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!

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