Why would a successfully self published author like Mark Dawson openly share his advertising income and expenses?

It’s definitely not to brag. It’s to show you what’s possible. Mark’s a regular guy who’s learning how to make indie publishing work. He wants you to come along for the ride and learn how to do it for yourself.

You can do it! 

In this episode you’ll hear what “it’s possible” looks like – and this particular report covers one of Mark’s lower income months. Still, the figures are quite impressive for someone who didn’t know anything about the business side of self publishing before he started.

But there’s more than just the figures.

Mark’s eager to share some of the advertising he’s doing to promote his books and the mindset and reasoning behind the particular promotional channels he’s using to get his books into the public eye. You’ll get insight into the lessons he’s learned in his self publishing journey and you can apply them to your own situation to help make your book sales soar.

And it’s not just about book sales.

As you listen to Mark’s report keep in mind that the money he spends on advertising and promotions is not just to sell books. He realizes that some promotional channels are showing a net loss on paper, but that’s only when you look at sales that resulted directly from the promotion. His goal is not always immediate sales. It’s just as important in many cases to spend money to get email subscribers, because those people turn into book buying fans later on and often work their way through Mark’s entire catalogue, showing the profit on the “back end” so to speak.

So enjoy this month’s earnings report and feel free to shoot us an email if you have any questions about what we share.

Outline of this great episode

  • [0:23] James’ introduction to this episode and why he and Mark do it.
  • [1:24] The U.S. figures.
  • [2:32] Why book commissions are what push things into a profitable place this month.
  • [3:57] UK campaigns and figures.
  • [7:36] Tracking advertising purchases.
  • [8:30] Mark doesn’t need to advertise to get sales, so why is he doing it?
  • [9:53] Mailing list efforts for the month.


James Blatch: Yes, hello, this is the mini podcast that we slip in once a month to the main podcast episodes, where Mark goes through how his advertising is going, how his book sales are going, gives you some figures so that you can follow along with the way that Mark approaches marketing, whether he, what’s working, what’s not working sometimes, and hopefully be motivated or at least get tips on what not to do. It’s been pretty good I think hasn’t, April for you, Mark?

Mark Dawson: Average I would say.

James Blatch: Oh, okay.

Mark Dawson:  Not good as quite as good as March. There’s a number of reasons for that, but one of the things I want to be completely straight up on this is that I’m not going to sugar coat anything. If things aren’t working quite as well as they have done in the past I will say and I’ll tell people why I think that is and what I’m doing to improve that. I mean, it’s been pretty good. It’s been solid but there’s certainly some grounds for improvement and I’m working on that right now.

James Blatch: Okay, well we’ll talk about the improvements as we go along. Shall we start with the US figures?

Mark Dawson: Yes, okay, so here we go. The US spend in April was $8,947.72, and that generated sales of just short of 1,600 units of the John Milton books that I advertise. That’s brought in a royalty to me of $7,779.87. The others, so those other purchases, so typically books at number 2 of the series, I sold 72 of those, as a result of those ads. That brought in a royalty of $453.10, and then the commission that I receive from Amazon on those sales and associated purchases that people made after clicking on my ad, that was another $1,400.28, bringing in a total of $9,633.25 and a positive return on investment of 8 %.

James Blatch: Okay, so as you say, it’s a positive return but it’s low-ish, and, again, it’s the commission that puts you into profit.

Mark Dawson: Yep, definitely. The commission certainly is important. 8 % is not amazing given that I’ve had months of 100 % before, but we can touch on this now, there is more than one benefit of advertising, so it’s not necessarily just to encourage a direct sale. What this is effectively saying to me is that I’m advertising my brand quite widely. That’s getting a lot of impressions for that kind of amount, and it isn’t costing me anything to do that. On the contrary, it’s actually making me money so I’m getting sales and I’m increasing people’s awareness of my books and my brand, which means it’s more likely that when they see for me in the future that they’ll take action on it.

James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. That’s a good way of looking at it because I work in advertising as well, my video production company does quite a lot of work in that field and lots of campaigns go on with the vague idea that it’s raising awareness of the brand and that it will lead to sales in the future, but they cost a lot of money and they’re not always measurable. In your case, although that isn’t measurable very easily in the future, although you can start to see a return, but what you do know in the immediate future is you’ve paid nothing for that campaign, or in your case here you’ve made a few hundred bucks.

Mark Dawson:Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been running these campaigns at a small loss, I’d be happy to run those at a small loss because there’s plenty of benefits taken from traditional advertising that would still apply to what we do. The fact that they make positive return is gravy as far as I’m concerned.

James Blatch: What have you got next? Do you want to continue with the US campaigns or do the UK?

Mark Dawson:We’ll do the UK. In the UK same period, so April 2016, spend was $2,772 and that’s generated sales of 351 box sets bringing in revenue of $2,747.91. Another 30 of box set 2 which brought in just over $300, and the commission on that of $384, so that is a total of $3,434.05 which is a return on investment of 24 %.

James Blatch: Yeah, so that’s a lot healthier.

Mark Dawson: Much healthier. Then finally, look at Kobo, which is that campaign that I’ve been running for the last 2 or 3 months. In April I spent $2,239, which generated sales of the 8 book box set which cost about 25 bucks in Canada. 118 units sold which brought in royalties of $2,123, which is a small loss, it’s a 5 % loss in that case. In the grand scheme of things, it’s $110 to advertise that over the course of the month. I’m reasonably content with that. I mean, obviously, I’ll try to get that back up to a positive spend, that ad needs a bit of a refresh, but at the same time, I’m comfortable with that because I know that those people will probably join my mailing list, or at least some of them will, and they’ll be more likely to buy book 9 when that comes out on May the 20th.

James Blatch: Okay, so notwithstanding, there are long term benefits from the campaigns and the awareness that you’re getting and people being introduced to your books for the first time. You’re obviously a man with expensive taste Mark, we all know about the hot tub, so what are you going to do, how are you going to respond to this and get that ROI back up.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, well I’ve got quite a lot of plans for May. Obviously, I’m pretty busy with advertising for the self publishing formula, with our course launch coming up in June, so a lot of my focus at the moment is on making sure those ads work, and they’re working really, really well at the moment so that’s great. In terms of the books, what I’m going to do, and this is something that I haven’t done before, I’ve had several very long conversations with a digital only imprint in the UK, who we’re going to have on the podcast a little bit later. They’ve been advertising 99 cent books, extensively advertising them on Facebook, and they’ve been driving those books up into the top 10 both in the UK and the US. There are very strong benefits to doing that.

Apart from the increase in visibility, if you’ve got a decent back list behind that first book, the sell through can be quite strong. What I am going to be doing is probably, I suspect these campaigns will end up losing money because you’re only going to be getting about 30 to 40 cents on those 99 cent books because the royalty’s low on Amazon. It’s not likely that the campaigns will be effective enough to come back in the black, but what you’re hoping for in those circumstances is to get mailing list sign ups and most importantly to get people to buy book 2, book 3, book 4, whatever. I’m in the process right now of designing some ads for the first book in the Milton series, which I’ll drop down to 99 cents, and then I’ve worked quite hard on the back matter to encourage people to buy the box set, and they still get a saving on the second and third book, even though the first book they just bought is included in the box set. We’ll see how that goes, but I’m quite excited to get cracking on that.

James Blatch: Okay, can I just ask a technical question about the way that you know that a other sale is related to the advertising?

Mark Dawson: Let’s say there’s an Amazon affiliate link that the people click on when they go through the ad process. That takes them to Amazon, their computer is cookied, and the cookie lasts for 24 hours. Anything that they buy, whilst that cookie is live, it hasn’t been superseded by another cookie, so in other words, if after 12 hours someone clicks on another affiliate link that cookie is replaced by the most recent one. Anything that they buy whilst that cookie is still alive is credited, they get the Amazon commission on that item and that’s also reported in the Amazon dashboard, so you can see exactly what people buy. For me, obviously the thing that they buy most often will be the box set that I’m advertising. Second to that will be the second box set, because I make it clear on the sales page that they can get that one as well. Then you get all the other weird and wonderful stuff that I’ve mentioned before, some stuff not fit to mention on a family podcast that people buy after clicking on the ad.

James Blatch: Says a lot about your readers of which I’m one. Finally, Mark, I know you, just to explain, this is the campaigns that you are currently running, the spend going in and then the measurable return that you’re getting, but, obviously, you’re selling books anyway, aren’t you? I mean you don’t necessarily need to advertise for people to come across your books.

Mark Dawson: No, that’s right. People shouldn’t think this is the extent of my sales in that month. In fact, it’s very far from the case. There’s plenty of organic sales going on. I’m obviously marketing through automation funnels as people join my list. Amazon is marketing for me through also boughts, e-mails out that kind of thing. There’s loads and loads of different ways. Even things like just general social media presence. I don’t shout about books. It’s not a good idea to go onto Facebook or Twitter and just constantly message people to buy your book, but just by behaving like a normal person people will take the chance to click on passive links on your Facebook page for example, or pinned tweets on your twitter account, and they’ll go through and they can buy stuff that way as well. There’s loads and loads of different ways people can get to make the purchase decision.

James Blatch: Good. You’re not going to run out of money for the chemicals, again, hot tub, just yet.

Mark Dawson:Yeah, I think I’m okay.

James Blatch: Yeah, there’s other income coming in. Great, okay, well I think that’s it, isn’t it?

Mark Dawson: One thing before we go. There’s a fourth thing that I do. Of course I’m doing mailing list campaigns in the background and it was a pretty good month in April for mailing list sign ups. I spent $300 on mailing lists and that’s just with a video that goes out which is me, recorded on my iPhone, holding a book up and saying if you want a free copy of this book then just sign up. $300 spent, that brought in 692 new subscribers at a cost per subscriber 43 cents, which is well, well within what I would consider to be acceptable as a cost of a new subscriber, because, obviously, I know once they’ve read the first one, at least I hope, there’s a good chance that they’ll go in and buy others, which means they’re worth considerably more to me than just 43 cents.

James Blatch: Yeah, great, okay. Well, that’s good use of video and video’s my thing. We are currently testing YouTube to set up our first campaigns and I can tell you I bought my first conversion on YouTube for 67 pounds, 67 pence, for the course, which is about approaching $100, but we are improving on that I should say. Just to show you, of course when you start this, so when you start this process you don’t know, even if you do know what you’re doing, even if you follow a lot of advice, the work comes in the optimization and then [pick me 00:11:07] up technical areas in the way that you’ve done things. You’re quite a well oiled machine at this stage, Mark, but it wasn’t always the case, and people shouldn’t be disheartened. It does take a little bit of dedication, and some familiarity with what works.

Mark Dawson: Let’s leave people with the image of me as well oiled. That’s a weekend nightmare.

James Blatch: On a hot day. Okay, look, have a fabulous weekend Mark. Thank you very much indeed for your figures, not your figure. Thank you very much indeed for listening, and we’re back, of course, every Friday, with the Self Publishing Formula podcast. We can’t wait for the next one and thank you so much for being with us.