Home » Big Publishing, Mike Shatzkin, Social Media » Marketing the author properly is a challenge for the book publishing business

Marketing the author properly is a challenge for the book publishing business

5 September 2014

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

A few years ago, trying to explain the difference between how books had weathered digital change compared to other media, I formulated the paradigm of the “unit of appreciation” and the “unit of sale”. The music business was roiled when the unit of appreciation (the song) became available unbundled from the prevailing unit of sale (the album). Newspapers and magazines presented individual articles that were appreciated within a total aggregated package that were the unit of sale. The ability of consumers to purchase only what they most appreciated shattered the business models built on bundling things together.

. . . .

This played out in a more complicated way in the book business. For novels and narrative non-fiction, where the unit of sale equaled the unit of appreciation, simple ebooks have worked. That’s been great for publishers, since the ebooks — even at lower retail prices — deliver them margins comparable to, or even better than, what they got from print books.

But there is a big challenge related to this paradigm that the industry hasn’t really tackled yet. The “unit of appreciation” for many books is the author. And the “unit of appreciation” is also the “unit of marketing” and therein lies the problem. Because the industry hasn’t figured out how to bring publishers and authors together around how to maximize the value of the author brand.

Marketing requires investment. For an author, that means a web site that delivers a checklist of functionality and appropriate social media presences, as well as what any competent publisher would do to make the individual book titles discoverable.

But authors inherently do not want publishers to “control” their personal brand, particularly when so many of them have more than one publisher or self-published material in addition to what they’ve sold rights to. And publishers don’t want to invest in marketing that sells books they don’t get revenue from or to build up an author name that could be in some other house’s catalog a year or two from now.

. . . .

Where the solution must start is with authors (which also means agents, but also means all writers with by-lines, whether they’re now writing books or not) recognizing that the author brand is a proprietary asset that, if properly nurtured, can grow in value over time. The value is reflected in email subscribers (to newsletters or notifications or whatever an author cares to offer that fans will sign up for), social media followings, and web site traffic. When it becomes large enough, the following becomes monetizable.

. . . .

But we’ve also found flaws in the web presences of authors that publishers asked us to evaluate. When that happens, we — actually they — often hit a brick wall. The marketing people don’t have access to the authors; those are relationships handled by the editors, often through agents. Editors don’t have the same understanding of web site flaws that marketers do, even after we explain them, and the agent-author relationships have other elements that are more important to the editor to manage. It is difficult for a publisher, with whom an author signed so they would market the book, to spell out a list of tasks the author should do to market their books (or themselves). It opens what can be a difficult conversation about who should do what and who should pay for what.

. . . .

Perhaps there will never be an “industry answer” to maximizing the marketing clout of our core “unit of appreciation”: the author. But we know that every author who has more than one published piece (book or article) on the Web under their name and who has the intention of publishing more should have the following built into a web presence they control and manage:

* a list of all their books making clear the chronological order of publication (organized by series, if applicable)
* a landing page for each book with cover, description, publisher information (including link to publisher book page), reviews, excerpts, and easy to find retail links for different formats, channels, and territories
* a clear and easy way for readers and fans to send an email and get a response
* a clear and easy way for readers and fans to sign up for email notifications
* a clear and easy way for readers and fans to connect and share via social media
* a calendar that shows any public appearances
* links to articles about or references to the author

They must have an active and up-to-date Amazon author page and Google Plus page; that’s critical for SEO. Twitter and Facebook promotional activity might be optional, none of the rest of this is if an author is serious about pursuing a commercially successful career.

. . . .

My marketing whiz partner Pete McCarthy’s recommendation is that the authors own their websites but that the publisher run a parent Google Analytics account across author sites. That would enable them to monitor across authors, use tools like Moz to improve search (that would be beyond most authors’ abilities to manage and understand), and provide real support to authors optimizing their own web presence. This kind of collaboration is particularly appealing because it is reversible; the author can at any point install their own Google Analytics and remove the site from the publisher’s visibility. What this takes is for a publisher to set up the “parent” Google Analytics account and make a clear offer to authors of the support they can provide. As far as we know, only Penguin Random House — using an analytics tool called Omniture subsequently acquired by Adobe — offers this capability.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Loretta for the tip.

PG says publishers might provide a value-add for an author if the publisher covered the expense of creating, maintaining and updating a web and social media presence for the author. After all, the publisher receives the large majority of the income from the author’s books.

But Mike’s approach mirrors the typical publisher’s attitude – the author should do all the online marketing and promotion. We might call it self-marketing.

The question that immediately comes to mind is, if the author is doing self-marketing, why doesn’t it make sense for the author to do self-publishing?

The list of tasks that publishers ask authors to perform continues to grow and the list of things that authors can’t do for themselves pretty much boils down to getting print distribution through physical bookstores.

As is usually the case after reading about publishers and marketing, PG wonders if there is any other industry that is as far behind the curve and clueless about the online world as traditional publishing is.

Big Publishing, Mike Shatzkin, Social Media

79 Comments to “Marketing the author properly is a challenge for the book publishing business”

  1. Nah. The buggy whip industry long since transitioned to craft manufacturing and niche marketing.

  2. That checklist of his… any chance he cribbed it from the Amazon author pages?

  3. The question that immediately comes to mind is, if the author is doing self-marketing, why doesn’t it make sense for the author to do self-publishing?

    This. So much this.

  4. Is it just me? Almost every time Mike Shatzkin publishes recently, it has a “Damn kids … GET OFF MY LAWN!” feel to it.

    This guy has got to wake up.

    I get that he has credibility within publishing circles, but come on, his book marketing strategy is living in the 1970’s.

    [END RANT]

  5. Oh goody. I get to do the work on my website, and my publisher gets to look over my shoulder and “suggest” I do more according to what they think is right. Where do I sign up?

    • If you start querying now, we’ll do it for the special low price of 85% of net revenues.

      What’s that? Who keeps the 85 percent? We do.

    • Hahahah. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s exactly how it would be. Authors would be dying to do that, especially after they shelled out for a professional website design and then book people come in and tell them to change it.

  6. $60,000 for an author website? Jeez, where is this guy from, New York?

    ETA: My mistake. I went back and reread the entire post again and I was wrong. Shatzkin thinks $60,000 is a lot too, but that was the bid the publisher and author got when they tried to upgrade according to Shatzkin’s suggestions. “In another case, we worked with a publisher that has a celebrity author (in a how-to field) who has split his publishing between our niche-publisher client and a Big Five house. The author’s own web site is a critical part of the marketing mix and it promotes the books from both publishers. When we evaluated the author’s web presence, we suggested a range of improvements that suggested a rebuilt site was required. When the small publisher and author went looking for a developer, they were hit with an estimate of $60,000 to build what they wanted. In the meantime, we have found the resources necessary to do the site for a fraction of that cost, but it still isn’t free. Who should pay for it? That remains a question. As it happens, the author rebuilt the site for something more than we’d have charged but less than the extortionate $60,000 price. It looks fine. But it is an SEO disaster. He isn’t registering for the most fundamental search terms relating to his books and expertise. The optimization is SO bad that his link traffic is exceeding his search traffic. So he’s got something that looks good to him but isn’t adding commercial value.”

    If I’d never published my own books and couldn’t refute the numbers that publishers, agents, and experts say it costs to publish a book and to be commercially serious, like that I’ve published 8 works for less than $50 each and have a website that costs $15/year and am able to make a good full-time income, I’d sell my work to them for piddlywinks and let them “expert” me.

    But I have. Knowledge is power.

    • $60,000 for an author website?

      You’re kidding! Please tell me you’re kidding. $60,000? No way!

      My own author site costs $25 per year. Setting it up was the price of the domain name (maybe $10 – don’t remember, not looking it up). Finis.

      $60,000? I-N-S-A-N-E!

      • WOW! And here I thought vanity presses like ASI were ripoff artists. Compared to this, they’re low-bid angelic do-gooders. :p

    • Did you say $60,000? Who is designing the site? The founders of WordPress, Joomla and Ruby? Is the price because they want caviar flown in fresh from Russia, and are their chairs upholstered in mink and sable? I am amazed at what people will fall for. I know a freelancing web designer; I need to tell him about this racket 🙂

      • Edited original post. Sorry, guys. I read the $60,000 and my brain exploded. 🙂

        Maybe websites help sell non-fiction and that’s why they need something more than an email list? I’ve never seen any indication that my $15/yr site sells any books. Obviously, that means it’s time to upgrade… Caviar and sable, here I come. 🙂

    • Mine costs a couple of hundred dollars a year. I could probably get it a lot cheaper, as I’m not using most of the features and services that it gives me.

      $60,000 is basically what it would cost you in most of the First World to employ an experienced software developer full-time for a year. If you wanted a webpage designer and a QA person (recommended for big projects, not so important for small ones), you could have the three of them for maybe three or four months. The only way it would take them that long to build a site like Shatzkin says an author should have is if they’re ignorant of every innovation there’s been in web design and programming over the last fifteen years – in other words, they’re not competent to do the job you’re hiring them for.

      Or maybe their employer pays them the way publishers pay authors – 25% of net.

    • $60,000 is a steal. It would only take two of those $35,000 advances Lee Child says we get to pay for it and then the money would start rolling in.

    • A little insight on that comically absurd $60k quote that even Shatzkin found unacceptable. (I live in NYC and have worked in or alongside the web development industry for 15 years.)

      Wages here are higher because the cost of living is so high–the last time I had to hire a developer with basic PHP skillz (about 18 months ago) the average hourly rate I was seeing for local freelance talent was in the $85-125 range depending on experience. In contrast, I was able to find programmers for half that in Texas and Europe, but of course one benefit of hiring local talent is they can work in person with the rest of the team, and attend client meetings face to face, which is sometimes important. (Contrary to the stereotype, most developers I’ve worked with are good presenters and competent at dealing with clients.)

      Anyway, so there’s that problem of cost. The other drivers behind such a high quote are more unique to this subset of web dev client work, and they boil down to two general reasons:

      1. Corporations tend to work with boutique digital agencies, not individuals, when outsourcing digital projects. They’ll hire a freelancer for copywriting (I’ve gotten jobs this way) but I don’t usually see the same approach to bigger web projects that require a designer, developer, possibly a project manager, and a fast talking creative type who handles all the salespitchy stuff and serves as the Explainer. It’s the agency hiring the freelancers, often behind-the-scenes so as not to frighten the client.

      2. These small design/development agencies can’t survive in NYC on $20k projects. They can and do take them on in order to nurture a longer relationship with a corporate client, but once that’s established, they start pitching budgets that are more like the one Shatzkin quoted.

      None of this makes sense unless you live here where (a) everything is so expensive, and (b) your client is part of a corporation with massive overhead and a rotating, oftentimes politically influenced, access to giant wads of cash that they must spend in order to justify their annual departmental budgets. It’s a farce and so far as I know unique to these large media corporations.

      Having said all that, I’m at a loss as to why every single author website I’ve ever seen looks like it was built when MySpace was still a thing. Even newly redesigned ones (the estimable Peter Watts’ new version comes to mind) pale compared to out-of-the-box, $20/mo alternatives like Squarespace. I do a lot of sighing these days.

      • I use Squarespace for my author website (Blogger for my blog). They have elegant templates, and good customer service too.

      • I have noticed that the vast majority of author websites I visit tend to look like they were drawn up in a static html template generator from the late 90’s or early 2000’s and I can’t figure out why. Even a basic wordpress or blogger site looks better, and a week of learning is all you’d need to figure out how to either write your own wordpress template or customize an existing one.

        I run my site for $10/yr for the domain and $14.99/mo for the hosting (I run a number of different sites and email servers on it so we two itch the basic business package). For this little expense I have a site that I can customize as I see fit, with unlimited bandwidth, and I happen to think it looks darn good. Paying $60k? Not a chance, and if that’s what my local talent wanted I’d be outsourcing to another term in a heartbeat.

      • You know, the really crazy thing is that I’d bet a lot of those agencies hire freelancers outside New York to do the actual work. That 60k is probably a hell of a lot of profit if you can charge a stupid amount per hour and then hire a solid developer in, say, Smalltown Texas to do the actual coding.

        I’d bet they’re charging that much because they can, it being New York and all…


    • I’m a web manager in real life. I got a bid of $14,000 to redo my company’s intranet site, which includes hundreds of pages, and would use a content management system. That included picking the design.

      That $60k figure was highway robbery. The firm above that I quoted charges $145/hour to teach the CMS (the bid included time to teach up to five of our employees).

      A good, professional website for a major author could probably be done for a few thousand dollars by pretty much any decent web firm. Our hourly rate is not cheap.

      • ^ This. 14k is about what I’d expect for a complex custom CMS.

        Apart from my freelance stuff, I also work for a company in Vancouver that handles CMS implementations for large digital agencies. One of my current projects with them is a real estate site with specific, localized requirements, but otherwise not too complicated, and we’re reusing a lot of functionality. It’s likely going to cost about US$10k at most, including the design.

        A good professional author site should forget about spending cash on the implementation and just throw everything at the design and graphics, but you’ll still spend maaaaaaybe $3k at most as long as you outsource to somewhere that isn’t New York.

  7. * a list of all their books making clear the chronological order of publication (organized by series, if applicable)
    * a landing page for each book with cover, description {SNIP}

    These are the only two things I ever care about at an author’s site. Those are the must haves. If I don’t know the sequence of a series or trilogy I won’t pick up any book in it. I like to see how the characters and arcs develop, and I hate doing it out of order. That is all. Then provide a link to where it can be bought. If people want to give you money, make it easy, simple, and quick 🙂

    • I put “Book X of” in the subtitle of my series, so if anyone reads them out of order, well, they’re not reading the cover and the title pages. 🙂

      • I put a number on the upper right corner. It’s annoying to leave Amazon to search an author’s website for the proper sequence. I’ve done it when I’m truly hooked on something like the John Rain books, but I wish they were set up in Amazon’s series manager.
        Bernard Cornwell is a good example of getting this wrong. Look inside any two of his books and the order of titles is different.

  8. The “unit of appreciation” for many books is the author. And the “unit of appreciation” is also the “unit of marketing” and therein lies the problem. Because the industry hasn’t figured out how to bring publishers and authors together around how to maximize the value of the author brand.

    “The unit of appreciation is the author…” This strikes me as a way roundabout and obtuse way of saying without admitting that the problem is that publishers have been ignoring most authors, except as sources of revenue.

    There’s so much verbiage, I’ll bet he fools himself into thinking that he’s really smart and analytical. In reality, he can’t spot the nose on his face.

    • “The industry hasn’t figured out how . . .” to handle the author brand.

      Until recently, they didn’t care. It was all about the value they added. Now that this value has been exposed for what it is (physical distribution), they’re groping for solutions while attacking the Indies for daring to compete.

    • I think he means product and package.

  9. Wait, wait: “Marketing the author properly is a challenge for the book publishing business…”

    I think I missed PG’s dry sense of humor at work in the headline.

    I mean, isn’t “marketing” the publisher’s main job – the thing they’re supposed to be good at? Isn’t this like saying, “building cars a challenge for automakers,” or, “staying up to the minute a challenge for news sites,” or…or…

  10. Ach, nein, mein Shatz. Du have the N-word (nurture) gebraucht. We don’t allow that here on TPV.

    And “The marketing people don’t have access to the authors”. Seriously. This needs high-grade fisking. I’m busy right now or I’d do it, but I will offer this:

    When I subbed to any trade publisher, even before I had Mr. Nurturing-R-Us Agent, my sub package contained FULL (you might also say brimful) contact information. E-mail, day phone, cell phone, the lot.

    You, mein Shatz, are trying to tell me a marketing professional DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO USE A TELEPHONE?

    What, exactly, do big-pub marketing professionals actually do all day? Pick lint out of their navels while trying to figure out the intricacies of the area code? Wait, playing Candy Crush till a 1% author’s new book floats into the cubicle?

    They want authors to do all the promo work. Not most of it — all of it. So what are they keeping busy doing?

    As far as the web site issue, here’s the Kinnard take on who pays. If the publisher wants it, or major amendment to an existing website: they pay. If they suggest tweaks, an agreement is made to share the cost. If the author is the one who wants the changes, s/he pays.

    No charge for the advice.

    But puh-leeze! Sei still, mein Shatz, if you can’t do better than this.

  11. I’ve said before, when publishing is a button, it all comes down to marketing.

    But then, I’m a marketer, so I probably would.

    Also, the old ways of marketing work no better than the old ways of publishing.

  12. Does Mike Shatzkin mind PG always referring to him as veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin, I wonder?

    • That’s a subtle way of calling him old, Lexi. I don’t want to be called a veteran (although I am – old that is).

    • Does Mike Shatzkin mind PG always referring to him as veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin…?

      I guess PG’s too nice to call him incoherent publishing has-been camp follower Mike Shatzkin.

    • If someday the trad pub folks can no longer pay to be told what they want to hear and M.S. takes up trying to tell indies what *they* want to hear instead, I look forward to PG calling him “rookie self-publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin.”

  13. Marketing the author properly is a challenge for the book publishing business.

    This didn’t seem to be a problem before. When did this become a problem? What’s changed?

    It’s a problem now because Indies are doing it for themselves by themselves and better than Big Publishing ever did the job. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be an issue. And by the way, no Indie has a $60,000 web site. Heck, I haven’t heard of an indie with a $15,000 website. Joe Konrath has a FREE blogspot account for his branding as far as I can tell.

    • My website cost $49 – I paid for a premium WordPress theme. The rest is drag/drop/type. I should add a “series” page, though, that’s a good idea. I already have a free Wiki for my main universe.

      Also, I don’t pay money to game search engines. Eventually they notice what you’re doing and punish you. Plus, there’s the whole ethics thing.

    • I like that about Konrath.

  14. Mike Shatzkin, Baghdad Bob of trad pub.

  15. Oh, couldn’t we all just make a pact (yes, I’m looking at YOU, Passive Guy) to ignore Michael Shatzkin’s blog and leave it in the obscurity it so richly deserves?

    • I always like reading his blogs and click through to read the whole thing. To me, he is the voice of trad publishing and I like to know what page they’re on. But, maybe he’s not? As an author who does work with publishers (I never have), do you find him relevant at all?

      • Nope. It’s why I recommend that we ignore him. He’s not relevant at all to self-publishing, and he’s not at all relevant to traditionally published writers, either. In fact, on the rare occasions he talks about writers and editors,his comments make it clear that this is an aspect of publishing that he knows absolutely nothing about, i.e. what writers do, what editors do, how writers engage with publishers, how we work, how we’re paid, what writers’ experiences with publishers, agents, booksellers, and readers are, etc.

        Given how completely, ludicrously wrong his statements about writers in traditional publishing are… it’s difficult to believe that anything else he’s saying is relevant or accurate, either.

        • That’s my problem with Mike. I know so much of what he says is wrong that it calls into question the things I’m not sure about.

          • Indeed. If you were reading articles by a Beatles historian who claimed that Paul died in 1968, George was an evangelical Christian, and John never married… How much would you believe, after reading that stuff about the musicians, of what he writes about the Beatles’ finances or their concert atttendance?

            That’s always what reading Shatzkin’s blog seems like to me.

            And (see below) now we’ve got a professional web designer weighing in, telling us that everything Shatzkin has just claimed about websites for writers is also ignorant and idiotic. That is, when talking/advising on this marketing matter in publishing, he’s once again saying the equivalent of, “Paul died in 1968, John never married, etc.”

      • I work with publishers all over the world, and usually read PG’s articles in full plus click to the original. This though, as soon as I got to “units of appreciation” aka Newspeak, I scrolled down to the comments, knowing I’d get more clarity there than in the article – and I did. FYI I have a huge website currently transiting to a new server, and $60,000? My web designer could retire on that. Better not show her this. *hides link*

  16. Re the title: You can say that again!

  17. Shatzkin expends lots of verbiage to reassure publishers’ institutional mentality that authors foot the bill and do the legwork to promote their books.

  18. The really interesting thing I see here is the assumption that publishers don’t expend the energy to market the author/unit of appreciation because they assume that said author won’t stick with them for multiple books, let alone an entire career. Seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me.

    • Close. They assume that they won’t stick with the author for multiple books, let alone an entire career. They’ll reject the poor S.O.B. at the drop of a hat, and then rely on the noncompete clause cleverly hidden in the contract to keep that author from ever publishing anything else again (at least under that name).

      • There was an article mentioned here, a couple of days ago,

        Penguin doesn’t list my Myrtle books in my bio, so they wouldn’t know about them from reading the trad-published books.

        Now, a writer might change publishers, or work with several, or… unless publishers realize that they MUST show the whole list to a reader, their sites will become less and less relevant as people acknowledge that, gosh, the writer’s site has all that info and more, and maybe even his own bookshop (amazon’s customizable mini-sites would do).

        I’m sure someone thinks he’s being intelligent (or, if they’re feeling adventurous, that I’m a cute idiot) and that it doesn’t pay to advertise your competition. But looking for something and realizing the publisher is actively ignoring it only angers the reader and hurts the brand. Both: writer’s and publisher’s.

        I mean, we do agree with Kris (and the above link) that readers don’t care who publishes what, yes?

        Take care.

  19. My marketing whiz partner Pete McCarthy’s recommendation is that the authors own their websites but that the publisher run a parent Google Analytics account across author sites. That would enable them to monitor across authors

    So… The authors get their own sites, pay for them, and then allow their publisher (their one and only publisher, I suppose) to mine their data for free?

    Scam. If they want data, they can buy it from amazon.

    Take care.

  20. I’ve said it before, but I will repeat this. Thinking like this–suggestions like this–mean big trouble for trad publishers. It’s not as if they will have fewer submissions to pick from or fewer writers to fleece, but what will happen (and I suspect is happening now) is that they will get more and more writers who “just want to write.” They are uncomfortable with marketing and promotion, uneasy around fans, or worse, horrendously clueless about what affect their attempts at social media have on readers. When you have 900 writers and Stephen Colbert shouting that “Amazon is EEEV-UL!”, the underlying message is, “Don’t buy my books from Amazon.” Then the same noodleheads moan and weep because their sales are down at Amazon.

    Writers who resist social media, marketing and promotion inevitably do more harm than good when they make themselves do it (I’ll just auto-tweet “BUY MY BOOK” 37 times a day and that should be good, right? Right?). Add to the mix the publishers demanding and coercing them into doing it, well, I just don’t foresee happy things in store.

    • “When you have 900 writers and Stephen Colbert shouting that “Amazon is EEEV-UL!”, the underlying message is, “Don’t buy my books from Amazon.” Then the same noodleheads moan and weep because their sales are down at Amazon.”

      What Jaye said.

  21. “It opens what can be a difficult conversation about who should do what and who should pay for what”

    Especially if you can’t justify the amount you take for what you do.

  22. What Shatz is telling us is that your website needs to say what books you’ve written, where to buy them, and how to contact you.

    Is there anyone here whose website isn’t already doing that?

  23. PG, you know I love this site and agree with your comments about 99.9% of the time, which for me is astounding. (grin) But please stop spreading the myth that indie writers can’t get their books into bookstores.

    We can, it’s easy, and in no place do Legacy or Traditional publishers have a magic spell that only allows them in.

    Any indie publisher can do the same thing and we are doing it all the time and I have written a chapter in a myth book about this myth that indie writers can’t get books into physical bookstores.

    So traditional publishers don’t even have that to hold over us, but they say they do to keep indie writers worried and make some writers believe traditional publishing is needed. So we, as indie writers need to stop saying it as well. Please. It is a myth.

    Any indie writer can get into any physical store with their books if they know how and act like a publisher. Period. And the physical store won’t even know they are ordering an indie book.

    • I assume the bookstore demands a big cut, and discounts, and the opportunity to ship books back at my cost. No, thanks!

      • I.J., as you said, “you assume” without knowing a thing about it, which makes my point exactly, sadly. You can do no returns with bookstores and we do. And yes, bookstores need a decent discount, as with any store for any product. But it is not huge, just standard. You are giving 30% to Amazon, why wouldn’t you give that same amount of discount to an indie bookstore????

        Ahh, the lack of knowledge just keeps letting traditional publishers spread the myth.

  24. Mike Shatzkin: I’m a criminal supporter, and the way criminal activities work is we get idiots to do all the dirty work while we reap the profits.

    Authors: Uh, what?

    Shatzkin: Are you stupid? You must be stupid! You signed with a criminal cartel! Haha. Now write me another %#@$ book to exploit.

    Authors: wait… something’s not right here.

    Shatzkin: Yeah, you %#@$-A right something’s not right. YOU AREN’T WRITING THE BOOK I DEMANDED YOU WRITE SO I AND MY CRIMINAL CARTEL PALS CAN MAKE A TON OF MONEY WHILE YOU EAT RAMEN. Now get off your lazy author a** and write that book!

    Authors: Okay, but you’ll at least promote me, right?

    Shatzkin (growing rage-y at this point): DON’T YOU LISTEN? WRITE THE BOOK! Then get off your duff and annoy every social media site to death promoting yourself so we can make 80%-ish of the profits. Unless you no longer want to be validated and end up like those HIV-cancer-Lupus diseased trolls called “self published authors.”

    Authors: So… what you’re saying is… I write, you publish, I market and promote, you eat up all of the money my book makes? And this is good… how?

    Shatzkin: It’s good. Trust me. You can trust me. I’m Mike Shatzkin, and I’m pals with other criminal cartel shills like Douglas Preston and James Patterson. You want to be famous like Preston and Patterson, don’t you? If so, you better get crackin’. That book ain’t gonna write itself.

  25. Well, here’s some info for you guys (source: I’m a web developer)

    $60,000 is absolutely batshitting insane for what amounts to a display site. That kind of money is what you’d pay to a dev team for a site with complex, client-specific functionality and professional graphical assets, for a small-to-medium sized company or organization. So if Shatzkin’s client was quoted that for something that is basically just a marketing tool full of pictures and buzzwords, either we’re not being given all the details or they are getting hilariously ripped off.

    Having said that – good websites cost more money than you’d think. Even WordPress sites cost money if you really want to get the most out of them. I start at around $1000 to build one, for example, and that’s just for 20 hours of my time at my usual $50/hr rate and it doesn’t include the front end design. But, again, not for just a display site – if all you need is a list of books, a blog, some social media links, and a subscription form, then the absolute best choice is DIY. You want something exotic but still WP-based, something that isn’t already covered by a plugin? Sure, call me. I can make websites do amazing things – interactive maps, custom Amazon integration, Javascript animation, sales funnels, you name it. But 90% of authors don’t need amazing things to sell books.

    Second thing – I am just about gobsmacked that he brings up SEO without specifying that SEO is all but useless for the vast majority of authors. Non-fiction platform-based authors – self-help, how-to, or anyone who’s positioned themselves as experts who can provide useful information or solve a problem – have the most success. But I don’t know of any evidence to suggest that fiction/genre readers discover new books through search engines. So it begs the question – why does he place any emphasis on SEO? Unless you know that you can reach a significant audience through keyword targeting, it’s likely not worth the tradeoff in terms of effort vs. reward. Better to spend your time studying readers’ discovery methods, and working on those.

    Lastly, the publisher’s ‘parent account’ for Google Analytics. I just… can’t even parse this. An author should never, EVER, give up control of that data to a third party, especially a third party with a history of using and abusing authors. If it was even suggested to me that I install someone else’s tracking on my website, with no benefit to me other than some nebulous promise of recommendations and marketing knowledge, the door would hit their asses so hard on the way out they’d be launched into space.

    Seriously, guys. In online marketing, data = knowledge = incredibly valuable. The basics of Google Analytics is not difficult to grasp, and you will be glad you learned it. Don’t just lock yourself out of all that data goodness by handing it over to someone else.

    For what it’s worth – free WordPress and Tumblr blogs are the absolute best place for a new author to start with their marketing, if they’re really not sure what to do. Both WordPress and Tumblr tags have a built-in audience, and the knowledge barrier to entry is very low. Highly recommended if you don’t have the cash or technical skill for a self-hosted site.

    • To be fair, in this case it was the author of how-to books.

      If they were talking about a site that exposed much of the contents of the books to the search engines, on the expectation that someone searching for “how do I X” would get directed to this site and hopefully buy a book, I could see it being a complex enough situation to generate a $60K quote.

      But that would be a seriously custom site with LOTs of SEO optimization.

      • I know, but he does make it seem like SEO is mandatory regardless of the genre, and that’s just not true.

        SEO is an ongoing process that needs to be managed and maintained, not something that’s built once and forgotten. There is no way a single site build will cost 60k on the back of its SEO tools alone, if only because Google updates its search algorithm constantly and serious SEO professionals will need to adjust their techniques to continue to rank well.

        I’d believe it if the client was getting a quote that included a certain level of SEO/marketing management, but Mike Shatzkin seems to imply that this was a once-off site rebuild, not an ongoing contract. It also wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard of an outrageously overpriced quote handed over to a client with money who doesn’t know any better.

        Sidenote: I used to work for a guy who did a lot of SEO both white and black hat (and who got seriously rich off it too), and he ran every site on self-hosted WordPress with free themes. The major cost was ongoing work to maintain the rankings.

        • I don’t think anyone in traditional publishing understands how real SEO works, Clair. They seem to have discovered the term within the last year or so and love throwing it around.

    • Interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    • Let me throw in one way a fiction writer could use SEO to their advantage. Call it lateral marketing.

      The most popular part of my site is an annotation of the works of Dorothy L. Sayers / Lord Peter Wimsey. I started it as a hobby more than a decade ago (and is still unfinished, alas). Her novels are full of allusions to topical news mostly forgotten, unique phrases, references to classical and contemporary authors, and even snippets of Latin, French and Greek.

      In addition to my numerous other self-publishing projects, I’m working on a mystery series that uses similar elements to the type of books Sayers and Christie wrote. The theory will be that mystery readers looking for Sayers will discover my site.

      So if there’s a way of developing your site on another subject that readers will look for, chances are you’ll make their readers your readers.

      • Good info there, Bill.

        The key thing to know about SEO is that it best serves people who know exactly what they’re looking for. Part of the reason it doesn’t work so well for book discovery is that people’s tastes are generally not specific enough.

        But you can still target an audience with SEO if you know that there’s a high likelihood of that audience transferring to your books from a subject that is highly specific and good for search engines. It’s certainly a little more risky, but it does work. In reality you can build an audience on just about anything, even if it’s unrelated to writing – the only consideration is whether that audience will be interested in your writing once you’ve done the hard part of building it.

        One thing I’ve said before (because, well, I did write a book on online marketing) is that you want to use a combination of the familiar and the unknown to make sales. The familiar – something that they know, something that they want – is the hook that gets them to your site, and the unknown – your books, your platform, you the author – is what has to hold their interest and convince them to buy. SEO can serve pretty well as the familiar half of that.

    • Claire, I’ve been a publishing novelist since the 1980s, I had my first website built around 1998, and I’ve recently been getting quotes for a new website… and everything you;re saying is exactly what I have learned and understand about novelist websites in 16 years of being on the writer side of the website equation. Nothing Shatzkin said made any sense (least of all that pricetag!)… other than his “so obvious, why not just tell us to breathe” comments about making sure your site clearly lists your books, by series if applicable, etc. (Honestly, is there a professional writer in this hemisphere who’s not ALREADY doing that?)

      • Hah! Who knows, right? Yet I’ve been to many author sites where their books were not immediately accessible. It annoyed me so much I wrote a damn WordPress plugin to make a book display widget with icons to the major ebook stores.

        Which reminds me that I really need to update it…

        Honestly? All a site really needs is an easy way to get people to buy your books. This is like the first and only rule you need to follow – make it easy for people to give you money, as Terry Pratchett said. So put your books front and center, make sure the user is at most two clicks from a buying page from ANYWHERE on your site. That’s it. All the rest is just window dressing to keep them on the site long enough to click.

  26. My procedure for reading TPV posts:

    1. Read the headline;

    2. Is it a Chandler quote (or similar)? Yes –> read it; No —

    3. Skip to the end and read PG’s comments;

    4. Is it from Shatzkin, Preston, et alia? Yes –> skip to comments; No –> skim it, then read the comments.

    There is not enough time in my life to read BS.

  27. As always, SEO comes down to brand and non-brand terms. If you’ve done the basics on your site, you should rank highly for your own name (your brand term). Unless you’re non-fiction, there are pretty much no non-brand terms you’ll rank for. (I write contemporary fantasy. My site will never, ever rank for that.)

    Optimize your site for your name and then don’t worry much about SEO. Worry more about building your name recognition so that people search on your name. Assuming you rank for it, you’re good.

    You should learn the basics of Google Analytics. But I don’t know what good it would do to give your publisher access to your data. I’d love to know how many big publishing houses know SEO and know Google Analytics. I’m betting not that many.

    Learn it and use it for yourself. You don’t need them all up in your business.

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