They say that even bad publicity is good, but I'm sorry, in our Digital Publishing industry this is just not true. If you receive bad publicity, start getting a "bad name," that bad publicity could easily end your literary career (under that name anyway). One thing readers expect is honesty and integrity. It's called the Contract with the Reader when it refers to a plot line and it's called "good publicity" when it refers to those moments authors have to personally interact with their readership.
If you say you're going to give books away and then you don't give out gifts, the result is going to negative no matter how you cut it. Either you are so incapable of knowing the difference between an eBook and a file format of an eBook, or you're making yourself known as a liar who pulled a "bait and switch" -- that is, baiting readers to enter a giveaway and then switching their free gifts for files you had on hand.
Why am I bringing this up on Christmas Day? Well, for one thing, most Americans (in fact, most Christians worldwide) are so completely gift-focused today, it seemed very much a propos to the season. It's sad that the real meaning of Christmas now is centered or giving and receiving gifts, worse is that the meaning of "gift giving" has been lost in someone's translation somewhere.
I just ran a Ginormous 30,000 Hit Giveaway as many of you will know. The terms "giveaway" and "free gift" seem pretty clear to me--and to my readers!--but apparently, some Indie Authors have their own meanings for these terms. Click through to read what happened to make me say all this on an otherwise hopeful and happy Christmas Day.
The Setup and Stats on the Giveaway
A day or two after Thanksgiving, I solicited a handful (literally 5) authors whom I know give books away all the time or were looking for somewhere to give books away this holiday season and offered to add them to my giveaway event planned for mid-December. Then I put the word out on Facebook and Goodreads that I was looking for more books to give away--up to 30 titles. I thought that "30 books for the 30,000 Hit Giveaway" sounded good. Instead, I received requests from 72 authors with 104 titles, some multiple copies so ended up with 418 books that had to be given away and accounted for in this giveaway. I definitely did not know my own power (grin).
That was okay, I thought. I could provide the same free services to 72 authors and their 104 titles that I could do for a couple of dozen. I figured if each author was at least invested in promoting their own book, the event would scale up easily. So long as everyone was honest and played by the rules, I naively thought, my free promotion and marketing services would simply extend to a larger set of authors. All the better for everyone, no?
No. Silly me, I forgot, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy and apparently several of the authors to whom I extended this offer were my enemies, not my allies, in this giveaway effort. They were laying in wait, hidden amongst my supporters and behind my lines, a time bomb ticking away.
There were almost as many readers entered into the giveaway as there were authors, about 69 readers for the 72 authors, but a dozen or so of those readers entered often, daily, as much as possible so as to win as many books as possible. That was all good. The more readers, the better for the authors; and the more books a reader wins, the better for the winners!
So for the setup, it seemed to me that all was going well. I was so trusting in the good will of the thing.
Results and Aftermath
I used the Rafflecopter widget to manually select winners over the course of the 3 day weekend from Dec. 14 to 16. Actually, I started selecting winners at 6:00 pm Eastern Time on Dec. 13 and began sending out notifications to authors right then, providing winner contact details to the first dozen or so authors. I sent the private contact data via private DM (Direct Message) on Twitter since this is what I advertised repeatedly as the process I'd be using.
From November 30th to December 12th I stated repeatedly that all authors needed to follow me on Twitter so they could receive their winner details via DM when their book(s) came up on the list over the weekend of Dec 14-16. I even had a little thread started on the Facebook Event Page for collecting all of the Twitter IDs and as an incentive, I started linking the author's name on the giveaway page list to their Twitter ID, suggesting this might help them get more Twitter followers or at least a thank you in an @mention for the free gift.
Several authors still didn't follow me or reply with their Twitter ID but hurray for Letitia Coyne for going above and beyond by personally going out and finding the missing authors' Twitter handles and then posting them for me to the Facebook Event Page. It was that kind of support from the group that I had hoped for and it was great to see it show up. Letitia wasn't the only supportive one, either, just one of the more active behind the scenes (Walki Tinkanesh, Regan Black, Sessha Batto and Vanessa Wu were all retweet Warrior Gods/Goddesses throughout the two weeks of promo tweets). By the time I had to start selecting winners, I had everyone's Twitter IDs and nearly all were following me back (not quite all I realized too late).
Since several never followed me back on Twitter, I had to resort to using Facebook messaging. Since a few authors not only did not follow back but also restrict/block messages on Facebook, they were actively refusing to be contacted, which left me stumped as to how to contact them. I posted on the Facebook Event Page and tweeted @mentions and eventually, every single author had been notified somehow. All of the authors were notified by the time I went to sleep on December 17th, just one day after the event ended.
Not too shabby for one person working alone, while also working killer shifts at a day job in a retail business during the last big shopping weekend before Christmas! I like my new day jobs, honestly, but this is my first time ever working in retail and my gawwwd, it's overwhelming. It's probably colored my perspective on gifts this season being immersed, as I was, in capitalism at its peak of activity.
Starting on December 18, I began notifying readers of their winnings, finishing up on the afternoon of December 19th. I sent one email to each winner with their list of "free gifts" to expect (listing the author's name next to their title) and asked them to give the author(s) a couple of days, maybe until the following weekend, to be in touch given as some of the authors were already complaining they were too busy to deal with delivery of their prizes right now but they'd "get to it as soon as possible." As though I was annoying them asking them to deliver their prizes to the readers.
That was my first red flag.
It's been 10 days since the giveaway "ended" and I'm still hearing from readers telling me they have never received their free gift. It's really sad. The readers sure understood how the process would work and I'd say about 85% or more of the authors completely understood how it would work. Maybe another 5% were unclear and asked but by December 16th when I'd finished pulling winners' names out of Rafflecopter, I'd re-explained the notification process no less than 16 times in 3 days so I'm pretty sure the last 10% had ample opportunities to read (on Twitter, on Facebook, on my blog) how the process would work--an explanation I had given them at the start, I should note, but was repeating 16 or more times in the course of the 3 days of weekend when I announced hte winners.
Still not a problem for me but as the emails from the readers continued, I grew more and more concerned.
Some authors were not communicating with readers at all. Some wer writing to the readers, as soon as I gave them an email address, simply attaching a file format without so much as a "by your leave," and not even saying much other than "Here's your prize. Write me a review if you like it." Presumably the format these authors decided to send would be one the reader wanted and could use, but it was just too damned bad for the "winner of the free gift" if they couldn't read the book.
What an awful taste just writing that leaves! Glad I don't have to say it aloud! Ugh. I can't believe I included authors like this in one of my giveaway events. It's so completely against the way I conduct business.
Then there's the format issue and here's where I'm going to harp for a bit.
Some authors have asked first but when the reader replies they'd like to receive a Kindle eBook, they do not get a gifted copy of the book. Instead they get a reply email with a PRC or MOBI file attached. Now I'll grant you both of those formats are, in fact, readable by and associated with the Kindle app software on most smartphone and tablet devices and for the most part, the actual Kindle eReader devices (not all of them can read PRC files, given as that old format was deliberately abandoned by Amazon and made unreadable to make backwards-compatibility an issue that would drive sales of newer devices).
NOTE: All authors were asked ahead of time and not added to the unless or until they confirmed there were no restrictions on the format of their free gift. In fact, I specifically used the wording "(e.g., Kindle only)" because I know several authors who requested inclusion are enrolled in Amazon's KDP Select Program which requires exclusive rights to the book be granted to the Amazon and their Kindle Store platform.
Only 9 titles were self-identified as Kindle Only.
Therefore, the authors of the remaining 95 titles should, theoretically, have been willing and able to provide a free gift through some other means. Sadly, however, only the Smashwords Authors are unilaterally providing readers with a free gift of a book--they send the coupon code and allow the reader to (a) decide which format they want at what time and on what device and (b) download the eBook at their leisure, when they have ordered their queue to deal with the book. The Smashwords coupon changes the price of the book to whatever the author indicates (in this case, hopefully, $0.00 or free).
With two exceptions, the Kindle-only authors are complaining they have to buy a copy of their own book so they'd rather just send the file by email. (Rob S. Guthrie had no complaints and sent a gifted copy to his winner right away - thanks Rob!)
Okay, that means I'm only having this refusal to gift after promising to gift with a mere 7 authors out of the 72 but you know what? I think those 7 have involved more email activity than the other 65 authors combined!! in fact, it is the complainers and story-changers who took up 90% of my time and created 95% of the hassle. One author involved almost 30 emails back and forth--and then she called me names and went away in a huff! She emailed a MOBI file, rather than gifting the book but at least she said up front she'd be doing that.
Kindle Only and Amazon Gifting
Since I had to deal with this half dozen plus authors and the number one complaint was about having to buy their own book in order to gift it, I have a couple of issues with the complaint for these Kindle-Only books.
1) I do not now nor have I ever endorsed Amazon Kindle's requirement on authors to buy our own books nor do I endorse the restrictive Amazon KDP Select Program as a method of choice for distribution of eBooks. Therefore, I have little or no sympathy for someone who has signed up for that program and is now whining to me about how restrictive it is. I know Amazon makes it very hard for Indie Authors to give things away; that is one of many reasons I don't like their KDP Select Program--one of many reasons and not even the worst part of KDP Select in my opinion!
2) Authors were asked, up front, prior to being listed in the giveaway, "Are there any restrictions (e.g., Kindle only)" on giving away your book?" I even asked them to specify if they would or would not be providing a gifted copy of the book (versus a file by email) because I know how some KDP Select authors suffer from "Buyers' Remorse" and buy once, then "regift" the file off their local hard drive. That's not a gift of a book to the recipient and I specifically asked every author who indicated "Kindle only" or even "Kindle" as one of a select list of formats because I know Amazon makes life so difficult for Indie Authors. I wanted to make the distinction between those books that were being offered as gifts and those that were going to be regifted by the author.
3) Amazon requires authors to buy their own books. We all know that, but let's look at the numbers for a second. For a book priced at $2.99 up to $9.99, an author receives 70% of the cover cost in their next royalty report. Under $2.99, they'll receive 35% of the cover cost. So one way or another, an author purchasing their own book is going to get royalties paid back to them on their next royalty report and in fact, only lose the money they are required to pay to Amazon for every sale of their book--the same money they lose to Amazon everytime anyone else buys their book!
4) When an author purchases their own book to "gift" it to a reader, it's recorded as a unit sale. This increases their sales ranking for one unit. Until Amazon caught onto this system, it was a way some authors used to "doctor" sales rank by "faking" spurts of sales, making it look as though a book is "suddenly" popular. A boost in sales rank is a win/win, isn't it? What's really the downside to buying your own book from Amazon and "gifting" it to a reader? The author gets the gift of one more sale on their tally sheet.
5) Amazon no longer allows "just anyone" to post reviews on books and declines to show (or deliberately ranks at the bottom of the review list) any and all reviews by users who are not "Amazon Verified Purchase" reviewers. Many of the authors who are sending files instead of gifting the actual book are also soliciting reviews. This is about as awful as it gets. These authors are not only refusing to actually give the reader a gift of the book in a giveaway event but then they expect the reader to give them feedback. I can't imagine what these authors imagine this kind of reader is going to write in such a review! Well, other than negative feedback for the liar the authors are making themselves out to be by doing this.
NOTE: These authors are being blacklisted by me as never to be included in another Webbiegrrl giveaway because solicitation of a review was expressly and explicitly forbidden--repeatedly--throughout the 2 weeks prior to the giveaway drawings.
This last is the one that really confounds me, too. You see, if the book were gifted, the reader would own it and therefore, could post a review as an "Amazon Verified Purchase." However, because the author is choosing to change the offer after the fact, does not send a "gift" but instead, emails a file, the reader is not regarded by Amazon as a paying customer. Therefore, this reader cannot post a review even if they wanted to do so!
These authors have not just shot themselves in the foot but have shot themselves in both feet!
Return on Investment (ROI) for Refusing to Deliver Gifts
So let's take a look at this in dollars and cents again, for another second. A large number of the authors who violated the terms of my giveaway and sent files instead of gifts have 99-cent books. These books are in the segment of royalties where Amazon only pays 35% of the cover price anyway so the maximum royalty they could have received would be 35 cents, meaning they will lose 65 cents on the sale. Okay, they lose the majority of the money. It's still only sixty-five cents! It's only one book. I'm pretty broke after 7 years of not working a day job and even *I* would cough up 65 cents to gift a book if a reader "needed" a Kindle gift. You can't even buy a candy bar here in the US for 65 cents. In fact, I don't think there's anything you can buy for 65 cents anymore -- except good will and a potential reader/reviewer of your book!
These authors are deliberately making themselves known to readers as a liar who offers a gift and then changes the offer after the fact by mailing a file (possibly an old format, no longer supported by Amazon).
And these authors are throwing away the chance to show another unit sold on their sales ranking report.
And these authors are throwing away the chance to get a happy reader to write a review as a thank you for the free gift.
All for a measy 65 cents!!
It just boggles my mind. I'm sure these people have a reason for being this penny-wise and pound-foolish (to use the Olde English saying) but I sure do hope laying it out in dollars and sense this way will register with at least some of the authors who mailed files instead of books.
At the end of a party, it is customary (in my social circles, anyway) to say thank you to the host of the party. After all, they invited you to come have fun and they spent time and effort trying to deliver you that fun, so even if you didn't enjoy yourself, they still worked and it's polite to say thank you.
Out of the 72 authors who participated, about 30 thanked me before we'd even started drawing winners--during the build up for the event. I was complimented on my organizational skills and Speedy Gonzales approach to turning things around when new requests came in.
Another 20 or so thanked me immediately following the announcement of the winners and my delivery of their reader's contact details. So about 50 of the 72 authors were extremely appreciative and polite enough to say thank you for the free gift I gave them. What gift, you ask? I provided free marketing and promotional services as well as a free venue for them to solicit new readers--the latter of whom I brought to the venue for the to interact with freely.
At least 70% of the authors understood this basic polite consideration and thanked me for the effort regardless of their ROI from the event.
The remaining 22 or so authors not only did not thank me for the free services I provided over the 3 weeks, but several were actually rude, insulting or fault-finding with me. It was kind of shocking at first. One or two even posted on my blog and Facebook Fan Page and called me names -- in public, in front of my fans, deliberately attempting to defame me in my own house, so to speak. The name-calling as recently as Christmas Eve (which is when I started composing this blog post) was not from a "newbie" either; that was from a so-called "bestseller" and it really shocked me that he was as rude and crude and crass as he is both in a half a dozen private lashings and in the half a dozen public comments. It's not that I expect a "bestseller" to be professional and polite; it's that I thought I knew most of these authors who were so rude. Apparently, being two-faced is a routine behavior among some Indie Authors. This latest is not the first nor, I expect, will it be the last time a "bestseller" has called me names in a public forum. I suppose I should be happy they feel strongly enough about me to bother coming up with flippant remarks, right?
I also suppose having only 30% of the authors be rude, ungrateful and unprofessional wouldn't be so bad, given this business is a cutthroat business where competitors do mud-sling routinely, but nearly all of those who were rude were also the ones who were either not delivering books, not contacting their readers right away or were simply disinterested in finishing what they started.
These authors were hurting not just me and my personal feelings, but far more importantly, they were hurting my readers! In other words, they were the "problems" I was trying to solve for my readers and the more I tried to solve the problem with these people, the ruder and cruder they got! It was all very frustrating since there was no way I could remove them from the giveaway now that the winners had been announced.
This negative behavior, especially in public but also in private messages, not only makes them look like jackholes but makes me look foolish for having promoted them to my readers. I deeply regret suggesting these people were "worth taking a look at" and even more deeply, I regret not screening more carefully.
What Lies Ahead for Webbiegrrl Giveaways
I wanted to be all-inclusive with this giveaway and not turn anyone away who was unable to comprehend the instructions, who had a new book and needed help getting started, who had an old book and wanted to breathe new life into it, who had a personality I disliked, who had anything going on to set off my "lizard brain" bells that a problem lay ahead.
That won't happen again.
Next time I do any kind of giveaway event, even just for one author, there'll be an in-depth screening first. If the author does not have the technical skills to support their own event, I'll consider charging money to just do all of the work for them, but otherwise, I am no longer interested in providing free marketing and promotional services to the Indie Author community, not for the utter lack of appreciation that 30% showered on me. Not after this negative first experience.
It's hard to believe that my first-ever giveaway event exploded in popularity like this and then turned out to be so negative but I am beginning to understand more and more why readers complain about the Indie Author community. We are represented by these few "whiny little mean girls" (including the men who behave like whiny little mean girls) and the good-hearted, professional, polite and respectful people just don't get noticed next to all that drama.
Perhaps that's what the nasty 30% had in mind. Perhaps they just wanted to shine a spotlight onto themselves to get all the attention and take our focus away from the authors who really are worth watching! Sorry but in this case, bad publicity is definitely far worse than none at all.
Speaking of publicity, next week's Monday Marketing blog returns to the debate on publicity versus advertising. I hope I'll see you then!