Being an agency in the world of self-publishing and book marketing, we get asked often: what’s the next step for my book? Once authors have accepted that books don’t magically find their way into the hands of readers, it’s natural to start diving into the myriad options for marketing their work.
There are lots of avenues out there, from outreach campaigns to content marketing strategies, and arguments for paid vs organic and the opposite. It can be overwhelming to know which path to choose. One thing many self-published authors consider but are often hesitant to try is Amazon Ads.
The rumors are true. Amazon Advertising can be challenging to get right, and it can end up costing you a lot of money. It’s also not always a good idea for every kind of book. So how do you know if it’s worthwhile for your book? Here’s our guide for deciphering when it’s worth it and how you can use Amazon ads to your advantage, even if your campaigns aren’t churning a profit.
Amazon Ads for Authors: How They Can Benefit You Even if They’re Not Profitable
Understanding the Platform
The Amazon Advertising platform is much simpler than Facebook and Google ads, and therefore much more user friendly. Currently, they only offer four types of campaigns you can run: keyword, competitor, automated, and brand. To start, let’s break down each.
Probably the most intuitive type of campaign, thanks to Google, is the keyword search campaign. This means you can enter words or phrases that your readers are likely to type into the search bar when looking for their next good read, and your book will show up for relevant terms. For example, if your book is a memoir about surviving cancer, a keyword might be “cancer memoir” or even more specifically, “cancer survival books”.
Since Amazon is the largest retailer of books, they have a lot of data on what people like. Another campaign type allows you to target books that are similar to yours by their ASIN (their unique identifier)— perhaps they’re in the same genre, have a similar target readership, etc — so your book will show up when someone goes searching for another book, and with any luck, the shopper will buy both.
The best for beginners, Amazon offers automated campaigns which will automatically put your book in front of the people it thinks will like it, using a combination of both keywords and competitors. These can work pretty well for getting started, but they work especially well in addition to other campaigns to get new competitors and keywords you hadn’t previously thought of.
If you have more than two books, especially if you’ve written a series or all of your books are in a similar genre, sponsored brand ads allow you to run a banner ad across the top of the search page displaying your top three books, with a link that goes to your personal author page.
Determining if Amazon Ads are Right for Your Book
First, do your research. There is no way to know for sure if your book will do well on Amazon’s advertising platform, but one way to make an educated guess is to do a little research before you spend any time or money. It’s possible to do both keyword and competitor research to determine if 1) your readers are searching for books like yours on Amazon and b) how much competition there is.
For keyword research, you cannot use Google. Amazon has its own system, with its own users, and the people who search on Amazon are usually in a different headspace than when they search on Google. For example, Google users are often looking for answers to a question. Amazon users are looking to buy. A great introduction to doing keyword research for Amazon is this Kindleprenuer post. He teaches you exactly how to use the platform to do the research for free. Or, if you want to save yourself a lot of time, you can purchase his app, Publisher Rocket, which will spit out keywords, competitor titles and ASINS for you, while also showing you how competitive each one is.
We look for a combination of the following to determine if ads are a good idea for your book:
1) There are lots of keywords in your niche with high monthly searches. This proves people are looking for books like yours.
2) What the cost of those keyword bids are. If there are already hundreds of books like yours — say science fiction space novel, for example — it might be too expensive to compete.
3) What the author’s goals are. With minimal profitability in book sales, it might not make sense to spend $4 per ad click if your royalties are only $4.50. But, if this book is just a way to generate leads for a higher-dollar offering in a sales funnel, it might be worth it.
How do I know if my campaign is successful?
Amazon’s reporting is decent, but still lacking. It does allow you to see how much you’ve spent and your retail sales, but it doesn’t calculate your actual author royalties (the profit you make after taking into account the printing cost and fees paid to Amazon for each book sale). We think this is likely a purposeful oversight on Amazon’s part, because it looks so much better to just show you the full “profit” of your campaign. But it’s a lie, since part of that goes back into their pocket, on top of the advertising spend you’re giving them.
If you’re paying an agency to run your ads for you, most of them will follow Amazon’s lead and show you the overall book sales as your profit, which may look like your campaign is profitable, even when it’s not. It’s important to calculate your actual royalties to determine the success of your campaign.
Here’s how our author reports look:
We’ve broken it down for our authors to clearly see how many paperbacks vs ebooks they’re selling from the combined campaigns, what the retail sales are (the number Amazon delivers), and what that actually means based on the profits they earn per book sale. In this case, the author earns $5.32 per paperback sale and $6.94 per ebook sale. We’ve calculated the actual profits in the next column, called “Your Royalties.”
Then, we continue to break it down further. We determine how much profit or loss the author is gaining/losing per month and overall, what that means per book sold, and what the overall return on investment is per month and for the overall campaign. Amazon doesn’t offer any of this information, but it’s hard to get a good grasp of how hard your dollars are actually working without it.
Another huge oversight in Amazon advertising for authors is that you can’t advertise directly to your audiobook, but it’s highly likely that some of the paid traffic is going to opt for the audio version if it’s available. If the author has an audiobook, we will also track those sales and add them into the matrix, making the profitability of your campaigns much more likely.
But isn’t your author losing money?
Good catch. Yes, this author is still losing money, and we’re in Month 4 of his campaign. But this campaign is still successful for us and for him, hence the title of this article.
There has been some fluctuation — and will continue to be — in the numbers, but currently we’re down to losing only $3 per book sale. This means the author is paying $3 to gain a new reader of his work. That reader is likely someone who might not have otherwise found it. In time, we’re confident that this reader is worth that up front investment. Here’s why:
- If they like the book, they’ll tell their friends about it, which will lead to organic sales. Even one organic sale would offset the expense.
- This reader is more likely to purchase the author’s other books, which we are not tracking here, in a sense becoming a fan. One more book sale would also offset the cost of that initial investment, and a lifelong fan is worth $3 to this author.
- This particular author does have an audiobook but hasn’t been able to access his sales data, so we’re confident these numbers are better than they appear once his audiobook sales are factored in.
- If the author had a business where he/she sold products or services related to the topics in the book — for example, a life coach who wrote a self-help book — this would be a great way to attract more customers. That small $3 loss on lead generation would be worth it, even if only 5% of the purchasers sign up for a coaching package worth thousands of dollars. Books often work best as part of a larger strategy like this.
When to Give Up
We always give a new ad campaign at least three months before deciding to give up. The reason is because these campaigns are not something you can set up and forget about. They require a lot of monitoring and constant learning and tweaking to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s a good idea to set up several campaigns in the beginning— we recommend at least one keyword, one competitor/asin, and one automated for each book—with a budget of at least $10 each. Then you’ll want to decide what you’re going to test first.
There are a variety of things to keep your eye on as you monitor your campaign:
- The ad copy (which you can’t change without starting a new campaign)
- The targeted keywords (the ones you’re trying to rank for)
- The search terms (the ones Amazon is showing your ad for anyway)
- The competitor books
- The bid for each keyword/asin
- The campaign settings
- The budget
It’s a good idea with any pay-per-click advertising not to tweak too many things at one time. And when you do make adjustments, wait at least one full week before making more. Since results vary from day to day, you can’t assume that one small change today is the cause of a big uptick in sales tomorrow. It might be, but you can’t be sure. Patience is key here.
It’s our job as the agency to continue improving the ROI of our author campaigns, and ideally to get them profitable so they can gain new readers/clients and make a profit from their books, but some books never get there. Why? We’re dealing with a product that has very low profit margins to begin with. It’s up to each author to analyze their overall marketing plan and long-term goals to determine how much a new reader is worth to them.
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