Self-publishing is maturing. Ten years ago, we could upload our self-published books to Amazon and watch people buy them. There were far fewer self-published books back then, and Amazon worked hard to promote new titles to their ever-growing band of customers.
During 2018, the American ISBN agency Bowker issued over one million ISBNs for self-published titles: that’s over 2,700 titles every day. And those were just the ones with ISBNs. Not every eBook on Amazon has an ISBN, so the true figure is far greater.
With thousands of titles being published every day, how do we bring our new book to readers’ attention? The answer is advertising.
Whatever your feelings about Amazon, they are the biggest eBook distributor in the UK and US and have a huge slice of the print book market too.
Deb Potter is the author of Amazon Ads for Authors 2021, which draws upon her advertising experience gained through promoting her children’s books.
‘Every minute, seven days a week, Amazon is selling books,’ she explains. ‘If you advertise there, you’ve cracked the first hurdle in marketing – connecting to people who want your product.’
‘I’m a huge fan of Amazon Ads,’ says Deb. ‘I can sit at my desk in New Zealand, set up ads, and sell books in Germany and the UK and Canada and the USA while I sleep.’
Currently, there are three types of adverts you can create on Amazon: sponsored products, sponsored brands, and lock screen ads. Beginners should start with a sponsored product ad because that promotes one particular product (e.g. our book).
Deb recommends doing some research before creating our first advert. ‘If you haven’t already, look at books like yours and consider whether your book looks like it belongs with them,’ she advises. ‘How do readers describe a book like yours? What other books will they have read? What is the problem your non-fiction book solves? What age range will your children’s book be perfect for?’
Amazon displays relevant Sponsored Ads on the results pages generated when customers type in some search criteria. Therefore, we need to think about which search terms, or keywords, readers might enter when looking for a book like ours.
Non-fiction book authors should focus on words and phrases that describe the problems readers want to solve. Fiction keywords might include time periods for novels with a historical setting, or the type of crime-solving sleuth in a mystery (amateur, police procedural). Children’s book keywords might include the target age range for readers.
We should think about negative keywords, too. These are words where, if a reader types in those search terms, we don’t want them to see our advert. If our cosy crime novel features an amateur sleuth with no official police involvement in our plot, adding police procedural as a negative keyword phrase will prevent our book from being advertised to readers searching for police procedurals.
Amazon uses a bidding system to place adverts, where we state how much we’re willing to pay for our advert to be displayed when a reader’s search matches some of our keywords. Amazon makes bid suggestions but, as Deb explains, they’re keen to maximise their profits.
‘Start small and learn as you go. A low budget sponsored product keyword ad is a good first ad. Just pick a few targets and don’t believe the suggested bids. Take time with your first ad to learn the ropes and understand the ad metrics.’
Amazon uses Pay Per Click, which means we only pay if a reader clicks on our advert. We’re not charged every time they show our advert to a potential reader.
Naturally, writers worry about advertising costs running away, but we can set limits on the maximum amount we’re prepared to spend each day, or for the advertising campaign. It pays to be cautious at the start.
As Deb explains, the first advert is very much about learning how the advertising platform works. Have you identified the right keywords?
‘In the first stage with a new book, you’re trying to discover targets that convert. Targets can be keywords, categories, direct targeting other books and authors. It’s an experimental stage. It’s likely that only a few of your first targets will turn out to be winners.’
Sometimes it can take a while to identify the best keywords, but when it happens, and you see a corresponding uplift in your sales, then consider how you could make these adverts work harder.
‘When you have some good targets, you can think about scaling up,’ advises Deb. ‘There are plenty of tools to do that – you can bid higher, fix your bids, and bid for different placement. If you’re new to advertising, it will take a while before you can scale up because you need to learn about which targets reach your readers, and which just take your money.’
While Amazon is one of the biggest book markets for readers, it’s not the only one. Many authors publish across several publishing platforms and need a way of engaging with readers who buy from places other than Amazon. This is where Facebook Ads may be useful.
‘With over 2 billion users subscribed to Facebook, it’s the best way to target a large group of readers and fans,’ suggests Jill Cooper, co-author of Help! My Facebook Ads Suck. ‘Facebook targeting allows you to approach people who like similar authors, similar movies and television shows. Narrow that down by readers and you have a big chance of attracting new readers if you play your cards right.’
Just as with Amazon Ads, before we begin advertising, Jill recommends ensuring our product is right for advertising now.
‘Does the book cover align with other best-selling books in your genre? Is it professional? Is your blurb the best it can possibly be? Does it meet genre expectations? How are the reviews? You don’t need a perfect review score, mind you, but you want the good reviews on your first page to outweigh the bad.’
‘The biggest mistake people make is advertising a book before it’s ready. A poor cover, a rambling blurb, authors love to jump in and get started running ads. However, it’s helpful if we take a breath and examine our product pages before throwing money at Facebook. You don’t want to turn potential readers off before your book is really ready for prime time.’
Amazon Ads target potential readers who are actively looking to buy books on their preferred book-selling platform. Whereas, with Facebook, our ads have to work harder by attracting potential readers and then encouraging them towards their preferred book-selling platform.
‘When crafting your ad,’ says Jill, ‘one of the most important aspects is the audience. Who is your audience? Fans of Hallmark Christmas Movies? Maybe they watch the Walking Dead. Once you know that, you craft your ad to speak directly to them. A punchy headline and an intriguing picture with contrast colours to the Facebook background and you’ll be well on your way.’
Because Facebook’s audience reach is vast, it’s tempting to push our advert to as many people as possible. However, advertising is about targeting the right people, not the largest number of people.
‘You want to make sure your audience is defined and you’re going after readers who enjoy and read the genre you fall into,’ Jill recommends. ‘If you’re wide, you want to go after readers who use the nook, the kobo reader, and not just blanket everyone who has watched the Avengers or the Princess Diaries.’
Like Deb, Jill also recommends starting small when dipping our toes into the Facebook advertising market. ‘When you start running ads, start slow! Don’t throw £10 or £20 a day at Facebook. In your testing phase, go for £3 or £5 a day and see how it goes.’
Therefore, our cover and blurb must be spot on before we advertise. We could create a great advert that readers click to reach our Apple, Kobo, or Nook platform pages (which costs us money), but if the product isn’t right, those potential readers won’t take the next step and buy.
As Jill says, ‘Getting clicks is the job of the ad but it’s your blurb and product page’s job to convert the click to a sale.’ Jill offers a useful checklist at www.thewritingwives.com to determine if our books are ready to be advertised.
Ads become profitable when our sales income exceeds how much we’re spending on advertising. But this isn’t always easy to determine, because we may also see an uplift in the sales of our other books.
‘Remember to look at not just the book you are advertising, but the life of the series. If you sell a Book 1, how much can you expect to make through Book 2, Book 3, etc? That read-through is how you will determine the health of your ad.’
Amazon and Facebooks ads are not the only way to advertise, but they’re huge advertising platforms that many self-published authors use to boost their book sales and income.
The learning curve means that advertising in this way is a time investment, as well as a financial investment. But as our knowledge grows, maintaining and monitoring adverts can become a small part of our writing business administration that has a huge impact on our writing business. It pays to advertise. These days, can we afford not to?
Business Directory – Glossary of Terms
CPC (Cost Per Click): The average amount you pay when someone clicks on your advert.
CTR (Click Through Rate): The ratio of clicks compared with the number of times your ad is displayed. A high number means you’ve selected good keywords that are relevant to your potential readers.
Impressions: The number of times your advert is displayed to potential readers.
ROI (Return On Investment): Divide book sales income by the cost of advertising. A negative figure shows a loss, a positive figure demonstrates a profit.