Self-Publishing Companies' Book Marketing Services: What You Need to Know
A friend referred me to a new author who was considering working with a self-publishing company to produce, distribute, and market his book. The cost to work with the company being considered was in the thousands, even though it wasn’t the most I’ve ever seen.
One of the author’s concerns was about the book marketing this company would do. So I looked at the company’s website to see if I could help provide some clarification.
The site touted how they could make an author’s book available through popular book retail outlets such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. My reaction? No big deal.
“Promotion” assistance was also offered. Digging a little deeper into the site, I gathered that the company would prepare a press release for the book and send it to a newswire service. Okay, that’s helpful, especially for authors who are completely unfamiliar with the process.
As well, the information on promotion emphasized using “viral” marketing methods, which is usually code for “social media.”
Below I’m going to translate some of the doublespeak about what these self-publishing platform companies might be providing in terms of book marketing or promotion help. Then you can decide if your investment in them is worth it.
Promotion Is NOT the Same as Book Marketing and Advertising
Let’s get something straight. Efforts such as getting your book into distribution channels, press releases, and social media (viral) methods would be classed as “promotion” or even “public relations/PR,” but not “book marketing” or “advertising.”
Emphasized on one particular self-publishing company’s site was that they do not do any “advertising"—such as print or television commercials and Internet advertising—for self-published authors or their books. I totally understand that. These companies are not advertising agencies and may not have the expertise or resources to put together a marketing and advertising plan for you. As well, the cost to provide those services to you might be cost prohibitive for both you and them.
So when these companies use the word "promotion," they're usually referring to low or no cost PR activities that can announce your book to the world, not book marketing.
Book Distribution Is NOT Book Marketing
Book distribution simply means the outlets—wholesale, retail, library, and academic—through which your book can be obtained.
When your book is made available for distribution to bookstores, libraries, and schools—in addition to any online retail outlets such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble—it means that if customers want your book, the store or library can get it for them if the book has an ISBN number and is listed in a database such as Bowker’s Books in Print®. What this does NOT mean is that your book will be on the shelves at any bookstore or library. There just isn’t enough physical space, and bookstores and libraries are unlikely to want to inventory books from unknown self-published authors.
Unless specifically stated and offered by the self-publishing company, making your book available to and through book distribution channels does not include any proactive sales efforts to get your book into bookstores or libraries. I have seen some companies who will offer that service, but for a usually hefty fee.
As a side note, if you use a more DIY self-publishing platform such as Amazon KDP or Ingram Spark, and you want to make your book available to and through bookstores and libraries, it’s typically a simple click to enable expanded distribution. But remember that this doesn’t mean it will be physically available or promoted in any of these places.
So when a self-publishing company says they'll make your book available through popular retail channels, it's not a unique benefit. It's available through many self-publishing options and companies.
Press Release Services
A press release is merely a document that is sent to the media to announce something. In the context of this discussion, it would be an announcement about your new book. The goal of writing and distributing this release is to get mentioned or featured in mass media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and online.
Self-publishing companies may offer to write and distribute a press release about your book for you as part of the package you purchase. That can be valuable, especially if you’re not familiar with writing one. I have to tell you, though, that writing a press release isn’t magical. It’s pretty straightforward. You could do it yourself, or hire a freelancer to do it.
The real key to a successful press release is the distribution. My questions about what a self-publishing company would provide in terms of press release distribution are: 1) What newswire service are they using? 2) What newswire distribution package are they purchasing?
While there are many newswire services, one of the most popular and respected is PRWeb. True, the self-publishing company may not be willing to share what newswire service they use. But remember that you’re paying for this service. So it shouldn’t rattle the company that you ask.
Also, ask what distribution level they plan to use. If you visit PRWeb, as an example, you’ll see that there are several levels of service. The lowest, cheapest service level merely posts your press release on the site and includes it in some of their news feeds that the media access for news and story ideas, and sends it to the major search engines (Google, Bing, etc.). That’s a minimal service. Higher levels would expand the number of news feeds and may include premium media outlets.
Though there may be some restrictions, almost anyone can purchase newswire services. A self-publishing company doesn't have any special connection to them. These companies are merely handling the legwork of writing and posting your press release for you. So that service does have value if you feel insecure about either writing or posting it yourself.
Lots of authors have fantasies about being a guest on the popular talk and news shows! Reality check: Be aware that merely having your press release posted with a newswire service—regardless of the service level, and whether you or your self-publishing company posts it with a newswire—will not guarantee that news about you and your book will be featured in any show or publication. It merely increases the chances that it will.
Viral Promotions and Social Media
If your self-publishing company is emphasizing “viral” promotion methods and social media, it's time to ask some questions.
First, it is almost impossible to guarantee that anything will go viral on social media or on the Internet in general. Usually, "going viral" means that your article, video, photo, or other content spreads rapidly and widely throughout the Internet and social media. While you and your self-publishing company may think your book is the greatest thing ever, there's no assurance the Internet will agree and share your book news like the latest flu virus.
Ask what they plan to do to help get the word out on social media about your book. How many times and where will announcements be posted? Remember that the life of any tweet on Twitter, Facebook post, or Instagram photo can be measured in days, even hours! So to make a splash on social media, a continuous effort over an extended period of time (maybe months!) is required both during the book launch and in the future. It is unlikely that a self-publishing package will include a sustained presence beyond the launch. Then it'll be up to you.
This is why it's important that you start building your author platform—your network of fans, followers, and email subscribers—long before you publish. As many even traditionally published authors have learned, the bulk of book marketing is up to the author.
My Experience with Self Publishing Companies and Book Marketing
I used a self-publishing company for my first book (which I later moved over to Amazon Createspace, which is now under Amazon's KDP universe). Though it was a significant investment, they were very helpful and I learned a lot through the process.
One of the things I learned is that these companies aren't responsible for the success of your book. They may only handle the editing and proofreading, production, printing, and some very limited promotion. Beyond what's included in your package, it's still self publishing, meaning you're doing it yourself. This is especially the case when it comes to book marketing.
Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.
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© 2018 Heidi Thorne