Daily Archives: November 24, 2009

Promotions: The Difference between “Free” and “Cheap”

I’ve never known a writer who wasn’t starving for something. Some want more time, some need ideas, most desire a champion to fight for them, and in this time of shifting publishing industry paradigm, all of them need to promote. The problem is, first-time authors just don’t have the money to do it right. Enter – the internet and every crazy “free” or “no charge” scam imaginable. It’s just the tip of the iceberg and very little of it is designed for long term results. Many are design to feed our egos, and most take advantage of ignorance about the publicity, marketing or promotions process. Always remember what your mom said, “You get what you pay for”. 

Today I’d like to explore a few specific tags authors on a tight budget seem to hone in on. Free, Cheap, Inexpensive, Reasonable, and Value/Value Added


This is easily the most powerful word in the English language, maybe even more effective than “Fire!” Free falls into the bin with Easy, Stress Free and Child’s Play. Come now, you’re a writer. Has anything in this process been easy, stress free or child’s play? What makes you think promoting your book will go any smoother than writing it? Free is where the phrase Bait and Switch comes in to play. Let’s take an example: press release services. 

You’ve just written a sterling press release announcing the release of your book (or where you’ll be doing a book event, or when you’ll be interviewed on a radio show). Now you need to create a list for where to send it. But it’s more complicated than that, you must specify who will receive it at each target media. There are options here. You could painstakingly create a killer media press release list of your own by doing research and compiling everything yourself. Oh, that may be free but is sure isn’t easy. Or, you can seek out an already developed list, so you troll the web and low and behold, you find not one but several Press Release List services that boast the word FREE! You’re in like Flint, right? Wrong. Take a closer look. 

Yes, for free you will have your press release go out, but you won’t know to whom, nor can you specify an industry or subject in which the release should be categorized. You need two days lag time for the company to screen your press release and deem it inoffensive before it’s actually sent out. Seems reasonable, in fact, even paid press release email services take the time to look over your submission. Here’s the catch. For Free, you don’t get to add any attachments (i.e. your book cover or photo), you don’t know where the release is going, you don’t know if it was ever received so you have no idea how or with whom you should follow up, AND, you don’t even have proof it went out. 

I’m not condemning free press release email services. I’m only pointing out that such services make it extremely difficult to gauge the success of your press releases. 

If you go back to the main page of that press release mailing service site, you will see a chart. THE chart. The one that shows you what you get if you pay for it. Online email press release services range from free to hundreds of dollars per release. The super expensive services are not a scam; they include AP wire service, international targets and client specification down to the smallest detail. Those are the services that provide reports that gauge success. 

Nothing is free, at least nothing that works. Sorry. 


Okay, time to look at Cheap. You need to self promote, there are no two ways about it. Without tooting your own horn, you will be lost in the tall weeds. Cheap directions can include a few free things, but in this category, everything requires your careful watchful eye and diligence. Websites can be created cheaply, but they don’t need to look cheap, so it may be beneficial to get some help in that area. If money is too tight, think about trading services instead of cash. For example, a friend who builds beautiful websites may occasionally need a writer to pen the blurbs for his/her clients. 

Blogging is cheap. Well, in most cases it’s free, but your time isn’t, so budget your time carefully to assure that your blog is updated and promoted regularly. Same with Twitter, FaceBook and all the other online exposure venues you are using. Saying you’re on Twitter and actually tweeting regularly are two different things. I have to laugh when clients tell me Twitter does nothing for them. A little exploration explains how they’ve done nothing to make Twitter a viable tool. Things like having a website, a blog and social marketing are the life blood of making yourself and your book known. Yes they’re cheap, but they can really score big if handled correctly. It’s a strategic investment of time and energy. 


It’s a relative concept and depends on how empty your pockets really are. The best way to seek and utilize the illusive inexpensive strategies is to create them. Think outside the box. Maybe you can’t get on Oprah but why aren’t you trying to get on your local public television shows? Maybe speaking at the biggest bookstore chain isn’t possible due to scheduling, but look around, aren’t there fifteen small independent book stores and libraries nearby? Maybe you can’t purchase a quarter-page ad in the newspaper, but printing out flyers and posting them at your local market, beauty salon, your pet’s vet, your dentist’s office or any business related to your book subject just may be extremely effective. 

The difference between expensive and inexpensive is elbow grease. Trust me, you can work around anything and get astounding results if you just think creatively and work it to the bone. Lots of small efforts lead to big exposure that just may put you on the map sooner than you think. 


What’s reasonable for you? It depends on your goals. If you’ve self published, printed only a thousand books and have put no efforts in creating your platform, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be a New York Times best selling author by Christmas. Finding reasonable solutions to building success often takes an author back to the original question: Why did they want to write a book in the first place? Make a pot of coffee, grab a note pad, refresh the answer to that question and start getting reasonable. 

Writing is a career, not a pastime, not a fun thing we like to do … it’s a business. If you opened a corner coffee shop (self published), you’d be taking on an inventory based business with built-in competition. You’d do whatever you had to do to bring people off the sidewalk and into your doors. You’d create specials and maybe buy 5 get the 6 cup ‘o coffee free cards. You know why you’d work this hard? Simple. You’d do it because your failure would be painfully obvious when the “Out of Business” sign goes up in the window. When you’re on your own, it’s tougher. 

Now, let’s imagine that instead of being independent, you buy a Starbuck’s franchise (traditionally published). You’ve got guidelines, you’ve got training, specific products, national advertising and an already established following. Cool huh? But guess what, you still have to be there to open the doors, hire the employees, stock the shelves, make acceptable vanilla lattes and meet expectations. You have a lot of help but failure is still a looming possibility. 

Everyone has to work at it, and in the case of authors, reasonable is all about knowing your limitations and needs. It’s about understanding the professionals you need, choosing them carefully and working with them to get the success you want. Whether you opened an indi coffee shop or a shiny new Starbucks, you still have the same goals. Good professionals know how to help you reach them. Don’t randomly hire marketing experts, publicists, advertising agencies or even personal assistants. Make sure the relationship is reasonable for you, your wallet and your target goals. 

Oh, and just like owning that coffee shop, with hiring comes possible dismissal. Know how to say, “enough, it’s not working” and move on.


Promotional Marketing is about glitz and glamour, it’s about loud bongs and flashy lights and gaining awareness that results in sales. 

The problem is, as the creator of the product, we tend to get mesmerized by all that sparkle. Like a dog that suddenly stops mid-stride because he noticed a squirrel, we have a habit of falling head over heels in love with the ego-feeding super promotions. 

Please note, that doesn’t mean that those particular promotions are bad or ineffective or even ill advised. They may be perfect for your book, but the author’s responsibility is to stop drooling, take a deeper look and decide intelligently. Explore the value of the promotion … and seek out the added value, because therein lies the power. 

For example, who doesn’t get excited about things like book videos, high profile ads, audio books voiced by famous actors, a possible movie deal or international interest for translated publication of their book? It’s so heart-pounding it makes the head spin. There are three things you must think about before you swoon with visions of expectant riches. 

1)      Cool as it may be, does the promotion really serve to reach your reader target? Many promos blast off about reaching a million viewers, but honestly, if you’ve written a dark literary novel about the history of the Druids, and a large portion of the viewers boasted happen to be YA readers who prefer sparkly vampires, this may not be the promotion for you. How will you know if you don’t demand proof of the demographic receiving the promo info? And oh hell yes, you certainly can demand, after all, you are paying for this, right?

2)      Is it necessary? Really, it makes perfect sense to do an audio book version of your amazing Druid novel … but is it really necessary to get Russell Crowe to do the recorded read? Isn’t it the story that’s important? Wouldn’t an unknown with the perfect voice do just as well and cost … oh … less than your mortgage and/or first born male child?

3)      Where’s the added value? Some of these services have taken things several steps further to help assure success for not only their product, but their client’s promotion. For example, never, ever even consider having a book video produced unless the company offers a strong marketing package to make it all work. Yes, it’ll cost a bit more, but what good is having a cool book video if no one sees it? Ask for the added value packages, look them over carefully and choose the one most likely to create the success you want. 

So, there you go, the difference between Free, Cheap, Inexpensive, Reasonable and Value/Value Added. Any questions or comments? I’d love to hear your input.