While I was getting my monthly magazine fix last night, I noticed on the back cover of one of the latest indy trade issues a single-page ad for an online book marketing service that promises authors will "get more bzzz" with "fewer hassles."
Once I got over my dismay that the ad copywriter couldn't spell the word buzz, I considered the idea of subcontracting self-promotion. It's a relatively new approach to marketing, designed to fill the obvious need for authors who want to promote their books but don't know where to begin, how to put together a plan or which direction to go with it.
I then visited the web site, which is very slick, and tried not to be blinded by all the flashy bits while I hunted down the services price list. There were two moderately low figures mentioned, both prefaced by the words "starting at" (which is a nice synonym for "what the cheapest/lousiest package will cost you.") Two vague paragraphs accompanied the figures, worded so as to insinuate as much as possible while not actually promising anything more than the unspecified attention of a publicist, press kits and releases, and a couple of ads in the trades.
Also, while on the pricing page I noticed that they promise they've helped thousands of writers fulfill their dreams, so I went to see who these fortunate souls were. There were only eleven authors featured in their online portfolio. Worse, I didn't recognize a single name among the eleven, or any of the eleven titles that this site has professionally bzzzed, which as testimonials makes them useless. Then I noticed in the wording of their portfolio banner that they did change the number of dream-fulfilled writers they've helped from thousands to many.
Here's my view: if you're in the author marketing business, your own marketing should definitely showcase the kind of work you're going to do for the author. If it's honest, meticulous, detailed and interesting, you've got my attention. If it's vague, flashy, squicky and non-specific, I'm going to think bottom-feeder and walk away.
The other problem I have with this approach is how effective it is. While I know an author can buy services that promise to provide buzz for your books, I don't think the kind of buzz that sells books is something that can be bought, sold, or artificially generated. We're bombarded every day on the internet by SPAM, press releases, flashy ads and buzz campaigns. I don't know about you guys, but these days I delete the SPAM and press releases unread, I dodge the ads and I actively avoid marketing campaigns. They've all become tiresome and annoying. The only marketing I'm even remotely interested in is something that's free, fun, or highly creative.
If you are considering buying marketing assistance services for your next book, do your homework first. You should shop around and compare pricing first, and see which services offer the most value for your buck. Also, get a list of exactly what services will be provided for your book, and if possible, real stats on how effective said services were for other clients.
One last tip: If you're repeatedly invited to call the author marketing service on the phone, it's usually an indication that you're going to be given a hard-sell pitch by a sales person who has been trained to separate you from as much of your advance money as is possible. Also, everything someone tells you during a phone conversation is not in writing, and until you actually see it in writing, they can't be held accountable for it.