What Is Junk Book Marketing?
As I define it, it’s one-size-fits-all marketing that’s inexpensive to provide, can be (and usually is) sold at a huge markup, and is often of dubious value for book promotion.
Press releases are a good example. They’re the sort of thing that “everybody knows” should be part of a PR campaign. Like any worthwhile marketing or promotion, however, they need to be tailored to be effective: recipients must be carefully targeted and followed up on.
If blasted out to a list of unvetted addresses (such as that list of thousands of librarians that some email spammer may have pitched to you at some point) or posted to online press release distributors (where they will drown in an ocean of thousands of others), they are all but useless: in other words, junk. And sellers of press release services often charge astronomical prices: for instance, AuthorHouse’s “web-optimized” press release will set you back $1,299. That’s a pretty nice profit for cutting and pasting an author’s bio and back matter into a press release template and clicking “publish” on PR Web.
I’ve written about several junk marketing offerings: vanity radio, pay-to-play magazines, book-to-screen “services”, and in one case, a bookstore charging shelf fees. Others include “cinematic” book videos or trailers (these can be an entertaining novelty, but not when they consist of stock images and robo-voiceovers on little-viewed YouTube channels), paid reviews (often sold for two or three times the cost of buying them yourself), social media campaigns (canned tweets and Instagram posts on accounts with no user engagement), print advertising in venues like The New York Times and PW (thousands of dollars for a small section of a group ad), and more.
A major pioneer of junk marketing was Author Solutions (the parent of “supported self-publishing” imprints iUniverse, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, Trafford, etc.), which began offering cheap-to-provide marketing services in the early 2000s as an adjunct to its paid publishing packages. By the time Author Solutions was sold to Pearson in 2012, marketing services represented one-third of its revenue. And no wonder: while the average buy-in for an Author Solutions publishing package was only around $1,400, the expected “lifetime value of an author relationship” (i.e., how much the author could be persuaded to spend on add-ons) was $5,000. Pretty lucrative, in other words.
Today, hundreds of companies offer Author Solutions-style marketing services, hawking them via aggressive cold-call phone and email solicitations that at best over-hype, and at worst actively falsify, any potential benefit. Many of these companies, such as the ones on this list, are scams, as likely to take the money and run as to deliver the paid-for item. But even those that aren’t should be approached with caution, because of the risk of spending money on services of dubious worth and quality.
Selling Book Fairs
Book fair “representation” is one of the more common junk marketing offerings.
The promise: to display the author’s book at a major industry event such as the London Book Fair, where it will supposedly receive unparalleled exposure to the publishing and literary professionals who flock to these events. The cost: anywhere from hundreds (to display the author’s book on a shelf in a booth) to thousands (for “featured” placement, posters or flyers or banners, a listing in an exhibitor catalog, book signings, and more).
Why is this junk? Because, beyond the high expense and misleading hype, the cost-to-benefit ratio is not in your favor. Publishing industry fairs like the Frankfurt Book Fair or the conferences put on by the American Library Association are primarily for industry professionals to network and talk to one another; they focus on rights sales and pre-publication marketing, and are not author-centered or even really author-friendly events. Even at the more public-facing fairs, such as the Tucson Book Festival, individual authors will struggle to be noticed.
If you’ve paid for a signing slot, you may make some sales–but with all of the expenses involved (the cost of the slot, travel, food, and depending on who you’ve signed up with, possibly the books themselves) it’s quite likely you will lose money. If you’ve just bought exhibit or display, your book won’t receive any kind of individual support or hand-selling: it will merely sit on a shelf with dozens of others, in a booth alongside scores of others. Especially at the larger, busier fairs, it’s the equivalent of putting your book down on a seat in a busy airport and hoping someone will pick it up.
Before the pandemic, book fair representation pitches were a favorite of marketing scammers: easy to sell, and, because of the large number of authors who could be recruited for any single event, extremely profitable. Covid put a dent in that, once it started shutting down in-person events.–but now that book fairs are revving up again, marketing scammers are dusting off their book fair solicitation playbooks.
Here’s one from EC Publishing that has been doing the rounds:
The cost, which strategically is not mentioned in the email (or on EC Publishing’s website) is $499. This purchases two books on a shelf in the EC Publishing booth (not for sale, just display), plus a quarter-page ad in EC’s festival magazine (you can assess the quality of this publication here) that includes a QR code for Amazon. Since no one can buy a book at the event, the phone pitch that follows the email is all about exposure: literary agents! TV and movie producers! Traditional publishers looking for indie books to re-publish!
The author who sent me the solicitation below was offered just the ad–but at the same price as the display booth package:
Note the classic flimflam: the product is FREE! You just have to pay shipping and handling.
So that’s the hype. Here’s the reality:
Even with a less low-rent presentation, a passive display like this is unlikely to do anything to boost your sales or advance your writing career.
Other book fair offers I’ve seen recently come from Best Books Media, The Regency Publishers, Meraki Media, and Mainspring Books. All are on this scam list, as is EC Publishing. I expect the volume of solicitations will increase over the coming months…so be aware.