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Is gambling the new culture of indie publishing?

I thought I'd write a quick blog post in response to the recent Goodreads announcement to charge upwards of $119 for indie authors to host a giveaway. I said quick, but it has become a longer post, because I'm very concerned about this new "gambling" culture that is sneaking its way into the publishing world.
Goodreads was bought out by Amazon a few years ago. We have all been waiting to see where this venture would head. It seems that it's following the trend of encouraging authors to gamble their money in the hopes of making sales, attaining reviews, getting exposure, punching through that glass ceiling.
Not a lot of indie authors are happy with the announcement by Goodreads and we're making our dissatisfaction known. But will it make any difference? Or will authors in ten years time be saying "we need to stop this culture of exploitation and paying for promises that are never delivered".
I call this the 'golden ticket' sales approach. There were five golden tickets and hundreds of thousands of Wonka bars were purchased by customers in the hope of being the one who won the golden ticket. In a nutshell, this is gambling. We do this when we buy a lottery ticket. But if we were to spend our weekly wage on the practice, there'd be a need for an intervention.
So why are we authors spending more than we earn in the hopes of being 'the one'?
It isn't just Goodreads that I'm concerned about either. They make no claim of guarantee, but they will state that:
Goodreads giveaways are a special type of advertising campaign. A Goodreads giveaway is much more than just getting your book into the hands of a group of readers. It includes building awareness through placement on Goodreads’ highly-trafficked pages, social amplification through stories in the Goodreads updates feed, notifications to your followers, and reviews. All of this helps build your audience and drive discovery of your book.
There are hundreds of promo sites, and more will open up, offering email blasts to their subscriptions lists that could be all bots for all we know. They could have bought a list from a washing detergent company. And they're charging us for sending out emails about our upcoming promotions.
Most of these sites are genuine and you can find some reasonably priced sites, from as little as $10 you can get a one time email blast. BookBub is the leader in this type of marketing and so many authors will admit to a great return on investment. Many say they've wasted their $450. The problem with BookBub isn't that it works for the majority, it's that it isn't new anymore and the shine may fade while the price remains the same. And we won't do anything about it.
Why? Because indie authors are desperate for success. We'll gladly give away our money for poor return on investment. We are like no other business on the planet. Even a not-for-profit organisation pays themselves wages, insurance, holiday pay, heating and electricity. Not-for-profit simply means that after expenses, all the profits of the business are poured back into the business.

Many authors are like for like when it comes to sales and royalties. For every $100 in royalties I've earned, I've shelled out $125 in marketing and promo.

This is bad business. Retailers would shut their doors if this continued.
Yet we authors persist, convincing ourselves that exposure is just as important as sales. Sadly, it's not just authors who are fair game for exploitations. It's all creative people. Musicians. Actors. Artists. Models. Anyone who does something in a highly competitive field will fall prey to immoral people. There's people making money off of us. Lots of money. Sure, nobody asked us to do this, but I think we've been shooting ourselves in the foot for so long now that we're starting to hobble badly and finally we're looking for something to fix the problem.

And what I also want to say is, disagree with me if you must, but please allow me to speak. The standard we walk by is the standard we accept, and I will not accept the poor practice of scammers profiting off the hard work of others. True, nobody asked us to do what we do, and there are millions more where we came from. Can you see how this type of thinking leads to a practice of exploitation?
What I'm most concerned with is that the blame for lacklustre sales and success for indie authors is being flung back on us. I've seen it stated many times that our failure in sales lies with the author. It's either the blurb, the book cover, the pricing, our the lack of reviews. It's never the promotion site. Good grief that anyone should call them out on this. I have and I've now got a ban on promoting from one site. But I got my refund. Again, another step in the foundation for exploitation - it's our fault, if we want to improve, we'll do whatever they say.
An alarm keeps going off inside my head that this is how every oppressive culture begins. Blame the victim, never the perpetrator. I've very cautious and I urge everyone else to be very cautious. There are people out there who have no morals when it comes to taking money for nothing.

So here's some things to be mindful of:
  • Do your research. There are some sites that do email blasts for free or for $5-$10.
  • Set a budget and stick to it. And don't be swept up in the frenzy.
  • Accept that well known authors will always have better success than unknown authors and sometimes we simply cannot compete with their budget or exposure.
  • Ask other authors in a Facebook group if they have an opinion on a promo site.
  • Ask the site what they'll do if you get zero results.
  • And lastly, stand up for what you believe in.

What do you think? Has this happened to you? Have you got any tips to suggest? I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

This is the link to the original post and my comment below:
I have to agree with the overwhelming response from indie authors about the lack of return on investment from many online marketing strategies, not just Goodreads. There is also a high cost for some (not all) email blasts/promos that don’t generate sales.
It’s not that I expect authors NOT to pay to promote, but I’m growing more and more concerned that these marketing strategies are turning into gambling habits.
Strategies that are developed by marketing people no less, who are skilled in buyer behaviors.
I also agree that we should start questioning and sometimes calling out these high priced promos that guarantee results but fail. No other product on the market can make that claim and get away with a non-committal shoulder shrug.
Sorry, this has become a long comment, but I am seeing a trend that is scary. Indie authors keep putting money into the slots and get nothing in return. Then we’re told the fault lies with the blurb or the cover or the lack of reviews. Sometimes true. Sometimes not. This is how bad cultures start. (And maybe great fodder for dystopian writers).
Alas, someone is making money from these high cost ventures, but it isn’t me and I doubt it’s the majority of indie punters.
I’ll stick to my budget and try to avoid getting swept up in the frenzy of the ‘golden ticket’.
Thank you for letting my voice my opinion.



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