The Book Promoter Wears No Clothes

Emperor 117It’s time authors began to call book promoters’ bluff. Yes, some types of marketing are  necessary, and yes, some of them can work. But please – stop selling us a bill of useless goods and claiming that it will all turn out all right if we just keep spinning our promotional hamster wheels.

That’s an intro I could have typed almost any day since I began learning about book promotion. What motivated me to actually write it today is a breathless Huffington Post article by Rachel Thompson (RachelintheOC.com is her own site) tactfully titled Authors Are A**Holes. It includes a self-styled rant that expands on the following statements:

This book marketing is what I do for a living — for myself, for my clients. And new tools come out almost daily, so doing everything and finding it all unsuccessful is well, BS. Sure, we all have bad days. I get it. I do, too. Being an author is hard work, regardless of how one is published. So, what to do? Stop being an a**hole, and get to work!

<snip>

Bitch and moan that you’ve done EVERYTHING (bet you haven’t), and still haven’t sold any books. I don’t believe you. Sorry.

When you’ve done ALL of the above in great detail, and I mean everything with a concentrated effort and still haven’t sold any books, then guess what? Maybe you need to rewrite your book, or write another.

In between those accusations is a predictable list of not quite everything (more on that below) you can think of that does or does not sell a book, including the following:

— Give back, for fuck’s sake. Stop talking about yourself all the damn time.

Ahem. Well. Having established her bona fides as an expert in marketing (including to A**Holes) by stating that she is an expert in marketing and an author of three “best-selling” books, let’s take a look at how those books are selling.

Well, there’s her first eBook, called A Walk in the Snark, which at this moment has an Amazon rank of 182,246. So that one hasn’t sold a single copy in several days. Her own site has a link only to Amazon, and sure enough, only one of her three books is available at Barnes & Noble. How about iTunes? Google? Nope and nope. Apparently doing everything it takes not to be an A**Hole does not include getting a book into all the channels where many people might like to buy it.

What about her next book, The Man Code Exposed, which through today is on sale for $.99, and again appears to be available only on Amazon? Its rank is 184,418.

That leaves just one book, her latest, titled Broken Pieces, Essays Inspired by Life, It’s the only one also available at  Barnes & Noble, and also the only one with a professional looking cover (having a spectacular, professionally designed book, by the way, is the first item in Ms. Thompson’s list of things a writer must have in order not to be an A**Hole) and the only one also available in paperback form (the format in which more than half the reading public still prefers to read books, but obviously also not necessary to avoid A**Hole-dom – although publishing in eBook form is on the list) is at 94,124 and 181,813, respectively, so a copy sold in eBook form a couple of days ago, and a soft cover version sold a couple of days before that.

So, in summary, Ms. Thompson appears not to have sold a single copy in the last 48 hours of any of the three books written exclusively by herself, unless it was her latest, through Barnes & Noble.  She also hasn’t always bothered to invest in good book covers, or even to make it possible for people to easily find them. Could it possibly be that Ms. Thompson is an A**Hole?

Okay. So my purpose here really isn’t to trash Rachel Thompson. Besides the fact that she makes money by telling authors how to sell more books than she is currently selling, she offers a lot of useful information at her site, which also includes statements that she’s happy to help authors for free. But her Huffington Post article is over the top, and a typical example of blaming the victim for not spending enough time – and money – on promotional methods that are often rote exercises in futility. As demonstrated by her own current book sales.

The problem isn’t that authors aren’t tweeting enough, for Pete’s sake, or that their books must suck if they’re not selling. It’s that there is no guaranteed way to success, and only a small percentage of great books are ever going to have decent sales. It’s always been that way, and always will be due to the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of new titles every year, and only so many ways to get people to notice them. Not to mention only so many books people are going to read in a given year.

But why would a marketing professional care about that? You’ll see exactly the same result illustrated above no matter where you go. The next time you’re pitched for a service or are introduced to a marketing site that has books displaying that they’ve promoted, check the Amazon rank of those. It almost never fails that those they are featuring on their own home pages have Amazon ranks of 800,000, 1,800,000, or worse.

It takes a lot of brass to showcase your failures. And yet people presumably keep buying their services anyway. What’s wrong with authors?

The answer, it seems, is that we must be suffering from a sort of Magical Thinking or Stockholm syndrome (or both), under which we are willing to keep rolling the same Twitter/Facebook/book trailer/GoogleAds/dot,dot,dot up the hill, even unto eternity, not because it works, but because the Rachel’s of the world tell us that’s what we have to do, and hey, we can’t think of anything else to try.

Oh. Right. There’s always writing. But who has time for that, when there are tweets to send that no one will pay attention to?

As I wrote in my last post, What’s Next for Self-Publishing: The Marketing Agent, what authors need is a marketing partner whose financial interests are aligned with their own. If that type of service provider ever comes along, she’ll be incentivized to only urge authors to spend time on marketing activities that actually work, rather than wasting their writing and promotional time on things that don’t. And they’ll only want to spend their own time on productive tactics rather than selling their clients another useless bill of goods.

Until that happens, let’s all start pointing out that the marketing emperors have no clothes, and more to the point, quit buying the same invisible fashions.

Have you discovered The Alexandria Project?

About Andrew Updegrove

I'm a cybersecurity thriller author/attorney that has been representing technology companies for more than thirty years. I work with many of the organizations seeking to thwart cyber-attacks before they occur.
This entry was posted in SelfPublishing, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Book Promoter Wears No Clothes

  1. barryknister says:

    Andrew– “Excellent post, thank you.”
    Note: This is often the extent of comments left by people trying to get wider exposure for their websites and book titles. It annoys me. I think there aught to be some way to screen out such self-serving cheerleading–but there I go again, being curmudgeonly. Indie writers are all supposed to be endlessly upbeat and supportive, right?
    The only thing I would add to what is, in fact, your excellent post is that you omit taking to task Ms. Thompson’s co-conspirator, Huffington Post. Obviously, the publication is content to give voice to something inflammatory without bothering to vet–as you have just done–the legitimacy and credentials of the writer.
    I have a suggestion: why not send your essay that legitimately dismembers Thompson to Huffington? Tell them they’ve published someone who claims to be an expert, but who doesn’t appear able to sell her own books. I hope you do this. If you do, I’m sure your readers would like to hear what happens.
    Thanks again for standing up for whiny a**holes.

    Like

  2. Barry,

    Your point is well taken, and if the article had appeared in a newspaper, I would definitely follow through. Before I continue I should say that I have never read the HuffPo, and therefore what I am about to say may therefore be unfair to them, but my impression of HuffPo from hearing it discussed in other quarters is that it’s not too many steps above a tabloid, firehosing a great deal of content into the marketplace with very little supervision or review. That doesn’t excuse that practice, but I would hope that people therefore read anything that appears there with a full shaker of salt. But I’ll go check it out, and if there’s an ombudsman address, I’ll do as you suggest.

    Meantime, thanks for joining in my disgruntlement! Curmudgeons to need to stick together.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barry, I took a look at the comments at Rachel’s article, and was astonished to see 100 gushy, approving comments by self-published authors. I had used the Stockholm Syndrome reference somewhat lightly, but I’m beginning to think that there may really be something to it. And yes, I did leave a comment. It reads as follows:

    “I hate to inject a note of reality here, but I’ve been checking the Google rank of your three books for the last few days. Only one book, your latest, is available anywhere else (on B&N)., so your Amazon rank captures all of your book sales other than whatever the one title may sell through B&N.

    As of yesterday, none of your books had sold a single copy in the last 48 hours, despite one being on sale. It looks like a couple of copies did sell today.

    Two of your covers are very amateurish, although your first bullet requires awesome design.
    Two of your books are not available in print, although more than half the books sold are still in that format.

    So tell me how you can call so many people whiny, under performing A**Holes, and criticize them for not doing all of the things in the list, when either (a) they don’t work, or (b) you’re not doing them yourself (there is no (c)).

    And while we’re at it, why doesn’t HuffPo look into such obvious facts before they allow someone to not only hold themselves out as an expert, but then rail at people whose books are not selling any better than her own?

    A more honest article would have said, “here are a bunch of things you can do, but there’s no guarantee that they will significantly move the needle of your sales. Marketing a book is very hard.””

    I also left a pointer to my blog piece, so some differing opinions may be arriving shortly 😉

    Like

    • barryknister says:

      Andrew–you are the man! You have inspired me to go to HuffPost and second what you say. As one with very legitimate grievances against book marketers, I should do no less. For what’s it’s worth, you have a whiny new fan.

      Like

  4. Happy to respond and thank you for your due diligence, Andrew. I hope to address a few points in your article and thank you in advance for the space to do so.

    My three books are Amazon KDP Select, which means they are exclusive to Amazon in eBook format. Their rules do not allow me to sell them anywhere else. That would be something you’d have to take up with them. All three books have at one point been #1 on at least one Amazon list, and Broken Pieces has been consistently #1 (occasionally #2 or #3) on Women’s Poetry since launch in December 2012 as well as the winner of eight awards. It discusses serious, real life topics such as childhood sexual abuse, rape, and suicide and I am honored by the reception.

    I am currently promoting my recent release most actively, Broken Pieces (by the way, it’s essays inspired by LIFE, just FYI), in both eBook and print formats (print is produced by Booktrope, whom I signed with in August of 2013). I promote most actively on Amazon for a simple reason, really: they account for over 93% of my sales.

    I’m quite honest about my profits and losses if you take a look at my business site http://BadRedheadMedia.com but I am happy to share here: in 18 months, my gross has been $36,000. This is my gross. My net is obviously far less once you deduct taxes, costs of my professional team (editor, proofreader, graphics, formatter, etc), as well as cost of promotions, advertising, time spent at conferences, signings, on materials, and all the rest.

    I have a twenty-year+ successful history of marketing, sales, and training (big pharma — recovered now, thanks). It’s my pleasure and honor to share both the highs and lows of publishing as I experience it with many author friends and clients. The Huffington Post certainly did their due diligence on me as I have over a five year history of writing articles on social media and author marketing for the San Francisco Book Review, Self Pub Monthly, 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, Business2Community.com, About.com, SheWrites, IndieReader.com, and many, many others. In fact, the majority of my articles are listed on my site if you’d like to read them — my goal is to help other authors as much as possible and list as much information publicly to make it easy for everyone. I urge you and your readers to take a look. Here’s the link in fact! http://badredheadmedia.com/featured/

    As a blogger since 2007 and a writer since the age of 10 (I’m 50 now), I’m thrilled to be able to combine my love of creativity with business skills. I’m very sorry if you have an issue with that, but as a woman in business, I’m proud of the fact that I am a strong, positive role model for my teenage daughter and young son.

    I thank you for completely checking my media kit and bio and for coming to me directly with any questions you might have had. I’m always open to learning how I can improve and am certainly open to learning more — that’s how we grow, right? The article on Huffington Post was meant tongue in cheek (as I stated in the article itself) and isn’t mean to berate anyone in particular. I’m truly sorry if it offended your or any one of your readers.

    Thank you for the space.

    Like

  5. Rachel,

    Thanks for taking the time to come by and to provide the additional information. As I pointed out, while my blog entry used your piece as a jumping off point, it’s more about the formulaic, and I believe misleading, marketing kant that an entire industry is targeting would-be authors with today. If an author were to do everything on your list, they would spend a very significant amount of money in the process. The results? The odds are very poor.

    I won’t try to second guess your decision to go Kindle Select, although it’s fair to say that many marketing professionals think that it’s not the best approach. And it does by definition preclude many channels. For romance, with it’s huge audience, it could be a decision. For other types of books it’s a more open question whether the upsides offset the downsides, and especially so with the growing consensus that taking advantage of the free distribution days is no longer a winning strategy.

    We both also know that the term “best seller” is bandied about very easily, as when a book spends one day as a free down load on Amazon. You note that your latest book (my apologies for getting the name wrong – I’ve corrected it now) has been “consistently #1 (occasionally #2 or #3) on Women’s Poetry since launch in December 2012” I can believe that, but note that while it’s only sold one copy on Amazon in the last day or two, it’s also: #2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Poetry > Women today.

    So what is the more accurate way to speak of that book? That it’s been “consistently been #1 (or 2 or 3),” or that it sells three copies a week? Yes, that’s good marketing. But it’s making my point rather than yours.

    I hope that you’ve done better than that in the past, but as you note, even after that long a career of writing and marketing, with three books available, and some awards for your books, you’ve made $24,000 _before_ expenses in the last year. I congratulate you, as that is in fact very good for a self-published author. But that still makes my point, as after your expenses, it isn’t even close to enough to live on. Which bears out my point from yet another angle – if someone does everything on your list, and is a career-long marketing professional, they may not be able to make even minimum wage for normal hours, let alone for the hours that they actually spent. Even if they write a book that has won 8 awards.

    Of course I got the fact that your post was tongue in cheek. But the message was still that until you’ve done all these things, you’re not entitled to complain. Presumably you’ve done all those things. You can’t live on the proceeds, and you’re relying on income from coaching other people how to promote. Moreover, no one should do all of these things (unless they can hire someone to do some of them for them). Instead, they should do some of them very well.

    Look – I think you’re doing better than most authors. But let’s be real. It’s really hard. If someone doesn’t make it, it’s not because they didn’t get out their auto-triggered daily quota of senseless tweets, or couldn’t afford to spend their hard earned day-job money on a trailer that nobody stumbles on, and didn’t persuade them to buy the book if they did. It’s because marketing is hard, because there are no magic bullets, and because unless you’re writing romance or 50 shades of pornography or another hot genre, your odds are terrible no matter what you do (not that they’re that good for romance, either).

    So how about writing that instead of telling people they’re failures unless they’ve done the full punchlist – even in jest? How about saying, “if you love to write, that’s great – it’s a great pastime, and who knows, if you’re lucky, you may be successful. But in the meantime, focus on your writing – do a lot of writing – do a few marketing things well – and don’t even bother with the things you’re not good at or that don’t come naturally to you. And if you want to hire me, be aware that what I’m selling isn’t working that well for me, either, so don’t be under any illusions.”

    Authors need real information, and real help. If you haven’t read my piece from a week ago on marketing agents, I’d be interesting in hearing your reaction to that.

    Like

    • Thank you again for your reply. I agree with you — I have a day job, too.

      I’m the first to say that my royalties aren’t enough to live on. In fact, in a series on my blog, HOW MUCH CAN INDIE AUTHORS REALISTICALLY MAKE?, I share the actual breakdown of not only my numbers, but also that of many indie authors who were kind enough to contribute their actual numbers as well. Here’s the link to the first article if you’d like to read it:

      http://rachelintheoc.com/2013/10/how-much-can-indie-authors-realistically-make/

      It IS really hard, and most people need to manage their expectations (and if you look at my previous HuffPost articles, I address just that). My goal is to share with authors my stumbles and my success, what has worked and what doesn’t, where to save time and what I’ve tried that seems to work. And I offer all this information free of charge – on my blogs, in tweets and FB and Google+ posts, and through guest interviews by experts who know far more than I.

      And let’s face it, most authors need to work to pay our bills (I’m no different). If my articles can help an author to help themselves, great. If not, that’s cool, too. If you look at my previous articles on HuffPo and my website, I write weekly about how authors can learn — practical tips with links — because I do feel strongly that authors need to know specific information. That one particular article ‘Authors are A**holes’ was taken from a FB rant — something I rarely do but hey, everyone has a bad day!

      Again, if you’d like a list of helpful articles I’ve written, I encourage you to visit my business blog here: http://badredheadmedia.com/category/blogging/ or my featured articles here: http://badredheadmedia.com/featured/

      and thank you again for allowing me to respond, Andrew!

      Like

      • I appreciate the extra information, as well as the opportunity for other visitors to my blog to become better acquainted with your efforts, and I’ll look forward to reading the links you provide above. I ran a long series of posts at my other blog several years ago titled Adventures in Self-Publishing that lots of writers have emailed me to say guided them successfully through the process. The first post is here: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/article.php?story=20111130203135840 and the entire folder is here: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/index.php?topic=20111130205348282

        One of the reasons that I’m aware as I am of the challenges of marketing is that I helped build a firm I co-founded from nothing to one of the most successful high tech firms in New England. Later, I built my other site, ConsortiumInfo.org into a million page page view per month Web site (I’ve spent less time writing there in recent years, and it now serves only c. 200 -250,000 page views a month), as well as becoming a lead writer on breaking standards news, and being quoted in as many as a dozen print and on line newspapers and news sites a day when I was breaking news.

        I learned a lot through those experiences, and one of the first things I learned was that it’s almost impossible to differentiate one product, site or service by saying it’s “better,” or because your people are “better” or because they “try harder.” Unless you can credibly differentiate yourself from your competitors, the only way to get business is through personal referrals from people that have worked with you directly. I was successful in both of those endeavors by coming up with quantifiable differences (with the firm: lower rates, no inexperienced associates, largest number of venture-backed clients, etc.) and by offering information and guidance nowhere else available (with the Web site).

        That lesson applies in spades when it comes to fiction, pointing out that you just can’t use the same tactics with books – except with actual book sales. Without being at the top of the best seller lists, you’ve got nothing empirical to work with (even awards don’t work as well as they should). The supply of good books is almost endless, and every one can come up with blurbs to say that their work is great as well as a couple of dozen five star friends and family reviews at Amazon.

        With non-fiction, you can compete by noting your expertise, by doing better research, and by including information not elsewhere available, and that can make a difference. You can do that to a degree with fiction to appeal to those readers that appreciate it, but for every John La Carre with incredible verisimilitude, style and craft, you can find someone else that dashes off two books a year and develops a following based mostly on story line and pace.

        In other words, people need to be realize that almost none of the marketing tools and tactics at their disposal can really get you past that hurdle of lack of differentiation, and plenty of qualified competition. I hope that over time will come up with some better tools, and I have some ideas in that regard that I’ll be writing about soon.

        Meanwhile, thanks for all your comments.

        Like

  6. Oh sorry, I forgot to address the Amazon issue. My books have all been #1 on the PAID lists. In industry standards, #1 on a free list means nothing. #1 on a Paid list means much more.

    With over 90% of of my profits coming from Amazon before I went KDP Select, it seemed an obvious choice for my particular genre (nonfiction, memoir, poetry). I rarely go free anymore at this point, though an occasional free day here or there could be helpful for an author — it’s really an individual marketing choice.

    Like

  7. Thanks for the added info. I’ve always regretted the spread of the free approach, and hope that it’s prevalence starts to wane. I wrote at length about this in a post I called “The High Cost of “Free””, which you can find at my other site here: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/article.php?story=20120219123644358

    While granting that free has worked for a lot of self-pub authors, I side with those that think that it leads to an overall lessening of the ability of self-pub authors to charge a reasonable price. Selling a self-pub book for less than a traditional published book creates a reason for readers to buy from a self-pub author. Making a book available for free makes a self-pub book (at any price) look like a bad deal as compared to free. And the more genuinely good books you can find for free, the less incentive there is to pay anything for any other book, as long as the supply of good books holds out.

    True, it does help out multi-book authors that only offer (for example) the first book for free as an introduction to an author you’re then willing to pay for. If that is where the marketplace settles out as a practice, I think it would represent a good balance of the advantages and disadvantages of free.

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  8. Pingback: The Wallpaper Effect – Part 1 of 2 | Tom Benson - Creative

  9. I was flirting, dancing on the razor edge of thinking “Yeah, sure, I’ll pay blankety-blank service for a ton of tweets about my book.” But thankfully I was smart enough to go looking for reviews of blankety-blank. Though you didn’t mention them in this piece (So I don’t know how google made the connection) your post did help me get my head on straight. Researching about how an author should build his/her online platform gives me nightmares and anxiety. “Wait, what? I need to run a blog, and tweet a million tweets, and podcasts?! How the hell do I do that? What do I talk about? How do I get over having a crappy nasal voice?!
    What about actually writing? What about sleep, a paying job, being with people I love? What about sunshine? How can I keep up with that? OMG I’m doomed.

    Occasionally reading stuff like this post of yours helps remind me of how I should comport myself. I’m an indie, self-pubbed author. I need to maintain an attitude of “WTF ever.” Can’t believe I was thinking of spending money on a smattering of twatterings. I need to make sure I only blog and tweet when I want, not under some invisible pressure for no reward. The story is the thing, and it’s best for that to be its own reward. Make art for its own sake. That’s the attitude I try to maintain. If I wring myself out trying to be heard among the bellowing masses, I’ll lose the power and energy to create, and then my life will just suck.

    So thanks for writing an article that prodded me back in the right mindset.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Eric,

    I’m glad you found this useful. One of the things I’ve found is that there is a real dearth of solid, reliable information out there about what the very small number of practices that actually have the potential to work in book marketing, and a veritable tsunami of useless, and sometimes downright misleading information.

    I’ve written a lot of entries here that share what I’ve found works and doesn’t work, so you might want to click on the promotion tag in the right column and browse through what you find there.

    And best of luck navigating your own course through the whirlpools (and sharks) of book marketing.

    Like

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