Times may be tough, but it’s a great time to be in the self-publishing business. That is, if you happen to sell some variant of snake oil meant to transform an unknown writer into a best-selling author. Book ads. Virtual tours. Paid Tweetingthe possibilities are endless. The only catch is, these marketing devices can only deliver on one promise: To keep our fantasies alive while quickly emptying our wallets.


If this sounds a little like prostitution, there are definitely parallels between the world’s oldest profession and this relatively recent one. Think about it: If no one likes a man enough to sleep with him, he can either pay for sex or masturbate in shameful solitude. It’s the same with authors: If enough people won’t buy our books, there is someone out there who, for a fee, will dangle a carrot just inches from our noses with the promise of a score.

Once a self-publishing virgin myself, I have officially attained “ho” status in the two years since releasing my first novel. You might not know this, but the purveyors of promotional "smut" have a rating system for self-pubbers like me (similar to the detestable rating system boys use to rank girls on a scale from 1 to 10). They call it “SPH” (Self-Promotional Ho-dom). Each number tracks how many hundreds of dollars we chumps have spent pumping our books and chasing our dreams. (Right now, I’m about an SPH-55 over the course of two years and four books.)

Still, hope springs eternal, and I am always looking for tips on how to get better traction from my marketing efforts. So earlier this week, I spoke to an award-winning author, book publisher, and editor, Nesta Aharoni (see http://grassrootspublishinggroup.com/). A gracious and intelligent woman who seems to be winning at this low-odds game, Nesta gave me some rather inspiring suggestions, including using a press release distribution service and trying to get my fourth novel, Stage Daughter, a book award.

I was pumped by the time I hung up the phone—I could practically taste the glue (from running those glorious  gold prize stickers over my tongue and affixing them to my books)—until I saw how much it costs to apply.  A submission for an Indie Book Award, for example, runs $75 per category; the IPPY’s (Independent Publisher Book Awards) cost $85. That might not sound like much, but if I were to actually try to garner a literary honor, I would have to apply for at least ten such awards in three categories, given how fierce the competition must be. You can do the math. Perhaps the press release service is a surer bet. According to Bostick Communications (http://www.bostickcommunications.com/), they can get my release into the hands of 21,000 media outlets for only $175. But wait, I already tried blasting press releases last yearwhen I  hired Smith Publicity to pitch my third novel, The Floater. This is how I learned the hard way that media outlets are notoriously uninterested in covering unknown authors.

As with anything else in life, high-income individuals have it easier. The wealthy can choose from big-impact services at the top of the media food chain (think Sheryl Sandberg's promotion of her book, Lean In). We nobodies are left dragging our spluttering literary jalopies through overcrowded avenues swarming with questionable characters (and the only ones "leaning in" are hucksters). But why blame the rich and famous for indulging their fantasies? Given their circumstances, we would all do the same. After all, what’s a few thousand bucks on “getting off” (that is, getting a book off the ground) if it puts our name before the public and keeps our literary juices flowing? As for me, I remain open to any and all promotional pitches that might stimulate book sales—as long as they’re free and won’t give me a disease.  http://stagedaughter.com/