For most authors, investing in a book is a big deal. And books do require an investment. You’ve paid for the editing, book cover, and now when it comes to marketing you absolutely want to get your money’s worth. You should. And there’s a smart way to invest in your book promotion and a not-so-smart way, which I’ll cover in this piece. I wanted this to be a cautionary tale, to help those of you in search of book marketing services, find the exact right company. I’ve heard complaints about book marketing services when I speak to authors, or present at writer’s conferences, so I’ve collected the top five here. Hopefully this piece will help educate you on what to look for, what to ask about, and what to avoid.
I think for most of us, some of this is pretty obvious. You want to avoid signing nebulous or unclear agreements. Or falling for big, elaborate promises like “bestseller status” – because no one can promise you that. Beyond that, here are some insights into some of the biggest complaints I hear about book marketing firms, as well as a few things to watch out for. (Click here to read more about if you’re ready to invest in book marketing services.)
Complaint #1: I Didn’t Get Any Book Sales
This is the biggest complaint, by far, that most if not all book marketing services and book publicity firms get. And the reason is this: no one can predict or promise book sales. If you’re looking at a book marketing firm that’s making big book sale promises, I would run the other way. Yes, if you’re investing in book marketing you want to get your money’s worth, right? But getting your money’s worth, and selling enough books to recoup your ROI (the investment you made in your book production) doesn’t always align with whatever investment you made. Which is why book marketing and book publicity, in particular, is often misunderstood.
I talked to an author once who was on Oprah, back when she had a show. Now, you’d think that being on Oprah would make the cash registers ring, right? From that appearance, she sold a paltry 150 books. That’s it.
I could spend some time trying to figure out why she didn’t sell more books, and how this whole thing fell flat, and while there’s merit to that to some degree, there’s really a big, broader message here. In order to sell books you need the right kind of exposure. In this case, maybe Oprah wasn’t her right kind of exposure. I will sometimes hear a complaint from an author if we didn’t include a particular media target in their proposal. I’ll explain to them that we can absolutely pitch that target, but it’s a wasted pitch because they aren’t really the right market for the book, and I’ll explain why.
Exposure sells books – repeated and the right kind of exposure sells books. Book marketing and book publicity is the vehicle to help you get there.
Complaint #2: I Didn’t Understand What I Signed Up For
I’ll admit right up front, a lot of what happens in book marketing and book publicity is confusing. Part of why this is such an area of complaints for authors is because the jargon is confusing, and I don’t blame you.
As an author, signing with a book promotion company, it’s your right to ask the hard questions. If you don’t understand something that is being sold to you, ask the person selling it. If they aren’t willing to explain it, in detail, you should move on. And, if you’re buying a program and you can only access them via email, I’d proceed with caution. The obscure book marketing programs are another complaint I hear a lot. Unless it’s an inexpensive software program, or you’re buying a DIY program like a list of bookstores you can try to pitch your book to. I’d be sure to get a specific outline of what you’ll get and what the deliverables will be and when.
I once spoke to an author who had spent $50,000 on various book promotion campaigns but in the end, she wasn’t really sure what she bought. Whether you’re spending $500 or $5,000, make sure you know what you’re buying.
If we’re creating a book promotion proposal for an author, each piece of the campaign is explained, in detail, along with each deliverable. There should be no secrets and no mystery to what you are buying. Get it all in writing.
Complaint #3: I Didn’t Get Any Book Promotion Updates
Unless you’re buying a one-and-done program, like an email blast, you should get program updates. Sometimes we’ll do really small campaigns, like just an Amazon Optimization which takes us about a week – and even in these shorter book marketing campaigns we offer updates – even if it’s just one. Any book promotion updates you get should be clearly outlined in your contract, if it’s not – don’t sign it.
Complaint #4: I Didn’t Get Enough Media or Book Reviews
Did you know that the average book marketing/book publicity efforts has a net return of around 5% to 10% on whatever they pitch? This means that 10% (being on the high end) of media will respond to an email pitch. Why so low? Because there are a lot of things vying for media attention, so yes the number is low. Granted, at times we’ve seen it as high as 30% – but this varies by market.
If you’re in a highly competitive market, like dieting, relationships, or business, these are often on the lower end. But you can compensate for this competition, by pitching some regional or trade media, too. Remember there are three tiers to media: regional, trade, and national. The national media is what we all know: The Today Show, CNN Morning Show, Fox and Friends, O Magazine, Redbook, etc. But the trade and regional media is often overlooked, so I would encourage you, if you’re going to work with a book publicity firm, to consider including those markets as well. This could help to balance out your media hits, and get you a higher number.
Just know that in almost every case, the number of media hits or book reviews you get is largely out of the book publicist’s control.
Complaint #5: I Didn’t Make My Money Back
I realize that this is a bit of an overlap with the book sales I started with, but it’s worth repeating. Making your money back on a single book marketing investment can be iffy. Some do, and some don’t. Some years ago, IBPA did a study and found that on average, it can take a book almost two years to see any ROI. What this means is: you need to be in it for the long-haul. This isn’t a short-term effort, or a retirement plan. So if you’re hiring a book marketing firm, just know that not only will it take time, but you should be doing something on your own to market your book. Whatever effort you do won’t be as aggressive as the book marketing firm you hired, but it can be at least something to add to the book promotion effort. I have a bunch of blog posts on this, and I’ll link a few in the body of this piece. But for now, remember that like any investment, you should plan to be in this for the long-term. For some of us that will be two years, for others this turns around a lot quicker. The ROI piece is a big complaint area that I hear from a lot of authors, specifically.
There was a study done once that found that authors typically only market their books for 90-days. After this time period they were discouraged and maybe broke. But with the proper planning, this doesn’t have to be you.
The one question I get a lot is: what if I do all of this stuff and my book still isn’t selling? Well, maybe it’s time to look at the book, or the cover, or even the market. Did you write a book for which there is an active, interested market? Was your cover right for that market?
I had an author tell me once that hiring book marketing services was a bit like sending your kid to college. You want to get them into the best college, and get them the best education – and in the end, you hope they’ll do something with the education you got them.
Books are much the same way. Do whatever you can to put your best book forward, and at some point, your market will have to decide if it’s the book they want. Yes, I know it sounds risky. Because it is. But anything worth having comes with a certain amount of risk. Not every book I’ve published has done well. Despite my knowledge of the industry I still make mistakes. The point is to try, try again.
A good book marketing company should be able to provide you with references, too. So be sure to ask to speak to other authors or publishers they’ve worked with. Keep in mind that while no one can make everyone happy all of the time, if you find one or two negative posts with otherwise great testimonials and wonderful reviews, not to mention considerable longevity in the industry, the odds are that the company you’re working with is reputable.
Hiring a book marketing company as a partner is always a great idea – unless you feel like you can do it all yourself – it’s almost a must if you’re going to hope to get any kind of attention for your book. And I hope this piece on complaints, as well as what to avoid, will help guide you to the exact right choices.
And if you’re ready to see how we can work together to market your book, please reach out to me and my team today! – Penny Sansevieri
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by Penny Sansevieri