Value added? Not necessarily. ALLi Watchdog John Doppler reveals 12 problematic services marketed to indie authors.
The value-added service — a bonus or add-on service that complements the primary purchase — is a sales tactic we see every day:
- “Your hotel stay includes free wifi and a continental breakfast.”
- “If you upgrade to the Deluxe package, the five-year extended warranty is included automatically.”
- “Would you like fries with that for just a dollar more?”
At their best, these offerings provide a welcome bargain. At their worst, they can be used to deceive and defraud consumers.
Car dealerships are notorious for inflating the price on a car with high-profit extras. They'll offer floor mats, car alarms, upgraded upholstery, extended dealer warranties, clear coat, rustproofing (wait, the car isn't rustproof already?), tinted windows, vehicle ID number etching, cruise control, GPS, the “deluxe” stereo system…and suddenly, that $30,000 retail price has ballooned to $55,000.
These costs are often bundled into a package that makes it hard to determine the value of the individual components. What's presented as a convenience may actually be predatory pricing hidden under a mountain of fluff. To determine if you're getting a good deal on a package, you'll need to separate the fluff from the services of real value.
The following twelve services are commonly used to pad self-publishing packages, either as an add-on service or a bundled feature with questionable value to the author. Please note that these services are not inherently bad. However, they deserve extra scrutiny when their price tag is concealed among other bundled services.
1. Copyright registration and LCCN
Copyright registrations in the US and the UK are simple and inexpensive. In the US, where copyright registration is a prerequisite for filing suit against infringing parties, the process can be completed online in about 5 minutes at a cost of $35.00.
Similarly, obtaining a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) is as simple as opening a free account and submitting your book's information. There is no cost, and you'll receive your LCCN within a few days.
There is no credible reason for an author to pay $100 or more for these simple procedures.
2. Press releases
To be successful, a press release must have an engaging headline; a unique angle; and informative, well-crafted content. It should be part of an intelligent marketing strategy, and it must be targeted to the right journalists at the right venues. There is an art to writing effective press releases.
With that in mind, consider these press release headlines churned out by one company as part of their publishing packages:
- A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Deceit and Evil.
- A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Deceit and Love
- A Breathtaking, Thriller That Delves Into the Mayhem and Enigma of Deceit and Faith
- A Breathtaking, Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Deceit and Murder
- A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of War and Government
- A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Crime, Gangs and Survival
- A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Power and Fame
A fill-in-the-blanks approach like this ensures that your press release will be ignored. (To add insult to injury, more than a third of each press release above was dedicated to promoting the publishing service.)
If you choose to purchase a press release as part of a package, be sure the company is qualified to handle your publicity. Investigate their past work, and see how many of their press releases were actually picked up by media outlets. Verify that the press releases are unique and tailored to the individual work.
If the company doesn't have a solid PR track record, then their press release may be a breathtaking waste of money that delves into the mayhem of deceit and exploitation.
3. Inclusion in catalogs
Catalogs from obscure publishers flood the market today. When mass-mailed to retailers, libraries, or journalists, these unsolicited catalogs are destined for the trash heap.
Don't waste good money on Dumpster lining.
4. Publicity and PR campaigns
An effective PR campaign is carefully targeted and multifaceted. Unfortunately, some assisted self-publishers take a quantity-over-quality approach, blindly spewing out the aforementioned press releases and catalogs to every agent, publisher, or media outlet they can find. Professionals despise this kind of shotgun approach and tend to delete them on sight. And obviously, those communications do no good if they go directly into a wastebasket or spam folder.
Before considering a paid publicity campaign — and they're not cheap — find out exactly what you're paying for. How, exactly, will they promote your brand?
Look for independent evidence of the company's successful campaigns. Are clients being featured on radio and TV segments? Are they being covered by journalists? Or is there no trace of those authors outside of the publisher's website?
If there's scant evidence that these campaigns are working, you're not likely to be the exception to that rule.
5. Complimentary copies
Complimentary copies of your book are nice to have, but weigh their value against the price you're paying for the whole package.
In the continental US, ten copies of a 240-page book will cost approximately $48 on CreateSpace. That's a tiny percentage of the cost of some assisted publishing packages, so keep the relative benefit of this perk in perspective. Remember that “complimentary” just means the cost of the books has been factored into the price of the package already.
6. Retailer previews
Google Preview, Amazon's Look Inside the Book feature, and other retailer previews are free benefits available to any author publishing on those platforms. Needless to say, if a service provider tries to take credit for that feature as a value-added service they are providing, they are not being entirely honest.
Retailer previews are standard features provided free of charge, so scratch this one off any list of supposed benefits a service provider offers.
7. Closed awards and recognition programs
These are a common ploy among the shadier vanity presses. By purchasing a package, you become eligible for an award or “recognition program”. It's essentially a pay-to-play contest that's only open to the small subset of authors who have coughed up several hundred dollars to that vendor. The award itself carries little significance for the average reader, and so the contest provides more benefit to the seller than to the author.
Proper accounting is not a feature, it's a requirement for any reputable service.
If a company lists accounting as an added benefit, cast a skeptical eye on that claim. If they charge you a fee to access an accounting dashboard, turn and walk away.
Does the vendor expect you to accept their work without your review or approval? Not if they're a reputable company. Digital previews and proof copies are a requirement for any service that prepares your books, not a benefit that sets them apart.
10. Social media promotion
Social media can be an excellent channel for promotion, but there's more to it than simply vomiting ads into the aether. Be wary of service providers who promise social media promotion but who lack the audience and engagement to make it work.
For example, a company claims they will increase your exposure by promoting your book to their Facebook fans. On inspection, their Facebook page has just under 1,000 fans after three years of operation — an unimpressive number for a company that provides social media services. Worse, each post is an advertisement which has at most one or two likes.
If the company can't successfully promote their own products and services, how will they promote yours? If they can't hold the interest of people who have explicitly liked their page, how will they gain the attention of an audience that doesn't know you?
11. Author page on the service provider's website
Unless the vendor attracts massive traffic, a page on their website — even one that's prominently featured — is not a valuable offering. Beware of claims of improved exposure without solid numbers to back them up.
One word of warning about metrics: don't be misled by the term “hits” when a company describes its web traffic. A “hit” is simply a request for one element on a page: an image, a video, a script file, a font, etc. A single visit to one page may generate dozens of hits. Companies that describe their web traffic in terms of hits may be trying to deceive you, or they may be genuinely unaware of the uselessness of that metric.
Either one is cause for concern.
Due to widespread author dissatisfaction, high cost, and a lack of tangible results, this Watchdog considers editorial reviews in general to be a poor investment even when purchased from a respected source such as Kirkus. When purchased from a company which carries no name recognition among readers, they are no more credible than your Aunt Becky's glowing praise.
To make matters worse, unscrupulous companies resell Kirkus reviews at astronomical markups, sometimes as much as 700% over Kirkus' already steep pricing.
If you do opt to purchase an editorial review, either a la carte or as part of a package, be sure the reviewer has credibility and name recognition. If the company is reselling a review from a third-party service, comparison shop to see if they are gouging with huge markups.
Hidden, inflated pricing is everywhere. To remove the confusion from comparison shopping, seek a la carte services or service packages whose components can be broken down into discrete prices. If that's not possible, approach any of the services above with a healthy measure of caution.
OVER TO YOU
What services have you found to be of dubious value? Share your perspective in the comments below.