you-get-what-you-pay-for-300x298This one is for the writers out there. If you’re not interested in the publishing end of things, feel free to skip on to more fun posts about dogs, cookies, etc.

In my day job, I meet a lot of publicists, editors, authors, and assorted other industry professionals. Most of them are wonderful. Really, really great. I occasionally have contact with a publicist at Penguin, for example, who is so great I’ve been tempted to tell her that Penguin will be publishing my book in November and I wish she’d be my publicist.

Unfortunately, not all publicists are so good at their jobs.

If you’re with a bigger house, you will probably be assigned a publicist. But what if you’re with a small press? Or what if you self-publish? I’d like to take a minute to look at some of the things you may get asked to pay for as part of a package from a packager or from independent publicists.

For example, let’s take a look at some of the offerings from BookTango, which used to be Author Solutions, if I remember correctly.

Here’s something they offer, for a (mere) $799: A professionally written, web-optimized press release about your book that they will

distribute the press release to more than 30,000 opt-in journalists and more than 250,000 news subscribers through our newswire service, PRWeb. While we cannot guarantee which websites will display your press release, our distributed press releases commonly appear on websites such as Google News, Yahoo News and other websites where journalists search daily for relevant news and topics for story ideas.

BookNobodyKnowsWow, sounds good, right?

No. Not right. Sure, they have a newsletter that goes out to 30k subscribers. What’s the open rate for that? And the 250k subscribers are news organizations that subscribe to ALL PRESS RELEASES. That is, they don’t give a hoot about your book, either. Notice how they say they can’t guarantee the book will actually show up anywhere, right?

These are not targeted lists, these are blanket emails. Because of my job I subscribe to a whole bunch of lists like this one and I don’t remember the last time I opened one of these things, let alone actually read more than two lines of the release.

Or how about this one from Jennifer Fusco’s Market or Die website. First, let me tell you something: as far as site design goes, this one’s a hot mess. White (or gray) type on a black background is a huge turn-off. Right there, that’s a strike for me, especially since one of the things she offers for a fee is website critique. But let’s move on to another service, the $300 “Promote Me” service:

Upon completion of the author questionnaire the author will receive: a competitive landscape analysis, a customized Facebook ad, guaranteed to increase your number of likes, one detailed promotion, to launch with the release of your book, Two hours of publicity services – to promote you and your book and a scheduled blog tour –with as many stops as we can possibly book.

Well, okay, that’s full of big words that sound as if they might be useful and worth a few bucks, but let’s get into the nitty gritty.

  • A competitive landscape analysis? Nope. Not going to happen. Not unless your book happens to be in a genre she’s deeply invested in or she has a big staff with wide-ranging genre interests. Plus, authors of fiction don’t compete, so this is utterly useless. I write Romantic Suspense. That does NOT mean I am competing with other RS authors. In fact, the more readers those authors have, the more I am likely to have—a rising tide lifts all boats. I’ve completed more than my share of CLAs for business plans—they’re about how you take marketshare from other companies. But that doesn’t apply to authors of novels.
  • A customized FB ad? Really? That’s something you could do yourself, if you even wanted to, given how little they’re proven to actually do anything. Yes, it may get you more “likes,” but so would giving away a single copy of your book on FB and asking people to “Like” your page to win. “Likes” do not correlate to sales in any significant way. Sales DO correlate to Likes (if you sell a lot of books, people will like you; but if you have a lot of likes, it doesn’t mean you’ll sell a lot of books).
  • One detailed promotion…what the heck is that exactly? Where? What kind? In a shop? Online? Who’s it going out to? What does it consist of? Who’s designing it?
  • Two hours of publicity services—see above: what, exactly, does that consist of? Her talking to you on the phone for two hours? Her talking to other people about you for two hours? Is she any good at that? What’s she going to say and how?
  • And a blog tour with as many stops as possible? Dear god, no. But I am going to deal with that in a separate section, because although Ms. Fusco offers this, there are whole services you can pay for this incredibly poor form of publicity.

Now let’s head over to Promotional Book Tours for a quick look at what can go wrong when you hire someone to manage a book tour for you. These are not expensive, so you may think “well, why wouldn’t I? I know I need to go out on a blog book tour…”  Let’s have a look at their “Value Tour” for $149.

What’s included in this two week promotional tour:

  • Your book blurb, book cover, and author information posted on 50 blogs.
  • A contest that runs for 2 weeks. (Prize minimum of $50 ARV*)
  • A Total of 15 – 18 Tour Stops with approximately.
    • 10 Book Reviews
    • 2 Guest Posts
    • 2 Interviews
    • 3 Book Excerpts

OK, that sounds good, right? If you’re going to be on 50 blogs in the two weeks before your book goes on sale, that’s got to be worth money. Except let’s look at this closely.

  • What appears on the 50 blogs is nothing more than the standard publisher’s information — cover, blurb, bio. No excerpt. No review. Nothing to actually interest the readers…if the blog actually has any readers (more on that in a minute).
  • 10 Book Reviews. Wow, great! Except…who’s doing these reviews? Have you seen the reviews on Amazon and GoodReads? There’s nothing that says how experienced the reviewers have to be or how in-depth the reviews will be.
  • 2 Interviews. With whom? About what? On a blog that will be read by whom?
  • 3 Book Excerpts. Why wouldn’t you just host this on your own site? Why would you go off to someone else’s site and put an excerpt there?
  • 2 Guest posts. This is the real meat, and if you can’t get yourself two guest posts on blogs that are actually pertinent to your subject matter, believe me when I tell you they’re not going to do it either.

It’s not that you shouldn’t do a blog tour, it’s that you shouldn’t pay someone to organize it for you. The way you organize a blog tour is to find blogs that are pertinent and become an active member on those blogs. Comment, or follow the blog’s owners on Twitter or FB and connect with them there. When your book comes out, you approach nicely and ask whether they would feature your book in any way they like, as a review or with an interview or by having you as a guest, or allowing you to do a giveaway. If you don’t know who the tastemakers are in your genre, what on earth makes you think some random service will?

Also, here’s what it says for people who want to “host” blog tours on the Promotional Blog Tours site:

Have you had your blog at least 3 months? Do you love Books? Do you want more Exposure for YOUR blog? Want to earn prizes?

Nothing about how many people actually READ your blog. So your book could get reviews on sites with fewer than 5 actual readers. And you’d be paying for it. Wouldn’t that be fun? On that note, several people offer to advertise you from their Twitter sites, etc. Back to Market Or Die — she has 280 followers. Why would you pay for your book advertising to go out to 280 followers?

Which brings me to the next problem I see all the time. Marketing gurus I’ve never heard of on panels and at conferences.

Now, I don’t know every industry professional. Not by a long shot. But if you’re going to bill yourself as a marketing guru, I damn sure ought to know who you are. And I ought to know who your clients are if they intersect my life in any way at all. That is, if you’re at a conference like Bouchercon, I ought to know you. If you’re at RWA, I ought to know you. Your clients’ names should be in my mind all the freaking time because those are the major conventions of the two genres in which I am involved.

Twitter egg avatarBut you would not believe how often I hear supposed marketing or social media “experts” talking at conferences and I’ve never heard of them. When I go look them up, I’ve never heard of their clients, so what good can they possibly be doing for those people? I look on Twitter and they have an EGG as an avatar. I kid you not. Just because conference organizers don’t do due diligence doesn’t mean you should fall for it. If you hear something from a speaker at a conference, do not assume it’s true. Do not assume it’s right. Do not assume it’s even this year’s information. Do your own research.

“But I don’t want to do the research! That’s why I want to hire someone!”

And there’s the rub, of course. It is easier to plunk down the cash and hope someone else will take care of it.

But there’s a lot of cash you don’t need to drop. Ever.

How many hours do you have to work to earn the $800 press release, the $300 promotion package, the $150 blog tour? Let’s say you’re a well-paid professional in your daily life, making $50/hr. That’s 16 hours of work for the press release. You can definitely do better giving 16 hours of your time to making connections. Six hours for the promotional package. Yep, in six hours you can certainly do the necessary work to promote your book yourself and get your name out there. And in the three hours it requires to pay for the book tour, you can easily request a couple of spots from bloggers in your field.

And if you’ve never been to a conference, I’d highly recommend thinking about doing that rather than anything else with your promotional cash. Because meeting people in person, despite how difficult it may be for you, is worth more than all the rest of this put together. (I have my own post on conferences over at Women of Mystery.)

Save your money. Invest yourself. You’ll be far better off in the long run.