You’ve finally made it. After months or years of hard work you’re holding the finished article in your hand, a complete story that is so polished you can see your reflection. You load it up onto your book seller of choice and hit that sweet sweet ‘publish’ button, and just like that your very first novel is let loose into the world. You sit back and wait for the cash to come rolling in.

On Day One you sell twenty copies. You’re on your way to the big bucks. Day Two you sell ten, but that’s ok because the weekend is coming up and eighty of your friends said they were going to buy copies…

By Day Seven you update your sales chart but find there’s some kind of error. There are no sales registering for yesterday. It must be a technical glitch. Perhaps the number is so high that it’s still being calculated. After hitting refresh 87 times you start to draft an email to technical support informing them of the newly discovered glitch in their reporting system. That’s when the realization dawns on you. What if that number is correct? What if you had 0 sales?

Several alcoholic beverages later you come up with an inspired idea. You’re going to take yourself seriously as an author and draft a marketing plan. You’ve never done one before, but you watched an entire season of Mad Men so you’re practically a guru. After several attempts and a rubbish bin surrounded by crumpled paper balls you stare at your second work of genius in as many weeks:

Inspired book marketing plan of total brilliance

Step 1: Create a compelling advert

Step 2: Buy ad space

Step 3: Watch the sales come rolling in

Step 4: Profit


Step 1: Create a compelling advert

Nailed it!


Step 2: Buy Ad space

You are going to hit every marketing space available. Magazines, billboards, TV, radio, Facebook. It’s going to be a total blitz. People are going to see your book everywhere and the sales will come rolling in.

You start with Facebook, because you’re spending all your time there anyway since the book launched. It’s not hard to get everything setup, but then you see the pricing. It costs how much to advertise? Your $128 budget isn’t going to stretch as far as you thought, but it’s ok. New plan. You’re going to pivot. Start with Facebook, generate thousands of sales and then use that money to fund the other channels. Brilliant.

Facebook asks who you want to target your ad at. Readers. With a pulse. Your book is the next NYT bestseller, everyone is going to want to read it, so everyone should see your ad. You invest that $128 in your future and within a matter of days literally thousands of strangers see your new ad campaign!


Step 3: Watch the sales come rolling in

Any minute now…

Step 4: Profit?


Joking aside, the above is far closer than I would like to what I did after launching my first book. My ad was only slightly better than the one depicted above and got about as much traction.

The truth is, paying for advertising after launching your first novel is probably a bad idea for a number of reasons:

  • Assuming you aren’t already famous (or infamous) you’re starting from scratch. Convincing strangers to buy your book via ad space is possible but is likely to have a % conversion rate in the single digits (conversion is how many people click on your ad and then buy your book). This means you’re paying for clicks and not getting sales, which drives up your cost per sale.
  • When you only have one book there is nothing else for your readers to buy. That means every ad click can only result in one sale, which puts a hard limit on the effectiveness.
  • To help convince people to take a chance on a new author your book price is probably on the low end, meaning your profit per sale is small. With a low conversion rate your ad cost per sale may be close to, or even exceed your profit margin. If this is the case you’re effectively paying people to read your book. You’d be financially better off giving away free copies, which is a far more effective way of getting your book out to a lot of readers. The nature of free books means that only some of them will read it, but that’s ok. Some of those people will write reviews and some of them will tell their friends about the awesome book they just read. Word of mouth is the best way to sell copies of your book until you have an established fan base, so giving away lots of free copies is an effective way to generate buzz (assuming your book is good, which of course it is!) They key is to try and capture as many of these new fans as you can with a mailing list or some other mechanism. You want to turn them from free fans into paying customers.

Taking all of this into account, the absolute best thing you can do after writing your first novel is…. write another one! Preferably a sequel to the first book, but it doesn’t have to be. For your second book you aren’t constrained by the same challenges. You can charge more because people buying your second book are likely basing their purchase decision off the fact they liked the first one, so they are going to be far less price sensitive. Now you have a sales funnel. This means ad spend becomes considerably more beneficial, because you aren’t limited to a single low profit sale. The more books you have, the easier it is to justify the ad spend.

You might be thinking you’ll outsmart this problem and only use free advertising. You’ll hit up twitter and flood it with tweets about your new masterpiece. The problem with this is firstly that it’s taking up your time, which can be better spent. It’s also going to put off potential readers and lead to people unfollowing you, which jeopardizes future book sales. Not only that, it’s going to have minimal impact on your sales. How often have you seen a tweet from an author you don’t know and rushed to buy their book? If it’s more than once you should totally come check out @todayschapter…

I’m far from a marketing expert and there is a lot more to it, from targeting the right people, creating compelling ads and focusing on the metrics to make sure you are getting the best bang for your buck. What I can say with confidence is that unless you’re planning on stopping after one book, do yourself a favour and hold off on the ad campaign. I promise you’ll be far better off in the long run.

I’d love to be proved wrong on this, if anyone has had tremendous success from advertising their first novel please tell us about it in the comments below.