Adventures in Amazon Ads Pt 2: From 8 Bestseller Lists to 9+

Last 3 Months

Important Note: About 1 month since beginning this experiment with expanding my advertising portfolio, I’ve still spent about 2 1/2 times what I’ve generated in sales. My book has climbed up 14 Amazon Bestseller lists, and paid sales can lead to organic sales by word of mouth, but always be careful not to create so many ads that you exceed your budget.

Let me start this end-of-week followup with the postscript to last Friday’s report that some may have missed: As of 10/12, my Amazon ads have been directly responsible for at least 95% of all sales. My trial run with Facebook ads just happened to coincide with the unprecedented surge on 10/28, and it’s important not to assume correlation equals causation. I’ve ended all Facebook ads and am creating more in Amazon.

As the above graph shows, 10/20 was the first time my “Paid Units” cracked 5 in one day over the last 3 months, except during a cute little 99c promo I ran at the end of August. So, when I saw that my one and only book’s full-price sales had more than quadrupled from the norm last Friday (10/28), I naturally hoped it was due to clear actions that I could analyze and perpetually maintain with consistent results. The following day (10/29) showed great promise of that with a record 21 sales, and 1,000 more Kindle Unlimited pages read than on 10/28. The 2 days leading into Halloween showed an understandable drop, since a large portion of my target audience was likely engrossed in the hedonistic festivities, but still they surpassed what I’d seen in the 3 months prior. Kindle Unlimited pages also shot to higher levels than ever on those 2 days, amounting to more than 20 copies read.

Then, what the hell happened on Tuesday and Wednesday? 8 sales, and then 4? Going back to those familiarly mediocre levels felt comparable to returning to a dietary routine of microwaved TV dinners after a brief, luxurious getaway. The same ads were up and running, minus a few disappointing ones that I’d paused, and I’d even created duplicates to test new genre targets (which I’ll get to shortly). I think one contributing factor may be that my audiobook became available for Pre-Order on 10/31. Because of that recent development, customers who go to my book’s Amazon page now have the option to pay $ for the Kindle book and paperback, or get the audiobook in exchange for a monthly credit that Audible allots its members. So it’s possible that some thrifty buyers opted to forgo shelling out cash and instead traded in a “use it or lose it” credit for the audiobook, which is officially out on Nov 22 (and is beautifully done, I might add, thanks to Podium and James Foster).

I’ve also suspected the audiobook will boost Kindle sales, since experienced customers might anticipate being able to get the audible narration for a substantial discount after purchasing the e-book (assuming Audible enables the Whispersync feature, which is up to them, not me). Because of this theory, and to promote the audiobook itself, I ran 2 versions of the same ad that reads:

Epic Fantasy Adventure Audiobook now for Pre-Order from Podium Publishing (King’s Dark Tidings, Dawn of Wonder, Cycle of Arawn) Narrator: James Foster.

One is a Sponsored Ad that uses Podium’s other Fantasy titles and authors as search engine keywords, as well as “audio book,” and the 4 main keywords that have led to sales in my other Sponsored Ads: “fantasy, fantasy fiction, fantasy books, fantasy fiction books.” The other is a Display Ad that I targeted by specific products instead of genres, using the same Fantasy titles that Podium has published.

The problem with this is that because customers can order the audiobook without a cash transaction, my ad data can’t show me whether any clicks on these ads are leading to sales. When someone clicks one of my ads and then pays for the Kindle book or paperback, I see their respective prices in the “Total Sales” column for that specific ad. The only way this would happen for the audiobook ad is if someone clicks on it and buys the Kindle or paperback version, or pays the full audible price instead of exchanging a credit. Anyway, it’s too soon to halt that campaign, and some unknown individual(s) have already Pre-Ordered the audiobook, so I’ll keep the ad running a bit longer.

Back to my moneymaking ads, limited to 150 characters each. A few authors asked me for specifics about the unique pitches I’ve been using, so I’ll list them in order of greatest sales to least:

  1. “Superb Fantasy Tale! Writing that soars & inspires” Hero’s Sword & Sorcery quest with epic battles, one-on-one duels, & friendship with a giant eagle
  2. A hero’s adventure leads him to the sky with eagle-riding knights, into the scorching breath of a dragon, and side-by-side with a fierce lady warrior
  3. A hero gains the loyalty of a giant eagle that would not carry any other man, and flies in an epic showdown against swords, fangs, and his worst fear
  4. An eagle-riding hero holds the Goldshard which makes invincibility just a whisper away. But it soon becomes a worse enemy than the monsters he battles

In last week’s post I listed the 5 genre subsets that I targeted with each of these, creating an experimental pool of 20. Here are those targets in order of greatest sales to least:

  • Teen & YA>Sci/Fi & Fantasy
  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Adventure
  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Superheroes
  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Sword & Sorcery
  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Fantasy

It’s important to note that my KU Pages read have also skyrocketed with these ads, and unlike sales, you can’t be sure which ad leads a KU subscriber to start reading, so that makes it a bit difficult to decide which ads to scrap. That’s why I always pause the ones that look weak, so if my figures start to dip I can immediately switch them back on and see if there’s a noticeable improvement.

This week I’m also having success with 3 additional genre targets that I’m testing with Pitches 1-3 and an improved version of #4. That’s 12 new ads divided into 3 groups, each of which has already produced 4 sales. The new genre targets, which may prove to be more lucrative than the aforementioned 5, are:

  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Myths & Legends
  • Literature & Fiction>Action & Adventure
  • Literature & Fiction>Genre Fiction

I’m still gradually eliminating ads that are bringing in too little return on investment, while increasing the budgets of the proven “winners.” I was relieved when yesterday (11/3) turned out to be more profitable than last Friday, the day when everything changed for the better, and today’s sales are so far consistent with the best my book has performed so far. I’d say I’m satisfactorily on my way to having a shortened system of highly efficient ad pitches and targets that I can leave alone to maximize my income from Book 1, while I continue to plug away at Book 2.

I’m really looking forward to Nov 22 when the audiobook becomes available, and am very confident that listeners will be almost as moved by it as I was.

From 0 Bestseller Lists to 8 In 2 Weeks w/ Amazon Ads

 

 

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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.