by Anne R. Allen
One of the worst crimes publishing scammers perpetrate on new authors is bullying them into buying junk “book marketing packages.” Often these cost astronomical fees — $10,000 and more.
The useless book marketing the scammers push involve Tweets (which haven’t sold books for over a decade), presence at book fairs (where they will be completely ignored), never-to-be-read news releases sent to random publications, and unwanted missives sent to bookstore owners who will toss them in the bin. Yes, even though the missives are printed on elegant, luxurious stock with gold leaf accents. That’s not how bookstore owners choose their inventory.
There are also paid interviews on podcasts and magazines with no audience, and reviews on sites nobody reads. Some of these places claim they have X number of social media followers, but the “followers” are usually paid for or stolen from Facebook profiles.
But you need marketing!! And you don’t know anything about it. So should you hire somebody?
Good Marketers Are Expensive
Here’s the thing: real, legit marketers and publicists who have contacts in the industry cost money too. Writers may be willing to work for $.02 an hour, but tech professionals aren’t into the starving artist thing. They want to be paid a reasonable salary.
But you’ve already spent a couple of thousand on cover design and editing. Should you spend thousands more hiring a marketer?
I hear this question from lots of indies. I’ve also heard from a number of authors who feel they’ve been scammed by legit marketers who failed to generate a lot of sales. Their book is as good as a trad -pubbed book, so why can’t a marketer get them the same number of sales?
It’s true traditionally published authors are an advantage if their publishers provide some marketing. But usually it’s not much. Good publishers will send out review copies to reliable reviewers and put the book in a catalogue to be sent to booksellers. That helps get a book into bookstores, which is a biggie.
But these days, most trad-pubbed authors don’t get the book tours, fancy launches, or reviews in the New York Times. And nobody who isn’t famous to begin with gets a national TV interview — indie or trad-pubbed — even with the best marketer in the world. Back in the 20th century, if a handful of reviewers at prestigious magazines and newspapers recommended a book, it could make the NYT bestseller list. But that was a long time ago. Paying a marketer won’t change that reality.
When you’re figuring out how much to spend on book marketing, look at expected sales. How much are you likely to make from one book? If the average for your genre is $1000 a year, does it make sense to pay $5000 to make $1000?
If you’re wealthy, this may not matter to you. Just getting your book out there is a luxury you’re willing to pay for. But most debut authors don’t have that privilege.
The following are my opinions. You may read different opinions elsewhere.
Paid Book Marketing is More Cost-Effective in a Genre with Big Sales
One of the big questions authors need to ask themselves when deciding whether to go indie is, “does my genre sell well in the self-publishing market?”
If you write Romance or Erotica, you’re at the top of the food chain. Some thrillers and mysteries can also swim with the big boys. Fantasy, too. So a reasonably priced marketer might be able to sell enough copies of your debut novel to pay for their services.
Memoirs don’t usually sell many copies, but if you’ve got a memoir that gives personal insight into an important historical event, hiring a marketer or publicist might be cost effective.
If you were a member of the ground crew when the Challenger exploded — especially if you warned your boss about those O-rings — your memoir has a chance to hit the bestseller lists, and a marketer can get you there.
Or if you had an affair with Banksy — or are Elvis’s secret great-grandchild — you could probably benefit from hiring a book marketer.
BTW, if you’re writing a memoir and knew somebody famous, milk it! I had a brilliant musician friend who spent a lot of time with Billy Holiday in her last days. He wrote a beautifully written memoir I thought would work for my publisher. But the publisher declined because the author didn’t focus enough on his relationship with Billy Holiday. My writer friend said he thought he shouldn’t give Ms. Holiday any more ink than his wonderful Aunt Sarah because it would be “unfair.”
But my publisher said nothing’s fair in publishing. Make the book about Billy Holiday and you have a sale. Make it about dear old Aunt Sarah, and you’ve got a dud.
What is the Difference Between a Marketer and a Publicist?
Basically, a marketer focuses on advertising the book and a publicist sells you, the author.
A Literary Hub article from 2017 defines the difference this way: “Marketing focuses on making sure the book is highlighted and for sale at various bookstores and conferences.” But “publicists promote the author…arranging events with booksellers, librarians, and event coordinators at literary festivals, conferences, universities.”
So a memoir with a celebrity tie-in might need a publicist, but a novel or standard nonfiction book would need a marketer.
What Was Your Goal in Writing this Book?
One-size-fits all marketing is unlikely to work, so you need to choose your marketer carefully. You will need marketing aimed at your specific demographic, so the best marketer would be one who has connections in that market.
The best way to find out where their expertise lies is looking at their track record. They will probably post their success stories on their websites along with testimonials. You might even want to contact one of their authors and ask for a recommendation.
But first it’s important for you to know the audience you’re writing for. As you wrote, did you picture a particular kind of person reading your book? Who are your comp authors? If you’re writing for the Stephen King audience, you don’t want the same kind of marketing you’d want for a Nora Roberts audience or a George R.R. Martin audience.
An interview in Oprah magazine might shoot your recovery memoir to the bestseller lists, but it isn’t going to do one thing for a sword and sorcery epic. A good marketer knows these things.
But if you’re writing for a generic “them,” even a great marketer is going to have less luck than if you know who your audience is from the start.
Will a Debut Indie Book Earn Enough to Pay a Publicist or Marketer?
The short answer is — probably not. As I said, a singleton title isn’t likely to earn more than a thousand or two in the first year. Maybe five thousand with good marketing. But at best that’s a break-even situation.
So what should a debut writer do?
You’re not going to want to hear this, but every author has to learn something about book marketing. It can be time consuming, but it’s not hard.
Get yourself on a couple of social media platforms where your target demographic (or their parents, teachers, and librarians) hang out and make friends. Start a blog and network with other bloggers in your genre. Maybe plan your own blog tour by asking your new blogger friends if you can visit.
Build your “brand” as you expand your online reach by being consistent, kind, and ethical. Here’s some great advice from Mark Coker on how to build a brand. It doesn’t require any more skills than you have right now. If you have some expletive-laced rants or political diatribes online that might not be compatible with your book brand, you might want to clean those up.
And don’t forget hometown marketing. You can send notices out to your local newspaper, radio station, and libraries (More on this in Sue McGinty’s great article on Hometown Marketing.) News releases that blanket the whole country do very little, but a news release sent to a specific reporter at your local paper can get your name out all over your town. And your college and prep school alumni magazines might stir up some readers, too.
Yeah, okay. That sounds doable, but will it make my book a bestseller?
Probably not. Most debut books don’t become bestsellers.
So what should you do?
The Best Way to Market Your Debut Book is Write Another One
Write another book? Yeah. I’m telling you to work your butt off here. But that’s what successful self-publishers do. Unless your book is a one-off memoir of your adventures in Dismaland with Banksy, you need to write more books.
Yes, there have been literary one-hit wonders like To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, Black Beauty, and Wuthering Heights. But they debuted in earlier times. These days, they’d disappear under a mountain of new titles.
So how do you get a readers attention? The number one best use of your money is to buy a spot in a bargain newsletter like Bookbub. But Bookbub does no good if you have a single title. You discount one title in a bargain newsletter in order to draw attention to your other books. But if you have no other books — you’ve wasted your money.
So even though you’re scared of writing a second book, (most authors are) put butt in chair and do it.
Maybe Hold off on Paying for Book Marketing
Marketers can help get your book out there, but they can’t work miracles. The books that sell best are books in a series. My advice is to wait until you have two or three books in that series before you consider hiring a marketer.
If you’re an indie, you can publish those books in quick succession, which will get the attention of Amazon’s algorithms. Then the marketer can sell your books as “a hot new series.” They can blitz the Bookish Web with ads, and your books may make enough to pay the marketer and even have some left over for yourself.
If the marketer asks for a large amount of money up front, ask them if they’ll refund some if their campaign fails. Services always do better if they have skin in the game, although I believe most won’t risk it. But you can ask.
And if you tell them you don’t think you can afford to pay their fees, never fall for the line “but can you afford not to?”
You can. It just means more time on social media. (Yeah, I know. SocMed gets nastier all the time. Hold your nose and block the trolls.) And it means writing more books. Many contemporary authors didn’t start selling until the fifth or sixth book. Patience, rather than your life savings, will win in the end.
If You Have a Complaint About a Book Marketer
Email complaints to me, but don’t put it in the comments. This week I have been threatened with a lawsuit by a London law firm because of a comment made on this blog by a third party. Apparently anything written on this blog can get ME in deep doo-doo with the Brits. UK laws for defamation are different from what we have in the US. (Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act says “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”) But the UK has no such law, apparently.
So if you have a heads-up about a scammy marketer, I DO want to hear about it. But please don’t mention the name of the company in the blog comments or I could end up in some kind of British hoosgow (not really, but they do want me to pay court costs.) So send me an email. (Address on the Contact Us page.)
by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) May 1, 2022
What about you, scriveners? Do you plan to hire a marketer for your current book? Have you paid for book marketing in the past? Did it pay for itself? Did it help your career take off? Would you do it again? Have you paid for scammy book marketing? Do you do your own marketing? What marketing tool works best for you? Have you ever been sued for a comment on your blog or website?
BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Camilla Randall Box Set: Three novels for $3.99!
Ghostwriters in the Sky, Sherwood Ltd and The Best Revenge
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Featured image “The Book Dealer” by Louis Charles Moeller