Confessions of a Book Promotion Junkie – The Money Pit


These are the confessions of a book promotion junkie. What follows is a detailed account of my addiction and how I feed it.

This blog post is rather lengthy with lots of numbers (and a little math) so consider yourself forewarned!

I was crunching some numbers recently, analyzing how much money I’ve spent marketing and promoting One Blood to date. The tally made me want to hide my credit cards in a safe sunk to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Even then, though, I would still probably stow away on one of James Cameron’s super submarines just to drop more cash into the bottomless money pit that is Book Marketing and Promotion in the modern age.

To boil it all down, you cannot spend your way onto the bestsellers list as an Indie. Believe me, I’ve tried!

And no, I’m not going to tell you the total. It’s too depressing. I can tell you this, however. Book marketing can be an EXPENSIVE proposition, and most of the investments don’t pay back. Things like the $5,000 book trailer and the $1,381 I spent to get over 6,000 views on youtube which translated into not one sale.

Or the $1,100 I invested in having artist David Benzal draw the main characters from the novel. Truthfully, I spent this money in the hope of differentiating my product from others on the market and knew when I wrote the check that I probably wouldn’t be seeing it again. That cannot be said for the $1,475 I spent in google adwords advertising. Add that to the $1,381 from youtube, and google alone has sucked up $2,856 with little measurable return beyond increasing brand awareness for my book.

“But what about the cost per click, and click-through rates?” you ask.

The youtube ad delivered 1.4 MM impressions and received 6,697 clicks for a click-through-rate (CTR) of 0.47% and a cost- per-click (CPC) of .21 cents, which is not bad at all. The ad words campaign I’ve been running all year on google has delivered 4.1 MM impressions and received 11,756 clicks for a CTR of 0.28% and a CPC of 0.13 cents. All-in-all, spending nearly $3,000 got my ads shown 5.5 million times and clicked on 18,453 times. Have I sold 18,453 books? Not hardly.

Still, I do tend to think of advertising spend as a necessary evil to keep my book in the minds of prospective readers. I think I may have triggered it too early, however, before I had enough reviews, awards, or an optimized Amazon page. And I was spending indiscriminately without measuring different ad copy and calibrating the ads to the exact return level I expect.

As a word of advice, please set your daily budgets low and track clicks to correlate with daily sales. Here’s an example. If you set a daily budget of $5.00 and your book costs .99 cents, then you need to sell 14.3 books every day to break-even on your spend (because you only make .34 cents per book sold, you have to divide the $5/.34 to get the 14.3 number). Personally, if your book is .99, that is all the advertising you really need. You should save your money during these pricing periods.

The true trick to ad success is finding the right combination of ad title, copy, and key words that get people to click and ultimately buy your book. After a year and a half of experience with google, I have become convinced that ad words doesn’t really work for books, because much of the book search happens on Amazon not on google, which renders your advertising useless. You’d be better off directing fans to your website and a special offer that gets them to sign up for your mailing list. Just one man’s opinion.

Let’s see, what else have I spent loads of cash on?

Well, I did spend $1,000 in Facebook advertising to build up my fan page. The concept here is social proofing. If 2,159 people (my current fan page tally) like something, how bad can it be? Now, because fans of my page receive my book for free for their fanship, I know that this spend netted me around 1,600 readers who have the inside track to everything One Blood and readily share the page with their networks. So I consider this money well spent.

I’ve paid $1,097 to have a few reputable services like The Kirkus Book Review,, Publishers Weekly, and Reader’s Favorite review my work. Receiving good reviews from services like these can really build up your credibility and thankfully, I received excellent reviews from these folks. The Kirkus Indie Review was the most expensive at $599, but has been the most valuable. Large publishers don’t have to pay for these types of reviews because they spend so much money in advertising that these services review their authors “free”.

There were the awards too. So far I’ve invested $1,534 to put One Blood in contention in 23 categories in 12 different award competitions. As of this writing, my little novel has brought home 10 awards! The buzz around awards is incredible and gets you permanent placement on multiple websites. But just because you win an award it doesn’t necessarily correlate to a sales bump. It’s what you do after winning that matters. Leveraging an award to create press that gets you local TV and radio coverage as an example. Showing your award to local libraries and indie bookstore owners to get your book better shelf placement is another. Don’t expect an award win to make a huge difference in online sales, most people don’t read a book simply because it won a gold star.

By far, the worst investment I have made was purchasing a 20,000 person e-mail list for $1,000 from Consumer Base. Why was this such a bad spend? Well for one, because none of the reputable e-mail marketing services like Mailchimp, iContact, or Constant Contact allow you to import or mail to lists purchased via 3rd parties. Secondly, I learned via a test, that 20% or 4,000 of the e-mail addresses I’d purchased were no longer valid. That leaves me with 16,000 e-mail addresses that I can’t actually reach with any sort of bulk messaging service. I would basically have to send emails 300 at a time from my gmail account and then clean up the list myself. I still may get some value out of this list, but I’m not hopeful.

If you add up what we’ve discussed thus far, that’s over $13,500 spent on a few activities, many of which have not been smashing successes. You can see how quickly it can add up if you let it. I’m no millionaire, but I do believe in myself and my book. I’ve had a clear rationale each time I’ve entered in my credit card information for a new marketing or promotional tactic. That doesn’t mean it all ends up positive. I’m finding that much of book marketing is still trial and error.

I’m sure many of you reading this are thinking, there’s no way I would spend even $10,000 just in marketing. Believe me, I hear you. Besides, there are many very effective cheap and free ways to get the word out about your book. Before you start spending money and following in my stumbling footsteps, here’s a list of things you should try. They cost you no money and definitely provide a significant return.

  • Give your book away early and often: Every reader has a network of friends and family. If they love your book, it can really take off.
  • Leverage Amazon KDP Select: This is another way to give your book away, but to strangers. Many authors have seen their books leap into the top 10 lists for their given sales category and have continued to see sales boosts post their free days. Just remember, Amazon demands 90 day exclusivity for this privilege.
  • Network with authors, bloggers, and reviewers: Building strong network of allies is essential to getting the word out about your book. These other authors, bloggers, and reviewers are busy folks, but if you can give them a reason to support you, it could really provide a boost in the form of a blurb, review, endorsement, guest blog, or author interview.
  • Get involved in the conversation: One of the most effective ways to sell yourself is by not selling at all. I spend plenty of time on goodreads, librarything, wattpad, twitter, and facebook discussing books with readers and other authors. Invariably, someone asks me about my book and this leads to another sale.
  • Drive traffic to your website: You do have a website, right? Having an interesting blog is a great way to get people to know more about you and your work. Posting on a regular schedule can garner you regular readers who may share with their networks and thus further build up awareness of your brand.

The message of this post is whether you dump money into a pit like me and/or take advantage of the many free ways to promote your work, marketing your books is your responsibility and it doesn’t happen without your full commitment to the task at hand.

Part owner of Independent Publishing Venture, The Pantheon Collective. Award-winning, bestselling author of One Blood (under pseudonym Qwantu Amaru). Book marketing expert and social media marketing consultant.

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Posted in Book Discovery, Book Marketing
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