Sunday, March 5, 2017

Adventures in Advertising by Alison Henderson

Like many indie authors, I keep a running monthly spreadsheet of the sales results for my independently published titles. The royalty statements from the publisher of my first three books come out quarterly and are not particularly useful, but I can learn quite a bit from the detailed reports Amazon provides.

This year, after entering the sales for December of 2016 and totaling up the year, I turned an analytical eye to each month's individual figures. Guess what I discovered. I made zero sales and zero dollars last February. That's right--ZERO. Not shocking, but disheartening. I also noticed my sales for the first half of February of 2017 were lagging sadly. What is it about February? This year, I determined to do something to try to alter that trend.

As authors, even indie authors, there aren't many things we can do to boost sales in the short run. We can amp up our activity on social media, do a blog tour, or reduce the price of our books. I decided to put both my bodyguard books on an Amazon Countdown Deal for $.99 for the last week of February to see if I could stir up any interest. I also decided it was the perfect opportunity to run an experiment with advertising, pitting Facebook against Amazon to see if I could draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of each.

I chose to do a $20 boosted Facebook post advertising the sale for the first two days, targeting an audience of women over thirty who live in the U.S. and are interested in books. That post reached 1,024 people, garnered 43 likes--mostly from strangers--and one new "like" for my page. 

The Amazon ad was a different animal. I had to choose between a Sponsored Product ad and a Product Display ad. Sponsored Product ads are the ones across the bottom of a product (individual book) page that says Sponsored Products Related to This Item. Product Display ads are larger and appear higher on the right side of the page. I chose a Sponsored Product ad because they allow you to customize a huge list of search keywords specific to your book. For example, I chose phrases like "humorous romantic mystery books" and "light mystery and suspense." You can also name other authors or books that you think are similar in some way to yours, whose readers you want to attract. I chose Janet Evanovich and "Stephanie Plum series" because those books are humorous and heavier on the suspense plots than the romance.

The Amazon ad was also my first experience with click-charge advertising. You select an amount you're willing to pay for each time someone clicks on your ad and is taken to your book's page. I chose $.25 per click because it was what showed up as a default in the selection box. Amazon has excellent metrics, although it takes 2-3 days for the information to appear. They give you a running total of how much you've spent and how many sales resulted from those clicks.

I chose to advertise both books. My results were as follows:
Boiling Point-- 1,453 impressions (# of customers exposed to the ad), 2 clicks, $0 sales
Unwritten Rules-- 1,319 impressions, 8 clicks, $0 sales
Total spent--$2.09
I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from this information. I might have needed to increase my bid per click, or my covers or blurbs are not attracting readers, or I need to refine my keywords. Since this is a very cheap experiment, I plan to make adjustments and try again.

The total sales for the week, along with my explanation of the results, were:
2/21 - 7 sales, FB ad
2/22 - 3 sales, FB ad
2/23 - 0 sales
2/24 - 1 sale, probably a friend or leftover from FB ad
2/25 - 11 sales, possibly due to Amazon directed email advertising "deals" for specific genres (I got one for $.99 romance books that day. They probably also sent them out to mystery and suspense readers.)
2/26 - 4 sales, probably leftover from whatever happened the day before
2/27 - 3 sales, possibly due to activity from 2/25. I also put a "last day" reminder post on FB but didn't boost it.

So what conclusion can I draw from this experiment? Financially, I just about broke even. Hopefully, I'll get a new review or two as a result. The Facebook boost did not pay for itself, and the Amazon ad produced nothing (possibly my fault), but Amazon may have done something for the book because I'm a KDP author and used their Countdown Deal. They're always an enigma, but sometimes they surprise you. The main takeaway, however, is that neither of these methods produced as many sales as buying a one-day ad on Just Kindle Books' website and email newsletter. 

What experiences have you had with advertising? What would you recommend?


Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Ohhhhh, Alison, if we only knew what works. I've tried Facebook ads, too, and got almost no results from what I spent, which was way too much. $3. per day for a month.

I seem to get more response from tweets. I see an uptick in sales on days I have my team tweet 3 different tweets. The crazy thing is I rarely push the Firemen series since HarperImpulse has all but one of the books at ,99. I sell several of those a day. I'm a slow seller...consistent, but slow. My numbers rarely get below 50,000 on Amazon rankings. But as new readers find me, the sales of all my books tic up a little. I'm like the chubby turtle plodding along. For me, the key is to keep producing which has me a little nervous. I haven't had a release for some time, so I'm working hard on that. In other words, hon, I haven't a clue.

Diane Burton said...

Very helpful info, Alison. You are very thorough. I never thought about tracking my sales by month. I know I should keep better track of my sales. My books are at as many vendors as possible. I put my books up at Amazon, B&N, & Kobo, Smashwords puts my books up on iTunes, Sony, Baker & Taylor, libraries, and all the smaller vendors. I should try to learn how to put them up on iTunes. (I did have all of them on ARe--and we know how that ended with them owing me money.)

The only paid advertising I've done is Free Kindle Books & Tips. I paid $30 for one day. With my book at .99 I had to sell 75 books. I sold 50.

I did participate in some (free) group 3-5 day sales events, targeted to sci-fi romance readers. I didn't track those. I should, I know.

I put the 1st book in a series at .99 (same book as above) and saw an uptick on the other books in the series. My conclusion is you need to have other books for spillover (not sure if that's the right term) to make up for the loss of income on the 1st. Thanks to you, Alison, I'm going to start tracking my sales better. Thanks.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Alison, I'm proud of your efforts to suss out this puzzle, and I'm so glad you're sharing your results. I've just released BAD LIES and in two months I will release CEZANNE'S GHOST. I plan to work hard on promoting both books on FB and Twitter and these: fiverr, ereadernewstoday, library thing, fussy librarian and choosey bookworm. I'm on Kindle Select (KU option, included), and will try a three-day freebie. I've planned two book sale events locally, as well. This is the year I try to figure all this I'm with you in spirit if not spirited! Onward and upward.

Jannine Gallant said...

I've had crappy sales for my new release, with Kensington pushing me on a blog tour and the Facebook page takeover. The problem is, I don't think anyone sees pages on FB unless you pay to promote the post. Also, we all know blog tours are a big fat waste of time and money, yet the pub keeps doing them for lack of a better idea, I assume. I've never done Amazon advertising but the one day my book was a Kindle Daily Deal, I got down to below 10,000 in overall rank, so I must have sold a lot of books. When I've had a Bookbub ad, which sells a TON of books, I see resulting sales in all my other books. The key is to get one book in front of a lot of readers then the back list will sell itself. Right now I need more reviews on Wilde One so Bookbub will take it. That's the only way I've seen substantial sales across the board. I'm also good about tracking sales. Between my 5 self-pubbed books which have been out a loooong time, I get about 15-20 sales per month. Months where I've had a Bookbub ad for one of my Kensington books, the total on the self-pubbed sales jumps to 50-60 books. The sales for the other books in the same series is far, far more. So, that's my only answer. One book in front of many readers. Have no clue how to do that without Bookbub.

Alison Henderson said...

Vonnie, It's interesting how different channels seem to work for different authors. I belong to an authors' support group which re-tweets for each other, and I've never seen a single sale I could attribute to Twitter. Of course, I don't use Twitter for anything else, so I'm one of those dreaded authors who only appears to slog books.

Alison Henderson said...

Diane, since your books are in so many retail outlets, it would be much more difficult for you to track your sales. Mine are only on Amazon, so it's much easier for me. I do admit to being a bit of a data geek, however.

Alison Henderson said...

Rolynn, your marketing plan sounds a lot like mine for my self-pubbed books. I've found the freebie days with paid advertising on a couple of sites to be the most effective.

Alison Henderson said...

Jannine, I couldn't agree with you more about blog tours. What a waste of time and effort! I have tried to get on BookBub once with each of the bodyguard books but was declined both times. I've heard other authors say they tried several times and finally had a book accepted. I suppose I should keep trying, but it is discouraging.

Celia Yeary said...

Interesting, and well done, too. I'm not Indie published--too lazy to learn all the new tricks--but I do write for one publisher who is an "Indie Publisher." She chose me, and does all the work, and I get more % royalty than any other way.
I have a second publisher who is not really Indie, but they expect a good, clean ms so they do only light obvious editing.
Thanks, Alison, for the invitation I saw on FB!

J L Wilson said...

I did something similar last year; I tried different advertising each month with books that my publisher put on sale. I saw definite returns from ebookwise and a couple of others (one was a Kindle-sponsored promo). I'm doing the same thing this year with books on sale and different promo spots. I really have no idea what works!

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks, Celia. I decided to go "indie" for the challenge of learning new things AND the biggest benefit of being completely in control of the process. I was having to do all the marketing myself, anyway.

Alison Henderson said...

JL, your test should be more productive because you have so many more books out there. I'll make a note about ebookwise. I do think some sites are more effective than others.

Leah St. James said...

Great lesson in how this is a business, Alison. I wish I knew what worked. I've done Amazon give-aways (hoping for a higher sales ranking and maybe reviews), FB boosting, Google ads and Amazon ads, and it's still a mystery.

Alison Henderson said...

Leah, the only certainty for me is that Amazon giveaways produced significantly more reviews than I've ever gotten any other way. As for the rest???

Andrea Downing said...

Interesting, but who the heck knows what actually works? ONe of the great mysteries of the universe.

Linda Banche said...

I rarely do promotions because they haven't worked for me.

Long, long ago, when the only thing out there were yahoo loops, I bought some promotion on the loops. I did giveaways on my blog and contests with a book as the prize. Never amounted to much of anything. I'm still in the hole for this.

For many years, I didn't put anything on sale or buy promo. In December, I used Google Adwords Express for 2 weeks on my latest release to see if PPC would do any good. Nope.

Right now, I have my series at 25% off on Smashwords for Read an Ebook Week 2017. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for sales.

Nothing I've done has ever helped my sales. I refuse to set a book for free--I think the days for that are long over, and doing a sale since I'm wide is more grief than it's worth with Amazon and their dreaded price matching. I will probably discount a book in July on Smashwords's Summer/Winter Sale. I do like their coupons.

Alison Henderson said...

Andi, it is definitely one of the great mysteries of the universe.

Alison Henderson said...

Linda, I knew when I put my latest book out free for four days in November that the heyday of freebies had passed. I got several thousand downloads instead of the 20K I had for the previous book in 2014. I also got 18 reviews instead of 80, but for me, it's still the best way to get a little exposure.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

There are so many readers who have joined Net Galley for free books in exchange for an "honest" review. My publisher gave away 500 copies of each of my books for free for which I got no royalties. The reviews from Net Galley are more often than not very snarky. Sometimes cruel. I can always tell when a reviewer has bought the book. The tone of the review is more positive. Giving away books for free does nothing for your career, in my opinion. I'm not talking about a book here or there as a prize during a take-over at a facebook release party. Speaking of those, my sales increase after I do a 30 minute guest spot on someone's book release party. I get better results as a guest than I do when I host my own. Go figure! And I meet more readers and get more sign-ups for my newsletter and author facebook page.

Connie Bowen said...

Very good information Alison! Thanks! How many reviews do you have to have on Kindle before Bookbub will take your money. I will check into the Kindle Daily Deals and Just Kindle Books. I'm new and need to simply publish more books, I think. Sales are few and far between with FB and KDP ads.

Alison Henderson said...

Vonnie, I've heard that about Net Galley. For some reason, that hasn't been my experience at all when I've done the KDP free days. The reviews the put on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive. The only negative reviews have been on Goodreads, and then they're only stars without any actual comments.

Alison Henderson said...

Connie, BookBub has other requirements beyond # of reviews. They "curate" the books they accept according to whether they think their readers will want them. One of my books has 80 very positive reviews on Amazon, and they still wouldn't accept it. I have six books out but only four full-length novels and only two in this series. I think the real answer for me is to write more books, but I'm a pretty slow writer.

Naomi Stone said...

I've been trying AMS ads too, and have still spent less than $5, for many thousands of impressions and a few clicks. One sale. :)

Kboards has a number of posts discussing Amazon Marketing Services ads and experiments. This one includes a lot of interestingdata:,246135.msg3432036.html#msg3432036

You can find others by searching 'AMS results' on the site writers' forum: the Writers' Cafe:,60.0.html

List of useful resources for Indie Authors:,149935.0.html

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks, Laramie! This was very interesting. I don't spend any time on Kboards, and clearly I should. That author's experience mirrored mine in many ways. She got a few sales but didn't come close to breaking even. She also spent a lot more. I was prepared to spend more--I bid more per click and had a higher per diem budget--but that wasn't enough to increase the clicks. I might have better luck if I tweaked things, but then again I might not.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Alison, you rock for being so detailed. I've not done such detailed accounting on what works. I did do two things last year that amounted to the same price. On Bookgoodies I paid $45 and was supposed to be on a bunch of sites and newsletters. Well...the sites are basically all their sites. I never saw the newsletter. I saw zero results. On TRS I let them do the promo for one of their holiday parties. It cost me $40. My sales jumped on Amazon that week. I'll try it again this year and see if it was coincidence or for real. I'm going back to this post once I'm home and make notes from all the great responses and your insights.

Alison Henderson said...

Brenda, what is TRS? I'm interested in anything that might work. If we all put our heads together, we might come up with a few viable courses of action.

Alicia Dean said...

Thank you for the detailed information. It is difficult to determine exactly what works. We just have to keep plugging along and getting our name out there. Even though I don't always see direct sales from Twitter, it's a quick and easy method and it does keep your name going out, and who knows when something will click. I have found some success with Ereader news Today and Kindle Books and Tips.