Thursday, December 31, 2009

Are marketing services worth what you pay?

There are things I can do as an author and things I cannot do. It is essential to know what you can and cannot do. It is also essential for a self-publishing author, like any business, to control costs. CreateSpace has recently added a host of new author services including marketing services.

Cover design, interior design and editing are all worthwhile services to pay for and I would not criticize any author who made the decision to pay for those services.  I have paid for them myself and the money was well spent.  With that in mind, I encourage authors who are going to self-publish to think long and hard before they spend their hard earned and limited dollars on marketing services.

As big an advocate as I am of CreateSpace, I am not an advocate of marketing services offered by most self-publishing companies, or author services companies if you prefer, including CreateSpace. Let me say right now if you feel absolutely overwhelmed by the idea of marketing your book and budgeted for marketing services in your business plan, do not let me stop you from using these services.

I do ask you to stop and add at least two weeks to your publishing schedule and use that time to do some research before you invest your money in marketing services.  The first thing you need to do is to either go the library and obtain the books I am about to suggest or simply log on to Amazon.com and purchase them. You can do so from the links in the widget on the right hand side of this blog.  The five books are as follows: Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon, Steve Weber's Plug Your Book, Carolyn Howard-Johson's The Frugal Book Promoter, Dawn Josephson's Putting it on Paper: The Ground Rules for Creating Promotional Pieces that Sell Books and The 2009 (or most recent) Edition of the Writer Watchdog Self-publishing Directory by Deanna Riddle. My own book Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for the Author Considering Self-Publishing will be listed as well, of course!

Take the time to read each of these books.  I have and the information contained in these books has helped me considerably. The only money I have spent for promotion and marketing of my books has been the price of review copies and the postage to send them to the individuals who reviewed them.  In several instances, I did not even send physical copies of the books, but at the request of the reviewer simply sent a PDF copy of the book via e-mail.  The reviews of the books on blogs helped to spur early sales of my coaching books as has my free e-newsletter, coaching blog and my website for basketball coaches.

I strongly suggest you visit Aaron Shepard's blog on self-publishing as well as Morris Rosenthal's blog on self-publishing as well as many others.  The Writer Watchdog site is worth bookmarking as well. Just as you learned the craft of writing and made the decision to self-publish, you can learn to market your own books. In fact, if you want your book to sell, you will have to market it yourself even if you pay for the marketing services of self-publishing company, be it CreateSpace or another company.

Let's take a look at a common marketing service offered by a self-publishing company, the targeted press release. Who provides the information used to compose the press release? You do. Who will provide the "targets" for the targeted press release? Well, you will provide a good number and the rest the marketing service will provide.

The marketing service will e-mail your press release to news agencies that specialize in sending out information of this nature. They will send it to some general news and publishing agencies. You could do the same thing yourself, for free. The specialized targets you will have to provide.

Let's use my first book for basketball coaches as an example, Game Strategies and Tactics for Basketball. How many individuals in the author services industry double as basketball coaches for a living? What are the odds that the individual I would deal with if I paid for marketing services would be a basketball coach? I hope you would not bet on those odds as I certainly am not. The same list of coaching magazines and coaching blogs that I dealt with directly myself, and for free, would have made up the list of targets I would have had to provide to the author services company.

If you read the language of a lot of the different self-publishing companies you will see language similar to this, "a targeted press release will be sent by e-mail to up to 500 individuals and news media outlets!" You, the excited potential customer read "500 individuals and news media outlets" and think "wow, they have lots of contacts!" Notice the key phrase, "up to." Remember who will be providing most of those 500 contacts as well! You can see why I encourage you to think long and hard about spending your money for these types of services. 

Another typical offering that self-publishing companies offer is custom business cards, post cards, etc. These are useful in many situations but you can obtain these items at a lower price by shopping around.  I have had excellent service from a company called GotPrint.com. Please shop for these items and compare pricing before you purchase these items from a self-publishing company.  Keep in mind that the self-publishing company does not do the actual printing but is acting as a middle man.  A middle man means a price increase will be added on the price the real printing company charges. There is nothing wrong with this mind you, the self-publishing company made the sale for the printing company and should get paid for its efforts.  But why have a middle man in the transaction - deal with a printing company directly yourself!

Then there is the granddaddy of them all, Amazon.com! Self-publishing companies all advertise they will help you set up your book's product page on Amazon! Some will even charge you to do so! Here is one direct advantage of using CreateSpace comes in handy! Since CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, when you self-publish with CreateSpace, your book will automatically be registered on Amazon and you are able to provide the details for your book's product page!  When it comes to marketing and promoting your book on Amazon, start your research with Aaron Shepard's book Aiming at Amazon.

I realize marketing your book seems like a task someone else should do or it seems to overwhelming you need an expert to do the marketing and promoting for you. Understand this, even the giants of the industry market and promote their own books. Nobody knows your book as well as you do and nobody wants your book to succeed as much as you do. Who possibly could do a better job, in the long run, than you when it comes to marketing your own book?

If you do feel the need to hire a marketing professional, and I will readily admit there are reasons to pay for marketing services, hire a freelancer! The self-publishing companies make money even if your book does not sell well. The freelancer who cannot successfully help an author market and promote his or her book will soon be in a new line of work! So, if you are going to pay, I suggest hiring a well motivated freelancer, who if the individual is a professional, will be happy to provide references.  A good place to start looking for a freelancer to help you with your marketing efforts will be the Writer Watchdog Directory.

Roll up your sleeves and do some more homework. Learn what is involved, if for no other reason than to be able to monitor the services you purchased to have your book marketed and make certain that the services you paid for are in fact provided.