Yes, This Will Be Expensive

January 5, 2021 § 21 Comments

By Judith Gelt

Mine was a clever ad. The local Jewish paper has around 16,000 weekly subscribers from Denver and the surrounding area, and my story is about growing up in Denver within a Jewish family with mental illness, and how I made my way out, found my way back, and came to understand and forgive (even myself).

With Hanukkah beginning in two days, my part-time-publicist brain planned a 3 x 4 in. color ad for $900.00:

Who Needs Hanukkah Gelt?

How about Judith Sara Gelt’s

It would run on the first day of the eight-day holiday. The woman selling ads for the paper had been as excited as I was.

Ad Person—Mazel Tov on the book! This is great news and I think the readers would love to have the opportunity to purchase it.

Me—I sent over a copy last year hoping the paper would review it but never heard back.

Ad Person—Oh, let me mention that! Maybe a review can run now!

Her rejection email arrived the next day.

Dear Judith,

Thank you for your interest…

Sexually explicit and not appropriate flashed neon.

I thought, The paper is sacrificing my $900?

(FYI, there is explicit, not offensive or gratuitous, sex. It hadn’t bothered my previous reviewers.)

Then I realized I had entirely missed the mark. Sending this ad to a paper with an “explicit-sex” taboo (most likely set by the paper’s Orthodox owners), cost me time and trouble. Plus, my family had known these owners through decades. My brother still does. This cut deep into my confidence. The back of my hand still stings.

Besides, Ad Person certainly wouldn’t read it now. I actually lost one reader.


When my book was released in 2019, the truth—authors must be willing to promote their own books—worked under my skin, and my hackles rose. Hadn’t I already done enough?

Before publication, every protracted, onerous undertaking toward publication felt doable, even energizing. I had closed out a middle-school teaching career and was fifty-three when I began. It took fifteen years to produce the final manuscript. Writer’s block? No idea what that felt like! Paragraphs took shape eight to ten hours a day. Editing and critique? Loved it. I took a class to refine my work at the sentence level and spent the following year revising the 300-page manuscript page by page. Not hard work—hard fun.

Then I waded through warnings (Your odds of being published are 1 to 2%) and ferried myself around the country to conferences where I could meet agents. I submitted queries. Submitted. And submitted. And submitted. I waited. And waited. And waited for decisions. But excitement whirled in the possibility of a happy outcome. And there was one!

My university press did its job publicizing my book within their resources. I wasn’t completely self-marketing hostile. Here’s where I stand, well, wobble—my webpage is fairly professional. I have an Author Facebook Page. I’m on Twitter (I no longer post there) and Instagram (I’ve never posted there). I’m on LinkedIn and Goodreads. I have an Amazon Author Page. I belong to four Facebook writers groups I don’t actually follow. I began a mailing list and sent three (or four?) MailChimp newsletters. I paid for a Kirkus Review (thank god it was good), and purchased ads in Kirkus publications.

I’m still a failure as an ad agent.

There are zero indicators my book is selling or that many readers have seen its pages. I’m not unaware of where to look for help. I’m overwhelmed by the help out there. I’ve seen a bajillion notions for how to market books successfully.

Brevity’s blog and sources like it offer manageable, contained lists of steps from successful authors. In a Writers’ Bridge video chat, I heard realistic social-networking approaches broken down masterfully. (Still, my visit ended early. The pace of brilliant ideas flying by overwhelmed me.)

So, my stomach will not settle. My chest is tight as I write this, forgodssake.

If I’m ever to get my book into readers’ hands, I must accept my publicity and promotional responsibilities and either:

Hire a genius, million-dollar publicist.


Hire a topnotch, million-dollar therapist.

My genius publicist, who is very expensive because they are a genius, will know what kind and where, and how often to place ads, and will arrange events and have conversations with important, connected people, and send mailings and do whatever else there is to do… Then, because they are the genius, I will do whatever they ask.

My topnotch therapist, who is very expensive because they are topnotch, will unravel underlying issues mentioned in my memoir like depression (mine), and although I’m medicated, thoughts of advertising can nudge me, TV remote in hand, downhill and onto my sofa.

Their combined top-notch know-how will eliminate my emotional weaknesses preventing me from marketing my book.

(My stomach is relaxing!)

Do you know a genius publicist? A topnotch therapist? I’m willing to pay.

Have them get in touch at (I may need both.)


Judith Sara Gelt is the author of Reckless Steps Toward Sanity—A Memoir, winner of The High Plains Book Award, Debut Book. Her work has been in Nashville Review, Superstition Review, and River Teeth, among others. She lives in Denver. Find her at her webpage and on Facebook. Other social media destinations are…under construction.

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§ 21 Responses to Yes, This Will Be Expensive

  • Morgan Baker says:

    I love this! Your honesty is refreshing. All the social media and self promotion stuff is overwhelming. I look forward to reading your book.

  • joellefraser says:

    Thank you for this piece. I relate all too well: self-promotion is definitely not for the faint of heart…I love the humor in this, too. 🙂 At least we can (sometimes) laugh through the pain. 🙂

  • geodutton says:

    I hear you. 2020 was the season for memoirs and for publishers and booksellers to gird their loins. More supply & less demand contributed to author frustration.

    I had a similar experience with my 2018 novel, not with a newspaper but with an online book promotion service based in CT. After they accepted my money for a publicity blitz, I sent them a review copy and didn’t have to wait long before they declined, returning my check and book (decent of them). The reason? My novel was an inside account of leftist radicals plotting a terrorist operation, which they said ran counter to their (unstated) policy of not promoting political books.

    Of course they do promote political books, both fiction and non, but the politics expressed are all mainstream or reconstructions of historical events. I am sure that many of the agents and publishers I queried rejected the novel for the same reason.

    It seems you and I were both trapped behind the “Overton Window” — the consensus view of what constitutes civil discourse or acceptable content, one which publishers slam down on politically incorrect (in the larger sense) content.

    So keep trying, I say, but don’t rely on a high-priced publicist. There are many services that will help you get your book exposed for a lot less than a million dollars. You probably won’t make back the expense, but you may accumulate a receptive readership that you can count on when your next book comes out. Good luck!

  • $900 for an ad? WHAT?!
    Well, good luck to you…
    This reality saddens me.

  • This was hysterical.. high priced publicist and therapist… laughed a lot!
    Nice post with refreshing honesty! ❤️

  • jerrywaxler says:

    Hi Judith, I’m buying your book. Yes, as far as finding readers, there is no easy way. We memoir writers need memoir readers. It’s as simple as that. Good luck to you. Jerry Waxler (author of Memoir Revolution.)

  • Jerry, you are a good literary citizen. Thank you for responding, and I’m looking up your book later today!

    • jerrywaxler says:

      Hi Judith, Since i receive the comment stream in my email I have been following and wanted to add a couple more comments. 1) I love the coincidence of your name, which I think gives you an additional hook to write this excellent article. 2) Most writers don’t like to admit how futile our dreams of sales are – it hurts, especially since we’ve literally spent hours a day for YEARS to make it happen – we must be totally crazy – no one would understand – except all of us other writers who had been through this ridiculous, heart wrenching process and would do it again in a heartbeat – we are all in it together, and coming together occasionally in a blog is good for the soul, and 3) when the dreams of success have turned into ashes in your hand, and the fantasies of fame seem like taunts from the past, you will discover after everyone leaves, and you are cleaning out your old files, there is one remaining nugget of gold that you’d never noticed before – that looking back on your years of liteary creativity, you have emulated and hence joined all the heroes in your life who have contributed to the life force of our culture. And all the rest of us who have had that same experience know how important and glorious that contribution really is. Best wishes, Jerry (also author of a memoir)

      • judithsaragelt says:

        Jerry, thanks so much for your observations! So well said. I think you really nailed our experience as writers, and I so agree how important it is that we have this venue where we can share. It means a lot that you’ve taken the time to respond.

  • Jaye Viner says:

    This is hilarious and very much my life right now. How are we supposed to know what an ad is worth? What ad options are the best investments? How much money is too much money to spend on selling a book? I mean, I already paid for grad school.

    • Jaye, Ha! I love that! “I already paid for grad school.” Hilarious, if it wasn’t so damn expensive…right?

    • geodutton says:

      It’s such an irony having to buy one’s way into one’s chosen industry. I heard someone who ought to know say that a concerted publicity campaign can cost over $10K, perhaps well over. A NYC big-name publicity agent wanted $3K to $5K a month to hawk my book. (And even she was not sure she could make a dent.) Given that it was already a year old, that seemed like throwing good money after bad, and so I didn’t respond.

      It’s almost axiomatic that self- and small-publishers get small slices of the publicity pie; to get more, either they must cough up or become expert enough to DIY. Can anyone say what the street value of their MFA is? Don’t most of us writers expect more than the system can give?

      Should you ask me why I am writing another novel, all I could say is that it’s not about sales metrics.

  • One of my many favorite parts of this story is that your brother, who is Orthodox, didn’t think to warn you away from sending that ad request to that particular publication. And another part I love is your candor and humor! It is so, so, so hard to bring attention to a book. We can all feel your pain!

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