Columns > Published on February 8th, 2023

Get The Most Out Of A Small Book Promo Budget

Original image via Pixabay

Let’s say you’ve got a book coming out, and let’s say you’ve set aside a modest promo budget of $250 dollars.

Yes, I know, calling $250 bucks “modest” makes me sound like The Monopoly Man. But when it comes to book promo, you’ll eat through $250 pretty fast.

If you’re looking at a budget like that, let me give you some hard-won advice on some good and bad ways to spend it.


Bad: Goodreads Giveaways

Goodreads giveaways sound tempting. They’re easy, just connect your Amazon account to Goodreads, shell out some cash, and the system does the rest, giving out copies of your book to hungry readers.

Why does it suck?

Goodreads users who enter giveaways enter ALL THE GIVEAWAYS without really even looking at what they might get. Meaning your splatterpunk book goes out to people who like cozy mysteries, gentle romances, and the occasional book about some Scandinavian way of life that’ll supposedly fix your problems (just buy a cable knit sweater and drink booze, trust me, you’re better off). If that person reads your book and gets to the part where someone chainsaws a man into giblets, they’ll hate it. 

Good promo isn’t just about shoving your books into as many hands as possible, it’s about giving your book to people who will probably enjoy it.

Analogy time: if your goal is to create positive buzz about Beyond Burgers, should you give away free Beyond Burgers at McDonald’s or set up a grill outside Whole Foods?

Yes, McDonald’s is synonymous with burgers, but Whole Foods is where you’ll find someone looking for a vegan option, someone who has a little more money to spend, and someone who is inclined to give Beyond Burgers a fair shake.

Giving your books away is a good idea, just be smart about it.

Good: Targeted Author Copies

$250 bucks should easily buy you 50 copies of your book, plus all the shit you need to ship those copies out.

Get copies, ask people if they want ‘em, and send ‘em out for free to people who ACTUALLY WANT THEM.

Use Goodreads and similar sites to find people who’ve enjoyed your other stuff or stuff a lot like what you’re offering, and message those people to ask if they’d like a free copy.

Bad: Social Media Spending

What’s tempting about social media advertising is that you can really drill down and target an audience. You can target people who’ve listed an interest in books, topics that your book covers, you can filter to a likely age demographic, all sorts of stuff.

And while this guarantees your ad will be seen by people who are more likely to be interested, the problem is the context in which they’re seeing it.

On a social media site, EVERYTHING is competing for someone’s attention. There are thousands of more enticing things happening all around your book. You can post nudes on Twitter. Your book cannot compete with nudes, even if your book is a book OF nudes.

And there's another issue: Twitter is designed to make you stay ON TWITTER. Everything about the interactions, scrolling, all that shit, it’s meant to keep you from leaving Twitter, even if you’re leaving Twitter to buy a book.

When the advertising venue is pulling in one direction and your marketing is pulling the other, and when that venue is one of the wealthiest, most powerful things in existence, you're paying to enter a tug-of-war you can't win.

Good: Social Media Scheduling Software

I’m conspiratorial, and I do believe (based on a lot of experience) that scheduled posts see less action than “live” posts.

And yet, I still recommend scheduling. Why?

Because it’s super difficult to get on Instagram, plug your book, and get out. You can jump onto a scheduling software, crank out a month’s worth of posts in one shot, and get the fuck out without scrolling through nonsense.

Scheduling software separates the business of social media from the timesuck, the work from the play.

Consider using a good scheduler, one that might cost a few bucks. Consider whether a paid account might let you post to platforms you haven’t had the time for. If you’re using a scheduling software already, consider whether you might upgrade to a paid tier and get more out of it.

Bad: Bookmarks That Promote The Books They’re Inside Of

If you take nothing else away from this, please remember: if you’re in the sewer, nothing is a candy bar. Nothing.

Why are you stuffing a bookmark inside of the book it’s promoting? It’s a thinner, lesser, non-readable version of the damn book.

Make a bookmark that links someone to a short story you offer for free, only available via the bookmark. To an essay, to a comedy piece, to your website. And make the bookmark something people enjoy, visually or with something quick written on it. 

Hell, make a limited number of bookmarks, and use them to link to free copies of the book. Let the promotion go for a limited time, then shut it down. It's a lot cheaper than sending out actual copies.

Or, if the bookmarks promote your latest, put the bookmarks somewhere other than between the pages of the book they promote. Ask your library if they’ll let you put them out. Ask a local bookstore. If they say no, fuck it, stick those bookmarks in some books anyway. Find something like your book and go to town.

Good: Websites and URLs

"My book is available! Just head on over to PeterDerkAuthorWriterPodcaster.blogspot.blogger.blog.wix/newestbook.shit."

Yeah, no.

Build a simple, usable website, a one-pager of a site that lets people click straight through to any and all platforms that sell your book.

And make sure it looks great on a phone, because easily half your visitors will see it that way.

If your book is only available one place, like Amazon, you might not even need a website, just a good URL that redirects people to your book’s page.

What’s  good URL? It’s short, it’s easy to understand when typed or said aloud. So don’t have a number in it, that’s confusing when you say it out loud. Don’t have repeated letters (Biggapinggreatbooks.com) because people mess those up. If your name isn’t easy to spell or has multiple spellings, don’t use your name. If your URL has a slash in it, it's not good enough.

Good: Buy Back Your Own Time

Organizing a blog tour takes time. Creating attractive social media images takes time. Building a following via a newsletter takes time. Connecting with local bookstores takes time.

Consider using that $250 to pay yourself to take a couple days off work to get your promo stuff in order. Focus exclusively on that for two days, and you'll get a lot done.

Good: Get Some Good Author Photos

Pay someone a little money to take pictures from a distance further than the length of your arm.

Take a few different shots. Bring a few different sets of clothes, try a few different backgrounds. Make sure some are portrait and some are landscape. That way, for interviews, freelance stuff you might pick up, whatever, you can provide more than one high-quality photo option.

Good: Get a Decent USB/Smartphone Microphone

You’re more bookable on podcasts if you don’t sound like total shit.

Pro tip: say, “Hey, I can record the audio on my end, then I can send you the file so my parts are from my mic and your parts are from yours, if you'd prefer.” Figure out how to do that, and your interview over Zoom might actually sound decent.

Good: Design Tools

A few months of Adobe Suite ain’t cheap, but if you can use it to crank out a year’s worth of promo images that look nice, videos that aren’t painful to look at, and audio that is passable, well, you could make worse investments.

Good: Upgrade What You’ve Already Got

Spending the cash to upgrade your existing marketing options means you can improve what you’re already doing without needing to learn something brand new. And spending on things you use already is a good investment. You know it won't go to waste.

Are you putting out a newsletter? Can you upgrade and get more out of it?

Social media scheduler? “Link in bio” services? Do you have a website that’d really benefit from a few hours of a web designer’s attention?

Bad: A Generic Book Marketing Service

Don’t do this. Just don’t.

Book marketing services sound great, and the reason they sound great is because you’re desperate. It’s a glimmer of hope in the vast sewers of book promotion, the turd floating along that might be a turd, but might, just maybe, be a candy bar.

If you take nothing else away from this, please remember: if you’re in the sewer, nothing is a candy bar. Nothing.


Get Buy My Book: Not Because You Should, But Because I'd Like Some Money by John Marszalkowski at Amazon 

Get All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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