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WRITERS’ SERVICES

Writer Beware

Links checked/Page updated: 1/22/13

Over the past decade or so, there’s been an extraordinary rise in the number of people writing and trying to publish books. This huge increase in the number of aspiring authors has fueled an equally robust proliferation of schemes and scams aimed at writers–and has also spawned a variety of services supposedly designed to assist them.

While some of these services are genuinely intended to help, many are no more than efforts to cash in on a trend (particularly the post-publication services, most of which are explicitly aimed at writers who are self- or micropress-published). They aren’t necessarily scams, but most will not help you very much. Since they can be quite expensive, it makes sense to do some careful checking before pulling out your credit card.

Pre-Publication Services

 

Copyright Registration and Timestamp Services

Many new writers think it’s necessary to register copyright for their unpublished work. It’s not. See Writer Beware’s Copyright page for an explanation of why.

Given that registering your copyright isn’t necessary (in fact, in most countries it’s not even possible–the USA is very much in the minority in having an official copyright registration process), the copyright registration services that advertise themselves online and mercilessly spam new writers aren’t necessary either. Not to mention, they charge an inflated fee for something that costs a lot less if you do it yourself (though again, if your work isn’t published, you don’t need to).

Ditto for the timestamp services, which try to persuade you that it’s important to get some sort of official electronic seal on your finished manuscript in order to prove the date of completion. Supposedly this is to aid you if you ever need to go to court for copyright infringement–but you can easily, and just as effectively, support a completion date yourself by keeping drafts, computer files, notes, and so on. And since the timestamps could be corrupted or faked, there’s a distinct possibility that they wouldn’t stand up in court.

More important, the timestamp services are not official. In the few countries that offer a copyright registration process, the only thing that has legal standing is registration with the official copyright registration source, such as the US Copyright Office.

Copyright registration services and timestamp services are not worth paying for. For a more detailed discussion, see this post from Writer Beware’s blog.

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Manuscript Display Websites/Electronic Slush Piles

Manuscript display websites promise to showcase your writing to agents and editors by displaying a portion of your manuscript online–sometimes with a synopsis, logline, bio, or other material. Some are free; many charge fees. Most are independent, but a few, such as HarperCollins’ Authonomy, have some sort of publishing industry backing. Extra services, such as editing, may be offered at additional cost, or members may be encouraged to exchange critiques and comments. There may be a social media or ranking component, on the theory that agents and publishers will pay more attention to offerings that have a greater number of page visits or positive reader reviews. A few sites offer limited readings and/or critiques by publishing industry professionals, or have arrangements with agencies and/or publishers to look at top-ranked works.

Display sites first began appearing in the late 1990’s, and were enthusiastically greeted as writers’ Great New Hope: a brand-new cyberspace opportunity to bypass publishers’ closed-door policies and agents’ huge slush piles. Agents and editors, the sites declared, would be eager to visit venues where manuscripts were pre-sorted into easily-searchable categories and genres, where submissions were pre-screened for quality, and best of all, where they wouldn’t have to put another piece of paper on their crowded desks.

However, established agents and editors, their offices already bulging with paper submissions, really weren’t all that interested in looking at manuscripts online–especially since the display sites’ search functionality often wasn’t very effective, and pre-screening tended to be minimal (particularly when the people running the display sites didn’t have publishing industry experience). As a result, display sites never became the alternative route to publication they were supposed to be. Success stories were few and far between; more often than not, the sites simply became electronic slush repositories. Worse, while reputable agents and editors stayed away from display sites, marginal and questionable agents and editors regularly cruised them–not exactly the kind of contact the hopeful writer as looking to make.

By 2001, most of the dozens of display sites that sprang up in the initial burst of enthusiasm were out of business. Those that survived, by and large, were the biggest and most successful in promoting both themselves and their writers–Authorlink, for instance, which now offers many other services, including publishing.

Trends are cyclical, however, and over the past few years there’s been a resurgence of the display site concept. Some of the new display sites are very similar to the old ones, with static, pre-screened, searchable listings. Others tweak the paradigm by focusing on a ranking system (sometimes based on reader ratings, sometimes on popularity, sometimes on complex proprietary algorithms that combine the two), by adding a social media/peer critique component, or by offering professional critiques. The latter can be helpful for writers wanting to improve their work. But as portals to the publishing world, the new sites don’t seem to be any more effective than the old. Even Authonomy, which has the backing of a major UK publisher, led to just three book deals in its first year of operation, out of the more than 4,000 manuscripts uploaded to the site.

If you’re thinking of using a display site, ask some careful questions.

  • How long has the site been in business? Choose stable sites–sites that are backed by a reputable group or organization, and/or that have been active for at least a year.
  • How large is it? The bigger, the better. Sites with only a few dozen offerings aren’t worth an agent’s or publisher’s time–or yours.
  • Who’s behind the site? If the site is backed by a reputable publisher, or the owner has publishing industry experience, it’s more likely the site will be professionally run and promoted.
  • Does the site actively promote itself to the publishing community, so that agents and publishers are aware of it? This often isn’t easy to discern. Most sites don’t provide a lot of information on their promotional efforts. But try to find out if you can. Doing a websearch on the site can sometimes give you an idea.
  • Does the site screen the agents and editors who use it to make sure they’re reputable? Again, this can be difficult to discover, but it’s something you should do your best to investigate. Some sites provide a list of the agencies and/or publishers who are members. If a feature of the site is professional critiques or readings, or an arrangement with agencies and/or publishers to look at top-ranked manuscripts, those names should be present. Even if you believe the site does a good job of screening, treat any contact you receive with caution.
  • Are there success stories? Genuine success stories suggest a display site that is actually used by agents and editors. Don’t take the stories at face value, though. Someone who listed a manuscript at a display site and later got a publishing offer may not have gotten the offer as a result of the listing–but a “success story” on the site may make it seem that way. And always research agency and publisher names, to make sure they’re genuine.
  • Is there a critique component? Whether or not they can help you get agented or published, display sites can be a good way of getting feedback on your work. Some offer peer critiques, with writers commenting on one another’s work. Even better are those that also offer professional participation–as at Authonomy, where top-ranked listings get a read from real editors.
  • What’s the cost? Fees range from a few dollars or pounds for annual membership, to several hundred. Others–including some of the most high-profile (Authonomy again)–are free.

Last but not least: use a display site listing as an adjunct to your own submission efforts, not as a substitute for them. Evidence that agents and editors make much use of display sites remains slim–and anyway, you stand the best chance of success if you cast a wide net.

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Pre-Publication Publicity Services

For nonfiction authors especially, “platform” (a following or network that a publisher can use to promote your book) is increasingly important. Capitalizing on this trend, some companies and individuals offer “pre-publication” publicity services aimed at building platforms for platformless writers. They promise to get you radio and print interviews, speaking engagements, TV appearances and the like–the goal being to celebrify you or establish you as an expert in your field.

But unless you’re already a celebrity, have genuine expertise, or have a noteworthy human interest story, these efforts have nothing to build on. Most authors’ only claim to fame is their book–which, until it’s actually under contract, is of little interest to the media. You and your unpublished manuscript are not news–no one is going to want to interview you just because you wrote a book and are trying to get it published.

Other pre-publication publicity services offer to act as a kind of middleman, contacting publishers and agents on your behalf. The fact that you’ve already hired a publicist, they claim, will impress professional publishing people, because it proves you’re really serious about your career. This is similar to the logic employed by vanity publishers, which want you to demonstrate your commitment to your book by “investing” several thousand dollars. The only accepted middlemen in the publishing industry are literary agents. Far from being impressed by the fact that you’ve hired a publicist, most agents and editors will assume you’ve been duped.

Pre-publication publicity services can be expensive. Some cost thousands of dollars a month. For most writers, they provide little or no benefit, and are a complete waste of money.

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Query and Submission Services

A growing number of services offer to do your querying and/or submitting for you, or to automate the submission process online.

Some services do little more than fire off your query to a supposedly proprietary list of agents, publishers, and producers. Even if everyone on the list is reputable (a very big if), and the agents, etc. are suitable for your material (another large if–services like this do minimal if any targeting), such form queries are likely to be regarded as spam or junk mail by those who receive them.

A couple of examples of junk mail query services: Equery Direct, which for the low, low price of $39.95 will send out your query “individually to over 300 Screenplay Agents and managers instantly via email”; and Bookblaster, which “takes the hard work out of querying leaving more time for writing” by blasting your query to 650 agents and publishers for $89-189, depending on the level of service.

From Writer Beware’s blog: a more comprehensive warning about why you should avoid these kinds of services, plus a collection of comments from agents and editors about why they hate them.

Other services promise a more targeted approach. They’ll assess your work and refer you to appropriate agents and/or publishers (such as the Brit Writers’ Awards’ Agent and Publisher Referral Service or Agent Research & Evaluation’s Fingerprint service); or they’ll take over the entire submission process for you, from writing a cover letter (or editing yours), doing market research to identify likely publishers and/or agents, sending out submissions, and even tracking submissions and rejections for you. Some examples of this kind of service: Writer’s Relief and AuthorAssist.

However, even the best of these custom services really only do what you could do yourself, with time and effort (or should be able to do yourself–if you can’t write a decent query letter, or aren’t able to research agents’ and publishers’ guidelines, you probably aren’t ready to be submitting your work). It’s unlikely that they have any greater access to information than you do, or more in-depth contacts with publishers and agents. It’s especially unlikely that using a submission service will give your submission extra cachet–particularly since the good ones submit in your name, not in theirs. So you shouldn’t hire one of these services in the expectation that it will result in more attention from agents and editors, or give you access to inside information.

If you’re short of time, however, and can afford the fees, you may feel it’s worth the cost not to have to hassle with the time-consuming busywork of submission.

You do need to assess submission services carefully, though, because not all are professional…and the costs can be substantial.

  • Look for staff who actually have publishing and/or professional writing experience, and can thus be reasonably expected to know how to research publishers and agents (and to distinguish good ones from bad ones). Staff resumes and company information should be present on the service’s website, or available on request.
  • If you want the service to write your query letter, ask for a sample so you’re assured they do a good job.
  • If editing is part of the service, ask for a sample critique so you can assess quality.
  • Look for a list of the agents and publishers the service has access to, and/or testimonials/success stories that mention specific agents and publishers. Otherwise, you have no way of knowing whether the service submits to reputable sources.
  • Check for success stories–not just client testimonials, but real publishing credits that have resulted from the service’s efforts. The more reputable services post these on their websites. The absence of success stories doesn’t necessarily mean the service is dishonest–but it does say something about how effective it is.
  • Avoid services that claim to act as middlemen (i.e., that submit in their name, not in yours). Literary agents are the only recognized middlemen in the publishing industry
  • Avoid services that claim to “package” your submission with author photos, fancy binders, sample illustrations or cover mockups, and the like. This is often just an excuse to charge a higher fee. Publishers don’t want to see these extras–their inclusion will immediately identify the submission as coming from an unprofessional source.

A special caution for Christian writers: A number of submission services exist especially for Christian writers, and many Christian publishers, in an effort to reduce their slush piles, actively encourage writers to use them. A couple of examples: ChristianManuscriptSubmissions.com (formerly ECPA 1st Edition) and Writers’ Edge.

Generally speaking, these services aren’t expensive: $50-100 buys you a listing for a period of weeks or months. However, the listings may be little more than a capsule description of your book (with less information than you’d provide in a query letter) in a catalog or newsletter full of other listings, or an online database where publishers are supposed to go to search for suitable manuscripts. Despite what the services may state or imply on their websites–and despite the major Christian houses that encourage writers to use the services–the truth is that publishers pay them little attention. They can also be ideal hunting grounds for disreputable publishers. I’ve heard from a number of writers who’ve been approached by vanity publishers as a result of using one of the Christian submission services.

This article by Terri Pilcher confirms the ineffectiveness of Christian submission services. Writers’ Edge places approximately 2% of the manuscripts it lists–and it doesn’t reveal how many of those placements are with the vanity presses that use its website. And out of the hundreds of manuscripts listed with ChristianManuscriptSubmissions.com, commercial publishers bought just 9 in 2007. A representative quote from an editor interviewed for the article: “Sure, there might be a fabulous manuscript in Writer’s Edge, but I can’t take the time to ferret it out. I’m willing to miss it because I already have all the manuscripts I can buy in my office.”

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Post-Publication Services

Book Marketing Services

Many fee-based publishers (including book manufacturers, self-publishing services, and vanity/subsidy publishers) offer various post-publication marketing services–often for an extra fee. A basic marketing package might include:

  • Creation of a single-page press release.
  • Distribution of the press release to a list of supposedly targeted media outlets (bookstores, reviewers, newspapers, radio and TV programs–the number of contacts may depend on how much you pay).
  • Extras: bookmarks and/or flyers based on the cover of your book, a podcast interview you can post on your website, social media setup.
  • Your own page on the publisher’s website.

Here’s a menu of marketing services, from self-publishing service AuthorHouse. There are also many independent book marketing services that offer similar packages.

If marketing services are included in a publishing package you’ve purchased, there’s no harm in them (though be aware that fee-based publishers that include marketing in their publishing packages often use this to justify seriously inflated prices). If the marketing service costs extra, however, think carefully before you pull out your credit card. Ditto for hiring an independent marketing service.

The cornerstone of most of these services is some form of mass mail–whether it’s distribution of an electronic press release or bulk e-mailing a review request to a list of recipients–and basic web presence setup. These are among the cheapest and easiest of all publicity methods (and, in the case of press releases, among the most ineffective; media outlets are bombarded daily with press releases, and generally ignore them). It’s rarely worth paying someone else to do them for you, because they are completely doable on your own with a little research, time, and effort.

It’s not difficult to find instructions on how to write a press release, for instance, or to research a list of appropriate review contacts. A personal email sent to a reviewer or book blogger whom you know has an interest in books like yours is far more likely to yield a result than an impersonal solicitation that has obviously been sent out on a mass basis.

Social media setup can also be easily done on your own–and is better done on your own, since you can customize your online presence much more effectively than some marketing service that knows only as much about you as you’ve written down on a form. As for bookmarks, postcards, and the like, there are many low-cost options, including printing them yourself with a good-quality printer. There are even resources for DIY book trailers and podcasts.

Other marketing options offered by publishers/publishing services and independent marketing companies range from the pointless (posting your book and/or information about you on websites the service itself owns–the odds that such websites will get much traffic is slim) to the exploitive (offering you vanity radio spots, or interviewing you for the company’s own radio and TV shows–these shows are usually on public access channels or pay-to-play stations, and have tiny audiences) to the downright deceptive (claiming to pitch your book to Hollywood producers or to market it to commercial publishers–this may a spam-style mass-mail approach or a listing in a catalog-style publication, but either way it will be ignored). And they can be eye-poppingly expensive. For instance, Outskirts Press (one of the larger self-publishing services) charges over $15,000 for its “Book Your Trip to Hollywood” service. AuthorHouse charges nearly $10,000 to produce a TV infomercial and book video.

A few examples of independent marketing services:

  • Authorpromotion.com charges $25 per month to feature your book on its (poorly-trafficked) website.
  • Bookpromotion.com offers a package of online publicity–a website, an author interview to be placed on the website, a review (good, of course) to be placed on Amazon and other online sellers, a press release posted at one of the online PR services, and book announcements at “two of the most visited book price comparison sites.” Apart from the dubious publicity value of a price comparison site, Bookpromotions neglects to mention that these are not independent sites, but sites it owns. Last but not least, it fails to provide any examples or references, because “We work confidential. This is what most authors prefer, so we will not use your name or website for any promotion or as a reference.” Uh huh.
  • Media Eblast conducts mass email campaigns. Many book writers seem to use it–but they shouldn’t.
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Book Review Services

The book reviews most important for generating sales are pre-publication reviews in venues like Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. These are pretty much out of the question for books from POD services, which don’t produce advance reading copies; and difficult to obtain for books published by small presses, which, even if the press sends out advance reading copies (and many don’t), are in competition with books from the larger houses.

Post-publication reviews can be very helpful, however–especially if they come from a reputable source such as a newspaper or an established print or online magazine. The many personal review websites and blogs can also provide exposure, if they get heavy traffic.

It can be time-consuming to identify and approach these sources, and not all of your approaches will be successful. There’s no reason, however, ever to pay to have your book reviewed.

A growing number of websites and individuals offer just such a service. Some promise “professional quality” reviews for a price. Others have a membership system–you pay the membership fee, you get a review. Sometimes part of the service is distribution of the review or a press release to (supposedly) targeted media.

However, information on the credentials and experience of the reviewers is often not provided, so you have no idea whether the person writing your review actually has any qualifications to do so (so much for “professional quality”). And the “targeted distribution” usually means the same ineffective junk mail methods used by the book marketing services. Just as important: no one trusts a bought review, for the same reason that no one trusts the quality of a vanity-published book.

Some paid review services:

  • At GetBookReviews.com, $25 buys a listing on the website, in hopes an interested reviewer will happen along, and $150 buys a “rapid book review” service, which guarantees a review in just two weeks.
  • IP Book Reviewers, which claims that every reviewer is “an experienced editor, agent, publisher or expert,” charges between $50 and $90, depending on the length of your book.
  • San Francisco Book Review and Sacramento Book Review: These magazines–which also do non-vanity reviews–offer a “sponsored review program” at costs ranging from $99 (standard service) to $299 (expedited service).
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Book Display Services

Some websites offer to display information on your book so readers can see and buy it. They’re not actually vendors; all they do is provide you with exposure. A listing may be just an image of your book cover, a brief description, and a buying link to one of the online bookstores such as Amazon.com. Or it may be more elaborate, with an interview, a bio, and other personal or professional information.

If the listing is free, there’s no harm in signing up. But if you have to pay (as at AuthorWorld.com, which charges $24), don’t bother. Typically, such sites do little to publicize or advertise themselves, and get very limited traffic. It’s highly unlikely you’d make enough sales from your listing to justify the expense.

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Publicists

Commercial publishers support all their books with basic marketing, including catalogs, sales, advertising, distribution, and review attention. But only a few authors–those who’ve already achieved sales success, or new authors targeted for a special publicity push–receive extras such as book tours, special websites, individual ads, interviews and signings, and the like. If you’re not one of them, a skilled publicist can fill the gap, and help you get the word out about your book. For some authors, publicists have made the difference between midlist and frontlist.

However, a successful publicist or publicity firm can be extremely expensive–often, several thousand dollars a month–and there’s no guarantee that there’ll be a return on your investment. It’s also very hard to tell what works and what doesn’t. You may find yourself at the end of the experience with no idea whether the money you just spent made a difference–or if it did, how much difference.

Also, not every book is suitable for a publicity campaign. For books with small audiences, it may not be worth the expense, since even with the best publicist, there’s only so much demand you’ll ever be able to generate. Ditto for books that don’t have wide availability–for instance, are published in a single format (print only or ebook only), or via a method or a publisher that can’t effectively respond to a high volume of orders. There’s little point in creating demand if the demand can’t be fulfilled.

If you do decide to hire a publicist, choose one with a verifiable track record of successful campaigns. Don’t take the publicist at his word: contact some of his clients to see if they’re happy, and to find out what the publicist did for them. Look for a publicist who has experience promoting books like yours–she is more likely to know what kinds of magazines, review and interview venues, etc. to approach. Request samples of the publicist’s materials, so you can assess quality. Ask around. If you know other writers, or are a member of a professional writers’ group, you may be able to get recommendations or helpful advice.

Just as important: be clear on your goals. Ask yourself not just what kind of exposure you’d like, but what kind of exposure is feasible. We all want to be on Oprah–but realistically, most books and authors don’t dovetail with Oprah’s interests (nor does every publicist have the skills and contacts to pull those kinds of strings). Research books like yours to see what kind of publicity they’re getting. If you’re a self- or small-press-published author, you may want your publicist not just to obtain interviews and media coverage for you, but to help you get your books into physical bookstores. Some publicists who specialize in self- and small-press-published authors are set up to act as distributors, offering the standard discounts and returns policies that booksellers prefer.

Most of all, keep your expectations realistic. Don’t, for instance, assume your publicist will be able to make your book a bestseller.

You also need to be wary (you knew I’d get to that, didn’t you?). There are lots of charlatans about. Some things to watch out for:

  • A publicist you can’t research. A publicist’s website (if there’s no website, ask for a CV) should include information about staff and their credentials, as well as a list of clients and recent projects. You want to be sure the people you’re dealing with are qualified, and that they’ve conducted successful campaigns.
  • A publicist with no relevant experience. These days, starting a service is as easy as creating a website. Just as there are unqualified people who set themselves up as literary agents and freelance editors, there are unqualified people who set themselves up as publicists. Look for relevant professional background, such as experience in publishing or previous experience in book marketing. This is especially important if the publicist is just starting up. And don’t assume that skills in other publicity areas are transferable. Book marketing is a highly specialized field.
  • Vagueness about fees or what services will be provided. You want to know exactly what the publicist will be doing for you, according to what schedule, and how much it will cost. Ideally, the publicity plan should be part of the contract or letter of agreement. As noted above, do some careful thinking ahead of time to nail down your goals and objectives; don’t rely on the publicist to come up with all the ideas.
  • A publicist who doesn’t offer a contract or letter of agreement. For your protection, get everything in writing–and if it’s not in writing, don’t expect to get it. Shady publicists may try to soothe nervous clients by making promises they don’t intend to keep.
  • A publicist who relies heavily on spam or mass-mail methods like press releases, media alerts, and e-mail/fax campaigns. These are among the least effective (and cheapest, which means you’re probably being overcharged) of all promotional methods. They are regarded by most recipients as junk mail or spam (also see Book Marketing Services, above). Some publicity firms that rely on junk-mail-style methods sometimes don’t place any logo or company identification on their faxes and press releases, which look as if they’re coming directly from the author. This means that they won’t have to deal with the angry calls and e-mails from people demanding to be taken off their spam list–you will. This is just one of several reasons to demand to see sample publicity materials.
  • A publicist who wants to charge you for things you could do yourself. There are plenty of easy-to-use tools to build basic websites. You can easily create your own press kit, too–there’s plenty of free info on this online. Social media isn’t hard to master (though it does take time)–and engaging with social media in your own voice is far more effective than the kind of canned content that’s typically provided by low-rent PR services.
  • Solicitation. Reputable publicists do not generally solicit authors. For questionable or amateur publicists, on the other hand, solicitation may be a major source of business. Be wary if a publicist or PR firm contacts you out of the blue.
  • A one-size-fits-all approach. A good publicist will carefully tailor her approach to each individual book and author.
  • Extravagant promises. Your book sounds like a bestseller! We can get you on Oprah! Responsible publicists know better than to promise what can’t be guaranteed.
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Press Release Services

Electronic press release services post your press release at their websites. They may also distribute them to other services or media sources, or make them available as a news feed to subscribers. Sometimes they’ll assist you in writing your press release, or provide a template you can use. One of the biggest online press release services is PRWeb.

However, press releases are a dubious method of publicizing books (see the discussion in Book Marketing Services, above). Even where they’re well-targeted, press releases are often ignored. With the larger press release sites, which host thousands and thousands of press releases, there’s no guarantee your release will be seen by people who browse the site, or be picked up by a larger news service. Even if it is, the lack of precise targeting means that the odds are slim that your book and the viewer’s interests will coincide.

Many of the services offer a basic posting for free, with add-ons you can pay for. There’s no harm taking advantage of a free service, but don’t pay for the extras–it’s unlikely you’ll receive any benefit.

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Vanity Radio

Vanity radio (where guests or show hosts pay for time on a radio station) is a well-known phenomenon of the airwaves. Some of the book marketing services discussed above have their own vanity radio shows, and offer spots to authors for a fee. Vanity radio is also a growing presence online, with increasing numbers of Internet radio stations charging guests to appear.

There’s no circumstance in which it makes sense to pay for radio time. Pay-to-play radio programs, which are often broadcast on obscure AM stations at odd hours, attract small audiences for the same reason that vanity-published books sell few copies: there’s no quality control. Anyone who is willing to hand over the fee can get air time. As for Internet radio, even reputable shows have small audiences. Vanity radio audiences are even smaller.

Some vanity radio stations:

  • From the ArtistFirst Radio Network website: “We ask the Author to make a donation to the station in ANY amount they wish…Yes you do have to ‘pay’ for your promotion, however we let you decide the cost. Can you think of ANY other radio station or product or service anywhere that let’s [sic] you decide what an item costs?”
  • Global Talk Radio requires guests to pay $35 for a 10-minute spot (though they don’t reveal this on their website). You can also host a show…if you cover the cost of producing, storing and streaming your program.
  • World Talk Radio has contacted authors requesting interviews, and attempted to persuade them to host their own radio shows…at a cost of $1,900 for setup and a monthly fee of $700.
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Miscellaneous

  • Book fair representation. For a fee (usually $250-$400), some services (or, occasionally, some questionable agents) promise to take your unpublished manuscript or your self-, vanity-, or small-press-published book to major book fairs, such as Book Expo America or the Frankfurt Book Fair, and exhibit it there. Typical hype, from GetBookReviews.com (which also offers paid book review services): “Book Expo America is the largest book event in the United States. In 2005 there were over 7700 book buyers and over 29100 industry professionals in attendance. Where else can you get that kind of exposure in only three days?”This is the same kind of logic that people often apply to Internet activities like blogging. Everyone’s crazy for blogs, the logic goes, so having an author blog is good publicity. However, as anyone who’s ever started a blog knows, it’s not that simple. The enormous number of viewers plus the equally enormous number of bloggers is more likely to add up to invisibility than to renown. Book fairs are no different. A lot of business is done at book fairs, but just being there doesn’t mean that anyone will find you–especially if whichever service you’ve paid to display your book is stuck in the Small Press section, where few visitors go. Don’t pay for this kind of service.More on book fair representation schemes from Writer Beware’s blog.
  • Paid Shelf Space. Some brick-and-mortar bookstores have begun offering some of their shelf space, for a fee, to self- and small-press-published authors who are having trouble getting distribution into regular bookstores. Other enterprises are entirely devoted to paid shelf space. Still others may actually be run by publishers, such as the bookstores owned and operated by now-defunct vanity publisher Airleaf.Will people be interested in shopping in stores that specialize in non-commercially published books? Good question.If you decide to try this, make sure the store really exists (one paid-shelf-space enterprise that I’ve heard of is still apparently just a twinkle in an entrepreneur’s eye, but he’s marketing the service as if the stores were already in operation), and that it’s in a central location (a mall or a downtown street may yield the walk-in traffic that keeps most bookstores alive, but a store way out in the boondocks probably won’t).See if you can locate other authors who’ve used the service and find out what their experience has been. Get a contract or letter of agreement that lays everything out in black and white: what you’ll pay, how the books will be shipped, how they’ll be displayed, how you will be paid (never rely on verbal promises).And don’t don’t pay too much. Unfortunately, paid shelf space is such a hazy concept that I can’t tell you how much “too much” is.
Except for graphics, and where specifically indicated, all Writer Beware® contents copyright © 1998-2013 Victoria Strauss
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