Promotion: Three Case Studies
by Don Webb
From an old political cartoon:
Death: “Hey, who’s the new kid on the block?”
The two inevitables now seem to have been joined by a third.
Bewildering Stories is not an advertising agency; it’s a literary webzine. But we approve of authors’ self-promotion; who else is going to do it? But caveat emptor: there are good and bad ways to go about it. Let’s take three case studies, ranging from worst to best.
1: Promotion by subterfuge
Last quarter we received a book review from someone we’d never heard of about a book by an author we’d never heard of. Since no reviews or excerpts were scheduled at the time and the review itself, though smarmy, seemed inoffensive enough, the decision was, “What the heck...”
A few weeks later the editor of a colleague webzine e-mailed a query, saying she’d received the identical review under a different byline. What could we conclude? The review bylines were fictitious and the review was very likely written by the author himself.
Now, self-promotion is one thing, but flying false colors is quite another. We can’t prove misrepresentation, but somebody has a lot of explaining to do, and it’s hard to imagine any that would be convincing.
2: Paid advertising
I receive daily e-mail from pageonelit.com advertising an organization called Books & Authors. It’s a little hard to tell whether there are one or two websites; and, if two, why two? Who operates which? And what does each of them do? The e-mails may explain it all somewhere, somehow, but the repeated paragraphs and overlapping information make the messages incoherent and almost unintelligible.
I’ll summarize what pageonelit.com offers. Quoted passages are verbatim:
“Interview Feature, Book Review and Press Release PLUS FREE BOOK TRAILER” [all caps theirs]
“A full personal interview page at Pageonelit.com PageoneLit.com and Books-and-Authors.net with your photo, bio, book summary, short book review, etc. [...] This is a one time fee for long range promotional goals. Note: Your interview page will stay up forever. Note: Your interview page will stay up forever.” [sic. See what I mean about duplication?]
In addition, a “2011 Books of the Year” contest will have one “winner” and five “honorable mentions” in each genre.
Is the advertisement informative? Yes, after a fashion. Is it deceptive? Anything so badly written has to raise suspicion. I’ve seen scam spam — such as the “mugged abroad” type — that not only makes more sense but is sometimes even cleverly written.
But style aside, what’s the catch? $250. Plus a $50 entry fee if you want to enter the “contest.”
Some questions arise:
Do pageonelit.com and Books & Authors do anything that Bewildering Stories does not? Yes, they’ll take up to $300 of your money. Bewildering Stories is a free zone.
Do they offer anything that Bewildering Stories does not? As far as I can tell: spam. We don’t send any.
Now, self-publishing authors may well say, “Hold on a minute. These guys are who they say they are: an advertising agency. And I’m willing to gamble up to $300 in hopes of making a big splash.”
Fair enough. If a writer can’t qualify for Bewildering Stories, why not pay $250 or more to join an advertising website or two? But again, caveat emptor: if the spam itself is any indication, is the splash you pay for the splash you want?
When it comes to presentation, the advertisers could gain simply by linking to reviews, excerpts, and interviews in Bewildering Stories. But that won’t happen. With the sole exception of the shill in case #1, our reviewers are honest. And Bewildering Stories does not pay them. To paraphrase an ancient authority: you can write for money or you can say what you think; you can’t have it both ways.
3: Volunteer advertising
Bewildering Stories has a dual mission:
Our educational mission is intended to encourage new writers and help them hone their craft. That’s what our review readers, the Challenges, and The Critics’ Corner are for.
Our literary mission was originally to publish works that don’t or can’t make it though the very tight bottleneck of the major science fiction print magazines. It soon expanded to embrace all of literature.
Our literary mission gives reviews, excerpts and interviews pride of place. And that makes BwS a good place to advertise. We’re beginning to get requests for reviews and interviews from people we’ve never heard of before. And, unlike case #1, these writers are on the up and up.
You can see where this is leading: we’ll be inundated with such requests. And we can’t pick and choose at random. That’s why we’ve instituted a policy. We’ll consider and probably accept:
Reviews written by veteran contributors on any subject.
Excerpts from works of veteran contributors only.
Interviews in which the interviewer or interviewee is a veteran contributor.
As our “Reviews and Interviews” guideline now says: “to have a review or interview accepted, you have to join the club.”
That’s why the review request has been placed in this issue’s News; it was sent in good faith. But since the author is not a veteran contributor, we can consider a review only from a veteran contributor who happens to be interested and who, we expect, is not a hired pen.
Copyright © 2011 by Don Webb
for Bewildering Stories