Making a name for yourself: a different view of paid advertising for self-pubbed authors

My most popular self-publishing entry is a post I made in January of this year, entitled Ten Home Truths About Starting in Self-publishing.

Point seven in this post reads as follows:

7. Paid advertising does not work

Goodreads ads, Facebook ads, I’ve heard very few good results. They may work once you’re a known name, but for an unknown, you’ll end up sounding like every other wannabe out there. Only more desperate. Desperate is bad.

I want to elaborate a bit on this point, and how it can become untrue fairly quickly after your foray into self-publishing.

One thing remains true: direct positive results from paid advertising campaigns are rare. In other words, it is uncommon that an ad pays for itself on the day or soon after.

But let me tell you about my own foray into paid advertising.

Since the start of Amazon Select in December last year, I’ve had a couple of titles in this program. I only have one left, and am strongly considering leaving the program, but for a while, it was very good, as long as your freebie days were mentioned on one of the two main blogs for this purpose: Pixel of Ink and Ereader News Today. I’ve only managed Pixel of Ink once, but Greg at ENT has listed my freebies many times, and as result, I sold many books. I wanted to thank him, and how better to do this than to shove him a few bucks? The way to do that is by taking out an ad*. I ran a banner ad from mid-September to mid-October.

Result? Initially, none I could discern. My Amazon sales for September were abysmal. I ran ads for three books. The ad stats said that the clickthrough percentage was the highest for the trilogy. My ad linked through to my Amazon page for book 1.

Did I say that my Amazon sales for September were abysmal? OK, I did. It bears repeating. They. Were. Abysmal.

But. September ended up my best month ever, solely through sales of the trilogy on B&N and Kobo.

Uhm. Okaaaayyyyy?

Let’s look at my own sales behaviour. If I see an ad for something that might interest me, how many times have I clicked the ad and bought the product?

Uhm. Never?

How many times have I even clicked the ad?

Uhm. Never?

But I have definitely bought things I’ve seen advertised, things I didn’t know about until they were advertised, or things the ads reminded me I’d intended to buy. I’ve bought these items just not right then, and not in the way the advertisers suggested. I did see the ad, but didn’t act on it. I filed the information for later use, and then went to my preferred retailer to buy that product.

Most people don’t impulse-buy and don’t like to be told when and where to buy.

So, these people saw my ad on ENT, didn’t click it, but went to buy the books on B & N or Kobo? Maybe. I will never know.

However, sales dropped when the ad ran out.

The ad cost me $50. It ran for a month. In that month, 25,000 people saw the ad. These people will probably, like me, say that they never click ads, but they will recognise the cover of my books the next time they see them. They will recognise me as an author with the determination and stamina to hang around and keep working on my books, and, occasionally, pay for advertising. They may click the page at some stage. They will see reviews, and a bio. They may mentally file me as an author to check out later. At some point later, they may download a freebie.

And this is how advertising works: to make people aware.

If you decide to spend on advertising, here are a few points to consider:

Keep an eye on the Kindleboards for threads that discuss the effectiveness of advertising on various sites. This does not remain constant. New sites pop up every time and old ones go out of favour or become too expensive.

Before you start thinking profits, consider advertising a sign of your appreciation for community sites such as the new Kindleboards blog.

Consider advertising a loss leader. I’m about to head into a three-day promotion for book 1 of my trilogy. I’ll advertise on three different sites (each costing $20) for that day. I don’t expect to make that money back on the day, but there are 2 other books in the trilogy that will cost $4.99 each, and eventually people who’ve read book 1 will want to read the others.

Before your campaign, make sure that your book page is well-populated with reviews and a decent bio as much as you can control. On some of the sites, you don’t have a whole lot of control, but exert whatever control you do have.

Advertise your bestsellers. It’s much easier to push a winner than it is to lift a loser. You may not understand why people aren’t buying it, but if they’re not, leave well enough alone. Did you just hear me say that it might be a good idea to advertise your older, more established books than your newer ones? You probably did.

Consider linking the ad to a page on your blog that links to all the sites where the book can be found, rather than just the Amazon page. People ask me a lot how you get sales on Kobo and B & N. Whereas I can’t answer that question, linking only to Amazon isn’t going to help. Some people hate Amazon. Some people in some countries get charged a hideous surcharge for buying at Amazon, and in some (actually, most non-US English-speaking countries) a Kindle is not the automatic first choice of ereader.

Fact is, most people resent being told where to buy. Oh, I think I said this before, too.

Facebook and Google and goodreads? I don’t know, I haven’t tried them. I violently resent the pay-per-click system. It’s probably just a quirk of mine, but I like to pay an upfront amount and be done with it. Also, I like my money to stay in the community.

I hope these thoughts on paid advertising are useful. It is certainly not something I would rush into, but something you might consider as a part of long-term investment in your writing career and something I’d consider as a part of re-investing a percentage of your earnings into your books.

* A lot of blogs are run by volunteers who receive no payment or other benefits and pay for expenses out of their own pockets. They use advertising to keep running the site interesting for them. If we, as community, value those blogs, we should be supporting them by supporting their ads. For this reason, I refuse to use adblockers. In case of sites with annoyingly intrusive advertising (insert sneeze that sounds like, I make a note, and never visit them again.


Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her story This Peaceful State of War placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest and was published in their 27th anthology. She has also sold fiction to genre magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Redstone SF and Aurealis.
Her novels (available at ebook venues) include Watcher’s Web (soft SF), The Far Horizon (middle grade SF), Charlotte’s Army (military SF) and Fire & Ice, Dust & Rain and Blood & Tears (Icefire Trilogy) (dark fantasy). Her novel Ambassador will be published by Ticonderoga Publications in 2013.
Patty is a member of SFWA, and the cooperative that makes up Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and she has also written non-fiction.