Posted in Advertising | Posted on 14-03-2012|
I never thought I’d get a chance to work “dagnabit” into the title of a blog post (or, you know, anywhere), but it seemed to be an appropriate euphemism for the occasion. I asked what folks wanted to hear about on Twitter today, and a resounding number of people (okay, it was just the one) requested a post on online advertising for authors. Does it work?
Depending on who you ask, the answer could be, “No, it’s a waste of money,” “Yes, it made me a bestseller,” “I sold some books but didn’t break even,” or “Huh? Authors can advertise?”
In other words, your results will vary. Personally, I’ve found a couple of places where advertising has worked for me (it never made me a bestseller, but there have been times where I spent less on ads than I earned back on book sales). More often I’ve lost money.
Here’s more of a breakdown:
Types of Online Advertising Available for Authors
Pay Per Click Ads
Facebook, Google Adwords, and Goodreads are all pay-per-click options. You throw a certain amount of money into a campaign (or give them your credit card number so they can charge you whatever you spend each month), and you get to make a text-based ad that will be displayed on their pages. On some sites, you can include a little picture (i.e. the cover of your book), but usually it’s about the text. You get a few words for a header and a few more for the body of the ad. If you have a copy-writing background, it could come in handy here, because there’s not a lot of space to entice someone to click.
Did they work for me?
I’ve tried pay-per-click ads on Facebook and Goodreads. The latter handed me some of my early sales, and I wrote a long post on how to set up a Goodreads Advertising Campaign last year. My own daily book sales have increased a lot since then, so I can’t guess any more how effective the site might be (when you’re not selling a lot, it’s easier to see if one particular thing you do has an impact on sales), and I’ve stopped putting money into my campaigns over there. I think it can help out in the beginning though.
With Facebook, I tried some ads to direct people to the free-ebook tab on my Facebook Author Page. It didn’t cost me much (a couple of dollars most weeks), and it did get some people to click the links on the free-ebook page (since I give away those stories to everyone, I don’t use Smashwords coupons — coupons would have been a good way to see if people were actually downloading the books, though at the same time they make a potential reader go through more steps to get to your work).
I used to use Google Adwords when I was selling affiliate products for my day job, so I have experience with them, but I never considered trying them as an author. One of the problems with pay-per-click ads is that one click can only translate into one sale (and it’s probably going to be more like eight or ten clicks to get one sale), and, as an independent ebook author you’re only making a couple of bucks per book sale (assuming a $2.99+ ebook), so there’s not a lot of room for error. (The numbers are, of course, more abysmal for traditionally published authors who make far less per sale.)
With Adwords, you can’t target as specifically as you can with Facebook and Goodreads (i.e. age, sex, reading preferences), at least not the last time I looked (it’s been a couple of years, but I don’t think Google has implemented stats on what people are fans of the way other two sites have).
As you can see from the things I’ve talked about that did work (a little), pay-per-click is a dribble-drabble sort of system where, unless you’re spending a lot of money (and that can be hard if you’re targeting a specific demographic, such as your ideal science-fiction-romance-loving audience), you won’t sell a lot of books. The good thing is that you only spend money if someone clicks your ad. The bad thing is that you’re reaching a finite number of people, and it’s almost like hand-selling to one person at a time. Goodreads does have some viral potential, since people can add your books to their reading lists (lists other people can see), but it’s hard to gauge how helpful that is.
What to be careful with when it comes to PCC ads
Make sure to target your audience carefully, so you don’t waste money (i.e. when I was setting up my Goodreads campaign, I only had ebooks available, so I put ebook in the ad copy to ensure paperback-only people wouldn’t click). With Facebook and Goodreads, you can target, for example, science fiction lovers only and even advertise to those who are fans of authors who write in a similar style as you do. Make use of that.
With banner advertising, you pay for a graphic ad to be displayed on a site for a certain amount of time (you usually pay a flat monthly fee or for a certain number of impressions). They’ll usually appear in a site’s header or side bar. You pay whether they’re clicked on or not, but they tend to be less expensive than the other types of ads I’m talking about here.
Did they work for me?
I haven’t done a lot with banner advertising, because there are a lot of studies that suggest people have had “banner blindness” for a long time and text-based ads work better. That said, their cost-effectiveness can make them appealing.
I tried a banner ad for Encrypted and also for Ice Cracker II (a free short story) last year on the Nookboards, because I was trying to figure out how to target those Barnes & Noble Nook folks. My banners were part of a rotation of ads for about three months. The campaign didn’t cost a lot, but I’m also not sure if I can attribute more than a handful of purchases/downloads to the experience.
I’m about to try a banner-advertising campaign with someone who emailed me when I started my Kickstarter campaign. His ads run on a number of gaming sites, and since there’s a lot of crossover between people who game and people who read fantasy, I thought, “Why not?” Also, I’ll be advertising the first Emperor’s Edge novel, which is free (on sites such as these, I’d think it would be a lot easier to get people to check out something that’s free than something that’s $5, and, of course, people who try the first book might want to go on to try the rest of the series).
In the end, though, I don’t expect much. For me, no form of advertising has been a knock-it-out-of-the-park success (and there haven’t been many base hits either). The main reason I’m still tinkering with it at all is that I’m making enough now that tax-write-offs are nice. Also, I like to experiment with things so I can post about them on this blog.
Sponsored Posts or Daily Blog Spots
Sites such as Pixel of Ink, Kindle Nation Daily, and Ereader News Today are blogs (sometimes with newsletters) that offer a variety of daily sponsorships where your book can be featured in a post and/or email.
These blogs have large audiences, but they’re general readership audiences. As someone who writes steampunk/high fantasy, I haven’t found these types of sites to be particularly effective, but I’ve heard of people who write in genres with a broader appeal (i.e. thrillers, mysteries) having good results. (Note: I tried KND when their rates were cheaper and I broke even with a $2.99 high fantasy ebook — I tried again recently, and I paid more and didn’t come anywhere near breaking even. I believe the proliferation of free ebooks — many of which these blogs promote — is making it harder to sell an ebook through these sites.)
I’m ambivalent about these types of sites for other reasons, too, in particular that they charge a fortune (KND especially has hiked its prices way up in the last year), and I think there’s a lot of authors paying against their better judgement, hoping against hope that it’ll somehow be worth it. I used to work in online advertising and affiliate marketing, and I’m floored by the going rates for daily sponsorships in the ebook-sphere ($200+ in some cases). Even sites with little to no traffic are charging $40-$50 for daily sponsorships. But I guess as long as authors are willing to pay such rates, the high prices will continue (these sites are all booked far in advance).
Personally, if you want to try advertising, I’d recommend thinking outside of the box and getting away from the sponsored-posts sites. If you’re a science fiction author, for example, it might be better to hunt around and find a popular SF blog that isn’t necessarily in the ebook sphere but is a place where your fans hang out. You might be able to get a text or banner ad for $50 a month.
What Really Works in the Modern Era
So, as you can see, I’m not against advertising, per se, but I’m not a huge fan of it either. There have been times where it’s helped me out (especially in the beginning with Goodreads) and more times where it’s been a waste of money. I will say something I’ve pointed out before, though:
I’ve found that once you sell your first 1,000 books or so, Amazon’s algorithms start kicking in, and your book will show up in people’s recommendations and in the also-boughts for a lot of other authors. Because of that, it might be worth losing a little money early on (if you have it to spare) if it’ll help you get to that point.
That said, the 100% most effective thing I’ve done to increase my sales is giving ebooks away for free. Long-time readers have seen me say that a lot, and it’s because it’s true. For me, it’s blown everything else out of the water.
First, I gave away that Ice Cracker II story (something that was effective in helping me sell my first book because it stared the same characters and I included an excerpt to the novel). Then, at the end of November, I decided to go ahead and make my first full-length novel free (since, by then, I had two other novels out in the series). It’s no coincidence that that’s the month this author thing went from being a part-time gig to my primary source of income.
Free works best with serial stories, though, so it’s not necessarily going to be as effective for everyone. Advertising can be worth trying if you have the money to spare. Some folks will argue, though, that the best “advertising” you can do is to buckle down and get more books out there (I don’t disagree with this sentiment).
All right, I’m done talking for the day. Do you have any thoughts on advertising? Is there anything you’ve tried that I haven’t covered? Let us know below!