Self-Pubbed Authors Beware! The Shill is Coming!

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...

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!"

“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!"

“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!"

“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:

Subscribe to the Newsletter!

Do it now and you might pre-qualify for a FREE TOASTER!*

*while supplies last, offer not valid anywhere

But seriously, I’ll have some cool stuff to give away during the holidays and I’ll be utilizing that list quite a bit. Do yourself a favor and sign up now!

So long everybody! Instead of enrolling in an online course in “How to Facebook,” why not tip your driver? 😉


3 thoughts on “Self-Pubbed Authors Beware! The Shill is Coming!

  1. Hi Dan,

    I’m James and I work with Mark, in fact I organised and ran the webinar you attended.

    Your blog is very wide of the mark (no pun intended). The reason you didn’t see many other people’s contributions after you typed in your location is because you typed your reply into the CHAT box, not the QUESTIONS box as we asked people to do. Lots of people however did type into the QUESTIONS box, and we read out some of the replies. So it was this error of yours that resulted in you coming to the erroneous conclusion that the webinar was not live. It was live, unless you opted to watch the replay, which was clearly marked as such.

    As for Mark – I’ve known him since we started working together at the British Board of Film Classification in 2006, and he is the real deal. He’s a tenacious hardworking individual who wrote novels, failed to sell many, but then saw people having success in Self Publishing, so he got stuck into that in a major way and he evolved a system of selling books using mailing lists and direct sales, all driven by Facebook Ads. It’s as simple as that. He’s brilliant at what he does and his decision to spell out in detail exactly how he does it was a brave decision – certainly not a forgone conclusion that he would gain significantly from it.

    He asked me to help (and another ex-BBFC colleague). We are professional video and content producers which is why the webinar (and all the course materials) are slick – that’s what we do and it’s something that sets us apart from lots of other online course providers.

    Mark is NOT being paid by Facebook. In fact we’ve just added a Twitter Ads for Authors module to the course – hardly something someone working for FB would do.

    The acid test for Mark’s course, which you more or less portray as a scam, is that we have had HUNDREDS of students whose lives have changed because they adopted Mark’s methods. This is a matter of record and a cursory read through our Facebook pages would show you the evidence.

    It’s a shame you’ve chosen to point such an accusatory finger at a fellow author, because my experience of the self publishing community so far has been amazingly positive and mutually supportive, I hope maybe we can be that way with you in the future.



    • Hi James. Thanks for visiting my humble blog! I appreciate you taking the time to comment. It’s a pleasure to talk about this crazy cottage industry called self-publishing with someone as intimately involved in it as you and Mark.

      I didn’t mean to cast aspersions on Mark as a fellow author. In fact, just the opposite. I believe my tone was quite congratulatory on that point. My problem is with his (and yours and everyone else at “Team Milton” – wish I had a “Team Scotland” – I’ll have to work on that) efforts to try to charge people for his online course in self-publishing and how to use a Facebook Ad. I don’t agree with such a business tactic and I have trouble seeing how such a dedicated and successful author as Mark would have any interest in engaging in such an enterprise. It seems quite contradictory. On the one hand, he claims that he doesn’t have interest or time in doing a lot of the work involved in marketing and advertising, but on the other hand he encourages people to sign up for his course so he can spend the time and energy he just claimed he’d rather use writing to teach people how to self-publish.

      For a fee.

      And that’s my biggest problem. There are plenty of authors who freely share their successes and failures in self-publishing, often in excruciating detail. Konrath, Wendig and Ana Spoke, just to name a few, are all worth checking out and all offer their experiences and advice for free. When I checked out Mark’s blog, all I saw was a very rosy picture of him moving from one success to another with no explanation as to what he was doing. That’s fine. That’s his choice. I don’t have an issue with it. I DO have an issue with him charging for his advice. I just don’t like it and I felt I needed to say something about it. You feel differently and that’s fine, too.

      So is he a shill for Facebook Ads? Maybe he’s not receiving any kickbacks from FB for promoting Facebook Ads, but I find the whole thing highly suspicious. I feel comfortable telling people to watch out and take a second look. There’s a lot of people out there preying on self-pubbers. I sincerely hope Mark isn’t one of them, but anyone charging money to teach people how to use a FB App instantly sets off my alarm bells.

      As to your webinar – I’ve never heard of a separate “questions” box from a chat box. I guess that’s my fault. But the Free Booksy rep (why was a Booksy rep there, exactly?) made no such distinction. Maybe that’s something you can ask her to be a bit more clear about in the next webinar.

      Not sure if I made you feel any better, James. We might have to agree to disagree about Team Milton’s online course offerings. Nevertheless, I wish you and Mark continued success in self-publishing.



  2. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for publishing my response and for your reply.

    We will indeed have to agree to disagree. You appear to dismiss the entire online training industry! I’ve taken three online courses this year, all three of them were superb and valuable to me in my business. I paid for all three.

    Yes, you can learn from those who blog for free, and there are plenty in the self pub world – I’ve followed Chuck Wendig for years.

    However what Mark offers (and the reason he charges for it) is very different. A blow-by-blow, instructional detail on how to run a successful social media ads campaign. It takes a HUGE amount of effort to produce the 15 odd hours of screenflows – I produced the Twitter Ads module this year and I can tell you that until you actual try to do this you have no idea how much time and effort is involved. Therefore it is entirely reasonable to charge for this and more than that I would say it is an entirely legitimate business and part of an expanding industry online.

    Charging for it also means we can operate a full support service around the course. For some of our students, this is a crucial part of why they buy the course.

    We offer a 30 day money back guarantee, so you can watch the entire course, implement it and still get your money back…so if it wasn’t worth it, or was misleading in its claims, no one loses any money.

    Mark manages his time…he probably did spend too much time in 2015 away from his writing and we will correct that in 2016 by being more circumspect about how often we take on new students. It’s essential that Mark remains at the forefront of self publishing on a personal level, so that the course remains 100% relevant and powerful to other authors. Mark isn’t being misleading about the pressure on his time.

    Finally – just to reiterate – Mark does not take ANY money from ANY advertising platforms, whether that is Facebook, Twitter or any others you can think of. He recommends using social media ads to build maligning lists and sell books, because if you do it well, it is the single most powerful way to turn your book writing hobby into a paying business.

    If we relaunch in the New Year (no decisions yet) I would be happy to provide you with full access to the course for an unbiased review!

    Happy New Year Dan.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s