Self Publishing Authors: Suspect and Cheats?


Self Publishing Authors

Is paying for advertising, promotion, or even reviews cheating? I read this press release and wondered what point the writer 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.

Self Publishing AuthorsThen, Sean Platt the author of the press release, admits to having bought thousands of Twitter followers. Talk about hypocrisy in the extreme.

So it’s ok to buy Twitter followers, but it’s not ok to buy promotions, 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 part of 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, it’s ok to spend a bucket load of money on book promotion, advertising, reviews and even buying your own titles by the thousands if you are a major publisher to ‘buy’ an audience and increase a book’s exposure, 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 concept 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, or how I should market my books, or how I should spend my own money.

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.

  1. Avatar of Robert Politz
    Robert Politz says

    Perhaps it’s the “47%” who think that “Promoting” for self published works is “Cheating”, umm…, or maybe such comments come from jealous competition. {;p)

    It has been said that, “A poor product with great marketing will be a success but a great product with poor marketing will be a failure.”

    If one creates or manufactures a product (whether a book, a t-shirt or a widget), prospective buyers have to know about it to consider buying it. Call it advertising, promotion, marketing, “cheating” or whatever you wish but, absent such public coverage, your widget just sits on the shelf.

    I agree with you Eric. Writing books may be an artful craft but selling them is clearly a business.

    1. Avatar of Derek Haines
      Derek Haines says

      I think there is an element of jealousy at work RHPolitz. Self publishing is proving popular and that is ruffling some feathers.

  2. Avatar of Judy Markova
    Judy Markova says

    Well put, Derek!
    How wonderful it would be when we could just write and not have to think about selling.

    1. Avatar of Derek Haines
      Derek Haines says

      Oh Judy, that would be bliss. My ratio for marketing vs writing is about 80% – 20%. Not what I’d really prefer.

  3. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
    Gerry Huntman says

    You’ve got some interesting points, Derek.

    I’d be wary of suggesting there is a collective effort on the part of established publishers to label Self Publishers ‘cheats’, when it appears that the reference you cited is just that – a single reference. Even if there were 10 it wouldn’t make it trend. Also, as far as I understand the high level discussion having taken place for several months in the industry, the real focus is on a few established writers published by established publishers, who undeniably cheated in various ways. That’s where most traditional publishing is focused, on the topic of ethics.

    From my perspective, there are places where some writers and publishers go where they shouldn’t (regardless of self publishing or not). Certain types of paid reviews is one – as it is specifically geared to being misleading. It makes reviews useless, once readers catch on.

    I should be a bit more specific here – most of the rhetoric in publishing circles isn’t about ‘paid reviews’ – after all, I can pay someone to review my work, and I can, and should, ask for an honest appraisal – most of it is about deliberate, flagrant dishonesty, and the most notable cases, somewhat related, are when authors write reviews on their own work with fictitious names. Honesty versus dishonesty.

    I’m not naive – and for this reason I’m somewhat in agreement with your thesis – in this world of book flooding you have to try to get attention – and there is the temptation to dabble in grey areas in the morality spectrum. However, I would venture to suggest that there are certainly some practices that are ‘beyond the Pale’ and it is totally agnostic to who publishes a given work.

  4. Avatar of Derek Haines
    Derek Haines says

    Honesty and dishonesty in advertising has always had a big grey area in the middle Gerry. I suppose now, with the importance of Amazon as a book retailer, the middle has become more muddled as different techniques and different goals are at play.

    It’s no secret that unless you can get a book up into at least the top 10,000, it just won’t sell at all well. Surprisingly though, it doesn’t take all that many sales (and reviews) to achieve this. The bigger publishers have the money and means to achieve this by using a few well documented techniques. Buying copies and reviews. For self published authors there is usually neither means nor money to do this. So they need to be inventive.

    I know when I release a new book, I could wait around forever for the first few ‘organic’ reviews, so I do need to make it happen. Either by asking friends, or ‘gifting’ Kindle copies to my blog readers or even paying for a few ‘honest reviews’.

    Quite honestly, the best method is ‘gifting’ as it not only creates the possibility of a review, but also counts as a sale. While it could be classed as buying a review, I think it’s a fair means to create attention.

    The other issue that has created the need for more proactive methods is the change of policy (algorithm) by Amazon Kindle in May this year. Previously, books obtained via the KDP Select ‘free book promotion’, counted as a sale. The change now only counts each copy as 10% of a sale, so it’s value as a promotional tool has diminished considerably.

    There is no doubt though, that as book distribution and popularity becomes more entwined with electronic data manipulation, there will be many new methods of promotion that will be difficult to define as honest or dishonest.

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