Here’s how to get $495 for a couple minutes work, depending on how you calculate time.
We recently attended a $475 conference for authors, a four-day event that’s supposed to help you sell books. (We’d love to give details, but shouldn’t.) The conference consisted of little but obvious advice, something we loathe here at Control Your Cash and that you should too.
It was a seemingly endless panel of incestuous salespeople in complementary fields. The ringmaster, an energetic little man who writes books about how to market and promote books, followed his introductory comments by welcoming the man whose vanity press he publishes on. After 90 minutes of him, we were treated to a “best-selling author” whom that publisher signed, and whose one book hasn’t even been released yet (but if her promotional materials were any indication, it’ll be fecal.)
Fleshing out the program, a book editor who just so happens to work with the publisher. Then someone who designs book covers for you’ll never guess who. And about 6 more, including a guy who styles himself as and went to the trouble of trademarking the slogan “America’s Hottest Young Speaker!” (with exclamation point.)
The editor, for instance, was offering her services at a very special price for conference attendees, normally $1997 but for you, now, today, right here, only $1497. Do you like saving $500? Etc. Laughably brazen sales techniques must still get results today, in our Decade of Irony, or these conferences and their merchants wouldn’t exist.
Whatever we were hoping to get out of the conference, this wasn’t it. Plus the clientele were depressing: so earnest, and so over their heads. The vanity publisher’s PowerPoint presentation contained rich nuggets like “Use every method at your disposal to promote your book.” Everyone in the audience would diligently write that down, perhaps for fear of forgetting the nugget and relying on memory to recreate it later. (“Wait. Was it some or many methods I’m supposed to use? Or all? Maybe it’s none. Why didn’t I pay more attention?”) We talked to one 30ish Canadian* attendee who’d been “working on a non-fiction book for, oh, aboot 7 years now, eh?” Only he wasn’t Thomas Aquinas, and his book wasn’t the Summa Theologica. Still, it didn’t stop our ambitious new acquaintance from passing out business cards with “AUTHOR” on it in a far bigger font than the one his own name was in.
Dolorous, 60ish ladies ready to write their memoirs. Twitchy, malodorous people of indeterminate sex. Self-consciously wacky cats who accessorize their suit jackets with sweat pants and sandals, presumably to be the one freak noticed by the agent whose boss ordered him to give someone, anyone, a six-digit advance this weekend and this weekend only.
Yet with sufficient coaxing and yelling from the conference’s speakers, the undead attendees rose in enthusiasm. Which lasted and lasted. The conference did teach a lesson in human behavior: we now know how Tony Robbins achieved power. We also know how Benito Mussolini did.
With a book in print, another under construction and something of a reader base, we were parsecs beyond the other conventioneers. We didn’t need to learn how to write a proposal (excuse us, “How To Write a Game-Changing Proposal To Put You On Top Of The Amazon Charts To Stay!!!!!!”). Nor did we need to learn Choosing A Million-Dollar Title, The Secret To Getting 5 Million Radio Listeners Talking About Your Book, nor The Six Indisputable Truths Of Book Publishing That Those Crooks At Random House And HarperCollins Would Rather Die Than Tell You About.
The weekend’s final speaker was the outlier: a legitimate agent from a real New York agency, one that’s actually sold books from talented and successful authors whom you’ve heard of. That agent’s talk was fast, inspiring, and informative, but not worth $475. (Aside: he thought our book’s cover is “crap”, and gave 13 reasons why; mostly to do with font choice, clip art and the blue bars on the top and bottom. It’s tough to be objective, especially while deferring to his informed opinion, but ours remains the best cover anyone saw all weekend.)
The conference came with a 100% Money Back Guarantee, capitalized prominently on its website and mentioned in the diminutive boss’ opening comments. This is the kind of offer that consumers consider a pleasantry, rather than an actual condition of business, but it does mean something. The founder (we’ve gone this far without giving him a pseudonym, but let’s call him “Ron”) specified that if you talked to him at the end of the conference, and hadn’t received your money’s worth, he’d refund it.
As you can imagine, once the conference concluded it wasn’t easy to get Ron alone. Each of the 299 other attendees wanted to shake his hand and pose for pictures, including one who asked Greg to hold the camera. Boom.
After shooting he handed it back to her, then asked Ron for a few words. Greg was displaying our copy of Ron’s most popular how-to manual, letting him know that he at least got $20 out of us. Greg even donned the ridiculous name tag that came with the conference registration packet.
“Hi. I don’t believe I got my money’s worth.”
Worst case scenario? Ron refuses to refund the fee, we dispute it with American Express, avail them of the money-back guarantee on his website, and all should be well.
Had a full argument ready to go, too. It went like this: “Before the final speaker hit the stage, I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already pay for (pointing to Ron’s book.) Look, I get what you’re doing here, and you probably make a lot of money at it. But this…really wasn’t for me. I already have this book (points to a copy of Control Your Cash), and…” All this stayed unuttered, because Ron reached deep inside himself and found that extra gear that only the best salesmen possess.
Steer the conversation to a part of the ballroom where we can have something approaching privacy? No way. Instead, let’s have as many eavesdroppers as possible. The other attendees will be incredulous and shame you into withdrawing the refund request.
“I’ll give you your money back, but you’re telling me you didn’t get FIVE THOUSAND dollars worth of value out of this conference, let alone 500? (to an adjacent guest speaker) Hey Brent! (back to Greg) Do you know Brent?”
“Not personally, no.”
“Brent, this guy says he didn’t get $500 worth, can you believe that?”
Brent contributed an angry look and a few questions that he thought were rhetorical. Yes, we did attend the conference and no, we didn’t get our money’s worth.
At this point Greg thought, “Do other people really fold at this point? Is this what Ron’s hoping for?” It seemed that it’d be more embarrassing to backpedal.
Of course, along with Ron’s book and ours, we brought our receipt.
Ron opened his checkbook, filled in the amount and the payee, and briefly saved his signature for a final flourish. He then raised his voice a little and said, “Here. Now, I’m going to sleep well tonight.
I hope you can.”
Greg thanked him for being a man of his word. Ron neither responded nor made eye contact.
Stand your ground, especially when it’s expensive not to. If you’re entitled to something, take it. If the house you’re about to close on has a cracked slab and an uneven garage door that somehow escaped inspection, insist the seller fix them before you hand over a check. Don’t just live with it. From the viewpoint of a semi-established author, nothing in that conference began to cover its price. For a would-be author, awash in naivete and convinced of his own incipient brilliance, it’d be easy to justify the price (along with the expense of coming to Las Vegas to spend it.)
Halfway home, it turned out Ron wrote the check for $20 too much. And though we’d paid for the conference with a co-branded Hilton HHonors card, because Ron refunded the money with a check, we got free points to redeem for part of a hotel stay.