I've written a few posts recently about questionable branding and marketing techniques to watch out for. Well there's another service that may be of questionable value for those looking to pen a nonfiction book. I call it "book stuffing." 

The trend really began with the success of the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise. If you haven't seen them, many of these books involve multiple authors, each one writing a chapter. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with this "anthology" treatment of a book. 

Unfortunately, it's been turned into something of a marketing scheme. One where the "expert" writer is charged a hefty sum (upwards of $10,000) for the privilege of contributing a chapter. 

Of course these book curators promise to promote the book through various press releases and other PR activities.      

While at face value this may seem like a good idea, in practice the investment is often not worth the return. Here's why:

The investment may not be worth the return.

The bar for entry is low. For the most part these "pay to play" book projects have a relatively low bar for who can contribute a chapter. As a result, you may find yourself sharing book space with someone where the association could actually damage your brand. 

The book curators offer promotion as part of the process, but they generally limit their efforts to nonspecific press releases that have no real link or SEO value. 

In a world filled with self-published books (some great, some not so much), it can damage your brand to brag about being a "book author" when you have only contributed a single chapter to one self-published book --that you paid to be in.

The exception to this, of course, is anthologies. These are legitimate books where you are invited to contribute (at no cost), or you submit a chapter along with the other potential authors and are chosen to contribute.  

All of that having been said, there are some models of multiple authorship that are legitimate and worthwhile. Here are a few questions to ask if you are considering participating in this type of book publishing opportunity. 

  • Who else is contributing a chapter? Are the other people contributing going to raise your brand up or lower it by association?  
  • Will the cost of contributing the chapter take away from other more direct brand-building activities you need to be doing? For example: redoing your website, running a social media campaign, etc.  
  • How much work will it really take to research and write the chapter? At first glance contributing a chapter seems like a low-effort proposition.

Depending on the size of the chapters, coming up with a tight, cohesive, well-written piece of work can take weeks or even months. In many cases you may have the knowledge but not the writing chops to get it done and have to incur further costs to hire a professional writer. 

The bottom line is that there may be times when a "pay for play" book inclusion is worth your time, effort and money. If you find yourself facing this type of opportunity and just can't decide the right way to proceed, try engaging a branding and marketing consultant on a limited basis to help sort it out. A small investment up front could save you a big waste of time down the road.