Publishing a book is a big deal. But, as authors, you already know that it requires an investment not just in time, but in your money. From editing to book cover design and, of course, your marketing efforts, it’s important to you to maximize that investment. And it should be.
And, as with all things, there are good ways to invest in your book promotion and, the flip side, not-so-good ways. Believe me, in nearly two decades in the book marketing business, I’ve heard it all, both from authors I work with and those I meet at industry events. And so, as a cautionary tale, I’m sharing the top complaints I hear from authors in the industry, and what you can do instead or to circumvent each problem altogether.
Some of the ways we can avoid these issues may be fairly obvious to most people. For one, any agreements you sign should clearly state any deliverables. Similarly, if anyone makes any big promises like “bestseller status,” don’t walk, run away. No one can guarantee that. Outside of those big-ticket ideas, here are some of the biggest complaints in the book marketing industry. (Click here to read more about if you’re ready to invest in book marketing services.)
Complaint #1: I Didn’t Sell Any Books
This is the number one most common complaint book marketing firms receive. And it’s a tough one, but the reality is that no one can predict or promise book sales. As I said earlier, if someone does, run away. I 100% agree that you want to maximize your investment, and hopefully, recoup the money you’ve put into it. However, the reality is that there is often some confusion surrounding the ultimate goal of book marketing and book publicity. Because the goal is, and should always be exposure, and particularly, the right kind of exposure to the right audiences.
I knew an author who made it to Oprah’s TV show, back when it was on the air. But despite the fact that you’d think it would launch her book sales into outer space, she only sold about 150 books as a result.
And although there may be other reasons why it fell flat, it may also come down to whether or not she got the right kind of exposure. Authors often request a certain kind of target in their proposals, and get upset when we don’t include it. The reality is that we can absolutely pitch that target, but since it isn’t exactly the right market for that author, it’s often a wasted pitch.
The big takeaway here is that exposure sells books. It often must be repeated, and it absolutely must be the right kind of exposure. And, that’s what a book marketing or publicity firm should be promising you. Exposure is ultimately the vehicle to help you get to book sales.
Complaint #2: I Didn’t Understand My Contract
As with any industry, book marketing and publicity has its own jargon. And because of that, if you’re not actively working in the industry, the jargon can be confusing and lead to misunderstandings, and yes, sometimes complaints.
So if you don’t understand what you’re signing up for, as an author, you absolutely should ask questions. If you don’t understand something that is being sold to you, ask the person selling it. If they aren’t willing to explain it, in detail, you should move on. And, if you’re buying a program and you can only access them via email, I recommend proceeding with caution. Anytime the program is expensive or something beyond some DIY recommendations (for example, a list of bookstores or bloggers you can pitch), request specifics. And while each company may keep some of their processes proprietary, you should have no problems getting a detailed outline and specific deliverables.
Don’t become a cautionary tale and spend money on various book promotion campaigns that you ultimately don’t understand. Whether you’re spending $500, $5,000, or in the case of one author I spoke with – $50,0000, make sure you know what you’re buying.
For example, in each book promotion proposal we create, we explain each strategy in detail and share the deliverables. There should be no secrets and no mystery to what you are buying. Get it all in writing.
Complaint #3: No One Gave Me Any Updates
You should get updates with nearly every campaign you get. Even most one-and-done programs should give you a head’s up when something is planned or completed. We do weekly updates for our bigger campaigns, but even the small campaigns, like an Amazon Optimization, get at least one update. Again, this is something that should be addressed in your contract. If it’s not, don’t sign it.
Complaint #4: I Didn’t Get Enough Media Features or Book Reviews
An average return for book marketing and publicity efforts is in the 5-10% range. This means that 10% (being on the high end) of people pitched respond. If that seems low, remember there are a lot of things vying for media attention. Granted, at times we’ve seen it as high as 30% – but this varies by market.
If you’re in a highly competitive market, like dieting, relationships, or business, these are often on the lower end, but you can also pitch regional or trade media to help offset this. There are three tiers to media: regional, trade, and national. The national media is what we all know: The Today Show, CNN Morning Show, Fox and Friends, O Magazine, Redbook, etc. And the reality is that lots of people overlook trade and regional media even though they can be great sources of publicity. So I definitely would encourage you to consider including those markets, too. This could help get you more media hits.
Regardless, the number of media hits or book reviews you get is largely out of the book publicist’s control.
Complaint #5: I Didn’t Get the ROI I Wanted
While this may overlap a bit with the first complaint, it’s important to note that making your money back on a single book marketing investment can be iffy. Some do, and some don’t. In fact, a study by IBPA found that on average, it can take nearly two years for a book s to see any ROI. This ultimately means that you must be in it for the long-haul. If you consider it a short-term effort, or a retirement plan, you may need to change your mindset.
And, if you’re hiring a book marketing firm, it’s important to know that not only do things not happen overnight, but their efforts are meant to complement what you’re doing on your own. Now, your own efforts probably won’t be as aggressive as the book marketing firm you hired, but you should be doing something to add to their work on your behalf. I write about this frequently on my blog, and encourage you to check it out, but for now, it’s enough to know that like any investment, you should plan to be in this for the long-term. For some of us that will be two years, while for others it happens more slowly, and others yet, a lot quicker.
One study I read showed that most authors market their books for around 3 months. After this time period they were discouraged and maybe broke, but either way, they stop working on their book marketing. This doesn’t have to be you. All it takes is a little planning.
So what if you’re doing a ton of work and your book still isn’t selling? Well, maybe it’s time to take a critical look at the book itself. Maybe you need a better cover. Or just maybe, you need to revisit your market. Is there an active, interested market that will buy your book? In the coaching side of my business, I work with authors frequently on these very questions and offer recommendations for how they can strengthen either their book or their approach, and sometimes both.
An author once told me that hiring book marketing services was a bit like sending your kid to college. You want to get them into the best college, and get them the best education – and in the end, you hope they’ll do something with the education you got them.
Books are much the same way. As authors, we do everything we can to give your book its best foot forward. And ultimately, our market will have to decide if it’s the book they want. Yes, I know it sounds risky. It’s because it is. But anything worth having comes with a certain amount of risk. In fact, it’s something I’ve faced myself. Not every book I’ve published has done well. Despite my knowledge of the industry, I still make mistakes. The point is to try, try again.
And, the bottom line here as you are looking for help with your book marketing, is that a good book marketing company should be able to provide you with references, too. They should have testimonials, and you should be able to request speaking with other authors or publishers they’ve worked with. While no one can make everyone happy all of the time, and you may find one or two negative reviews, if everything else you read is otherwise great with wonderful testimonials and reviews, the odds are that the company you’re working with is reputable. Especially so, the longer that they’ve been in business.
Unless you can do it all yourself, it’s a great idea to hire a book marketing company. In fact, it’s almost critical if you want any kind of attention for your book. And ultimately, that’s what we all want. So, it’s my goal that by outlining some of the top complaints authors have, you will be empowered to make the best decisions for yourself and your book.
And if you’re ready to see how we can work together to market your book, please reach out to me and my team today!
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Let's add professional book reviewers to this list. I recently did a campaign for reviews since my new release seemed to be lagging. Saw another author friend had endorsed a company, checked with her, and decided to run a promotion. The first red flag should have been that they'd recently rebranded under a different name. They promised weekly updates and names to add to my mailing list. I followed up with them after three weeks (where was that weekly update?) and they sent me two names. TWO. With a promise of 12-50 reviews. Now, I know nothing is guaranteed, but I have not had any of their promised communications, and the one I did get I had to request. Big black mark next to their name(s).
Be careful if your using a paid service for reviews. Amazon considers paid reviews a violation of the TOS and can/will flag and remove reviews if they find out. Beware of review mills, too. Some of them are connected to book pirate sites.
**you're not your
Thanks for explaining some of the business marketing side of this industry.
I've worked as an author assistant/publishing project manager for almost six years, and one of the biggest challenges is meeting (unrealistic) author expectations when they hire you to market (read: SELL) their books. Many business owners, not just authors, aren't knowledgeable about marketing, which makes it difficult for them to create effective, realistic, executable campaigns. Many authors also fail to appreciate the non-tangible benefits of marketing: networking, building connections, increasing brand recognition, establishing professional credibility, etc. These aren't measured in dollars and cents but are often more valuable than a one-time book sale. Thanks for the great article!
This is a great glimpse of the other side. As Maria said, expectations lead to unhappiness. Honestly, aside from the fact that I'm cheap, I probably won't ever hire a marketing professional, for this very reason. You pay a lot of money (which, with a good marketing firm, IS earned), for no guarantees. With a ton of sweat equity, I can do almost as much. This is my personal opinion, not the opinion of WITS.
Selling books is hard.
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Great eye-opener, Penny! Thanks.
Wonderful information, Penny. I'm tucking this away for future reference. Thank you.
[…] easier than we think, marketing often isn’t—or at least feels that way. Penny Sansevieri shares the top book marketing complaints she hears, Devin at BookBuzzR tells us how to connect with clients in the book market, and Brian […]