“I have an incredible opportunity to share”

Re: Trying to help you sell books. I’ve tried to do this with two other friends in years past. No luck. It’s hard to sell a one-off book profitably on pay-per-click basis – both hardcover or an ebook series. I have not found any way to make it happen. There are some folks out there who prey on new authors and try to get them to sign up for a training series on how to sell their book. The only thing they sell, it seems, is their training series and dashed hopes. Sorry I can’t help you there and don’t know anyone who has succeeded. – Matt Van Wagner, internationally recognized Adwords authority

I received another “incredible opportunity” in my emails a few months back.

Normally I dismiss such offers and let it go at that. This time other authors who received the same offer contacted me asking my opinion.

A few things to note before diving in; the offer deals with Amazon Ads. I have nothing against Amazon Ads, lots against misleading marketing. Especially to vulnerable markets.

The current indie-authorverse is vulnerable because it is a young market. Young markets, like young children, like young animals, are innocent. They don’t appreciate that the nice man offering them candy might hurt them, hence are open to predation. The young, markets or otherwise, don’t have the same filters regarding purchases that experienced purchasers have. Think of it this way; Someone buying their first car looks for different things than someone buying their third or fourth car. Should you be shopping for car #10, you don’t ask lots of questions because you know what you want and what to look for.

The same is true on the marketing side. How you market to a first time buyer is different than how you market to an experienced buyer. Good salespeople and marketers use different buzzwords (think keywords but in commercials, print, and in-person) based on who they’re pitching at the moment and the general maturity of the audience as a whole.

How do I know this? I owned and ran an international marketing advisory company for over 25 years and wrote three books on the subject. How do I know this happens to authors? I talk to authors from everywhere and do research, research, and, umm, oh yes, research.

You can stop reading after this section
Amazon is in the business of selling ads, not books, food, sporting equipment, coffee makers or anything else. Their percentage on any sale is relatively minimal compared to what they make from the ads for that sale.

Some people run successful Amazon Ad campaigns for a while – note “for a while” – because Amazon learned from Google to change the ad-buy algorithms periodically without letting people know, hence any winning Amazon Ads strategy fails given enough time.

Anybody with a repeatable, infallible method for selling products via Amazon Ads (or anything else) will give you a guarantee because they know they have nothing to lose; their method is repeatable and infallible.

Read what follows and let me know if you see any guarantee.

The received email

As we strategize for the second half of 2020, I have an incredible opportunity to share. For the low cost of $150 (and upon …’s approval), you could have one of your titles marketed with an Amazon Marketing Ad. The investment is to assist our marketing staff with their time and the testing of keywords (search terms); and if we can get your Amazon Ad optimized to our preferred ROI, we will leave your ad running for as long as it’s profitable.
The screenshot below shows one author and their titles marketed with Amazon Ads for the current year – note that this author contributed approximately a thousand dollars for this campaign in the onset, and now … has spent over $25,000 in 2020 and sold 4,438 copies.
There are never any guarantees, but even for a chance at a long-term campaign fully funded by your publisher should be an investment worth taking. Based on my experience and what I’ve learned as a fellow author, I would do this without a second thought.
If an author is first approved and then signs up for this opportunity, they will need to assist with creating a strong keyword (search terms) list. … will provide a custom template and send an informative video with links and tips for gathering your keywords. If you’d like to be considered for this opportunity, please email … .
*We will also do for this Facebook and BookBub Ads, offering something similar, in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

A closer look…

  • Beware of marketingspeak. Marketingspeak’s sole function is to cause emotional decisions. Emotional decisions tend to be unwise. They’re usually ill conceived at best and kneejerk at worst.
    More technically, marketingspeak activates one, two, or both important/critical neural pathways; Towards and AwayFrom. These neural pathways are important/critical because they gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage; we stayed AwayFrom harmful things and went Towards helpful things.
    If I, as a marketer, want you to do something (buy something, vote a certain way, et cetera) I will activate your Towards pathway by using Towards language, images, sounds, smells, et cetera. If I want you to not do something I will use AwayFrom language, images, sounds, smells, et cetera.
    As I’m writing this for authors, enjoy what follows (and appreciate the power of words to evoke sensations):
    • strategize: Most people encountering the word “strategize” involuntarily consider future events. It’s marketingspeak intended to cause both hope (Towards) and fear (AwayFrom). We hope something good will happen, we fear something bad will happen, so we plan, ie strategize. “Strategy” and all of its variants are also “distancing” words. Distancing words are used to separate and distance us from unpleasantness. Distancing language is what happens when the homeless become displaced persons. Distancing language is what happens when we claim (for example) the elderly are overhoused and want them off their property so we can sell the land to developers for a huge profit without compensating the original elderly owners. The best riff on distancing language comes from George Carlin‘s take on the move from shellshocked to post traumatic stress disorder.
      We use “strategize” because “plans failing” sounds so permanent. But strategies? Oh, well. Try a different one.
      Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being proceeded by a period of worry and depression. – Sir John Harvey-Jones


    • incredible opportunity: It’s so good it’s incredible. “Incredible” is marketingspeak most often used in scarcity marketing; there’s a time or an amount limit, so if you don’t act now, this opportunity will be lost. Scarcity marketing is intended to scare you into acting and is AwayFrom, as in driving you AwayFrom losing out on the opportunity, ie making you fearful of missing an opportunity.
    • low cost: Be on guard when someone wants to sell you something and uses “low cost” as part of their pitch. It’s a Towards phrase, as in “this must be good because it’s low cost.
      There’s also the issue of “low cost” not being clearly defined. Stating “low cost of $150” doesn’t mean it’s low cost because the “low cost” is relative; $150 could be a king’s ransom to some. Someone stating “low cost of $150” is priming you to decide $150 isn’t much money (priming is something marketers do a lot and is borrowed from psychology studies. Priming is a fascinating study in and of itself. You can read more at Priming, Sleeping Beauty, and the World’s Most Comfortable Couch and thanks to Joe Della Rosa for asking to see more on the subject).
      Before spending anything on anything, recognize spending $X here means you can’t spend $X there. The money you spend on A means you don’t have it to spend on B. The way I explain it is by asking, “How much of $X is your weekly food bill?” Do you spend $X on groceries each week? Then imagine you and your family not eating for a week. Is $X what you spend in a month? Then don’t eat for a month. On the other hand, if $X is what you spend on a quick lunch, let me know because I have some really good deals for you.
    • and upon …’s approval: Another example of scarcity marketing. What’s the selection criteria? What happens to my money if my books aren’t selected? Remember the kid in school who practically jumped out of their seat and waved their hands hoping the teacher would pick them? Fall for this marketingspeak and you’re that kid.
    • you could have: More scarcity language. You could have this. Read carefully any marketing material containing “could”, “should”, and “would.” Could is used to invoke guilt, should to invoke shame, would to invoke possibility/action. Put yourself in a quiet frame of mind, ask yourself these three questions and pay attention to your emotional response to each: “Could I do this?” “Should I do this?” “Would I do this?”
      Those emotional states are what marketers hope to trigger with this language. “You could have but you didn’t. You bad person, you.”
    • marketing staff: How many people, exactly? How much time will be devoted to your titles? Are we talking one person/hour per day? Week? Month? Any offer with this kind of language needs to be read carefully. At some point, there’ll be a condition whereby you become an essential part of the marketing staff. More than essential, critical. More than critical, if you don’t do your part correctly, everything fails.
      But it won’t be the fault of the people making the offer. They did their part. It’s because you didn’t do your part or didn’t do it well enough.
      And of course, if things work out, they’ll take the credit.
    • if we can: This is caveating language, as in “we can’t guarantee anything.” Someone wants your money and doesn’t guarantee a satisfactory result. Okay, forget “satisfactory.” Let’s go with “reasonable.” How about “acceptable”? How about “breakeven”?
    • optimized to our preferred ROI: Define “preferred ROI.” Warning, Will Robinson! If this individual or group has rarely if ever mentioned ROI, or if when you’ve asked ROI-based questions they don’t answer, are reluctant to answer, or side-step the issue, be careful!
      There’s also a change in language and tone from what’s written previously. Compare the simple language preceding “optimized to our preferred ROI” to the language following it. Marketers change language and tone when they want you to ignore or skim material, a kind of linguistic small print, as in “beware the small print.” Our brains don’t like to work hard. An abrupt change in language and tone causes our brains to look for the next simple thing. The authors of this offer want you to skim this line (and perhaps what follows).
    • we will leave your ad running: This is “do it once and forget it,” something we all wish was how things worked. It would be great if you could change your tires once and never again, or gas up your car once and never again, or buy a steak and never have to buy another, or buy clothes and they always fit and never went out of style. Yeah, that would be great, wouldn’t it? The sad fact is that things change and Amazon Ads are a posterchild of this. Anybody ever work with Google Adwords? And kept their sanity? Same thing.
    • for as long as it’s profitable: Define…basically this entire phrase. What’s the amount of time they’ll allow the ad to be non-profitable before they pull the plug? A day? An hour? A week? A month? How unprofitable will they allow it to be? Dollars? Tens of dollars? Hundreds? Much of advertising is placement. You need to keep your content (your ad) in front of people for as long and as often as possible before people act. Most people need to encounter material 3-7x (personally, I go with 7 if not more) before they even become aware of it. Marketers know this as touching, as in “You have to touch the audience 3-7 times before they’ll consciously respond to your material. Those first 3-7 times set a non-conscious trigger that primes (there’s “prime” again) the audience to respond.”

    And so far we’ve only covered the first paragraph.

    Want more?

  • Beware of meaningless numbers. Meaningless numbers hearken back to changes in language in tone and are used when the marketer wants to impress you with data but has no real data to show. It works because most people don’t work well with hard numbers (data). Most people fumble when putting together a simple X-Y spreadsheet. Show them something with multiple dependencies and their eyes glaze and their heart palpitates.
    Comparing information and knowledge is like asking whether the fatness of a pig is more or less green than the designated hitter rule. – David Guaspari


    • one author and their titles: how many titles does this author have? One? Ten? One-hundred? Best find out before acting on the offer. Expect radically different (and negative) results if the numbers quoted are for five or more books in a series and you’ve only written one book and it’s not the first book in a series.
    • note that this author contributed approximately a thousand dollars for this campaign in the onset, and now … has spent over $25,000 in 2020 and sold 4,438 copies: But…the offer mentioned $150. Why are they telling you what happened when somebody spent $1,000?
      Simple. They’re priming (ugh!) you to spend more money in the long run.
      Letting that slide, first check your royalty percentages against the net charge for a book. Most contracts include something like “30 percent of the “net” received on the first 5,000 copies sold.” Now check out Amazon’s royalty structure (because it’s a handy reference). Someone needs to make $5.55 per book to breakeven if they spent $25k and sold ~4,500 books. A $10 (for easy numbers) ebook’s best Amazon royalty is $6.75. You get 30% or $2.03/book. Yes, you made a killing with roughly $8,100 returned for your $1,000 investment. Good for you! Congrats, and yeeha!
      Except the original email suggested spending much less – $150 – in order to hook you into spending (much) more, a classic bait-and-switch marketing methodology.
      And look at the numbers carefully; the folks making the offer made $4.72/book for their $25k investment, meaning they lost ~$3,600 on the deal.
      So they’re boasting about a deal where they lost money? And they’re doing this for lots of authors? And they’re staying in business?
      You may think these are wonderful people, sacrificing like that.
      No, they’re not. They’re making their money some other way.
      For example, that $25k investment. Was it hard or soft money? Some combination of both? Business people (who stay in business) are careful with hard money. Hard money is that green, folding stuff you put in your wallet. Hard money pays bills, buys equipment, and puts food on the table. Soft money does none of those things. Soft money is the cost of something given away minus the cost of producing it. Ever see something like “…a $25 value…”? Chances are that $25 is for something electronic/downloadable, not something durable (like a physical book, a car, a refrigerator, washing machine, clothing, …). I may give you a ebook version of my Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires and tell you it’s a $10 value but its real cost of production and distribution is $0. Production is $0 because I wrote the stories years ago, some have been reprinted and/or serialized, I’ve already made back my time and expense and then some. Distribution is $0 because it’s electronic.
      Basic caveat emptor, find out what kind of investment someone is making when they tell you they made an investment.
    • spent over $25,000 … and sold 4,438 copies: Don’t mix apples and oranges. Quote an expense, give a result in revenue returned – “It cost $25k and returned $52k” == excellent return and numbers that make immediate sense. State a sales volume, predicate it with a production volume. “Our initial print run was 1,000 copies, got backorders for two more print runs of 1,000 copies each and sold all but 25 copies” == 2,975 copes were sold (pretty good if the anticipated sales volume was only 1,000 units). “spent over $25,000 … and sold 4,438 copies” == we spent 25k apples and sold ~4.5k oranges. Can you say “WTF?

    But wait! We haven’t gotten to the major caveating yet!

    • There are never any guarantees: Correct, gambling offers few guarantees.
      Except that the House always wins in the long run. And quite often in the short run, as well.
      Guarantees tend to be expensive. They up the price of whatever’s being offered. Professional gambling comes close to a guarantee but it’s a full time business, requires a big bankroll, and the House is counting on lots of non-professional gamblers to be at the table when the professional plays. IE, the House isn’t losing money, the non-professional gamblers are and a portion of what they lose goes in the pocket of the professional.
      You got lots of time and a big bankroll? Me neither, that’s why I like guarantees, or as close to a guarantee as I can get.
    • but even for a chance: scarcity language. What’s the exact percentage? What are the chances? One in ten? That’s a 10% chance. Yeah, okay, maybe. The Lottery gives you a much worse chance that that. But the lottery doesn’t cost you over a hundred dollars per ticket.
      Entrepreneurs love to say “You have to spend money to make money” and I’ll agree. What entrepreneurs don’t tell you is they rarely use their own money. More often than not they make sure their money’s untouchable should things fold.
      Here’s another way to think of a 10% chance: You have a headache and you get a bottle with ten pills in it. There’s a warning on the bottle, “One of these pills will kill you, the other nine will relieve your headache.”
      You have a 90% chance of taking a pill that’ll get rid of your headache, a 10% chance of being killed. Do you still take the chance on not taking the one pill that’ll kill you?
      You have to ask yourself, “How bad is the headache?”
      The folks offering this deal are hoping you have a massive, eye-crossing headache and basically don’t care which pill you take so long as you take at least one.

      Now change things a bit. The bottle with the one poison pill costs $10. The bottle with ten good pills costs $100. Are you willing to spend more to stay safe and get rid of your headache?
      Think about it.
      But don’t give yourself a headache.

    • at a long-term campaign fully funded by your publisher: But this is neither and the original email stated such. “if we can get your Amazon Ad optimized to our preferred ROI, we will leave your ad running for as long as it’s profitable” and “For the low cost of $150.” And if it’s only profitable for a week? And remember, a raw numbers example indicates these folks lost money on the book sales (BIG HINT! THEY’RE NOT SELLING BOOKS, THEY’RE SELLING MARKETING!).
    • should be an investment worth taking: scarcity and caveating rolled into one.
    • Based on my experience and what I’ve learned as a fellow author, I would do this without a second thought: Lines like this, I admit, are one of my favorite marketingspeak gimmicks. Me casa e su casa, baby! I’m just like you, a fellow author, and I’d jump on this without a second thought. Hey, trust me. Would I lie?
      Well, yes, and if not outright lie, you might straddle that line with acrobatic aplomb.
      Whenever you encounter an “I’m just like you and I’d do this” proposition, look for the details. The individual claims to be a fellow author. Great! What was the last book they wrote and when was it published? Did the techniques they’re offering you work for them (and remember to get hard number results should they answer)? If they’re an author and these techniques worked for them, how come they’re no longer an author using these techniques to sell their books?
      Consider this another way; If the deal is so good, suggest this to them: Tell them to put in the $150 and you’ll pay them back out of your earnings. It’s an incredible deal, right? And they’d do this without a second thought, right?
      Then tell them to do it and you can both profit from it, right? Even better, if it’s so good a deal, tell them to do it and you’ll pay them double out of your earnings; they put in $150, you’ll give them $300 out of the several thousand their numbers indicate you’ll make.
      Should be a no brainer, right?
      Yeah, right. Give it a go and let me know what happens.
    • If an author is first approved: scarcity language
    • and then signs up for this opportunity: ditto
    • they will need to assist with creating a strong keyword (search terms) list: Remember what I wrote above about marketing staff? How at one point you’d become part of the effort and therefore much of any problems might be due to your inability and/or inexperience? Here you go.
      You’re paying for their expertise in this, not paying to develop your own. That’s why I take my car to a certified mechanic. He gets paid to scrape his knuckles on the engine manifold, I don’t.
      And he guarantees his work.
      THIS JUST IN! People who acted on this offer are reporting anywhere from 8 hours to 12 days to complete their part of the task with (so far) no recognizably better results. Given that the average 2020 US minimum wage is ~$10, this means your contribution to their marketing staff is anywhere from $80 to $920. Most people forget to include their own time involvement when figuring out their return on something like this. To me, I’m taking time away from developing my craft and I’ll sell zero books if my writing sucks. I’d rather invest my time in creating a product worth buying than figuring out how to sell something nobody wants.
      You have to ask yourself if you’re willing to invest this kind of time without a guarantee of a positive or at least breakeven result.
      Remember Dirty Harry asking the mugger if they wanted to gamble with their life?
      Well, do you, punk?
      (ps – two months in and no one’s reporting favorable results)
    • … will provide a custom template and send an informative video with links and tips for gathering your keywords: See above. Or if these are my take-aways, let me spend the $150 for a course and at least then I’ll have a better understanding of how things work and learn from my experience. And if the custom template and video cause more questions because I’m not an expert or remotely knowledgeable in this area? Who’s available to explain it to me? How many questions do I get to ask? Let me take a course at the local community college or a live online session. I’ll ask questions. A lot. And if I’m not satisfied, I’ll make sure I get my money back.
    • If you’d like to be considered for this opportunity, please email ...: scarcity language again
    • *We will also do for this Facebook and BookBub Ads, offering something similar, in the coming weeks. Stay tuned: We’re trying this out. If we figure we can turn a profit, we’ll have similar offers.
        Final word
        As stated up front, I have no problem with people making money. I do and I enjoy it.

        And I’d love for this to work out for those taking part, I truly would. If their success can be demonstrated as repeatable with all factors known (business speak for “minimizing risk”), I’ll jump in!

        But misleading marketing? Ohhh, that frosts me.

        You probably couldn’t tell.

4 thoughts on ““I have an incredible opportunity to share””

  1. This just in (26 Aug 2020)
    An email exchange with an author friend (specifically in reference to the “Based on my experience and what I’ve learned as a fellow author, I would do this without a second thought” claim in the original offer) brought the following to light:
    According to Amazon, the individual sending out this offer has
    7 books (last one published 15 Nov 2016)
    33 reviews
    average review per book 2.8
    average review per review 0.6

    Going by numbers alone, one must question if this is the fellow whose marketing advice one should be taking. As I wrote in the above post, “The individual claims to be a fellow author. Great! What was the last book they wrote and when was it published? Did the techniques they’re offering you work for them (and remember to get hard number results should they answer)? If they’re an author and these techniques worked for them, how come they’re no longer an author using these techniques to sell their books?”
    And now we know the last book published was in 2016 (if they have a pseudonym, we don’t know it, nor do we know if they wrote more books and haven’t publish them), and evidently these techniques didn’t work for them (if they used them. And if not, why not? I mean, they’re incredible, right?).

    It appears this “fellow author” is in the business of selling marketing, folks, not books.