Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction Writers => Self Publishing Discussion => Topic started by: Skip on April 03, 2020, 05:56:22 PM

Title: Amazon Ads
Post by: Skip on April 03, 2020, 05:56:22 PM
@Eli_Freysson recently asked about getting back into self-publishing. That thread quickly turned to the topic of advertising, so I thought I'd post a separate thread and make my own tiny report.

The key questions I see people asking are
1) how do I do Amazon Ads?
2) are they worth it?
3) how can I do better with them?

There are tons of articles about how to do Amazon Ads. I'm not going to post references because what's a good reference for one person is too high- or low-level for another, and anyway the game changes every few months.

Are they worth it? That depends on what it's worth to you. I strongly recommend you decide up front where your breakpoints lie. How much will you spend? How long will you try? What would you define as success? Failure?

These are vital. For example, you might decide to spend a hundred dollars. How long will you try? Until you run out of the hundred dollars, whether that's a week or a year. OTOH, you might decide to give this a go for six weeks and you'll spend however much that comes to. That probably doesn't mean an infinite budget, but it might mean you're willing to go somewhere in the few hundreds without having a clear cutoff, but in any case you'll stop after six weeks, and evaluate. IOW, you need a strategy.

What's success? When you evaluate, what will be your measures (more on this below)? Book sales? Dollar amounts? New reviews? KENP page reads? Chances are high that the results will be ambiguous, so it's worth trying to be as clear as you can here. What's going to make you happy? What's going to disappoint you?

Only then can you go on to question 3 and look at how to improve. That will be the time to re-visit those Amazon Ads books and articles, with a particular eye to tweaks.

OK, that's enough setup. Next post, my numbers.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Skip on April 03, 2020, 06:10:42 PM
I have four books available on Amazon. One's just a novelette, so I'll leave that one out. The three novels, in order of publication, are:
Goblins at the Gates
A Child of Great Promise
Into the Second World

(note to mods: I hope it's okay to mention the titles here. If not, feel free to rename them Book 1, 2, 3)

I started doing Amazon Ads on 31 January for one book, then the other two on 18 February. I followed the advice of David Gaughran and ran Sponsored Products with manual and automatic targeting for each. Also following his advice, I set the ads to run for about three months. I've since closed them all (31 March), so these numbers are set. The exact keywords, the bid price, all that is just details. That's where you'll tweak.

Short version: I spent $255.84 US. I sold fifteen books and made $102.86. I also had about 7,100 pages read in KENP, so add another maybe fifty bucks.

It's impossible to know how many of those pages read or books sold came as a direct result of the ads. If you're looking for specific data on this point, forget about it. The best you can do is look at trends long-term (as in month-to-month over a span of years). Even then, there are the variables of your social media presence, personal appearances, general economic conditions (*shudder*) and so on.

Even shorter version: there's no way to know.

So we really go back to, is it worth it? My answer for myself: I don't yet know. I "lost" about a hundred dollars. As a one-time thing, that was worth it. I spend money on a cover artist, on editors, etc., so this is comparatively small potatoes. But if this was all I could manage, I wouldn't want to keep doing it for year after year, because that comes to spending $1,200 a year for no clear benefit.

Somewhat longer version: I'm willing to try again, but I'm going to do more research, more tweaking, probably try pairing the ads with maybe a price drop or supplementary advertising. My provisional goal is to break even, to have sales cover the cost of advertising. That's not a long-term goal because I want sales to cover *all* costs of production and marketing. Right now, that feels pretty ambitious.

I hope some of this is of interest and use to the community. Questions welcome, of course!
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: isos81 on April 03, 2020, 08:04:42 PM
Thanks Skip. These are valuable information.

I should also mention that Amazon ads is not the only option for advertising. Twitter and Instagram can be very useful
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Skip on April 04, 2020, 03:50:31 AM
Can you share any experience you have with Twitter and Instagram? I've only looked from the outside, as I'm not active on either.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Lu Kudzoza on April 04, 2020, 10:31:29 PM
@Skip the secret is to only advertise books that are a first in a series then hope the read through to the next few books in the series gets you profitable. It's really tough to make a profit on a stand alone book. If you had a three book series the very rough math would look like this (I'm using your sales and page reads as an example as if it's the first book in the series).

Ad spend: $255.84

Net Sales: $102.86
Page Reads: 7100 x .0045 (approximate per page read paid) = $31.95
Sales plus Page Reads: $134.81

Net Loss on book 1: 255.84 - 134.81 = $121.03

If 90% of people who read book one went on to read book two you'd get your 121.03 back ($134.81 x .9 = 121.33).

It's not likely that you'd get 90% read through. Most authors say they get somewhere between 50% and 75%. So, you'd probably need three books in a series to start making money. But every book after that in the series would make it more profitable.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Skip on April 05, 2020, 01:49:02 AM
I understand that, but I don't write a series. I write books all set in the same alternate world, but I don't have a series. I'm not going to write a series just so I can sell more books. That's not my goal. I tell the stories that I have to tell, then I do the best I can to promote them. For me, it's the stories first, the sales second. I don't mean to imply any criticism to choices made by others. It's just how my writing goes.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: NedMarcus on April 05, 2020, 01:51:46 AM
@Skip the secret is to only advertise books that are a first in a series then hope the read through to the next few books in the series gets you profitable. It's really tough to make a profit on a stand alone book.

I've had similar experiences to Skip, ranging between losing some money to breaking even. I also have a prequel novelette and three full length novels, and I'm not sure that this is enough to profit from ads, taking into account that I usually discount the first novel when I advertise. I've noticed that authors with longer series of 5-10 books report higher profits from ads, which isn't surprising.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Lu Kudzoza on April 05, 2020, 04:44:42 PM
I understand that, but I don't write a series. I write books all set in the same alternate world, but I don't have a series. I'm not going to write a series just so I can sell more books. That's not my goal. I tell the stories that I have to tell, then I do the best I can to promote them. For me, it's the stories first, the sales second. I don't mean to imply any criticism to choices made by others. It's just how my writing goes.

I totally understand. I firmly believe you should write what you want to write then find your audience. If you only want to write stand alone books in the same universe a similar approach to writing a series could work for you, although it will be a bit harder. I'd recommend that you only advertise one book at a time. There are a lot of readers who will read everything you write, especially in your niche of alternate history. So, if you only advertise one book keeping the cost per click low you'll spend less on advertising, but still get reads on your all of your books. With a series it might take 3 books to get profitable, with stand alones it'll probably take 4 or 5.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Skip on April 06, 2020, 04:22:44 AM
Thanks, Lu. That's pretty much what I started doing, then I sorta got enthusiastic and wound up running all three.

I do have a reader magnet; those who subscribe to my newsletter get a free novelette. Then I have a second novelette available for a buck, for those who are still toe-dipping. Then three full-length novels. Those last are the ones I ran on Amazon Ads.

I'll go back to it. I'll look more carefully at keywords, look again at the blurbs (very important!), and will definitely plan sales in conjunction with the ads, and probably do some Booksy-type promos. I think my next goal is to see if I can discover how much ads can improve income. I know there are dozens of variables, but the overall idea would be to find out if Amazon Ads can *ever* be worth the money or if it will always be a loss leader for visibility.

It'd be worth knowing.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Lu Kudzoza on April 06, 2020, 04:20:11 PM
Haha. Yeah, it's hard not to throw more money at the ads when you start to see sales and page reads pick up.

My experience with ads is that Amazon tends to lead to more page reads than sales. Facebook ads get more sales than page reads. I've also found that Amazon tends to cost more per click, but that might be because I had some poor targeting in the beginning that caused relevance issues.

BTW, I've started Goblins at the Gates and I'm really enjoying it. Great character building on your part.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Skip on June 24, 2020, 05:48:00 PM
An update. I ran the Jan-Feb ads and reported on that. Then I let things slide for a while and slide they did. Page reads and sales both declined (when you only sell a few books a month, it doesn't take much!).

I started up again in early June. This time running free promos alongside renewed (and revised) Amazon ads. I even promod the novelette, Mad House. As expected, there's little point in running a freebie on a $0.99 book, but I did get a few reads and even one sale. Since it costs nothing to run a freebie, why not?

I also bought an ad from Fussy Librarian. $32 for one day. I think I made most of it back (one can't really draw a direct line between and and sales).

I'm still losing money, but I'm still selling more than if I were not running ads at all. The losses are affordable (less than a hundred dollars for the month).

So, my update is this: I'm going to continue running Amazon Ads for the balance of this year. That should give me enough data for trends. I'll either start running ads on FB, or else invest in more promo ads like the one with Fussy Librarian. Those are more expensive, and they typically only run for the day, and they tend not to provide usable metrics, so I'm less motivated there.

And I think I can offer this: if you don't have money to lose--call it a hundred bucks--and you don't want to invest somewhere between ten and fifty hours in learning, then Amazon Ads are probably going to be a disappointment for you. I'd be interested to know if others on this forum would agree with that assessment.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: David A. Werling on July 14, 2020, 02:33:18 PM
Series vs. stand alone novels is an interesting discussion. Thanks for the information. It will probably make me re-think my long term strategy.

This is probably irrelevant to most of you, but an acquaintance of mine in the marketing business told me that she suspects Amazon makes more money on authors running ads for their books than they do from book sales for the same. This is the reason why they can offer 70% commissions for AS. This isn't to say it's a scam, but the more we know... She said it is always far more cost effective to utilize free ($0.99) promotions in conjunction with third party marketing, like ebookbooster, Book Bongo, Fussy Librarian, etc.

Social media advertising seems the best way to go for me personally, though I'm yet to pull the trigger. I don't use social media, but many of the third party marketing mentioned above offer blasting promotions via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to targeted demographics, which seems like more bang for the buck.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Skip on July 17, 2020, 06:10:17 PM
I can say that's not the case for me. Right now my Amazon spending runs about $50-$60 a month for four books. Amazon makes that back after just a few book sales. To know for sure, we'd have to know what were their costs on paperback POD, plus shipping. Plus general overhead (which typically can run anywhere from ten to twenty percent). There's no doubt Amazon makes a ton of money from book ads.

I can give another update on my Amazon ads: the one book that sells the most also costs the most. In fact, I've suspended ads on Goblins because it's costing me more than I'm selling. At the other extreme, ads on one of my other books, A Child of Great Promise, has so far cost me a grand total of zero for the month. Which means nary a click. *sigh*

In short, Amazon ads continue to be a black box with mysterious behaviors than sometimes make me happy, sometimes make me sad, and mostly just puzzles me. I'm still ambivalent about continuing to use them.

One possible scenario: get the ads in place, maybe run for a while,  but mostly leave each campaign in suspended mode and activate only in connection with a promo.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: David A. Werling on July 25, 2020, 03:09:46 PM
I can say that's not the case for me. Right now my Amazon spending runs about $50-$60 a month for four books. Amazon makes that back after just a few book sales. To know for sure, we'd have to know what were their costs on paperback POD, plus shipping. Plus general overhead (which typically can run anywhere from ten to twenty percent). There's no doubt Amazon makes a ton of money from book ads.

Yeah. This is all very scary for me. The more I get into it, the more of a rabbit hole it looks like. I'm really struggling with this aspect of self-publishing, mainly because its new to me. In the last few weeks I've become very paranoid. I really don't want to spend more money than I have to, but everyone is telling me that's what I have to do.

I would rather just write.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Skip on July 25, 2020, 04:55:53 PM
If you'd rather just write, go ahead and do that. If you want someone besides friends and family to read it, then you have to do more than just write. If I'm a painter, and all I do is paint pictures and put them in my attic, who will see them? If I just play guitar in my living room, who will hear my songs? Plenty of people have paintings in the attic and write songs no one hears; for them, the activity itself is the reward. Same goes for telling stories.

Presumably you want someone to read the story. That's why you published it. OK. To continue with the comparison, I've written some songs and I've booked a room somewhere. Am I going to just turn up there and hope there's an audience? I could tell my friends about it. I could print some placards and post them around. I could buy radio time. I could make a website and buy ads on Facebook and go all out. It all depends on my goals and the depth of my pockets.

Same goes for a book. I can just publish and return to writing. I can make a website. I can create a Twitter account, a Facebook page, Instagram, and more. Write a blog. None of that requires any money but it sure can suck down the hours. How many hours? All you might care to give, with no guarantee of a return. Advertising isn't free and it does consume some hours, but it'll get you at least a few sales. So far, for me, I've spent more than I've made, but I've only spent a few hundred dollars over the past year.

You first have to be clear on your goals. Are you trying to make a living at writing? Supplement the day job? My own goal is to break even--to sell enough to cover the costs of advertising, editors, artists, and any other cash investments. I'm not there yet.

I have another goal, though, and you might consider it. I want readers. I'd love to have them asking for sequels, writing fanfic, coming to a book signing (*sigh*). To have strangers think Altearth is interesting. I don't maintain a presence on social media in order to sell books. I do it because I truly enjoy the community and want to be part of it. The time spent (easily an hour or two a day) is its own reward. Yes, it "raises my profile" and maybe results in a sale here and there, but even if sales were zero, I'd still be doing this. I don't regard it as time spent but as time gained.

As for dollars spent, I'll offer this. Maybe it'll resonate, but it's ok if it doesn't. While I'm serious about my writing, when it comes to money I regard it as a hobby. Most people have one, and most hobbies cost money. Spending money on marketing is still cheaper than owning a boat, collecting stamps, or any of a hundred other hobbies. So I spend as long as I'm spending disposable income. If that's a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand a year, the number doesn't matter, so long as it's not affecting my daily expenses. And however much that level of spending gets me, that's what I'm satisfied with.

I'm retired. I'm not trying to make a living at this. My heart goes out to those who truly want that, because it's nearly impossible to achieve. Same goes for making a living at music or acting or any other art. It's brutal and capricious and not for the easily bruised. A terrible irony of the arts is that they tend to attract exactly the easily bruised. But that's a whole other thread.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: David A. Werling on July 26, 2020, 02:37:09 PM
Thanks, Skip. That helped put things into perspective.

Presumably you want someone to read the story.

Yes. That's the reason why I published, but actually reaching that audience was something I never really considered. I guess I thought "if you build it they will come." That was naive, and I'm learning that the hard way.

You first have to be clear on your goals.

This is something for which I'm going to have to be more honest with myself. During the editing phase I realized that my novel was really a love letter of sorts. That was the motivation for writing, but how does that motivation play into reaching an audience? That will take some soul searching, which brings me to what you said here:

I want readers. I'd love to have them asking for sequels, writing fanfic, coming to a book signing (*sigh*). To have strangers think Altearth is interesting.

That's really the gist of it. If the novel is a love letter, I want to shout that love from the rooftops. I really don't care about making a living at it. I have a good job. What I want to do is tell the world that I'm in love. And that probably does make me one of those "easily bruised" folks that would be the topic for whole other thread.

So I guess that means I do want to advertise and market this thing as long as it doesn't break the bank. What I'm struggling with is lack of time and resources.

I do not gravitate toward social media. I've never trusted it, and from experience what I find there is often ugly. I really don't want to be a part of the hate and vitriol that festers on twitter and facebook. I've never had an instagram account or a twitter account, and the thought of making those accounts makes my stomach hurt. I wish I had enough resources to hire someone to do it for me.

As for dollars spent, I'll offer this. Maybe it'll resonate, but it's ok if it doesn't. While I'm serious about my writing, when it comes to money I regard it as a hobby. Most people have one, and most hobbies cost money. Spending money on marketing is still cheaper than owning a boat, collecting stamps, or any of a hundred other hobbies. So I spend as long as I'm spending disposable income. If that's a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand a year, the number doesn't matter, so long as it's not affecting my daily expenses. And however much that level of spending gets me, that's what I'm satisfied with.

After reading this thread, and particularly your last post, I think I might give Amazon advertising a try, maybe just a $100.
Title: Re: Amazon Ads
Post by: Skip on July 26, 2020, 03:46:58 PM
>What I'm struggling with is lack of time and resources.
You are not alone. I'm retired and I struggle with lack of time myself. So, on one hand, don't worry about it because there will never be enough time. On the other hand, don't worry about it because some time spent is better than no time spent, so you already have enough time!

Just as it's good to know your goals as a writer and as a marketer (two different sets of goals there), so you should know your goals in terms of time. Maybe you commit to writing three hours a day, six days a week (just grabbing numbers here). How many hours will you spend in marketing? Remember that "writing" also means research, outlining, reading books about writing, going to a conference (hah!). All of it. So, too, "marketing" means learning how to market as well as time spent actually doing it.

You should also plan to set scope. You already said no Twitter, no Instagram. That's fine. How about a website? A Facebook page for you as a writer? Did you set up a page at Amazon's Author Central? There's plenty to do, and you can take it one step at a time. And, just as you can expect to throw out pages and whole chapters (and sometimes whole novels), so you should expect some time spent on marketing is wasted time. Er, call it learning experiences. Whatever.

I do recommend you do some research on Amazon ads before spending the money. Check out David Gaughran's website and his free books there. Or, look around here at threads on marketing and check out recommendations made there. There are plenty of guides and advice; the trick is finding the one or two that speak to you. Just don't go in blind. It's overwhelming and not likely to do as well as you hoped.

And a final thing. Marketing (a term you get to shape according to your own tastes) really is a different mind-set and process from writing. Some people do their marketing stuff at the end of the day and always do their writing first. For myself, I set aside Wednesdays. Other days are for writing; Wednesdays are for all things relating to marketing (and it's really only two or three hours). You might consider something along those lines; it helps keep one from feeling like the Marketing Monster is ever ready to consume you.