How to Prioritize Your Book Marketing Efforts

By Sue Campbell

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One of the questions I get most frequently from authors is this: “There are so many possible marketing and outreach activities, how do I decide which to do?”

It’s an especially important question given that most authors would like to spend as little time and money on their marketing efforts as possible.

My favorite trick for deciding on how to wisely spend your marketing resources involves nothing fancier than a paper and pen. Draw a horizontal and a vertical line that intersect in the middle.

The horizontal axis represents reach, that is, how many potential readers will a marketing activity yield? (Note that I said potential readers, not just people in general. A billboard may get a lot of eyeballs, but there’s no way to know how many of them are your type of reader so therefore it’s probably a bad investment.)

The vertical access is cost, from zero at the bottom to hundreds or thousands of dollars at the top.

Now, you simply make a list of all the marketing activities you’re considering and plot them on the graph. Obviously, the lower right quadrant—where reach is high and cost is low—is the sweetest spot. And, of course, you want to avoid anything with a big price tag and minimal reach.

Let’s look at some common marketing activities that might increase your audience and where they fall on the graph.

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  • A small book fair - I know so many authors who buy a table at a book fair and end up carting home a ton of unsold books. Unless a book fair is truly targeted to your ideal reader, these types of events usually end up in the upper left quadrant, they take money and don’t have a very big reach. If you’re considering buying a book fair table, try to find a local event so you at least don’t have travel expenses. And, if you can, reach out to another author who’s done that particular event and get a read on if they think it was worth it in hindsight.

  • A small podcast - I highly recommend authors try to book themselves on podcasts. Even if the reach is small, it’s FREE and you can target podcasts that really zero in on your ideal reader. Small podcasts go in the lower left quadrant. But, they can be worth doing, especially if you’re just starting your outreach efforts.

  • Guest post on a popular website - File this one in the lower right quadrant: a free opportunity that can have great reach. And, you can design your bio to send people to your website and turn them into subscribers and long term fans. However, guest posts are time intensive, so you’ll do well to evaluate if the hours you’ll put in writing the post are worth it for the audience size of the website.

  • A popular podcast - This one also sits in the highly desirable lower right quadrant. And the time commitment of being interviewed is far less than writing a guest post. Like guest posts, you can directly invite the audience to visit your site and join your mailing list.

  • Amazon ads - There’s nothing wrong with the upper right quadrant if you’ve got a few marketing dollars to play with. But you don’t want paid reach to be the sum total of your marketing efforts. Amazon ads will help you sell books, but you need to make sure you have a way to capture those readers and get them on your mailing list so you can have a long-term relationship with them, by putting an opt-in offer inside your book, for example.

  • BookBub promotions - BookBub is a powerhouse when it comes to moving copies, but it does come with a hefty price tag. They offer their signature promotion as well as ads that sit below their featured book. Bookbub can be worth the money, but you can’t do this type of promo with any regularity, and it’s hard to get readers back to your website and onto your list.

  • Hiring a book marketer - I guess I should probably include my services in this list! I’d be in the upper left quadrant, costly, but often able to 10x your reach and efforts, and take some of the time commitment off your hands. (My mentor, Tim Grahl, calls book marketers “force multipliers,” we help you get far more done with the same amount of effort.)

As you can see, this exercise gives you a quick visual read on a tactic’s potential return on investment and helps you separate your opportunities into those worth pursuing and those that deserve a big fat pass. Activities with a good cost/reach ratio might need some further analysis, especially when it comes to your time investment. You could even take your top possibilities from this exercise and then redraw the graph replacing cost with time.

So, next time you’re struggling to decide how to spend your precious marketing resources, simply get plotting!

Sue Campbell