Self Publishing Formula Review: Mark Dawson Ads for Authors & Self Publishing 101

Scott Allan
April 15, 2020 | 16 mins

Mark Dawson and his Self-Publishing Formula have made a buzz amongst indie authors in the self-publishing industry.

Not only is Mark Dawson known as a multiple bestselling self-published author, but he has also built a solid book business through various channels, such as his Self Publishing Formula business, which includes online courses like Amazon Ads for Authors and Self-Publishing 101.

If you’re interested in learning more about the products Dawson offers, start by doing some research before you purchase, to determine if his self-publishing courses products are right for you. 

In this article, we are going to review Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing 101 and Ads for Authors courses and why it might be just what you need to make more money with your books. 

A Note To Our Readers:

We want you to make informed decisions when it comes to how and where to invest your money. That’s why our mission is to help educate authors on the various self-publishing companies and services that are on the market today.

Our reviews are meant to be unbiased, 3rd party reviews, but we will speak up if there is a scam or a clearly better option.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this Mark Dawson Course review:

  1. Who is Mark Dawson?
  2. What is self publishing formula?
  3. Self-publishing 101 review
  4. Is self publishing 101 for you?
  5. Self publishing 101 pros & cons
  6. What is ads for authors?
  7. Ads for authors review
  8. Ads for authors pros & cons
  9. Is ads for authors for you?
  10. Alternative programs
  11. Final rating

#1 – Who is Mark Dawson?

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Before we dive into the Amazon ads course, let’s take a look at who Mark Dawson is. Mark Dawson is a self-published, bestselling author based in the U.K. who writes mystery and suspense action-thrillers based on fictional characters like John Milton and Isabella Rose. He is also the creator of Self Publishing Formula, a platform of self-publishing courses for authors that, in addition to what we previously mentioned, includes:

  • Amazon Ads for Authors and;
  • Self Publishing 101

Mark Dawson, through Amazon and heavy ads promotion, has sold millions of copies of his books. He recently sold the rights for his John Milton thrillers to Hollywood. So yes, Mark Dawson is a pioneer in the self-publishing industry and his mission is to educate self-published authors on scaling up their book business and earn money through paid advertisements.

Related: Book Funnel

Mark Dawson credits much of his large volume book sales to his methodical approach to running ads both through Facebook and Amazon Ads. Dawson, considered a master in digital advertising, has achieved mega-success through this approach to marketing and selling books.

Mark Dawson books

Mark Dawson has written more than 20 books, and is a USA Today and Audible bestselling author. 

He is most known for his book series John Milton, which centers around a British assassin trying to make amends with his past. Other notable Mark Dawson books are those in the Beatrix Rose series, which is currently in development for a television series, according to Mark Dawson’s website. 

He is also known for writing the Soho Noir book series, which follows criminal life in London’s West End from the 1940s onward. 

Dawson is currently writing three more book series, with plenty more to come, we’re sure.

Mark Dawson podcast

The Self Publishing Show, which is Mark Dawson’s podcast, is a weekly podcast that covers content for the self-publishing author community. Through bits of inspiration mixed with education, the podcast is a valuable channel for writers at all stages in their career. 

Mark Dawson’s podcast includes feature interviews with other successful indie authors, including those from traditional publishing routes, as well as industry experts. 

Typically an hour long, the podcasts can be accessed here

#2 – What is Self Publishing Formula?

Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula is his online website hub, where all of Dawson’s content, products, and services can be found in one place. 

Known as SPF for short, Self Publishing Formula is updated often with new content, and is considered Mark Dawson’s “one-stop shop” on all things self-publishing, through his lens. 

On Self Publishing Formula, readers can find information and access to Mark Dawson’s free products, as well as his paid ones. 

#3 – Self Publishing Formula modules

Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing 101 course is one of his most popular courses that teaches authors the self-publishing process. It’s extensive, and is best mainly for beginners who have not self-published a book before. 

From start to finish, the course claims to provide everything an aspiring author needs to know about navigating the self-publishing industry from a marketing standpoint. 

Related: How to become an author

The course is only open for enrollment throughout the year periodically. This means you aren’t able to enroll when you need to, but must wait until enrollment opens up.

Self Publishing 101 includes a 5 course bundle. It is primarily delivered through video, but there are transcripts available for those who prefer to follow along by reading. 

The Mark Dawson team updates the content often, but there are essentially these main modules included: 

  1. Module 1 goes over building your platform
  2. Module 2 goes over pre-publication insights
  3. Module 3 covers the question of being Amazon exclusive vs going wide
  4. Module 4 covers going exclusive
  5. Module 5 covers going wide
  6. Module 6 details how to generate traffic
  7. Module 7 covers book launching
  8. Module 8 covers book reviews

How much does Self-Publishing 101 cost?

The most recent price we could find for Self Publishing 101 was $549 (if you pay in a lump sum.)

The cost has varied over the years, and the price is not displayed on the website at the time of updating this post, so it is unclear whether the price has remained the same or not.

#4 – Is Self Publishing 101 for you?

Self Publishing 101 is full of golden nuggets and a solid framework for marketing your books.

However, if you’re looking for a complete self-publishing process that walks you through every stage of the indie authors journey, from writing to publishing and marketing… then this IS NOT the course for you, as it only includes the marketing side of things.

This is not the course for you if you want to learn how to write and produce a book.

Self Publishing 101 is listed as idea for beginner to intermediate level authors of both fiction and non-fiction, though you will find much of the content seems more relevant for those writing non-fiction

Self Publishing 101 may be a good fit for you if…

  • Your manuscript is already written. You will want to start this course once you have actually written your book. 
  • Marketing is your emphasis. If you need a step-by-step marketing framework, this course might be for you. 
  • You want to sell multiple books. If you plan to make a career out of writing multiple books and building a book business, then learning the tactics in this course is a good investment. 

Self Publishing 101 may NOT be a good fit for you if…

  • You need accountability. If you are tech-challenged or motivation-challenged (the best of us are!), then you might find the self-paced structure of the course works against you, rather than for you. If you know you need more direct accountability and 1-to-1 coaching, then this isn’t the course you need. 
  • You want to learn how to write a book. If you haven’t even written your book yet, and don’t know how to take your book idea and get it into a book, then this course will not help you at this stage and you will want to look for other self-publishing companies to help you.
  • Cost. In addition to the price of the course (currently $497 or $49 for 12 months), you will also have to pay for software and subscriptions to some of the marketing tools the course references. While you aren’t forced to pay for these extra tools, if you truly plan to follow the framework taught in the course, you will have to invest in the paid tools. 

#5 – Self Publishing Formula pros & cons

Now that you have a solid idea of Self Publishing 101 and if it’s a course worth investing in at this stage of your author career, it’s time to go over the specific pros and cons to consider. 

As with anything, there are benefits and disadvantages, especially when it comes to finding a course that meets your needs, and that can teach you the content most useful for your career. 

Here are some pros of Self Publishing 101:

  1. Proven strategy from an expert. In this course, you are actually learning from someone who is very successful at writing and selling books. Mark Dawson has walked the walk, and talks the talk. There are many other courses out there who rehash what everyone else is saying to do, but aren’t taught by successful authors. Mark Dawson is the definition of a successful indie author, and his strategy is proven to work based on his own success.
  2. Facebook community. Many Self Publishing 101 students agree that the Facebook community included with the course subscription is worth its weight in gold. 
  3. Extensive marketing content. You will learn the ins and outs of book marketing through this course, based on Mark Dawson’s framework. If you’re on the hunt for a course specifically designed to teach you how to market your books, then this course will deliver. 
  4. Tech videos. A lot of aspiring indie authors struggle with the tech side of things. Self Publishing 101 doesn’t just teach you the marketing side of the equation – it also includes supplemental tech tutorials for those needing extra support. After all, a huge part of digital marketing for your book includes being able to navigate technology and learn new programs. 

Here are some cons of Self Publishing 101:

  1. Lack of writing development material. Self Publishing 101 is a marketing course, and you should enroll in it ideally when you have completed your manuscript. This is not the course for you if you want help with your book writing process, or are stuck and not sure how to get started with writing your book. 
  2. Closed enrollment. If you want to invest in the course, and are ready to learn right away, this might not be the course for you since it has closed enrollment. Enrollment typically opens twice a year, which means you’ll have to wait and can’t get started right away.
  3. No direct accountability. As is common with many of today’s online courses, Self-Publishing 101 is self-paced. This is great if you like to learn on your own time and around a busy schedule, but it can often lead to stagnation as well. There is no personaized 1-on-1 coaching, so you may not be held as accountable to finishing the course and implementing the work if you’re not much of a self-starter, or just get busy with daily life.
  4. Genre-specific. Many of the content in the course is geared towards non-fiction book genres, and some fiction book genres. However, you’ll find that a lot of the content seems more relevant for non-fiction authors as opposed to those writing types of fiction, such as children’s books. 

#6 – What is Mark Dawson Ads for Authors?

When Amazon opened up its Amazon ads platform to KDP—Kindle Direct Publishing—back in December 2016, it became a direct sales funnel for authors to “scale up” their book platform on a grander scale. Authors—primarily fiction—have reported book earnings as high as six-figure and seven-figures, largely contributing their success to the Amazon Advertising platform.

Related: Book Funnel

But, as the competition grew, the ad platform demanded better tools for tracking, analytics, and monitoring ad performance. This is where international bestselling fiction author Mark Dawson was able to bring in his genius when it comes to digital campaign management.

For these reasons, Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors platform was launched and, which includes:

  1. Facebook Ads for Authors
  2. YouTube
  3. How to Write Simpler, Better Ads
  4. BookBub Ads for Authors
  5. Ads Design for Authors
  6. Pinterest for Authors
  7. Facebook Messenger Bots for Authors
  8. Advanced Facebook Ads for Authors
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#7 – Amazon Ads for Authors course & cost

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Amazon Ads for Authors is a robust course on optimizing your author platform. If you are serious about making it with the sales of your book, learning to master the ads is a critical part of this business. But Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors is broken down into:

  • Modules: There are 5 modules in this course.
  • Sessions: Each module has a range from 1—5 sessions, or shorter videos.

Let’s dive into each module and the sessions briefly to give you a general idea of what this course entails, and the value you’ll discover in this course.

Module 1: General Strategy

  • Background
  • Compliance
  • Creative
  • Naming
  • Metrics
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Module 1 covers the basics of setting up the ads. You will learn how to name your ads for easy categorization, and how to get creative with your copy ad and book image.

You will also learn about metrics, which includes a deep dive into the calculations of the ads.Mark Dawson keeps it simple enough that you won’t need a background in calculus to figure out if the ads are working.

Mark scrolls through the key language needed to understand the numbers and translates the “ads language” in a way anyone can follow along.

Module 2: Lockscreen Ads

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  • About the ads
  • Targeting

This is new. Mark has updated this to replace the product ads that Amazon has replaced lockscreen ads with. There are only two videos here and that is all that is needed.

I like Mark’s honesty in this video. He does state that these ads have not been particularly effective. The 2nd video on Targeting walks you through how to set up a lockscreen ad, how to target the ad, and why you want to create lockscreen ads.

This video and lockscreen strategy is better suited for authors already familiar with setting up sponsored display ads and are comfortable with the challenge of setting up lockscreen ads. Also, as stated in the course, you should have a fairly large platform already with flexibility in your budget to spend.

The budget is bigger and the ads are difficult to work in your favor. In fact, you could skip this module altogether and come back to it again after working with the AMS ads.

Module 3: Sponsored Keyword Ads

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  • About the ads
  • Keyword research
  • Setting up a product display ad

This part of the course is really the crux of everything. With product ads now removed, to be replaced by the less effective lockscreen ads, having an understanding of the sponsored ads is critical. In these videos, Mark Dawson once again walks you through a very detailed step-by-step process for setting up your sponsored keyword ads. This includes his methods for finding keywords.

The video on keyword research is a must-see. Keywords play a critical role in the success of your book and so, you need to know where to get the right keywords for setting up your ads. In this video, Mark provides keen insight and strategies for keyword harvesting.

Module 4: Monitoring Our Ads

  • Monitoring Our Ads
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This is where the real gold is. Setting up an ad is one thing, but monitoring your ads takes diligence, patience and of course, an analytical breakdown of the data. But this is easy to do with the right guidance.

Mark runs through an impressive breakdown of how to filter ad campaigns based on when the ads were created (yesterday, last month, or last year). You get a bird’s eye view of the CPCR, how to read sales vs. ACOS, and how to compare your money spent per day to your sales. My favorite part is Dawson’s breakdown of the clicks data inside the excel sheet.

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Mark walks you through how to filter out the keywords not working with weak performance. Discover through deep-diving into the data the search terms have been most effective.

Module 5: Optimizing

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There is only one video here and it has everything you need for optimizing your ads and creating hybrid ads for higher conversions. Mark covers his best strategies for scaling up ads, improving performance and the tools to use for making this as easy as possible.

Monitoring your ads is an extremely important step to managing your Amazon Services platform. But optimizing your ads is the next level.

If you are not optimizing your ads, they can become derailed and end up costing you more money than you’re spending.

Related: Cost to Publish a Book

This module/session is definitely worth the cost of the course. Mark Runs through how to harvest the top-performing keywords and create better ads, not to mention tips on how to improve the book product page that impacts your sales performance, Click Through Rate (CTR), and reviews. 

The best advice here is how to gather your All-Star Categories and harvest these to create better ads. If there is anything you take away from Amazon Ads for Authors, it should be this.

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When everything is said and done, Mark Dawson has presented authors with a prolific, robust course that covers everything needed. Regardless if you are just starting out with your ads, or have been working at this for several years, there is valuable content here that anyone can put into practice.

#8 – Amazon Ads for Authors: pros & cons

The Ads for Authors course is definitely a comprehensive course on marketing, and while this presents many benefits to the right type of author, it can also be overwhelming if you’re not ready to dig deep into the content.

As with anything, there are pros and cons to this course, which we’ll cover more in depth below.

Pros of Mark Dawson Ads for Authors:

  1. Affordable price point based on the comprehensive material
  2. Updated regularly to reflect current changes. Many publishing courses become quickly outdated, but Mark’s course is staying up-to-date to reflect changes in AMS.
  3. Easy-to-follow high-quality videos walking you through the platform step-by-step.
  4. Super comprehensive. This course has a ton of information on building and maintaining your Amazon ad strategy. It’s powerful stuff, and is great insight for any author that is serious about drilling into their book marketing strategy.

Cons of Amazon Ads for Authors

  • Mark Dawson is primarily a fiction author. So, most of the content is focused around using fiction platforms as an example. However, this works for those that write nonfiction, too, we have discovered.
  • Several video and content refers to Product Display ads that have been removed. But, overall, the course is up-to-date and delivers on its promise.
  • Can be overwhelming, especially for many authors that just aren’t ready to learn and implement all that the course has to offer.

As you can see, the pros for this course weigh in heavy. If you follow Mark Dawson’s suggestions and have the time and budget to spend on the course and building your Ad platform, it can have a positive impact on the sales performance of your book(s).

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#9 – Is Amazon Ads for Authors for you?

This course works ideally for authors that have multiple books written and published.

If you have just one or two books, you will not get the same results as someone who has ten books and can leverage those titles through perma-free giveaways and running ads on other platforms such as BookBub.

This course is for authors committed to getting results. You have to be willing to invest in the success of your book. Mark Dawson has been reported spending nearly $30,000 a year on Amazon ads. This is easy to do if you have the platform and resources to invest.

But regardless of how much you can spend, setting up Amazon ads for your book platform is one of the top recommended tools to invest in.

Amazon Ads are for you if you:

  • Have a book published with a great cover
  • Have a series of books
  • Want to scale up the traffic and sales to your book
  • Are comfortable with spending several hundred [or thousands] of dollars to test your campaign ads and keywords
  • Can commit to 10-20 minutes a day for monitoring your ads
  • Wants to invest in the success of their book business and grow a readership (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Have a passion for book marketing
  • Are ready for the learning curve that comes with setting up and managing your ad platform.

Is this course for you? This all depends on how serious you are about your author career. If you just want to publish a book and be done with it, taking it to the next level and investing in ads long-term might not work.

It comes down to this: What are you, the author, committed to doing to sell more books? And are you at a point with your author journey where investing in ads is the immediate next step?

#10 – Alternative programs

While Self-Publishing 101 and Ads for Authors definitely has comprehensive material and advanced marketing strategies, you may need a program that’s a bit more robust in terms of a holistic self-publishing strategy.

There are many other self-publishing companies to consider if you need help with more than just marketing strategies.

We want you—the author—to be well-informed of what is out there so that you make the best decision on how and where to invest your money.

If you need a complete self-publishing training program with 1-1 coaching, group accountability, and online training that can be done at any time of the year, consider a Self-Publishing School program.

Check out our author education programs here.

Self Publishing Formula Comparison

Self-Publishing School offers a complete line-up of programs including, but not limited to:

  1. Become a Bestseller: A complete education program with 1-1 expert coaching that walks you through the entire self-publishing process on how to write and publish a bestselling nonfiction book.
  2. Fundamentals of Fiction: A complete education program with 1-1 expert coaching that walks you through the entire self-publishing process on how to write and publish a fiction book.
  3. Sell More Books: An advanced book marketing training program with 1-1 coaching on how to navigate ads, build your author platform, and sell more books consistently.

Or, if you are interested in writing a fiction novel or children’s book, we have programs for you, too.

#11 – Final rating

Our Rating
Based on our overall research, we give Self Publishing Formula by Mark Dawson a 4-star rating. This review is based on quality of material, value, and inclusivity for the common self-published author.
4 Stars

Patience. Persistence. Passion. Perseverance. You need a combination of these to make it work and overcome any doubts you have as an author.

If you are building out your own Amazon ads and using Mark Dawson’s course, we would love to hear about your success. Post your comments below and share your story.

Looking for more reviews like this? Check these out:

If you are planning on writing a novel or a memoir, Elm Hill is not the right fit for you. Instead, you should look for a reputable self-publishing company that works with all genres (or at the very least the one you are writing). At, we can help you write, edit, format, and publish your book – regardless of what you’re itching to write about.

If you are interested to learn how to turn your dream book into a reality, contact our team for a free, no-obligation strategy call today.

Will you invest in the Mark Dawson Ads for Authors and Self Publishing 101 course?

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