Since the last installment of the "Notes" I've kept up my rather fruitless efforts to score free publicity for NaNoWriMo Notes: An Exercise In Creative Insanity in its brand spanking new book form. Now I hadn't expected it to be easy to find free listings for the book, or places willing to post my press release out of the kindness of their hearts, but I had not expected the amount of duplicity I would run into.
How many ways did you think free could be modified? In my mind it's sort of like being pregnant; either you are or you're not. Well the same applies to the word free, either something is or it isn't. Imagine my surprise when I found out I'd been serving under a misapprehension for all these years.
It turns out there are various degrees of freeness applicable on the Internet. After doing my requisite Google search for sites offering free listings for press releases, I picked out five of the most appropriate ones (based on quick visits to each of their home pages) and prepared myself for the tedium of registering at each of them.
It was the usual drill of filling in the information each site considered essential to its wellbeing to know about you. Once that was done, and the level of registration checked, you could kick back and wait for the email telling you that you had successfully filled in all the little boxes. At least that's the way I've been used to doing things like that.
The first email I received from one company was an apology telling me they no longer offered a free service and asking if I would like to upgrade to the next level? This was of course after they had hooked me in through Google claiming to be free, and saying all over their website reduced service was available for free: such lovely people.
It was actually quite special the number of sites that would somehow or other manage to get a listing in Google with the word FREE trumpeted in loud letters. It got to be less and less of a surprise when I would get to the site and discover the only thing free was going to their site. On others the free bit applied to the fact people were allowed to read through their database of press releases for free, or just be a member and not do anything.
I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised, seeing as how that's normal when you look for anything free on the Internet. There is not always a catch, like attaching adware to the free product that cripples your computer; it's just the sites that yell free the loudest usually charge the most for whatever service they are offering.
Then there are the sites that do have a genuinely free service, which they explain right up front does less than the service you would pay for, which is cool and makes sense. If you are willing to pay money you should be entitled to better service. What I started to get bored with really fast was their insistence on telling me how lousy their free service was.
As soon as I had finished filling in their registration form, they opened a new window telling me how little they were going to do for me. When they sent out the obligatory, "verify your account" email, they reiterated I might as well not even have bothered registering with them based on the fact their free service is useless.
Now I understand offering a free service as an enticement to upgrade to something that does more, I can even understand pushing the free service in your keywords to act as an inducement for people searching for your service. Those are both standard business practices and the former can be seen as a way to provide the client an opportunity to test what's on offer.
But if you use free as your hook and as your test package, what kind of impression are you going to make on potential clients if you keep degenerating the offer. Saying you could be doing more, in a faster manner, for ten dollars is a lot different from saying we're not going to do squat for you. What kind of confidence is the client going to develop if the company tells them the service is shit after inducing you to sign up because they offered it for free?
I do know if I decide to spend money on some online publicity it won't be through any of the services that acted like that. So far from what research I've conducted even if you have money to spend on publicity, you are more likely better off conducting the campaign yourself.
Create some banner ads you can place on web sites that utilize your cover art from the book and have some eye-catching text. Lather your own website with stuff, don't overdue it on each page, but make sure each page has at least some mention of the book and a link to where it can be purchased, even if it's only a button.
Create a special page for your book and put a fancy ad on it that links to where it can be sold. If, unlike me, you can figure out how to turn the jpegs of your book's artwork into gifs then you could even have an animated banner. (Are they supposed to be transparent or not? Why does background colour keep leaching into the new layers? Why did they turn greyish-green when the ad's base colour is orange-brown?)
Make stationery with your banner ad on it if you have the capability (if Outlook Express does I'm sure everybody does) so everyone you mail knows you have a book for sale. Include a link to your storefront in your signature, making it obvious where the link is going.
Word of mouth on the Internet is a far more powerful tool than it ever was in the real world, because now instead of everybody maybe telling one or two people, they have the potential to reach hundreds and each one of the hundreds they reach has the same potential. Each time I've had a post or a page from my blog mentioned on a forum, my traffic has increased.
That's not just the one-time blip as people descend to see the mentioned article or photos, but a real increase in numbers. That happens all the time; it's how publicity really works on the Internet, not through any of these formal sites that charge you x amount of dollars so your press release can be posted to the wire service or one of their listings.
When I used to do publicity for my theatre company, back in the bad old days of snailmailed press releases and flyers mailed out to the world at large through mass postal mailings, statistics showed we could expect between a 1% and 3% return on all material sent out. I wonder if anyone has done that sort of statistical analysis on these sites that post releases for you.
I've seen some of the listings these companies use, and you have to want to read them to notice anything. No causal eye is going to be attracted to anything they list. The best publicity you can get will be whatever you can generate on your own. At least that's the case if you are a publishing company of one like me with a zero budget.
I've sold one copy of the book since I offered it for sale, and that was through me telling somebody about it. He didn't have to buy it, but he decided to, for which I'm grateful. Then again, nobody else has to buy it either but I hope they do. He lives in Virginia and I will probably never meet him, but we correspond by email. I fully expect that's how whatever sales I make will occur, either me telling somebody or somebody who reads it and likes it telling somebody else and so on.
I spent a couple of weeks searching around, and now it's become obvious, the best way I have of telling people about NaNoWriMo Notes is on my own, via my website and other word-of-mouth vehicles. Unless you have the money to place banner ads on high traffic sites, and see little or no return on them, there's not much point in using any of the web services available. Free or otherwise, they just don't seem to offer much that I can't do as well and offer no better guarantee or returns.