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I’m sure that seasoned veterans of book publishing and marketing will laugh hard when they read that I invested approximately 2 1/2 times what I generated in sales (before royalty) during my advertising experiment over these past 2 weeks. So I’ll take that ridicule with humility and concede that it may be warranted IF I don’t see a better return on investment around a month from now.

After deciding to take several months off from my day job to write the sequel to my well-received debut fantasy, A Facet for the Gem, my goal has been to establish an automated system that maximizes my daily income from Book One as I dive into Book Two. I dreamed of the day when 4 paid sales in 24 hrs would be cause for concern, not celebration, and after much trial and error since the middle of this month, I’m finally there (for now).

I laugh when I look at my initial attempts at Amazon Ad campaigns, all of which have been enabled by my book’s enrollment in KDP Select. Unlike a print ad, for which you pay just to publish and hope it sparks interest, Amazon ads are free to publish, and you only pay when customers click on them. My very first ad ran for all of March, generating $15 in sales at a cost of $150 (1000% Advertising Cost of Sales, Amazon’s chart screams mockingly with a big middle finger held up on Line One) Subsequent campaigns show less money wasted on still meager returns, and the silliest thing is that I would just let them sit all month, one at a time, as though thinking, “Ok, this is my single ad for the month, I’ll just let it drain my bank account for 31 days and hope for the best.”

I also spent hundreds on a service that would blast the same promotional tweet for the book several times a day, which at the time I credited for what turned out to be my 2 most profitable months. But right before those 2 successful months, I had given away 1,600 free downloads of the book, and I think the temporary surge in my sales is better attributed to those readers spreading the word.

Anyway, after several months of generally acting like a novice (despite which I somehow caught the eye of prestigious Podium Publishing for a kick-ass audiobook deal) I decided that my money would be best invested in closely monitored, simultaneous Amazon ads. At the start of October I had 4 unique 150-character pitches that were selling enough to show promise, each of them “Product Display” ads targeted at several Fantasy genre interests. But maybe some of those selected interests were delivering my ads to customers intrigued enough to click but not enough to close the deal, wasting my $$. So I decided to run a test that I hoped would isolate which ad copy paired best with which interest, and weed out all the duds.

On Oct 12, I made 5 duplicates of each of these distinct ads, one for each of the 5 Fantasy interests I wanted to test:

  1. Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Adventure,
  2. Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Fantasy,
  3. Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Superheroes,
  4. Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Sword & Sorcery
  5. Teen & YA>Sci/Fi & Fantasy

This generated a new list of 20 ads divided into 4 groups, with each ad spread evenly over 30 days on a budget of $100. They didn’t get approved until Oct 13, and I’ve noticed it takes a good 12-24 hours after approval before you really start to see impressions and clicks.

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For those not familiar with KDP, the red graph shows paid ebook sales, and the blue shows the number of pages of my ebook read each day by subscribers to Kindle Unlimited (We get paid around half a cent per page read)

As these new ads started to take effect on the 13th and 14th, my sales increased, and I also spent a lot on clicks that led nowhere, causing me to eliminate a few ads from each group that didn’t seem to fit their one target. I found that terminating these was a mistake, however, because sometimes there’s a delay of several days before sales figures show up. If it looks like an ad isn’t producing, and you’ve spent more on it than you’re comfortable with, always PAUSE it instead of terminating. This leaves you the option of immediately turning it back on if suddenly you find that it brought in some decent revenue. Now I tend to pause any ad that’s sold 0 after I’ve put in $5-$10, and sometimes am pleasantly surprised to later see its sales surpassing what I spent.

My strategy was to narrow down a few exceptional matches of ad pitch and genre target that yielded a great return on investment, and then create duplicates of those with budget being spent as quickly as possible rather than evenly. I thought, “I’ll pick a handful of winners from the list of 20, throw more money at them at a faster rate, and get way more sales!” Turns out, nope. I learned that the “Spend budget as quickly as possible” option works poorly compared to even distribution.

So even though that one tactic proved disappointing, I still eliminated weak combinations of pitch and target and beefed up the budgets of the stronger producers, while also re-creating a few that I had terminated before seeing the value they brought in. At the end of the week, sales went up even higher (A solid 8 units on Saturday the 22nd) and it was clear which of the 4 groups of ads was performing the best: one that opened with a very positive clip from a kind review and then immediately cut to the chase with three main highlights from the plot.

Thrilled with my incremental success, I decided to tackle Facebook ads next after reading of the tremendous success some authors have had. On Oct 25th I created close approximations of the same 4 pitches, filtered to be delivered to an audience of around 700,000 interested in reading books and ebooks, specifically Fantasy oriented and excluding all other topics. And just like on Amazon, the same specific pitch attracted more traffic, and at a lower price per click than the other 3 that I subsequently deleted.

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My Facebook ad sends potential customers directly to my book’s Amazon page, and of course you can’t monitor which of those clicks leads to sales like you can with Amazon ads. In this very informative interview, Facebook advertising success story and author Mark Dawson discusses how Amazon Affiliate links, which could allow you to monitor those results, are not allowed in this circumstance. But as the above graph seems to indicate, my book’s stats picked up drastically in direct correlation with the timing of the Facebook ad, and I saw more than double the sales today than in any 24 hour period throughout the book’s 8 month history. Of course I understand that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but I’m hopeful.

At the time of this post, A Facet for the Gem is ranked within the top 3,500 of all Kindle Books, and it occupies 8 Amazon Top 100 lists for various Fantasy categories in Adult and YA. Also, today marks the first that its sales are displayed in increments of 5, and it feels great. In tandem with the Facebook ad, I currently have 21 Amazon ads still running, which I’m systematically narrowing down. I’ve tried “Sponsored” versions of some of the original pitches and broken even on the best performer, spending $100 for the same amount in sales.

But as I’m starting to find, breaking even on paid sales can still pay dividends if your book is good enough for readers to talk about afterwards. And, while I certainly could have spent a lot less money to get to this point, that would require insight that I only gained through these stair steps of trial and error. If one month from now I’ve discovered how to achieve twice these figures for half the cost, I’ll be in more than decent shape, just in time for the release of my audiobook I might add (Nov 22).

*Important note: After further examining my data on 10/30, I found that my Amazon ads were directly responsible for at least 95% of these sales. My trial run with Facebook ads just happened to coincide with this weekend’s surge, and as I mentioned above, it’s very important not to assume such correlation equals causation. Unfortunately there’s currently no way to tell for sure where my Kindle Unlimited readers are coming from, but I’m confident enough that I’ve now ended all Facebook ads and am creating many more in Amazon.