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Self-publishing essentials with Ellie Marney: Promo, marketing and all that jazz (part five)


Welcome back! In the last article, we started talking about promoting in concrete ways—you can catch up with that article (and the three before it) right here. Now we’re talking advertising. This is a BIG topic—this article isn’t comprehensive, but rather offers an overview of some of the advertising options available to self-published authors.

The first (and most obvious) thing to remember is that advertising your book costs money. There’s no ‘cheap and easy’ way to advertise—while you can spend conservatively during your testing of ads and ad platforms, accepted wisdom is that ultimately you get better return on investment (ROI) and higher book sales once you ‘scale up’. And here’s a crucial tip: don’t spend on advertising until you have more than one book. Advertising works best when you have a catalogue of titles that you can funnel readers towards.

Check out the following platforms, which are the most-used ad platforms for authors:

Amazon ads

Positives: On Amazon, you’re only advertising to people already interested in buying. Ads here can also help attach good ‘also boughts’ to your book, which is a type of free promotion. No special images are necessary—your book cover is the only image required. Amazon advertising is considered the easiest ad platform to use, and you can start with small investments. It’s almost the only platform that lets you push full-price books.

Negatives: Amazon ads only drive buyers around the Amazon ecosystem rather than attracting outside eyeballs. Largely algorithm-driven, it’s an opaque and confusing system. It’s hard to figure out what makes an ad relevant, and therefore shown to buyers, and even harder to replicate results reliably—as Dave Gaughran says, ‘Identical ads with the exact same keywords and bids and budget and ad text, rolled out a week apart, can deliver completely different results.’ Ads often turn themselves on/off inexplicably. Overall, Amazon doesn’t give users the information it needs to be better advertisers, so tread carefully.

Amazon charges the advertiser each time someone clicks on a link in the ad (cost per click). You can choose between two ad options: sponsored products ads, which appear on book pages and search results, or lock-screen ads, shown on the screen when your Kindle is sleeping. Lock-screen ads operate with a lifetime budget (minimum $100), and they’re not generally recommended, as it’s hard to get a good ROI.

Sponsored products is a keyword-based system—you can target your audience with up to 1000 keywords. Allow Amazon to choose the words (auto) or choose your own (custom)—custom is generally a better option. Test out your keywords with split-testing to find the best performers. Use lower bids and a lower daily budget ($5) until you get the hang of things, then scale up with higher bids and budgets once you have a more focused keyword set.

The ACoS—advertising cost of sale—is the amount you spend in advertising divided by what you earn. But remember! Amazon only logs your total sales. It’s not an accurate figure, because in reality you only earn 70% (or 35%, if your book is under $2.99/over $9.99) of the retail price. So check your figures: if your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99 and you’re making 70% on each sale, your ad is making money if ACoS is <70%.

There’s a lot of information out there to help you get the hang of Amazon advertising (if that’s possible). For Amazon keyword tips, try this article, or check out Amazon keyword tools—some people swear by Publisher Rocket for keywords, or you could try YASIV or the Keyword Multiplier. Written Word Media has a primer on Amazon ads for authors or you can check out these two case studies of good advertising practise—there’s even a free Reedsy learning course on Amazon advertising. Invest in Brian Meeks’ book Mastering Amazon Adsor invest a great deal more with Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula course, which is considered highly reputable.

Facebook ads

Positives: Facebook advertising is great for adding subscribers to your email list. Used well, it can become a giant network of connected advertisements that funnels readers towards your books and your list. Once mastered, Facebook ads can provide really good ROI.

Negatives: The system and the dashboard are fiendishly complex, making mastery difficult. Approval for ad images/text depends on Facebook rules that can seem arbitrary. Facebook is more expensive than most of the other platforms and can vacuum up advertising dollars fast (especially if you include your ad on Instagram).

To get started, set up a Facebook page—either specifically label it as being your author page, or label it according to the genre in which you’re writing/publishing (e.g. ‘Contemporary Romance Readers’). When your ads are displayed, they will have ‘Sponsored by [Name of Page]’ on them.

Prepare images and ad copy, then go to your ad dashboard and create your ad. The most critical aspect of advertising on Facebook is granular audience targeting. Use ‘interest’ targeting or ‘custom’ audiences (‘lookalike’ audiences are a form of custom audiences). Interest audiences are different Facebook-identified segments of the broader Facebook audience—target your genre or comparable authors with interest audiences. Custom audiences are audience groups based off information you feed into Facebook—they are more likely to be your key audience, but can take time to develop.

Try to advertise to as narrow an audience as possible—you can specify audiences by age, location, gender, behaviours etc. This is where it really helps to know your ideal reader (i.e. your book’s audience)—so if you wanted to target for your contemporary romance novel, you might choose a custom audience of younger women readers in the USA who like reading romance books on their Kindles.

The ad formats on Facebook are more complex, but it’s best to start with simple link-click ads with static images. Worry about carousel ads and videos later, after you’ve mastered the basics. The most important thing to look at is the click-through rate (CTR) (especially outbound CTR) to judge whether your ads are performing.

The most comprehensive book on Facebook advertising is Help! My Facebook Ads Suck! by Michael and Mal Cooper, and Mark Dawson also has a book called Mastering Simple Facebook Ads for Authors, which comes recommended—you can also pick up more advanced tips from Jon Loomer’s website. You can find a cheat sheet to help you with Facebook images for your page here.

BookBub ads

Positives: BookBub has the largest book-buying community in the world, and BookBub’s featured deals generate excellent ROI, with a straightforward application process. BookBub ads are a new thing, so you can get in early and master it before it becomes overrun. The website is highly responsive, and a good ad campaign can radically improve sales rank overnight.

Negatives: Featured deals (and mastering ads) can be expensive. Deals are difficult to acquire—you don’t get to choose, BookBub has to choose you, and the field of applicants is highly competitive. Your book must be in great shape and with a certain number of reviews before you apply for a deal. Losing money to BookBub ads is very easy—it requires a lot of testing to learn which ads serve best. BookBub audiences are hungry for discounts, so pushing full-price books here is a way to lose money.

There are two points of entry into BookBub advertising: featured deals, or BookBub ads. Featured deals can be global, or focused on a particular market. You don’t get to choose which deal you get—you can select a number of categories/markets you’d prefer, but it’s really up to the BookBub gods. Make sure your book is discounted (free books often show a higher ROI—snag new readers with this loss leader) and ensure your platforms are well-coordinated before the date of your deal (Amazon and Apple can both be slow to update price changes so plan well in advance).

BookBub ads are best used for launching, price promotions, or offering a free loss leader. They use a cost per click or cost per mille (CPM, per thousand impressions) system. CPM is often the least hazardous way to go, until you have an ad campaign that’s successfully serving. Use strong, exciting images (created on a free program like Canva) and narrow targeting for best effect. Target with comp authors, but be selective—big-name authors with large followings will make your ad too scattershot.

For more info on using BookBub, Dave Gaughran is the most up to date and has just published a book about it—he also has some wisdom on using BookBub ads for authors who have wide distribution here.

Other advertising

There are other options out there—try the various book promo sites for cheap deals. These sites send out an email to their community members, and some of them have large communities. The most reputable are Ereader News Today, Robin Reads, The Fussy Librarian, Freebooksy (and its sister org, BargainBooksy), My Book Cave, Book Barbarian and Book Adrenaline. You can also try doing some cross-promotion with other authors who might agree to do a newsletter swap, where you advertise each others’ books to your respective email lists—this should cost you nothing, but ensure that your cooperating author is writing in your genre, as it’s pointless advertising your sci-fi space opera to people who want cozy mysteries.

There’s also a whole community of people online who specialise in providing advice about book marketing, including Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson and more (I personally like Dave Gaughran’s approach (and sense of humour), so I encourage you to read around and do your research.

Good luck with your advertising!

Ellie Marney is a teacher and hybrid YA author. She lives in Victoria with her family and her most recent book series, Circus Hearts, was published in November 2018. Find her at or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.



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