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How Authors Get Scammed

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March 20,2014


By Penny C. Sansevieri, Adjunct Instructor NYU & CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc.

Scams, of any kind, have been around as long as there have been consumers. They are often very expensive, always heartbreaking, and definitely avoidable.

Today there are a few new predators out there. The first is in the form of big-name publishers offering self-publishing “options” that seem to imply that if you publish with their self-publishing arm, they may notice your book and you could end up being published by Harlequin, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, or Hay House. I have no issue with these publishers dabbling in the self-publishing space, the issue I have is that there is no clear definition of how the author is being published or who is publishing them. There needs to be a clearer understanding of what, specifically authors are getting.

So what’s an author to do?

Well, trust me when I say that connections mean nothing. But great books mean everything. What I mean by this is that a connection to Penguin, Harlequin, or Simon & Schuster is great, but more often than not a traditional publishing deal won’t come from their self-publishing arms. Success comes from publishing a quality book and doing the work it takes to get it noticed. There are no shortcuts and self-publishing connections won’t get you there any faster.

The next issue I have is with the marketing. They are typically wildly overpriced for the marketing you get. How do you know? Take some time to price compare with other firms. Read up on marketing from some trustworthy sources (see my recommended list below). If you’re still confused, ask for help. Most times if I get a question about this, I have no issue answering and just to make it fair, I’ll recommend a bunch of marketing firms, not just ours.

Marketing, for the sake of just pushing a book out there, does not work. Take a look at some of these do's and don’ts as well as a few other things that I found when investigating these marketing programs.

Custom plan: If a marketing plan isn’t customized to your budget or marketing needs, you should consider other options. Most companies have a “menu” of options but all of the reputable companies will actually customize something within the programs they recommend.

Blasting never works: Big isn’t better, sometimes it’s just big. A lot of programs seem appealing because they blast your email or press release out to thousands of media contacts or bloggers. I can tell you that in almost every case, you will get ignored because the pitch isn’t custom to the media person or blogger, the pitches often have a generic salutation like “Dear blogger,” and most, if not all, pitches are sent out with all of the media or bloggers just bcc’d in the email. Here’s what lack of customization tells the media person or blogger: you’re not even interested in trying.

Pie-in-the-sky: Let’s say you’re an author with your first book, no platform and no real following. If you came to me and asked me if I’d get you on TV I would encourage you to consider building your platform online first before pitching media. It’s not that you couldn’t get picked up right out of the gate, but it’s unlikely. Most, if not all, of the marketing programs offered by these publishers include some media component. Why? Because it’s flashy and pricey. Does it work? Hardly ever.

Pricing: How much does it cost to self-publish a book? Well, typically if you’re including a professional cover design you’re looking at somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000. But when I say quality cover design, I mean just that. Regardless of the publisher, you should not trust that their cover designers know what they are doing. Consumers do judge a book by its cover and while some of these self-publishers do great work, most, candidly, do not.

Ask better questions: Sometimes we have to own our mistakes and when it comes to getting scammed part of the solution is asking better questions. If you look at the pricing of some publishers you’ll see that they start out at almost $6,000 and go up to $15,000. For that pricing you’d better see a lot of work and a few guarantees. How many reviews will they get? How many placements can you expect to see? While it’s often hard to guarantee coverage, it’s not impossible. We guarantee some items; other reputable firms do, too. No one can guarantee book sales but for that kind of money, you’d better be seeing some placement on reputable sites or publications that actually have traffic and a decent readership.

Over the years I’ve seen authors lose their shirt making bad decisions or getting sucked into a publishing dream or marketing scam. Your book is your dream and your baby. You want it done right and it’s up to you to make sure that you aren’t falling prey to something that’s only going to cost you money and take the wind out your creative sails. These companies are out there, dressing up their offerings, partnering with big, flashy publishing houses and using terms that speak directly to an author’s hopes and dreams.

List of reputable industry voices:


Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. Follow on Twitter @Bookgal.

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Google+ profile of Penny C. Sansevieri, Adjunct Instructor NYU & CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc.

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