Vanity press is a derogatory term for publishing houses that print books at the author’s expense. There are several reasons why this practice has traditionally been considered bad form, one of which is because money is supposed to flow to the writer.
Self-publishing has slowly broken down this concept due to the cheap and inexpensive ways authors can utilize technology to reach their readers. However, there are many who still regard any form of self-publishing as “vanity.” To complicate matters, another service has cropped up, one that is far less concrete: marketing.
Marketing focuses primarily on building awareness of a product; in many cases, it does not necessarily hone in on a term retailers are heavily focused on: conversion. The reason for this,is because marketers often don’t have access to the tools they need to affect how a visitor on a website converts to a buyer.In some cases, I’m seeing ridiculous rates in upwards of several thousand dollars for simply getting the word out about a book. I’ve also investigated some print-on-demand publishers who charge for on-site marketing services. Based on the description and price of the package, I would be very skeptical about buying them. Looking at pure numbers, say an author spends $2,000. Priced at $1.99 the author would have to sell 1,000 copies before they could turn a profit. The higher the cost, the less copies an author has to sell. The question then becomes: What price would a reader be willing to pay to make up all my costs?
Not everyone who sells these services is qualified to provide them; online marketing is an extremely complex field with a steep learning curve. Marketers are a vital part of any business, but it’s not as straightforward or easy as it looks. Book covers, for example, typically fall on the marketing department’s shoulders at a larger publishing house. For a small press, the responsibility is often a joint effort because the publisher isn’t large enough to have a full-time marketer or a prepped staff for their catalog. Other areas of expertise include: polls, survey data, web analytics, search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, link building, public relations, press releases, etc.
A good marketer will not only identify whether or not a campaign has the potential to be successful, he (or she) will screen clients. This is where vanity marketing often comes into play. Vanity marketers are not discriminate and will take on any client ensuring some amount of success. The reality of online marketing is deceptive because well-known books aren’t necessarily well-read books. Any marketer knows this because building awareness is only seeing one part of the picture; actions speak louder than links.
An example of this in action is how many marketers view social media as the end all, be all. Twitter is just one of them.
Say the marketer has a Twitter account with 2,500 followers. Unlike Facebook fan pages, Twitter itself doesn’t have metrics that explain of those 2,500 followers, how many actually saw the link, who clicked on it, etc. To get that kind of data, a marketer has to utilize several outside tools in order to understand what’s going on. Twitter may look straightforward, but it’s not. First of all, people aren’t getting on social media to be barraged by salespeople. They’re engaging in conversation with people they either know or want to know. Second, Twitter has a problem with the way accounts are represented; of those 2,500 followers, there could be a healthy mix of spammers and abandoned accounts. Additionally, there is no easy way to tell how many of those followers are from different countries. International territories require posting or Tweeting during different hours.
The bottom line is, marketing takes time and often works hand-in-hand with what a business or individual is already doing. Unknown authors have a much harder time of marketing their books because the attention right now is on experienced authors with a proven track record. That’s not to say an author can’t sell a book; marketing and sales complement each other but they’re not the same thing. I get really frustrated when I see book launches because one blog-based campaign to promote a book over a period of a week is not enough to sell volumes of copies. An online marketing campaign needs to exist for several weeks across multiple sites in order for it reach people appropriately. Why? Simply, authors and online marketers are often more online than the customers they are trying to reach. The web is saturated with content that constantly changes. So, in order to reach a potential reader, the awareness has to happen across multiple days and several sites in order to saturate readers with the knowledge that the book exists. For authors, there’s always something else that can be done to reach new readers or connect with other authors. It’s a never-ending process, which is why I also recommend figuring out what you need before you buy anything.
After analyzing data and providing online marketing services for dozens of businesses, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that posting a product on the internet doesn’t equate to immediate sales unless there is an existing demand for it. The same is absolutely true for books as well and the problem is extraordinarily complex. Besides search engine optimization, there is also the issue of how easy it is for a customer to make a purchase, whether or not they want the product in the first place, and how to build awareness that the product exists.
Before you purchase any marketer’s services, take a long hard look at why you need them in the first place. If you’re not sure, then don’t waste your money. If you are certain, scrutinize what a potential marketer is offering and how they can help you. Ask them questions to see how knowledgeable they are. Find out who their existing clients are. Question their deliverables and pick apart what is included for the price. If they’re afraid to provide data, references or both–then I’d steer clear. There’s plenty of vanity marketers out there and while they may mean well, you’d be better off waiting until you found the right one.