I’ve been at the Black Card Books Bookology Bootcamp for the last two days. I’m going to talk about this now.
Black Card Books is a vanity press. They are a damned expensive vanity press as well. The total cost of their “instant author” program is around thirty thousand Canadian. They offer financing options, which brings it all the way up to thirty-five thousand. Most of what they offer for that money is “marketing” and consulting. Well, the marketing program is interesting. It isn’t really marketing per se, so much as pushing you to become a public speaker. They recommend you start giving talks and holding seminars prior to actually writing your book and to pre-sell at those talks and seminars. They do say they will design your cover and also a bunch of promo material, and that they will design banners and the like. So, that’s something. It’s a branding package, just a pricey one. I have worked for branding agencies. Yes, they might give you a twenty thousand dollar package, but I promise you they are doing a much better and more complete job than Black Card Books for that money.
They also talk about the prestige of being published by Black Card Books. Here’s the thing, if I’m picked by a major publisher I will have a certain amount of prestige. If I’m picked by a small publisher I will have a different kind of prestige, but still prestige. Black Card Books doesn’t turn anyone away. There is no quality metric. That means the only thing that being published by them actually proves is that you have the ability to come up with a lot of money (and don’t worry, you still need like five or six grand up front for their financing option, so it’s a lot of cash on the barrel no matter what).
As you sit there the speaker (in this case Gerry Robert who I believe is one of the primary partners) talks about how anyone can write a book, how books can be short and don’t need to be definitive. He also talks a lot (I mean a lot!) about how much prestige authors get. He talks a lot about not putting it off, going ahead right now, writing that book you have been delaying. Once his sales pitch hits it becomes obvious why he’s working those words into his speech.
I mean, there’s good advice in there. It is way better to start writing now than it is to wait. The thing is, there’s a huge amount of preparing the audience for impulsivity. It’s really clear in retrospect.
Having said that, the sales pitch doesn’t hit until late on day two and there is value in what is happening up until that point. It isn’t a huge amount of value, but it is free… so if you can tolerate a lot of testimonials with almost no hard data on sales, revenues, etc. then it might be worth it for you.
So far (and there is one more day) what I have gained from the workshop that was of value was mostly a method of outlining a non-fiction book that seems like it would work pretty well. In fact, it has inspired me to start on a few non-fiction books.
What it has cost me is a bit of my soul. When I saw how sleazy, how underhanded, how awful the sales technique was I had a really hard time not shouting at him. I am partially staying for the next day to see if I can help sanity to prevail in a few attendees. I already have for a couple of the people there.
One thing that stands out in the whole event is that they don’t market book sales. They kind of indicate that book sales are unlikely and that you will be lucky if you sell any outside of speaking events. I believe that is intentional. They don’t want people coming back to them and claiming misrepresentation. So, if you didn’t sell very many books they can come back to you and say “we never promised book sales”. Instead, they claim you can make money by selling ads in your book, by public speaking engagements, by new referrals to your business as a result of your newfound prestige.
The term vanity press usually means that they are publishing your book as a vanity project. In this case, they are using the idea of being an author to appeal to the customers (not authors, customers) vanity. Prestige is the constant message underlying everything else.
Gerry is a very good speaker. He’s engaging, funny, charismatic, self-deprecating. He seems like a nice guy. I’m sure he is, but here’s the thing… he’s also using every sleazy, underhanded, manipulative sales technique to try and make you sign up. At one point he had the gall to suggest (in a way that made it seem like he was on everyone’s side) that if people had equity in their home or mutual funds that they use that money to buy the program. It was subtle and kind of brilliant mind you. He didn’t say give me your retirement money (although he did blatantly say to borrow the money). He said I’m not saying to spend that money on this program, but on the other hand if you have the determination to finish your book then it might be the right call. Basically shaming people who didn’t want to risk their retirement fund on a vanity book project into doing so. “If you don’t invest this money you are saying you don’t have the determination to do this” in essence.
Another tactic that was well done but made me feel nauseous was the order form. He handed out an order form and then kept talking. First thing he said (note the self-deprecation here, how it’s built to engender trust) was that the worst mistake a public speaker could make was to hand people paperwork to fill out and then keep speaking but he was making that mistake. Then he had us fill in the currency we were dealing with in a blank space. In this case CAD for Canadian Dollars. He said he had to do that because he gives these workshops all over the world and that was the only way they could know what currency they were talking about. Never mind that the price per unit for printing really doesn’t drop beyond a certain point and that it would be very, very easy to just print different forms for each country. It was to get us used to writing on the order form, to direct us into an activity that started the process of filling out the form. It is a classic and obvious to anyone who pays attention form of manipulation. Then he had us fill in the prices he had given us. As he did it he had us fill in the price for what he calls the “iPublish” program, basically editorial feedback on an ongoing basis as you write your book. He then had us cross out that price and write free. It was the last thing he had us write so that the impression it left on our psyche was that this was free. An impression of value.
There was a lot more in this process that was clearly designed to overcome our objections and make us spend a whole truckload of money that most people can’t afford.
I came into this seminar with two advantages. The first one is that I’m a very cynical person. I have so many triggers around sales. He hit my biggest one. Testimonials. They are an appeal to emotion, designed to look like an appeal to logic. Testimonials always raise my hackles, but if testimonials are presented without statistics it tells me that they are using testimonials because if they used data nobody would buy their product. This isn’t universal by the way. A home builder might use testimonials because that is all that is possible. They can tell you the materials, the cost, that sort of thing, but there really isn’t a statistic they can give you. A publisher can give you a whole lot of stats. Of course, most publishers don’t have to. Instead, they give you something else entirely, they give you money. In this case, though, they don’t say what the average ROI for one of their authors is (I’m betting it’s way below, but that’s purely a guess so don’t take it as more than that). They don’t say how many copies the average author sells. They don’t say anything at all about what has happened in the past statistically. Instead, they pull up a woman from Kuala Lumpur who published a book on relationships and made five grand in one day before she’d written the second word in her book (he makes you write the word the on day one and says that you are now an author, you have begun your book. In fact, he says that as your publisher he recommends you start with the word the – presuming the sale, another tactic that always makes me angry). He tells you about a woman who wrote a book about grieving for your pet who has made a huge amount of money as a speaker using some techniques he teaches. Specifically going after people you want to give you money and interviewing them for your book. Second, I’ve already gone the self-publishing route. I have two books out in the world, another one ready to go, more in editing right now. The whole “You can do it, just do it now” really didn’t affect me the way it did the rest of the people I’m not in that overcoming resistance stage, I’m in the trying to figure out how to make it make me a living stage.
There are other things. No recording at all in the seminar. I used to teach college. We actually recorded our classes for our students. Every webinar I have attended has given a recording of the webinar after it finalizes, even when the whole thing was a sales pitch. He says that there are no cell phones allowed in class. I used to make my students stand up in front of the class and sing if I heard their phones during lecture, but that was the only restriction. In reality, a lot of people did use their cell phones during the “Bootcamp”. Mostly to take pictures of some of the slides.
Another interesting piece of manipulation. Gerry invited questions during his talk at the start, then he started asking people to hold questions until the end. This was before the sales pitch of course. That’s fair enough, questions during a talk are hard to deal with, they can disrupt things a great deal. At the sales pitch, he asked people to hold questions until the end again. Fair. I was going to ask a couple of pointed questions to try and get people to at least consider the very real risks of spending a down payment on a mortgage on a vanity book, but he ended the pitch and then said he was going to sit down and invite people to come up and ask questions one on one at that point. The rest of the time the question periods were public, but this was one on one, apparently because questions about this sort of thing were likely to be personal and people might not feel comfortable asking them, but he was going to hang around and answer questions until everyone was satisfied. Again, one on one, so that only the person asking could hear the answer.
Black Card Books is not a publisher. They are a vanity printing service that slaps their name on the book. If you are looking to be a writer then don’t sign up with them, however, attend the workshop if you think you might benefit from the few worthwhile nuggets hidden in there and you can keep your lunch down watching sleazy sales techniques designed to separate people searching for validation from their money.
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