Self Publishing Authors Are ‘Suspect’ and ‘Cheats’

Book PromotionIs paying for advertising, promotion or even reviews cheating? I read this press release and wondered what point it was trying to make. Yes, it of course refers to John Locke buying reviews, which I must admit is becoming very old news now, but it goes on with carefully chosen vocabulary referring to self published authors being labeled as unethical, suspect, spamming, inferior and cheats if they pay for promotion.

Then Sean Platt the author of the press release, admits to having bought thousands of Twitter followers. Talk about hypocritical in the extreme.

So it’s ok to buy Twitter followers, but it’s not ok to buy promotion, advertising or book reviews?

But it did start me thinking about this whole issue of paid promotion and I’m beginning to wonder if this is not a carefully managed attack on self publishing as a whole. It’s no secret that self published titles are doing very well and it wouldn’t surprise me if this success has ruffled a few ‘established ‘ feathers.

In my mind the whole issue is boiling down to one basic point. That is, that it’s ok to spend a bucket load of money on book promotion if you are a major publisher to ‘buy’ an audience, but if you’re an ‘Indie’, you’re expected to do everything on the cheap and free and wait around for your family and friends to buy your book. Then if you admit to spending money on book promotion, you get labeled as a cheat.

What’s wrong with the idea that self publishing is a business like any other and as such there are marketing expenses and without this investment, books struggle to sell. I think it’s up to every individual self published author to decide how they operate their business and from my own particular viewpoint, no one is going to tell me how I should run my own business.

And if you’re wondering. No, I have never bought Twitter followers. Yes, I have paid for advertising. Yes, I have paid for book promotion. There are always expenses in any business. Even self publishing.

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  1. G.R. Bliss (@GRBliss)

    EXACTLY! Great post!

    1. Derek Haines

      Thank you GR. It was a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, I think.

  2. Rick Carufel

    Just as traditional publishers have created the myth that reviewers should be the only professionals on the planet that shouldn’t be paid, except of course by publishers, so they can control the review process, they are now trying to discredit Indies for using the same marketing techniques they do. These publishers are a desperate, dying breed that are going to try any and every tactic to prolong their resistance to chance. they are violently against relinquishing their strangle hold on writer’s careers and will fight tooth and nail to the very end. There will always be published hard cover books, there will not always be a few publishers who make or break the careers of writer. Their power erodes a little more each day and they can smell the smoke of the coming firestorm. It was a good run while it lasted but now it’s time for the dinosaurs to lay down and let the next stage in literary evolution have it’s day.

    1. Derek Haines

      I think the playing field is levelling out by the day Rick.

  3. Jack Eason

    Unless or until publishing houses realise they no longer have the world of books exclusively to themselves Derek, ridiculous assertions regarding the self-published writer will continue.

    Great post mate. :)

    1. Derek Haines

      It was a silly press release Jack. Admitting to buying Twitter followers and saying that was ok was a really stupid thing to say when criticising Locke.

  4. Kim Votry

    Great post, Derek. I posted it on my facebook page! But I have to believe there’s hope. The pen is mightier, right?

    1. Derek Haines

      Yes Kim. The pen is mightier. But my dollar is equal to theirs if I want to spend it. On pens. :)

  5. JJ Toner

    Yes, another great post, Derek. However, I would agree with those who say paying for a book review is unethical. Paid reviews will always be favourable – that’s a no-brainer – so what value are they to potential readers? Glove puppet reviews are even worse, of course.

    1. Derek Haines

      The problem I have JJ is that Amazon sell paid book reviews through their companies Kirkus and Clarion. So it’s ok for the big boys to pay for reviews, but not Indies? That’s the hypocrisy of this debate. Do you think if John Locke had bought his reviews from Amazon there would be all this controversy?

    2. Rick Carufel

      JJ, Book reviews have always been paid for until Amazon came along. Now suddenly it’s unethical to do so unless you pay high priced outfits for them. Before Ebooks and Amazon, reviews were always bought by publishing agents with expensive lunches and gifts. To believe otherwise is naive. It’s been a racket for decades with the publishers in direct, complete control of reviews. It’s is only now a big controversy because the publishers are losing control of that monopoly and so they are trying to discredit any paid reviews as unethical but their own.

      1. Derek Haines

        Agree Rick. Has everyone forgotten about the reviews printed on the front cover and below the back cover blurb of ‘airport’ novels of years gone by. Yeah, sure they were written out of the goodness of the reviewer’s heart. And Barbara Cartland would never have sold a book without their help.

  6. Charles Miske

    I love hypocrisy within the ranks of the established paper publishers. Indie ebook and kindle authors should be able to treat their craft as a business, just like any other.

    1. Derek Haines

      It is hypocrisy Charles. If you’re an ‘Indie’ it’s ok if you use only use Twitter to promote your books. But heaven forbid if you step outside the boundaries and actually try to compete.

  7. Claude Bouchard

    In my case, no on paid reviews. hell I don’t even solicit them. No on buying Twitter followers. I laugh, literally when I receive offers. As for paying for some advertising and promotion, duh… Of course. I DO want to sell books and I am. Excellent post, Derek. :)

    1. Derek Haines

      Thanks Claude. I read that Mitt Romney bought a few 100,000 Twitter followers at the start of his campaign and they were just about all inactive accounts. Great buy!

  8. Andrew Claymore

    The trads are into all sorts of shady stuff. How about Dan Lubart’s new startup, Iobyte, which provides a bestseller list for eBooks only.

    Sounds great right? Hold on – he’s also a senior VP at Harper Collins.

    I don’t buy reviews. I do suggest, at the back of a newer title, that you could leave one if you enjoyed it. Hopefully folks who don’t care for the story won’t get that far…

    1. Derek Haines

      Isn’t it funny Andrew that dirty tricks are only dirty tricks if you get caught. lol Traditional publishers have been using them for decades, but they are classed as legitimate marketing. But if an Indie tries to use a few, it’s cheating.

      But in the end, I don’t think your average Kindle book buyer really cares. When I asked my wife how she selects a book, she told me she just checks the bestseller lists on Kindle. I would imagine this is pretty standard.

      So how do you get your book up on these lists for my wife to find it? Does it matter how? Just get it there.

      1. Andrew Claymore

        It’s kind of like how a Spartan youth in the Agoge would be punished for gettting caught stealing. Not for stealing, mind you, but for being inept enough to get caught at it. Nicking stuff is still a fun pastime in the military. More as a challenge than anything. We once took a three hundred pound tent heater from some senior officers. All we needed were yellow gloves and a clipboard and we had a warm deployment for a change! We told them we were EGS techs – whatever that is…
        Someone from my unit once took a coleman stove, with a pot of coffee still bubbling on top.

        I think publishers see amazon reivews as an extension of their old game where books, put out by multimedia conglomerates, are reviewed by newspapers, owned by – wait for it – multimedia conglomerates. If they gamed their own system, why not game Amazon?

        Some Indies see this as a game they can match the big boys at and jump right in. I suppose the trick is to make your name before you get caught? I think I’ll keep on waiting for readers to write the reviews.

  9. Dara @Wiseink

    Wow — I’m surprised anyone would ever call it cheating to invest in your book’s promotion and publicity. Every product is marketed in some fashion. We spend thousands of hours, maybe more, watching commercials. Does Pepsi cheat? Does Target cheat? It costs to build an audience. If it doesn’t cost money, it costs time. I think the fact that indie authors have so much available to us that was traditionally withheld from us or just unavailable, frightens people in the publishing industry. Indie authors are as savvy as publishers and we’re sharing similar resources. I think that’s uncomfortable for some.

    1. Derek Haines

      Couldn’t agree with you more Dara. well put.

  10. Britney Gulbrandsen

    Great post! I whole-heartedly agree. And this coming from someone who hasn’t self-published a book. It’s a business. It’s okay to PAY for promotion. That’s what businesses do and it’s the one of the only ways you’ll make money. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Derek Haines

      Thanks for your comment Britney. I always thought business ‘101’ was that you have to spend money to make money. lol

  11. Jen Smith (@JenSmithSick)

    Paying for publicity is one thing, buying fake reviews is another. I read John Locke’s ‘How to sell 1 million ebooks’ and no where in the book does it mention buying fake reviews. I’m sure it’s because he didn’t want people to know because it’s just wrong.

    1. Derek Haines

      I know John Locke didn’t mention paid reviews in his book Jen, but he must have had a reason for releasing the revelation. Maybe for more publicity?

  12. Felicity

    Well written and thought provoking!

  13. Bob Mayer

    Agree totally. Bought placement has been a tradition in publishing forever and readers have no clue about it.

    1. Derek Haines

      I have to agree Bob. At the end of the day, do readers really care or know about paid promotion and advertising or paid or unsolicited reviews? It’s been such a common practice for decades, so really, what’s changed and who cares?

  14. John Sundman

    “Professional” reviews are *on average* better than user reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. But the best, most thoughtful reviews are more likely to be amateur than professional. There are lots and lots of amateur book lovers who write excellent reviews, and only so many professional book reviewers. So while there are lots of crappy, amateurish reviews written by amateurs (and even by reviewers-for-hire), there are lots of good ones too. And the best of them are very good indeed. You just have to look for them.

    I think that the publishing industry is circling the wagons, as it were. Denigrating user reviews is just another way of discrediting self-published books.

    1. Derek Haines

      You’re probably right John. Professional reviews do stand out, so whether that’s good or bad is debatable. But I suppose the other new issue is how to combat negative one star ‘troll’ reviews that can be extremely bitter. If an author is attacked, should they pay for positive reviews to counteract the attack?

  15. Julie Chicklitasaurus

    I agree with you! “Established feathers” are just being ruffled. I also think some people have a hard time with change. New technology, Twitter, etc. can seem threatening to people who don’t fully understand it. They should embrace the change, become educated in it and then roll with the new waves!

    1. Derek Haines

      It’s all about change Julie. Some love it and adapt, while for others it’s something to fear.

  16. Chris Martin

    Great post, Derek. As an indie author, I believe we can spend money to promote ourselves any way we choose. Like you said, with so many indies starting to make a name for themselves, traditional publishers are feeling somewhat threatened.


    1. Derek Haines

      You’re right Chris. As Indie authors, we make our own decisions about our own businesses. That’s what being Indie is all about. Being independent and not following the established rules.

  17. Russell Blake

    For five dollars I will tweet this blog with a thumbs up to my 8000 twitter followers and write a 200 word glowing recommendation of whatever the hell it is you said.

    Russell Blake
    Suspense Author

  18. Joel Stone

    I think it is the current state of the market that makes people invest in publicizing their books and other products that way. If buying twitter followers will yield large sales for my book then I will definitely want to do that..http://www.kardashiantape.org/

  19. Alexandrea Merrell

    Great article.

    Whether self published, indie published, or published by one of the Big Six, authors must engage in self promotion in order to be successful.

    With tens of thousands of new books being released each year from all sources, authors must be proactive in order to stand out.

    Part of the problem however is that many self published authors don’t understand the marketplace well enough to use their promotional dollar wisely. Instead of paying for a professional editor or hiring a graphic artist to give them a professional looking cover, they buy 8,000 twitter followers or a hand full of reviews on Amazon.

    I hold classes in NYC teaching self published authors the techniques that will bring them more sustainable success, including promotion and advertising. Over and over I meet people who honestly believed that all they needed was to write the story and the world would be banging down their door. The authors who become the most successful are definitely those who see themselves as professional authors with a book as a part of their larger business.

    I agree that the mainstream publishing houses are threatened by self publishing success (and rightly so) but also I think that a lot of the vitriol comes from the fact that the marketplace is changing. Fewer people buy hardcover books. Fewer people buy paperback books. And with the steep discount rates to the Walmarts, Books-A-Millions, etc the lose of significant market share to ereaders has significant impact in their bottom line. In the past, few people could afford to actually publish a hardcover or even paperback book, so publishers held a monopoly on literature, now that the monopoly is gone, they have to try and differentiate their business model from the self published model.

    Frankly, when the majority of self published authors use professional editing and design services, those business models are virtually identical.

    Alexandrea Merrell

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