I’ve been learning a lot about how the book publishing world works lately. That’s because I’m sending out proposals to literary agents for my latest book, The Way of the Warrior in Business, a marketing warfare kind of book. It’s a revision of my self-published book from the 1980s, Battling for Profits, which I sell at the back of the room at my seminars.
The main thing I’ve learned—or, rather, re-learned, is that good publishers won’t touch you unless you already have a good track record and have a good plan to promote your book. Most publishers only offer you printing and distribution—they get your book into Barnes and Noble, the only large book chain left in the US. You’ve got to do your own promotion. And that doesn’t mean just doing book-signings. On the average, authors sell only three of their books at these events. Only 10 traditional publishers have in-house speakers bureaus for their authors—Crown, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Heinemann Division of Houghton Mifflin, Knopf, Doubleday, Macmillan, Penguin, Perseus Book Group, Random House, and Simon and Schuster. They’re biggies, and most of them won’t accept a book proposal directly from an author—only through a literary agent. Most good agents get several hundred queries a week from authors. Who will they pick? Only outstanding book proposals will stand out.
I’ve found out that there are many unscrupulous agents who take advantage of an unpublished author’s wide-eyed idealism. A good website, Pred-Ed.com, warns authors about scam artists masquerading as literary agents. There are many, many of them. Pred-Ed.com also warns authors about vanity presses. They get authors to pay them big bucks upfront for printing and shipping a few hundred books to their homes. Most of them sit in the author’s garage for years because they don’t know how to promote and sell their books, except at book signings. Most authors don’t have a few hundred friends who will buy their books. In my opinion, these authors are losers—they’re only buying bragging rights. “Hey, look at me, I’m an author!”
The main new thing I’ve learned is that traditional printed books seem to have started going the same downward way as CDs and DVDs. This trend began around 2008. Small stores are failing. Major chains aren’t paying. Borders died. They were the second-largest book chain in the US. Distributors and wholesalers began adding fees because they’re trying to make ends meet. Amazon seems to be the only one that’s making money these days. Foot traffic at Barnes and Noble and other outlets is on the decline, and too many casual browsers don’t buy anything. And so authors who still want to sign contracts with traditional publishers need to do a great deal of the promotion themselves. If they don’t use a traditional publisher and use Amazon’s Print-on-Demand service instead, they’ll still have to do even more things to promote their books. And most authors simply don’t know how to do it. When I was a university marketing professor, I taught my students the difference between production-orientation and marketing-orientation. Most authors are production-oriented—they concentrate on writing their books. They need to be marketing-oriented as well—they need to know how to promote their books, because their publishers won’t do it for them.
Today, authors need to think outside the box. E-books seem to be the way to go these days. In 2006, before Amazon supercharged e-publishing with its Kindle, 51,237 self-published titles appeared as physical books, according to Bowker, a book marketing research company. In 2011, Bowker estimated that more than 300,000 self-published titles came out in either print or digital format. And it estimates that as many as 600,000 self-published titles could appear in 2015.
Today, 20 percent of Amazon’s top-selling e-books are self-published. Casual browsers on Amazon look at reviews for a book, and many positive reviews leads them to buy the book. Last year, a guy named John Locke was the first person to sell more than a million e-books through Amazon. He was the first self-published author to do that. He writes suspense novels featuring a former C.I.A. agent. How did he do it? He priced his novels at 99 cents. He did a lot of blogging. But the main thing he did was to get people to review his book. Here’s where a big, big ethical problem comes into play:
How do you get people to review your book on Amazon, whether it’s self-published, published by a vanity press, or published by a good traditional publisher? Most people don’t have really good friends who will spend several hours reading a book and then writing reviews out of the goodness of their hearts. Traditional publishers and literary agents will be impressed if you tell them in your book proposal that you’ll get at least 50 people to write reviews for you on Amazon. Amazon is main place to sell self-published books. Locke got over 300 reviews. How did he do it?
A recent article in the New York Times by David Steitfeld, “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy,” interviewed Locke. He said, “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful. But it’s a lot easier to buy reviews than cultivating an audience.” How do authors buy reviews for their books? A company named GettingBookReviews.com paid people to write book reviews. It began operations in 2010 and went out of business early this year.
What percentage of reviews on Amazon are bought? Dr. Bing Liu, a professor at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois estimates that one-third are fake—written by book publishers, retailers, authors using an alias, and by people who get paid by companies like GettingBookReviews.com. 60% of the millions of reviews on Amazon have five stars (the highest rating) and 20% more have four stars (second highest rating).
How long does it take for reviewers who works for companies like GettingBookReviews.com to write a review of between 50 and 300 words? One of this company’s reviewers, based in Las Vegas, said that for a 50-word review, she could get enough information on the internet and not even read the book. For a 300-word review, she said she spent about 15 minutes skimming the book and looked at a press release. In a few months, she earned $12,500. She did about 70 reviews a week. (Reviewers get paid very little.)
Here’s the bottom line—authors are extremely motivated to get good reviews. And they seem to be willing to pay big bucks. For example, Roland Hughes spent about $20,000 on review services for his self-published books Infinite Exposure and The Minimum You Need to Know to be an OpenVMS Application Developer. He said his goal is to “make that difficult leap from being an author to being a recognized author.” And there seem to be many ways to manipulate the reviews.
So watch out for reviews that are somewhere between enthusiastic and ecstatic. They’re probably not genuine.
Note: Some of the material in this article was taken from the New York Times article dated August 25, 2012.
Dr. Donald Wayne Hendon lives in Mesquite. He is a retired university professor of marketing, active consultant, speaker, trainer, and author of 8 books, including 365 Powerful Ways to Influence and the forthcoming Guerrilla Deal-Making. Deal-Making, co-authored by Jay Conrad Levinson, is now available for pre-purchase on Amazon.com. It contains the 100 most powerful tactics from 365 Powerful Ways—along with 400 countermeasures. There are 121 aggressive tactics, 92 defensive ones, 24 cooperative ones, and 16 submissive ones to get what you want from other people. Plus 81 dirty tricks to watch out for and 31 tactics to prepare you for your interaction with them. Download Chapter 1, free of charge, at www.DonaldHendon.com. Play his free online Negotiation Poker game by going to www.DonaldHendon.com/NegotiationPoker. Apps will soon be available. Don’s column appears the first Saturday of each month at www.MesquiteLocalNews.com.