Marketing is a crucial part of author success, at least on a commercial basis. When aspiring authors inquire about the publishing process, marketing is often the last thing on their minds. They’re too focused on actually producing a book.

I understand that, because without something to promote, there doesn’t seem to be much sense in marketing.

That “book first, marketing later” approach may work for the first book and maybe even the second, but after that, an author better have a marketing strategy in place to build awareness, generate demand, and sell books.

Personally, I dislike marketing, even though I do understand that it’s essential for commercial success. I don’t understand its many facets. I know what I’m willing to do, some of what I should do, and little or nothing of what else I should do. The heavy hitters in marketing base their strategies and tactics on data. Data-driven marketing is here to stay, and the marketers who understand how to acquire and analyze that data generally get the best results.

The operative word in that last sentence is “generally.” Nothing holds true 100 percent of the time.

When I respond to a question about publishing, my responses often list an abbreviated series of steps to produce a book. Marketing comes last. I don’t list it as the last step because it is the last step, but because it’s something to be started before the book is published and continues long after the book is published.

As soon as the book is published—and sometimes before if the writer has been posting about the manuscript—book promotion offers begin to flood the author’s email account. Most come in two basic varieties: one-shot wonders and unrealistic promises.

The one-shot wonders cater to those authors who don’t know what will work and want to try a variety of tactics on a low budget. These usually consist of social media blasts along the lines of “We’ll promote your book to 50,000 avid readers across our 10 Twitter (X) accounts for only $39!”

Sure, for an inexpensive price like that, you’d think it’s worth giving it try. What you don’t know is who those readers are. Do those accounts even exist? If so, are the account holders readers of your genre? There are other questions to be asked and which never get answered, but you’ve got the gist.

Unfortunately, even though the one-shot wonders fulfill their promises to blast your promo to their tens of thousands of addresses, you’re lucky see a small, short-lived uptick in sales. The royalties earned from that won’t cover the cost of that one-time promotion.

The unrealistic promises made by other book marketers identify them as scams, even though their pitches are designed to appeal to an author’s desperation for validation and book sales. Those marketers, too, often use short-term, one-off social promotions that yield much less than anticipated results.

Let’s face it, no book marketer can guarantee sales. A book marketer optimizes and maximizes a book’s chances of selling, but it cannot force people to buy the book.

Effective marketing arises from a robust marketing strategy that encompasses sustained activity including (but not limited to) advertisements, social media promotions, in-person engagements, reviews, newsletters, blogs, and quality.

Yes, quality.

Remember, these are generalities. I’ve had a one-stop wonder generate amazing results for one book. One book. I’ve made other such efforts that amounted to exercises in futility and wasted time, effort, and money. The high likelihood of failure is sobering, disappointing, and discouraging.

The effort and expense of marketing make earning a profit through writing difficult. That’s one reason why I discourage people from pursuing book publishing if their main motivation is quick money. The reality is that most authors don’t make money. In fact, I’ve read that fewer than 90 percent of authors realize more than $1,000 in royalties annually.

Yes, there are authors who earn six-figure incomes in royalties. It’s possible. I remember coming across one who earned $175,000 in royalties and spent $150,000 on marketing. The pay-to-play nature of publishing might not be fair, but that’s the business. Those authors who treat publishing like a business are the most likely to see profits.

Publishing is the very opposite of get-rich-quickly-and-easily sort of scheme. If you want to publish a book, do so for reasons other than filthy lucre … and do it right so that profit might come.