I’ve written already about how I am largely OK with on-line companies that charge fees to help an author self-publish. They are up front about what services they provide and how much they’ll cost. It is a matter of debate about how ethical it is that they charge money for things the author can do for free him or herself, but that is a matter of opinion. There are things people can and can’t do. Most people who know about cars, for instance, will roll their eyes at all the places that charge $30 for an oil change. This kind of thing is not unheard of, you see.
However, it has just come to my attention that there is a new threat to the self-published author’s bank account. The Shill. Now, a shill is someone who is objectively awful, in my opinion, unless the shill openly discloses who they are being paid to shill for, but that hardly ever happens, at least not in any obvious way. The example that brought this to my attention was a webinar co-hosted by the newest star on the self-published author stage: Mark Dawson.
I’m starting to suspect I won’t be taken seriously as an author until I get black-rimmed glasses…
Now, Mark Dawson’s story, if it is even mostly true, is one that all of us slaving away in the self-publishing trenches hope desperately to tell one day ourselves. I won’t go into it here, but you can check it out in this Forbes article. Suffice it to say that Mark stayed at his job while he wrote, stayed realistic with his expectations and patiently built his audience using tried and true techniques easily available to everyone until he reached a critical mass of backlist titles and ready customers and WHAMMO – he could make enough money to quit his day job and write full time.
Sounds great, right? Certainly sounds good to me. And the thing is, I DO believe that he is successful and I believe in how he did it… mostly.
You see, there’s a couple of things about him that don’t add up. Pardon me while I put on my trench coat and fedora. Now, let’s hit the bricks and start checking on this guy’s story. Wait. Better have a belt of whiskey first. It’s November, after all. If it isn’t cold, it’s raining. And if it isn’t raining, it’s dark. And if it isn’t dark, it soon will be. So where does that leave us? Bottom’s up, that’s where. SHLURP! Allright, let’s go. The truth is waiting out there, but it won’t wait for long. It’s like a classy dame sitting alone in a corner booth of a posh nightclub… OK. I’ll stop.
“And you won’t start that up again until I tell you!”
I recently had the opportunity through an email invitation to attend a webinar hosted by FreeBooksy and Mark Dawson on how using Facebook Ads can help you gain a bigger and more focused audience. It was free and I didn’t have to install anything I didn’t already have (just some Citrix client updates) so I decided it just might possibly be worth my time. I did a quick check on Mark Dawson and didn’t see any Snopes articles or scam alerts out on him. I had used Free/Bargain Booksy before and although I was less than impressed with them, they seemed more or less on the level. Even if it turned out to be some sort of sales pitch for Facebook, Dawson and/or Booksy, I still might be able to learn a thing or two. This is my business after all. I have to keep researching this stuff, even if my intuition tells me this one won’t be yielding any useful information. As Richard Dreyfuss says in Let It Ride, “You never know.”
“And even when you know, you still don’t know!”
So, the webinar started on time and opened smoother than any webinar I had ever attended. I guess that was the first clue. The second clue was when the Booksy spokesperson asked where everyone was from and instructed us to type our answers “in that field over there where you can type.” Before even a second passed she was reading off people’s names and locations, even though nothing had appeared in the chat box. Note to the Booksy people: That’s what that is. It’s a chat box. I typed my location in and saw my text appear, followed by exactly one other fellow.
We never heard our names or locations mentioned. I suppose that was clue number two.
So, the webinar lasted around an hour, although I left it before it officially closed. I have to confess I was disappointed, although not surprised, that this turned out to be an infomercial. Cleverly disguised, but still just an infomercial. It quickly became obvious that it was all pre-recorded and not live at all. And what was it an infomercial for, you ask? Why Mark Dawson’s exciting on-line course in self-publishing using Facebook Ads!
Que the trombone that is sad.
And Mark? Did he appear to be all that he claimed? Wellllll… Mark repeatedly used the phrase “why do X (where X=some common self-pubber marketing chore), when, if you’re like me, what you really want to be doing is writing?” and then he’d go on and on about his course and how he’ll dedicate two weeks of his time to helping each enrolled student. That’s two weeks… each.
Although he specifically mentions that he quit his job to write full time, somehow he is now more interested in helping other writers market on Facebook… full time? Obviously, if he has the time to do that he is not actually writing. What he is actually doing is running a… I want to say scam, but technically it isn’t… operation, maybe? No, that sounds like a mob job. Running an online course, I guess. I hate to demean education like that, but it’s his fault, not mine. Anyway, he’s clearly not interested in writing full time. He’s interested in running a “business” to pull money out of the pockets of starry-eyed neophyte author wanna-bes.
I know this isn’t a surprise to any of you, my savvy and attractive readers, but the internet is absolutely the wild west. That’s both what we love and hate about it. Give you one guess what old wild west character Mark Dawson comes across as:
“Step right up! Step riiiiiight up! I can empty your pockets for just six easy installments of 59.95!”
Look, Facebook Ads may work. They may even work as well for you as they did for Mark, but I doubt it. Why? Because I’m 90% sure he’s a shill. Facebook gave him free ads or reviews or maybe even real money to boost his success so it would look like Facebook Ads can work for everyone. Do I know this for a fact? No. But, I’ve been alive for 42 years and have seen and fallen for a number of scams. I really can’t imagine this isn’t one. Well, as much as a clear shill can be a true scam, I guess. You’re not being completely taken for a ride, after all. You are actually getting something for your money. You’re just being sold it under false pretenses. It’s absolutely overrated though. When you boil it down you are being asked to pay out a ridiculous amount of money just for the privilege of having some guy teach you how to use a Facebook Application. How much money? I don’t remember exactly, but it was in the few hundreds of dollars range.
As for Freebooksy, I went from not just being unimpressed with their straight-up advertising services to being deeply suspicious that they are in bed with (if not outright owned by) Facebook.
But it wasn’t all bad. Mark made the critical error (for a shill) of being truthful about how he achieved whatever real or imaginary level of success he’s achieved before Facebook Ads – by using mailing lists. I’m not certain mailing lists are still as effective as they used to be, but I know it’s one proven technique that I still haven’t implemented. So, if you like my books and/or like what I’m doing on this blog, go ahead and get on my shiny new mailing list:
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So long everybody! Instead of enrolling in an online course in “How to Facebook,” why not tip your driver? 😉