There are so many ways to sell books nowadays that developing a book marketing plan can feel overwhelming. Many old-time strategies that worked well years ago have little effect nowadays. Even getting on national TV doesn’t necessarily mean breakthrough sales.
When I participated in some breakout groups for the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Living Now Book Awards, I consistently heard that Amazon ads were a big win for many authors and made up the bulk of their book sales.
Finding An Amazon Ads Expert
During the Nonfiction Writers Conference, I had the opportunity to listen to Laurence O’Bryan of Books Go Social speak about successfully using Amazon ads. I was so impressed with Laurence’s advice that I hired him to take over my Amazon advertising. One thing I’ve loved about working with Laurence is that he’s responsive to my questions.
Amazon ads are not a “fix it and forget it” venture. Keywords that work well one month can be too expensive the next. Depending on the season, there may be particular opportunities to advertise differently. Working with someone who pays attention to the reports and adjusts the campaign regularly has been helpful.
I’ve asked Laurence to share his insights into using Amazon ads to sell more books. It’s worked for me: Most of my book sales have come from Amazon advertising. I believe that my two large bulk sales came through ads: a school district in Florida purchased the books for their employees during Mental Health Month and found my book, The Joy of Writing Journal, on Amazon.
So, how do you “do” Amazon ads and do it right? What considerations do you need to know about? And when shouldn’t you invest in ads?
What Makes an Ad Successful?
Lisa: How did you get into offering an Amazon advertising service?
Laurence: I was published by HarperCollins ten years ago for a series of thrillers later translated into ten languages. I have a background in marketing, so I started helping out with boosting book sales, at first free for authors, then later moving into managing Amazon ads for people.
Lisa: It must be rewarding to affect an author’s book sales substantially. Can you share a bit about what goes into making an ad successful, the author’s decisions, the book description on Amazon, etc.?
Laurence: The ads are only part of the equation. [Authors need] a book description with the right keywords and to convince readers that his book is for them. Authors must post editorial reviews and get as many reader reviews as possible. What Amazon calls A+ content can also help motivate people to buy a book.
Success with Amazon Ads
Lisa: Can you share some examples of success stories with the ads?
[Note: Clients prefer not to share their books/names so you will not find the author, title or identifying information.]
Laurence: One nonfiction example is a lawyer in Florida who works in nonprofits and has written one of the top-selling books for setting up a nonprofit organization. In 2021, we took over this Amazon ads account as her previous ads manager charged super high fees. Making money with Amazon ads is often a slow process requiring months of testing. What I admire about this client is that she was willing to work with us long-term as we adjusted the keyword bids to focus the budget on the keywords that were getting good results, which means sales at a low cost. We have had ups and downs, but she has stuck it out and decided to increase the budget over time, allowing us to grow sales profitably, as seen in the screengrab below. Now, we want to scale up further with some new books.
As you can see, that has been a steady growth story for the last few years. Not all achieve that level of sales.
As to a fiction success story, we worked with a children’s book author who built a portfolio of new books this year due to her success last holiday season. We have plans to expand our work with her this season, too.
This example illustrates a few things:
- How holiday season sales can significantly impact—see the big spike from last holiday season on the chart below.
- The sales reported on the Amazon ads dashboard are not the whole picture, as IngramSpark print edition sales, not recorded in these figures, made what looks like an okay result into something life-changing.
What Works Best?
Lisa: What genres and types of books seem to do best with Amazon ads?
Laurence: At Books Go Social, we have found the most success when a book has lots of reader reviews on Amazon. That is the key. Nonfiction can do especially well and popular fiction genres too, but the quality of the book is critical!
A good number of reader reviews on Amazon means anything over 100. I have seen no evidence that you get more exposure from Amazon when you pass that number, but when we assess the books that sold the most in any period, it is almost always books with over 100 reader reviews on Amazon.
Get Those Amazon Book Reviews!
Lisa: Well we’re at 99 Amazon book reviews for The Joy of Writing Journal, so I need just two more to make it over 100! I’m hoping one or two of my readers might take us over the hump after reading this :). But tell us more about this 100 review mark…it sounds like readers themselves are influenced by the number of Amazon book reviews.
Laurence: This says something also about books doing better over time, that we do not need to have a big success straight away, because often it will take months or longer to get 100 reader reviews on Amazon. The world of publishing no longer requires immediate success. Patience and perseverance are the keys to success more than ever.
Please also focus your efforts, when you are looking for reviews in the early stages. The Amazon algorithm will notice if you get reviews from people who like politics and you write literary fiction. If you have an email list of people who like your genre, yes, do email them twice over a one-month period asking for reviews and providing the Amazon link to your book, but more than that is unlikely to get a better response. We work with NetGalley.com placing over 100 titles a month on that site to get a good deal for authors on this useful service. NetGalley works too. We can bundle a place on NetGalley with our Amazon ads service to make sure our authors get more reader reviews.
Book Marketing Tips and Strategies to Leverage Ads:
Lisa: Success doesn’t just come from the ad alone. You need to have an appealing description of the book, for example, an eye-catching and appealing cover, with easy to read title. Can you share a bit about what goes into making an ad successful, the decisions an author needs to make, the book description on Amazon, etc.?
Laurence: Please think about how you will market a book from the early stages. What unique things do you bring to the table? And always invest in a good cover. A great source for how to write a book description for Amazon is the top-selling book in your genre.
Lisa: You mentioned to me that ads do best when an author has multiple books on Amazon. Can you share more about that?
Laurence: When an author has a series of books we can advertise book one and the total sales revenue can be a multiple of the revenue for a stand-alone book as many people will buy the whole series from one ad. That can make the difference between a profit and a loss for the ad campaign.
Are Amazon Ads a Fit for You?
Lisa: What advice do you have for someone considering advertising on Amazon?
Laurence: Learn all you can. It’s not an easy system to master. Take your time and be patient.
Lisa: And of course, our readers can do what I do and hire an expert like Books Go Social! When does it make sense to advertise even if your book sales don’t cover the cost of the ads?
Laurence: It can make sense to advertise a book even if the ad costs exceed the return if you also have a related business your book/s can promote. If even a few readers become clients for other higher-priced services the ad cost will be covered.
Lisa: Who shouldn’t advertise on Amazon? (or should very carefully consider the downside?)
Laurence: If you are on a very tight budget please don’t advertise. It can take months to get a return. Only advertise if you can afford to lose money for a few months.
Making Sense of Amazon’s Reports
Lisa: Amazon’s reports are a little confusing. Can you share how to tell whether an ad is successful or not?
Laurence: The Amazon ads dashboard shows “Sales” but that is not what you get paid. What you get paid is royalties. The figure is often lower than your sales but can be higher. Use KDP or IngramSpark or your publisher’s reports to know your royalties. Please make sure you know where to find your royalties data before starting Amazon ads.
One of the key data points to watch with Amazon ads is ACOS—Average Cost of Sales. This indicates roughly if you are making a profit from your ads. Other factors impact this data point, such as royalties per title, page reads if in Kindle Select, and series sales. But to know a book is selling, to know that you made $200 of sales for $100 ad spend (50% ACOS), tells us that the ads are working. Royalty data lets us know the final amount we make each month.
Lisa: Any other advice you have for our authors?
Laurence: Never give up. Keep the dream alive. This is a wonderful road to be on.
Your Invitation to the Dublin Writers’ Festival 2024
Lisa: Can you tell us a bit about the Dublin Writers’ Festival, which you founded in 2015?
Laurence: Since 2015 we have welcomed writers to learn, network and improve their craft. Our mission is to help writers excel and to provide opportunities for writers to learn from key industry professionals.
Dublin is a World Heritage City and home to some of the most famous writers. This event is an opportunity for all writers, everywhere, to connect with the literary culture of Dublin and to learn from experts and peers.
We have been fortunate to have some excellent speakers join us in Dublin. Two Pulitzer Prize winners are part of our recorded video sessions; Junot Diaz and Geraldine Brooks. We have a team of wonderful editors this year, including C.S. Lakin, a great copy editor who also manages the fiction track at the San Francisco Writers Festival, and Gerry Kilby, one of the leading sci-fi authors in the world and, coming in 2024, Doug Richardson, a top tier screenwriter from Hollywood as well as award-winning poets, marketing gurus and lots of writers who want to give back.
Writers, both aspiring and experienced, are all welcome.
Laurence O’Bryan has been in marketing for over thirty years and writing for more than twenty. He had three novels published by HarperCollins and translated into 11 languages. One has been optioned, twice, for the screen. He also self-published another two novels in the puzzle series and a series set in the late Roman Empire, A Dangerous Emperor. He is working on a series set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Hastings. Laurence started BooksGoSocial to help writers with marketing and the International Dublin Writers’ Festival to help authors connect and learn about the craft of writing.