Category Archives: Marketing tips

Don’t Waste Your Money – 3 Alternatives to Paid Book Blurbs That Really Work

I hate seeing authors waste time and money.

At Columbus Publishing Lab, we help authors self-publish books that are as good or better than the books coming out of large, traditional publishers. And we help them do it in a way that can be profitable. We don’t sell pipe dreams, we sell real services that work. And we help our authors avoid common pitfalls and false promises we see in the self-publishing industry.

Paid “trade review,” book blurb or book review services are a huge waste of time and money.  This is something we get questions about all the time. I hate seeing authors get sucked into these things.

I’m not going to drag any specific company’s names through the mud, but these are services which charge some amount of money (typically $200-$800) for a review and a praise blurb for the back of your book.

“Best book of the year.” – Bedirkus Reviews

And they usually offer some other goodies to sweeten the deal. Social media promotion, some kind of newsletter or catalog that goes out to libraries, etc.

Based on my decade of experience working with authors at every level of the publishing industry, I can tell you that the reality of these so-called “trade reviews” is that they just don’t work. They do little to no good for your book sales, and the price tag is way too high.

They all purport themselves to be honest reviews, but I’ve never seen anybody get a bad one. How is that possible? Typically, the provided long-form review will have a few counter-marks, to make it feel authentic. But you are paying someone to give you a positive review, and everyone in the industry knows it.

The reality for these services is that if they don’t provide generally positive reviews, they will cease to have value to authors. Self-published authors will pay $400 for a praise blurb for their book cover, but authors likely won’t gamble the same amount for the prospect of possibly receiving a good review.

There are four reasons that these reviews aren’t worth your money:

  1. No Credibility – Everyone in the industry knows the names of the companies which offer paid reviews. It’s not necessarily a bad mark, but it’s not going to give future agents, publishers, other reviewers, etc. the glowing impression you’re expecting, and it’s not going to pay off in credibility for you. You might as well put a praise quote from your mom on the cover.
  2. Long Timeline – These review services typically take weeks to provide reviews (4-6 weeks seems to be standard), unless, of course, you want to pay for “Expedited” service.
  3. Expensive – Most of our authors aren’t working with huge marketing budgets. Of all of the things you can spend your money on to promote your book, this isn’t anywhere close to the top of the list as far as bang for your buck.
  4. No Real Organic Reach – These services typically advertise that X number of bookstores and libraries read their reviews, or they may broadcast your book to X number of social media followers. I’m not accusing them of lying. I’m sure they send a catalog or an e-newsletter to that many outlets, but it doesn’t mean that anyone actually reads it or that it nets sales. In my experience, I have never seen any evidence, or even a single anecdotal account from real life, that indicates that an author received any kind of real publicity, sales, attention, etc. because of one of these paid reviews. As far as social media followings, have you ever purchased a book because you saw a paid review service promoting it on Facebook?

We didn’t just write this to rain on the parade. There are better alternatives, and they’re mostly free.

Before we embark on any objective, the first question to ask is “Why are we doing this?”  The most common answer I get for paid reviews is “Such and such from my writer’s group did it and got a great review.” Call me old fashioned, but everybody’s doing it, just isn’t enough for me.

So what’s the value in praise blurbs anyways? There are two big ways that they help: 1) Social Credibility – quotes for the book jacket, website, etc. prove that someone has actually read this book and liked it. When a reader picks up your book, having someone else’s positive opinion absolutely helps; and 2) Promotional Connections – when you put a praise blurb on your cover, you have more access to that reviewer’s contacts and network.

And of course, paid trade review services claim to offer these exact things. But at such a high cost and with such poor results. You can achieve more for much less money.

Here are three alternatives that really work:
1. Use your personal network (or find a personal network) – reach out to published authors you know for a praise blurb, no matter how small they are. It’s free to you, it’s shared publicity for them. Even if the author isn’t well known, or isn’t even any good, that praise blurb will carry at least as much credibility as one from Bedirkus Reviews, and you just saved $400. And you can probably get a review from a friend in less than two weeks.

You’ve also just incentivized a real person to push your book – on their blog, social media, to their friends – because their name is on the back of it. Their network is an audience that isn’t overburdened with constant spam of book recommendations, and their friends trust them to recommend good books.

Obviously better authors, and authors in your genre will have a better result. Reach as high as you can, but take what you can get. If they say yes, don’t forget to return the favor by pushing their book to your followers.

2. NetGalley – NetGalley is a service that connects your book to real reviewers. NetGalley makes your book available to thousands of professional book reviewers, who can get a copy of the book for free if they’re interested.

This is less valuable for praise blurbs, as it’s often a better fit after the book is released, but it’s a great way to get real reviews on Amazon and out on some book review blogs. These are real people, so they have followings – people who like their personality, their taste in books – and these fans trust and use their recommendations.

Be forewarned, these are real reviews in the wild, so you might get some bad ones, but that’s OK.  Even bad reviews can lend credibility, as it demonstrates a wider readership of the book. Unlike paid trade reviews, real reviewers are incentivized to leave honest reviews. If they’re not honest, they’ll lose credibility with their followers who trust their recommendations.

NetGalley can be a little bit expensive, but we work in volume, so if you come through Columbus Publishing Lab, we can give you a better deal than you can get if you go directly to  Most of our authors receive 3-10 reviews for about $200, which is a far better deal (and with far greater reach) than what you’ll pay for one review through a paid trade review service.

3. Ask for help! When you work with Columbus Publishing Lab, we want your book to succeed. That’s how we stay in business. Our authors get great results, and then they tell their friends “These guys can help you do it right.” So let us help you do it right.

You may not feel like you know a lot of authors, but we know a ton!  If you’re getting a comprehensive publishing package from us and you’re committed to publishing your best book, we’d be happy to connect you with some authors in your genre so that you can request a praise blurb. Not all will say yes, or they may want you to review their book in return, but that’s how new networks form, and that’s how we all move forward together. And you can’t beat the price!

Paid trade reviews aren’t a black mark on the book. They’re simply not worth the expense. They don’t net any effective exposure, lend any more credibility to your book than the name of an unknown author, and they take way too long to get.

There are better alternatives that make the most out of the money you have to invest in your book. You can spend a bunch of money, or you can make new friends. When you’re pushing a book with a small marketing budget, there is nothing that will help you more than friends in your corner.

Before you commit to trade reviews or anything else, let’s have a conversation. We want your book to be successful, that’s how we all win together. Give us a call or text today at 614-805-3982 or shoot us an email at Our initial consultation is free. We look forward to speaking with you.

Do Book Trailers Work? No. Book Trailers Do Not Work.

We have this crazy rule at Columbus Publishing Lab: we won’t try to sell people things they don’t need, or things that won’t work.

Book trailers don’t sell books.  If your intent is to increase the sales of your book, trailers are a waste of time and money.

If you insist you want to throw away your money so you can be the coolest author on the block, we’ll do our best work and facilitate it. But let me be frank: your book trailer is not going to be the exception, even if it’s exceptional, and it’s not going to sell books.

We’ve experimented with book trailers. After all, everybody’s doing it–almost all of our competitors offer book trailers, and we get tons of requests for them.  We’ve made trailers with live actors and Hollywood-caliber production, top-notch stuff like the one below.  This thing is awesome, but trailers don’t sell books, and this one was no exception.

Any promotional effort will have a fractional conversion rate. Which is to say, of all of the people who are exposed to your marketing, a percentage will actually buy the product. As an example, only a small percentage of drivers who see the billboard about a McDonald’s at Exit 38 are hungry, and fewer still will want a Big Mac.  When it comes to marketing, a “conversion” is a person who is exposed to your marketing and takes the action you want them to take—i.e. buys a product, joins an email list, donates to an organization, watches a TV show, etc.

There’s a lot of variation based on type of promotion, but to generalize web marketing across all industries, a 1% conversion rate is good, .1% is fine (1 in 1,000 respond), and a 5% response rate is ungodly.  ***NB: A like/retweet/comment/etc. on social media is great, but it should never be the objective and it’s not a “conversion.”  An effective web marketing campaign should have a far higher response/interaction rate than 1%.

The goal of any book promotion (a “conversion”) is the sale of one book.  This means that if 1 out of every 100 people who see your promotion buy your book, you’re doing exceptionally well.

What happens in real life is that authors end up spending their time promoting their book trailer.  They promote the book trailer by graffiti-ing every social media platform with the link to YouTube.  On a good day, 1% of the people who see the link actually go and watch the thing. Then of those who watch it, 1% (best case scenario) actually go and purchase the book.  You’ve just fractionalized your fraction,  and now you’re pulling a .01% total conversion rate on the project. Not good.

Instead of promoting a book trailer to promote a book, just promote your book directly.  If our goal is to sell books, a well-crafted “Hey go watch my book trailer,” is about 1/100th as effective as a well-crafted “Hey go buy my book.”

And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that a really good book trailer will cost well over $1,000, if not far more.  Your conversion rate on most of the poorly-produced videos on YouTube is virtually 0.

There are some exceptions:

  1. The book trailer is so exceptional that a viewer just has to share it with everyone they know. This is extremely difficult. Book trailers are essentially commercials, and how many commercials do you see shared on Facebook? The average cost to produce a national-TV-quality commercial is $342,000, and even these are rarely shared.
  2. The book trailer is a second-hit. We have a rule in our promotions—nobody does anything they’re not told to do at least twice. If your book is already saturating the general population, a book trailer can be an effective follow-up to seal the deal.  As in, you were on Good Morning America this morning, and curious readers are now actively searching for materials about your book.
  3. If Crowdfunding is part of your strategy (i.e. Kickstarter or Indiegogo), a video works. Crowdfunding audiences are predisposed to watch videos, because it’s part of the culture of the platform.  The format of this type of video will be different from a “book trailer.”
  4. Other types of videos can work. If you’re an expert or you have something to offer, and you can make videos that do more than just promote the book—for instance, solve a problem, explain a concept, or make people laugh—something which is genuinely good, entertaining and helpful, you can promote your personal brand and sell books as an ancillary benefit. This is a far different approach from a book trailer, however.  In other words, not all videos are bad, just book trailers.

We believe that self-publishing works when it’s done right.  The fact is, our clients think videos are cool and I wish they worked—they can be a lot of fun to make, and it would be a cool service to offer.  But in good conscience, it’s not a service that we can stand behind.

At the end of the day, book trailers are more about the author’s vanity. And we don’t do vanity here. We do professional results and we do return on investment.

Take it from us, skip the book trailer and save your money. There are better ways to promote your book.

Have you ever purchased a book because you saw a book trailer? Let us know in the comments.

Every book is different.  While this blog post is about a marketing method that doesn’t work, we have a toolbox full of methods that DO work.  At Columbus Publishing Lab, we tailor a marketing plan specifically for your book, to meet your goals, using methods that are proven and effective. Contact us to discuss your book today.

May 2016 Newsletter

You can’t spell “marketing” without “mark.”

Marketing tip: Know exactly who you’re trying to capture.

Most amateur marketing campaigns suffer from overgeneralization. I know what you’re bullseyethinking: “I don’t want to exclude any potential buyers.” But the truth is that if you’re creating a marketing campaign that will appeal to everyone, then you’re creating a marketing campaign that probably won’t motivate anyone. The person who is exposed to your advertising can’t just “like” it, it needs to be powerful enough to motivate them to take an action. If you’ve ever practiced archery, you know that the more specific your target is, the more accurate you’ll be. Aim small, miss small. The same is true for marketing campaigns, and the lower your budget, the truer this principle is.

As you consider marketing anything—yourself, your book, your business (and if it’s a book, you’re marketing all three of those things)—your first step is to succinctly identify your target. As a fun writing exercise, describe them exactly. Where are they right now, what are they wearing, what’s the last book they read, movie they watched, what did they eat for breakfast? I know you want everyone to buy your book, but who would be the BEST person to buy your book? Who’s going to like it the most? Once you know who your mark is, you can begin to formulate a plan to motivate exactly that person. Lucky for you, there are more than 300 million people in the United States, and at least a few of them are exactly like the person you’ve described.

When you have $1,000 to spend on marketing, it would be foolish to think that you can capture everyone. But no matter how specific your criteria get, there are $1,000 worth of people like them out there in the world, and if you appropriately identify them, you can target the buyers who want exactly what you have to offer.

When you market, know your mark. Aim small.

-CEO Brad Pauquette

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