One of the basic tenets of my early childhood education – mostly in the schoolyard rather than the classroom, if truth be told – was that “self-praise is no praise”. These words were particularly powerful where I came from, but it’s really a general Irish thing. Boasting is second only in social torts to not buying your round in the pub. Both are punishable by flogging, ostracization, and eventual death. Fact.
But the internet is a perilous place. It’s full of braggarts, self-aggrandisement, and general preening and strutting. It becomes infectious. One minute you’re sneering at someone’s humblebrag, the next you find yourself telling the world how SURPRISED you were that some YouTube star liked the photo you put up of the dinner you said took you 25 minutes to prepare, when in reality you spent three hours on it.
I Should Have Known Better
So there I was last Sunday week, merrily congratulating myself, telling myself I’d just had a GENIUS idea for a blog post. “Jaysus, I’m brilliant,” says I to myself. “What a great analogy I’ve just come up with,” I continued smugly. “Amn’t I great at this whole internet thing?”
I wrote about how indie or self-publishing currently feels like the gold rushes of the 1800s, when the smart people realised that the real money was not to be made in gold, but in selling stuff to the people prospecting for gold. I made the point that the cost of things in the hard-to-reach towns which clustered around gold rushes was astronomical; that back in the 1800s, food, clothing and tools were sold in these remote towns for prices which would be judged expensive even today. A single nail could go for $5. A pair of boots could be $100. With prices like these, it was much easier to get rich off the backs of desperate prospectors, than gold.
Then I said that the only people getting rich in publishing these days are the people selling services to authors. Some are legitimate; some are scams. Some services are theoretically legitimate, but run by people who know they can’t possibly deliver what they’re promising.
Books, I said, were no longer the primary product, because the primary product in the book industry has become services to people who want to sell books. The biggest target market in publishing is now writers, not readers.
Please stop falling for scams, I pleaded with indie authors. Please stop supporting the black market by believing people who promise to make you a best-selling author by getting your book in front of thousands of 100% targeted readers who will 100% love your book. Because by the time you hear of any such scheme, even if it worked more than once, its time is over, and it’s already too late.
Pride Comes Before A Fall
Anyhoo, something happened between Sunday and Monday night, when I was re-reading the post before publication on Tuesday morning. Something felt wrong. ‘Jaysus, but that’s awful preachy,’ I thought. I showed it to my other half, and he considered it for a moment. “Jaysus, but it’s a bit preachy, isn’t it?” he said finally.
So I shelved it. ‘I’ll come back to it later,’ I thought, ‘and make it less preachy, and more funny. I’ll loft out a frankly bizarre post about a cat in a box instead, and hold this one over ’til next week.’
And then I opened the big orange doors to the Internet on Tuesday afternoon and saw that none other than Kristen Lamb, she of indie author and book-blogging royalty fame, having approximately 31,402,836 more followers, readers and persons who have heard of her existence than me, had blogged THE EXACT SAME THING ABOUT AN INDIE PUBLISHING GOLD RUSH THAT VERY MORNING. And furthermore, she knew much more about it than I did.
I should have known better. But I had been too busy feeling undeservedly proud of myself. I had obviously learned nothing in that schoolyard, whilst getting beaten with wooden spoons and very small mittens.
That’s Vaguely Amusing, Tara, But Your Back Story Is Irrelevant
I would never knowingly rehash something I’d read on someone else’s blog, unless I had a completely different take on it, or at least something of some small value to offer in addition to it. I’ve been poached a few times myself, and it isn’t nice. Besides, Kristen’s post covered this subject so well and so thoroughly that I felt obliged to trash my own post, whilst singing wild Irish laments to its demise.
However, it has since occurred to me that sometimes a subject needs signposting twice, purely because it is just so damned important.
My inspiration for the piece in the first place stemmed from another blog post exposing an arrangement which bundles books together in box sets of 20 titles for 99c, using a legal but highly dubious scheme involving Amazon gift credits in order to move sufficient units to hit the e.g. USA Today bestseller list, and thus allow each author in the box set to call themselves a “USA Today bestselling author”. It’s referenced here too on The Passive Voice – comments are worth a read.
It also pointed out how authors who draw attention to failings or scams are getting trashed on social media, their books downvoted and one-starred, often by other defrauded clients who are afraid that the pyramid scheme they’re in will topple before they get anything out of it. The level of vitriol in some of these Facebook groups and comment threads, when someone dares to expose such things, is horrifying.
Look: sometimes it’s hard to see a con. Sometimes it just isn’t. But in general, as Kristen also said, if something is too good to be true, it generally is. How is paying $1,000 to some person you’ve never met or heard of before in your life going to make you a success?
When it comes to book marketing services, YOU, not your book, are both the product, and the target. Next time you’re about to hand over ‘just €50, just £10’ for something, remember: 100 of you makes that guy €5,000, or £1,000. It all adds up. It’s why he’s doing it.
Only your book is going to sell your book for you. So you may not sell thousands of them. But at least you won’t have spent as much to sell the same quantity, eh?
*Dangerous side note: looks like I might reach 200,000 hits on the blog today. If this makes me proud, I’m fecked.