There is a natural law in writing and publishing (as elsewhere): where need and desire are greatest, moneymaking enterprises follow.
Vanity publishers are an easy (and long-standing) example of this law, presenting themselves as a way around the bottleneck of traditional publishing–as long as the writer is willing to “invest” in his/her work. Ditto for literary agent “middleman” services, in which an individual or company offers to “represent” writers to agents, supposedly to increase their chances of snagging a super-busy agent’s attention.
More recently, there’s the huge variety of services that have sprung up around self-publishing–some worthwhile, some distinctly not. In some cases, these are new services, addressing (or purporting to address) needs created by new technology. In others, they’re an attempt to monetize what was formerly free.
I’ve one of each to talk about today.
First up: Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding platforms) promotion services. I’ve encountered two of these in the past couple of weeks–both soliciting authors with spam-style approaches–and I’m sure there are more.
KickstartMyAds.com “specializes in launching targeted Facebook promotions to drive the most lucrative crowd to your live crowdfunding campaign.” Packages range from $199 to $450. Crowdfundbuzz.com offers to create press releases, social media campaigns, and more, all “designed to help any crowdfunding project get more visibility to radically increase the chances of reaching a crowdfunding goal.” Costs are between $149 and $349.
Now, I’m not saying that these services are disreputable or dishonest. Both offer success stories, and apart from the solicitations, I’m not aware of any complaints. But it’s interesting to see the ripple effect of successful technology. Crowdfunding has become so popular, and the crowdfunding sphere so competitive, that it has spawned opportunities for monetization via ancillary services promising to help authors stand out from the crowd. Worth the money? Open question. But if you decide yes”, it’s yet another expense to add to your crowdfunding budget.
Second up: paid beta readers. Yes, you read that right. A writerly function that by its very definition is non-professional, and thus not fee-based, is being extensively monetized. I’m not addressing competence or honesty in this post, so I don’t want to call out any particular individual(s), but if you Google “beta reading service” you’ll see what I mean (and here’s a link to one that seems more spammish than the rest). Sample costs: $1.05 per page, $0.003 per word (with a $10 minimum), $55 for a book of more than 250 pages, $199 for an entire manuscript.
In actual fact, what these services are selling is not really beta reading, but a paid critique. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the provider is competent (a whole other question). But associating a term that already has an established meaning with a moneymaking service is going to confuse a lot of people. Evidence of this: the two writers who’ve contacted me in the past month asking me to suggest a good and not too expensive “beta reading service”.
If you want to buy a critique, buy a critique (but check the critiquer’s credentials first). If you want a beta reader, find someone who won’t ask you to haul out your credit card.
Writers, there is a second natural law in writing and publishing: through changing paradigms, through shifting technology, through opportunity and roadblocks, there will always be someone waiting to put a hand into your pocket.