Shopping online is one of my favorite ways to get what I want at a price that I can afford. There are loads of flash sales, discounts, and even coupons for just about every retailer on the web. I have been shopping this way for years, so I consider myself a well-informed consumer: I know my size in the brands I love, I know when sales will occur, and I know the return policies for each stop I make in the digital retail domain.

When I read the news that Simon & Schuster and Author Solutions were partnering to create Archway Publishing, which will focus on self-published works, I was intrigued and puzzled. As I explored Archway's website and menu of services, I grew concerned. Simply put, one cannot shop for a publicist online in the same way they would shop for clothes. The publicity packages offered by Archway are one-size fits all in a marketplace where being unique means everything.

I feel compelled to break down some of Archway's publicity packages not out of spite, but out of the desire to help authors make informed decisions (and save some money): So, without further ado:

PRESS RELEASE-ESSENTIAL ADDITION ($479):

They say: "Media attention is essential when you’re trying to launch your book in today’s competitive marketplace. We’ll help you announce your book to the media with a professionally written press release."

I say: Think about whether or not you really need a press release. In my experience, a pitch letter/e-mail is far more important than a printed press release. Why? Hardly anyone reads press materials. If you want a pitch letter written, shop around. Freelance publicists will give you a better price.

PRESS RELEASE-VIDEO EDITION ($4,499.00)

They say: “Take advantage of the combined power of video, Web and the press through the services that make up the Press Release – Video Edition. In addition to providing a professionally written press release and distribution of the release to media outlets, Archway Publishing will also produce your customized Author Profile Video to include with the press release and to post on leading video sites such as YouTube and Metacafe”

I say: Unless you are a hot author reading from your book while naked, not many people will care if you create a video. If you feel that strongly about an author video, explore what iMovie can do for you. Also consider a promotional strategy after you post it to YouTube. If you spend thousands of dollars on a video that no one sees, what is the point?

THE TRIFECTA REVIEW SERVICE ($3,249.00)

They say: “In the publishing world, credible endorsements can be hard to come by. However, with our Trifecta Review Service, you can have your book critiqued by three of the industry’s renowned reviewers who will provide an honest, unbiased assessment of your work. A seal of approval from any one of these professionals can create the kind of attention that attracts new readers.”

I say: This package includes reviews in Kirkus Indie Review, Clarion Review, and BlueInk Reviews. It does not, by any means, guarantee a glowing review of your book. If you have $3K, hire a really good publicist for a blog tour with some other elements added to the campaign. Getting the book into the right hands and spreading the word directly to the consumer is well worth the money.

SOCIAL MEDIA PUBLICIST ($4,999.00)

They say: “The Social Media Publicist campaign is a six-week publicity campaign that provides you with the opportunity to work with a dedicated social media publicist who will help you understand how to take full advantage of Twitter, Facebook and other social media outreach and blogging. The social media publicist will establish your social media platform across the top social networking sites; then we help you develop and hone your social media presence over time.”

I say: One of my philosophies is that not every author needs to be on social media. Nor do they need to be on EVERY social media platform. There are great resources that authors can use to learn about social media. Mediabistro offers several courses, as does my colleague Dan Blank at We Grow Media.

NEWSMAKER PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN ($5,999.00)

They say: You get “A Personal Publicist to communicate with media on your behalf for a six-week period.”

I say: Six weeks is hardly enough time to work with an author. Further, the package description says recipients of a press release COULD include: magazines, newspapers, online publications, and radio and TV programs. Freelance publicists (myself included) prepare very detailed proposals with specific targets for an author’s book. We also don’t just mass e-mail a press release; we pitch individuals in the media, mail books, etc. Generally, the minimum a freelance publicist will work with an author is three months.

SOCIAL MEDIA NEWSMAKER PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN ($7,999.00)

They say: Much of the same as they laid out in a newsmaker campaign, except you get: “Social Media Marketing Setup, which includes creation of your blog to serve as the hub for interaction with profiles that will be established for you on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Shelfari and more.”

I say: The price tag is way too steep for what this package offers. There is still no mention of a strategy to get the reader to your social media platform. You may very well have a blog, website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and a Shelfari profile…but who is looking at any of it? This package also offers a 10-15 minute radio interview to be uploaded to iTunes. This is a harsh response, but: who cares? There are millions of apps, music, books, and movies on iTunes. How will readers find out about your interview?

VIDEO NEWSMAKER PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN ($11,499.00)

They say: “In addition to offering social media, an online radio interview and a Web-optimized press release, this campaign includes a professional and personalized Author Profile Video. An Author Profile Video allows you to present yourself to potential readers in a more personal and engaging way. Because it can deliver your message in a way that words alone cannot, a video is a valuable addition to blogs, social media pages, press releases and more.”

I say: Please refer to the response I wrote to the “Press Release-Video Edition.” That applies to this package as well.

PRO NETWORK PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN ($11,599.00)

They say: “Expand your marketing reach with our Pro Network Publicity Campaign. During this 12-week campaign, your Personal Publicist will lay the framework for your media coverage with newspaper, magazine, radio, Internet and select television outlets throughout the country.”

I say: A $12K campaign is not necessary for every book. Sometimes, the best bang for your buck is splitting your budget between some online ads and hiring a freelance publicist. I don’t see the value in this package as it is laid out on Archway’s website. It is far too general, and as with the other packages, does not mention a strategy.

I know authors will make their own choice regarding the publication and publicity campaign for their books, but I sincerely hope I have at least provided some foundation for what is needed to launch a book. If you wouldn’t buy a piece of clothing online without knowing much about it, you certainly wouldn’t purchase a vague promise to promote your book.