The current buzz in book marketing is paid on-line advertising. Some authors report excellent results, other complete disappointment. This study is divided into two parts: the Good News and the Bad News, as reported by authors who have paid to promote their books.
The study started with a conversation with a fellow author whose blog helps support fellow authors for a nominal fee to cover the costs. Her newsletter has a modest membership and provides a good service to authors.
While discussing paid on-line book advertising, one of her first question to me was “Is there a payback to the author who pays to promote their books?
Her next question was “Do some authors really get turned down?
I love a good study. That is my thing along with writing mystery novels. And I have a group of outstanding, award-winning authors that have my back. Almost 50 authors responded to my plea for assistance. I will try to summarize my findings so you can get something out of this post.
Disclaimer: I am not judge and jury on this. Some of the results depend on the genre, the author’s brand and recognition. That said the authors in this post are all outstanding in their own right and wanted to share their experience with you.
There are many options for authors to advertise their books. Some are free and some they have to pay for. Some bring results and some do not. Here is a brief list of the major options available to authors. I know as soon as I publish this list, I will hear about other options that are available. That is what the comment section on blog posts are for.
Amazon drives the show with KDP and their free Kindle Book promotion.
This is by far the most popular method used by authors today. The result is not always good but it is free under certain conditions.
Todd Borg is the award-winning, bestselling author of the Owen McKenna Tahoe Mystery series. Here is what Todd had to say about KDP.
Free promotions through Amazon are great. Free ebook promotions work well for getting people to try your book. If you have other books, they may go on to purchase those.
Blog Tours and Giveaways are fairly popular
Another method that is gaining momentum is the book/blog tour with giveaways. Some are free, some are not.
Author Cate Beauman is a Romance, Mystery & Thrillers Writer. Cate had this to say.
I actually don’t pay to advertise my books. I was given advice long ago never to pay for advertising. My business manager and I promote my work for free using blog tours and giveaways which have worked out quite well for me.
Blog Promotions – Social Media
Some authors use the free resources of Social Media, Internet articles, their own blogs and other author’s blogs plus support groups to promote their books.
Brae Wyckoff @BraeWyckof is the Author of The Orb of Truth book series. Brae is the founder of The Greater News Facebook page! And Host of Prophetic Underground radio! Brae said this about promotions.
I have used paid advertising for radio and Internet within several forums. The key is to find the right avenue that fits the genre of your book.
There are plenty of free things you can do to get the ball rolling. Find bloggers to talk about you and your work. Build relationships with other readers and writers in the unlimited Facebook groups.
Print Ads – traditional – direct mail campaigns
Self-published Author Anne Carter @PamRipling (aka Pam Ripling) is an award-winning writer of romantic mysteries, lighthouse fiction and a variety of other works! She is the founder of Murder, We Wrote. Anne says ‘NO’ to print ads.
I do believe that print advertising is no longer very effective in the book marketing world. I once paid quite a tidy sum to advertise in Romantic … Magazine and saw virtually no return.
On-Line Paid Ads and Promotions
This is the meat of our discussion. I will start with the various options authors have and present a experiences from our outstanding study authors.
Google Adwords and Facebook Pay-to-click
We will start with a couple of favorite sites. They promote your book and charge you a click charge as people access the detail of your book. That doesn’t mean you made a sales but someone was interested enough to take a look.
UK Author Christoph Fischer @CFFBooks writes Historical Fiction. Here is Christoph experience.
I had a free Facebook promotions voucher but the process was not transparent and I ended up cancelling the entire promotion. There was little help as to how expensive the advert was in the various options and I had not even extra likes on my page.
Author Ron Fritsch @RonFritsch is a self-published Historical Fiction Writer. Ron followed up with this.
So far, I’ve only used Google and Facebook for targeted pay-per-click ads. (I haven’t tried to place ads on any of the sites that turn authors down.)
The clicks were remarkably inexpensive. Some of them appear to have resulted in sales, but they certainly didn’t turn me into a best-seller.
Alan Jacobson @JacobsonAlan is the bestselling author of jaw-dropping thrillers. Alan added this.
I’ve used Facebook promoted ads and they definitely had reach. It definitely got the word out about an event we were doing.
Joseph Lallo @jrlallo is a bestselling author of the Science Fiction & Fantasy series: The Book of Deacon Trilogy. Joseph finished with this.
The only form of advertising I’ve had a somewhat significant amount of experience with is Facebook Fan Page post promotion. While I cannot say that my promoted posts have resulted in significant sales improvements, they have been quite effective at spreading the word about various book updates.
Goodreads is another popular group to promote your book. This is what some of the Spotlight crew had to say about them.
Award-winning Author Mohana Rajakumar @moha_doha is a writer based in Qatar. Mohana said.
I have tried a variety of ads including on Goodreads for specific titles. The most successful types of services, in my opinion, are experienced blog your organizers. It did increase visibility which led to a modest spike in sales.
Best-selling Author David Rashleigh @DavidRashleigh writes in the Mystery, Horror and Ghosts genre. David added this about Goodreads.
The only paid advertising I have used is on Goodreads, which is on a pay-per-click basis. Obviously, it only applies to Goodreads’ members who should be a well-targeted audience.
BookBub is a very popular group with good results for authors. They have mixed results that you will pick up as you read this study.
New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author C.J. Lyons @cjlyonswriter is the writer of sixteen Mystery & Thrillers and Romance novels. C.J. had this to say about BookBub.
But one form of paid advertising that did work for me with a direct impact on sales was targeted, permission-based email. In particular, BookBub (although there are others offering a similar service) was quite effective.
Best-Selling Author Debra L. Martin @dlmartin6 Science fiction and fantasy writer. You can also find her writing Romance novels as Debra Elizabeth. Debra followed with this.
I’ve used a number of paid ads from BookBub, Ereader News Today, Digital Book Today, and Kindle Books & Tips. The most effective ad has been with BookBub. The downside is that BookBub is extremely expensive…
Mystery Author R.P. Dahlke @rpdahlke is the author of The Lalla Bains mystery series. She is the sponsor of the All Mystery E-newsletter. Rebecca said.
I get into BookBub every time I submit. Authors who submit do so first–they check to make sure the books at least a 4.0 average, good book cover, good blurb, lots of reviews. Then, they send you an acceptance and an invoice. They will redo my book blurb every time I submit.
Some of the other authors in the study had these comments about some of the popular paid advertising sites.
EReader News Today [ENT]
Award-Winning Author Jade Kerrion @JadeKerrion writes the DOUBLE HELIX series. Jade had this to say about ENT.
I have had, hands down, the best results with EReader News Today (ENT). Often, I’ve paid for a promotion and my sales barely break even on what it cost for the promotion. It’s not the case with ENT’s “Bargain Book of the Day” promotion. ENT tracks the sales made through their website and charges you a percentage of the royalties you’ve made. You literally cannot lose money on this promotion.
Kindle Nation Daily [KND]/BookGozilla
Lisa Kessler @LdyDisney is the Author of the award-winning Night Series. Lisa said this about KND.
I’ve had great experience with Kindle Nation Daily and have seen a bounce in my sales numbers every time I work with them. I’ve also had great luck with “I love vampire novels” and their email advertising program that is geared toward vampire novel readers. In the past, I’ve placed ads on some blog review sites, but it’s harder to tell what the impact might have been…
Author Emily Tippetts @EMTippetts is a YA Romance writer. Also she writes Science Fiction and Fantasy as Emily Mah. Emily added this about KND.
One is Kindle Nation Daily. Though they never generated a landslide of downloads, ads with them did increase my sales noticeably. The other is BookBub, who send my sales rocketing up by 24 hours whenever I advertise with them. I’ve yet to be turned down by them, but it’s always a possibility with one of my lesser known books. I seem to fit their profile, though, since they gave me a free slot in December without my knowing it and took my book all the way up to the Kindle top 100.
This is a good promotion opportunity for Mystery Writers.
Mystery Author R.P. Dahlke @rpdahlke started All Mystery Newsletter and Dirt Cheap Mystery Reads in 2010. She had this to say about her newsletter.
Our motto is ‘No vampires allowed unless they solve crime in their spare time.’
I started with a colorful, linked newsletter which now goes out to 2,000 fans of mystery/suspense/thrillers and all the subgenre. Along with the newsletter, authors also get tweets, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest posts. Readers and authors are encouraged to join and post book news, FREE and discounted books at our Facebook Pages, and at our active group of writers, readers, reviewers on our Yahoo and Good Reads Groups.
Terry Ambrose @suspense_writer is the author of the McKenna Mystery series and a member of Murder, We Wrote. Terry said this about All Mystery Newsletter.
One of the paid advertising sources I’ve used is the All Mystery Newsletter, which gave me access to readers I wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise. The thing I like most about the newsletter is that it goes directly to the email inboxes of readers, so I know there’s a higher likelihood of my book being seen and I don’t have to rely on them finding my ad.
Another ad opportunity mentioned was Book Blast.
I’ve only used paid advertising a few times—once for an ad on a website, once for an ad in a magazine, and once with a Book Blast tour.
I do know that with the Book Blast, one of the tasks readers were required to do was to “like” my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter. I saw a big increase in both of those due to that aspect of the tour, although I’m not sure how many of those I’ve retained.
The GOOD NEWS/ PAYBACK
So what is the good news here? Is there a payback for the money? What can I expect from my limited budget?
There is definitely an increase in sales for some authors. Here are some of the comments from the HBS Author’s Spotlight crew.
Australian Author Karin Cox @Authorandeditor is the prolific author of more than 28 titles, from travel guides, to natural history, to illustrated children’s storybooks. Karin had this to say about sales.
The most expensive but also the most useful (most books sold) was BookBub, but I have also had success with Free Kindle Books and Tips and Kindle Fire Department, as well as Pixel of Ink and Ereader News Today.
Brent Hartinger @brenthartinger is the author of The Russel Middlebrook series. The movie version of his novel: Geography Club will be released later in 2013. Brent followed with this.
I have only just started doing online advertising, and just last week, I did use BookBub to advertise one my books, which had been reduced in price to $.99 [I had] enough downloads which more than paid for the promotion.
Writer Matthew Iden @CrimeRighter is the bestselling author of Crime fiction, suspense, dark humor, fantasy, science fiction and more. Matthew added this.
I’d have to say that only a few sites (BookBub and KND) actually offer good return on investment. The others either don’t have enough reach, a qualified audience, or they drown their subscribers in book deals.
Sometimes there is more to a promotion then sales. Some authors see a payback in the exposure they gain.
Paid advertising can be a prickly subject with indie authors. It’s expensive, takes energy away from writing, and isn’t necessarily going to increase sales. The mantra being that we pay to gain exposure–institutional advertising as opposed to expecting an immediate return on the investment. When I recently advertised 3 LIES on BookBub, I got great exposure while it climbed the charts, but they wouldn’t have accepted the book if it didn’t already have a healthy number of quality reviews.
Personally, I’ve had better luck buying ads that promote appearances and readings, than I’ve had purely promoting books for sale in stores or online.
Some authors see a payback in receiving a high ranking on Amazon which they can use in future advertising. Like being able to state in your advertising that ‘this book was ranked number one in the Mystery genre.’ Or to sell to readers who use ranking to influence their decision.
International Best Selling author Stacy Eaton @StacySEaton is the creator of the popular My Blood Runs Blue series. Stacy had this experience.
Back in April, I signed up to do BookBub for “Whether I’ll Live or Die” as a $0.99 feature. It was put into the Women’s Fiction category… it had thrown my ranking up into the number 1 spot in several categories. With that said, BookBub says that with a discounted book (not free)… my sales were just below average for that.
Expand Author’s Reach
Another payback is for the author to expand his audience. If they download this book they may buy some of the author’s other books.
Terry Ambrose @suspense_writer is the author of the McKenna Mystery series and a member of Murder, We Wrote. Terry said this about his payback.
My experience so far has been that paid advertising can help expand my reach, but may not always pay for itself. While I think that paid ads are a necessary part of any promotional campaign, I think that they only provide a temporary boost to sales.
Some of the outstanding authors in our study discussed their use of a combination of promotions to get the best results.
Best-Selling Author Claude Bouchard @ceebee308 writes Mystery & Thrillers novels in the Vigilante Series. Claude had this to say.
I’ve used paid advertising, particularly when doing a KDP Select promotion. It made a huge difference each time, resulting in high numbers of giveaways and strong post-promo sales.
I advertise in two big bulk sessions during the Christmas months and the during the summer months. I do this because three months of an ad is cheaper AND it is more effective for the reader to see you several months in a row as a sponsor of their fav magazines etc… I choose where I advertise wisely because I want to hit my target market.
Frederick Lee Brooke @frederickbrooke is the author of the Annie Ogden Mystery Series. Frederick echoed the same thing about combos.
I’ve used several paid advertising sites, including Google AdWords. It’s hard to say if any one particular initiative is really working, because I’ve always got several going at the same time. The problem is, you can write a really good book, but it’s extremely unlikely anyone will find out about it if you don’t get active on social media, with paid advertising, with blogging, and so on.
Author, Editor and Poet Robert Yehling @WordJourneys writes, teaches creative and spiritual writing and conducts workshops around the country. Robert weighed in on combining your promotion.
I promote very selectively with online paid advertising – just to get the buzz going. I find it effective when used in conjunction with a promotion. As for on-line advertising sites skewing retailer rankings, I don’t like that at all. It’s not reflective of what is really hot. I liked the old way, where they polled bookstores nationwide, got their top sellers, and built the lists from there.
Author Jake Needham @jakeneedham is a best-selling Mystery & Thrillers writer. Jake followed suit on the combo promotions.
Each time I have done a free promotion on Amazon I have used some form of paid advertising, and generally paid advertising from a combination of different sources. Careful fine-tuning of the process has each time raised the number of downloads I experienced during those promotions… I have been the #1 free title on both Amazon US and Amazon UK. …that the point of the promotion is to get a lot of books out there and into the hands of people who might become new readers but have probably never heard of me.
Amazon Best-Selling Author Cheryl Bradshaw @cherylbradshaw is the creator of the Sloane Monroe series and the founder of the hugely successful Indie Writers Unite group on Facebook. Cheryl talks about combining her promotions.
I use paid advertising on a monthly basis combined with other promotional opportunities to keep my name visible, my books visible, and my brand visible. I’ve tried all kinds of advertising sites. There are a few I recommend over others mainly because they boost my sales the most, but I like using a variety so I can spread things out.Currently many authors are using paid on-line advertising to increase sales and their exposure. Unfortunately the reports back from some authors is not good news. Not when your spending your own money to promote your book and get little or nothing in return.
Now we turn the page and see the other side of the news.
Remember, I have solicited the help of a group of outstanding, award-winning authors to help with the study. Almost 50 authors responded to my plea for assistance. I will try to summarize my findings so you can get something out of this post. His part is devoted to the bad news about paid advertising the authors had to report and maybe the best way to deal with the situation.
On-Line Paid Advertising
Here is the meat of the post. Paid on-line book advertising can be an expensive propositions with, in many cases, no visible sales impact. Remember the paid sites are just the front end advertising for Amazon or another retailer.
Some of ad company’s successes are attributed to large email audiences. They qualify their offerings with a selection process. Although it appears each ad group’s process is different, those authors that make the cut are usually because of a low price, a specific genre, good reviews and high rankings.
Also, the author’s brand and quality of the product contribute to the success of the promotion.
Most of the advertisers double up on the revenue. They charge the author a fee to promote the book and then they get affiliate income from Amazon for advertising the book if it results in a sale.
1. They send a permission-based email to prospects. (not spam)
2. They have a well-targeted audience by genre.
3. The audience is device specific. They zero in on Kindle or Nook or iPad, etc.
4. Some offer a limited selection. Others offer many books at a discounted price.
5. The offer is for a limited time creating urgency with the buyer.
So now that we covered the why ads work. As before, I am sure you can come up with other reasons I have missed. Make a comment and let’s develop a list.
So why don’t paid ads work for everybody. It looks like the ideal sales situation.
You know high rankings and explosive sales were too good to be true. Here is the darker side. The bad news.
Generate No Sales
Many authors in the study reported no sales and no after sales.
Kelly Abell @kellyabellbooks is a best-selling Romance, Mystery & Thrillers Author. Kelly had this to start off with.
I’ve used Google ads which I had no success with and I’ve used private blog sites that I got a lot of clicks to my website but they generated no sales.
Award winning Indie Author John W. Huffman @johnwhuffman writes Historical Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers. John echoed the same thing.
I have used paid advertising twice with my first two novels…both times it was a very disappointing experience resulting in few if any sales. It has been my experience that paid advertising does not cover it’s expense nor give the author any good exposure.
Young Author Richard L. Sanders @RichLSanders is a bestselling Science Fiction & Fantasy writer. Richard added this.
I have tried paid advertising on several different websites and platforms. I have not noticed a statistically significant difference between using ads and not. So, from my perspective, either the ads are not as effective in general as everyone wants to believe, or else my ads in particular were not as successful as I hoped they would be.
Some of the authors not only had no sales but no impact at all.
Award-Winning Arleen Alleman @aallemanwrites is the author of the Darcy Farthing Cruise Crime Adventure series. Arleen said this about no impact.
The few I have tried didn’t seem to have any impact. I currently pay an Internet radio station in my area to run ads that I record… In the beginning, I tried paying for a print ad in a top literary magazine and nothing came of it.
Dave Folsom @davefolsombooks is a Mystery & Thrillers author based in the Northwest. Dave said this.
I tried paid advertising on a small number of so-called book promoting sights and was unable to detect any difference although I did it concurrently with other no-cost efforts so that might have clouded the effort.
I paid for a couple listings on websites when my latest book was 99 cents, but I got very limited response. I have not used any of the big boys, like Book Bub. I have heard that if your book was free on Amazon, and now you want to advertise with a price (99 cents and up), Book Bub may turn you down.
Some authors had mixed results. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes, not so much.
Connie Flynn @ConnieFlynn is the bestselling award-winning author of many Mystery, Fantasy, Paranormal and Romance novels and short stories. Connie had this to say.
I ran 3 different paid advertising campaigns. The first one was a one-day front page visibility on a well-known author and reader website. I saw no increase in sales. The second was with eBook Addict, who asked for $40 to list my free book with a minimum of 25 free book sites. This one really paid off. Even better, because free giveaways aren’t converting to paid sales the way the used to — but it stayed solid when it went back to paid at 99 cents.
Rejected by Vendor
So now I’m an author who is looking for sales and exposure. I am willing to pay for the opportunity to sell my book. I do my homework. I find the best engine to advertise my book and I run head into the unexpected. I get turned down by the ad company. They are looking for qualified authors. [Really ads that will generate affiliate income.] The author’s reasons for being rejected varied depending on the point of view.
Reason: No Explanation
The first reason for an author’s turndown is UNKNOWN. The author just didn’t get an answer.
I’ve only tried to use BookBub and they rejected me with no explanation…
Reason: Lack of Reviews
The next reason makes a little more sense as the marketer tries to present to his readers quality books. (Not so fast. Wait until you get to the detail study below.)
I was turned down by BookBub to start with [because] I didn’t have enough reviews.
Best-Selling Author Debra L. Martin @dlmartin6 Science fiction and fantasy writer. You can also find her writing Romance novels as Debra Elizabeth. Debra added this.
BookBub has turned down one of my romance titles for lacking enough reviews. There doesn’t seem to be any magic formula they go by because I’ve seen books advertised that had fewer reviews than my title.
Reason: The Novel is New
Another reason passed on to the authors who were turned down. Your book is too new. What you’ll hear is things don’t get better by age.
So, I signed up my newest novel, “Garda ~ Welcome to the Realm” and got turned down for a paid spot. They said it was to new. It has been out for about 3 months. A month later, I requested a place for a free promotion for that same book and got turned down again. This time they told me I didn’t have enough reviews on the book.
Connie Flynn @ConnieFlynn is the bestselling award-winning author of many Mystery, Fantasy, Paranormal and Romance novels and short stories. Connie had similar experience.
Book Bub has turned The Dragon Hour down twice. The first time the book was brand new to Kindle and I queried them about whether I should hold back for a while or advertise the new launch. They suggested I hold back. So when I got a few more reviews I went to them and they turned me down [again].
Writer Matthew Iden @CrimeRighter is the bestselling author of Crime fiction, suspense, dark humor, fantasy, science fiction and more. Matthew echoed the same results.
I’ve been turned down by BookBub on a new release (One Right Thing). It had been out for only a month, though with 12 or 15 high starred reviews, but the ‘Bub still demurred. They took it about a month later for a $.99 deal…which netted me over 3,000 sales.
Well it is time for a detailed study. I picked two of the most popular paid for advertising groups. Again, both of these sites are front ends for the Amazon sales engine. They don’t take orders or deliver books to readers. They just email ads to qualified readers.
This study lasted 24 days and included 75 books offered in the Mystery genre.
55% of the free books reached a top 10 ranking
27% in of all books in the study reached a top 10 ranking
Only 7% of the books listed were over 99 cents
20% of the books in the study had less than ten 5-star reviews
So, what do we have? It looks like if your book is free, you have more than a fighting chance to be in the top 10 Amazon ranking by using BookBub. Another thing that stands out is that the number of books listed in the advertising email has decreased to two from 4 or 5 at the start of the study. This is good news for the authors picked because it limits the choices the email recipient has to pick from.
The other thing that stands out is that 20 percent of the books in the study had less than ten 5-star reviews. That is not what we heard from the authors in our survey.
This was a similar study of another popular paid advertising group. Unlike BookBub, the reader gets to select how many books are listed in your email. I picked 15 entries in the Mystery genre.
16% of the books listed in their email ads were free.
8% of the books reached a top 10 ranking.
(That matches BookBub 50+ percent of free books reaching a high ranking.)
20% had less than 5-star reviews. (Same as BookBub)
Now remember I keep saying Amazon or the retailers control the show. You can have a great plan, organize everything, pay your money but you need Amazon to hold up their part of the bargain.
Annamaria Bazzi @AMBazzi is a Mystery & Fantasy Writer and is noted for her White Swans series. Annamaria had this experience.
Amazon messed up the promo and it ran an extra half day or so.
Best-Selling Author Claude Bouchard @ceebee308 writes Mystery & Thrillers novels in the Vigilante Series.
Claude had a resent experience with Amazon which should bring attention to the fact that Amazon and, to a lesser extent; Barnes and Noble are controlling the show as noted above.
Claude had an Amazon KDP arranged for free days and a BookBub paid ad setup. The whole thing turned into a disaster when Amazon gave him no ranking on his sales page. With a check of the book downloads, the title was having exceptional activity and Amazon dropped the ball. I didn’t include Claude’s quote because my ‘x’ key is not working on my keyboard.
Award-winning and best-selling Author Katherine Owen @KatherineOwen01 writes Contemporary Romance and Women’s Contemporary Fiction. Like Katherine said in a previous post, “Your mileage may vary.”
So the takeaway I get from my study after digesting the Good News and the Bad News is if you get in the right position with a free book, you can reach a high ranking on Amazon. Hopefully the sales follow the ranking and it keeps on going. And the other side of the news is, when you pay the money to advertise, you must beware. Your payback may be disappointing.
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