Beware Spam PR Services

Recently I’ve gotten a number of questions about, a service that promises to promote authors’ books to bookstores via a printed catalog, a promotional email, or both. Alternatively, you can buy a bookstore mailing list, and spam–er, contact stores yourself. Costs run from $99 to $350, depending on which option you choose.

Writers: such services are not a good use of your money. Bookstores (or libraries, or newspapers, or book reviewers, or whatever demographic the service claims to access for you) do not pay attention to spam solicitations. The catalog (assuming it’s actually mailed) or email (assuming it gets past the recipient’s spam filter) will probably be trashed. At most it may be glanced at. The odds of anyone paying any attention to your book as a result of mass-mail-style promotions are vanishingly small.

Unfortunately, the past decade’s explosion of self-publishing and small press publishing options has created a similar explosion of opportunistic enterprises designed to exploit  writers’ struggle for discoverability in an increasingly crowded and chaotic market. One of the challenges of vetting PR services these days is figuring out whether they are real services, or just cynical attempts to cash in on a trend.

Take, for example. Its URL is registered to a company called CK Marketing, located in Rome, Georgia. CK Marketing (which has no website of its own) runs a slew of similar “services:”, which sells book reviews for $150;, which sells media contacts for $150;, which offers book promotion services for $99 to $299, depending on how much spam you want them to pump out for you;, which sells a “media database” for $99; and, which sells book reviews for as much as $500.

These live websites are only part of the story. Like spammers who switch servers to avoid detection, CK periodically changes names and URLs. Its past ventures include,,,,, and (though the sites are dead, discussion of them survives, here and here).

Bottom line: unlike real PR companies, and its brothers and sisters exist not to make money by providing useful services, but to grab a quick buck by selling cheap crap to exposure-starved authors. Many writers are attracted to such services because they seem inexpensive (at least, compared to more reputable PR options), and promise a wide reach. But cheaper isn’t always better–in PR, you get what you pay for, and cut rate services are no bargain. Also, effective PR needs to be targeted and personalized, not tossed at the wall, spam-style, in hopes it sticks. “One size fits all” is a size that fits no one.

How to vet a PR service you find online?

– Do a websearch. If you find discussion from authors who report being solicited by the service out of the blue (or if you yourself have been solicited out of the blue), it’s probably a spam service.

– Look for specific information on staff, so you can check bona fides (and skill–a good PR service should be staffed by experienced people). If you can’t find this information on the service’s website, move on.

– If the service identifies a parent company, research it. You may discover that it runs a bunch of similar services under different names, a la CK Marketing. A genuine PR service has no need to disguise itself in this way.

– Is the service largely or entirely focused on press release dissemination, mass mailed or emailed catalogs or newsletters, or email blasts? Think twice before buying. These are among the least effective of all book promotion strategies.

– If it sounds too good, or too cheap, to be true–it probably is.


  1. It's unfortunate I didn't read this post before I paid these scam artists $200 for a bogus read for review package. Not only did I not get one single review out of it, but they didn't even download the mobi file from Dropbox, though they assured me otherwise. How can I file a complaint? Help .

  2. I recently paid BookBuzz 299 dollars for their promo package, plus 100 dollars for NetGallery. All I got was a whole bunch of excuses from someone named Amanda – probably not her real name, on why my book was not being promoted. After a month, she sent out a couple of press reviews and never added me to NetGallery. I am filling a claim with paypal to get my money back.

  3. I've just heard back from Kate Stine and the ad did run (I was mistaken on the date, it was in the November issue). She assured me that for the price, I got a great deal. So, I want to make sure not to diss when they did what they promised.

  4. I consider myself pretty savvy about these things, but it sounds like I made a bad choice this time. Last October I paid $400 to participate in a Mystery Scene advertisement. That's the last I heard of the money. Yesterday I emailed the person the money went to and the email was opened, but so far, no response. I hope the ad did appear in the January issue, as promised. I've just emailed Kate Stine at Mystery Scene and hope to get an answer about that.

  5. I got such a spam solicitation today. No problem, I know it's spam. But it explains why someone in Rome, Georgia visited my brand-new, very obscure author web site (I read server logs). Of course, they sent the spam to the Email shown there, rather than any real ones I use.

    Folks, I understand marketing a bit. My book (no self-promotion here) is targeted to a certain readership. I have directly contacted potential outlets with individual Emails or letters, written specifically for them. The response rate (this is not agreement rate, merely response rate) is only about 50 percent. Evidently the other half discard even targeted, individually written inquiries, not bothering to respond with "no." I can't image what the low rate would be for generic spam.

  6. People will do anything and everything to scam and spam other people. There are legitimate ways of promoting your book or books to these sources and I'm really glad that you pointed them out! Great post!

  7. As a book reviewer for a newspaper for 3 years before starting my own review website ( – based in New Zealand) in conjunction with a friend who did computer and electronics reviews, it was common to hear the editors complaining about the time wasted on dealing with the 'junk approaches' from such firms. SPAM filters were in their infancy back then, and it ALL got through…

    These days, we receive less than one spam mail approach from a so-called PR firm a month… the other few hundred never reach us through the veritable Fort Knox security we have on our spam filters… yet we receive 10-15 genuine approaches via reputable PR agencies, authors themselves, or referrals from newspaper editors who want to help a budding author get some extra exposure.

    Our services are entirely free, and we are staffed by volunteers, so there's no dodgy invoices – so reading this post made me really happy, since it is good to see we fit the profile of 'a genuine option' without claiming to be a PR firm. We don't promote, we don't sell, we just write reviews for you to make use of.

    I think this comment is the closest we have gotten to spamming yet! -lol-


  8. BTW, if you want to send out totally untargeted press releases–or at least post them on websites where editors theoretically browse for them (which they probably don't)–there are several services on the net that will do this for free. Type the phrase "free press release" or something like it, in any search engine and check out the websites. The only results I ever got from this were increases in spam sent to my publicity email (which is on the press releases). On the other hand, these services also offer paid options that are theoretically more effective but probably aren't. Anyway, assembling your own list of editors and reviewers is far more effective, but at least the free press-releases services are free (but look at the fine print to make sure they really are free).

  9. As a self-publisher, I feel that authors and self-publishers know their own books and audiences better than anyone else does. Or if they don’t, they should. Also, I believe that anyone who can write an entire book can manage to write good press releases, back cover copy, and other marketing information for their book(s). Instructions on this and many other aspects of book marketing are in various paperbacks (some better than others) that provide lots of information for under $20 per book. I recommend David Cole’s Complete Guide to Book Marketing and John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Book.

    BTW, in my experience and that of many other micropresses, print ads are a complete waste of money. Press releases, on the other hand, are cheap to send out, and publications and bloggers will often print excerpts or even the whole press release. Most editors and bloggers prefer to receive them by email these days—they don’t have to type them in the way they would a press release mailed postally.

    I broke my do-my-own-marketing rule exactly once. A close relative had just died and I was too upset to work, but I had a forthcoming book that urgently needed to be marketed. I hired a publicist who specialized in writing press releases and other marketing copy for self-publishers and micropresses. I sent him the entire set of page proofs, plus the back cover copy which I had written earlier, a color proof of the cover, and a description of the audiences and what appealed to them.

    The press release I received was completely unusable. It displayed no knowledge of the contents of the book, or of the audiences. When I complained to the publicist, he responded that of course he didn’t have time to read any of the books he marketed, and what did I expect for his low, low price of $200? His attitude was that I was completely unreasonable. But the press release didn’t read as if he’d even skimmed just the table of contents, the back cover copy, and the description of the audiences. It was clumsily written, I suspect in about ten minutes.

    I threw his press release out—not a single sentence was usable–and started over from scratch. At least I was familiar with my own book!

  10. This is obviously a topic I feel strongly about because I'm in the business of publicity myself. When one PR agency behaves unethically it often reflects badly on all us in the industry — the "one bad apple" syndrome. This is particularly true with book publicity. As more authors self-publish, and traditional publishers increasingly expect/require their authors to hire their own PR, authors become easy targets.

    Here are my tips based on how I run my business:

    Check a company out (website, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) before contacting them, and don't be afraid to ask for references. A PR vet will often have several on their website to begin with — real verifiable people with real verifiable titles…not Jane D. from Albuquerque.

    If a book publicist offers to send you a proposal — or skips straight to contract — without ever actually looking at your book, RUN, in the opposite direction that is; because you're either getting a publicist who does "cookie cutter" proposals, or one that will tell you what you want to hear.

    Talk to more than one publicist. I insist a potential client talk to a total of 3 to 5 PR people before making a decision. This way they can get a feeling for different budgets, strategies, and personalities…because ultimately you should work with someone who "gets" you and your book; rapport is important.

    Get a contract! While a publicist can never promise/guarantee results, the scope of what they plan to do and what you need to pay should be spelled out in writing, along with a reasonable timeline. There should also be a standard 30-day out clause so that both author and publicist have an option to end the contract early.

    And as for companies with ridiculous sounding names like "Buy1Get1FreePR.Net," if it sounds like an infomercial, and looks like an infomercial…it's an infomercial. Ideally a PR firm will be attached to a real name because the publicist markets their company based on his or her reputation, or at the very least choose a firm that took the time to show some thought and originality in selecting a company name. After all, we do get paid to be creative.

  11. I've seen a lot of scammy services lately, both offering to help with my writing and as the recipient of the spam. In both cases, I find it highly annoying, but someone who doesn't recognize publishing scams will stand to lose a lot more than the seconds it takes to delete a tweet or email.

    All right, I'm going to be a bit self-promotional here, but I actually wrote up a similar post last week.

    I had already listed Writer Beware in that post as one of the best resources for verifying the legitimacy of a professional or company. This post proves, yet again, why this site and Victoria's work are invaluable. Thanks, Victoria, for all you do to help writers!

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