How not to advertise

On my way to work the other morning, I was stuck at a traffic light when I noticed a hand-made sign on the other side of the street. There are tons of these signs. Usually they advertise things like “Mattress Set – New! $550!” or “We buy ugly houses!” But the sign that morning was different.

Low cost dental

I would have taken a picture of it if I had been more awake that morning, but the light changed before I could fully process what it was I was seeing.

It was brightly colored paper with mismatched stick on letters and a hand written phone number advertising low-cost dental services.

To be fair, I don’t know anything at all about this company. The practice could have the best dentist in all of the US. He or she might be able to create filings that are the equivalent of the Mona Lisa in the world of dental arts. They may have intentionally decided to not to create a shinier ad as way of keeping their overhead costs low in order to offer patients the greatest possible savings.

Unfortunately for their practice, I, as well as several others who pass by that stop, likely will not be making an appointment any time soon. Why? Because a sign like that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. I’d rather save money by skipping a dental appointment altogether than have my teeth treated by anyone other than a professional.

As I’ve written before, the independent bookstore which has agreed to stock my book has a strict policy against carrying books produced by an Amazon company (i.e. CreateSpace). When I decided to change publishing companies I had to take their policy into consideration. I decided to try out Lulu which is a local, and highly rated, company for my on demand printing. For the most part their service is fairly straight forward. All you have to do is upload your manuscript and cover image, specify a few keywords and your price and Presto! You too can be a published author for the price of a proof copy and shipping.

Only it isn’t quite that simple. Some sort of black magic goes on behind the scenes as their servers manipulate your Word file into a file their printers can use (CreateSpace has a similar process. Smashword’s ‘Meatgrinder’ provides even more joy). You watch the status bar patiently… then not so patiently… Your family shouts from the other room, “are you coming to dinner?” You shout back, “Just a minute.” Ten more pass. You give up because your stomach is now growling and return later only to discover that your right page footer has been indented while your left page footer has not. You curse, make corrections, and hit the submit button again. The print ready interior that eventually spits out on the screen at you now has a random blank page between chapter 6 and 7.

Fifteen tries later, your interior is almost to your satisfaction, except there is an extra period on page 50 and, oh for the love of Pete, is that typo on page 217? Your children have celebrated another round of birthdays while you’ve been at your computer. You start telling yourself, it’s good enough. Your cover at least was done by a professional. No one is going to notice anything wrong with the interior.

Except that they do. The little things matter, especially when you are trying to grow a business.

My older sister visited not too long ago, and I showed her a rejected proof copy. I had rejected the copy because the cover wasn’t trimmed correctly, but that wasn’t what she noticed. Instead the first words out of her mouth were, “what’s up with the font?” I love that my family doesn’t hold back the truth when it matters.

I don’t want potential customers eyeballing my book on shelf to think of me (and my work) as anything less than professional. She forced me to return to my manuscript and start another round of submission roulette. Yay! I can only hope the hard work is just as eye-catching as its opposite.

9 thoughts on “How not to advertise

  1. I would avoid that dental office like the plague, too!

    I used Booklocker to publish my novel. Similar concept to Lulu and CreateSpace, and their staff cover designer does amazing work. Exactly what I needed, since my artistic skills pale badly. I like to stick to words, not drawings!


    1. Interestingly enough, I noted the sign was taken down the following day hence my article still shows my lovely artwork. It makes me wonder if someone like the city took offense at their marketing efforts as well. I’ll definitely look into Booklocker. I am nearing competition on my second novel and it will need a cover soon. Thanks for the tip!


      1. Booklocker is also cheaper than the other services, but every bit as professional. It’s the brainchild of Angela Hoy, who is pretty well respected in the writing community.


  2. Thanks for the great post, Allie! It’s pretty incredible how often it seems like little or no thought gets put into the main world-facing element of a business (or book, brand, etc.)

    I had a similar moment reading a sign outside a shop near my house that sells hot wings. It listed the price for 5, price for 10, 20, 50, up to 100 or more. After a moment I realized that an order of 100 wings costs more than 10 orders of 10! That sign still makes my day any time I go by.

    I wonder if the dentist sign is really secretly advertising LSD (assuming the coloring on yours reflects the original). I kind of hope it is—in this rare case that might actually worry me less than if it’s advertising actual dentistry.



    1. You have made me realize exactly how sheltered my life must be. It didn’t even occur to me that it could be a drug reference, but now that you’ve mentioned it, you could easily be right. My mock-up matched the coloring of the original, the mis-matched letters were what originally drew my attention.

      Love the misuse of price breaks. Oh basic math, why must you toy with so many…


      1. I kind of hate to admit it, but I’m pretty sheltered too. But I do have a decent eye for codes and puzzles.

        Also, speaking of design, I love the cover design for An Uncertain Faith. So striking, and beautifully executed!


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