How Should You Spend Your Book Marketing Budget?

Author Brad Swift asks the following:

I have a number of fiction and nonfiction books now available through Amazon as Kindle editions and POD hard copies (through CreateSpace). The selection can be viewed on my Author’s Page.

I’m now wondering if I were to raise capital (say through a KickStarter campaign or otherwise) to promote and market the books, what would be the best way to leverage those funds so as to increase the odds of a fair ROI?

So, here are my questions: If you had a budget of $1,500 to promote and market your book(s) that are available as Kindle books and POD hard copies, how would you use it? If that budget was $3,000 what else would you do? Is there anything else you’d include if your marketing budget was $5,000?

This is an awesome question. I love to spend theoretical money!

First, let me address a background issue: It’s very difficult to raise funds via Kickstarter (or any other channel) for marketing and promotion. People DO like to support the creative process or publication process and see tangible results from their donation. But people may not be sympathetic if you ask them to donate money to help you earn money (via book sales), if you catch my drift?

But let’s say you have the money in hand. How would I spend it?

These 3 factors are critical:

  • Who’s your primary target audience? Don’t spend a dime until you know who you’re trying to sell to. You should thoroughly research your target readers’ habits, where they spend their time online, and how they decide to purchase books. It does no good to spend money on a social media advertising campaign or a blog tour if your target audience doesn’t use social media or read blogs.
  • How much of your audience do you “own”? If you have your own website or e-mail newsletter list (or other channel), then you “own” some part of your audience. You have the attention of a specific group of people who are already interested in your work. It might be desirable to invest in growing that “owned” audience, or you could improve the materials you use to market to them. If you do not “own” any audience, then you may want to invest in paid advertising, and convert people who respond to your advertising into an audience you own (by having them join your e-mail list, fan your Facebook page, etc). This is a long-term strategy that should benefit all books you publish.
  • What are your weak spots? Hopefully you have some idea of where your efforts are not what they should be. It might be your website or blog design, the copy on your website or blog, your skill level with social media or other tools, a weak network of contacts, or missing media that your audience might reasonably expect from you (e.g., podcasts or video).

I have looked briefly your site and social media presence. While I can’t make specific suggestions without deeper insights into how many people you reach, how they find you, and how well they respond to your messages, these areas are likely worth investing in:

  • Get a website makeover. You could easily spend $5,000 on an optimized site that’s designed to (1) get people on your e-mail list and/or (2) introduce people to your books (and convince them to purchase). While I think a design makeover would be helpful in and of itself, this alone isn’t sufficient. I think you’d also need to hire an online copywriter who is very skilled at content marketing—and knows how to turn a first-time visitor into someone who becomes a buyer of your books, or a subscriber to your blog/newsletter. While copy on your Amazon page is incredibly important for book sales, copy on your website is tied to long-term career growth. You don’t own Amazon’s customers. You can’t analyze what happens on Amazon’s site. But you do own what happens on your site.
  • Hire a publicist for a specific book or campaign. This is probably a viable option only if one of your books is quite new, or if you (or the publicist) can identify a hook in your subject matter/expertise that appeals to media outlets. For $1,500, you could hire a skilled publicist, with an excellent network of contacts, for probably one month to help garner mainstream media attention. Or, you could hire an expert to train you to be better at pitching all types of media (from bloggers to reporters). I do not recommend hiring a publicist or consultant if you already know and can get a response from the movers and shakers in your niche community.
  • Hire a digital marketing consultant. An expert can help ensure that (1) your Amazon marketing copy and product page is optimized for sales, (2) you’re using effective and consistent messaging across all of your media channels (site, blog, social media)—and help hone your message, (3) your social media activity makes sense when viewed as a whole, and you’re not missing any significant opportunities, and (4) you aren’t subverting your efforts or engaging in bad practices. A consultant can also give you advice on how to improve your influence, reach, and impact.

As you’ll notice, all of these recommendations have the long-term view in mind, and aren’t necessarily focused on selling one specific book. For short-term efforts, you could consider investing in an advertising package with a service such as MJ Rose’s AuthorBuzz, or trying to get your ebook featured through one of the many online promotional services (some free, some paid).

I do not recommend the following investments:

  • Broad, untargeted advertising (on any medium/channel)
  • Press release blasts or any form of mass mailing and communication
  • Buying friends, fans, or followers
  • Physical review copy mailings, especially for POD books. And—speaking more generally—I don’t think it’s worthwhile for self-pub authors to invest in physical review copy mailings, except in special cases or unless absolutely required by an essential reviewer or outlet

I know I haven’t covered all of the worthwhile possibilities for Brad, so I hope those of you reading will add your advice and experiences in the comments!

Posted in Marketing & Promotion and tagged , , , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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57 Comments on "How Should You Spend Your Book Marketing Budget?"

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Excellent information here. Here’s an idea for a future blog post: Hiring a Digital Marketing Consultant. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.


Excellent information here, Jane. Here’s an idea for a future blog post: hiring a digital marketing consultant. Would love to hear your ideas on that.

valentine defrancis
Whether pubbed by a traditional house or doing it yourself, you have to promote, so why not do it where it won’t cost anything? I found that taking 2 hours a day, one in the morning, one at night, and joining in on my targeted audiences’ conversations on Twitter and FB and Blogspot, not only give me followers, but give me followers who’ll buy. Websites are great, but why pay for it? Bloggers are finding that they’re getting the same difference by simply joining a blogging site. If you choose one where you can advertise your work, such as Blogspot, you get… Read more »
Vaughn Roycroft

This is fantastic stuff, and just what I need right now. I’m just getting ready to set up my website, and am already in contact with a publicist. Still have to find my way to an ‘owned audience,’ but am up for the challenge. I have identified my ‘right reader’ (i.e. target audience). Now just looking for ways to connect in meaningful ways with her, without just throwing money or time at it. Jane knows, indeed. Always concrete answers to be found here. Thanks!


Wow, Jane – what thorough advice. I bet you’d be a phenomenal publicist. Do you ever do publicity yourself -I can’t imagine how you’d find the time …. ? I bet it’s tricky to find a good publicist. How would we go about finding an experienced one with a good network of contacts? I especially appreciate how concrete you were about this:  “For $1,500, you could hire a skilled publicist, with an excellent network of contacts, for probably one month to help garner mainstream media attention. ”

Also – I hadn’t heard of blog tours.

Deb Atwood

This is a great post.
A follow-up question: A writing buddy claims that publicists have one great talent–cashing checks. How can you distinguish a hard-working publicist from a check casher?

Diane Echer
Great advice as usual, Jane. I too would like to hear more about what a publicist can do for a new writer. I was assuming their prices to be much higher. Now you got me interested. As for physical copies… I sort of think they have the merit of presence, visibility. It’s a mistake I’m willing to make. Although I love my kindle and would not dream of leaving the house without it, I tend to forget what books I have in there. However, a physical book that I haven’t read yet is begging to be picked up–by me, or… Read more »
Jan Markley

Good advice and current to the technology available. 

Graeme Smith
Lady Jane If I said ‘wise words – as ever’ I could justifiably be accused of crawling. And my knees aren’t what they used to be, so I’d better not :-). Mind – none of me’s what it used to be :-P. If we’re in the realms of future postings, I’d screech to a halt right at the beginning. Because whether it’s demigrof… demogrif… demi-caf… er, knowing stuff about what different types of people like, that whole ‘Who’s your primary target audience?’ thing is a step and more to climb. For those of us (well, those of me :-P) who… Read more »

Thanks, Jane. How helpful, as always. Like others here, I am also doing a website, but I am moving from the free WordPress to a WP upgrade for the blog portion of my site. Do you see a problem with that? I’m anticipating book publication in 2013 and am starting to build my community.

Dan Blank

I love the first three questions you ask before even getting to the money question. Too often, writers skip over these questions too quickly, and in the end, are very limited as to the impact they can have when they go into marketing-mode. As always – great advice here Jane! Maybe you should have a weekly column: How Jane would spend $______. Just you, virtually spending money!

Boris Glants

Jane, thanks for posting this. This is massively insightful. I would love to read an article by you about how to determine your target audience. Do you have one already?

Jim Hamlett

Incredible post, Jane (as always). I echo some of the other commenters who’d like to see further development in your suggestions, esp. the digital marketing consultant.

Anita L Miller

What about if you have zero dollars for marketing, but a lot of elbow grease?


Very interesting post and advice! I’m curious, would your advice be the same for a traditionally published author?

Gary Bonn

I see you’ve noticed Steve Godden and the ‘Tales of the Shonri’
He’s a good catch. It’s worth following him

Alicia Dunams

There’s no ROI on book marketing (unless you have a “back end” business)

Save your money on book marketing. Instead, I would spend the $1500-3000 on a business coach to flesh out your products and packages, seminars, signature presentations, consulting, etc.

Spending money on a publicist will lead to visibility. Visibility without a tested revenue model is a waste of time, IMO.

Alicia Dunams

Fire at Warp 10 | Marcy Kennedy & Lisa Hall-Wilson

[…] Jane Friedman – Book Marketing – If you had $1,500 or $3,000 or $5,000 how should you spend your money to get the best return (sell the most books) for that investment. Jane gives some great advice. Rate this: Share this:FacebookTwitterStumbleUponLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. By Marcy and Lisa • Posted in Writing Prompts 0 […]


I disagree. Marketing is not about selling books. It is about branding. If you are just selling books, you’re just being a merchant.


[…] unto herself, offers a solid round of options in terms of putting bucks behind your book, in How Should You Spend Your Book Marketing Budget?, emphasis mine. Don’t spend a dime until you know who you’re trying to sell to…If you […]


[…] and platform—two confusing topics for many writers. Jane Friedman guides a writer on what to spend money on in marketing; agent Mary Kole advises fiction writers to not sweat the platform before you write the book; and […]


[…] How Should You Spend Your Book Marketing Budget? […]

Laura Pepper Wu
Great article Jane, and wonderful discussion following it.  I like how you have defined a clear difference between what a publicist does, and what a digital marketing consultant does.  I can’t recommend starting with the latter enough; there is an absolute need to get the basic, overall message of your marketing campaign clear and honed before even starting to target reviewers and publications.  If you’ll excuse the terrible analogy, it’s like giving a friend, who is looking for love, a wonderful makeover + a clear idea of the type of man she wishes to date, well before she goes out… Read more »

[…] How Should You Spend Your Book Marketing Budget? […]


[…] How Should You Spend Your Book Marketing Budget? Assuming you had a few thousand dollars lying around, here’s what I think you should do with it. […]

Jane, you have certainly helped many with your insights about where to invest to promote book sales. My return for investment has been highest in the area of speaking and touring. Usually, I’ll get paid to speak and I will have the opportunity to sell books. It does take time and it does have it’s initial costs, (travel, mailing, promo material) but these are small compared to the return. I would love to tap into the benefits of using the multitude of internet channels for promoting my books. I feel old and clunky when I try, like I’m reaching around… Read more »

Hopefully I can sell my book Jane, It is a family history book called TURNER TREES, it took me years of research and I have links to many famous people, just the authors alone include Hardy, Austen, Shelley, Twain, Pepys, Dickens, Chase and De Maurier. if only I could get to the masses I could show readers how they could be linked to a famous person too.


These tips are the most valuable by far. Thank you:

I do not recommend the following investments:
Broad, untargeted advertising (on any medium/channel)
Press release blasts or any form of mass mailing and communication
Buying friends, fans, or followers
Physical review copy mailings, especially for POD books. And—speaking more generally—I don’t think it’s worthwhile for self-pub authors to invest in physical review copy mailings, except in special cases or unless absolutely required by an essential reviewer or outlet