Part II: The Ultimate Book Marketing Formula

We’re back in Part III, and finally ready to put these principles into an easy to remember formula. This heuristic is surprisingly powerful, and should also give you ideas on which of the marketing levers you want to pull. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, and resources, and it’s critical to design a strategy based on those, rather than emulating someone who doesn’t match your situation or goals.

We’ll begin with the Internet Marketing Formula.

The Internet Marketing Formula

Effective internet marketing involves just three steps, adapted from Perry Marshall’s excellent 80/20 Sales & Marketing:

  1. Traffic: you direct potential readers to your book page via paid ads, your mailing list, social media, Amazon’s algorithms and so forth. Also known as “generating visibility” or “doing promotion.” Covered in Part 2.
  2. Conversion: you convince readers to buy your book via a stellar blurb and cover, competitive price, professional first few pages and so forth. Later, you convert them into fans by pointing them to the next book in the series or offering them something of value to sign-up for the mailing list. Covered in Part 3 (covers/blurbs) and Part 4 (email lists).
  3. Assessing ROI (return on investment): did you make money? If you sold 1,000 books @ $3.99, but it cost you $10,000 in production and ad costs, your business isn’t long for this world. You might have gained 3,000 email subscribers, but if only 2 of them buy, you have a problem. Assess what methods aren’t working, which series/books aren’t resonating with readers and then return to Step #1 (traffic) to tighten things up on the next go round. ROI doesn’t get its own chapter, because it can be boiled down to the following rule: double down on what makes you money and immediately stop or fix what doesn’t.

That’s it: you need to get readers to your book’s page, and then you need to convince them to buy it; and you need to do these two things inexpensively enough to generate a profit so you can repeat the cycle.

Simple. Not easy.

The Ultimate Book Marketing Formula

As mentioned in Part I, indie author success can be distilled into three components: genre craft + marketing + consistent production. Your job as an indie author really comes down to honing these three areas through repeated practice. When one of these three elements is substantially lacking, your job becomes difficult to the point of de facto impossibility.

But this concept, while useful, isn’t an actionable strategy. How does one quantify “marketing” or “consistent production”? What should you focus on within these areas to improve your skills?

Enter the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula, which I’ve seen work for authors in every genre. It’s the most consistent damn thing I’ve found in a business filled with more twists and turns than the actual books.

Ready? Here it is:

Genre research + 3 targeted traffic sources + great covers/blurbs + newsletter + consistent new series novel releases of 60,000+ words/150+ pages (4+ per year) = full-time author

Or, put another way:

  1. Research: Understand the tropes and audience expectations of your sub-genre. Can your target market support your financial goals? What are your audience’s expectations? Proper research helps you craft a book that your target audience needs to read.
  2. Traffic: Find three effective, targeted traffic sources that suit your marketing strengths and budget.
  3. Covers/Blurbs: Get eye-catching, professional covers and write compelling blurbs that clearly convey the genre.
  4. Newsletter: Build your mailing list.
  5. Consistent new releases: Once you nail the first four steps, your most effective marketing tactic becomes a new release. However, if you suck at the first four things, publishing more books will only lead to more expenses.
    1. Writing full-length novels (60,000+ words) in a series makes marketing far easier/more lucrative. Even if you hate series, you must write them.
    2. Series allow you to spend more on marketing, because a sale of Book 1 will result in follow-up sales of Books 2, 3 and so forth (known as “sell-through”). A series otherwise is known as a “funnel” in internet marketing. Book 1 or a box set of Books 1, 2 & 3 starts your series funnel. Like its namesake, readers get sifted out as the funnel gets longer – only 50% might go on to read Book 2. But 90% (e.g. 45% of the original readers) go on to read Book 3. These numbers tend to stabilize after Book 3 (e.g. most people who read that far will continue the series), which means that, all else being equal, a longer book funnel generates more money than a shorter one for the same advertising spend/effort.
    3. Your existing fans are far more inclined to buy Book 2/3/4 etc. in a series they love than to purchase a new standalone/start a new series – even if they adore your other work.
    4. Consistent releases smooth out your earnings, making your cash flow more stable.

These five parameters were not devised because of preexisting biases against literary fiction, short stories/novellas, standalone novels, taking years in between releases, or anything else. This formula is designed to give you the best odds of succeeding in a competitive business.

There are ten thousand more things you can do. But if you execute these five components at an 85 – 90%+ level, you’ll stand a good shot at making it. How can that be, you say? Indie publishing becomes an unmanageable albatross when you try to get everything right. This formula forces you to focus on keystone tasks: the core 20% you need to nail.

Play with the variables in accordance to your personal strengths and weaknesses; some people are productivity monsters, writing 12+ books a year. They constantly tap into the massive boost Amazon grants new releases (covered in Part II), instead of doing stuff like Facebook Ads. Other authors only release a couple times a year, but build a huge mailing list that reliably launches them into the Top 100.

I cannot emphasize this enough: leverage your signature strengths. Make sure your weaknesses aren’t sabotaging you. This will maximize the impact of your strengths. I am not trying to cast you in my mold; that would be silly, as we have different life experiences, skills, talents, and approaches. The key is to understand the variables that move the needle – the signal in the endless stream of noise that we discussed earlier – and then understand how sliding those levers works. Yes, I truly believe that the formula, as written, will result in at least part-time money of $1,000+ a month if followed diligently over 5 years. Naturally, there are no guarantees, least of all in a business as volatile as this one. But I also know there are few authors willing to execute the formula exactly as written. Nor should they, because it is precisely your signature strengths which provide you with a competitive advantage over others in a crowded marketplace.

Finally, a commitment to continuous improvement (kaizen) will propel you forward as other authors stagnate.

The rest of this guide covers each element in depth, so you’ll understand exactly how to execute them properly.

I’m Going to Ignore Marketing and Just Write Good Books

The formula doesn’t ignore the importance of writing good books. It’s vital – just not in the way most authors think. Unfortunately, “write good books” is a uselessly vague piece of advice, often proffered with a not-so-subtle undertone: if you’re not selling, your books are crap. This might be the case, but marketing shortcomings are equally common. We’ve all encountered fantastic TV shows, movies and books that died due to lack of marketing exposure.

Thus, writing good books is not a reader acquisition strategy. No one can tell if your book is good from the cover or blurb (and no, most readers don’t read samples). They assume your words will be entertaining when your presentation hits the correct notes. It is not until they are deep within the book some hours later, however, that the final verdict is known. Thus, writing good books – particularly strong, satisfying endings – is a reader retention strategy. Ultimately, all business is built on repeat business (for us, readers who become fans).

Without penning compelling books that your target audience NEEDS to read, you will never have a career. But publishing a good book will do nothing by itself, either (with rare exceptions that I can assure you are not you), until you make it visible to the world.

What’s Next?

In Part II: The Ultimate Guide to Market Research, we’ll discus why product positioning and market research are the most important components of marketing. That’s right: most of marketing is done before you even write a word.


  • Business comes down to two things: strategy (your system/plan) and execution (actually implementing that system)
  • Two key metrics: cash flow, net income
  • The Success Trifecta: genre craft + consistent production + marketing
  • The Internet Marketing Formula: generate traffic to your Amazon page (via paid ads, mailing list, PPC and so forth), convert potential readers into buyers by having compelling covers/blurbs; later, convert readers into fans by having a compelling mailing list offer, and then evaluate the ROI (return on investment) by doubling down on things that make you money and immediately stopping activities that don’t.
  • The Ultimate Book Marketing Formula: genre research + 3 targeted traffic sources + newsletter + great covers/blurbs + consistent new series novel releases of 60,000+ words (4+/year) = full time author
    • A new release is the ultimate marketing strategy once you have the other four elements working. Until then, publishing a good, new book is not a reader acquisition strategy; it is a reader retention strategy. To acquire readers in the first place, you need to generate traffic + have compelling covers/blurbs.
  • 6 Key principles:
    • Think critically of all advice; most of it is wrong or BS
    • Evolution: try new + different things to adapt and evolve to a changing environment
    • Compound interest: consistent, small improvement (kaizen) is key to success, so be patient and get 1% better every week
    • 80/20: a few actions have much more impact on your results than anything else
    • No marketing can save a book or series that fails to meet reader expectations.
    • Implement one thing at a time. It’s far better to master the elements of the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula over the course of a couple years than be trash at 50 different marketing tactics.
  • Focus on small daily wins (habits) that you can develop into quality skills and big wins over time.

Action Step


  1. Sketch out a rough, 5-minute production schedule/release plan. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive, and it’s not set in stone. Just try to determine what you can realistically publish in the next year based on your available time/money/current habits + discipline (e.g. current marketing/production/craft skills) and your monetary goals. Work backward until you have a 1 – 2 keystone habits you can implement today.