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Episode 068 – Where to Spend Your Marketing Money (3790)

We often discuss what not to spend your money on, and we feature free marketing techniques. In this article, we’ll answer a question from Erica Borgerson, author of The Lazy Girl Guide to Healthy Eating and The Lazy Girl Guide to Fitness. 

She asked: 

Since you don’t recommend spending money doing a book trailer to promote our books, what would you mention us spending money on? You mention Goodreads ads (a place I never knew used ads) but is this one of the best places to pay for advertising? Any other low-ish-cost places to be sure we place an ad to reach readers if you had to pick one or just a few? I write several separate series of non-fiction books, but I’m also working on a coming-of-age novel, so I’m interested if the answers are different for fiction vs. non-fiction. Thanks so much for the podcast! 

What should authors spend money on?

 Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Many authors wonder where to spend their marketing dollars and how much to spend. Some want to spend as little money on advertising as possible, but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it.

Look at advertising like this: A store is selling one-dollar bills. How much would you pay to buy a one-dollar bill?

James L. Rubart (Jim): I’d pay up to $0.99.

Thomas: Exactly. If you could buy a one-dollar bill for $0.99, you’d make 1 cent per bill. How many one-dollar bills would you buy for that price?

Jim: All the stock in the store.

Thomas: Exactly. If you have $1,000 and spend it all buying one-dollar bills for $0.99, you will make $10.00.  

When you advertise, you’re essentially buying money.

If you are traditionally published, advertising is hard. Most traditionally published authors only make $0.80 per copy sold after they earn out their advances. There’s little incentive to spend money on advertising. 

For this episode, we’ll assume you’re self-published because self-published authors have more margin to work with.

Where to Spend Money on Your Book

When it comes to spending money on your book, there are different categories to spend money on. Those are:

  • Author Infrastructure
  • Book Infrastructure
  • Book Launch

Author Infrastructure

Headshots or Author Portrait 

You’ll use that headshot on your books, website, social media, and media kit. Get a good author photo because it will last for several years. Over time, your looks change, so you’ll want to invest in a new author portrait every three to four years.

Thomas: If you’re publishing multiple books each year, you can use the same portrait on each book. A headshot isn’t a per-book expense.


If you are short on money, with less than $500.00 for marketing your book, spend all $500.00 on training so you can learn to do the marketing yourself.

Authors typically fit into two categories. They are either Cash Rich or Time Rich. The ideal author is both Time Rich and Cash Rich, but that rarely happens. Authors who are Time Poor and Cash Poor need to get a day job because they are not going to be successful. They don’t have the time or money to invest, and they need to get a real job so they have some money to play with.

Training might include writers conferences, online courses, or books. Every author needs to buy and read 20 books on writing and marketing. It’s one of the best investments of time or money you’ll ever make. 

Marketing gurus will charge you $300 per hour for consulting. But they’ll give you ten hours of wisdom in a $20 book. It’s an unbelievable bargain, so invest money in training.

Media Training

Jim: You need to know how to sound good on the radio and give good answers when you’re being interviewed. Just because you’re a writer who can publish a 90,000-word novel does not mean you know how to present yourself on the radio or answer questions out loud. 

Spend money on media training because you are a product, and you must understand how to promote that product (yourself).

Thomas: At Novel Marketing, we provide hundreds of hours of free training. It only costs 30 minutes of your life to listen to this show, but you’ll never get those minutes back. That’s a lot of pressure on us to provide value because you’re paying us with your time, which is precious.

Website and Blog

The cost of having a professional website built for you starts at around $1500. You can build a WordPress website yourself by taking my free course on how to build your own website

Plugins like My Book Table make it easier to build your own website.

Email List

Don’t use your regular email program to build your author email list. Authors should use an email service provider such as MailChimp, MailerLite, or ConvertKit. If you’re unsure which one is right for you, find out How to Pick the Right Email Marketing Service for You.

Book Infrastructure

Book Cover  

Despite the popular warning not to judge a book by its cover, people do. 

Book covers tell readers what to expect in a book. Covers communicate genre and quality. You need to spend money getting a decent cover design. Thankfully, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get a cover. You can buy a professionally designed book cover for $300-$1500 from companies like 99 Designs

If you receive emails from BookBub, you’ve seen covers in their emails and thought, “Oh no. Somebody thought they were a graphic designer and designed their own cover, and it looks horrible.” Do not do that.

Spend your money on a professionally designed book cover.

Thomas: I once received a note from a reader who left my book, Courtship in Crisis, on the coffee table in the house where he lived with other college students. Two or three of his roommates read the book.  

One roommate read half the book in one sitting. He saw the cover and thought it looked interesting. Once he started reading, he couldn’t put it down. Another roommate read the whole book and left an Amazon review. 

That’s the power of an effective book cover.

A poor cover hurts your marketing. Good covers amplify all the other marketing strategies we discuss, whereas poor covers subtract from your marketing efforts.

Back Cover Copy

Jim: The back of the book is incredibly important. 

The front makes readers think, “I wonder what this is about. This looks intriguing.” When they flip the book over and read the back, you have 20-30 seconds to capture them. If your back cover copy does not capture the reader, they will put the book down without even looking at it.

With an ebook, readers see the cover on Amazon, and if they like it, they’ll read the book’s description paragraph.

Independent authors often think they can write marketing copy, but copywriting is not easy to do.

Thomas: It’s hard to read the label when you’re standing inside the bottle.  

I knew I couldn’t write the back cover copy for my book because I was too in the middle of it. I hired Jim to do it because I needed an outside perspective.  

Jim described the book more concisely and effectively than I could have. Copywriting requires the ability to distill the main appeal of a book to its core essence. 

Jim: I write back cover copy for publishers, author friends, and my own books. I enjoy it. I’ve written over a thousand radio and TV commercials, and that’s where I learned to distill an entire company into 30 seconds. How do you distill an entire book down into 150 words?

If you’re interested in my copywriting services, email me at


Young people prefer audiobooks. Many folks who want to read my book are waiting for the audiobook. 

Audiobooks used to be incredibly expensive because you had to hire a professional crew and studio. It could cost $3000-5000 to record it.  

Now, you can record it yourself by purchasing recording equipment for a couple of hundred bucks. 

You can also hire a narrator through, which connects professional audiobook readers with authors. Depending on how you set it up, you could pay nothing for the audiobook to be recorded and then split the profit 50/50 with the narrator. You can also pay a fixed amount, but if you’re tight on cash, ACX is an easy way to increase your revenue. Even if you only earn $0.50 per copy, it’s $0.50 you would not make if you did not have an audiobook. There’s no reason not to go to ACX and get an audiobook version of your book unless you are traditionally published and your publisher will not release the audiobook rights to you.

To learn more about recording an audiobook, check out the following episodes:

Jim: ACX has quality narrators.

A friend of ours has recorded four books. 

He was the number one voice on and had a phenomenal voice. He recently told me, “This ACX thing is amazing. I get a check every month, and at this point, I’m doing nothing.” In other words, he’s continuing to get royalties from the books he’s already recorded.  

For the narrator and the author, ACX is a wonderful deal. For you, the author, it’s a wonderful deal. You haven’t paid any money out, and $10.00 is always better than zero.

Thomas: With ACX, you also have the option to get all the royalties, but that option will cost more upfront. You have no excuse, in my opinion, not to pick one of them because being on Audible will increases your revenue.

Book Launch

Thomas: The goal of a book launch is to get momentum going. If you can acquire readers who talk about your book to other readers, you can get some momentum where suddenly, you’re getting readers for free.

So, what are the best ways to spend money for a book launch? There’s no one right answer, but here are some ideas I’ve seen work.

Review Copies

You can send a paper copy or an electronic review copy. Sending a print book will cost you for printing and shipping, but emailing an ebook is free. Sending review copies is one of the best investments you can make. I’m generous with electronic review copies. I’ll give you a free ebook copy if you review my book on your blog. It’s an inexpensive, cost-effective way of promoting your book.

Don’t worry about piracy. I’m so unworried about piracy that my book isn’t fully copyrighted. My book is Creative Commons, which means it’s legal to share the PDF. The more people talk about the book, the more people will buy the paper book. I retain exclusive commercial rights, and I’m the only person who can sell the book, but anyone can share it.

Giveaway Copies 

You can give away copies on Goodreads or other places to build your list.  

Goodreads Ads

Goodreads ads can be as cheap as a few dollars. You pay per impression, and it’s inexpensive and typically effective. 

You can go a long way on $100 or $150 on Goodreads ads.

Facebook Ads

These can be tricky. If you want to run Facebook ads, I recommend taking a course by Alana Terry or Chris Fox, both of whom have excellent courses on Facebook ads.  

BookBub Ads

Jim: When my books have been offered as a BookBub Featured Deal, they have ranked in the Top 100 books on Amazon.  

Even if you discount your book at $0.99, you will still sell at least a thousand copies, probably more. You are selling an immediate product as well as a future product. In other words, if someone likes your book, they’ll look for your other books.  

I’ve seen tremendous success with it, but there’s a challenge.

Thomas: You can’t just buy a BookBub Featured Deal. BookBub only accepts about 20% of the books that are submitted. Most people get rejected most of the time. Authors who get selected and purchase a BookBub Featured Deal almost always make their money back within the first week of the promotion.

BookBub Featured Deals Deals currently cost between $100 and $4000, depending on the genre and the price of the discounted book. The larger the discount, the cheaper the BookBub deal. Most genres land around $800 for a BookBub Featured Deal. 

If you can’t get a BookBub Featured Deal, there are Book Bub alternatives like Ereader News TodayFussy Librarian, and AuthorsXP

Typically, those alternatives are less expensive, reach fewer people, and are easier to get into. So, if BookBub turns you down, there are alternatives. Google “BookBub alternatives,” and you’ll get quite a list.

PR Campaign

You can hire a publicist to get you on the radio and TV if you have money to spend. You’ll want to go with a real PR company and not the bundle that came with the “author solutions” company that printed your book. First of all, if “author solutions” printed your book, my condolences. 

Secondly, don’t give them any more of your money. They’ve hired someone in India for $10, and they’ll charge you $250. Work with a company that works directly with authors. Don’t buy a PR campaign through your printer.

What NOT to Spend Money On

Book Trailer

We’ve covered the relative ineffectiveness of book trailers in our episode, To Book Trailer or Not Book Trailer … that is the question.

A “Marketing Package”

If the company that printed your book offers you a “marketing package,” do not pay for it. If your publisher asks you to pay for anything, you are most likely with a hybrid publisher. Listen to our episode on Hybrid Publishing so you’ll know what red flags to watch for.

Blog Tours (For Fiction)

This is controversial, but I wouldn’t spend money on a blog tour. Typical blog tours ask, “What was your inspiration to write?” and other boring questions. No one’s going to read your answers to those questions. They won’t say, “Wow! She’s inspired by nature. I must read her novel.” That’s not going to sell copies. 

Typically, you buy a blog tour from an “author services” company to be featured on blogs that get little traffic. Blog tour companies are often cagey about how much traffic these blogs get. The reality is that most of those blogs get zero visitors.

I’d much rather do a blog tour where you send a copy of your book to active bloggers and ask them to review it. 

A blog tour might work if non-fiction authors can get their books featured on popular blogs.

Jim: I’ve had some success with blog tours, but that’s because I’m traditionally published. My publisher hired a PR firm to find the blogs that get traffic. 

If you’re indie-published, time is money. 

You end up spending a lot of time finding the blogs that work, submit, correspond, etc.

Thomas: Look up their Alexa Score, Compete Score, or Cloud Score. Research tools that will tell you which blogs are legit.  

Trade Shows 

Trade Shows are rarely a good use of marketing dollars in any circumstance in most industries, but it’s especially true for authors. Many authors try to break into the homeschool market by getting a booth for $500 at a trade show. After hotel and airfare, they sometimes invest $2,500 into a trip and sell $1,000 worth of books. You’re losing money when you’re buying one-dollar bills for $2.50. That’s not a good investment.

Book Signing Tours

Jim: This is a tough pill to swallow because book signings are an icon for authors. Unless you’re selling a million copies of your book on a regular basis, book signing tours are not the best use of your time and money.

Thomas: Book signing tours don’t work until you don’t need them to work.

Once you don’t need them, then they work well. 

The exception is a book signing at an event where you are speaking. Those work. 

But novelists don’t have many opportunities to speak about their books.

TV and Radio Ads

I would not turn down free stuff if you can make a deal to get free radio ads. But I wouldn’t spend money on it. Big-name authors don’t even spend money on TV and radio ads because they don’t pay for themselves.

Final Thoughts

Invest your marketing dollars in the most effective strategies, and you’ll have more money to spend on covers, copywriting, ads, or a celebration for a successful marketing campaign. 


One great thing to spend money on is MyBookTable. This plugin is one of the cheapest ways to upgrade your website and boost your book sales. It also helps you make more money per book by integrating with Amazon’s Affiliate program. If you use coupon code “novelmarketing” at checkout, you can get 10% off. 

Learn more at MyBookTable.

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