Chip MacGregor

January 15, 2013

How much money does a publisher invest in marketing my book?


Someone wrote to ask, “In your experience, how much money does a publisher invest in marketing a book? How much should an author spend?”

 Whenever a large publisher decides to contract a book, they create a P&L (profit and loss) sheet that contains all the numbers involved — the cost of ink and paper and binding, the cover costs, the author advance, copyediting, shipping, overhead expenses, etc. One of the numbers on most P&L’s is “marketing costs.” Of course, at the front end of a deal the publisher doesn’t really know how much they’re going to spend on advertising or publicity. The P&L may be filled out two years before the actual books hit store shelves, and no one is really sure what the marketing commitment will be. So many of them plug in $1 per hardcover book, based on expected sales.

In other words, if the publisher expects to sell 50,000 copies, the initial marketing budget will be $50,000. For books being flipped to trade paper, they may only budget fifty cents per book. For mass market, it’s even less. From a business point of view, that’s a fairly good rule of thumb for authors to know — the publisher will invest about a dollar per book for marketing a hardcover title. If the book in question is from a heavy hitter (say, Stephenie Meyer’s next novel), that number will obviously increase, and extra steps will be taken to promote the book. Be aware that you may not be able to easily figure out where all the money went — space ads and radio commercials have a set cost, but co-op fees, front-of-store placement, and shared advertising space can quickly add up and make spending on single titles hard to track. Still, that gives you a baseline for understanding how large publishers create a marketing budget.

Medium-sized publishers are more apt to simply have a figure they’ll spend — say $10,000 will be spent on any book they do. It’s tied less to sales projections than it is to a tighter budget. But they’ll have a figure in mind, and spend up to that amount in order to try and move copies. A small publisher may not have any sort of marketing budget for most books. Instead, they have a marketing “package” they use for all the books they do (“we stick them in the catalog, they get a postage-stamp-size book cover in our ad in PW, and we send out five copies for review”).  They may or may not assign a dollar figure to their marketing efforts. So there’s no one way publishers allocate money for the marketing of their titles… though you can pretty well assume they will all say that they’re spending money like mad to promote your title. (We live in a world dominated by fiction, after all.) 

That’s why it’s not always easy to get an answer to the question, “How much are you spending on my marketing?” If your publisher takes out an ad that has five books on it, but features one title a bit more than others, how are those costs to be divided? And if most of the marketing is on the publicity side, with some underpaid publicist trying to get your book mentioned in online forums, how do they cost that out — by the hourly rate paid to the employee? (That’s hard to do, and there are also minor costs like phone calls and the internet bill that would have to be part of the budget.) So you may find it less helpful to ask how much they are spending, and more helpful to say THANKS for all they’re doing, then ask how you can supplement their marketing efforts.

As to how much the author should spend… Understand that there are two sides to marketing: advertising (media exposure that is paid for) and publicity (media exposure that is not paid for). Both are valuable and necessary. Both can influence readers. But it’s the “publicity” side that authors should focus on — the media exposure that doesn’t cost you anything out of pocket. So look for ways to get word out about your book that might require some time and effort on your part, but doesn’t require you writing a check. Here’s an example: When I did a book entitled 1001 Things Everybody Should Know About the Bible, I checked to see how much a full-page ad would cost in a magazine that reached the intended readership. It was spendy — $5000 for a page. But I approached the magazine about doing an excerpt from the book, and they did so — giving me two full pages, three mentions of the book’s title, and a small image of the book’s cover at the end of the article. Those two pages were like getting $10,000 of free advertising. But it was just an article in the magazine, so it was publicity. Big exposure, low cost. You following my thinking?

That doesn’t mean an author should never spend money to promote his or her book — I think there are a number of opportunities for inexpensive online and radio ads that an author can try. But if you don’t have a background in advertising, get some help. It’s easy for an author to blow through a pile of money advertising a book in the wrong venues, and have it all add up to nothing. And it’s probably still wiser to focus on the web  and social networking ideas that provide opportunities at no cost.

Hope this helps. I’d love to hear you share in the “comments” section the best marketing experiences you’ve had. 

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  • Peter DeHaan says:

    I’ve heard of authors allocating a percentage of their advance to marketing. And though I won’t recommend it, one person planned to spent 100% of his advance to promote his book.

  • Kimberly Rae says:

    Working on this right now. With social media, there are hundreds of ways to promote a new book without spending anything. And like you said, getting an article in a magazine or periodical (or guest blog!) has them actually reading your work and then hopefully they’ll want more! Thanks for your excellent posts–those of us a few steps behind you on the path really appreciate it!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      You’re exactly right, Kimberly — looking for FREE ways to promote your book is the way to go.

  • :Donna Marie says:

    Chip, it’s rare when I don’t glean something new and invaluable from your posts. Thank you SO much for this. And Amanda, too. All fantastic stuff 😀

  • Rick Barry says:

    Interesting stuff, Chip. Thanks for taking the time to share the intel.

    By the way, nice new profile shot of you. Since you’re not my agent, I can say that without sounding patronizing! Blessings to you.

  • Iola Goulton says:

    Remember, too, that this post is still only talking about Promotion. Marketing has three other P’s (Product, Place and Price), and they will be spending money on making sure that the product (your book) is designed and printed professionally, priced appropriately for the market and gets into the stores and online booksellers. All this costs money as well.

    Authors, whether you are self-published or traditionally published: from my point of view as a reader (and reviewer), the most important thing you can do to ensure the success of your book is to get the product right. Make sure it’s a book I (and others) want to read. Because this book is what sells your next book.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Iola. “Place” is key, and perhaps the least-talked-about issue with books. Finding the right places where your readers are — that’s crucial. As for “price,” that’s being discussed quite a bit, since ebooks are all over the map.

  • Jennifer M Zeiger says:

    As Meghan said, thank you for explaining the difference between advertising and publicity. It’s very helpful to know.

  • Meghan Carver says:

    No experiences to share, Chip, but I appreciate your delineation of advertising and publicity. And Karen makes a good point. All the more reason to work on our social networking now. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Meghan. I never know what’s going to be new to readers — but the two aspects of marketing (paid advertising and free publicity) has struck a nerve with a number of writers. Appreciate you commenting.

  • Karen Morris says:

    Thanks, Chip. Sounds like we as writers need to be thinking outside the box (or check book, if you will) to look for available publicity avenues. Yet another reason why Amanda’s Thursday posts are so very helpful.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes — and Amanda’s posts are fabulous, Karen. Glad yo brought that up. I think a writer can get a marketing education just by reading her work every Thursday.

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