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Self-Publishing Companies' Book Marketing Services: What You Need to Know

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Book Marketing Services: What You Need to Know

Book Marketing Services: What You Need to Know

A friend referred me to a new author who was considering working with a self-publishing company to produce, distribute, and market his book. The cost to work with the company being considered was in the thousands, even though it wasn’t the most I’ve ever seen.

One of the author’s concerns was about the book marketing this company would do. So I looked at the company’s website to see if I could help provide some clarification.

The site touted how they could make an author’s book available through popular book retail outlets such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. My reaction? No big deal.

“Promotion” assistance was also offered. Digging a little deeper into the site, I gathered that the company would prepare a press release for the book and send it to a newswire service. Okay, that’s helpful, especially for authors who are completely unfamiliar with the process.

As well, the information on promotion emphasized using “viral” marketing methods, which is usually code for “social media.”

Below I’m going to translate some of the doublespeak about what these self-publishing platform companies might be providing in terms of book marketing or promotion help. Then you can decide if your investment in them is worth it.

Promotion Is Not the Same as Book Marketing and Advertising

Let’s get something straight. Efforts such as getting your book into distribution channels, press releases, and social media (viral) methods would be classed as “promotion” or even “public relations/PR,” but not “book marketing” or “advertising.”

Emphasized on one particular self-publishing company’s site was that they do not do any “advertising"—such as print or television commercials and Internet advertising—for self-published authors or their books. I totally understand that. These companies are not advertising agencies and may not have the expertise or resources to put together a marketing and advertising plan for you. As well, the cost to provide those services to you might be cost-prohibitive for both you and them.

So when these companies use the word "promotion," they're usually referring to low or no cost PR activities that can announce your book to the world, not book marketing.

Book Distribution Is Not Book Marketing

Book distribution simply means the outlets—wholesale, retail, library, and academic—through which your book can be obtained.

When your book is made available for distribution to bookstores, libraries, and schools—in addition to any online retail outlets such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble—it means that if customers want your book, the store or library can get it for them if the book has an ISBN number and is listed in a database such as Bowker’s Books in Print®. What this does NOT mean is that your book will be on the shelves at any bookstore or library. There just isn’t enough physical space, and bookstores and libraries are unlikely to want to inventory books from unknown self-published authors.

Unless specifically stated and offered by the self-publishing company, making your book available to and through book distribution channels does not include any proactive sales efforts to get your book into bookstores or libraries. I have seen some companies who will offer that service, but for a usually hefty fee.

As a side note, if you use a more DIY self-publishing platform such as Amazon KDP or Ingram Spark, and you want to make your book available to and through bookstores and libraries, it’s typically a simple click to enable expanded distribution. But remember that this doesn’t mean it will be physically available or promoted in any of these places.

So when a self-publishing company says they'll make your book available through popular retail channels, it's not a unique benefit. It's available through many self-publishing options and companies.

Press Release Services

A press release is merely a document that is sent to the media to announce something. In the context of this discussion, it would be an announcement about your new book. The goal of writing and distributing this release is to get mentioned or featured in mass media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and online.

Self-publishing companies may offer to write and distribute a press release about your book for you as part of the package you purchase. That can be valuable, especially if you’re not familiar with writing one. I have to tell you, though, that writing a press release isn’t magical. It’s pretty straightforward. You could do it yourself, or hire a freelancer to do it.

The real key to a successful press release is the distribution. My questions about what a self-publishing company would provide in terms of press release distribution are:

  1. What newswire service are they using?
  2. What newswire distribution package are they purchasing?
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While there are many newswire services, one of the most popular and respected is PRWeb. True, the self-publishing company may not be willing to share what newswire service they use. But remember that you’re paying for this service. So it shouldn’t rattle the company that you ask.

Also, ask what distribution level they plan to use. If you visit PRWeb, as an example, you’ll see that there are several levels of service. The lowest, cheapest service level merely posts your press release on the site and includes it in some of their news feeds that the media access for news and story ideas, and sends it to the major search engines (Google, Bing, etc.). That’s a minimal service. Higher levels would expand the number of news feeds and may include premium media outlets.

Though there may be some restrictions, almost anyone can purchase newswire services. A self-publishing company doesn't have any special connection to them. These companies are merely handling the legwork of writing and posting your press release for you. So that service does have value if you feel insecure about either writing or posting it yourself.

Lots of authors have fantasies about being a guest on the popular talk and news shows! Reality check: Be aware that merely having your press release posted with a newswire service—regardless of the service level, and whether you or your self-publishing company posts it with a newswire—will not guarantee that news about you and your book will be featured in any show or publication. It merely increases the chances that it will.

Viral Promotions and Social Media

If your self-publishing company is emphasizing “viral” promotion methods and social media, it's time to ask some questions.

First, it is almost impossible to guarantee that anything will go viral on social media or on the Internet in general. Usually, "going viral" means that your article, video, photo, or other content spreads rapidly and widely throughout the Internet and social media. While you and your self-publishing company may think your book is the greatest thing ever, there's no assurance the Internet will agree and share your book news like the latest flu virus.

Ask what they plan to do to help get the word out on social media about your book. How many times and where will announcements be posted? Remember that the life of any tweet on Twitter, Facebook post, or Instagram photo can be measured in days, even hours! So to make a splash on social media, a continuous effort over an extended period of time (maybe months!) is required both during the book launch and in the future. It is unlikely that a self-publishing package will include a sustained presence beyond the launch. Then it'll be up to you.

This is why it's important that you start building your author platform—your network of fans, followers, and email subscribers—long before you publish. As many even traditionally published authors have learned, the bulk of book marketing is up to the author.

My Experience with Self Publishing Companies and Book Marketing

I used a self-publishing company for my first book (which I later moved over to Amazon Createspace, which is now under Amazon's KDP universe). Though it was a significant investment, they were very helpful and I learned a lot through the process.

One of the things I learned is that these companies aren't responsible for the success of your book. They may only handle the editing and proofreading, production, printing, and some very limited promotion. Beyond what's included in your package, it's still self publishing, meaning you're doing it yourself. This is especially the case when it comes to book marketing.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 21, 2018:

Larry, I couldn't agree with you more! It is so up to us to do our marketing. I used a self publishing company at first, too. I learned a whole lot from them. But once I understood how the systems worked, I felt more comfortable going it alone for production, distribution and marketing.

Thank you so much for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a lovely day!

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on March 21, 2018:

I found this article interesting, Heidi. I have personally worked with two self-publishing book publishers. For my first novel I used one that I found online that changed me a fortune, promised me a lot, and did nothing for the price. After that bad experience I did more work online to find a publisher that charged me about 1/4 of what the first publisher did. They also put my books on amazon and Barnes and Noble in printed form and e-book. They didn't make me a lot of promises, but they were heaven to work with. They answered every question for me during the process in a matter of hours. Getting your book recognized is a lot up to the author, the author has to do the work. Don't leave it up to the publisher.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 05, 2018:

Larry, no worries on "slow." You've got a lot going on and I'm glad when you stop by at any time. Hope your 2018 is starting out great. Thanks so much and have a great week!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on March 05, 2018:

Sorry I'm so slow getting to this article. It's very helpful, as always.

Congrats on getting a Tough Nickel spot.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 01, 2018:

Brian, that would seem logical for writing groups to do that. But based on my observation of some of these groups, commitments to the group are sometimes so low that it would be difficult to motivate them to action.

If you run across an example of a co-op group that does this successfully, please let me know! I would love to see how they do it.

Thanks for adding that suggestion to the conversation! Appreciate your support. Have a great day!

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on March 01, 2018:

I wonder if well-established critique writing groups ever organize a sideline of cooperatively for mutual benefits providing members with book promotion services?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 26, 2018:

Donna, yes, there are these self publishing companies that are will to hand-hold new authors. The good ones can be a godsend! But you do have to know what you're buying when you sign on with them.

If you, one day, decide to self publish a book, I hope you'll let your HP friends know. Thanks for stopping by and have a terrific week!

Donna Herron from USA on February 26, 2018:

Hi Heidi - Your articles on self-publishing are opening up a whole new world to me. I had no idea these book marketing services existed for self published authors. I appreciate you breaking down the pros and cons for newbies like me. Thanks for another great hub!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 24, 2018:

Flourish, if I didn't have a background in PR and media, I wouldn't have known to ask these things. Hope it helps some authors question their investments since they can be sizable.

Thanks for your kind words, as always! Have a lovely weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 24, 2018:

Natalie, you're not kidding! Self publishing is so much more than most people (including authors) realize. Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 24, 2018:

Madan, glad you found it helpful. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 23, 2018:

I liked the inside tips you provide authors, specifically questions to ask a company they potentially hire. You’re such an expert, Heidi!

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on February 23, 2018:

Great information. There's just so much to know! Thanks for the article.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 23, 2018:

This is a great article. Very informative

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 23, 2018:

Linda, glad you found it helpful and we'll look forward to the day when you self publish your book! Have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 23, 2018:

Thanks, Madan, for stopping by and reading! Have a great day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 22, 2018:

This is interesting information, Heidi. One again, I've learned some new things that may be very useful for me one day.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 22, 2018:

This is very interesting and informative

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 22, 2018:

Hello and welcome to HubPages, Michael! Well, that's a loaded question that I don't think answering in a comment would do it justice. I would say, though, that start writing on topics you know best. We'll look forward to reading your work here!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 22, 2018:

Bill, I agree we are slaves to our self publishing demons! :) On paper, it usually does not make sense to do it. Oh well, I guess we're in it for the long haul. Thanks for sharing the self publishing journey. Have a great day!

DAO ANH VU from Viet Nam on February 22, 2018:

Hi Heidi Thorne,

I read your instructions and I am very happy to get started with Hubpages, I need advice and contribute to the publishing of valuable content for readers and useful.

Michael VU

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 22, 2018:

It's a cat fight out there. Anyone with half a brain would stay out of the self-publishing business.

Unfortunately, some of us have this inner demon which keeps driving us on to keep writing and keep publishing.


Happy Thursday, Heidi!

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