As a young, unpublished author, struggling with my sentences, I used to fantasize about how, when the book was published, I’d answer the deeply-interested questions of a certain chat show host.
Now I’m older and wiser, I smile at the memory of this but I still understand it. Writing is hard, and so when writers dream, this is what we dream of: not of writing so much as of having written.
Of being “A Writer”, capital W.
Of getting the respect and attention we’d like to deserve. Chat shows, large followings, double-page spreads in national publications, thousands of readers exposed to our wit and wisdom.
Harmless stuff, as fantasy goes, but our over-active imaginations – a necessary trait for our job – makes us susceptible to flattery and over-optimistic assessments of the prospects of our work by author marketing services, especially in the slightly crazy post-natal phase, just after we’ve birthed a book.
The problems arising from marketing-service flattery and author susceptibility to it are creating a great deal of conversation within ALLi at the moment. The problem is much more widespread than we thought.
Marketing Services & ALLi
These service providers range across the seven stages of the publishing process: editorial, design, production, distribution, marketing, promotion and rights sales (and also those who provide assisted-publishing packages, combining some or all of these).
We evaluate each service that applies for membership against our Code of Standards, and the information from the evaluation process feeds into the reports and ratings here in this self-publishing advice center, and our guidebook, How To Choose A Self-Publishing Service.
The category that is most challenging for us, always, is book marketing, including PR (media interviews, reviews and features).
A quick word here about the difference between marketing and promotion.
Book marketing is letting people know your book exists, book promotion is specific sales-driven activity.
This post is about the more nebulous marketing and PR side of things.
When authors have just published, having finished first the writing, then the production of a book — each a long creative journey in itself which has drawn on various skill sets — they are understandably weary, and possibly overwhelmed.
They hand away marketing and promotion to a service — but without understanding what’s realistic for their book, they wind up disappointed and out of pocket. This can happen even if the service hasn’t made false promises, but many lamentably do, even for books that quite clearly aren’t going to attract media attention.
Of course working with a reputable marketing or PR agency can garner sales, for the right book, at the right time but it is equally true that some books will never win the sort of media attention that makes a difference to sales, no matter how much money is spent.
And it is also true that a double-page feature spread in a newspaper or a broadcasting appearance – while gratifying at many levels, not least to our egotistical dreamer – may not yield any ebook sales at all, especially for fiction.
I have personally experienced this, and seen it many times with other authors.
Such traditional PR works best for print books distributed through bookstores, but digital marketing is what works best for ebooks distributed online, the mainstay for most self-publishers.
Another issue is that so many services offer marketing add-ons that do little to shift the needle on sales.
And so ALLi is now advising authors not to hire a marketing or PR service until they have:
- properly located their books within the marketplace, understood its appeal to readers, and done some work themselves on trying to market
- satisfied themselves that a proposed service understands what actually sells books like theirs in the current publishing environment (which they probably can’t do until they’ve done 1.)
- wised up to author-service flattery
Yes, it is challenging for us to get outside our writing heads, and get real about where our books fall in the publishing/purchasing ecosystem; to engage with what our readers want and work out how to best to attract them.
But at ALLi, we believe these are core skills for successful self-publishing.
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