Authors need readers. If I wanted to get philosophical I would say readership defines the difference between writing and authoring, but that’s another post. This one addresses a more practical issue: being seen. The publishing world is full of people crying their wares. Call it marketing, self-promotion, advertising, outreach, networking, or whatever; success is all about getting a book into the hands of readers. People blog about creative, free ways to market books the time, but paid advertising exists for a reason: when done right it gets a book noticed better than anything but word of mouth. (nothing beats that in the long run. Nothing.)
The trick is figuring out a strategy provides good results for the dollars spent–and when I say good, I’m including not only immediate sales but also any exposure that results in long-term recognition. Here’s my recent experience.
In July, I paid for ad placement with three outlets:
(1) a one-day genre-level ad for Extraordinary in The Fussy Librarian to coincide with a free promotion for Extraordinary. $10
(2) a two day genre-level ad with Discount Books Daily (DBD) for the same promotion. $40
(3) feature space on Underground Book Reviews for Controlled Descent. $15
I also did preview alerts, and sale-day announcements through the usual social media outlets for the free promotion. (More on that later.)
Results: minimal to disappointing. I can attribute all but one or two July sales of Controlled Descent to its coincidental selection as a monthly read for The Dragon’s Rocketship. (TDR ROCKS!) I barely moved 400 copies of Extraordinary. That’s nothing compared to the 1400 free copies of Controlled Descent I moved in March without paid ads.
(1) Fussy Librarian is probably worth the minimal investment. The majority of Extraordinary’s downloads happened the day the FL ad went out, (second day of the promo) and it is a niche-market title and a novelette, so my expectations might’ve been high.
(2) The Discount Books Daily ad did nothing for me.
(3) Ditto for Underground Book Reviews, although that was a cheaper learning experience.
For a sale of my romance novellas in August, I tried two new channels, one for each title.
(1) I coughed up the $100 minimum for a pay-per-click (PPC) ad on Amazon for Turning the Work: it started the same day as the sale and continues through the end of the month. I set a 7 cent bid to increase my ad’s chances of being selected since the average bid was 5.6 cents, and I selected Romance as the only category, because it’s SF/Romance, and I decided romance readers were more likely to buy.
*Important note: don’t be fooled into thinking I know what I’m doing. I read a bunch of other blogs and followed the Amazon instructions. Basically, I threw it at the wall and hoped.
(2) Joining in the Round got a one-day genre-level ad in E-Reader News Today (ENT) the second day of the sale. $50
Results: blew my mind. Here’s a screenshot of a “net totals” spreadsheet I use because I cannot convert the KDP monthly reports into a useful mental picture. Go ahead. Feast your eyes on my commercial invisibility. Then focus on that bottom Month-to-Date line and compare it to the Year-to-Date above it.
The day before the ENT ad, Turning the Work sold six copies. I did the usual on social media, and people were kind enough to share the posts. Six sales, plus none of the second book. Ouch. After the ENT ad: I sold 3 times the lifetime total for Joining in the Round and matched the year-to-date sales for Turning the Work. The pay-per-click ad continues to generate a trickle of sales. Click-cost to earnings ratio is 1:1, and the experts say that qualifies as an exceptional success. I even picked up a KU reader who reviewed Turning the Work, then proceeded to read Novices, and (I think) is now reading Controlled Descent.
(1) It’s likely worth the money to back any sale with an ad in ENT, especially if you hit one of the larger market categories.
(2) Amazon PPC ads are weird and tricky and probably won’t pay for themselves in the long run, but they give your title a lot of good exposure and may pay off depending on how you target them.
(3) Romance sells. Okay, we all knew that already, but it’s still worth mentioning. Many indie works cross genre lines, and most romance readers also read other genres. If a book might appeal to the romance market, I’d suggest taking a stab at promoting it in that genre as well as any other.
I’ll test all these points with my plan for Flight Plan’s print-iversary next month. I’m holding another double Kindle sale. Controlled Descent will get an Amazon PPC ad in the Thriller and Romance categories, and Flight Plan will get an ad in ENT aimed to both the Romance and SF markets. If I can swing the financing, I’ll do also do an ad for Controlled Descent in ENT too…as soon as I decide which categories to target.
Promotion through social media is The Big Thing everyone talks about doing. Many authors swear by it, and many blog about their success with it. Posting ads on Twitter & Facebook through individual accounts and on a dedicated author page, posting regularly to groups & communities that encourage it, creatig a social network of readers who come to parties and tout each others’ work throughout the online community…it’s a strategy. It costs nothing but time spent online.
I don’t like seeing ads. I hate parties, I am a horrible cheerleader…but social media is easy and free and it’s recommended by everyone, so I tried it for a year.
Results for me: mixed. I am not social. Communicating constantly? Participating in parties. reveals and giveaways? Posting about sales in every group multiple times? It’s like being skinned alive every day. I can now say, “Been there, done that, drank the Koolaid, spat it out.” The organizing and enthusiasm exhaust me, and the constant harping on positive energy brings out my inner contrarian misanthope. Then there’s the time-suck. I can throw bread crumbs into the raging currents of Twitter without getting pulled under, but Facebook is a deadly distraction. The social media strategy requires constant presence, which is antithetical to maintaining tight discipline.
I love The Dragon’s Rocketship and some associated groups. but I think I’ve found sufficient tribe. I will post for my peoples there, on my personal feed and my page. I will accept friend requests that come my way from mutual acquaintances and extend my tiny circle slowly and erratically.
As for the rest? Bottom line: I’d rather be writing.
Important Disclaimer: I make no claims to universal wisdom or knowledge of the One True Way. This post represents my experience. My definition of success still falls well below the bar set for being considered a “professional” by my chosen genre’s trade organization. So. Grain of salt.
One response to “My First Ads: what worked & what didn’t.”
Interesting article! It's good to know what works.