Book Marketing Schemes and Scams
By Michael Melville
Book Marketing. We authors almost all hate it and hate doing it but it’s the way the writing business is these days no matter how you are published. Indies AKA self-published authors probably do more marketing on their own, with their own time and their own money than someone who is traditionally published. Often we have limited resources, limited money and need to find the biggest bang for our buck when we can afford to run some sort of marketing campaign.
When the internet was made public in 1991 it became a new frontier. It was the new Wild West. Anyone on it was fair game to be taken advantage of, to take advantage and to find new paths to life and success both personally and monetarily. It created countless new business types, technologies and ideas. New business men and women and new types of them. It eventually wasn’t a fat 60 year in an office drinking expensive martinis and wearing a 10,000 dollar suit. Rather it was 23 year old hipster, wearing jeans with holes in them and drinking Monster and coffee like it was water and he or she was stuck in a dessert.
Eventually good changes came to literary writing, the writing business and book publishing as well. I suppose bad ones also came with it and I will admit that some of the “good” could be considered bad in the eyes of some. In that business, our business, people also found new ways to find success, new avenues for businesses and sadly new targets to take advantage of. Conmen call them marks. When you buy something in a store you take it back if it breaks or you don’t like it but you deal with someone real; a living breathing person.
Now, when doing business online you are dealing and interacting with a name which may or may not be real, a picture which may or may not be that person, an IP address and an email that could belong to someone anywhere in the world. You are dealing with a person you may never touch, see, shake hands with or look into their eyes. For as quick as email is you can often wait days sometimes weeks for an answer, a real answer….any answer if things go bad. The new changes in book marketing, especially online book marketing have brought new avenues for people to start businesses, make money, flaunt experience and also overstate or lie about what they can do, will do and can’t do.
Every day I check my Twitter feeds and see more “experts” in book marketing than I can keep track of, check on or remember (assuming I wanted too). Suddenly out nowhere someone who has published a book or 3 is an apparent expert in not only publishing but online book marketing. A recent college grad with no experience other than a summer internship at a legit marketing firm suddenly and inexplicably knows all the ins and outs of online and social media book marketing. They Tweet and retweet this and that, post on Pinterest and share on Facebook and somehow, some way this makes them marketing experts…even though they are not. Many of these people learned it’s easier to take advantage of the new author, the inexperienced business person and the clueless housewife or retired grandmother than it was to actually write good books that actually sell.
I don’t think all them mean to take advantage of new authors. I think some really believe they have the experience to know what they are doing. That have the connections, business knowledge and technical expertise to truly help authors. The reality is different. The proof says otherwise. Their portfolios tell the truth.
You see they (the bad ones) use slick lines, make the right amount of connected friends on the interwebs, post on the most popular Facebook groups for writers and make themselves appear competent and trust worthy. They tell these authors who are dying for some sales, some reviews, some marketing and to get their names out there that they can do all this for them. They tell them they have an army of people just waiting to review their books on Amazon, B&N and Goodreads. They have people, book bloggers just dying to guest host interviews, posts and say they will give our books prime placement on their websites, or blogs…and don’t forget the email marketing.
My Experience with “book marketers”
Several months’ back I spent some money on what I thought would be a simple but effective marketing campaign before Christmas to hopefully boost Christmas sales of the E-book and print versions of Running Northwest. I didn’t spend a lot money mind you, because I don’t have a lot of money but it was what I could afford. The person running the marketing site (whose name I will not say but who will likely read this) told me the glorious things that she would and could do that I knew could not on my own. She was offering a good deal. She didn’t promise exceedingly great results such my book on a best sellers list and 5,000 sales at the end of the campaign but I figured even on the low end it would help market my book Running Northwest and myself. She had a nice little ad on a Facebook group and a friend’s wall. She touts herself as a marketing guru and that she has years of experience in books, book marketing and advertising. I trusted her. I trusted what she said because of the reputation she has with other people I trust in the book business. Whose reliability I question now.
You see an ad was supposed to be placed on certain day on a certain website. Actually few ads were supposed to be placed over a period of time.
The date of the first placement came. Nothing happened
I emailed of course and waited days for a response.
When she did she gave me excuses and made more promises. I was assured that the ad would be up the following week with more to follow.
Weeks went by, more excuses more promises. Finally I had enough. The ad was supposed to coincide with another marketing campaign I was doing. It was a tight time frame. The window came, went and passed the fuck by and I asked for and got my money back (thankfully). I got excuses and apologies from someone who says she is a professional. I will never do business with her again or suggest her to anyone. And no I won’t say her name. There is already enough childish drama and incompetence in the writing and indie writing world I don’t want to advertise hers.
This week I was talking to another writing friend of mine named Ben Andrus. He just put out the 2nd book in his first fantasy series at the beginning of January. He went through another book “marketing” company. This one again was “shared” on that same Facebook page as the one I had found. It had a nice looking website and offered some really comprehensive marketing packages which sounded great and I briefly thought about contacting them and purchasing a package for myself. I thought they were charging a lot though and decided it was out of my budget. His campaign was supposed to run like 2 months ago now.
He had the same result as I did: Unanswered emails, vague promises and broken ones as well. He was told things would be ready the next week and that became the next and nothing happened NOTHING has happened. The release of his book and with it that first post publishing marketing campaign which is supposed to really give a book and author some traction was gone.
Like a fart wind.
Like a PayPal payment disappearing.
He asked me what to do. I told him to demand his money back since he spent a large sum of money and report the company to PayPal for fraud.
The thing about this is that I feel partially responsible for his debacle. Ben doesn’t do much in the way of marketing and doesn’t spend as much time out and about in the writing world as I do and have. I am sure that will change eventually. The reason I feel bad is because I was the one who saw their ad, looked at the site and suggested it to him to check out. I should have done my due diligence. As a business man I should have known better and checked them out as thoroughly as I could before I shared it with him.
These are just 2 examples but I aware of around 15 online marketing “companies” and individuals who have a habit of lying and taking peoples money with no work or little work actually done.
What do you do?
For a new author, going it alone with no support from a publisher or agent it is really hard to know who we can trust for book marketing and advertising with all the ones out there both legit and scams. It seems far too many of these people and companies are fly by night jobs run part time and treated like part time gigs NOT real businesses and NOT careers. They are literally here today and gone next week sometimes. Yes there are some, probably many even which are really good. They do exactly what they say they will do and when they will do it. They do what their customers pay for and expect—like a good business should.
Many though are also being run by writers to offset the money they are not making selling their own books. The ones who are not finding success at actually writing. The ones who take marketing advice and information from other places on the internet, other marketing books and repackaging it into their own “online book marketing guides” they sell on Amazon.com and other places. These are the people, who I feel are the scam artists and are no better than pawn shops and pay day loan companies. The overcharge, lie and take advantage of their ability stay in the internet’s grey area of business. If they are such marketing wizzes how come their own book covers look like crap and they don’t have any best sellers? Here is screen shot I took from Amazon.com with the simple search term Book Marketing.
These are not businesses that you can usually report to the BBB (Better Business Bureau) maybe the FCC but it’s the government so who knows where that will fricken go. My advice to a new writer. Figure it out on your own. Do it on your own marketing if you can. Work your own connections and don’t rely on others supposed expertise unless you can verify these people are actually experts at anything other than sitting in front of a computer all day playing on social media. Question everything and everybody. Make sure they are actual legit businesses with income, standards and most of all a decent clientele. Any good business should be willing to furnish prospective clients with some of this and more before they take your money.
If they say they are successful authors look them up, see where they rank, and read their reviews. See what kind of (if any) books they actually have published. Ask for proof, as for past client names and contact them, ask for references just like you would with any other businesses. I’ve been hearing too much lately about writers getting burned by these apparent marketing companies and it’s pissing me off. Make sure they treat and run their business like an actual business, like an actual marketing company not like a hobby which is more often the case. If they don’t then don’t even waste your time or money.
Sometimes I wish these businesses, these people had to register with some sort of governing body. That they would be forced to be bound too some sort of professional and ethical code of conduct and not be self-regulated. So that when the bad apples do take advantage of writers they are held accountable and they are shut down if they do not operate in a legitimate manner. Maybe that would cause too many issues and hurt the “free commerce” that is the internet though. It’s that Wild Wild West I guess.
Remember before when I said there was enough childish drama in the writing world especially with Indies. Since I am aware of that I am also aware of the heat I might get from this article. This business of ours (writing) has a lot of people who seem to spend more time hurting it than helping it. There is going to be a lot of people who are not happy with what I wrote because I am describing exactly what they do and how they operate. I am trying to make new authors aware of the wolves in the hen house. This is why I went to great lengths to not mention names when every fiber of me wants to call them out publically. I know I may get hate mail, hate tweets, angry comments and maybe even some horrible book reviews as repercussions to my honest opinion. Sometimes though even a minnow in the ocean that is the writing business saying something can make a difference and make things better eventually. At the very least maybe less people will get burned.