More Publishing Hype

Back when Susan and I ran our own company, I often told clients “Never believe your own hype.”

Some clients were offended. Some laughed and nodded.

The big problem with hype is the hyper knows its BS and behave in three basic ways:

  1. They know they’re BSing and are constantly on guard lest someone should catch them in their BS (this often results in impostor syndrome. You can find lots of info on Impostor Syndrome in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History)
  2. They know they’re BSing and want to be caught because they desperately need structure in their lives
  3. They believe their own BS and are delusional. Either get them help or get away from them
The opening line was “The first round of the Book Shot promos went great.” I responded with “Wonderful. What are the numbers?” I’ll let you know when I get a response.

It’s worth noting once you get beyond a certain size, it doesn’t matter if someone sniffs out your BS. Get past a certain size and you’re the Emperor and everybody loves your clothes even though you’re buck-naked. The one who really suffers here is the Emperor: Their kingdom is on the brink and they refuse to recognize it as such.

Marketing hype usually falls into Group 1 because Groups 2 and 3 are mostly populated by people with such blatant character flaws they may as well be carrying lunchboards around or ringing bells as they move about. They tend to be that obvious.

Let’s focus on Group 1. Danger lies in between the Emperor and the boastful kid on the playground. The danger itself is you not being able to recognize the BS for what it is (hearkening back to “I have an incredible opportunity to share”).

So here, dear ones, are three kinds of hype to be aware of and guard against.

Hype Type I
Hype Type I is glamour marketing and is recognized as such by folks in the industry. Glamour marketing makes use of the undocumented, undocumentable statement and tends to be a quality based statement, as in “One of the best loved musicals of all time.”

There are too many open ended concepts in “One of the best loved musicals of all time” to be verifiable. They hyper counts on you not caring enough to verify the statement. More to the point, they count on you just accepting the statement as true.


  • “best” is a matter of opinion. Poll an audience favoring your product and it’s the best. Poll an audience disfavoring your product and it’s the worst.
  • “loved” is an emotion and by nature unquantifiable. Ever been asked, “Which of your children do you love more?”
  • “musical” comes close to being quantifiable because there’s a standing definition of “musical” for stage and screen, and most marketing relies on the audience not knowing the standard. Without knowing the definition of “musical”, are we including operetta? Is The Rocky Horror Picture Show a musical? I mean, they sing, don’t they?
  • “all time” includes bards, minstrels, ancient plays from around the world, …, much of which is still around today. How far back are we going?

Hype Type II
Hype Type II is the truthful lie, also known as misdirection, as in something is true but not in the way you to think it’s true.

Ford proudly stated the Taurus was the #1 selling car in America. That was a true statement because they gave incredibly deep discounts to fleet purchases: government agencies, state agencies, city, county, agencies, car rental companies, military, … Heck, it’s easy to be the #1 selling car in America when you’re giving it away for pennies on the dollar!

But that’s not how it sounded in the commercials. You never saw Taurii sitting unused in rental car parking lots, you never saw Taurii sitting unused in military base motor pools. What you saw was the typical middle-class American family packing things up for a picnic on a bright, sunny day, everybody all smiles and laughter.

Lots of advertising hype is Type II. Whenever a company (or individual) claims something, ask follow up questions.

Hype Type III (or “Lies, More Lies, and Damn Lies”)
Hype Type III falls into what psychologists and psychiatrists call self-aggrandizing behavior (“Exhibiting self-importance” and/or “An act undertaken to increase your own power and influence or to draw attention to your own importance”)

Self-aggrandizing hype is (to me) extremely dangerous. Like Hype Type II, it’s easily verifiable, which means it may be true but not how people think it’s true, and its truth value depends on your metric. Most people don’t bother verifying statements and that’s how lots of self-aggrandizing hype gets through.

One of my personal favorites is the “I’m a best-selling author!” line. Indeed they may be and Taurus is the #1 selling car in America. Check the categories they’re a best-selling author in. Check the number of competing books. Are they the best-selling author in Amazon’s Free Books categories?

A little oxymoronic being a best-selling author of a free book, don’t you think?

Lots of authors and publishers refine a book’s categories and keywords that the book is one of ten matching the refining criteria. I’m not poo-pooing being a best selling author, and let’s appreciate that being #1 in a field of 10 isn’t demonstrating recognizable marketshare.

The Mid-Size Publisher
I recently encountered a self-proclaimed Mid-Size Publisher. That’s how they brand themselves. It is self-aggrandizing hype of the worst kind.

Let’s start with “What’s your scaling system?” Somebody claims to be mid-size, okay, but compared to what?

Being mid-size or not depends on what’s being measured and by whom. Standard industry definitions are based on revenue and number of employees. The US government declares a company is a “small business” when they have minimum 500 employees. Said Mid-Size Publisher doesn’t qualify as even a small, let alone mid-size, business by standards.

How about comparing Said Mid-Size Publisher to the Big-5 along employee lines? Simon&Schuster – 1724, Hachette 1193, HarperCollins 3135, Penguin 5846, Macmillan 2069. Said Mid-Size Publisher has three and I’m not even sure they’re on payroll.

Number of authors? Let’s be specific. Number of authors is irrelevant. Number of producing/active authors with titles available for distribution (not sale, distribution) is relevant. I know several authors who wrote one book for Said Mid-Size Publisher years ago and never again.

Number of books in inventory? Irrelevant. Number of books in active production is relevant. “Said Mid-Size Publisher has over X books in its catalog!” – Interesting and crap. How many are available for immediate sale (POD doesn’t count because anything can be POD. You want “In Stock,” not “Available to ship in xxx days.”)?

I could go on and won’t. Said Mid-Size Publisher is not mid-size…anything (in their dreams, perhaps. We all should have goals we shoot for).

Publishers (or anybody) engaging in this kind of hype thrive on increasing the number of authors they work with because eventually their existing authors catch on to the scam and no longer participate, therefore the only way for such organizations to survive is to keep getting inexperienced authors into their stable.

Or, as one of Said Mid-Size Publisher’s authors said, “What he really sells is the dream of becoming a published author. Not selling books. He’s not in the business of selling books, he’s in the business of selling the dream of selling books.”

FWIW, Said Mid-Size Publisher contacted me and told me to stop doing data gathering and instead start buying into his marketing programs.

I love it when people prove themselves out, don’t you?

I received an email today from Said Mid-Size Publisher. The opening line was “The first round of the Book Shot promos went great.” I responded with “Wonderful. What are the numbers?” The ensuing flurry of emails make a fun read.

Note to readers: If you can’t get a direct, clarifying answer to a direct marketing question, the person is selling you dreams, not what they claim to be selling you.

Again, do your research. Don’t believe a statement – especially a marketing statement – unless you have 3rd party evidence backing it up.

Or suffer the consequences of falling for hype.

The Fun Read
Folks, I need to know if I’m being oblique, confusing, unclear, et cetera, in the following exchange. If nothing else, it’s a fun read (you can’t make this kind of stuff up. The best it serves is as an example, perhaps something you can use in a story at some point). Said Mid-Size Publisher’s emails are in italics. My emails are in normal print.


(and do appreciate how little hard data other than misdirection and sales hype is given in this exchange)

9/18/2020 9:00AM, original email from publisher

Dear xxx Authors-
The first round of the Book Shot promos went great. [[note: only one author of all those who took part in the “I have an incredible opportunity to share” promo who contacted me reported being satisfied with the results]] FREE titles did slightly better than $.99 titles, but eBooks that had 10+ reviews and were in strong genres like Mystery, Thriller, Romance did great on eBook sales for $.99.
We have slots available starting in October and want to keep our momentum rolling. The Daily Deals sent to our subscribers every day has also been effective (which is included). So if your eBook is available and you want to get a one-day slot, please read below and let’s promote! For authors with more than one eBook, give another one a try.

Book Shot
“Give your Kindle eBook a Booster”
One-day eBook promotion on KDP Select (you may choose for FREE or $.99)
Designed to be budget friendly with maximum return on investment
Targeted with paid promotions, social media ads, posts to our followers, announcements to our subscribers, and with keyword and metadata optimization to ensure the best downloads or purchases and prolonged Amazon ranking

Pricing chart:
Tier 1 = $110
o Mystery
o Thriller
o Contemporary Romance
o Fantasy
o Paranormal
o Romantic Suspense
o Historical Romance
o Paranormal Romance

Tier 2 = $75
o Science Fiction
o Literary Fiction
o Religion / Spirituality
o Nonfiction
o Self Help / How-To
o Young Adult

Tier 3 = $50
o Horror
o Children’s Books
o Travel

*Email Sales@xxx to sign-up. Choose a FREE or $.99 promotion and pick your preferred genre. We will schedule your eBook promotion as soon as possible.

On 9/18/2020 at 9:15AM I responded

“The first round of the Book Shot promos went great.”
What are the numbers? Data-based decisions are often the best.

9/18/2020 10:23AM response from publisher

The $.99 eBooks sold between 10-60 copies for one day. The FREE promos did between 1,000 – 4,000 giveaways in one day.

9/18/2020 11:22AM my response

Thanks and interesting.
It would be helpful to know titles, genres, authors, time periods, and the like. That way I could research price tolerances re $.99, free, competitive titles/genres/authors during these time periods, et cetera.

9/18/2020 3:07PM response from publisher

We have those numbers for our records and for our data. It’s not something I would spend hours accumulating for no purpose.

9/18/2020 3:37PM my response

I’m asking you to share it so some of us can make informed marketing decisions moving forward. Evidently you do accumulate it, so it does have a purpose for you. I’m asking you to share what you accumulate.

9/18/2020 3:38PM response from publisher

We share this all the time. Please let me know a specific genre and whether you would want a FREE or $.99 promo.

9/18/2020 3:42PM my response

Please provide me with the past year’s data for at least ten (the more the better) science fiction/military books, both free and $.99 promos, and for all books in BRW’s inventory along those lines.
If you don’t have anything specific to “science fiction/military” then break the two apart, “science fiction” and “military” and I’ll take it from there.

9/18/2020 3:47PM from publisher

The average $.99 sales for a $75 investment for SCIFI/MILITARY is 22 sales.
The average FREE giveaways for a $75 investment for SCIFI/MILITARY is 2,137 giveaways.

In my experience, both averages are great marketing decisions. [[See the entry about experience and especially the follow up comment. Quite revealing regarding this person’s “experience.”]]

9/18/20 4:02PM my response

We obviously have different concepts of marketing and sales data.

If the data you’ve provided below is your concept of “We have those numbers for our records and for our data. It’s not something I would spend hours accumulating for no purpose.” then I’m not comfortable acting on your marketing suggestions or advice, except to avoid them.

Let’s try this again: Do you have something resembling spreadsheet data indicating book title, genre, author, price, and gains/losses for each promo you’re suggesting for at least ten BRW science fiction and/or military titles for Jan 2019 through Sept 2020 (or some portion thereof)?

If yes, are you willing to share that information so your authors can make an informed marketing decision prior to commitment?

If you do not have that data and/or are not willing to make it available to your authors for marketing decision purposes prior to purchase, please state that as it would save all concerned time and energy.

9/18/2020 4:04PM from publisher

I don’t wish to share another author’s private data or personal results. That’s between them and their publisher. The numbers I gave you are accurate and precise. I don’t really understand collecting all this data if you aren’t ever going to do anything with it.

9/18/2020 4:26PM my response

You’re making an assumption that I won’t act on the data I’m collecting.
Would I act on the data you’ve provided? No.

“The numbers I gave you are accurate and precise.” To what? There is nothing indicating the numbers are tied to anything specific; they are nebulous and undocumentable.

9/18/2020 4:50PM from publisher

The numbers are tied to your genre and would be the average if I sent you specific titles, so it’s the same.

9/21/2020 8:46AM (it was a weekend, i was away, didn’t bother with emails until i returned on Monday)

Good morning.
If “The numbers are tied to your genre and would be the average if I sent you specific titles, so it’s the same.” then you’re using a Law of Least Averages algorithm which is excellent for a steady-state system but not for a system experiencing large sigmas.

Based on what other authors have shared with me, that type of analysis would be misleading and throw errors in an ad-buying system.

For that matter, I can’t remember any business using anything like that to determine ad buy and/or placement.

In any case, you’ve not supplied the data necessary to make an informed decision.

No need to respond.
[[which the publisher did…
asking me if I wanted to buy any copies of my books…]]