Quick Notes:


  • Technical Mix Up on Episode numbers. You might have missed episode 112. I did not go out as an email. 
  • Clarification on blogging. We agree with everything Joanna said…. If you have a novel on Amazon. If you don’t, focus on craft.
  • We are Extending the Survey


James L. Rubart (Jim): And in this episode, we’re going to talk to you about why traditionally published authors should not spend any money marketing their books.

But first, Thomas, we’re in the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season. Does it seem different this year? Being a newlywed, I mean— it’s a different dynamic, right?

Thomas Umstattd Jr.: It is. I will say, the romantic songs–Christmas songs–that I used to hate, now have new life. And I’m in a relationship and I’m enjoying them quite a bit more. And I will say, over the holidays it’s common for podcasts to take a break. A couple of weeks ago you may have noticed that we didn’t have an episode come out. That was on me. We actually did have an episode come out. We did all the work, we recorded it, everything… and with the holidays happening, I forgot to push “publish!” So you may notice an extra episode in your feed this week.

The episode, in case you missed it, is Episode 112, “Where To Build Your Platform As An Unpublished Novelist.

Thomas: And I do want to say, because that episode makes it sound like we hate blogging… you’re thinking “you were talking with Joanna! You were like ‘oh I can use this great strategy’ and now you’re saying ‘we hate blogging’– what’s the deal?” Well, let me clarify. If you do not have a book on Amazon you should not be blogging.

Jim: Well, they COULD be blogging. They could be, but the majority of their focus needs to be writing.

Thomas: That’s right. You need to be focused on learning how to write a great book and focusing on your craft, if you’re not yet published. If you have a novel on Amazon that is purchasable, then the toolbox of content marketing that we’ve talked about with Joanna opens up to you. So we don’t actually disagree with ourselves as much as we made it sound.

I apologize for making that unclear. Blogging can be a great tool if you’re a published novelist, if you use the techniques that we talked about in Episode 113 with Joanna Penn. But if you are unpublished, focus on writing a better book.

We also recommend going through the Five-Year Plan Course that will help you get your craft up to speed that you can find out about at Novelmarketing.com.

One other mixup over the holidays—I’m just full of apologies in the beginning of this episode! I’m sorry everybody. The survey that we mentioned…there were some bugs with it. Initially some people were unable to take it. All of those issues have been fixed. So we’re extending it a little bit longer. We really would appreciate if you would take the survey. Go to novelmarketing.com. Take the survey. It takes just a couple of minutes, it really does help us, moving into 2018, to make this show better.


This topic comes from a blog post Thomas recently wrote, and it’s getting a strong reaction. Some people saying, YES! Others not so much. And even if you’re not traditionally published, it will give you important insight on where you should and shouldn’t spend marketing dollars. So, Thomas, let’s get to it …

Thomas: All right. You ready to talk about our topic today Jim?

Jim: I am ready to talk about the topic. Let’s dive into it. The topic really comes from you, Thomas. It comes from a blog post that Thomas recently put up and it’s getting some strong reaction. And simply put, the blog post is, novelists should not spend money if they’re traditionally published. And some people are saying “yes that’s right” and some people are saying “not so much.” And even if you’re not traditionally published, it’ll give you some really important insight on where you should and shouldn’t spend your marketing dollars. So Thomas, let’s dive right in.

Thomas: Yes, I’m a big believer that your blog posts should come from your outbox. I was emailing an author who sent me an email. She was wanting me to help her do some Amazon advertising for a book. Her publisher was putting it on sale. It was going to be on sale for two dollars over the holidays. And she wanted to buy Amazon ads promoting that book. And I started writing her back this e-mail, and it got longer and longer and it finally turned into a blog post.

Thomas: And basically I said: (1), since you’re traditionally published, technically it’s not really possible to do this but (2) even if it was, it’s actually a bad idea. And it’s a bad idea for two reasons.

Thomas: And don’t forget to take the survey, at novelmarketing.com!

Reason #1: Traditionally published authors don’t have the sales information they need to succeed.

TLDR: As long as the author does not have timely access to sales data, it doesn’t make sense for the author to be spending time and money promoting the book

The first reason is that as the traditionally published author you don’t have access to the sales information that you need to succeed. So if you’re doing a big promotion, let’s say you bought a blog tour or you bought some Facebook ads or you’re spending money somewhere on December 15. It’s all happening on December 15th. You actually have no idea how many books you sold on December 15. Your publisher will not tell you that. And they may never tell you that. There may be no way to find out if your promotion was successful or not.

Thomas: And the result of this is that I’ve noticed amongst traditionally published authors their marketing tends to be very sloppy. And there’s lots of superstitions of things they think work that don’t actually work— but they have no idea that they don’t work, because they don’t have the sales data. And so from a business perspective they are the wrong people to be spending the money, because they don’t have the data to know what’s working and what’s not.

Jim: Yeah it’s interesting, Thomas. A a lot of you know that we’re friends with Randy Ingermanson. I’m part of a private email loop of authors and somebody would say “oh my gosh this Facebook advertising is working fantastic” and Randy would ask the question of the loop: “Oh that’s wonderful to hear. How do you know that?” “Well, just a lot of comments– I know that a lot of people are commenting, and I see a lot of activity in radio.” Well, that’s great. But how do you know it’s working? In other words. how do you know sales have been made? And the answer is always, “well I just feel like it is.” You simply can’t know.

Thomas: That’s right. Now, there are some ways to find out. If you’re using Amazon affiliates and you have a special Amazon affiliate code for that promotion, you can know how many Amazon sales you got from that promotion. But the whole point of being traditionally published is that you’re in the bookstores. And so that’s what you want to be driving the sales for. And that is what you don’t have the data for. And so even when you’re able to get some of the data, very few authors go through the hassle of setting up a special affiliate key for a specific promotion. They just don’t have that information. But here’s the deal. That’s just the first problem with spending money if you’re traditionally published.

The second problem is even worse.

Jim: No! Thomas, say it ain’t so.

Thomas: It is so, I’m sorry to say.

Reason #2 The math doesn’t work.

Thomas: So to explain why it doesn’t work, we need to first explain real quick how traditional publishing works. So Jim, let’s just kind of have an example. You’re traditionally published and I’m your publisher. So I say, “Jim I love your book”. It’s the greatest book I’ve ever seen. I want to publish it. I’m going to spend all the money to publish it and I’m going to give you an advance on royalties. I will pay you ten thousand dollars. Jim’s like “oh this sounds good.”

He signs the contract and I give him a 10,000 dollar check. Now here’s the catch. I didn’t actually pay him ten thousand dollars to write the book, where he then starts getting paid as the book starts selling. It’s an advance which means for the first ten thousand dollars I would pay him. I actually give him zero dollars. So if I’m able to, Jim, convince you as my author, and I’m the publisher, to buy let’s say five thousand dollars worth of ads, you spend five thousand dollars worth of ads to sell your book. And let’s say you sell 5000 books and let’s say you’re getting a royalty of a dollar per book. Do you know how much money you get for spending those five thousand dollars?

Thomas: You know, because you’re traditionally published.

Jim: That’s right. Thomas, the best way I’ve ever heard it explained what an advance is, because a lot of people just don’t understand it –It’s a little hard to get your head around it if you’re not familiar with it– is, an advance from a traditional publisher is a small business loan that, if you can’t pay back, they won’t come after you. But it’s a loan. It’s a loan that you are contractually obligated to pay back to them in the sense that every dollar you earn goes back to them until you reach that 10,000 dollars.

Thomas: That’s right. And here’s the deal. 90 percent of books never earn through their advance, which means the money that the author gets from the advance is the only money the author ever gets. Which means that whatever money the author spends on marketing is less money that the author makes. So if an author gets a ten thousand dollar advance and spends six thousand dollars of it on marketing, then they’re only being paid four thousand dollars for writing a book. That is not enough to pay the rent. It’s not enough to put your children through college. Now, traditional publishing companies often will pressure authors to spend money on marketing because it’s a way of effectively getting that author to be paid less for doing the same amount of work.

But the problem is is that it doesn’t make sense, because, going back to reason number one, that author doesn’t have the data to spend that money well. The publisher is actually in a better position to spend those marketing dollars in ways that will maximize the number of books they are able to sell for that expenditure. Now, let’s say, my book is earned through its advance. Does the math work for me? The answer is no. It still does not work if you’re traditionally published. Let’s say I was a fictional author named Barbara.

Let’s say she gets a 25% royalty on her e-book and it sells on Amazon for $7.99. That means she makes two dollars a copy. And let’s say she can buy ads that send people to that page on Facebook. So she’s doing Facebook ads. And 10% of the people who clicked the ad go on to buy the book. That means she has to buy 10 clicks to sell one book. And if those ads cost 25 cents a click, which is a pretty typical price authors are spending—some are spending less, most are spending more– that means she’s spending two dollars and fifty cents to acquire a reader. Which means, off of her royalty of two dollars, she is losing 50 cents per reader.

Jim: Yeah but she’s going to make it up in volume.

Thomas: So if she were to put that same money into a slot machine in Vegas she would get more of the money back. Slot machines in Vegas pay back something like 90% of the money that you put into them. This is paying back even less than that. So this is a really bad investment for her to pay for marketing, pay for advertising, if she’s traditionally published.

Jim: This is another place where you have to think about the outcome and that is a book signing. Now, most authors by now realize that book signings are not really a great way to make money. But especially if you’re traditionally published, it’s kind of an ego boost, right? Until you do your first signing and you realize out of the 20 people who stopped by your table, 3 bought your book!

Unless you’re J.K. Rowling and that’s a different scenario. But most traditionally published authors will do do book signings, three or four of them, thinking each one is going to get better and it just doesn’t. So if you’re traditionally published and you sell five books and you’re getting five bucks total, think of what your time is worth for that two and a half hours of book signing, plus your gas to get there. And you’re going OK. I lost money on this deal too. So just in a very practical way, that’s one of the reasons book signings simply do not work out math-wise and this is important to note.

Thomas: And Jim, you bring up a good point– that people’s time is worth money. As an author you should consider your time being worth at least minimum wage. But really, if you’re an author, especially if you’re a traditionally published author, that means you probably could get a job editing somebody else’s writing for 20, 30, 40, 50 dollars an hour. So you need to be treating your time as at least that valuable—which, by the way, means if you spend half an hour on Facebook, you need to be getting at least 50 dollars worth of value in that hour on Facebook or spend your time making something more valuable. So a quick little shade on social media.

Jim: Hey, maybe they’re getting an emotional benefit from this, Thomas!

Thomas: No actually, the science shows that social media makes you depressed and less productive.

Jim: That’s true.

Thomas: So it’s not that social media doesn’t work, it’s that there are other things that often work better for your time. But the reality is you need to treat your time as though it is as important as your money. And for book signings? Publishers don’t send authors to book signings to help the authors sell their book. Publishers send authors to book signings to improve the publisher’s relationship with that bookstore. It’s purely a benefit and like a favor that you’re doing for the publisher, who’s trying to get more of their books in the bookstore in the future. So it’s not about selling your book.

Jim: Plus the reality is, if you go to a bookstore and you do a signing or even if you drop by bookstores…and I still do this: I’ll drop by a bookstore. I’ll sign my books. Say I stopped by Barnes and Noble– I’ll introduce myself, “thank you for carrying my books” and they’ll typically say “hey will you sign copies of your books that are here?” Absolutely. I’d love to sign them. That’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for the publisher, it’s a good thing for me, because now they can’t send those books back. No returns on those! Those books are permanently in the store.

Thomas: And it’s way less of a time investment. You pop in. You sign the books. You’re in there for 10 minutes and then you go. 10 minutes, even at 50 dollars an hour. You’re being compensated. It’s not a big investment. You only need to get 10 bucks back for those ten minutes to be worth it.

Jim: That’s right. Hey, Thomas, we have a lot of indie authors in the audience and I want to jump into why they have better marketing options. But I want to press back a little bit on one issue. We’re talking about how you don’t want to spend your time and money on marketing your traditionally published book. But if we take the money equation out of it… I want to talk a little bit more about the time and what our time is worth and should we put our time into it.

Because if you are traditionally published and my publisher sees that I’m putting a lot of effort into creating interviews or videos or Facebook Live, this kind of thing that I’m really partnering in marketing this book, they are much more likely, next time a contract comes around, to go “hey let’s do another contract with Jim. He has definitely invested in this book.” So talk to me a little bit about the time element. Are you saying we don’t want to spend any time even if it doesn’t cost us money?

Thomas: So I worked at a publisher as a marketing director and I would say I don’t care at all how much effort you put in. Not one little bit. All I care about is how many copies sold. So if you’re able to do things that are very effective with your marketing and you’re able to sell lots of books, absolutely! It makes us more likely to sign you in the future. But I don’t care how hard you’re working. There’s no points for it. Like “oh this author lost those five thousand dollars, but he worked really hard so we’re going to publish his next book.” No, that’s not how it works: it’s all about results. And again, since you don’t have that sales data, it’s really hard to drive results.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should spend no effort on publicity and marketing your books. There’s absolutely things that are very much worth your time. I recommend investing money in your website. We recommend doing e-mail promotions. And a good book launch is also very valuable, and even taking the advance and all that into account, it can be worth it because you also know you want your book to be read. You want it to get out to folks. And sometimes publishers won’t spend any money on marketing a book unless they see it already being successful, which is kind of unfortunate reality. Because you have to spend the money or get another pay cut just to try to earn their marketing dollars, which is, again, why traditional publishing often doesn’t make sense. Because you know if you flip that around and you’re going indie, the numbers are just a lot better.

Indie Authors Have Better Marketing Options

Jim: Well, speaking of indie, let’s talk about indie authors. And then before we close I want to touch base on hybrid authors as well. But let’s talk about indie authors and why they have better marketing options.

Thomas: Yeah, so let’s run those same numbers that we ran for Barbara, the traditionally published author. Now let’s imagine that Barbara decided to self-publish one of her books. So she puts it through CreateSpace and KDP Kindle Direct Publishing and the benefit now is that she has real-time or near real-time access to the data.

So our first problem has been solved. On December 16th, she can know exactly how many books sold on December 15th, and then compare those sales to December 14th to see what kind of spike she got. So she can see “wow, I did this big huge campaign blog tour and I was on 50 blogs and I sold zero additional books on December 15th as I spent on December 16th. Maybe I’m not going to buy another blog tour.” Or maybe she’s like “wow, I sold an extra five thousand books I wasn’t expecting to sell because of this BookBub promotion I did. Maybe I should buy another BookBub.” So she’s got that data to know what’s working and what’s not.

But here’s where it gets even better.

The numbers are way better. So let’s say her e-book is for sale for $4.99. So she’s selling her book for less than what she was if she was traditionally published.

Even at a lower price point, the numbers work out better. So her book’s $4.99, her commission is 70%. So she was getting 25%. Now she’s getting 70%. And 70% is three dollars and 49 cents a book. If it costs her the same two dollars and fifty cents to acquire a reader, that means she is making a dollar per reader. So that’s an extra dollar she can use to then buy more readers— and that’s not even counting her additional books.

Suddenly, instead of every time she acquires a reader she loses 50 cents, every time she acquires a reader she’s making a dollar. So it’s a much better arrangement for her to spend money on the marketing because there’s enough money. There’s enough meat on the bones for her to actually spend money acquiring readers. Whereas if you’re traditionally published, really the only one who financially gets a benefit when you spend money to acquire readers is the publisher.

Jim: And like you said, she gets immediate feedback so she knows if it’s working, if she needs to change gears, and she can do that in a matter of days instead of a matter of—well, actually never knowing whether she should change gears or not.

Thomas: That’s right. Doing marketing without data is like driving down the road without looking through the windshield. And you know people are like “oh, marketing never works.” And yeah, driving never works either when you’ve got something covering up your windshield! It’s like, you’ve got to scrape that snow away before drive down the road! Otherwise you’re going to crash. Guaranteed! I don’t care how good of a driver you are. If you don’t have data, you can’t look down the road! You’re going to crash for sure.

Jim: So it sounds like you’re saying that the traditionally-published authors do not have a defroster, and the indie [ones] do. [laughs]

Thomas: So the benefit of traditional publishing….traditional publishing still works, and people still make lots of money with traditional publishing, but typically the ones who do, spend their time writing additional books for their publisher or their publisher markets the book. They’re the ones who write the book. The authors who get into spending lots of time and money on marketing are typically the authors whose books are already not selling very well. And they get kind of in this spiral, where eventually they have a harder and harder time staying traditionally published, because maybe their books aren’t the right fit for the market or there’s some other issue. But if you’re seeing success, your publisher is going to be wanting to spend money on your behalf.

I’ve had authors approach me and they’re like “hey my publisher has a budget of X Y Z thousands of dollars and they’re going to pay for a podcast” or “they’re going to pay for a web site.” Suddenly the publisher’s the one spending the money because the publisher believes they’ll be able to get that money back through additional book sales.

What about Hybrid?

Jim: OK Thomas, let’s jump into a few comments about hybrid authors. Because you know five years ago, it was “wow you’re you’re doing both? I didn’t know you could do that.” Nowadays, it’s seems like everybody, including me, is getting into the hybrid situation. Meaning everybody that’s traditionally published– I just see more and more of my author friends doing both. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Thomas: Yes. If you’re hybrid, which means you have both traditional books through a publisher and you’ve got independent books, advertising for your books starts to make sense–even advertising for your traditionally published books. So Barbara is losing 50 cents a reader buying readers for her traditionally published book–but let’s say half of them are going on to buy one of her indie books where she’s making five dollars a copy. Suddenly she just takes the 50 cents that she lost getting them—it’s a dollar now, because let’s say she has to buy two for everyone who is going to go on to read her next book. She’s still making four dollars net because they’re reading through and eventually getting to her high margin books. So once you add some hybrid books into the picture, suddenly there’s margins now where you can start acquiring readers both for your independent books and for your traditionally-published books.

Thomas: And I really think that hybrid is the best strategy because you’re able to use your publisher to give you credibility, and give you access to print bookstores and to the distribution sales, and then you have your independent books that you’re able to make money on. And the fact that you have traditional books gets you that attention, which makes it easier to sell independent books. You’re not just sitting on Amazon with like five sales, getting ignored.

Jim: That’s right, and let’s think this through. If you are traditionally published and one of your books sells more than–that happens to most of us– one of your books is going to sell better than the others. Thomas and I have said this again and again but your books are really a very thick brochure for your other books. They’re a flyer. And a lot of you spend money on postcards or bookmarks or business cards, this kind of thing. So you’re spending a certain tiny amount of money. Think of it that way, that “I’m spending 50 cents to get this brochure in somebody’s hands that will drive sales to my independent books.” And work with your publisher on this. If you have indie published books, drive sales back to your traditional, your traditional drive to your indie. It can be a symbiotic relationship that is beneficial to both parties.

Thomas: It really can. I know one author who has a trilogy that’s traditionally published, and she has another trilogy in the same story world–with crossover characters in the same world– that’s independently published. And she is very transparent with her publisher. It’s in her contract that she can do this and it opens up the toolbox for her to promote her indie books. And the people who read her indie books then will want to go on to read her traditional books, and so her her publisher is okay with it.

But she had to negotiate pretty hard. She had to already have success and be able basically give her publisher a take-it-or-leave-it offer to have them in the same story world. Normally publishers are like “yes you can write your indie books but it has to be different characters or a different world.” But again, that’s all about strength of your negotiating position. But for her it’s working out very well and they’re cross-selling and she’s able to make a lot of money and get a lot of readers. So hybrid can give you best the best of both worlds.

James: All right, Thomas I think we’re going to wrap. Let people get back to their Christmas shopping!

Thomas: Yeah. This episode has been brought to you by MyBookTable. It is a plugin that helps you sell more books on your website. So whether you’re traditionally published or independently published, this will help make you a little bit of extra money. And if you are traditionally published, one of the ways that you can make money off your book is with affiliate sales. So Amazon will pay you directly every time they sell a copy of your book and they give you a percentage of the entire shopping cart.

So a lot of people using MyBookTable find that the amount of money they make from affiliates goes way up in December because somebody goes, they click the book to buy, they click the button to buy the book, and then while they’re on Amazon they get sucked in and they buy a dozen other things. They do their Christmas shopping and they get an affiliate commission off of all those different sales. MyBookTable makes this very easy to add to your website. You can find out more at mybooktable.com.

Jim: You’ve been listening to James L. Rubart and Thomas Umstattd Jr. on the Novel Marketing Podcast, giving you novel ideas on how to promote yourself and your writing, offline, online, and everywhere in between. Thanks for listening.


MyBookTable (10% off with coupon code “novelmarketing”)

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