Recently I've gotten a number of questions about BookStoreMarketing.net, 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 BookStoreMarketing.net, 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:" GetBookReviews.com, which sells book reviews for $150; SpeakerMarketingKit.net, which sells media contacts for $150; BookBuzz.net, which offers book promotion services for $99 to $299, depending on how much spam you want them to pump out for you; AuthorMarketingKit.com, which sells a "media database" for $99; and AuthorReviews.net, 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 BookAnnouncements.com, BookStorePromotion.com, Book-blitz.net, LibraryPromotion.com, OnlineBookTours.net, and SellMoreBooks.net (though the sites are dead, discussion of them survives, here and here).
Bottom line: unlike real PR companies, BookStoreMarketing.net 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.