Thursday, September 6, 2012

Writers And Wasting Your Money on Fads

All novelists want to get their books in front of reader, but they have the gift of good promotion, marketing and distribution from the publishing houses so they basically use social networks and book blogs to spread the word. As well, they have faithful readers who look for each new book. Those who are self-published or with small publishing houses have a greater need to reach readers since most have not had the opportunity to develop a faithful following. This article written by Dennis Hensley, author and director of professional writing at Taylor University, covers the dangers of following some of the latest fads without understanding their value or what problems are in store. Dr. Hensley permitted me one time use this article for this blog.


By Dennis E. Hensley

I speak at a lot of writers’ conferences, and constantly I am asked by beginning writers if they should spend money on “sure fire” programs that promise to make their books best-sellers. Let me give you my take on some of these promotional options, keeping in mind you will find other people who have very differing opinions.

Book Proposal Listing Services

There are at least seven organizations that charge between $75 and $200 to list your book proposal on their web sites. They each claim that editors and publishers are constantly scanning these proposals, seeking new talent and undiscovered masterpieces. For six months while on the speaking circuit, I asked every editor and literary agent I worked with if they ever turned to these lists. The uniform answer was, “Are you kidding? I’m already so backlogged with unread manuscripts, why would I go looking for more work? No, I never look at those web sites.”

In theory, these web sites seem to be legitimate. They claim they will not list books that are not of “professional quality.” (Some of these organizations will offer to help bring the manuscript up to professional quality for an editing fee that is quite steep.) However, I have scanned some of the offerings. Indeed, some have well written proposals and sample chapters, but many others are downright pathetic and have no chance of ever getting published. This leads me to believe that if you’ll pay the access fee, you’ll be welcomed aboard. My judgment therefore is, avoid these marketing services.

Book Trailers

For decades movie theaters have run “movie trailers” (previews of upcoming films) to create interest in new films. In 2007 some web page designers started doing the same thing for new books. Today, there are thousands of book trailers that can be seen on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and personal blogs.

Originally, the idea was that book salespersons would carry a laptop into a bookstore, run a two minute book trailer for the store owner, and generate enough interest to secure a big order.

However, the cost of the book trailer was billed directly to the author, usually at $1,000 or more. That meant the author had to sell at least 2,000 copies of a $5.95 paperback book just to pay for the book trailer. Sometimes it worked, as when Chad Kultgen’s first novel The Average American Male sold 26,875 copies in hardbound after a million and a half people viewed his book trailer on YouTube. More often than not, book trailers have not been successful in selling books.

The problems with book trailers are numerous: there are far too many of them; many are done in very amateurish ways; and the professional ones cost big bucks. Where they have become effective is when writers also have another platform. For example, if an author is on the speaking circuit and always has a book table set up to sell his or her books, having a TV monitor that keeps repeating the book trailer will stimulate impulse purchases. Similarly, if an author can disburse one book trailer through many outlets, it will multiply the site visits. For example, the author could have the trailer available through her web site, through all the web sites of the writers’ conferences where she will be speaking in coming months, through her publisher, and also through the university where she teaches. My judgment therefore is, use book trailers only if they are high quality and only if you can be assured they will get high visibility.

Self-published Books

Most writers love their manuscripts, even after they’ve been rejected by 25 publishers. That is why some will resort to paying to have their books published. In fact, in 2008 there were more self-published books in America than books published by traditional royalty publishers.

There are four things to remember about self-published books (formerly known as “vanity” publishing):

1. Most newspapers and magazines will not review self-published books.

2. Most libraries will not buy or put self-published books on their shelves.

3. Most bookstores will not carry self-published books.

4. Most TV and radio talk shows won’t interview authors of self-published books.

So, with no publicity and no distribution, the sole responsibility of selling books falls to the author. After selling 35 copies to friends and family, what does the author do with the hundreds of other books stacked in the garage? List them on, perhaps? Well, okay, but even if orders do come in, is the author going to package each book personally, address its label, and then drive it down to the post office and stand in line?

There are ways to make self-publishing work.

1. Writers can try to find a sponsor to share the costs. For example, if someone is writing the history of a company, that company should help pay for the printing of the book.

2. The writer needs to establish a distribution platform. If the author has a long list of speaking engagements where he knows he can sell his books to the audiences, then, in time, he will be able to go through a thousand copies.

3. Go with reliable companies that will give the names of people who have been customers of theirs. Potential customers should find out the quality of the product, the length of time until delivery, and the follow-up communication.

(I recommend ACW Press, but only if you have a solid marketing plan in place, such as an activie speaking ministry.)

My judgment therefore is, never pay for your book to be published unless you are absolutely sure you are getting a quality product and you have specific ways of getting the books sold.

When asked where I feel beginning writers can spend their money most wisely, I also have suggestions. Attending a writers’ conference connects new writers with editors, agents, and publishers, while also providing excellent teaching sessions. Subscribing to the leading writing periodicals provides marketing updates and writing lessons. Hiring a professional critique service, wherein a well-established writer proofreads and copyedits a manuscript, can reveal writing weaknesses and sharpen one’s skills. Paying dues to be part of a writers’ club consisting of serious writers will offer fellowship and new paths of learning.

In summary, money invested in oneself as a writer is never wasted. Money invested in so-called “shortcuts to success” has grave limitations.

Dennis E. Hensley directs the professional writing major at Taylor University in Indiana. He has been a “Distinguished Visiting Professor” at Oxford University, Regent University, and Moody Bible Institute.

© Copyright Dennis E. Hensley (Do not use this article in any form without written permission from Dr. Hensley.)

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