How I use Amazon ads to drive sales of my book

I’ve spent the past month experimenting with ads. Here’s what I learned.

I wish I could tell you there’s a sure-fire formula for using Facebook and Amazon ads to promote books. I’ve read several accounts by authors who swear by Facebook ads (usually people with lots of books, but not always). I’ve also read as much as I can find about the newer option of advertising directly on Amazon through Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads. I tried both methods this month. Disclaimer: I do not geek out on numbers or analytics, so if you’re looking for a blueprint with math to back it up, you’re in the wrong place. This is just the story of how my experiment with ads went over the month of January.

Facebook ads

On Facebook I set up a $10/day maximum campaign with an ad linking to my Amazon page. I made the ad on Canva. Mistake: Running Facebook and Amazon ads at the same time. Why? There is no way to know which ads are having the most impact. Solution: I turned off my Facebook ad after a few days, then later in the month, I turned off the Amazon ads and turned Facebook back on. Another solution would be to have the Facebook ad link directly to an Amazon affiliate link on my website, where hopefully people would click again to purchase the book. This is what a lot of people do to track the effectiveness of their Facebook ads, I’ve since learned. But that does add another click and a delay while traveling to another site from Facebook.

As you can see, I reached thousands of people with my ad. I targeted people who like authors similar to me. I also targeted locations and themes that are present in my book. I got a few likes and shares and about 115 clicks to my Amazon page. But whether any of those clicks resulted in sales is a mystery. And it cost me $10/per day. (The average cost per click was more than 50 cents.) So for now, I’m done with Facebook ads. I may try them again in the future, but I’m turning my attention to Amazon ads because I know they work for me.

Amazon AMS ads for authors

Amazon’s AMS ad program started in 2015. There is still some confusion in the author community about how to use them and whether they work. Here’s a great, recent article about setting up the ads. One thing I’ve noticed people are unsure about is whether it’s OK to use author and book title names as keywords for the ads. The answer is YES. You cannot use them for keywords when initially setting up your book account, but it’s OK to use them in these ad campaigns.

I started out using both a Sponsored Product ad and a Targeted Product ad, but quickly learned that the Sponsored Product ads are much more effective, so I paused the Targeted Product ad. I started out with a maximum spend of $10/day. The first several days I sold at least 5 copies of the book a day. Heartened, I upped my max to $20/day. The interesting things about this: 1. My sales have not doubled as a result (boo hoo). 2. Amazon is not charging me $20/day. Unlike Facebook, which faithfully charged me the maximum budget every single day, I am currently only being charged about $5/day by Amazon. Why? They both charge per click. However, I set up my ad to show up on hundreds of individual book pages, author names, and other words that people search for on Amazon. I “bid” different amounts for these individual keywords. So sometimes people click on my ad and Amazon charges me 2 cents. Other times they click and I’m charged 25 cents. Usually the more famous authors/books garner the more expensive clicks.

This is not an exact science, but it works

At center is my sponsored products ad. Cover art and blurb text are key to getting people to click on your ad.

The Amazon ad campaign dashboard shows me exactly how many impressions (when someone sees my ad), clicks, and sales I’ve gotten for each keyword. That way I know what’s working and what’s not. In the first two weeks, one of my keywords outperformed all the rest by a huge margin. (Sorry, I’m keeping my magic keyword to myself!) Then, all of a sudden, the clicks and impressions dried up and froze over. My other successful keywords kept plugging along at the same rate, but my cash cow? Nothin’.

This apparently is not uncommon. Amazon seems to rotate ads after about 2 weeks, according to the authors on the KDP boards. I tinkered with the bid amount—and one day my cash cow came back from the dead. Not anywhere near the rate it zoomed along at before, but with  a steady drip of impressions and 1 click in the past several days. I’m holding my breath and hoping impressions fire up again to a fast clip again for my lucky keyword.

So how do I define success?

I published my book in September 2016. I have a kindle version and a paperback version. Anecdotal evidence told me that the only way these Amazon ads tend to work is for authors who have a paperback version. This seems to bear out for me. Here’s a screenshot of my kindle sales since December 1. I started running the Amazon ad on January 2. (The huge spike in sales in early December was for a kindle countdown deal I did with a discounted price of 99 cents.)

It’s obvious that the ads have had a huge impact on my kindle sales. But what about paper? During January I’ve sold 43 paperbacks, which is twice as many as I sold in December. I’ve also had thousands of pages read in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited/lending library program (which I get paid for). So yes, the ads are working. But what does that mean?

My short-term goal is to increase awareness of my book

All I want at this point is for people to discover my book. I just need to break even on the ad to accomplish this. I’m getting organic reviews now as a result of the ad. Three new ones appeared on my Amazon page over the weekend. This is a valuable benefit, since getting reviews is one of the biggest challenges for independent authors. As long as I keep an eye on how much Amazon is billing me in relation to sales, I can keep running this ad indefinitely. (Or until Amazon changes the game—again.)

Will it work for you?

I only have one book and these Amazon sponsored product ads are working for me. Will they work for you? It depends. On this Kboards forum thread  there’s a lot of valuable information about what works and what doesn’t. It seems that great cover art, compelling blurb text, good reviews, and the overall professionalism of your Amazon book page are all factors that help shoppers decide to buy once they land on your page. Certainly you will increase your chances of success by checking off all those boxes.

Downsides

The number one problem with these ads is the time that setting up, managing, and monitoring them takes away from writing. I’ve got to finish the sequel to my book, but the distractions of marketing and promotion for my first book pile up. It’s every independent author’s quandry. Now that I’ve figured out the basics, I need to back away from the blasted “refresh” button and check my sales about 1/100th as much as I do now. There’s also a strange psychological effect that I find incredibly annoying: the giddy “high” of seeing lots of sales roll in one day, followed by the angsty “why?” of seeing one or none roll in the next. The day I sold 13 copies, we broke out the bubbly. It was a thrilling moment. But sales tanked for several days after that, and so did my mood. That’s an unsustainable way to live.

What’s most important is the following refrain: write, edit, publish—and repeat.

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Posted in Blog.

Amy Maroney

I'm a writer living in the Pacific Northwest with my husband and daughters. It took 4 years to write and publish my first novel, The Girl from Oto. Before that I was a writer and editor of nonfiction. This blog charts my progress as an independent author navigating the fog-shrouded switchbacks of "authorpreneurship." Come along for the ride...I hope what I've learned along the way can help you, too!

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for the information. I’m just starting the process of AMS ads and am not looking forward to it! I’m also glad to see it took you that long to write your first fiction novel. I’ve written several in my series and they’ve all taken at least a year or more. I can’t pump them out like other writers. They’re my babies, and I’m not a dog, so I can’t just birth them in a matter of weeks!

    Best of luck with your writing.

    • Hi Carolyn, I hear you…I just don’t understand how people can write several books per year, either. Good luck with the ads. They can be a time suck at first, but hopefully worth it in the end.

  2. Apparently the biggest impressions so far are for the main characters first name, Angela. Over 1100 impressions. I’ve yet to figure out that one! Too funny!

    • Good luck, Richard. I’m in the same boat, trying to get reviews on Amazon.uk. I hope Amazon ads work for you!

  3. This is the most frustrating experience I’ve gone through, and I’ve given birth, had both of both of my parents die, written 8 books, had back and neck surgeries and a plethora of other frustrating experiences. 🙂 I’ve had over 100,000 impressions (finally paused the ads after three days) and 8 clicks for 2 ads. Sold 2 books. Seriously, I worked in a c-level position for years and this has me stumped! I need a Snickers bar, stat!

    • I hear you… If only the Amazon gods would let us in on their behind-the-scenes mechanisms. It’s all very mysterious and frustrating!

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