Marketing and support services for authors – a survey

Dorothy and I have been talking at some length about her plans to set up a consultancy service for writers in relation to marketing and author support. Unfortunately, based on market research she’s done so far, it seems that many authors aren’t clear about what assistance they want, don’t know how they want it to be delivered, and aren’t sure whether (and/or how much) they’re willing to pay for it. Accordingly, we decided it would probably be best to lay out the problems here, and ask all our members and readers to respond with their ideas. If we all put our heads together, we might come up with something workable.

Many authors complain that their books don’t achieve the sales success they’d expected or hoped for. The reasons for this often are not clear. In many cases it’s simply because the books are poorly positioned and/or poorly publicized – which is where marketing comes in. Let me give you some examples from my own experience.

  • I took a SWAG as to what keywords to use for my first two or three books (essential to help potential readers find them when searching for books in their areas of interest). They sold reasonably well, but could have done much better. This was proved when Dorothy (who understands search engines and optimization very well) analyzed the keywords I was using and pointed out that books on similar subjects were using keywords more closely tailored to the book and to potential readers’ tastes. After she modified my keyword selections, my sales went up by over 25% across the board.
  • I was mainly publicizing my books through my blog and through asking friends to mention them on their social media accounts. This had some success, but again, not as much as I would have liked. Dorothy investigated the major marketing services available (e.g. BookBub, etc.) and Amazon’s internal marketing offerings (Kindle Countdown Deals, Free Book Promotions and Advertising for KDP Select). She then used several of these tools and services to publicize my more recent releases, with greatly improved results.

Those are only a couple of the areas in which Dorothy and I have worked together to investigate and analyze options for improved market penetration.

The trouble is, many authors don’t analyze such factors at all – or, if they do, they regard it as a burden on their time compared to the job of writing the books and getting them out there. I’ve seen a lot of advice on the Internet along the lines of “If your latest book doesn’t sell, perseverance is the key! Get stuck into writing the next one!” Unfortunately, while that may be a good creative strategy, it’s a very poor business strategy – and we’re in the business of writing. If we don’t analyze where and how we’re going wrong, marketing-wise, how will we ever put things right? Furthermore, actually conducting that analysis involves giving someone a fair amount of information about what you’re doing – either gathering it ourselves (which may take a fair amount of effort), or giving others access to our Amazon account and/or other outlets’ accounts so that they can gather it for us (which is a security risk if we don’t know the person involved). Many authors don’t want to ‘give away their secrets’, even if that’s the only way to get an objective analysis of where they are and how they can improve their marketing.

So, dear fellow authors – what do you want? We really need your honest, in-depth answers to the following questions.

  1. What author services and marketing assistance do you, personally, need?
  2. What author services and marketing assistance are you, personally, willing to pay for?
  3. How much are you willing to pay? (Think in terms of either an hourly rate, or a ‘package price’ for a marketing support deal for a single book – input on cover design, genre and keyword selection, marketing and publicity, etc.)
  4. What do you not want in the way of author services and marketing assistance? Are there things you simply insist on doing for yourself, or in which you want to retain a right of veto? (It’s no good paying someone to come up with an idea that you will then reject – neither of you will be satisfied.)

As an example, let me tell you what assistance I’m willing to pay for in terms of author support and marketing:

  • Manuscript pre-publication preparation and formatting;
  • Cover image selection, layout and design;
  • Composition of blurb, selection of cover reviews and advertising copy;
  • Genre and keyword positioning;
  • Publicity (selection of channels and tools for marketing and advertising);
  • Analysis of sales and fine-tuning of market positioning based on performance;
  • Ongoing analysis of the genres and markets in which I operate, so as to revisit earlier books and modify their marketing elements as necessary to accommodate changing trends.

To do all that, I’ll happily pay $500 to $1,000 per book, in advance, and regard it as cheap at the price. It’ll pay for itself before long, and my overall sales will be all the greater thanks to such assistance. For the lower figure, I’ll have to deal with some of those areas myself; for the higher sum, I’ll generally expect all of them to be covered by the consultant. In either case I’ll have regular discussions with the person(s) doing the work, including the right to veto elements that I don’t like; but I must, in my turn, respect their professional expertise, and acknowledge that they may know more than I do about what works, or doesn’t work, in particular areas. Therefore, selecting the right person is critical. (I selected the best . . . in fact, I married her!)

What say you? What areas would you like to hand off to a consultant or assistant? How would you prefer to handle market research, positioning, etc.? Please let us know your perspective in Comments.



  1. I’m already paying for editing, cover art, and a few ads, but the budget is slim. My problem is paying when I’m not sure I’ll recoup my investment on those marketing things. And yes, I know I have to spend money to make money – but spending $500-$1000? Half to a quarter of my entire budget per book? Maybe when I have more money coming in. And that’s the crux, isn’t it? I need to sell books in order to have more money to advertise and I need to advertise in order to sell more books. It’s dizzying. Still, I’m starting to see larger royalty notices, and when those funds hit the old bank account, I’ll have some extra scratch to get more visibility. So, saying all that, yes, I would like to hand some of this off to someone else, but I can’t afford it right now.

    I’m lucky, though. I do have some sales and marketing background, so I’m trying different things and keeping track in a spreadsheet – seeing what works and what doesn’t, and how different things effect sales. I’m probably re-inventing the bread slicer here, but that’s the level I’m at right now. (First year self-publishing. Two books out. Third one out next month.)

    1. That describes it – Catch 22. You need money to make money, and you can’t afford the services until you are selling enough…

  2. Such a broad topic. If this is our first rodeo, we don’t know what to ask. Covers are obvious; so is the need of an editor. But this raises the issue of money. Most of us aren’t just on shoestrings, but knotted shoestrings with do-it-yourself anglets. Being happy to pay a certain amount, and able to pay are two different things.

    Manuscript preparation will likely fall under the radar of most first-time Indie authors, who think uploading a .doc file into Kindle Direct Publishing is sufficient. This means that you have to advertise why this doesn’t result in the best possible product in order to sell this service. You probably need to institute a policy of each revision is regarded as new formatting. If you have open pricing per job, then you’re faced with spending time for endless revisions that you’re only paid once to do.

    The rest are pretty good choices. Blurb might be a hard sell, as well as keyword selection, because just about everyone thinks they can do it..Some aspects of marking might be dependent on multiple books. I’m skeptical of promos where the author only has one book. More than one gets the reader “into the story” to buy other books at regular pricing.

    OTOH, not having a platform prior to the release of my book, I put up a couple of short stories at 99 cents in hopes they would serve as advertisement for the 2.99 book. So far, though, the majority of sales has been for the 2.99 book, which indicates that people are buying it without seeing the other two. It’s not the sales I hoped for, but I knew it would be a limited market when I wrote it. It possibly could pick up toward the start of school and college (it’s non-fiction), so we’ll see. All this to say that what I thought I understood about the market didn’t hold true. I still couldn’t afford to pay for a service to do a better job (see knotted shoestring above).

    A suggestion: Offer a cafeteria style plans where individual services have their own pricing. Customers pay for what services they want.

  3. So far there hasn’t been a job which, upon seriously tackling it, doesn’t turn out to be doable. It’s a huge investment in time to, say, learn graphics (if you want to – I did) or ebook formatting, but the actual expenditure is fuzzy, whereas $1000 is not.

    Especially given how much time some things have taken, I can see paying money – and having not much to show for it.

    Once you have an online presence, it is measurable to invest money in new covers – and see what happens to sales. Or to run a Bookbub ad and Kindle countdown suitably timed – and see what happens to sales.

    But I’m not sure I’m willing to pay for anything until I see what I happens when I do it myself, given that I can’t evaluate anyone else’s efforts by comparison.

    As someone about to publish her first book, the thought of just handing it over to someone else is seductive – but I’ve read the blogs, and I have no confidence in my ability to choose the right services and the right people for me. Especially in areas such as marketing, where a lot of money can be spent easily.

    But I do envy you having Dorothy. Very much.

    1. I’m very grateful I have her, believe me!

      I guess a large part of this is as other commenters have said – cash is tight for many authors, and they can’t see their way clear to spending money in order to make money. On the other hand, I’ve seen at first hand the reality of that conundrum. When I decided to spend more money on promotion and advertising, it showed in the sales of my books.

      I think one also has to cost out the value of one’s own time.
      (1) What is my average monthly income from writing? How many hours do I put into my writing and related activities each month? What does that translate to in terms of writing earnings per hour?
      (2) Given that value-per-hour figure, how many hours does it take me to do each of the activities I mentioned for a given book? If it takes me (say) six hours to format and upload a book to CreateSpace for a print edition, it’s easy to calculate the cost per hour to me for doing it.
      (3) If I hire someone else to do that particular task, will they do it – and do it at least as well as I could – for the same or a smaller amount? If so, it’s cost-effective to hire them. If not, then perhaps I should consider doing it myself . . . but that also means that I won’t have that time available to do more interesting things, like work on the next book.

      There are many aspects to the problem. I guess I’m fortunate in that I’ve now reached a level where I’d rather pay someone to do a lot of the work, because I know the quality of their work will let me earn back that money in short order – and meanwhile I’ll have that time available to work on the next book. Since I’m trying to publish four books a year right now, that’s a very tangible benefit!

      I might point out that Kevin J. Anderson manages a press, speaks all over the country, and still manages to publish about five books per year. To do that, he sub-contracts almost all the non-creative work. He dictates most of his manuscripts to a recording, which is transcribed by a secretary, and hires people to do all the other things involved. At that level of output, I guess he doesn’t have much alternative.

      1. The cost-per-time aspect is very important to emphasize. For instance, I am very good at Photoshop, the result of years of high-volume production requirements under deadline at a local photography studio. (There’s nothing like having to fix a low-resolution photo taken with serious underexposure to teach you the rules of the program.) I can take an image and have it turned around in a very short period of time, so that’s very cost-effective for me to do.

        On the coding level, I can do HTML. So if I want to build a website, I either have to teach myself the latest clean coding to make it do what I want OR I have to pay someone else to do it (either custom or, more likely, a template.) At this point, that would be a bit of a toss-up depending on the requirements of the site; if it’s likely to be large and complicated and need maintenance, it might be more cost-effective to buckle down and learn in the long run.

        If I were to need to set up a publicity event, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. That’s a point at which I’d definitely turn to the experts.

        Think of it this way: You own a house. There are things you can do. (Painting. Definitely in my wheelhouse.) There are things you could learn to do. (Basic plumbing, as in fixture replacement or putting in new washers. Not the complicated stuff.) And there are things that would take more time than would make it cost-effective. (Electrical.) There’s nothing that says you can’t be good at a lll of those things (like my neighbor the contractor), but there’s nothing that says you HAVE to do it all. (Under certain circumstances, I should hire out the painting.)

      2. These – and many others – are legitimate questions.

        You have a body of work; you know – from experience – how long it takes you to do certain things, AND that you don’t need to acquire that experience. You can make a choice: pay for X, save time for Y.

        This is also true of those who blanch at the thought of HTML – and would otherwise load a Word document. They may be able to decide to pay for formatting from the get go.

        I have NO experience, except that every time I try something, 1) it takes time and energy (of which I have pitiably little), but 2) it then becomes rather easy. So my estimate of value of someone else’s time before I do it myself isn’t a good estimate, and afterward I have already created a system that works for me.

        I have a hard time interfacing with people; little experience of evaluating other people’s ability to understand my work (and that little, not particularly encouraging); and a hard-to-define book in terms of audience (define mainstream).

        I’m waiting for some savvy marketing person to discover my blog, read my book, and provide a wonderful marketing plan that makes sense. I’ll also be extremely wary, given the attempts I’ve seen to fit it into a one-size-fits-all plan with absolutely no comprehension (yeah, I’ve corresponded with a few).

        Meanwhile, I’m producing a manuscript that loads beautifully on the devices I have, and for which a cover is ready. The editing is being done by a control freak (me, with several sets of backup eyes), and is half finished.

        Once I’ve gone through the mill a couple of times, I’ll be in a better position to outsource. Even if I don’t do my own work, I think it’s valuable to know how.

        And I keep thinking, What if Kevin Anderson COULDN’T work that way? Or was miserable doing it through intermediaries? I’m not there yet.

  4. Speaking as the world’s worst self-promoter here, anything that improves my ability to market what I write is a bonus.

    Of course, I also suffer from this little problem called “narcolepsy” and “full time day job”.

    1. And are you forgetting your role as chief impaler for the ELOE or that small insignificant task you signed up to do next year? Just because it’s all fun and games doesn’t mean those won’t take time and work.

    2. I’ll dispute your claim to that title, Ma’am. I can’t sell water in the Sahara. 😉 Marketing is just one thing that has us sitting down and carefully considering our options for the recently finished “first born” (no, that’s not the title, just my nickname for the book.)

  5. The problem is, as some point out, we’re already paying for promotion stuff (covers and such), and paying for more promotion stuff doesn’t feel …optimal. We could pay again and have nothing more to show for it.

    A percentage of the *increase in sales* over the next few months (maybe as short a span as 3 months) might solve this issue, without making the author feel like they’re tied to that promoter forever (and wouldn’t reward promoters who didn’t accomplish anything, nor confuse natural growth in sales over time with what the promoter actually accomplished)… we just ditched the agent-has-hooks-forever system, why would we want another just like it?

  6. Publicity (selection of channels and tools for marketing and advertising)

    Would this just be a list of the places to advertize or the creation of the advertizements themselves? I can make a list, but then I’m at a loss for the composition of an effective ad. That’s where I perceive myself as weakest. A package deal might show me otherwise.

    Perhaps Dorothy and I ought to get together and do one in plain sight, results shown on MGC as an example. I have (1) a thick hide and (2) no current (until the next oil bust) funding problems.

  7. What if the book sucks? Shouldn’t that determination be the FIRST of the services offered?
    Assuming the book DOESN’T suck, can the value of the services be quantified, as in “If you select to use services d,f, & h, you can reasonably expect sales to increase by 25%.”

    1. That is where good and honest first and beta readers are essential.
      As to your second point, keep in mind that there are several factors in play. First is naturally the dollar cost for the service, then there is the time lost if you do it yourself instead of producing new material. And too the question of whether you even have the skills to perform that element to the same level as a pro. So, while the value of farming out certain tasks can be estimated the total worth is tricky and somewhat subjective. And requires a good bit of introspective honesty as to one’s true abilities which is always difficult.

    2. Define ‘SUCKS’ in ten words or less. I’ve read books which I thought sucked, but which sold fairly well (heck, I even started to read Fifty Shades of Grey and came to the conclusion in one chapter that it sucked big time).

      Assuming that the manuscript was well edited (but the author or by someone else) so that grammar, character, plot, etc. made sense, a lot of what defines ‘SUCKS’ comes down to personal taste, and based on some of the stuff which sells well (again, let’s use Fifty Shades of Grey as an example), personal taste varies wildly.

      That’s why I never write a negative review of a book. While I may hate it, odds are there’s someone who loves it.

  8. “I took a SWAG as to what keywords to use for my first two or three books …”

    I was tired enough this morning that I read this as “… to what keyboards to use …” at first, and even went as far as to start mentally compiling a train of thought along those lines.

    Then I realized that something didn’t add up and reread it.

    The old adage is still true: You’ve got to spend money to make money.

  9. The trouble with the thought of paying for marketing is that you almost have to experience the pluses and minuses of how marketing works, and the lack doesn’t.

    My history as a small business guy started in the late 80’s as a small machine shop operator, mainly supporting some of the local Boeing prime vendors with lathe work. The area was saturated with work, and word of mouth kept me busy.

    In the early 00’s, my swordmaking venture went through various phases. In a nutshell, when trying to make and market myself, things didn’t work that well. When teamed with a great marketer, I couldn’t make the swords fast enough.

    I would pay for quality marketing help today. Help from an expert on using the Amazon promotional tools, and help on the use of other promotional tools. Yes on keywords, and yes on blurb.

    I’m still learning on the writer’s skills, but I suspect that my improvement arc on writing will be similar to the arc I experienced as I improved as a swordmaker. My marketing skills still suck.

    Right now, I’m paying $369 for covers, and paying $59 to $69 for formatting. I could see paying an additional $500 for marketing.

    1. Just as an aside, The reason I know your name is due to the awesome reviews your work used to get on SFI. That and the posts you used to do there talking about all the research you were doing on blade geometries, POB, and the forging of historic swords. If you apply that same level of diligence to writing, I can’t see how you can possibly fail.

  10. I have someone who edits for me and I have someone who does my covers. I’m picky about my interiors, so I do them myself (which reminds me, I need to go back and redo some of my earlier releases). Where I need help is making sure I’m using the right keywords and the actual promotion. I always have good intentions but lousy follow-through with the latter. I’d be willing to pay either a consultation fee to “sit down” with Dorothy to figure out what I ought to be doing as opposed to what I’m doing now or pay her by the project to do it for me. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a clue how much that ought to be because there are so many factors involved: is it only pre-pub or pre and post-pub, how many outlets are going to be reached out to, how long will the promotions go on for, is Dorothy tracking the impact on sales or am I, is she keeping me from going insane because my numbers aren’t going up like I want them to or because they have gone through the roof and I know someone screwed up and come morning, all sales will be zeroed out (Hey, I’m an insecure writer. What can I say?) 😉

  11. You have Dorothy, Cedar has Sanford, Sarah has Dan.
    I’m starting to sense a pattern here.
    Excellent article by the way.
    Were I young, healthy, and looking to start a new business I would set up an agency that offered each of these services to the budding author whether by chinese menu style shopping list or the whole package.
    I also must observe that each and every one of those services are things an author used to expect to get from their traditional publisher, and which mid list writers began to see disappearing or at least being lessened and done on the cheap as things got tight. That, and the corporate practices that rob a mid list author’s works of any shelf staying power are significant factors for the cast of any writer to go indie.

    1. Given your examples, what you *really* need to do is set up a dating service for single authors 😀 You’d make a mint!

      1. Oh Sabrina, that is so wrong on oh so many levels.
        And ignores all those failed authors, whom we will never know, with spouses that kvetch and complain about them providing for the family instead of wasting their time on that silly book.
        Dorothy, Sanford, and Dan are magnificent exceptions, rather than the rule I suspect.

        1. And some of us already have perfectly good spouses who are supportive in their way – and not the least bit interested in learning any of our missing features so they can help.

          I mean: NOT AT ALL.

          Though if we make any money at it, they’ll happily go on vacation with us to spend the money.

          1. Amen. I love my wife, but she’s totally incapable of doing marketing. I can do it (I worked in sales and marketing for years) but then when do I have time to write?

  12. As a person with “more than a little” advertising/marketing/sales experience, I know where a lot of the traps are. I just don’t have the money available to get around them. I also don’t have the time/energy to do a lot of DIY. So, I do what I can, where I can. One of the problems I foresee with editors, is their seeing it as a “hard and fast” process. I used to write custom software, which often took longer/required more background research than expected. It was *never,* I wrote a program, and that was it. When I “fix” problems found in editing, I need to make sure I haven’t made more. Otherwise, I don’t really consider the “job,” done.
    With respect to “advertising,” I had some “postcard sized bookmarks” made. One side has the books out, or in short term process, the other side lists the Autoresponder address for staying up to date. Properly laid out (4 to a sheet) they cost about $25 (B&W printing) for 50 (200 total). I’m going to leave some at local libraries (where I have a copy of the first book).
    Covers are obviously a big expense that I struggle with. So, I’d go for a “cafeteria plan” that doesn’t cost the Earth and the Moon, to use.

  13. Trouble is there are so many independent variables, and only a handful of them are under the control of the author. I have heard many multi-book successful writers say that they could never predict which books would take off and which wouldn’t — and they would be doing everything the same. As the saying goes, “under the most carefully controlled laboratory conditions, the organism will do as it damn well pleases.” Hence the emphasis on writing more books.

    One thing that you might be able to do is a baseline marketing check to see if an author is missing any of the essentials you mention. Not doing it *for* them, pointing out it is missing/incomplete/only loved by Mom. *Then* you could break out the services menu 😀

    Most of the information I want is pretty specific. I do not know where my readers tend to congregate and where I should be advertising to reach them. When I think about how I find new books and new authors, it is usually you lot and similar websites–and past a certain point we are taking in each other’s washing. Not that I don’t love you all, but I can’t finance my galactic takeover this way…

  14. Since I haven’t published yet, my main concerns now are keywords and blurb. I have no idea what I will need, or be able to afford, after I publish. The first one will be Word uploaded because I have no money to do anything else. Then we’ll see on the next one. Cafeteria style definitely for the newbie.

  15. What I do pay for: formatting, editing, cover design and art (for some things.) What I do myself – uploading, blurbs and back-matter.
    What I need and would be willing to pay for (up to $500 at this point, more as I have resources available): keyword improvement; information on targeted marketing; genre and market analyses, i.e. where should I pitch the book hardest, where can I turn it loose to roam on its own?

  16. I would be interested in formatting for paperback, advertising, and analysis of books already published. One thing that has become clear to me with the publication of my third book, is that there are different markets. My corners of the internet (like here) like space opera. My first book is basically a futuristic legal novel. It’s science fiction, but full of lawyers. My second book is hard SF (with only a couple lawyers). The third book, Sleeping Duty, is pure space opera, and it’s the one that’s selling. It’s not in the thousands or anything, but I’m thrilled with its performance so far. I know it could do even better if I had marketing dollars, but I also know not to bother until the sequel is out. I think. So, yeah, marketing insights, suggestions, lists, etc is what I need.

    I like the a la carte idea. Also, someone up above suggested a virtual sit down with Dorothy. I’d pay a consulting fee for that because I am familiar with her. On the other hand, a first time sit-down with someone you don’t know is not necessarily something most people want to pay for. It’s more like an interview.

  17. My answer to 1 and 4 is the same: as a consultancy, shouldn’t we expect that you can tell us what services we need?

    Answer to 2 is more complicated but involves how much readily visible ROI i will see for what services.

    1. I wish it were that simple. Unfortunately, if Dorothy (or anyone else) tells you (or me, or anyone) that they need X and Y and Z, the odds are pretty good that she’ll get back a mouthful of words about how X is so 1990’s, and Y is irrelevant to the author’s genre, and Z is a matter of taste. Herding cats has nothing on herding authors – just ask the organizers of LibertyCon!

      That’s why this article was written. We’re trying to get a sense from the horses’ mouths (you should pardon the expression – we don’t want to be neigh-sayers) of what authors themselves actually want, as opposed to what she and I believe they need. ‘Want’ and ‘need’ are the operative terms here. I know I need help in the areas I’ve cited to make my books the best they can be. Unfortunately, many writers haven’t had enough experience in the market to know what they really need versus what they think they need. I was the same when publishing my first few books. It takes time to learn the hard way.

      (And, inevitably, there will be some who read this comment and think I’m being snobbish and/or elitist for saying that. I’m not – I’ve had to learn the hard way, the same as everyone else – but there’s so much emotion invested in one’s books that when one hears someone else say that this, or the other, is a problem and needs improvement, often one’s knee-jerk response is to be offended. I wish it were otherwise.)

  18. Speaking as an idiot beginning writer who is trying to learn here I just don’t know. I’ve read enough here, and by Kristine and Dean, to know I should start up my own imprint. I’ve got the name and the logo planned though I haven’t paid for the domain name, registered the trademark, or even figured out how to get the trademark drawn (I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler) though I have taken steps towards creating a DBA account, and I’m only 40% (at best) through the first book of the first of my three pen names. And the marketing for that first book is looming large in my mind, mainly because Uncle Lar has pointed out that it will need it. But as to what I actually need and what i’m willing to pay for it? Brother I haven’t even asked those questions yet. And whats worse, I don’t even know what I don’t know as yet.

  19. The key here is being able to demonstrate the value proposition (note the responses above skeptical of results) and targeting Indie Authors in the sweet spot of enough cash or success to be able to afford it.
    What I’d pay for:
    Manuscript pre-publication preparation and formatting; – Yes, would have to have some example work which made me say “Wow!”.
    Cover image selection, layout and design; – Yes, but would have to ultimately conform to a joint creative process. I’m too picky and if I wanted something as good as I or family members could do, I wouldn’t be paying that much for it.
    Composition of blurb, selection of cover reviews and advertising copy; – Yes, please. I’d rather write another short story in the same world than have to write all that copy!
    Genre and keyword positioning; – Yes, especially for the beginning of a series that isn’t very well genre-established yet.
    Publicity (selection of channels and tools for marketing and advertising); – Yes. This is time consuming and the only current alternatives to doing it yourself seem to be extremely expensive for what you get.
    Analysis of sales and fine-tuning of market positioning based on performance; – Useful, but seems more of a marginal than a huge benefit. You might be able to surprise me, though.
    Ongoing analysis of the genres and markets in which I operate, so as to revisit earlier books and modify their marketing elements as necessary to accommodate changing trends. – Yes, could be useful.

    What would I pay for all of the above? I think $500-$1000 is reasonable. Too much more than that and you need a much better ROI case than you’re likely to be able to generate until someone is more established. Much less than that and it’s obvious you won’t be able to put the time into the quality necessary to make any money worth it.

    As I started this post, the key is to be demonstrably positioned so that authors will believe you’re going to do a better job than they would if they did it themselves. That it’s not just to save time, it’s to get a better result, making spending the money a no-brainer.

    That said, with a little due diligence, when you and Dorothy first announced she was going to take on marketing clients, my first reaction was to think “Great! Count me in!” I have the advantage of having more money than time for it, though. After this post, I’m sure I’ll hire her when the timing is right. With only one book (needing some revision) and a short story really out there, it makes more sense to me to get going with her with my next book, whichever of the three Works-In-Progress that turns out to be. One is likely to be much more naturally commercially appealing (fantasy adventure) than the other two, so that would make more sense for a bigger marketing push. I’ve learned from sad experience it’s tough to sell something which is “between” genres. 🙂

    1. Manuscript pre-publication preparation and formatting; – Yes, would have to have some example work which made me say “Wow!”.

      Trouble is, good layout is invisible. Maybe have an example, and contrast it with what the source document would have looked like—that can often earn a “Wow!”, and not in a good way.

  20. Manuscript pre-publication preparation and formatting: I do this both for myself and for my mother. It’s annoying but I find it easy to do (I tend to go into Aircraft Quality Control mode when doing it).

    Cover image selection, layout and design: I do this myself too.

    Composition of blurb, selection of cover reviews and advertising copy: While I do my covers and such myself, I really could use help reviewing it and making sure I’m not signalling Sci-fi when the story is Paranormal Romance (If you saw the thread on the Diner you’ll see what I’m talking about).

    Genre and keyword positioning: Yes! I barely know what I’m doing with keywords.

    Publicity (selection of channels and tools for marketing and advertising): Yes, definitely. While my Google-Fu is strong when I know what I am looking for, there are times I don’t even know where to start.

    Analysis of sales and fine-tuning of market positioning based on performance: This is something I see as better for authors that have several books out. I could see these authors using this every six months to a year.

    Ongoing analysis of the genres and markets in which I operate, so as to revisit earlier books and modify their marketing elements as necessary to accommodate changing trends: See the one above.

    Are you talking just giving advice or actually doing the work? The budgets I am usually working with would support $25 apiece for the three areas I need help with for advice only (for a limited time). I can do the work, I just don’t catch the signals well. For the marketing and publicity I could see paying more if you were doing some of the work. I hope my figures are not too low.

  21. I’m preparing my first book for indie publication. The impression I’m getting from my research is that I’m better off not putting effort into marketing until I have 2-4 books out. Is that true? Where is the point where I have enough backlist to support promoting the next book?

    (And then there’s the problem that I’m not going to have much $$$ to spare for promoting the books until there’s income from the books. Ah, chicken and egg.)

  22. Sorry I’m coming in late to this topic, especially since it’s of great interest to me.

    What I need the most help with is marketing after the book is released. I’ve got covers, editing, and formatting taken care of. It’s what to do AFTER the book comes out where I need help. I fully understand that you have to spend money to make money, especially when you’re just getting started and are trying to build your audience. I’d be more than willing to pay for publicity services which helped me do that.

    What I’d love even more, is a weekend seminar or online / email training courses which would teach me how to handle the publicity for myself. Add in a regular newsletter–a paid subscription, of course–which provides updates on the scene and you’d have a service I’d definitely be interested in and be willing to pay for.

    I’d probably pay for publicity services as a proof of concept, first. That would give me a chance to see what the publicist’s methods do to sales and visibility. Once I was satisfied the publicist’s methods would help with my books, I’d be extremely interested in paying for training in those methods and continuing to pay for updates to those methods through a newsletter or something similar.

    Simply put, I’m ignorant about marketing. I have ideas and know several approaches I’ve read about, but I’m woefully short on details. Yes, I could eventually learn all of this through trial and error, but I’d much rather pay someone who already knows it to cure my ignorance.

    BTW, will any of these services deal with audio books? They’re more expensive to produce than ebooks and print-on-demand books, but I think it’s also the next big growth market. With everything Amazon has done to make it as easy as possible to produce an audio book, services directed at that market would be invaluable. This is weighing heavily on my mind right now because I’m planning on producing an audio version of my fourth novel in the hopes of releasing it at the same time as the digital and POD versions of the book.

  23. Thank you all for your responses. They’ve certainly provided a lot of food for thought. Dorothy is looking at them and pondering how to respond, and I’ll leave it to her to do so in her own way, rather than try to speak for her. Pam, if you’ll please drop me a line, I’ll pass your address to Dorothy so she can get in touch with you concerning a potential ‘demonstrator’ project (my e-mail address is in my blog profile – click on my name above to go there).

    It’s an interesting conundrum for us. She’d love to set up an author assistance/consultancy service in these areas, but as many of you have pointed out, a lot of writers simply don’t have sufficient money to pay enough for such services to make it cost-effective to provide them. There’s also the problem that many authors (until recently including myself) who are sure they’re doing all they need to do, and see no point in spending money on additional services or insights. I learned how wrong that approach was when Dot got to work on my marketing and improved my sales across the board . . . but it involved my having to get off my high horse, listen to her, and do as she suggested. Sometimes that was difficult, because (again, like most writers) I was emotionally invested in what I’d done, and messing with that was like telling me my baby wasn’t perfect. Still, once I’d gotten over that hurdle, I had to admit that she was right in almost every area. (She’s previously applied that knowledge in other disciplines, so I guess it’s logical that if she does so in the writing market, she’ll also have success.)

    We’re still not sure whether this idea will be a success or not, on a wider scale; but I already know for sure that it’s a success for me! I’m very glad I’ve got her to lean on.

    1. Just a thought, from reading the above – lead in with an inexpensively-priced advice-giving consult, on what the single most useful “low hanging fruit” improvement probably is for a given author’s work.
      At least some of the time, this may generate unexpected insights that sell doing the actual work; other times, may provide value by confirming the judgement of a nervous author.

  24. Is Dorothy going to hang out her shingle? Yay! Oh. Peter too? That works as well.

    What do I need help with? Marketing. Promotion. Branding. I’m horribly disorganized and temperamentally incapable of promoting myself or my work, so while I wouldn’t need hand-holding, a detailed custom plan would be nice, with a followup of a quarterly consultation–I’d be willing to pay for that.

    My only problem is that my backlist is small. The advice I’ve gotten so far is to wait until I have the current series finished before I put a lot of work into promoting/marketing/sales. And I’m a sl-o-ow writer, combating writers block and the necessity of keeping up with younger, sharper co-workers who don’t appear to sleep.

      1. Do you know how much I could do with the energy they waste?

        Sigh. If only redistribution schemes weren’t against my principles.

  25. Not to hijack this post or anything, but could someone give me some decent recommendations for inexpensive (not cheap) but proven people or companies for editing, formatting, and cover design? I’m still trying trying to learn to handle the whole writing thing, and barely have time for that, much less learning whole new skill-sets that are far outside my wheelhouse? Yeah I know I will have to learn eventually, but right now I can’t and don’t have much of a budget either. And yes, I realize what a tiny and minor thing I’m asking for. I mean I just want to find out where I can get prime rib quality services at ground chuck prices.

    1. “I mean I just want to find out where I can get prime rib quality services at ground chuck prices.”

      -chuckle- Mine is closer to water and free beer nuts.

    2. A friend of mine got a great cover for free–she followed a cover designer on Facebook (just because she admired her work), and got in on a giveaway.

      And how much are you paying for ground chuck? Have you looked at the market in premades?

      1. Kali, I wasn’t even aware there was a market in premades. Right now I’m just trying to get a sense for my options, plan out my budget, and figure out how much of what I don’t have i’m going to have to find.

        1. The market for SF premades isn’t that great (now, if you’re writing romance…), but they’re still out there. Here’s one page with a decent selection at 45$ a cover:

          Or just google “science fiction premade covers” If you’re writing sf, that is 😉

          Good luck, it’s possible to do this on a budget, it just takes more work.

  26. Keywords, blurbs and promotion- I’d definitely pay for those assists! I already pay for editing and covers. I suck at marketing and just don’t have the time/desire to chase down that rabbit hole. I think the pricing is fair too! When can Dot start??? 🙂

  27. The keyword optimization stuff is huge for me since people have explained it and I still don’t get it. Stuff like editing, formatting for ebooks, cover layout, blurbs, anything to help market once the product is ready. All stuff I’d be willing to pay for, and I know I need, but I couldn’t begin to guess how much I could really pay for all that without projecting how much the stories and books would make.

  28. Honestly, I’d pay $100 right now for someone to explain what I can and can’t do in the various Kindle programs because I’m terrified of putting a foot wrong and enrolling in something where I’d have to pull down all of my other copies and can’t do any promotions at all except on Kindle only… I’m not really selling much over at Smashwords, either so…

    1. The biggest problem with the various Kindle programs, is that the ones I’ve looked at require you to be locked into Amazon, i.e. you can’t sell the book elsewhere.

      So you miss out on readers who use Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, Sony, etc. Some writers say that their sales on the alternative platforms are too low to matter. But I know people who make more off the alternative platforms than they do from Amazon.

      As to why, I have no idea.

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