One of the biggest hurdles for an independent author is reaching a wider audience. You spend time writing and editing (or hiring someone to do it), agonizing over paragraphs, sentences, and words. You come up with a cover design (or you hire someone to do it) and you whittle down the soul of your story to a blurb for a sales page. Then, once everything is perfect (and it never really is perfect), you launch the book and put your work out there for the world.
Then comes the waiting.
You wait for sales. You wonder if your keywords are the right keywords, if your cover and blurb are strong enough, maybe even if your book is actually good. The truth is, being an independent author should be viewed as a long-term endeavor. The book you spent so much time working on, trying to tell the best version of your story that you possibly could? That's just a jumping-off point.
Ask any author with skin in the game and they'll tell you: marketing is a must and it can eat up a lot of time. I don't say that to dissuade you. I would never suggest someone forego writing and give up on something that interests them. Instead, think of it as input from a person that has been there. Better yet, someone who is still there.
Going back to the idea of truth, here is a bit more for you to think about: no matter how good your story is, how well-developed your characters are, there's no guarantee that people will see it, let alone read it. Seriously, look at the number of books on Amazon.
Freaking out? Don't. Take a deep breath. In through your nose, hold it, and out through your mouth.
Yes, there's a LOT of books there but it would be wrong to view them (and, by extension, their authors) as competition. The fact is, most avid readers don't simply read one or two authors. If something comes along that sparks their interest, there's a good chance they'll check it out. Now, that may just mean they'll check out the blurb, but if that hooks them why wouldn't they be interested in reading it? If they do and they like it, what's to say they won't leave a nice review and check out that author's other work?
Sounds pretty good, right? The problem comes in getting your book in front of potential readers. Amazon is the world's largest online marketplace, so having your book there gives you a chance. You've got a great cover, strong blurb, and an engrossing story, so what's with the lack of sales?
Luckily, Amazon gives you the opportunity to run ads to promote your work. The best part? You don't have to make a huge financial investment to get started. Before you get that far, I do have a suggested read that will give you a great deal of insight and advice and that's Brian D. Meeks' Mastering Amazon Ads. It's $10 for the eBook, but it's well worth it. This isn't a paid endorsement but I bought and read this book and it helped me so why not see if it works for you?
So, let's take a quick look at a few things. Bear in mind that this is just an overview, not an in-depth analysis, however, I think that it is all worth sharing.
1. Cater to your intended audience
The first step is knowing who your book appeals to and marketing to them. For this, you have to examine all the facets of your book. I'll use my book Bermuda as an example since I can speak directly from experience. The story contains elements of action, mystery, and suspense but also maintains a certain level of humor.
I wouldn't market it strictly as a humor novel, because that would be a misrepresentation. Instead, I search in the Kindle Store and see what readers are looking for. Simply typing the word "humorous" in the search bar yielded these results:
From that list, the two entries that best fit Bermuda are "humorous fiction" and "humorous mysteries". Before I go any further, I recommend that you compile a list of keywords. I've been using regular, old Google Docs for this. This will be important, as it will reduce the time needed to research keywords in the future for similar books. Now, with only two keywords, let's search "suspense":
So I can use "suspense", "suspense thrillers", "suspense kindle unlimited", and "suspense novels", as they are all pertinent to my book. You can do this for any word that you think a reader would look for a book like yours.
There's also a nifty online tool called the Keyword Multiplier Tool that allows you to fill three columns with keywords. The tool then combines them in various ways to give you new keywords:
That, in turn, yielded 36 results, all of which can be used in marketing. Again, I would copy all of these to your keyword list and save them. Remember, keywords are, well, key in an effective marketing campaign.
Also, if you haven't already, set up an Amazon author page. Why? It gives readers a chance to get to know a bit about you. It will list all books you have published on Amazon (unless you have multiple pen names) and, if you have a blog, you can link it so that your recent posts show up.
Oh, and it also lists authors that your readers have also bought books from:
Why is this important? Well, we'll touch on that in a bit.
2. Types of Ads
There are currently two types of Amazon book ads: Sponsored and Lockscreen. Sponsored ads are designed to appear when a reader is either searching with related keywords or viewing similar products. Chances are you've seen a number of these already but, if not, here's an example:
The second type, Lockscreen Ads, are those that display when someone unlocks their Kindle or Fire tablet. Those look something like this:
Each type of ad serves its own purpose and, thankfully, you don't have to choose between them. In fact, I recommend that you run some of each. You can try ads with different blurbs and different keywords to see what works. The Amazon Ad Console tracks statistics for your entire ad library and you can view them on specific ads as well. If you find an ad is outperforming all of the others, focus on the blurb and keywords from it. The good news? The Console lets you check which keywords are generating click for Sponsored Ads, so you can really drill into the information.
Oh yeah, I said we would revisit the importance of the "also bought" item from your author page. When you're entering keywords for your ad campaigns, type the name of an author in. A list will populate including that author and the most-searched phrases for them, all of which you can use in your ad. If you have an 8 author list, that can be an easy 40 keywords if not more. If you've had a reader say that your book is reminiscent of another author and they're not on the list, add them as well.
How many ads should you run? I suppose it depends on how many blurbs you want to try. For Bermuda, I currently have 21 ads running. I make it a habit of checking in to see which ones are working, which ones aren't, and what the differences are. That may sound like a lot of ads, and it may sound expensive, but it isn't, at least not necessarily.
3. Your Budget
The thing that serves as a hang-up for most people is money. I get it, it scared me away for a while. Then I took a look at just what went into it. With Amazon, like other online advertising outlets, charges by the click. What does that mean for you? You only incur spending when someone clicks on your ad.
Sponsored Ads allow you to set a daily budget, which can be as little as $1. That, however, doesn't mean that you would spend your budget every day. Why? You also set a bid for each click. Whenever an ad opening is available, Amazon looks at applicable bids and takes the highest. I received 1500 impressions (read: ads shown) over a 5 day period using bids of 10 cents. Remember, I didn't pay 10 cents for the 1500 impressions, only per click.
What's better? You might not even win a spot with your highest bid. I've had several ads get clicks at 7 and 8 cents. The amount of clicks all depends on your cover and your copy, so practice and check your stats.
Lockscreen Ads are a bit different. The minimum budget is $100 for the lifetime of the ad. That's the one that used to scare me until I really thought about it. Worst case, you spend $100 over the life of the ad and, remember, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad.
Much like Sponsored Ads, you can set your maximum bid, effectively giving you cost control over your daily spend.
It's also important to note that when you run targeted campaigns (those where you enter keywords) allow you to bid on each keyword. Starting out, I would keep them close to your max bid, unless you find out one is really doing well for you.
That said, it's important to keep everything in perspective. The first thing you need to keep in mind is how much you make for one sale of your book. Specifically, how much you get from Amazon per sale. Say your book nets you $2 per sale. Now, say that, out of 10 clicks, one person makes a purchase. If you bid at 10 cents (and let's say each bid went for the full amount), you spent $1 and made $2.
Now, say you got overzealous and bid 50 cents. We'll also say you got the same one purchase out of 10 clicks. In this scenario, you spent $5 and only made $2. Not good. It's important to keep this principle in mind when you're setting up your ads. You can still get plenty of ads displayed at a 10 cent bid. Put your faith in your cover and blurb, don't panic and start jacking up your bids.
4. Be Patient
Personally, this is the hardest one for me. The best advice I can give (other than being patient) is to go into your campaign with a realistic outlook. While you could see a slew of sales soon after your ad(s) go live, it's unlikely. I'm not being mean or a downer, just realistic. It takes time.
Through my research, I found that many authors said they didn't get a true feel for everything until their ads reached the 4-6 month window. Like I said at the beginning, it's a long-term endeavor. Keep an eye on your ads and your spend so that you don't get taken by surprise but don't get discouraged when the sales don't instantly start rolling in. You're laying the groundwork.
Remember that you can modify your campaigns as you see fit and you can pause them anytime you like. You have a high level of control over how much you spend, so don't let cost keep you away. Investing in yourself and your work is never a mistake. Even the most modest budget can be put to good use.
Just take your time, do your research, and keep an eye on your numbers. Running ads on Amazon is not some magic switch but it is an effective tool. Use it in a way that fits your needs and your budget. I wish you all the best as you continue down your path.
In closing, I'll reiterate that this is in no way a comprehensive guide. I'll again recommend reading Brian Meeks' book on Amazon ads, as well as a few Google searches. There's a lot of information out there for you to check out. Don't let it overwhelm you. Break it down and see what makes sense to you. This is an evolution.
Until we meet again...