The snake oil that is paying for promo

Maybe I should give all related blog posts a series name. I was thinking of Everything You Ever Thought You Knew About Promo is Wrong. Snappy, huh? Think I’ll go add that category to my previous blog post once I’m done here.

Snake oil.

…any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit.

Next up on my “Bullshit Beliefs Authors Have That Make Me Want to Punch Them in the Fucking Mouth Until They Shit Their Own Teeth Out of Their Torn and Bleeding Arseholes” list (Hey, alternative title for said series!) is paying for promo, and the “necessity” thereof.

Well let’s get one little thing out in the open straight away, shall we? You don’t have to pay for promo. If you want to, you may. I can’t stop you. I reserve the right to think “A fool and his money are soon parted,” but it’s entirely up to you.

It’s never been my experience that a publisher has told me to pay for promo, but some have suggested it. (For the record, I’m referring to erotic romance epublishing, not any form of self-publishing, as that’s the area in which I have direct experience.) It’s always been a suggestion I’ve ignored because I’m the author. The poor one. You know, the one who’s supposed to earn money, not shell it out. If I wanted to spend money to get my book out there, I’d self-publish.

Recently I crossed paths with an author who told of their experience. I’m not going to mention any names or give any identifying details here (not that I can remember many), and they weren’t even the first person with whom I have had such a conversation, but they were one of the most…how can I put this…vehement. They drank the pay-for-promo Kool-Aid and sprayed gallons of the stuff all over the internet. And I felt the need to step in and say, “Er…look…you’re a dick.” Okay, I was a bit more polite than that. But I’m allowed to think it, right?

This author’s experience was of shelling out “a small fortune” (their words, not mine) on promo – adverts online, blog hops and tours, swag such as bookmarks, postcards and other throwaway items. They claimed to be quite happy to do this even though they would, after royalties were paid out, barely break even.

No, I’m not joking. You read that correctly. They were quite happy to fritter away cash they could barely afford on promo that didn’t even earn them much more than “break even” royalties.

The ironic thing is, I’d never even heard of this writer before crossing paths with them on an internet discussion group of which we were both a member. I still haven’t seen any ads or swag anywhere, nor any reviews or recommendations, and I wouldn’t recognise their book(s) if I tripped over them in the street. Since our brief discussion about paying for promo, I’ve forgotten their exact name and the title of their book, so let me ask you this…

…how successful is their promo-drive?

Answer: not very.

So what’s the point of paying for promo if you don’t get any advantage over those cheapskates (like me) who believe in Yog’s Law? I can’t see any.

Yog’s Law states “Money should flow toward the author.”

I’ve never paid for promo and that means any money I make from publishing is profit. If I were opening a vein and bleeding money to online promo companies, I’d sure as hell want a damn sight more than “barely breaking even”.

The person mentioned above said they were happy their publisher had given them a chance, and they were happy to just have their book out there.

Well I’m not. I’m not happy to “just” have my books out there. I want them earning me money and I, for one, will never be grateful to any publisher for “giving me a chance”. This suggests they don’t really believe my books are all that good, but what the hey, we’ll publish it anyway. It’s shitty business practice. Publishers should contract books they believe will make them and the author money, otherwise they’re just author mills.

And no-one wants to be pseudo-published by an author mill, do they?

I want a publisher to contract my books because they believe a) they’re good and b) we can both make a bajillion monkeydollars off them. Not out of some immature, misplaced sense of pity.

Next, let’s look at the allegation we’re all living in a new age of publishing now, and things have changed, and publishers don’t have to do all the promo and marketing, and that’s all the author’s responsibility.

Short answer: bullshit.

Longer answer: bullshit, and here’s why:

The publishing house is a business. They have more money than you do to spend on marketing. At least, I hope they do. A publishing house without a marketing budget is in big trouble. Again, if I wanted to spend money and do the donkey work myself, I’d self-publish. It is simply not true that good publishers don’t promo or market your books, and neither is it true that the primary burden for such rests on the shoulders of the author.

Any publisher worth their salt wants to make money. They want you to make money too. Writing is an art, but publishing is a business, remember? It is simply bad business practice for a publisher to contract books and not do anything to push them. It is even worse if they let authors do all that sort of thing for themselves. If they expect authors to do this, they’re lubing your joyhole and fucking a large percentage of royalties out of your creative sphincter without even having the common decency to give you a reach-around.

Am I saying authors shouldn’t do any promo? Good God no; you have to let people know your book is out there. But there are ways of doing this for free – seeking out reviews, guest blogging, that kind of thing. The occasional – very, very occasional – tweet or blog post. These ways are not all that time-consuming either, which is good because…

Your job as a writer is not to spend inordinate amounts of time or money on selling your just-published book. Your job is to write the next one.

The best way to sell your backlist is to maintain your frontlist. And how are you supposed to do that if you’re using writing time for promo? What’s more, if you end up out of pocket (or barely breaking even), why are you even bothering?

Any author who believes that paying for promo is an essential part of marketing their book is wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong with a capital fuck no. And it really boils my piss when I see authors telling other writers that this is needed, essential, vital, mandatory or any other word for “a load of cheesy donkey dick” you may find in a thesaurus.

I have never paid for promo, as I’ve said before, but yes, I’ve (reluctantly) contacted complete strangers and asked for book reviews, guest blogged here and there and the like. However, the honest truth is, the one thing that will help your book sell more than anything else is word of mouth. All you can do is let people know your book is out there – not in an obnoxious promo-overkill way – and get back to writing. Word of mouth is not something you can control. But when it happens you don’t have to pay for it.

And, being a Scot, I’m very pleased with that idea.

Now, you might say “If you’ve never paid for promo, how can you know it’s not worth it?” Well, two reasons. There are authors who see no difference in payoff between “paid promo” books and “I did little to fuck-all to market this” books. Some reluctantly admit paid promo got them nowhere. Others brush off their lack of profit and make out they don’t care they’re barely breaking even. And secondly? I have furniture, food, clothes, DVDs and other stuff in my house that my smutty books paid for, so I must be doing something right.

Let’s end on what I like to call (because I’ve just invented it) the pay-for-promo paradox:

Authors who need publicity and so pay for it are usually just starting out. If they’re just starting out, they have yet to start earning money.

Authors who have the money to pay for promo are, generally speaking, established and better-known and therefore, do not need the promo they can now afford.

Wait, that needs to be snappier. Okay, let’s go with this:

Authors who need promo can’t afford to pay for it. Authors who can afford to pay for promo don’t need it.

Man, I’m good. I should write a book or something.

This entry was posted in everything you ever thought you knew about promo is wrong, paying for promo, promofail. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The snake oil that is paying for promo

  1. pennywatson says:

    This is how I look at it. You need to invest in yourself, your future, your professional career. Some things ARE worth paying for. Maybe…a class on writing if you’re a newb? Worth the investment. An advertisement on a high-traffic romance message board if you’re a debut author? (lots of READERS are there) Might be worth it. Not worth it: trinkets (pens, etc), ads on sites that are crowded with millions of banners where NO ONE will see or pay attention to your ad, blog tours where you spend hundreds of hours writing posts, and mostly authors visit the sites. You need to be smart about your time and money and how you budget these things.

    Bottom line: Your promo should be SUPPLEMENTING your publisher’s promotion of you. If you have a publisher, they need to pull their weight, too. Otherwise, you might as well self-pub.

    Nice post and excellent use of cuss words. :)

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head with “the best way to sell your backlist is to maintain your frontlist”. The beauty of e-publishing and online sales in general is that your backlist is always available. No author or publisher is ever going to make money on 1 title. 6-10 titles, now, that’s when you can start to trade off your name.

    I’m not sure what the best promo is but I agree that pens and trinkets are a total waste. I work in banking and if I go to a conference and they throw a pile of free pens, USBs, binoculars and thermos flasks at me, all I remember is the gifts, not what was said at the conference, and they do nothing to convince me to do business with them anyway.

    Maybe the problem is that promo rarely does what you think it does. Readers need to remember your book, not the T-shirt.

  3. Pingback: How to help out this writer | Scarlett Parrish

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