Are Book Marketing Courses Worth the Money?

What can I do to sell more books? This is THE question every author drives themselves crazy asking. So they dive into marketing and promotions, reading up on what to do, how to do, where to do, watch countless videos, and they still aren’t ranking or making bank. Eventually, and inevitably, they turn to marketing “gurus” to help them attempt to turn a profit. There are two very high-profile “gurus” who come to mind. But, you are probably wondering, as I often have, if these courses are worth the money.

Before dishing out cold-hard cash, I invite you to read this article:

This is a very interesting read, and echoes what I have discovered for myself through years of research, trial, and error. Please read the article and then come back to this post as I would like to further break down what the author points out.

First, I’d like to bottom line this for you. There is literally nothing Mark Dawson, or any of the other gurus promising to turn you into a 6 figure making author, can teach that you can’t already find for free on the internet. Honestly, marketing isn’t that big of a secret. The hardest problem is hammering out a marketing plan and executing it. Sure, there are 6 figure author coaches who will “coach” you on how to create a marketing plan, they may even hand you a one-size-fits-all marketing plan. They may offer you dozens of services to help you sell more books. But no matter how good your plan is, no matter what courses they offer or what services they offer, if you don’t have the three “missing ingredients” (or as I like to call them, what the gurus don’t want you to know) that the author of the above article talks about, you won’t sell books. And even if you do have all the missing ingredients, you still won’t make money.

Wait, what? How can I have an exceptional marketing plan, all the missing ingredients a.k.a the “secret sauce”, and still not make any money? It’s because of the way these gurus teach you to sell books. It’s the “dog chasing its tail” mentality. Meaning the only way to keep making sales is to keep funneling more and more money into the machine, keeping it greased so your book stays in front of people. Unfortunately, the entire industry has become filled with authors who are taught to “publish fast” and sink as much money into marketing as they can get their hands on. It’s just not a viable marketing tactic. But why, you may ask? Let’s break it down.

The above article talks about whether or not Mark Dawson’s Advertising for Authors is worth the money. The article could have been written about any marketing guru – the root analysis is basically the same regardless of who is claiming they can turn you into a 6-figure earning author. What the article uncovers holds true no matter the coach, the guru, or the marketing plan.

The article talks about three “missing ingredients” that Mark Dawson’s course does not directly mention. The author mentions she specifically asked Mark Dawson what was the “secret sauce” and his replied was simply “there isn’t any.” The author goes on to list three “ingredients” that Mark’s plan doesn’t include or even mention. Whether Mark, or any other publishing marketing coach wants to admit to it, these ingredients are the “secret sauce.” Or as I like to call them, the information they don’t want you to know. And these ingredients are universal regardless of the marketing course, who is teaching it, who the PR or marketing company is, or what service is being offered. Let’s get into those missing ingredients.

The last ingredient the article talks about is “a good book.” While I agree to a certain extent, if 50 Shades  and the plethora of unedited books have taught us anything, it’s that if you toss enough money into something, you can sell it. Unfortunately, all these marketing courses promising to make you a 6 figure earning author have created a market drowning in subpar books. Sure, many of them will tell you if you don’t have a really good book, then it won’t sell. What they actually mean is – if you are not writing to market with the same formulated plot and book cover that looks just like all the others in your genre, you probably won’t be able to sell the book.

Honestly, it’s not that difficult to see why they push this approach in their courses and services. Your book has to be eye-catching, and it has to be marketable. The easiest way to market is to compare it to something already hitting it big in the industry. After all, no matter how great the book is, no matter how well-written, if it’s not a genre or trope currently selling in the industry, you are going to be hard-put to sell it.

Now, here’s the catch on writing to market, which I hinted at earlier in this post.  When you are writing to market, it means you are pushing out the same tired plot line with the same look and narrative voice you can find in hundreds of thousands of other books already on the proverbial bookshelves. It’s considered “disposable entertainment”, and you won’t keep readers around long writing like that. Let’s take a further look at this.

After your book is ready to launch, you activate your launch/marketing plan. It goes well, you make sales which means you make money. But your readers want a new book now. Actually, they wanted it five seconds after they finished reading the one you just launched. They really wanted a new book already sitting on their Kindle ready to go as soon as they finished this last one. So you are forced to crank out another book. Then you have to launch it, which means you shove all the money you just made off the first one into the next one. And thus the cycle of the “dog chasing its tail” continues. You can’t create unique plot lines when you have to crank out a new book every month or two. So you “write to market” because the books sell, but in order to keep those books in front of readers, you have to keep funneling all your money into each new book. To put it bluntly, these gurus turn you into a publishing farm, where you crank out the same plot line repeatedly, producing book after book that looks like, reads like, and has the same tired plot line as thousands of other books. And the only way to keep them selling is to funnel thousands of dollars into marketing.

This is the problem with writing “disposable entertainment” books, or those that are written to market. You don’t keep the same readers for more than a book or two before they have moved on to another author. Can you make money at this? Yes, absolutely. But are you getting to keep any of it? No, and that’s the part these gurus don’t tell you. One of many moving parts they don’t want you to know about. They don’t tell you that in order to make $100K a year, you will shovel $99,900 of it back into writing and launching more books. It’s not money you get to spend on bills or vacations or whatever it is you are expecting to pay for out of those earnings. You have to keep “feeding the machine” to keep that money flowing.

The only way to stop this endless cycle is to strive to become a legacy author, or a “household name.” Think about it. When was the last time you saw Anne Rice, Stephen King, JK Rowling, or any of today’s greats launching a new book every few weeks, or every month? Most of them only release once or twice a year. And in Rice’s case, she can easily go years without producing a new book. But all of their books are unique, their plot lines unique, their world building unique. When you read one of their books, you immediately know you are reading their work because their narrator voice is also unique. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The second missing ingredient, another part of the “secret sauce”, or another moving part of the machine the gurus don’t want you to know that the article talks about is money. This is the #1 item which usually trips up most authors. And we’re not just talking about the money you spend on the course or the coaching. What no one wants to tell you is after you spend thousands of dollars on their courses and teachings, you then have to come up with even more money to implement any type of marketing campaign. There are literally hundreds of sites to market to, Amazon ads, Facebook ads, BookBub ads and deals … the list goes on. And it can take a lot of money before you see any results. Because the results aren’t usually immediate.

Authors shovel a lot of money into the campaigns and the ads and the marketing, and then it could be months before they see any results. It’s a gamble, no matter who is doing the teaching or how “tried and true” their plans and services are, it’s still a gamble with your hard earned money that you have to spend on these launch campaigns and services. If you don’t have the money to piss away on it, you could easily lose thousands and still not see any results.

Even if the plan/course/whatever they are teaching/giving you has worked for thousands of authors before you, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will work for you. It’s literally a case of throw enough shit at the wall to see what sticks, as the author of this article points out. Simply put, there are no guarantees. You could have the best written book on the planet, it could be written to market, you could have the best cover art ever seen, shove a half-mil into marketing, follow your guru’s courses and plan to the letter, and the book still bomb. This entire industry is a gamble, and if you don’t have the money to play the game, then you can forget about ever getting ahead in it.

The last missing ingredient is time. And this is another big one. The article talks about time to read through the courses, learn it, and then time to execute everything you have learned. But it’s not just that. It’s also the time it takes to write the book, to edit the book, to get the book ready. And then it’s the time you have to wait to see if all your efforts will actually pay off.

For those of us who are still working full time jobs, we often don’t have the time required to adequately launch and market a book, especially not on our own. And if you do hire a 6 figure author coach or some other guru, you aren’t just letting them take over. You still have a lot of time and energy you will have to put into launching the book. Unless you are hiring a complete PR/marketing firm who will do it all for you, you will still spend a lot of time learning about and executing a marketing plan. Even when hiring a “one-stop shop” company who handles the entire marketing and launching of the book from beginning to end, you still need to be very involved in the process to find out what works and what doesn’t. Otherwise, you could spend thousands of dollars on useless services that just aren’t helping.

This brings us back to the age-old question – how do I sell more books … when I don’t have a shit-ton of money to shovel into marketing?

Oddly enough, the short answer is very simple. The execution, not so much. I have a business plan already in place, and yes it would take several hundred dollars to execute. Unfortunately, I simply don’t have the money to spend right now. But the short answer? That is super easy, and it’s something authors already do, they just don’t do enough of it to make it work.

So what is this magic bullet? Networking. But not like you are networking right now. As I said, I have a game plan in place, I have a marketing plan in place, but what I don’t have is the team of fellow like-minded authors who are willing to join me on the journey of breaking out of the cycle of publishing books with meager or no sales. It requires networking with authors who are good writers, who produce a quality product, who understand how important editing and good graphic art is to the equation. It’s about networking with authors who understand it takes a lot of work, who are willing to put forth the effort and time, but who may not know how to leverage the knowledge they have gained, or who simply do not have hundreds of hours a week and thousands of dollars to spend. If you can find those types of authors, you can help turn the tides of the industry, those who are team players and willing to work with others, those who can follow directions and are willing to learn and help each other. You find your tribe, and yes, you can do all the things the gurus teach, minus the large guru price tag.