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I Lost $6,500 on My Last Book Launch

27 June 2016

From Renegade Writer Press:

Hello, Renegades! You may remember that I started a series of posts on the work and expenses that have gone into writing and publishing my new book,How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie.

I promised to follow up with a final accounting and to let you know if all the work and expense was worth it. That’s what you’re reading now.

In short, I’ll tell you that the book cover designer, interior layout designer, and proofreader were all 100% worth the cost. They all delivered on what they promised in their contracts.

The launch team that constituted the bulk of my expenses ($6,500 of the $10,000 spent)? That’s another story. I learned a lot of hard lessons from this, and hope you will, too, as I’m passionate about helping writers and want to make sure no other self-publisher has to go through what I experienced.

. . . .

I hired Insurgent Publishing to launch my new book. I had interviewed the owner, Tom, in the past and liked him.

When I contacted Tom in November 2015 about doing a book launch for me, he created a short video outlining the services he would provide. He mentioned in an email that “I only work with people who intend to sell more than 10,000 books in the first year alone.” Of course I intended to sell over 10,000 copies — who wouldn’t? — so that was a go! He put together a page of testimonials, and those included some very big names. Finally, Tom was very charismatic and reassuring, for example telling me (since I’m no longer on social media) that “social media is overrated” and “you do not need to blast on all channels to make this happen.”

. . . .

[I] decided to hire Tom for a full launch of How to Do It All, which I was about to start writing. After a bit of haggling from the initial quote of $10,000 to include a “rebranding” of Renegade Writer Press, Tom drafted a contract where I would pay $7,500 over the time leading up to the launch of How to Do It All, plus “15% net receipt of all book sales” for the next 12 months.

. . . .

Some of the particulars of the contract included:

  • “Active promotion and outreach during launch sequence (30 days prior to campaign start through the completion of the campaign, and post launch to facilitate ongoing sales of book).”
  • “Insurgent Publishing will manage an ambassador group/launch team for the Client, with input and feedback from the Client. (b) Insurgent Publishing will provide feedback and direction on marketing collaterals and develop alternative marketing channels for promotional efforts.”
  • “Create an ambassador group/launch team.”
  • “Finalize outreach timeline and materials. For example: how we need to approach influencers and mainstream media, how we’ll track and follow up with them, and all the organization and tracking that goes along with this process.”
  • “Conduct promotional outreach 30 – 60 days out from launch. Arrange podcasts, blogs, and other promotional opportunities with the help of the Client.”

Tom set me up with Jamie [not her real name] as my account manager.

. . . .

Jamie and I spoke once a week, and I started to notice that every week we would come up with a list of tasks that Jamie would promise to do or follow-up on, but by the next week’s call, many of items were not completed and the list would remain much the same for the following week. But I liked Jamie and trusted that things were moving along on their end.

As the book launch date approached, I started noticing that more and more was left undone. For example, the contract stated that Insurgent Publishing would identify and reach out to 200 “mainstream media, blogs, podcasts, listing sites, forums, FB groups / social media groups.” A few weeks before the launch I saw that the team had reached out to about 30 outlets — and those were mostly business podcasts and writing blogs, not women’s and mom podcasts/blogs (which is the obvious audience for this book), and certainly not the “mainstream media.” Moreover, the writing blogs were all ones I had written for multiple times before, and I’m friends with the owners; even if their readers were an appropriate audience for my book, I wouldn’t need any help placing guest posts with them.

. . . .

I started to worry, so I sent an email to Tom asking what was being done for the launch. As per the schedule we had agreed upon, I had been updating my early notification list at least weekly, managing the Facebook group, writing guest posts I landed, reaching out to my own contacts, and building a website. I had also made plans to contact every website, author, and business I mentioned in How to Do It All. But I wanted to know: What had Insurgent Publishing done?

Tom responded with, “We do what we do on our end” and that I should “trust the process.” He also said, “We also have plenty of stuff up our sleeve for launch day, from a Reddit promo, to ProductHunt, etc.”

At the time I didn’t see this as a bullying tactic, and I’m very non-confrontational, so I just put my head down and kept working, hoping that on launch day I’d see the results of the $7,500.

. . . .

On April 13 (remember, the launch was scheduled for April 18), I noticed that Jamie had not been responding to the emails I had been CCing her on. We had a phone meeting scheduled in 15 minutes, so I went to ding her in the Facebook Group for the book. I was surprised to see that she was no longer a member of the group. I emailed Tom, and he replied that Jamie was no longer with the company and the call would be with him.

The fact that I hadn’t been told that my main contact at the company had left goodness-knows how long ago — I noticed the last time she had responded to one of my emails was April 4 — and that I had been emailing her all that time with questions and comments, kind of freaked me out. But again, I tamped down my worries and kept a smile on my face.

In the week leading up to the launch, the communication from the company became even more scarce. The Friday before Monday’s launch, I sent a pleading note to Tom for information and support. He didn’t respond.

. . . .

The launch was scheduled for Monday, April 18. After all that work and expense, along with the promises from Insurgent Publishing, I was expecting congratulations, updates on what they were doing, and updates on results. Or at the very least, the promised Reddit, ProductHunt, etc. Instead: silence. No promised Reddit posts, no ProductHunt listing, no emails from the team — nothing.

I was stunned. Even when I sent a note asking for an update, I heard nothing from Tom or Insurgent Publishing on launch day. And even more troubling was that they were doing nothing that I could see to launch my book.

I went into the book’s Amazon dashboard to see if Insurgent Publishing had at least done something with the SEO (search engine optimization) terms, which they had said they would do. I discovered that they had changed the keywords to “Leadership in Management,” “Communication in Management,” “Inner Child,” “Study Aid,” and “Consulting and Psychology,” keywords that were irrelevant for How to Do It All — which is, if you’ll recall, a self-help book for women.

. . . .

Sandra told me that boilerplate packages used by launch companies often include software to generate keywords in order to save the company time from reading the actual book. If anyone working on my behalf at Insurgent Publishing had read the book, they would have known that those keywords were completelyinappropriate for my audience.

. . . .

So the next day, I took some important screen shots and sent an email to Insurgent Publishing. I said I feared Tom had some issue that was preventing him from working on the project, so I would need to cancel the contract. I requested, at the very least, a partial refund. To this point, I had already paid him $6,500 of the $7,500 fee.

This e-mail finally got his attention: Tom responded just 17 minutes later with a lengthy missive that questioned my character, and that said he didn’t respond to my emails on launch day because was too busy doing tasks that would have happened later that week. He also blamed the fact that I had sent an Advance Reading Copy to my list for the extremely slow sales (just over 30 sales on launch day) — which seemed pretty strange to me, considering I had paid Insurgent Publishing $6,500 so far to reach out to the media, bloggers, websites, podcasters, and more. If I was expected to rely solely on my subscriber list for sales, why hire someone to help?

. . . .

While I was reading this e-mail, I happened to have Basecamp, our project management program, open and I could see that Tom was going through our to-do list right then and checking off all the to-dos that hadn’t been completed, including low-priority tasks on my own list that I hadn’t yet done. Luckily, I had a “before” screen shot, so I took an “after” one that included the time stamp. Now I had proof that something fishy was indeed going on.

I responded with a very simple note requesting that Insurgent Publishing stop work immediately, and asked for a full accounting of not only the extra time they spent over the $6,500, but also for the entire $6,500 — including what they did, when, and proof that they’d done what they were contracted to do.

Tom wrote back immediately and said, “Let’s consider the contract cancelled.” To me, that was a big red flag that he didn’t want to show me an accounting. I emailed back, requesting the numbers I had asked for.

On April 23, I received an email from Insurgent Publishing with eight attachments meant to serve as proof of hours worked. And behold, the final tally of what I owed was $7,600 — $100 more than the total worth of the original contract.

Link to the rest at Renegade Writer Press and thanks to Toni for the tip.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Self-Publishing

30 Comments to “I Lost $6,500 on My Last Book Launch”

  1. A Reader/Author

    It’s tragic and whoever it is has my sympathies. But it’s also tragic (and I think needs to be said) that someone so gullible writes and seeks to publish a book advising other people how to live and work. No one, not anyone, should ever put money upfront to an “agent” or “publisher”. If they say they can guarantee your book makes money, let them be satisfied with a percentage of the profits.

  2. “He mentioned in an email that “I only work with people who intend to sell more than 10,000 books in the first year alone.” Of course I intended to sell over 10,000 copies — who wouldn’t? — so that was a go!”
    The question should have been, not what I would like, but can you deliver what I want and how? Unfortunately whatever answers they’ll give are unverifiable, and only the track record and verification of references (other authors) may be satisfactory. The short answer to this dilemma: don’t buy anything. Keep your money.

  3. Another ‘a fool and their money shall part ways’ tale.

    I wonder how many people saw the title and quickly went elsewhere? (I did just now! 😉 )

  4. Does this meet the proper definition of irony? When someone publishing “How to Do It All” pays someone to bilk him for work he could do himself …

  5. I looked the book up on Amazon and it has other issues in my opinion, from a mediocre cover to a blurb that promises to teach you how to “do it all” by skipping showers, sleeping less, and alienating your family. It was painful just trying to read through the whole mish-mash, the supposed humor of eye-poking sharpies and accompanying worksheets fell flat… if it is even meant to be humor. A quick look inside and it seems the author is trying to write a serious self-help book. It obviously didn’t connect with me, but I hope it does appeal to others.

    I wonder if the rest of her money was well spent. $3,500 for editing, cover design, formatting, and…? It seems rather high to me.

  6. People like Tom are the reason this world is in such poor shape.

    Enablers like Linda ensure it stays that way.

  7. A fool and his money soon parted. 🙁

  8. > I would pay $7,500…plus “15% net receipt of all book
    > sales” for the next 12 months.

    I’m trying really hard to stifle the impulse to throw things at my computer. No, no, no, a thousand times, no! Never give ANYONE a percentage of your book’s income for promo help. Ever. Tasks like “outreach to blogs” and “creating a launch team” can be had at a fraction of what this poor, misguided author paid. And if anyone ever quotes you a five-figure sum to help launch your book, laugh at them hysterically and block their email.

    Authors need to stop acting like sheep or they will continue to get fleeced and led to slaughter.

  9. I must be travelling the low-brow path because I never encounter book promotions from anyone other than Amazon. I read about promotions, but never see any books being promoted..

    • Terrence, you obviously don’t belong to the right Facebook groups! :O From the article, that’s pretty much all the author got for her money.

  10. I takes a lot of books sold to make back that much money spent on promotion.

    I’m going slow, trying to make the books pay for themselves as they come out, like the small businesses that survive and thrive do.

    Some people go for the flashy, spend-a-lot-of-money-up-front launches – but when they fail, they fail big – and that money is gone.

    Doesn’t seem to have done due diligence (like references and previous campaign successes and completion points and escrow and all the things you should do in a new venture with an unknown partner).

    And a friend/partner who didn’t? LOT of money down the tubes.

    • But, Alicia, he was nice! And a veteran!

      And knew the empty SEO words that made her ignore her own gut feelings.

  11. “He put together a page of testimonials, and those included some very big names.”

    And you believed him. Pathetic.

  12. After having read a few of these tales of woe, I suggest a new genre: deluded author pity party.

  13. It takes a lot of books sold to make back that much money spent on promotion.

    Kindle list price $4.99.
    Revenue ~$3.50 per sale.
    That’s ~2,150 sales to recoup the $7,500 promotion cost alone.
    1,000 sales to recoup the $3,500 production costs (editing, cover, and such)

    North of 3,150 sales before she sees a single penny. She has a lot of self-help titles in the Kindle store, so maybe she knows she can easily sell that many. (Using her current sales rank and the Kindle Best Seller Calculator at Kindlepreneur she’s currently selling ~1 book per day of the title mentioned. It was published April 17, 2016 and has been on sale for 71 days. It’s impossible to know what her past sales have been, what her future sales will be, what her digital/print or US/other splits are, but wild-assed guess first order approximation I’d say she’s looking at around a 5 year repayment of her sunk costs.)

    ETA: I forgot to account for the 15% of net revenue for 1 year in the promotion contract. Although she could claim that there is no net revenue until the sunk costs are recouped.

  14. This article probably got her book more exposure than the promotion plan did.

  15. What a scam.

    For that kind of money, if one intended to proceed despite all the red flags waving in front of one’s eyes, there should be only partial payment up front and a guarantee that if you don’t sell 2000 books in the first month, you don’t have to pay them the rest. And if 10K aren’t sold the first year, they have to pay you for failing to meet expectations.

    That’s too damn pricey. Holy greenbacks.

    And their “what we’ll do” was fuzzy.

    Were there author references of authors using their service who sold 10K plus a year? I’d have wanted that.

    These are companies taking advantage of the uninformed or downright gullible among self-pubbers. It’s sad to see. The author did not do due diligence.

    Keep posting the Caveat Emptor posts, PG. FOlks out there need them.

  16. Why on earth is everyone blaming the victim here?

    ‘…Tom was very charismatic and reassuring…’

    Read between the lines and it’s clear that ‘Tom’ charmed the pants off the author [I’m assuming female] and did a complete con-job on her.

    Are any of us really that immune to being liked and admired? I know I’m not, and the reason I haven’t been milked of my money is because I was lucky enough to learn about the pitfalls of self-publishing from honest, kind people who shared their knowledge.

    It seems to me that the author is risking humiliation in order to warn others of the dangers. Surely that deserves acknowledgement rather than scorn?

    • Agreed. This Tom character deserves to be crucified.

    • “Surely that deserves acknowledgement rather than scorn?”

      Yes, and no.

      It’s a pity they got burned, but it’s also strange with all the info and warnings out there she fell for something right out of the Author Solutions playbook. You would think someone writing about ‘how to do it all’ would have actually looked at her options and not been coned like she said she was.

      Then again, like somebody else said, claiming to have been taken by the scam is getting her book more notice than running an ad would. (so maybe ‘this’ is the con.)

    • Are any of us really that immune to being liked and admired?

      Yes.

      • Reminds me of that silly ‘who framed Roger Rabbit’ movie.

        I often find myself feeling like that poor PI when his girlfriend said, “She had her hands all over you!”

        His reply was: “Probably looking for a good place to stick a knife.”

        The ‘friendlier’ they act these days, the more on guard I am to watch out for ‘the con’.

    • Reality Observer

      From the cover and the editing – she’s still being scammed. And still loving it.

      I can feel pity for her – but she still needs to grow up and learn a lot of things.

    • Agreed A. I feel nothing but sympathy and gratitude for the writer’s willingness to share her story.

  17. I recommend the author reads Discoverability by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in which she shares her pithy opinions on “traditional” forms of book promotion.

    The TL;DR is that KKR has even less respect for “traditional” book promotion than she does for traditional publishing, and advises authors to act accordingly.

  18. The Bass Bagwhan

    Well, Insurgent Publishers certainly exists and judging by its website I sure as hell wouldn’t throw $6500 at them. Bottom line for me is the naivity of the OP. Not much you can do about that.

  19. Well, I feel some pity for the woman losing that kind of money. It makes me sick to even think about thousands of dollars out the window. I couldn’t afford ten bucks, myself. But, this wasn’t her first rodeo. She’d published before, so it’s not like she popped out of the self publishing cabbage patch and grabbed the first person who was “nice” to her. (Imagine me rolling my eyes here.)

    Heck, even her own business partner knew it was fishy, and by her own admission failed to stand firm and put a stop to this scammer. But, then, it wasn’t her money.

    And it seems the first thing the author of the article did was go right out and hire someone else to do publicity, with nary a word about how this person, who is supposedly honest and true (I don’t know her, nor her business), was chosen. And why she wasn’t used to begin with.

    So, yeah. Sympathy and all that, but this sort of scam isn’t unknown and it’s talked about on various writer’s boards all the time. If there’s money being spent, at least take a minute and ask around if the business is honest and effective. The Writer’s Cafe on kboards would have sussed it out pretty quickly.

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