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There’s no shortage of scammers in the publishing industry. Authors, and the groups they inhabit on social networks, provide a veritable feeding frenzy for those looking to make a buck off someone else’s work. I’ve seen everything, from dodgy editors and designers that don’t deliver what they promise, to outright plagiarists masquerading as Beta readers.
Harder to define as scammers, are those businesses making dubious marketing claims. The pitch goes something like this: engage theirs services (i.e. give them money) and they will boost your sales. Usually this is done through paid reviews, or leveraging the marketeer’s social media reach. Marketing is important, but as the old saying goes, ‘if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is’. The first warning flag is usually they will make unrealistic promises, such as large sales figures — professional marketing agency won’t speak in such absolute terms.
For many indie authors, desperate to make it in a very crowded market, there’s a strong temptation to hand over cash just to b noticed. If only I could reach more readers, people will discover how wonderful I am... That’s somewhat true, and there’re ways of doing it right, but they takes hard graft and many authors are impatient or desperate, or both.
I came across a dubious marketeer on Facebook earlier this afternoon. Normally, I don’t bother engaging. I have a fairly good bullshit detector, but occasionally I like to stir the pot and call them out.
The business in question was Indian-based, and normally I’d ignore this because I’ve yet to sell a single book in India. I noted my lack of success in a fly-by comment and the person made a grandiose claim I could do so with the right approach — and their services. This piqued my interest enough to ask a few questions. I would like to sell in India — they are a big country with a lot of English speakers. I sell books in France and Germany, so why not India too?
Anyway, as I dug deeper, the smell got worse. Yep, more bullshit.
I asked for their website — they didn’t have one.
I asked for published, verifiable testimonials — none of those either, even though the person claimed to have a stable of famous authors.
I asked for their rate card — let us call you, was the response to me, and others.
When I asked for more information, the person in question claimed to have sold 30,000 copies of his own book by touring colleges and festivals and selling locally. Fair enough, India’s a big place, and he’s a local author. He said I could verify this by searching for him on Google. I did so and found him on Goodreads and Amazon.
I was rather underwhelmed, to say the least, and it didn’t take long for the claims he made to unravel. He’s managed just two reviews on Goodreads (one of which, I’m not joking, he penned himself) and an Amazon sales rank of around 9 million. I have sold nowhere near 30,000 copies and The Weaver’s Boy has a sales rank of just over one million, and it’s done reasonable well in my genre for a novella.
Local author selling print books or not, I find it highly unlikely that any author could sell 30,000 copies (that’s bestseller territory), without attracting considerable attention elsewhere. That’s his only book mind you, and it’s novella length, about the same number of pages of The Weaver’s Boy.
At that point I called him out, and he got defensive, so as he responded to me and others I worked out his ‘business model’ and it goes as follows...
If I engaged his services, he expects that I would print and ship 100 copies of my book to him in India. I would also pay an undisclosed marketing fee. He would then sell those copies within 45 days and give me an undisclosed royalty.
Now, to anyone who’s dealt with print-on-demand services, such as IngramSpark, Lulu or KDP, it would be pretty bloody obvious this is a bad deal. How bad you ask? Well, let’s get a quote from IngramSpark, since someone on the thread mentioned Ingram was the most viable choice for getting printed books to India.
Let’s assume I’m ready to print The Lords of Skeinhold. That’s roughly 110,000 words, or about 400 pages give or take. I chose 5.25x8 inches trim size, 100 copies with printing and shipping from the United States, since Ingram won’t let me ship to India from Australia.
The quote came back at $1211.05 USD — shipping alone is $588.06 USD, since books are heavy and bulky.
Assume for argument’s sake (since the bastard wouldn’t tell me) his service fee is $500 USD, which is in the ballpark for many marketing services. In that case my total spend is $1711.05 USD — it would likely be more than that, assuming he’s driving around lots as promised to all these universities doing book fairs where he speaks.
So, for me to break even, he would need to sell each copy for $17.10 USD. That’s 1200.84 Indian Rupee (Rs) according to Google. Consider that a three course meal for 2 people dining at a Mid-range restaurant in India costs about 700.00Rs, and it’s not unreasonable to assume I might be priced out of the market.
Now, there might the possibility I could print in India by giving him a PDF, but I dunno…given the lack of transparency (remember, he doesn’t even have a website, much less a registered business address), trust isn’t exactly in ready supply.
So, the numbers don’t add up.
I’ll admit, if Ingram printed in India, the numbers would look much better. However, what strikes me as odd, is this isn’t really marketing he’s offering. It’s more like retail, but instead of him buying the books wholesale and keeping whatever he makes, he expects to pass all risk back to the author who has supplied him with stock, and paying him for the privilege too. It doesn’t take a genius to work out he has little incentive to sell books in this model. This is an arrangement that’s also easy for him to exploit, for example by cutting the price below my break-even point and keeping the profits. I’m not saying he would, but the possibility is there.
A scam? I dunno, certainly dubious. If I was generous, I’d say his business model doesn’t fit with mine. But here’s the rub, don’t sell promises you can’t keep. Even if I give him the benefit of the doubt in shifting 30,000 copies of his own book, the chance of him repeating that success for Western authors, writing stories that don’t really appeal to many people in India is a slim.
So, think before you buy, crunch the numbers, and make sure when all’s said and done that you can trust the person you’re dealing with. If they are evasive, making grand claims with little in the way of evidence, walk away.