That's brilliant about the walks books. Let me know when they come out and I'll definitely get them!

Celia - very good point about the stressing! I will revise the formula to include it next time I share this!

Lynne Garner said...

Great blog and thanks for reminding of your fab formula.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

I am definitely going to apply the Kessler Calculation. Thank you for sharing.

Savita Kalhan said...

I've never seen your formula before, and I'm very glad for the explanation that's accompanying it otherwise I would still be baffled by the maths! I'm going to try it out. Thanks, Liz!

adele said...

All very fascinating, Liz. Will try it but I am also glad you explained the formula in words and examples.

michelle lovric said...

The Kessler Theorem shall go down with Fermat's. But how do you manage NOT to tell little white lies to yourself when attributing values? Perhaps one of sorting that is to add the Stress factor, as Celia suggests. Stress seems to come from the same well as creativity, in my experience: and it drains resources from the same time-well.

Emma Barnes said...

The problem is W - Word of Mouth - is such a hard one to assess, it's always possible to be convinced that any promotional activity is going to create great "word of mouth" when the truth is you never really know....Lovely formula, but it still all comes down to guesswork in the end.

Katherine Langrish said...

Thanks Liz - this has just persuaded me not to do something. And I feel rather relieved!

Nicola Morgan said...

Liz, mine was also supposed to be about whether we do too much for our own good but yours is a BRILLIANT way of putting the problem - and the solution! Go you! Fab fab post. I'm useless at Maths but I always liked algebra and equations - this has got to be the first time I've EVER seen their application in ral life though!

Liz Kessler said...

Thanks for all these nice comments folks.

Lynda - The Kessler Calculation made me laugh!

Michelle - likewise the Kessler Theorem. I'm feeling more like an intellectual by the minute! Oh, and having just started a Weightwatchers diet, I know all about telling yourselves those little white lies when attributing values!!

Emma - I agree. It is all about guesswork, and the formula is really just a bit of fun. But even if it is about hunches and guesses, the idea is that it's about you figuring out how you FEEL about it all in a slightly more objective way. (If that makes sense!)

Kath - hurrah! I love helping to give people permission not to do things!!

Nicola - THANK YOU! I think the two blogs go really nicely together; an all-round promotion package! :)

Katherine Roberts said...

Great post, Liz. I am wondering if all this blogging and Tweeting (which did not exist ten years ago, let's remember) is actually making any difference at all. Might it even be having a negative effect? That is a scary thought!

Lucy Coats said...

K (Kessler) + T(Theorem) = B (Brilliant).

Lucy Coats said...

K (Kessler) + T(Theorem) = B (Brilliant).

Liz Kessler said...

So good it's saying twice eh Lucy?! :)

jamesmarinero said...

A great way of looking at it, but where you say the cost of doing it is zero, then that may not be so.

What about 'opportunity cost' - that is, you could be doing something else with that time which makes money, and you are foregoing money that to write the ABBA blog.

Nevertheless, it's important at least to work the equation, if only in the head. Trouble is, most of us writers do it for peanuts anyway...

H.M. Castor said...

Eureka, Michelle, that is it exactly - stress & creativity come from the same place. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but I think you are absolutely right. And that is a hugely useful explanation. Thank you - and thank you Liz for a fantastic post!

Lari Don said...

This is one of the most beautiful equations I've ever seen! I've printed it out and stuck it on my wall, though I might tweak it a little once I've tested it out! I agree with James about taking opportunity cost into account, but I also think it's worth putting another T in - Timing. We all have cycles of promotion and creativity, and that might be part of a decision too. I'm editing to a tight deadline right now, and don't want many distractions; but in a few months when I'm playing with ideas for the next book, I'll want to be out and about (in the real world and online) meeting people and being inspired. So "no" might be the right answer to a timeconsuming promotion opportunity now, but in a few months I would say "yes!" I also thought your insistence that the world won't end if we say "no" was very important. Thanks so much!

Liz Kessler said...

James, that is a good point - I often forget that part of the cost of something is actually what it's costing me in time that I'm not spending doing something else. But then I guess I see it that as long as I'm getting the work done that I'm contracted to do, I don't worry too much about what else I could be doing with the time. Especially as I probably spend half of my 'work' time faffing anyway!

Lari - another really good point. I can't remember who it is but I'm sure there's a writer who divides their year into promotion months and writing months. That would be another way to do it. (Although with twitter etc, leaving someone waiting for six months for a reply to their tweet wouldn't really work!! )

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