Every day at least one solicitation for a book promotion service pops up in my email messages. All promise wonderful levels of exposure to tens or hundreds of thousands of potential readers, mainly through Twitter and some through Facebook. Then there are the newsletter-based book promotion services to which potential readers subscribe for easy notification and access to books that are newly released, free, greatly discounted, or all of the above. Finally, we have digital book tours which combine Twitter and Facebook announcements with promos on their websites and on bloggers' sites for more targeted advertisement.
I've used many of them, such as:
Book promotion services range from less than $20 to well over $100. I've even hired a "book marketer" through Fiverr who promised extensive social media promotion which delivered nothing but disappointment.
What can an author expect from these services? Depending on the plan (basic to premium):
Overall, none has proven its worth. Only once has a book promotion exceeded, much less met, expectations of breaking even. In speaking with a colleague with whom I collaborated on a collection of stories, his experience echoed mine. We published primarily in different genres, so we weren't really competing against each other for the same readers.
I also hired a social media marketing consultant to assist with book promotion. She did an excellent job of expanding my social network through Facebook and especially through Twitter. She performed website and book sales analyses. In short, she did everything--and more--that she promised, but book sales still floundered. The ambition of social media marketing generating sufficient book sales to at least pay for the service turned to ashes. I hired a public relations firm on a 3-month contract to boost book sales. The result ... crickets. That poor decision wasted a lot of money. The agency's representative was so embarrassed by the lack of results that she offered an additional month of service at no charge. I don't know what that free service entailed, but the result was the same: nothing.
What's an author to do?
The advice is to focus on quality. The author must make sure that the content is professionally edited and meets professional standards. Check. The author must make sure the cover design appeals and is suitable for the genre. Check. Stiff competition--over 1 million new titles uploaded every year and mine is just one of those--pose astronomical odds against success. Not only must my book compete against the huge glut of books published that year, but it must also compete against the avalanche of books published before it and competing against it for market share.
It hurts to admit that well-written content, good editing, and appealing cover design aren't sufficient to propel a book to success. My best sales come from on-site events unrelated to book promotion: i.e., arts and craft shows. I haven't the foggiest idea why, but I'll take that success wherever I can get it.
I've attended a couple of webinars targeted toward indie authors trying to promote their books. They were basically sales pitches for more expensive workshops or services. If I sign up for an informational webinar, then I want information, not a sales pitch. If I deem from that webinar that the consultant's service will be beneficial, then I'll sign on as a client. But don't try to sell to me straight from the get-go. That's just annoying.
I'm not a marketing professional or expert. As a matter of fact, I thoroughly dislike marketing. That dislike and ineptitude in no way disregard the importance of marketing. Apparently everything I've done doesn't work. What does work?
I wish I knew. Maybe my stories just aren't that good. Maybe I just haven't found the right audience. Maybe ...
In the meantime, I'll continue to hurl my ambitions (and money) at some of the same old tactics in the very definition of insanity of doing the same thing and expecting different results. I keep hoping that something will stick, something will spark.
Until then, I'll continue to write and hope to achieve every author's dream: bestseller status.
The buzzword "value-added" basically means getting something for no additional cost. It's frequently used in reference to service-based businesses. Marketing gurus and business consultants urge entrepreneurs to consider how they can "add value" to acquire and retain clients/customers. What they mean is what are those entrepreneurs willing to give away or do for free?
Authors, for instance, are frequently expected to give their books away. Hundreds of hours of work and, often, hundreds or thousands of dollars spent, to produce a good book mean nothing: in order to attract reader who will then buy your other books, you must give them something for free.
More often than not, the "loss leader" gambit doesn't work and we've only ourselves and, ironically, Amazon to blame. With books available digitally, we get a false sense of cost. Why should I pay $9.99 for a paperback when I can get the same thing in digital format for $5.99, $2.99, or even $0.99? Why should I pay for production and shipping?
As an editor, I often find myself at odds with the tenets of contractual terms and the ingrained urge to "be nice." My contracts are simple: once the client has approved the project, it's complete. I have no further obligation to the project. However, a client occasionally returns to me with a, "Hey, I found an error and need you to fix it."
That's what gets me. Even though I tell my clients that they are expected to review returned documents carefully, I'm sure many don't. They just accept the changes and move on. Later, when the find that their editor (me), who is all too human and imperfect, has missed something, then I feel obligated to correct that error. For free.
Perhaps that makes me a patsy. A pushover.
I once made changes to a manuscript that resulted in an change of page count. I contacted the graphic designer who had designed the cover to request the cover be adjusted to fit the new page count. Let's just say that left a bad taste in my mouth when the designer fired off a truly nasty response.
I would have paid for the additional service. I would never have responded to a client (past or present) in such a manner. I have never recommended that particular designer to another and won't. Nor will I ever use her service again.
But, as a freelancer myself, I understand her perspective.
When explaining my service to new clients, I tell them what to expect. I give them a contract which they're required to sign and return to show they understand the terms of our agreement. I have indeed informed some clients who said they thought X service was included in the fee or agreement that X service was not. This language in my contracts has evolved as such oversights occur and will continue to evolve.
Like any good businessperson, I want to keep my clients satisfied with the service they receive from me. That doesn't mean I won't stand up for myself, but that I must constant balance business savvy with being nice. It's not always easy.
I returned to work last week. Returning to week doesn't exactly mean driving to the office, but in resuming work on client projects. I'm not in the frame of mind to putter away on my own projects.
Left alone with nothing to do, my thoughts dwell on my son's death. They're not pretty thoughts. I weep.
I recognize that the world continues to move on. That my life must continue moving forward, which means that I must continue to work and earn a salary to fund that life. It's not easy, but then no one ever said it would be.
I have learned the fine art of distraction to redirect my thoughts, however temporarily, to matters other than dark, heavy sorrow. Work is a distraction. One such project is a client's memoire. He's an immigrant from Ghana and offers an interesting perspective on American culture. Another is a fantasy novel targeted toward young teens. There's a fine line between dumbing down and writing to their level of comprehension and vocabulary while still developing a good story that draws young readers through the pages. I also wrote an article which I pitched to Newsweek and was accepted. Here's the link; feel free to share the article among your social networks. I also wrote another article about the article, which was edited to omit some information. I posted that one on LinkedIn. Feel free to share that, too.
A friend's kindness helped with further distraction: painting. Over the past year, I took several art classes that mostly focused on painting. I'm no Botticelli or Renoir, but I enjoy the activity and plan to take advantage of art supply sales at the local hobby/craft store to stock up on canvasses, brushes, and paints. My husband mentioned that I'd painting midday and sunset pictures, but no sunrise pictures. Well, now I have a sunrise picture. No, there are no flowers that even remotely look like those in my painting, but then it's not meant to be photorealistic. It's meant to be "nice to look at." No more, no less.
Even more important, I enjoyed painting it. It was nice to be among other people, even though we were "socially distanced," because we have come to view fellow human beings as carriers of contagion rather than as people.
Distraction is necessary to keep the tears at bay, to refocus the mind on more productive and less stressful thoughts. I find myself exercising greater patience these days and less tolerance. The exercise of patience has been forced upon me due to government office backlog. I realize that greater patience in most other matters won't hurt either. The reduced tolerance concerns what I deem worthy of my time and attention. If I begin reading a book in which the heroine (or hero) is too stupid to live, then I cast it aside. I feel no obligation to finish the book. If I begin reading a book littered with grammatical errors, then I cast it aside. I feel no obligation to finish it. If I'm playing a solitary game of Scrabble with the computer and it beats me two games in a row, then I quit for the night, because my mind's obviously not as focused as it should be.
Focus remains erratic and elusive. It's not a good place to be, even though I know this, too, shall pass. The heartbreak will ease with time and the memories fade. My son won't be forgotten, but we'll learn to focus more on the joyful memories than the more recent painful ones.
This is life which does not stop for death.
I can't promise not to dwell on the topic in upcoming blog posts, but I can and do promise to try to shift the focus. To that end, if you have an article you'd like to post which is on the topic of writing, editing, or publishing, feel free to submit it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All accepted posts will be edited, but getting back on topic will benefit everyone who reads this blog.