Ruminations Part 2 – Numbers lead to informed decisions

This is my second rumination on writing, the writing business, and how they intersect with my life. I started with Ruminations Part I – “Your eyes are completely healed”.

I almost entitled this part “Can you just tell me the g**d*** f***ing truth?”

A fellow author sent me a link to a zoom meeting a while back. The invitation she received was

If you’re able to make it, just a quick reminder about our first ever Open House for Authors on XXX, being held *today* on Zoom at 3 pm Eastern time at this url: xxx
No need to RSVP, just show up and say hi! We’ll field questions and suggestions from authors — and we have a few questions of our own about how to make our site better so you can sell more books.
Hope to see you there!

More and more fellow authors are sending me solicitations like this (probably due to my background in marketing).

Regarding the above, I listened to their spiel for a while. They kept on asking us to ask them questions. Specifically, “…don’t put your questions in the chat, just unmute yourself and ask away.”

I’d already asked a few questions in the chat which went unanswered.

My questions in such things tend to be business oriented, not author oriented. Especially when someone tells me their service or offering is free.

If you’re good at something, never do it for free. – The Joker
If it’s free, you’re probably the product – David Kelleher


Long story short, they told me numbers-based questions aren’t important and they weren’t going to answer numbers-based questions during the meeting.

Longer story shorter, groups like this are using the unsuspecting to either help proof their site (for no real reward) or selling names onward to marketers.

You want me to invest my time if not my money but don’t want to tell me what to expect?
First, Wow! Ain’t you the pretty a-hole.

Okay, skip numbers for a minute. How about the fact that the two major players in the company had trouble navigating and demonstrating their site?

They made it a point to say that the original 120 authors they approached each paid 2,400$US for early buy-in and become part of the system.

They did this so people without a business background could tell themselves “Gosh, somebody paid 2,400$US and I don’t have to? Aren’t I lucky!”

People with a business background say, “Okay, you’ve just told me your original investment was close to 300k$US, more than enough to hire offshore developers to put together your site (pity they didn’t do a better job, huh?).”

They said, “We won’t charge for placement until we can guarantee a certain number of reads.”

People with no business background say to themselves “Hey, what a bargain! I don’t have to pay a thing!”

People with a business background say “So you’re not charging now, but you do plan to charge in the future. How much will that charge be and based on your current growth rate, when do you expect to start charging?” (ie, at what number have you set for the “certain number of reads”?)

Oops. That’s a numbers question. Bad Joseph! Bad! Bad!

And to the straight forward question “How do you incentivize readers to come to the site?” I received no answer. Ditto when I asked this question regarding authors.

They kept on stating their system relied on blah-blah-blahAI to determine whose books are promoted on their site and in their newsletters. Say anything “AI” and (to me) it sounds like some kind of algorithm. No, “blah-blah-blah A.I.” is the name of the parent company. Book promotion and recommendation is done by the staff working for (you guessed it) blah-blah-blah A.I.

Okay, what are the criterion for promotion and recommendation?

Basically promotion and recommendation are based on whatever said blah-blah-blah A.I. staff likes that’s in their system that month.

Hey, I’m the first to admit Netflix’s and Amazon’s “You may also like” algorithm is crap, but at least it follows rules and not whims.

Ask yourself “Do I want my book selected for promotion and recommendation based on what somebody had for dinner the night before? If they had enough coffee this morning? If they’re pissed off at their fellow worker? If they haven’t gotten laid in a while?

They proudly said they have 50,000 authors in their system.

That’s wonderful and impressive.

Until you learn they work with major publishers. Who have marketing departments. Who are paid to load publishers’ authors into the system.

Do you really think Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, and Dan Brown loaded all their books, artwork, bios, blurbs, et cetera into the system? Because if you do, forget scams like these, I have a bridge I want to sell you. It’s right over some swamp land.

But okay. 50,000 authors. How many of them are doing what kind of numbers?

I’m shocked – Shocked, I tell you! – to be told no numbers, no growth rate, no email open/response rates, will be shared.

So I asked, “How do you expect me to make an informed decision without knowing any numbers to base my decision on?

At which point the main guy said, “We’re not going to discuss metrics in this meeting.”

But you want me to invest my time in improving your system and have already indicated you’ll charge me to use it at some point. If you want my time, you better damn well give me the numbers I’m asking for. I want to make an informed decision.

At my next authors’ group meeting, I shared my experience and received this email from the author who originally reached out to me:

Thanks for your illuminating chat about xxx. So, it’s basically a scam to get indie authors’ email addresses out of them to sell on to interested parties? The CEO is the author, xxx who runs a website for authors, xxx and has a big writing Facebook group, xxx. Have you heard of her? I thought she’d be kosher. I had another look at the website yesterday and there certainly wasn’t much traffic in the groups and the site isn’t as easy as it should be to navigate.

Are they a scam?
Well…they’re not what they claim and when pressed to back up their pitch they falter and fail, so I’m not comfortable with them.

And that’s me. I’m a nut about ROI (return on investment) and KPI (key performance indicators), things which authors (in an ideal world) shouldn’t concern themselves with. The reality of the indie-author universe is that its members are vulnerable. Whenever a large, vulnerable population appears, predators are sure to follow.

I do thank you for pointing me at them. Truly. FWIW, lots of my friends ask me to evaluate such things. A US-based indie author asked me about a group which emailed him. I read their pitch (about two paragraphs) and pointed out the holes in it. A week later someone posted how they’d been duped by the same group. Saved my friend 2k$US.

And so it goes, friends. And so it goes.

PS) an author who runs a website selling anything other than their books is letting you know they need an alternate source of income. That’s a good thing so long as they’re upfront about it. Example: I offer critiquing services (because I’m good at it).

‘Nuff said?