Monday, October 20, 2008

Misleading book title made me waste my money, but there's a much better book for the same price

As the day quickly approaches when a printing press will start spitting out copies of a book I wrote, I've been reading lots of books that other people have written, to learn as much as I can to help me sell my book.

One likely title is Red Hot Internet Publicity by Penny C. Sansevieri. Unfortunately, I should have looked at the subtitle, "An Insider's Guide to Marketing Your Book on the Internet," and ignored the title, and maybe ignored the book.

In the media business, of which I have been a part in various ways for over 37 years, "publicity" has a very specific meaning -- but Sansevieri does not use it that way.

Maybe there are more people who don't interpret the word the way I did, but the author should have considered all of us.

Traditionally the term "publicity" has been used to indicate a specific kind of promotion to attract the attention of the public, by first attracting the attention of people in the media.

There are publicity stunts and publicity agents (also called publicists), and today the term "publicity" means pretty much the same thing as "public relations" (PR) -- getting writers to say nice things about a person or a product, getting someone on a TV show or magazine cover, getting a product endorsed by a celebrity, etc.

Basically, publicity consists of influencing the news media by distributing information that is perceived to be newsworthy. I've been both the manipulatee and manipulator and I know how the game works. But I've never done publicity for a book before, so I was willing to pay to learn.

Unfortunately, Sansevieri ignores tradition and she uses "publicity" as a synonym for "marketing," and it wasn't until I reached page 115 of her 193 pages of text that I encountered anything that I considered to be related to the book's title, which was the reason I bought the book.

The bulk of the book's beginning deals with setting up a website. She provides nothing new, and gives both bad advice and inaccurate information. Sansevieri says that a typical website should cost between $2,000 and $6,000 to build. That number is bullshit and may unnecessarily scare off a lot of writers who could benefit from having a website.

She also recommends hiring both a designer and a coder to put the website together. More scary bullshit.

I am not a professional designer or a coder, but I have put together over 50 websites that worked just fine. I've done them for myself, for my businesses, for other businesses, and for friends.

Some were designed from scratch using Microsoft FrontPage. Some were modifications of templates provided by Yahoo or Network Solutions, the companies that host my sites. I have never paid a penny to anyone else for design or coding assistance, but the sites have won awards, they've supported several families, and have done millions of dollars in sales.

Anyone who can use a keyboard and a mouse can have a good-enough website functioning in less than an hour, without paying anything to outside experts.

An added benefit of controlling your own website is that anytime you need to or want to make a change -- even at 3AM -- you just do it, without scheduling a meeting, requesting proposals or reviewing contracts. A do-it-yourself website may not win any awards (although many do) but it can do its job inexpensively and make money quickly.

Even when I got beyond Sansevieri's instructions on websites, blogs and podcasts and I finally reached the section on "real" publicity, I was greatly disappointed. There was very little there, and she quickly moves on to other topics.

I won't say this is a bad book, but it certainly has a bad title.

Any writer looking to learn about real publicity should definitely buy The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson.

Despite a last name that made me keep thinking about ice cream and fried clam strips, the author provides tons of useful info and advice -- even on websites. Her book belongs on every author's shelf, whether you are a self-publisher or are using a traditional publisher.

Unless you are absolutely clueless about the website process, buy this book and not the Red Hot book. They both have $17.95 list prices (before big discounts to $12.21 on Amazon) and are written by women for the same audience, but they're very different books.

The Frugal book has about 80 more pages and more words per page than the Red book, and is the most complete author's aid to marketing, sales and publicity I've yet encountered. Buy it at Amazon.


  1. Dear Michael:
    Well, aren't you a dear. To recommend my book so highly. As a former publicist (fashion publicity in New York), I congratulate you for knowing the difference between publicity and promotion. And, with a book out, knowin that you must do some of both.

    Of course, I prefer publicity. It is FREE. (-: and I am FRUGAL.

    In the true giving spirit of publicists (not, that is not irony!) I will be thanking you more formally in my Sharing with Writers newsletter. I about to do some traveling so it will not be out until November 8 or so but I will certainly give my readers this blog address and hope that many of them keep coming back.

    BTW, anyone who wants to subscribe to my newsletters (lots of promotion tips in it!) may send me an e-mail with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line. My address is hojonews @

    Again, thank you. Please keep in touch. We authors must stick together.

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson

  2. Michael, I'm sorry you didn't like my book. I have a 100% money back guarantee so why don't you return it for a full refund. Further, I'm happy to debate the various issues you felt were inaccurate. We work with some of the top level Internet marketing people in the country and I can assure that the book has been vetted extensively. I welcome your response! Penny C. Sansevieri