Review: Should You Take Mark Dawson's Ads for Authors Course?

You know I like to get on my soapbox about how digital campaign management is a skilled profession. Companies pay marketing agencies and freelance contractors a lot of money to run robust campaigns that sell products and get results. One of the most comprehensive, and well-recognized author marketing courses is Mark Dawson's Self-Publishing Formula. I'll give you my perspective as an expert digital marketer as to whether Dawson's Ads for Authors series is the real deal and, talk about what it takes to be successful on the program.

Who is Mark Dawson? For the unindoctrinated, Mark Dawson is a self-published, bestselling U.K. author who writes Mystery, Thriller and Suspense. After growing his own book sales using a smart, methodical approach to digital advertising that he largely credits for catapulting him to mega-huge author status, he developed a course called Ads for Authors to teach other authors how to do the same. In addition to Ads for Authors, he has another paid course that focuses on publishing basics called Self-Publishing 101. His brand is largely built off of funneling readers (and authors) into paid products by hooking them with free ones first. He hosts a podcast and currently has one free course about list-building for authors.

Course Overview and Pricing. Ads for Authors is an 8-course bundle presented in modules that cover seven topics. Facebook, YouTube, Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), BookBub, and Facebook Messenger are the ad products that are covered; two modules address ad design and ad writing, and an introductory module precedes all of them as an overview. They are all presented in video format, with numerous videos as part of each module that are anywhere from 5 to eighty-five minutes in length. My quick math counted Facebook for Authors alone at twelve hours of instruction. YouTube clocks in at nearly 4 hours. AMS is 3, BookBub is two-and-a-half, and Facebook Messenger is 3. Ad writing and ad design are each less than 1. The course orientation is less than fifteen minutes long, but put them all together and they add up to more than twenty-six hours of instruction. Some are presented by Mark himself, but James Blatch (YouTube), Adam Croft (BookBub), Bryan Cohen (Ad Writing), Stuart Bache (Ad Design), and Kerry Gardiner (Facebook Messenger) are the instructors for the others. The course is not always open for new enrollment, however, and at the time I bought it I received a $100 discount after seeing Mark speak at a conference. The list price at the time was $749.

This program delivers on its promise to provide a thorough, step-by-step overview of digital advertising methods with tips, tricks and approaches customized to the publishing space. I've been a pro digital marketer for fifteen years; until I self-published, all my experience was in the business space and I learned quite a few hacks that are highly specific to authors. Modules walk users who may not have any topical experience through the basics, but quickly moves on to intermediate and advanced advice. This isn't just a course about creating ads--it goes far beyond how to launch an effective campaign, extending guidance to budgeting, testing, measuring and optimizing results. 

With that said, I see what I believe to be drawbacks for the average author, and not because the advice is lacking. But because I have doubts about how well the average author can commit. Apart from the twenty-six hours of instruction alone, authors who work the program are also on the hook to go write ads, create corresponding art, and go through never-ending processes of management, analysis and optimization. Do all of this yourself and you have to be great at each part of the process. Hire somebody to help with any piece of it and you've just spent money. I estimate that, to get your marketing programs firing on all cylinders, you're looking at four months of diligent work and about a hundred hours of your time.

I'll admit it. I have a love/hate relationship with that number. I applaud Mark for presenting a realistic view of what it takes to drive great results. Marketing is a skilled profession. People go to school for it. Hell, I went to school for it and I wasn't great at it until I'd run campaigns at a digital agency for two to three years. If I'd taken Mark's course at the beginning of my career, it would have spared me a year of learning through mistakes and catapulted me to an advanced level early on.

But here's what makes me believe it's not for everyone: in order to be successful, you have to commit. Because it's so honest about the factors impacting results, authors have to be dedicated to optimizing their entire ecosystem. There's no take it or leave it. If you want your ads to perform, you can't just focus on copy and images. Your landing pages have to be great, your funnels have to be set up correctly, and your books have to deliver.

Who Will Love This Course. Mark's courses operate on the assumption that authors are willing to do a few specific things: leverage newsletters, give away freebies, and let each book sell the next. If you're an author with a library of, say, five books, and you're willing to give away the first book for free, your returns come from readers who are willing to pay for the second, then the third, fourth and fifth. If you have more than one freebie, even better. Mark's angles are predicated on the idea that you may need to get your foot in the door through perks, and that readers will buy from a combination of a love for your books and engagement with your brand through bonus content. For authors with bigger libraries of books that are alike, the opportunity is to capture the reader who will binge on you and your books.

This course will also appeal to analytical types who will love the data and who will appreciate learning more about their readers and what audiences respond to their books. If you're a data junkie like me and you've got the drive and the stamina to be methodical and take learnings from what your campaigns show, this is the course for you. Finally, Mark is always updating his content and is a true master at providing bonus content to course enrolees. The newsletter he sends out always has a lot of juicy new information for students to work through.

Who Won't Love This Course. As an example of how to market books, I loved this course. As an author with a shallow library and challenges inherent to marketing erotica, it didn't work as well for me. When I bought the course, I had only released two novels and had a novella in my pocket. For me, the course was too reliant upon having a huge backlist of books. Also, Mark writes in the Mystery, Thriller and Suspense category. His cover art and the art that could be placed in ads was a far cry from my art, which had a hard time getting approved. One of his modules briefly addresses restricted content, but overall the course wasn't heavy in alternative paths for steamy romance authors.

Also, authors who have neither the stomach nor the budget to hire professionals as needed won't get the intended value from this course. Mark's modules on ad design are fantastic and ring true to everything I know about creating gorgeous ads that will get clicks. But let's be honest: not everyone has the eye, nor the tools, to create amazing ads. This is where authors have to be honest with themselves about their strengths and weaknesses. Cut-rate ads, mediocre covers and other assets that are critical to impressing the reader simply won't perform. Mark's results are great. Mark also has the wisdom and the budget to hire people with the skills to show readers a very polished brand. With razor-thin royalties, I simply don't believe that authors who aren't already breaking even can lend the resources to develop the assets needed for a high-performing brand.

The Final Word

This is truly a fantastic course--one I respect deeply and one that I believe to be a priceless asset to the greater author community. We needed a Mark Dawson to come in and break down in well-presented terms the rules of advertising for authors. My reservations about this course have less to do with what the course itself offers, but with what you--the author--are truly prepared to do. If you want to become a rockstar marketer and grow your own competencies and skills, a thrilling, informative ride awaits you!