Calling Indie Authors: Have you been disappointed by an “author marketing service”?

The hypothesis:

These waters are suddenly FULL of sharks.

Well hello, my pretty! Would you like to help me market your book?

Well hello, my pretty! Would you like to help me market your book?

I self-pubbed my first novel, When Libby Met the Fairies, in 2011 — early enough to catch the first happy wave of indie authoring. I didn’t do a lot of marketing. I didn’t have to. I took advantage of Amazon’s KDP Select free days. I listed that book as free. And then I publicized the free days by submitting the information to maybe a dozen or so sites that list free books.

I got over 20,000 downloads.

I might have paid a few dollars here and there for some of the listings, but for the most part, it cost me nothing out of pocket.

Since then, I’ve published three more novels. And like all indie-authors, I’ve watched our little industry change. You know the drill, I’m sure! The market is flooded with indie titles. Traditional publishers are starting to compete with indies on price. Amazon has made big changes to KDP, including the introduction of Kindle Unlimited.

It’s getting harder — WAY harder — to get noticed.

But there’s been another change, as well.

These waters are filling with sharks — and they smell blood.

They smell the blood we authors shed, mingled with our tears, as we write our books and then try to get someone, anyone, to read them.

You’ve seen them, I’m sure. Tweeting services. Advertising services. Blog tour organizers. Promote your book this way, promote your book that way.

Read the fine print, and they all have the same disclaimer. No guarantees! Results may vary! Don’t blame us if you use our services and don’t sell any books!

Well guess what, dear author.

They’re rip-off artists — and YOU are their mark.

And, as you might be able to tell from the tone of this post, I am extremely PO’d about it.

So I’ve decided to write about it.

I’ve decided to write about it long, and hard, and often.

But I need your help.

I’m SURE there are “author marketing services” out there that are honest, and legitimate, and actually deliver measurable results.

But the vast majority are a complete waste of money.

Let’s band together to protect each other from the sharks.

Reach out to me. You don’t have to use your real name. You don’t have to name the service that disappointed you — or outright ripped you off — if you don’t want to. (And in fact, please do NOT mention a service by name in the comments, for now.)

I’m not interested in “outing” specific companies or services at this time.

What I do want is to talk to other authors.

I want to deepen my understanding of what authors experience, today, when they hire someone else to help them with marketing.

As I understand your experiences more fully, I’ll report back what I’ve learned, here, in this blog. And then, when I’ve got enough, I’m going to compile it as a handbook for authors.

Together, we can fight back.

Please share your experiences with me by emailing me at kirsten AT kirstenmortensen DOT com, or use the contact form on my About page, or leave a comment.

Everyone who contributes to this project will receive a free e-copy of the handbook when it’s published.

Thank you!!!!

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8 Responses to Calling Indie Authors: Have you been disappointed by an “author marketing service”?

  1. D. D. Syrdal says:

    I haven’t tried any of these services yet, because mostly I’m skeptical they can do anything. I’ll be very interested to see what information you get on this.

  2. Peazy Monellon says:

    I have not used these services either. I have, however, had the opportunity to read the contracts they send and the list of services they provide. In my opinion, they did not offer anything that the writer could not easily do for themselves, for free, and in most cases, had probably already done. I’ve advised fellow indies to steer clear.

  3. Ravven says:

    I have pretty strong feelings about this. As someone who used to work for a digital media company who offered this type of service I can say that I don’t think it is well-suited to independent authors. We contracted out this type of service to cheaper companies in India: Twitter followers, social media posting, exchanges of links for SEO. At worst the client is getting ripped off, at best you have someone acting for you who cannot do as good a job as you would yourself.

    As a reader, I hate it when authors use this type of service. If I choose to connect with an author who has a book that I loved, it is because I want to know more about you. You, personally, beyond your bio. I want to see a bit of your day-to-day life, to laugh about things vicariously with you. I don’t want constant “buy my book” posts. I don’t respect authors who use services that follow thousands of people only to unfollow them a few days later in order to preserve the right following-to-follower ratio.

    Contests are fine. Posting fan art creations is great. Posting links to good reviews is fine in moderation. But mostly I want you to be a real person…and that is something that software or poorly-paid minions can never simulate. Create your own presence on social media and let your personality shine through. :)

    • Kirsten says:

      Thank you so much for commenting, Ravven! And I’m not surprised it’s outsourced to cheaper providers. The economics simply aren’t there to justify these services being handled otherwise …

  4. Kurt Schweitzer says:

    Depressing perspective. I’m in the process of starting a small publishing company, and it sounds like my efforts to differentiate myself from the competition by including marketing and promotional services in the mix (which many publishers don’t do) are for naught since indie authors will consider my services to be a scam. Yet most authors have a hard time promoting their work because it’s really not in their skill set. They focus on creating the work, and really don’t know (or want to know) how to get it noticed and accepted by readers.

    Do authors need to be able to connect with readers themselves? In today’s market the answer is definitely yes! But authors also need to be able to get away from the readers so they can work on their next project. It’s really hard for new writers to develop enough sales momentum so that their work continues to sell while they retreat to write the next book. This is when having a support organization is needed, people who can continue selling while the author is off writing.

    Should a publisher or marketing company guarantee sales? How can they? (This type of guarantee, by the way, is a sure sign of a scam.) What they can do is guarantee their efforts, with measurable metrics. Things like emails sent to X number of recipients (and document both the number of sends and the open rate). So many ad placements in such-and-such locations (again verified). Measurable amounts of exposure, with approved ad copy, over a specific length of time. And, or course, documented sales figures.

    Much of the concern, of course, is the risk of spending money up front and having no noticeable results. Perhaps the concern can be alleviated by having the marketer (publisher) share the risk in return for a cut of the reward. That’s what traditional publishers do, although perhaps they wind up with too big a piece of that reward. Where’s the middle ground?

    That’s where publishing is right now, trying to figure out its proper role in an environment where authors can do it all themselves. Sure they can, but should they? And do they really want to?

    • Kirsten says:

      Hi, Kurt,

      You raise a number of important issues.

      Traditional publishing companies have always provided some marketing and promotional services as “part of the package.” However, spend any time listening to authors tell stories about their trad publishing experiences, and you’ll quickly notice a pattern: very few of them believe they receive services that represent a meaningful investment of time/money.

      “Big” authors get white glove service: PR programs, ad buys, book tours, media appearances — all on the publisher’s dime. Everyone else gets, at best, a watered-down version of that — that is, the publisher will offer some semblance of marketing, but it will be bare bones and minimally funded.

      In the pre-indie publishing days, midlisters would take on marketing themselves — including the out of pocket costs.

      Writers like to paint this in terms of how unfair it is. And it’s probably true that trad publishers have been burdened by high overhead and lack of efficiency, which has hampered them from being able to fund marketing programs as much as they could, if they had lower overhead.

      But the grim reality is that traditional publishers know what many indie authors do not: marketing books successfully is hard and expensive.

      Your model might work. But you have to look at marketing books with the same cold gaze you’d bring to any consumer packaged goods marketing challenge. Amazon carries over 30 million titles. What the heck can you possible do, for a few hundred dollars, to call attention to one title out of 30 million?

      If you figure out the answer to that question, let me know ;)

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