They say you have to spend money to make money—but that old chestnut is missing a crucial word. Really, it should say that you have to spend money wisely to make money. Not all advertising investments are created equal, and indie author marketing is no exception.
There are plenty of ways to spend money as an indie author: formatting, cover design, editing, proofreading … And all of that is just about product quality, never mind actually selling the finished book. Marketing can give you some of the best bang for your buck, because even the highest-quality product won’t sell a single copy if readers can’t find it.
Spending money on advertising isn’t like buying food or clothes. An expensive meal will fill you up just as well as a cheap one, and either way, you’ll be hungry again tomorrow. It’s an endless cycle.
Spending money on marketing is more like investing. Every dollar you spend should gain you more than a dollar back in the long run. The goal is to attract readers who buy your books and tell their friends, attracting more readers and netting you more money than you spent on marketing in the first place.
By the way, if you’re early in your career or operating on a shoestring budget, you can market your books for free. (See our blog post on free indie marketing strategies for details.) But spending a bit of money in the right places can help get your books in front of new readers you might not otherwise reach.
Without any further ado, here are the best advertising investments for indie authors.
Promotions and Advertising
This category is the biggie. It’s the one we get the most questions about, and we’ll say up front that there’s a steep learning curve on many of these platforms. There’s a lot to learn—more than we have space and time to dig into here—so we’ll keep things high-level. For a deeper dive on all kinds of ads, check out the 20Booksto50K or Wide for the Win Facebook groups. You’ll find a wealth of information from working authors that gets constantly updated with firsthand experience and advice as the landscape of marketing changes.
For now, here’s what you need to know. There are many platforms eager to promote your books, from Amazon and Facebook to reader-centric sites like BookBub.
There are three main outlets for targeted ad campaigns:
- Book sites
- Social media platforms
These sites allow authors to promote books based on genre or subgenre. Readers sign up for lists, giveaways, or ad material based on their interests. The benefit of these sites is that they’re trafficked by readers who have already expressed interest in your genre or subgenre, so you know you’re reaching an engaged audience.
The most popular book sites for authors are:
BookBub’s Featured Deals are the Mount Everest of book promotions. They have the most cachet because they consistently produce high returns on investment and have sent several authors soaring up bestseller lists. But competition for these spots is fierce, so you can’t just buy one; you have to apply. If you haven’t succeeded yet, keep trying!
For book sites with less traffic (and therefore less competition), look at book club sites like Reader’s Circle and Reading Group Guides. These sites allow authors to list their books for consideration by book clubs searching for their next read.
Social media platforms
All of the big names in social media have advertising options for authors:
As with all platforms, social media comes with pros and cons. On the plus side, they cast a much wider net than book sites. Nearly everyone is on at least one social media platform, so with enough ad spend, you could theoretically reach … Well, just about everyone. But that pro is also a con, because lots of those people probably aren’t readers.
The more sophisticated ad platforms (like Facebook’s) will let you select a very specific group of ad recipients, which makes the process more targeted but also more challenging. Social media campaigns come with so much nuance that indie authors like Mark Dawson have created entire courses around how to run them well.
The learning curve for social media ads is steep, so before you invest, it’s worthwhile to take a course or hire an experienced professional to help. Kindlepreneur has a free course on Facebook ads with a lot of great info.
Pay per click or per impression on retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble to put your book in front of shoppers. You can select the types of readers you want to target—for instance, by targeting searches for comparable authors’ work—and direct ads toward those groups. You also get the benefit of putting ads in front of people who are already shopping and therefore more likely to buy something.
Amazon Marketing Services (AMS)
AMS is the most widely-used retailer ad platform. It’s the tool behind those “Sponsored Products” you see when searching for anything on Amazon. And yes—they’re available to indie authors for both ebooks and paperbacks. AMS campaigns allow you to run multiple versions of an ad at once, so you can do a bit of A/B testing to determine what strikes a chord with readers and what doesn’t.
Dave Chesson has put together a whole host of resources in his free AMS course, which is well worth a look for anyone trying to run an effective AMS ad campaign.
One way to make a significant impact with a small investment is to give away free copies of your book. You can offer freebies through a Goodreads Giveaway or book sites like BookBub, Freebooksy, and Bargain Booksy. You can also allocate some budget to sending free copies of your book to online influencers who specialize in your genre and will talk up your book to their followers. (Just be sure to reach out first to see if they accept these kinds of submissions.)
Permafrees, or permanently free books, are essentially a long-term giveaway—and an excellent subject for ad campaigns. A common strategy is to direct your advertising dollars at a free first-in-series book. The goal, of course, is to hook readers so they’ll recommend you to their friends and read through your series once they’ve devoured Book One.
Great reviews are one of the best ways to attract new readers. While reviews on high-traffic platforms like Amazon and Goodreads are essential, it’s a good idea to pursue reviews on book blogs and trade publications, too.
Independent Book Review publishes reviews for small press and self-published authors only. Anyone who isn’t traditionally published with a major publishing house can submit for free, or you can pay a small fee to move your book to the top of the review queue with an editorial book review. You might also get some blurbs to use in your ads or on your back-matter.
Teaming up with other authors writing in your genre is a great way to maximize your ad spend. With ebooks, it’s easy to put together anthologies or virtual box sets—especially with Draft2Digital’s payment splitting functionality. Collaborations let you leverage other authors’ email lists, and they yours. Every author involved reaches a broader pool of readers and can share the cost and effort of marketing. It’s an all-around win!
There you have it—the best ways to spend your marketing dollars as an indie author. Share your greatest marketing successes in the comments below!