Your Book Marketing Plan Won’t Work

From Joe Konrath:

So you wrote a book.


Now you should celebrate. Enjoy the moment. I suggest craft beer. My go-to is barrel aged stouts, invented and perfected by Goose Island. But Prairie Artisan, The Bruery, Alesmith, Founders, Stone, Central Waters, Epic, Boulevard, Oskar Blues, and Avery also work well. More suggestions welcome in the comments.

Now, after celebrating, you are creating a marketing plan.

You’re nervous, but you’ve been an avid student, devouring everything you can on how to sell books. And you’ve discovered a lot of chatter about a lot of things, including:


The catchall go-to for all authors. You have two Facebook pages, a personal one and a public one. You’re on Twitter. You’re on Instagram and Tumblr and Pinterest and Flickr and Reddit and 4chan and 8chan and Kboards and Goodreads and Blogger and you are constantly posting new and interesting content because you’re smart enough to know that yelling “BUY MY BOOK!” doesn’t sell anything.

Guess what? Posting new and interesting content doesn’t sell anything either.

When was the last time you actually bought anything because someone liked it on Facebook? Or retweeted a product link?

Your social media isn’t going to sell much for you. This blog gets millions of hits a year. You’re one of them.

How many books of mine have you bought? Can you name any? What’s the latest one?

. . . .


You’re not going to sell a lot of books on social media. While social media does help inform fans that you have a new book out, or something priced cheap, it won’t amount to many sales.

That’s not to say you should ignore social media. But it isn’t going to cover your car payment. Stop thinking it will.

. . . .


There is no book you can read that will help you improve your sales to a degree that was worth the time and money you wasted on it.

Feel free not to believe me. Feel free to tell me about the book that helped you sell a zillion copies. But beware: I’m gonna check your rank and post it and make you feel stupid.

. . . .


You’re doing well if you break even. And while you can crow about the intangibles of “finding a new fan who buys your whole backlist” the fact is that any serious attempt to explode your sales using ads will require you spending a LOT of time tweaking them, and a LOT of money buying them.

I’ve spent tens of thousands on advertising over the years. NOTHING is guaranteed. They all require a lot of thought and effort. And all the effort you spend on ads is less time you spend writing.

. . . .


That’s the question, isn’t it?

I’ve driven myself half-insane trying to figure out how to sell ebooks. And I’ve sold a lot. But, like many, my sales have slowed down over the years. I used to make $800k a year. Now I make less than half of that.


Well, the reason I broke out and made major money was due to pure luck. Amazon created the Kindle and allowed authors to self-pub with DTP (now KDP). I was uniquely suited to exploit this new type of media because I had ten shelf novels that publishers had rejected, and I now had the opportunity to self-publish them while undercutting traditional publishers on price. Then, as ebooks grew in popularity, I got my backlist back and was able to leverage a whole lot of cheap books into a whole lot of money.

I still make a lot of money. But when Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, my income cut in half, and has never recovered.

Luck again. Amazon giveth and Amazon taketh away.

I have gotten some decent publicity in my time. It never moved the needle on sales.

I’ve had a very popular blog. It never moved the needle on sales.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

PG has missed Joe Konrath.

Joe’s blog was required reading for anyone interested in self-publishing for a long time, then he went quiet for a while. PG doesn’t know why and figures that it’s Joe’s business and he’ll tell us if he wants us to know.

Now that Joe’s made a couple of new posts, PG has recalled how much he enjoys Joe’s unique voice and views.

17 thoughts on “Your Book Marketing Plan Won’t Work”

    • It’s probably just me, but I would have released a single volume at 180k, not split it up into two thin 90k books.

      Too late now, he’s already committed “Duology”.

  1. But when Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, my income cut in half, and has never recovered.

    Interesting, in the sense that I would bet a great deal of money the current growth in works of LitRPG/GameLit/Isekai/what have you is almost entirely due to the existence of KU. I have yet to see a single author who identifies as author in the sub-genre who is anything but “all in” with Amazon and KU. Small publishers are also funding (sometimes painful) translations from Russian, Korean and Chinese, presumably in anticipation of earning from KU.

    I think it is interesting how KU creates its own winners and losers. How long this growth will continue I have no idea, but one of my favorite authors is currently ranked in the Top 100 Fantasy authors and almost in the Top 50 Science Fiction authors by that new author ranking they have. Which kind of surprised me, since all he writes is GameLit.

  2. PG: Konrath’s last comments when he cut back blogging were along the lines that he was done evangelizing and would be focusing more on writing.

  3. To TPV:

    I agree 100%. Miss Joe and his unique voice. Hope he’s back.. even if it’s just to post a time or two a month.

  4. The telling part is this:

    “Well, the reason I broke out and made major money was due to pure luck. Amazon created the Kindle and allowed authors to self-pub with DTP (now KDP). I was uniquely suited to exploit this new type of media because I had ten shelf novels that publishers had rejected, and I now had the opportunity to self-publish them while undercutting traditional publishers on price. Then, as ebooks grew in popularity, I got my backlist back and was able to leverage a whole lot of cheap books into a whole lot of money.”

    Self-publishing broke out about ten years ago. The first generation of authors to discover this were startled to find themselves making six figures, and quit their day jobs. That is a lot harder now. Why? No mystery. That first generation were like the first bacteria introduced into a petri dish of sweet, sweet agar. Good times! But these never last forever. The dish gets full and there isn’t enough agar to go around.

    The same thing happened with EBay about twenty years ago. Some guy clears his attic and sells his old stuff on EBay, and is startled by how much he gets. A few quit their day jobs, rented some warehouse space, and hit the yard sales. That worked great for a short time, then the market was saturated. Also like Amazon, these people’s livelihoods were now subject to the whim of a giant tech company. This works just fine, until it doesn’t.

    My take on the current self-publishing market is that there are two classes of authors: tradpub midlisters, and pure self-publishers. Tradpub midlisters have the advantage of name recognition before they go indie, giving them a natural audience, which allows them to price a bit higher. Pure self-publishers have to work a lot harder to build up their name. Either way, if self-publishing is your primary income, you have to write fast.

    Konrath by his own account hit the jackpot. He caught the first wave of the Kindle era, with his name already out there through traditional publishing, and a backlog of material to release.

    That moment has passed. There will be another wave of some sort or other, down the road. The early adopters will do very well. But there is no knowing what it will be, or when.

    • “That worked great for a short time, then the market was saturated.”

      I have heard of a few authors being so nimble they can write to take advantage of a new trend/niche before the market is full, but it is unusual. After that, it’s diminishing returns for those who are pursuing ‘writing to market.’ And the market is disappearing even as writers are fighting for shares in it, leading to low income for many from yet another internet sensation.

      There has to be a better way – and it’s not traditional publishing with its huge market-lag.

      That is, I hope there is, eventually, a better way, especially for very slow writers.

      • The better way is probably patience.
        If the gold rush is over the impatient will move on and those that stick to the basics will get their shot.

        The one thing Bezos harps on the most is “focus on what won’t change.” And what won’t change is that traditional publishers are optional and getting the first thousand “true fans” will be, as always, hard.

        • What won’t change is that there should always be a market for good stories, well written.

          And, because you can only re-read the same books so many times, there will always be a need for new stories.

  5. The golden age of Indie authors and Kindle ended in 2016. I’m not sure if it was KU or that Amazon stopped advertising for free Kindle books. It was either that they started their own imprint or Kindle-devices market share didn’t require any more free advertising of e-books.
    To sell e-books nowadays you have to advertise, either by e-mail like Bargain Booksy and the rest, for 99 cents, or through AMS, but never on magazines, on-line or paper, which sells nothing. Only one time I broke even selling 99 cent e-books. The rest of the times it was a loss, counted by how much I paid for each sold e-book. AMS is different and I broke even or made a profit on AMS ads. One reason is that on AMS I sell for listed price not discounted price. For some reason readers read the full priced book more often than the discounted (99c) e-books. To use AMS requires time and skill. You have a choice, don’t advertise, and don’t sell, advertise via e-mail ads and sell at discount, and you lose money, or AMS which requires skill and time, and if you do it right you can sell. My advise, if advertise on AMS don’t discount your price. Good luck.

    • KU started in 2014 and was well established by 2015.
      Isn’t 2016 when the BPHs moved into BookBub and started discounting their backlist?

        • It might not be due to any single thing suddenly happening but rather a combination of factors or even pre-existing trends. Sometimes two or more minimal changes reinforce each other and result in big changes. Or it could be a threshold effect.

          Life is non-linear, that’s why all the linear extrapolation models media pundits use always fail.

      • I pubbed my first book in 2013. In 2015 I got lucky and scored two BookBub ads that netted me more than $50K, by my calculations. Since then, I’ve been rejected for every single submission. It was about that time that I noticed BookBub had leveraged their unique position to start selling their featured ads to trad publishers and midlist author’s backlists instead of self-published authors.

        I very, very rarely see a self-pubbed author in a featured ad these days.

        Between 2013 and 2016 I made roughly $150K+ a year and I got an agent for my audiobooks. Now the income is a fraction of that (though the audiobook money has stayed roughly the same). 2016 was my last good year, as well. For me it was a combination of no more BookBub ads and KU training readers not to pay for books.

        Currently, I’m writing a book that I’m going to try to trad pub. I’ve never gone that route before, but I figure the payout can’t be any worse than KU these days and I won’t have to bother with the nuts and bolts.

        I’m taking advantage of the downturn to just focus on writing. I think the Golden Age of self-publishing is pretty much over. The market is saturated in almost all genres and say what you will about gatekeepers, if you’re being honest, you know it’s harder with less payout these days.

  6. Oh, I didn’t know Joe was back to posting on his blog. Great to see him advising and experimenting yet again. He’s bold and always interesting. Thanks, PG.

  7. Yeah, I’m extremely stubborn. I’m going to keep plugging away no matter what I hear. Readers want to read good books. I write good books. I’ll figure out a way to get the readers sooner or later. I’m also extremely patient. Took me thirty years to figure out how to finish a novel, but I did it. (Five now, working on number six.)

  8. This article smacks a little of JK realising that the wave of “lucky” success he’s been riding has finally hit the beach and fizzled into the sand, but he’s fortunate that his past popularity should continue to give him sales. Yes, luck has launched many a mega-career, and my own paltry midlist triumphs were brought about by lots of planets lining up, but “luck” isn’t the secret ingredient to success now. It’s clever, concise marketing of a nothing less than excellent product (book) to an accurate demographic. We’re all challenged by the industry in its latest evolution, but tossing a coin about the choices we have isn’t going to work.

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