Most Promo Companies Only Promote Themselves
This is not aimed at all promotional companies…just most of them. It is also not aimed at any particular company or companies…just general observations and comments.
What is it that most of the promotional companies do? In a nutshell, they send out notices about your book…most of them just shotgun a message about your book to the many Yahoo (and Google) groups on a periodic basis. A few will post to the several social media systems like FaceBook and Twitter. The exact details vary, but not by much. This is basically all the services do, and they only do that for one particular book at a time from a client. Some offer package deals that cover several books.
There are a number of problems with this…
First of all, they do nothing that you, the author, can’t do. And you, the author, can do it better. We’ll be coming back to this.
Second, they focus only on one book. See Rule Number Seven. There is a ton of money just sitting there on your backlist.
And thirdly, all of the promo companies work on a fee-based system.
Now that we have the three main problems identified, let’s talk about them. Because the problems are all interrelated, I’m going to just move forward. As we go, you will see the problems crop up and how we can better deal with them.
I know you’ve seen the messages on Yahoo groups from the promo services. They are always from something like, “Billy Bob Promotions”. Yeah, everyone else sees that, too. The subject may be something like, “Read Mary’s New Book!” A brief survey of the members of two of the largest Romance/Erotica Romance Yahoo groups found that just over 85% of the readers have either email filters set up to move messages from the promo companies directly to the trash bin or they just delete these messages without reading them. In other words, of the people you want to see these messages, only about 15% of them even bother. The same thing applies on the social media networks…most readers don’t even bother to read the posts, let alone follow any links in them.
The real problem here is that the readers see the posts from the promo company as spam. I can understand that, because it is indeed spam. So, how do we get the readers to actually read the posts? Simple…the posts should come from the author of the book.
There are two ways to make this happen…
First, the author can send out the posts. Most all email programs will allow you to send an email at a later date and time you select, either built in or as an add-on helper application. The same thing applies for the social media networks…TweetDeck, HootSuite, and others allow you to schedule posts. The author picks a day and sets aside time on that day to write and schedule posts as appropriate. When the posts are sent, they are coming from the author, and readers tend to actually read those kinds of posts.
The other option is—in my opinion—better…the promo services should be posting as the author. This of course means that the promo company needs access to the author’s email and social media accounts. This entails a good deal of trust and some sort of assurance from the promotional service that the access will not be abused. This way of doing things lets the author focus on writing while the promo company does the promotion, just as things should be.
Next, the promo services should promote the author, not just one book. This is very similar to the idea of agents versus representatives as discussed in Rule Number Five. Just as you need a representative who will represent you as a whole, you need a promotional service who will promote you as a whole. Single title representation or promotion is a waste of time and money. By promoting the author, you make sales on the current title as well as on the backlist.
And now we come to the money shot…all of the promo companies work on a fee-based system. That is to say, you pay $x and they promote your book for a certain amount of time. The promo company has no skin in the game under this program and fee schedule. They get paid no matter what happens.
In the real world, advertising agencies are paid a combination of a flat fee plus a commission on sales. Why not in the world of publishing? Well, to be fair, that is the way it works in the print world, but the author is more or less out of that loop…the publishers will hire an advertising firm to do a campaign, and that deal will include a cut of sales to the ad agency. It doesn’t work that way in the E-Book arena, though. Why not?
Without a performance-based pay scale, the promotional company has no vested interest in making the ad campaign work. They are simply accountable to do the number of posts to the places they say they will make them to, and nothing more. There is no method in place to make sure that the campaign will actually work. This leads to cookie-cutter campaigns where they all look alike with only the names changed. There is no innovation or encouragement to make the campaign better.
What would fix this is a commission schedule. The promo company gets a flat fee for the up-front work of preparing the campaign, and then they get a percentage of the sales made during the campaign. This puts some of their skin in the game, and their income is now based on their performance.
Next, we need to talk about the difference between e-publishers and print publishers. Very few epubs do any promotion at all beyond generic advertising featuring all of their releases in a given time frame. A few go beyond that and will post group or social media messages for specific books, but not too many do that. On the other hand, print publishers often take out full-page ads in magazines and major newspapers to promote single titles. In general, epubs do almost no promotion while the print houses might spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. (There are some exceptions…a few of the larger epubs are starting to take out some ads.)
Lastly, let’s tie this all back to Rule Number Five…
The real representatives out there provide not only the normal services of traditional agents, and the editing services to get a manuscript ready to pitch to a publisher, but they also provide promotional services. Some of these representatives offer this as part of their standard package and others offer it as an add-on at additional percentage points, but almost all do offer it.
Most of these representatives do this promotion acting as the author…that is they post from the author’s email and from the author’s social media accounts. They know that readers pay far more attention to the author “talking” than to some promotional company spamming. Also, since most of the representatives are working on a percentage of royalty commission, the better the ad campaign is, the more money they make. In other words, they have skin in the game.
With all of the above said, there is no doubt that most authors need someone to help them with promotion. An author’s time is better spent writing their books rather than running amok posting messages and updates to promote their books.
The thing is, where do you get the most bang for the buck?
Look at the promotional companies carefully and assess what they can do for you and if their services are actually going to help you.