Book Marketing through Paid Advertisements

Fourth Quarter Pic

The first question is whether or not it may be worth paying to advertise a book. See my previous post for more information on that.

Once you decide to advertise, there are many advertising services to choose from.

What you really want to know when making this decision is this:

  • What percentage of the people who see your advertisement are in your book’s target audience? Don’t buy advertisements that aren’t effective at reaching your target audience.
  • How many people are likely to see your advertisement? (It will certainly not be 100% of the readership or viewership. It will only be a fraction of the published circulation number.)
  • Do the possible additional short-term sales and/or long-term prospects outweigh the costs of the advertisement?
  • How good will your advertisement be (image, strapline, and any additional description)? Will it interest your target audience? Your advertisement needs to be marketable and geared toward your specific target audience in order to be effective.
  • Is your book highly marketable? Advertisements won’t help a book that lacks marketability.

There are many different ways to advertise.

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook offer advertising which is geared toward businesses hoping to get views (branding), clicks (visits to their websites), Likes (popularity), Follows (interest), and reposts or comments (interaction). The question is whether or not you can effectively target your audience and, if so, how responsive those people will be to an advertisement for a book in this context. Note that Twitter lets you target followers of specific people (could be authors of similar books). If you’re going to target a category, make sure it’s a very good match for your specific target audience (targeting books or readers, for example, is way too broad to be effective).

Goodreads has a similar advertising structure compared to Twitter and Facebook, while being focused on books and reading. On the other hand, there are several authors and publishers advertising on Goodreads, and many of these ads look highly professional and flash different images to get attention. The basic self-service advertisement (which is much cheaper) shows a very tiny image (it says 50 x 66 pixels) and is static. It may be tough for indie authors to compete with advertising on Goodreads. However, the giveaway program is much less expensive (just the cost of the book plus shipping). You might not get any reviews or sell any books through a giveaway (it happens), but you might get a few hundred to a thousand (or so) views. This is an affordable way to gain some exposure, create a little buzz, and help a little with branding. The possible long-term benefits may be worth the small investment even if the giveaway doesn’t help with short-term sales or reviews.

There are a variety of websites and email newsletter subscription services that may be helpful for short-term promotional discounts (not necessarily free). Examples include BookBub, Ereader News Today, Kindle Books & Tips, Book Gorilla, Book Blast, and Pixel of Ink. Note that some of these specifically service e-books. Some of these services have minimum average-star or other requirements, but some don’t. These services can be very helpful in getting more exposure from a free promotion, and can also help to promote a sale that isn’t free. (In the case of a freebie, you have to ask yourself if you really want to invest money in the advertisement on top of giving away books. If you’re going to advertise, it might seem desirable to recover some of the investment quickly with some early royalties. If you have a series, though, a promoted freebie may lead to sales for the other books in your series.) Yet another consideration is whether the market is primarily in the US, UK, or elsewhere.

You can find many other websites online where you can advertise. Search for online websites, magazines, newsletters, and activities that are likely to attract your specific target audience. If you can find a place to advertise that’s a good fit for your target audience, that may turn out to be more effective than going with websites with bigger names.

Another route is the blog tour. Depending on the tour, it may be better for you to plan ahead and try to contact bloggers individually. Also, people you follow and interact with regularly may be more receptive, since you have a rapport together and often support one another, than a stranger; this also gives you more insight into the blogger and lets you see firsthand how many active participants there are on the blog and how many of those are a good fit for your target audience. If you’re looking for exposure from bloggers, you definitely want to ensure that the blog is a good match for your specific target audience.

There is also the potential for offline advertising, like small newspapers, magazines, and circulars. Once again, the magic words are “specific target audience.”

Research the advertising service.

Advertising services generally publicize relevant statistics, such as:

  • Size of the viewership, readership, or circulation.
  • Classification of the circulation by genre (e.g. what percentage is mystery, romance, fantasy, etc.).
  • Average percentage of views, clicks, Likes, follows, or sales. The average isn’t a guarantee, but is a compromise between ineffective and highly effective advertising. The marketability of your book and of your advertisement are very important, as are additional promotional activities (especially, free and low-cost marketing to supplement your advertisement). Some authors who have large fan bases to begin can drive these averages up.

Even if you don’t have any intention of advertising on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads, it’s worthwhile to check out their advertising options because they have a lot of helpful information and tips. Also, when you check out the stats of other advertising services, you can compare it to the information that you see at these websites. Any data you find here will give you some type of benchmark, like the average percentage of clicks at Goodreads.

In addition to numbers, try to find authors who have used the service and learn what they have to say about it. (Another issue is how much you can trust the published numbers.)

Only a fraction of the circulation number will see your advertisement.

The first question to ask yourself is how much of the circulation consists of other authors. Authors who want to advertise with an email newsletter probably subscribe to it first as readers to check it out.

However, authors are readers, too, and many indie authors are likely to read other indie books when they aren’t writing. So to some extent it’s okay if there is a healthy percentage of authors in the circulation. But it’s probably desirable to have many readers who aren’t authors in the circulation, too.

Many people won’t open an email newsletter that they have subscribed to; or they may only open it once in a while—e.g. when they happen to be in the mood for a book.

No matter how you advertise, some people in the circulation won’t see your ad. Even on television, some people watching the show will be in the bathroom, cooking, or on the telephone during a commercial. In a magazine, most people who read it won’t see every page. And so on.

Of those who see an advertisement, only a tiny fraction will actually click on it, visit the website, Like a page, Follow you, or buy a book. Just the percentage who click on it compared to those who see it is typically very low—although this number can vary considerably depending on the marketability of the book and the effectiveness of the advertisement. It can also vary considerably from one advertising service to another.

Gear your advertisement toward your specific target audience.

Any image in your advertisement needs to attract your target audience. It’s just as important as cover design is for marketability. The image might even be your book cover (but not necessarily). Check the size of the image, aspect ratio (you definitely don’t want this to be distorted), and quality (e.g. pixilation). Ensure that the text is legible and crisp on the photo for the ad.

You need a good strapline that’s likely to draw interest from your target audience. If you’re advertising a short-term discount, contest, or free content of some kind, for example, this may draw more interest than simply advertising your book.

Check all of your writing very carefully. Any mistakes in the little writing you do in the advertisement won’t bode well for the quality of thousands of words written in a book. Remember that the goal of any writing in an advertisement is to catch the interest of your target audience and make them curious for more. Get feedback from others (especially, in your target audience) before placing your ad.

The cost of an advertisement can be calculated in different ways.

Some services charge a flat fee—e.g. $80 to place the ad.

Some services charge a fixed fee that depends on choices you make, such as the price of your book. For example, it might be $60 to place an ad for a freebie, $120 if the price is 99 cents, or $180 if the price is $1.99.

Some services charge a fee based on activity (like a fee per click, or a fee per Like or Follow).

Some services require you to bid on the ad. For example, you might bid 5 cents to a few dollars. In this context, different ads compete with one another for the chance to be viewed. You can usually place an upper limit on your daily spending and/or on the total amount for your campaign. For example, you might bid 25 cents for the ad with a maximum daily limit of $5.

When you bid on your ad, very often views of the ad are free, but you pay based on activity (e.g. a click, Like, or Follow). In this case, your ad may actually benefit from hundreds of views without any charge to you. What percentage of people view your ad actually click, Like, or Follow can vary significantly depending on the effectiveness of the ad and the content you’re advertising. Also, at some sites, clicks, Likes, or Follows are much more likely than at other sites.

The bid is usually the maximum that you’re willing to pay, and will often be less. For example, if you bid 50 cents for the ad, sometimes you may be charged less than 50 cents (any number from the minimum bid to 50 cents). Your ad competes against other ads in an auction format, so when you bid 50 cents, you’re basically saying, “50 cents is the most I’ll pay, but if possible I’d like to pay less.”

I recommend starting out at the minimum bid with a cap on your daily spending. Monitor your stats for a few days before raising your bid. This way, you can see what effect your bid has while keeping the risk low in the beginning. If you’re happy with the results, then you can safely avoid higher bids.

Don’t rely on the advertisement to do all the work for you.

I discussed the need to supplement advertisements with free and low-cost marketing in my previous post. Advertising isn’t a substitution for the need to market your book; it’s a supplement that can help improve the sales of a marketable book.

How would you like to participate in a Black Friday type of sales event designed specifically for books? Check out Read Tuesday. It’s going to be HUGE!

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

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