Jane Friedman, the former publisher of Writers Digest, walked a tight rope in her “Getting to Yes” article in Publishers Weekly‘s Booklife self-publishing advertising insert, which is stuffed with positive reviews that self-published authors have paid for.
Her article says that authors marketing their work should start their campaign by making lists of “owned media, one of paid media, and one of earned media” to approach.
Owned media are existing resources and assets you control that can help spread the word about your book. This can include your website or blog, email newsletter, social media presence, or anything that reaches readers directly, whether digital or analog. Paid media are those you pay for attention or exposure. This includes advertising and paid reviews. Earned media refers to media coverage or attention that you secure for free.
I thought “earned media” was interesting and revealing phrasing.
She implicitly likened “paid reviews” in her article to a form of advertising. But what they actually are is a complete waste of money that nobody takes seriously…the opposite of “earned media,” or a review you’ve earned by virtue of your book appealing to critics on its own merits, not your ability to pay. An “earned” review is taken seriously, a “paid” review is not. That was the revealing part of the phrase. She was essentially acknowledging that real reviews are earned. Paid reviews are advertising.
But advertising what…and to whom?
The only thing a “paid review” advertises is your desperation, naivete, and ego.
Paying for a review is actually a huge mistake…for one thing, it negates the likelihood of you getting an “earned” review from PW or Kirkus (which also runs a “paid review” insert in their magazine for self-published authors). You’re better off, and will save money, by asking your Mom to post a positive review on Amazon for you…and you’ll accomplish just as much with just about the same level of humiliation.
But naturally, she didn’t dare say that, or dwell on the “paid review” aspect of a “marketing plan” in her article. In fact, she actually doesn’t mention paid reviews again…not daring to bite that hand that feeds her.
Self-publishing authors—or any authors who are pitching themselves—should seek alternative options to gain momentum. These include local and regional media, influencers in the relevant target market, and any person who is likely to answer your emails or pick up the phone when you call.
Note that she didn’t say, “buy a positive review like the ones in the following pages of this Booklife insert.” To be honest, I am surprised she didn’t.
Some of you reading this post may be looking for a quick and easy answer to the question of whether you should invest in a paid book review. Here’s what I think in a nutshell, although a lot of people will be unhappy with me saying so:
The majority of authors will not sufficiently benefit from paid book reviews, and should invest their time and money elsewhere.
She also noted that the PW piece that ran this week is actually a reprint of an article she wrote for them two years ago.
Brash Books is launching tomorrow with thirty books by twelve amazing authors…and I am SO excited. I’m pleased to say that the buzz has already been very positive. For example, last week Kirkus Reviews did a great interview with me and my Brash cofounder Joel Goldman . Here’s an excerpt:
The Brash editions I’ve seen so far are handsome, trade-size paperbacks, with bold cover imagery and elegant interior design. “Joel and I decided right off that we were either going to do this ‘first-class’ or not at all,” says Goldberg, “with high-quality covers that vividly and definitively establish a franchise for each author or series that we are publishing. We also decided that our covers would be contemporary, regardless of when the stories take place, and that they would pop in thumbnail but be rich in details and textures when seen full-size. We believed that strategy, that look, would instantly set us apart from our competitors, many of whom are either marketing their books with ‘vintage paperback’ or ‘pulpy’ covers that immediately date the product, or are churning out hundreds of generic covers based on a few rigid templates to control their costs. It was a pricey decision for us to make, but we believe it’s the right one.”
Will the gumption and gusto shown by Brash Books help it triumph in an increasingly decentralized publishing environment, one that’s already spawned other paperback reprint houses (such as Hard Case Crime and Stark House Press)? It’s hard to tell. The two partners behind it, though, are certainly optimistic. “We wouldn’t be investing this much of our money into Brash if we didn’t love each and every book we are publishing,” Goldberg states. “We are also having a lot of fun together doing this. Yes, it’s a business. But it’s also been really exciting and fulfilling…especially when an author, or an heir, tells us how much they love the books and how much it means to them, emotionally, to see them brought back in such beautiful new editions. You can’t beat that feeling.”
JKP: Do you worry that with such a huge single-month rollout, some of the individual works you’re publishing might get lost?
JG: We’d be crazy if we didn’t worry about that, because we don’t want to publish more books than we can support.
LG: But we also wanted to make a big splash, to launch with a list of books that truly announces who we are, that represents the range of work that we’re publishing, and that demonstrates the high quality that sets us apart from our competitors.
JG: Our marketing plan is a solid mix of old-school and new-school promotion, including magazine and convention ads, online ads, social media, and our killer Web site. We’ve hired an ad agency and a PR firm to help us, and we’re going to as many conventions as we can to get the word out.
LG: The best advertisements we have are our books and our authors. People are blown away by how gorgeous our books are and are very enthusiastic about the authors we’re publishing. Those readers are spreading the word for us better than any tweet or Google ad can.
And if that wasn’t enough, Publishers Weekly gave our premiere novel, Tom Kakonis’ Treasure Coast, a great review:
After more than a decade’s absence, Kakonis (Michigan Roll) returns with a darkly humorous caper novel that throws together an odd mix of characters whose conflicting aims and shifting alliances result in mayhem on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Failed gambler Jim Merriman makes an ill-considered promise to his dying sister to “watch out” for her hapless 21-year-old son, Leon. Con man B. Noble Bott and his assistant, Waneta Pease, are concocting a new scheme with Waneta serving as a medium to put the living in contact with the departed. Mismatched debt collectors, racist thug Morris Biggs and Latino Hector Pasadena, are about their nasty business, which includes Leon. Billie Swett, naïve trophy wife of Big Lonnie Swett, is the piece that will inadvertently connect them all. A hastily concocted kidnapping scheme, an ape-like PI named Don McReedy, and an incipient hurricane stir the plot. Kakonis overwrites at times, but he still offers strong entertainment.
We’re expecting more articles and reviews about Brash in the coming days. But what I really can’t wait to hear is what you think of our books… and whether you believe that we are living up to our motto: we publish the best crime novels in existence.
The publishing industry is still trying to figure out how to deal with the self-publishing revolution that Amazon sparked with the Kindle and their KDP Publishing format. Old guard publishers need to adapt and evolve, not dig in and try to protect the way things have “always” been done, or they risk becoming irrelevant to readers and to authors. What brings this obvious fact to mind today is a recent essay that Steven Zacharius, CEO of Kensington,wrote for the Huffington Post.
Here’s Where We Agree…and Disagree
He starts out by saying a few things I agree with. He says that the self-publishing revolution has brought out a bunch of swindlers eager to take advantage of authors. That’s true. He says that there’s a flood of self-published work on Amazon, and that most of the authors will never sell more than a handful of copies to their dearest friends and relatives. Also true. He says that free books and ultra-low pricing by self-published authors is driving down the price of books and makes it harder for publishers to make money. I agree with that to some degree, too. He also says its very hard for any book, self-published or otherwise, to stand out. Again, he’s right. But where he loses me, and reveals the desperation of publishers to hold on to the old way of doing things at any cost, is his suggestion that Amazon and other retailers should create a form of literary segregation so “real books” (my phrase, not his), can stand out. Here’s how he puts it:
In a perfect world (okay, in my perfect world) there would be a separate section on Amazon or B&N.com for self-published e-books, maybe even separate websites. I truly believe that it would help the reader distinguish the books as well. Readers don’t purchase books based on who the publisher is and don’t necessarily care. As a result, they might not even know if they’re buying a book that was professionally edited versus one that was self-published.
This suggestion, and the way he refutes it immediately himself, shows how sharply divided he is on this issue even within his own mind.
If he believes that readers don’t buy books based on who publishes them, and that they can’t tell the difference between a professionally edited book and one that hasn’t been, then what would be the point of segregating corporately published books from those that are self-published?
Clearly, the only point is to throw a half-assed life-preserver to publishers who are struggling to figure out how to remain relevant in this new landscape…and get their books noticed amidst the millions of new titles.
But if you, or even Steve himself, accepted his suggestion, who would establish the criteria for what qualifies as “published books” and those that are “self-published?” Old-guard publishers, of course! And what would that criteria be? That’s not an easy question to answer.
The Way It Used To Be…and Why It Doesn’t Work Anymore
Before the Kindle revolution, and the wave of self-publishing it created, it was much easier to establish criteria for professional publication. I know, because as board member of the Mystery Writers of America and chairperson of their membership committee, I helped craft the rules for vetting publishers for the purposes of submitting books for Edgar Awards and or vetting authors for membership. You wouldn’t have been able to find a stauncher critic of vanity presses and self-publishing than me. But that was a different publishing world, technologically and business-wise, back then. The world has changed and so have I. Adapt or die.
The old rules were essentially based on the belief that the author should get paid for his work in advances and royalties, that his manuscript should be professionally edited, and the final product should be widely available in brick-and-mortar stores. One of the key yardsticks for determining professional publication was if the money flowed from the publisher to the author, and not the other way around (it was also a simple, and effective criteria to weed out “vanity presses” run by scammers who were swindling writers). But now that most books are sold online and not in brick-and-mortar stores, and now that there are self-published authors selling more copies, and earning substantially more money, than most mid-list “traditionally published” authors, and that so many “established” authors are self-publishing backlist and new works, those lines aren’t so easy to draw and the old criteria seems painfully archaic.
Who is a Pro….and Who Isn’t?
Steve suggests that it’s important to distinguish self-published books from those that are “professionally” edited. Well, my self-published books are professionally edited… by editors who still work freelance for the Big Six. So what would the criteria be in Steve’s segregation scenario for determining a “professional edit?” And, more importantly, what would be the benefit of this segregation to consumers as opposed to old-guard publishers? None. Deep down, Steve seems to know this, because he goes on to say:
Now don’t get me wrong. If I thought I had a story in me that I felt strongly about, I wouldn’t hesitate to self-publish it either. In fact, Kensington and all major publishers looks to e-book originals to find new talent. We have a handful of 2014 releases written by authors whose work impressed us enough to offer them contracts for new books.
So he’s got nothing against self-published books…as long as they don’t get in the way of a publisher’s interest. Ebooks are great, he says, as a way to find authors who’ve proven they can make money for a publisher. What he doesn’t say is that in many cases it would be more profitable in the long run for those authors to continue self-publishing rather than sign with Kensington which, with all due respect to Steve, is known for paying most of their writers very poorly and doing little to market their books. He still believes that the brass ring that all authors are reaching for is a publishing contract…perceived prestige over readership and lots of money. It’s less clear today what publishers can provide to authors that they can’t do for themselves, particularly if you fall in the mid-list. Publishers are a huge benefit to big gun authors, but don’t do so much for writers who aren’t already household names.
I know dozens of mid-list authors who are earning far more self-publishing than they ever did under contract (several of those are ex-Kensington authors, btw). And I know authors who are under contract who wish they weren’t…and that they could get their hands on their backlists so they could self-publish. That’s right, I know authors who are lamenting that their books are still in print…a point of view that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Because times have changed. Steve and others like him are slow to accept that.
A Successful Author Today Explores Every Option
I have nothing against publishing contracts… although I’ve self-published a lot of my books, I am also published today by Amazon’s 47 North and Thomas & Mercer imprints, as well as by John Wiley & Son, Penguin/Putnam and Random House. Those publishers are treating me and my books very well and I’m happy to be in business with them. I am also very happy with how my self-published books are doing, and I’ve turned down many offers to acquire the publishing rights to The Walk and Watch Me Die (one editor at a major publishing house actually approached me inside the Amazon Publishing booth at BookExpo to make me an offer!)
But every book, and every deal, is different. Today writers have options they never had before…and so do readers. Segregation isn’t the answer to the rising above the clutter and selling books. The answer is writing a good book…coupled with strong packaging and shrewd promotion, advertising and social media marketing. Because for authors in today’s world, whether you are self-published or under contract, you need to be a businessperson, too. It’s not enough to produce the product, you have to effectively sell it, too.
There are those who will argue that’s exactly why you need a publisher…but if you talk to most of the authors I know, they will tell you their publishers aren’t doing diddly for them…or what they are doing is woefully ineffective… and that the burden of marketing the book falls on the author’s shoulders, whether they are under contract or self-published.
The Author’s Guild has started a membership drive and the centerpiece is a letter from author Richard Russo, who talks about all of the evils the Guild is protecting us from and all the good things they do for writers. The Guild does some good, that’s true. Their legal services are hugely helpful to authors, especially those who otherwise couldn’t afford lawyers. But lately, I’ve been dismayed, and at times outraged, by the Guild’s wrong-headed stance towards Amazon and ebooks… and am seriously considering *not* renewing my membership to demonstrate my disagreement. The Guild’s antiquated thinking, misrepresentations, and outright fear-mongering is very hard to take or to justify. At times, they seem more interested in protecting publishers and agents than the interests of any writer who isn’t already a superstar. My friend Joe Konrath summed up my feeling well on his blog today:
The Authors Guild under Scott Turow’s leadership has done an awe-inspiring job of trying to maintain the antiquated status quo, where publishers coveted their power and treated most authors poorly; technology is considered the devil’s sorcery; and Amazon is Satan himself.
In that blog post, Joe and Barry Eisler go through Richard Russo’s wrong-headed letter point-by-point and do an excellent job revealing the flaws in his arguments (all of which seems to be based on his own fears and baseless assumptions rather than any actual facts). What follows are two excerpts from Richard’s letter interspersed with Joe & Barry’s rebuttals:
Richard: It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.
Joe: Here begins the fundamental disconnect.
Richard, aren’t you aware there are thousands of writers making a living from $1.99 ebooks? That what you considered to be a slight (and, actually, it may indeed be a slight when your publisher pays you 35 cents on a $1.99 ebook when I can make $1.36 on a $1.99 ebook using Amazon Select Countdown) in fact represents liberation for writers–and for readers?
Inexpensive ebooks aren’t what make authors dig into their retirement funds. Or fight in cage matches. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve made my million bucks this year pricing my backlist at $3.99 and under. And my books weren’t available in every bookstore, airport, drugstore, and department store.
In fact, my books weren’t available in ANY bookstore, airport, drugstore, or departments store.
Richard: Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here.
Barry: What is this based on? “…those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less.” Where is the evidence for this? Because all the evidence with which I’m familiar indicates the opposite–including, for example, that a quarter of the top Kindle 100 books are self-published. Ignoring–or denying–the fact that thousands of authors are now making good livings outside the legacy system is at this point like arguing the earth is flat.
So Richard, I’m asking you: given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary (just click on the links in the paragraph above to get started), what is the basis for your fear that you and legacy publishing are all that’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and that it’s all downhill from here? Do you have any real-world evidence at all in favor of the proposition? If so, why do you not cite it?
I am not in complete lock-step with the opinions expressed by my friends Joe and Barry. For example, they don’t see piracy as a threat to the livelihoods of novelists and other artists. I certainly do, though I don’t copy-protect my books (except THE HEIST, but that’s outside of my control). That may seem like a contradiction, but I want people to be able to read my book on whatever device they own. And I believe the book culture is one that’s historically been built on people sharing books they love — essentially “hand selling” without exchanging currency — with their friends. What bothers me is when I find my books on file sharing sites being downloaded by the thousands and I don’t see a penny. What I’m sure Joe and Barry would argue is that it’s evidence of my popularity, that I am now gaining thousands of new fans who will eventually buy one of my books and spread positive word of mouth. They may be right, but I’m not convinced yet. I think if someone can download all 15 of my Monk books with one click that they will wait until they can find my new books for free rather than buy them. But I have no evidence to support that fear…nor, I suspect, do Joe and Barry have any to support their belief that piracy enhances sales.
Regardless of my disagreements with some of their stances, and the fact that their dissection of Richard’s letter may be a little too strident and snarky at times, overall they make some very strong, intelligent, and persuasive points that are well worth your consideration. And yes, I am speaking to you, Authors Guild.
Today my seriesThe Dead Man joined Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries, and the works of Kurt Vonnegut among the many “franchises” in Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, their fanfiction publishing program. Now anyone can write, publish and sell Dead Man stories and novels on Amazon…and earn significant royalties.
I know what you’re thinking. Is this the same Lee Goldberg who has been railing against fanfiction on this blog for years?
My problem with fanfiction has always been that it is copyright infringement… that people are ripping off characters and stories that they don’t own without the permission or involvement of the creators or rights holders.
Well, now Amazon has cleverly solved that problem.
Everyone who writes in the Amazon Kindle Worlds are doing it with the consent of the rights holders…and both parties, the fanfiction writer and the rights holder, are profiting from the relationship. In fact, the Amazon Kindle Worlds are more akin to tie-in writing than fanfiction (but I’ll have more on that in a few days, when I do a Q&A interview here with the executive in charge of Amazon’s Kindle Worlds).
You can find out more about how you can contribute to The Dead Man Kindle World here. In the mean time, you can read the very first Dead Man Kindle World title… Joseph Nassise’s Eater of Souls.
My friend Jude Hardin’s highly acclaimed Nicholas Colt mystery novels have followed an unusual publishing path. In this informative guest post, Jude talks candidly about that journey and the hard lessons he’s learned, culminating with the self-publication this month of his latest novel in the series, COLT (and be sure to check out his fantastic DEAD MAN tale, FIRE & ICE).
In the spring of 2011, when my debut thriller POCKET-47 received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, I figured I was on my way. Suddenly, I was getting inquiries from a variety of big-name industry professionals who were interested in my book and my future.
I was a published author, and I was getting noticed. After years of trying to break into the business, these were two of the best things a writer could ask for!
But, with a hardcover print run of 3000 copies, and a $9.99 price tag on the ebook version, it quickly became apparent that the book wasn’t going to take off as well as it should have. The distribution just wasn’t adequate; there was no co-op placement in bookstores, and there weren’t a lot of readers willing to shell out ten bucks for an ebook by an unknown author.
That PW review did help me land a top New York agent, though, so I had high hopes for the second book in the Nicholas Colt series. My agent and I discussed strategies to move forward, and we decided Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint might be the best way to go. Ebooks were quickly gaining traction in the marketplace, and Amazon’s promotion of them was second to none.
So we submitted the manuscript.
It sparked the editors’ interest, and I ended up signing a four-book deal with an option on a fifth. CROSSCUT was scheduled to be released June 2012, and SNUFF TAG 9 the following November. With Amazon’s backing, I thought these and subsequent titles would sell well enough to allow me to write full time. Once again, I was on my way.
Once again, good things!
Unfortunately, even with solid promotional efforts from Amazon, the sales of my Nicholas Colt titles have been lackluster so far. The books have earned out their advances, but they haven’t sold well enough for T&M or other publishers to offer the kinds of publishing deals I’m interested in. KEY DEATH comes out later this month, and I’m hoping things will pick up when it does.
But of course I’ve learned that there are no guarantees…
So, in an effort to give the series an extra shot in the arm (and with all of my contract obligations to Thomas and Mercer fulfilled) I have decided, for the first time, to self-publish a novel.
COLT went on sale May 30. It’s a prequel to the series, the events taking place three years before those in POCKET-47. Here’s the story:
October 21: just an ordinary day, unless you’re a former rock star…
The sole survivor of a plane crash…
A private investigator working out of a camper..
For Nicholas Colt, October 21 is an unlucky day. A day for nightmares. It always has been, and this year is no exception.
Someone is brutally murdering the offspring of an anonymous sperm donor, and Colt’s missing client is next on the list. With less than four days to find the young man—and, with a pair of drug-addicted study partners, a violent motorcycle gang, a stalker ex-girlfriend, and a host of other obstacles standing in his way—Colt faces the most challenging and deadly case of his life.
By self-publishing, I have control of the price, and I can participate in free giveaways and other promotional tools like BookBub. I have another completed novel that falls on the other side of the Nicholas Colt timeline, and I’m planning to self-publish that one early 2014.
Does this mean that I’m finished with publishers altogether? Not at all. It just means that writers have more viable choices now than ever before.
And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.