Marketing: tips to beat the sharks and save yourself a lot of heartache

As I’ve said before, once you become a self-published author, there are some who will view you as a walking wallet to be divested of as much money as possible.

There are a good number of reputable sources of advertising. Some will give you spectacular results, some are decent, some don’t work for your book. You need to experiment to see which are the most effective. At best, you make money, at worst you lose some money.

There are also the sharks. Quite different from the reputable advertisers which just don’t work for your book, the sharks can harm you substantially, even if they might also increase your sales.

How, if you’re only paying $10 for an ad on their platform?

Well, there is this section in the Amazon Terms Of Service:

Misuse of sales rank:

The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. Any attempt to manipulate sales rank is prohibited. You may not solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders, including placing orders for your own products. You may not provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you may not make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description.

If you’re paying $10 for an ad, most sites will put your book somewhere that you can see it. They send an email to their list or have a website or both. But if they don’t do this, if their answer to how they generate the sales is “blogs” or some mysterious thing you can’t see, then how do you know they’re not doing any of the above things that break the TOS?

Not an issue? See this story of the SFF Marketing Podcast’s Jeff Poole, whose book in KDP Select received page reads from fake accounts without his knowledge. Amazon states that checking out advertising service is the author’s responsibility. He did not use any ad sites, and spam accounts probably registered reads for his book in order to mask other activities. Because of this, he was able to restore his account. What if he had, unwittingly, paid for a service using tactics that don’t pass the TOS? Amazon loves the ban hammer, and it wields the weapon hard.

So, if you are looking at spending money on an advertiser’s or promoter’s site or project, any amount of money, but especially if it’s a fair bit of money, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How do they advertise, where is their site and can I sign up to see my own book being featured?
2. Did I google them and am I happy with what I found? Multiple reports of tardiness or poor customer service usually does not bode well.
3. Do they come across as professional in their correspondence with me? Big no-nos would be slagging off other promo sites, putting you on mailing lists you haven’t asked to be on and being overly defensive.
4. The biggie: if you’re going into collaborations, how good is their contract, in particular with regards to refunds. Don’t think you won’t need it. We all go into things in good faith, but shit happens, people get sick, stuff gets delayed and you want to make sure their contract covers all these eventualities. How do they list your responsibilities and theirs? Who owns the resulting work and for how long, and do they ask for tax documentation as they should? Do they give you a invoice and do you pay to a business name rather than a person? Are you paying into a Paypal business account? Those are all things that I’ve found out to be important.

Do a bit of research, and save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.

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Self-publishing: Warning – There Are Sharks In The Water

General warning: as soon as you decide to self-publish, a certain section of the population decides that you are a cow to be milked. Some will be blatant about it by sending you emails soliciting your business. Usually, it’s to buy into some form of marketing. Mostly, you’ll be marketed at in more subtle ways, where people tug at you with statements like “I went from selling xxx to selling yyyyy using this method/site!”

Especially the latter is very hard to evaluate objectively, because writers get told to treat their writing as a business, and you should therefore invest in that business, right?

Wrong!

Yes, you should invest in your business, but you should invest smartly in that business. You will not make your book sell better by randomly throwing handfuls of money at it.

In order to know how to invest smartly, you first need to know what you need and who offers the best services to give you these things.

It is perfectly OK NOT to invest terribly much while you’re learning the ropes, especially on the side of marketing.

Don’t become that author with the $2000 book trailer without a clue how and where to use that book trailer (hint: book trailers are a luxury that you can spend on when you can afford it. They don’t lead to many sales).

Don’t become that author with a $1000 book cover by a great artist who 1. has never designed a book cover before and 2. didn’t really portray genre cover conventions that help sell the book.

Don’t become the author who bought a marketing plan from a vanity-type press because the people emailed and it “sounded so good”.

If someone emails you about a service and you have to pay for it, it’s not going to be something you want.

Don’t fall in these traps. Educate yourself. Decide what YOU need and then hunt for people to provide the service. Anyone whose service is good will be very busy and won’t spend much time looking for clients.

No, it’s not easy. Yes, it sounds like work. If it sounds easy and too good to be true, then it usually isn’t. Do your homework. Sit on your wallet until you’re convinced that the service is good. Ask other people about it. Google the service. Ask the Kindleboards hivemind about it. Do. Your. Research.

Update on Book Whirl scam

Read this is you’re unfamiliar with this Book Whirl gig

I received another call today. This time, I had my wits with me, and asked the lady (whose English is quite atrocious) how the hell they got my phone number. She started sprouting some bullshit about Whois and that my phone number is listed there. Did I google my domain, the Book Whirl lady asked, and I’m sorry but I don’t spend all day googling myself, so after having told her firmly (without invocation of the f-word) that I did not appreciate this stuff, all the while interrupting her sales spiel, and getting off the phone, I looked up my domain at Whois.

Of course there is no phone number listed there. I would have been really surprised if there was. There isn’t even a country of residence listed there. Not even a domain owner listed there, although the domain name is the same as my name, so that kinda gives it away.

My theory stands: one of their employees used to work for Amazon and scammed the Amazon KDP author database.

The Book Whirl lady was further trying to sell me their author plans, and assured me they signed some “successful” authors. I’d love to know who signs for this kind of pushy tactic. Poor suckers who are clueless and unconnected to places where they can get info for free. Wonder how much they charge.

Really, people, I’m astonished that with the internet, with info at your fingertips, so many people still fall for scams like these, and that so  many people believe and follow the claptrap brought out by so called “marketing” setups that just take your money and do what you could do yourself for a hefty price. Not only that, because you care a lot more about your stuff than they are ever going to, you’re likely to do it much better.

Update on Book Whirl scam was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants