The Numbers Game

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My buddy Steve, an engineer in Colorado, sent me this interesting artlcle about firms that will–for a more than modest fee–propel your book to the top of the charts at Amazon and other online retailers, even if it’s just for a little while. One gets the notion from the tone of the piece that the whole thing is just a big scam, and I’d have to say that I agree. I mean, sure–I’ve followed my own numbers on Amazon with more than a casual interest (we authors are, after all, an insecure breed), and I’ve done a little dance or two when I saw the rankings shoot up; but never did it cross my mind to actually pay somebody to gin up my position on a strictly temporary basis.

The whole thing strikes me as something like a vanity press: yet more people who take money from authors who are desperate to get their stuff moving, no matter what. Sure, there may be a success story or two for writers who go this route (Steve Alten comes to mind), but for the most part you’d probably be better off spending your hard-earned cash on beer and pizza. As for my own example, I swore when I started writing that I would never, ever pay somebody to review or market my work–because it then becomes impossible to tell whether the “professionals” selling you advice actually think your work is marketable or if they just want to milk a few more more dollars out of your pocket.

That’s not to say that hiring a real publicist to help promote your work is a bad idea, but there’s a big difference between that and some firm that promises to inflate your numbers by getting some mercenary authors to recommend your book for a fee. Those are the kind of plugs I can do without. The authors who have endorsed my work (God bless ’em) have done so because they liked my books–not because I offered a bribe. The same goes for those members of the media who have kindly helped me get the word out by doing interviews and profiles. It involves a lot of legwork, to be sure, but ultimately it’s the only real way to get things done.

Besides, being a bestseller for a day isn’t going to help sales all that much. Better to start slow and build momentum over time, and find an audience that enjoys your work and tells other people about it. I’ll take that over a flash in the pan any day of the week.

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