If you want people to buy your book, you must have a marketing plan.

But what’s the best way to spend your hard-earned dollars on book marketing? Which methods pay for themselves, and which are a huge waste of money? 

In this article, you’ll learn where to spend your marketing dollars and where NOT to spend your marketing dollars.

Before we cover budgets and strategy, we need to discuss your money mindset.

Money Mindset

Spending money on marketing is not like spending money on food. 

When you spend money on food, you know you’re going to get hungry again, and you’ll have to spend money on food tomorrow.

When you spend marketing money wisely, it’s more like investing. The money you invest today returns more money in a bigger payoff later. It’s like buying money at the money store or buying readers at the reader store.

The goal is to buy readers for less money than you make from that reader when they buy your book.

Think of it like this:

Q: How much would you be willing to spend to buy a $1 bill from me? 

A: Up to $0.99.

If you’re buying it for less than you’re receiving, you’re profiting.

Secondarily, you should ask: 

Q: How many $1 bills would you buy from me for $0.99? 

A: As many as you could. 

The more $1 bills you could buy for $0.99, the more money you would have. 

As an author, let’s say you make $5.00 on each reader you acquire. How much would you be willing to spend to acquire a reader? Most authors are willing to spend up to $5.00 because once a reader reads one book, they’ll probably buy and read your next book as well. But if you can acquire that reader for $3.00, you increase your profit margins.

Your money mindset isn’t about how much you spend overall. It’s about decreasing your cost of reader acquisition so that acquiring a reader costs less than the revenue you earn from the sale of your book to that reader. 

Once you get marketing to work for you, you want to spend as much as you can. 

When you’re trying to spend as little as possible on marketing, it’s an indication that your book or marketing is failing.

It might make sense to overspend on readers during a launch when you are trying to build momentum and buzz. If you can get enough people talking about your book, then your readers will tell more readers about it and so on. But overspending is a risky strategy. You are spending money in hopes that you’ll earn it back later. Many authors who use this strategy lose money. 

Thankfully authors have access to more reliable ways to earn their marketing dollars back, plus some.

First, you need to take an honest assessment of your assets in terms of cash and time.

Author Success Matrix

Time Rich & Cash Poor

These authors have time and money to invest, and they are the most likely to succeed. They can invest in training to learn who to hire and how to work with those experts. They learn to speak the language of experts. Every author wishes they were in this box, but few authors are.

Time Poor & Cash Rich

Authors with little time but a lot of money often have high-paying, demanding jobs. They don’t have much time to spend on marketing their book, but they do have money to spend on marketing. 

The best path for these authors is to hire experts to do most of the work. If you are in this category, try to carve out enough time to learn how to interact with experts and talk with them intelligently. 

Some companies will match you up with the best people in the industry for $100,000. For certain authors, $100,000 is worth it. Other companies offer the same services at different price points, but all of them are targeting the cash-rich, time-poor author.

Sometimes authors believe these companies are trying to rip people off because most authors can publish themselves for a lot less money. But many time-poor, cash-rich authors are CEOs of large companies, and they simply do not have time to learn how to do it themselves. It’s smarter for them to work their job and hire someone else to do all the work of publishing the book.

Time Rich & Cash Poor

Most authors find themselves in this quadrant. They have time but not much cash. If you find yourself in the time-rich, cash-poor category, invest what little money you have on training. 

Use your time to learn how to skillfully write, publish and market your book yourself. Instead of hiring an advertising firm, buy a course on how to do advertising. Instead of hiring someone to build a website, take a course and build the website yourself. 

These authors listen to free podcasts like the Novel Marketing Show and use their ample time to implement the free training.

As you’re investing your time and money in training, you can accelerate your progress by getting a job as a virtual assistant (VA) for another successful author. You can trade some of your time for money because you will have some unavoidable costs in your publishing journey. Working as a VA for a successful author, you’ll learn about the business of writing and publishing. 

VAs often only last for a year or two. Then they’ll go off to make their own success because of everything they’ve gained working for another author. 

Time Poor & Cash Poor

Sadly, these authors are destined to fail. You cannot reap if you don’t sow. 

If you find yourself in this quadrant, something will have to change. If you want to be a success in publishing, you must make it a priority in terms of money or time, or both. If you’re not willing to make time for it, you can’t succeed in publishing. 

If you’re unwilling to spend time or money on writing and publishing, you may need to take an honest look in the mirror. Many people like the idea of publishing a book and being a successful author, but they’re unwilling to do the work to get there. Be honest with yourself at the beginning rather than lying to yourself for years while you dabble and accomplish nothing.

Avoid Debt

In my opinion, it is never a good idea to go into debt to market or publish a book. It is too risky. It’s much better to save your money ahead of time, create a modest budget, and spend it on purpose.

If you’re still making credit card payments after launching book one, 

you’ll find it nearly impossible to launch book two. You may never escape that cycle.

I’ve worked with thousands of authors in the last decade, and I have never seen a single instance where taking on debt worked out well for an author. All the authors I know have regretted it. Publishing is too high-risk. 

Track ROI

Another important point is to track the return on investment for your marketing efforts. 

If you aren’t tracking, you can make major money mistakes. You need to know if your marketing is working.

If you don’t measure, you might make two mistakes:

· You might cut back on things that are working because you don’t realize they’re working.

· You might continue paying for things that are not working, which is more often the case.

Few people like to talk about measuring marketing because it’s scary. If you are your own marketing person, it can be psychologically painful to find out your efforts have failed, but measurement is key.

To learn more about tracking your marketing efforts, listen to Episode 191, How to Track Your Marketing Efforts.

Create a Budget

First-time authors tend to fall into two categories.

One author determines a set amount of money they want to spend on their marketing. They search for the best bang for their marketing buck. An author who approaches book marketing with a plan to only spend $2000 (or a set amount) gets better results than an author who has a vague goal to spend as little as possible. 

Decide ahead of time what sum you will spend to launch your book, and you’ll get much better results per dollar. 

Authors who try to spend as little as possible find it very hard to decide where to spend the money. It’s hard to know whether you should spend money on an author portrait, a new website, or a PR campaign. You can’t buy them all. You certainly can’t buy the best in each category. If you don’t have a fixed budget, you won’t know how to spend your money.

Creating a budget is a good business practice. Your decisions about where to spend your money will depend on how much you have to spend. 

We can break expenses into four categories:

Author Assets

It is difficult to track author assets on a book-by-book basis because your author assets help you across all your books and platform. They’re also less tangible. 

Author Assets Include:

High-Quality Author Portrait ($50-$500)

A good professional photo of you on the front or back cover helps increase book sales, but not in a measurable way. If you have a great photo, it will help, but it’s hard to measure how much it helps. 

You’ll spend $50 to $500 for a professional author photo. For tips on getting the best photo, listen to our episode on Seven Tips for a Bestselling Author Photo.

Your Knowledge and Expertise

The more professional experience and expertise you have, the more effective your marketing efforts will be. You’ll get the best ROI on your money by listening to free podcasts to level-up your experience. You’ll get the best ROI for your time by reading incredible books to improve your expertise. Reading is the cheapest form of excellent education.

Website ($1500 – $4000)

If you hire someone to build your website, you’ll spend $1,500 to $4,000. You tend to get what you pay for. 

You can build your own website. If you want to do it yourself, listen to How to Build an Amazing Author Website for $459 and How to Build an Author Website in a Day.

Pro tip: I always recommend building your website on WordPress.org. For more pro tips, you can take my free course, How to Have an Amazing Author Website: A Guide for Tech-Timid Authors.

Email List (Free for a limited number of subscribers)

When you’re first getting started and your email list is small, using an email service provider will be free. ConvertKit, MailerLite, and MailChimp all offer a free plan with various features. If you have more than 1,000 subscribers or you need access to more features, check out the pricing schedule for each service. If you’re not sure which one is right for you, listen to our episode on How to Pick the Right Email Marketing Service

Pro tip: I recommend ConvertKit. It’s the most powerful. It’s also the most expensive, but even ConvertKit has a free plan.

If you want to learn more, listen to our episode on How to Develop Book Marketing Assets.

Book Infrastructure 

It’s also difficult to measure ROI on your book infrastructure, but it’s somewhat easier to measure than your author assets. 

Cover ($300-$1,500)

Having an excellent front and back cover is imperative. A great cover design will cost $300-$1,500. A cover design on Fiverr may only cost $20, but be careful. If you get a cover from Fiverr, do a reverse image search through Google to make sure your designer used a photo they have the right to use. 

Copywriting ($250-$500) 

Authors don’t often think of hiring someone to do the copywriting for their back cover copy or the text on their Amazon page. But those extremely well-written paragraphs about your book will increase your sales. The better your blurb, the more effective all the rest of your advertising will be. 

James L. Rubart still takes copywriting clients. You can contact him through AuthorMedia.social or through his websiteBryan Cohen teaches a copywriting course. Hiring a copywriter for your back cover copy typically costs $250-$500.

Editing ($500-$5000)

Developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading are necessary steps. I recommend using three different editors for each phase. To learn more about choosing an editor, listen to our episode on How to Work with an Editor and How to Find an Editor.

Depending on your editor’s level of experience and availability, you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $5,000.

Editing is considered a marketing expense because if your book is well-written, people will talk about it, and that word-of-mouth marketing will take off. You’ll also receive better reviews if your book has been professionally edited, and the more stars you have, the more books you’ll sell. 

Audiobook Production ($1000-$5000 or free through ACX.com.)

If you pay someone to produce your audiobook, you’ll spend anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. But if your produce it yourself through ACX, Amazon’s audiobook publishing and distribution platform, you can do it for free.

ACX is run by Audible, which is owned by Amazon. It’s a matchmaking service for authors and narrators. The free model allows you to get your audiobook placed on Audible and read by a human being for free if you will split the audiobook profits with the narrator. This arrangement only pertains to audiobook sales.

Having an audiobook is important because it helps drive ebook and paper sales when people talk to their friends about your audiobook. I don’t see any reason for an indie author should not to have an audiobook version available through ACX. If you disagree, please let me know at AuthorMedia.social.

Book Launch

Review Copies $7/copy

To help spread the word about your new book, you may want to send copies to bloggers or journalists. Your actual cost per copy will depend on the size of your book, but $7 per copy shipped is a good starting point for your budget.

Giveaway Copies $7/copy

Goodreads allows you to giveaway paper or ebooks, but there is a fee for running a giveaway on Goodreads.

PR Campaign $3000

Hiring a PR firm to set up a podcast or media tour will cost a minimum of $3,000. 

However, you can schedule your own podcast tour. Patrons of the Novel Marketing show have access to The Podcast Host Directory, where you can search for podcasts in your genre and find contact information for over 100,000 podcasters.

Book Launch Blueprint Course

We offer our book launch course once each year. Sign up to be notified about upcoming dates and pricing. Our students go through the course together for 21 days. 

Chris Fox has written Launch to Market to help you learn to successfully launch your book.

Ongoing Marketing

Measuring your ongoing marketing efforts is imperative because they are potentially unlimited and unending. If any of these methods work for your book, you’ll be able to continue to make money on a book you wrote years ago. 

BookBub ($200-$2500)

BookBub Featured Deals are selected by BookBub editors and can cost $200 – $2500 depending on your genre and the price of your book. BookBub also has an ads platform where any author can buy advertising. To learn more about BookBub, listen to our episode with David Gaughran about How to Use BookBub to Sell More Books.

Amazon Ads ($25/month)

For as little as $5-$25 per month, you can play with Amazon ads to find out what works for you. 

Facebooks Ads ($50/month)

You need to spend enough money on Facebook ads so that you receive valid data. If you only spend enough money to show your ad to ten people, and none of them clicked, you’ll think your money was wasted. 

You need a much larger segment to determine whether your ads are working or not. Depending on how competitive your genre is and who you’re bidding against, you’ll need anywhere from $50 to $150 to get accurate and measurable results with Facebook ads.

Podcast Guesting ($100 for a good microphone) 

Your largest expense for podcast guesting is your time and expertise in pitching podcast hosts. You do need a good podcast microphone, so check out my recommendations at AuthorMedia.com/gear.

You may also benefit from our course How to Get Booked as a Podcast Host.

In all your marketing activities, always measure your own results to make sure it works for you and your book.

Things NOT to Spend Money On

Based on my observations, author feedback, and my consulting experience, the following is a list of book marketing ideas that do not typically pay for themselves.

Book Trailer

For a few years, book trailers were popular, and authors were buying them up. In nearly every instance, they were a waste of money. Watching a video trailer is too different from reading a book. 

If you’re already a YouTube personality and you have lots of experience producing videos, a book trailer may work for you. 

“Marketing Packages” 

The company that printed your book may offer you a “marketing package.” 

If your book was published through an Author Solutions company such as WestBow or Xlibris, the marketing packages they offer are a terrible waste of money. You’d be better off hiring people individually to do the task. They charge you $500 to write a press release, which is a $25 job. Often they’re paying someone $25 to write the press release, and your $475 is their profit.

KDP and Ingram Spark don’t sell these packages, so those are the companies I recommend to indie authors who want to print books.

Blog Tours (For Fiction)

From a financial perspective, blog tours don’t work. I would not spend money on a blog tour, especially for fiction. The blog tour hosts are the only people who make money on a blog tour. If you can prove me wrong, please do so at AuthorMedia.social

A blog tour can work for nonfiction writers if the blogs already cover your topic. 

Trade Show Anything

Authors sometimes buy booths at a trade show for authors. Trade show booths are typically expensive, and authors are terrible about buying each other’s books. Unless your book is about writing or marketing, don’t expect to sell books at a trade show for authors.

Certain kinds of book fairs can occasionally work for certain authors. 

If you have a lot of books for the homeschool market, a homeschool trade show may work. Homeschoolers love to buy lots of books in person.

If you’re speaking at the trade show, it’s a different story. Your presentation from the stage will increase your visibility at the trade show, and if it’s well-received, you will likely sell a lot of books.

For every author with a trade show success story, I find many more who have lost money attending a trade show.

Book Signing Tour

The only authors who have successful book signing tours are big-name authors who don’t need to tour to sell books. Books signings are a way to connect with readers who already know and love your writing. 

If you’re a relatively unknown author, book signing tours are not a good way to find new readers. They are expensive and do not pay for themselves.

TV & Radio Ads 

The kind of people who watch TV are not generally the kind of people who read books. There is some overlap but not enough to make it worth your money to buy expensive TV ads.

TV and Radio ads are best for building a brand than for selling a product. 

Spending for the Long Haul

Authors who learn to budget and measure earn more money, sell more books and build a sustainable career. The best way to spend your book marketing dollars is to determine how much you have to spend and then carefully track your return on every penny.

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