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How much to spend

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Steve Spatz (founder of BookBaby) had this comment in a recent blog. I wouldn't hold him to the specific amounts, and I note that he doesn't say anything about where to spend the money (FB, Zon, etc.), but I applaud him for making an attempt. When working with a blank map, any marker at all is welcome.

So I'm wondering if other folks here have a reaction. Is this in the ballpark? Because I can easily see someone thinking, I'm just going to ease in sideways on all this spending on advertising nonsense. Here's the quote:

"If you don’t plan to spend at least $1,000 on book marketing within a month of your release date, you might as well not spend any. Except for very rare occasions, you won’t be able to figure out if your social media ads are working without a substantive investment. We recommend authors spend at least $250 a week for the first two months—one month during pre-sale and the first month post release—to help produce a noticeable lift in sales."
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
more and more, I have doubts about 'Book Baby's' recommendations. Part of it stems from the price quote to help me self-publish my books.

The other part is a bit more subtle and controversial. I get a lot of mostly conservative political spam emails, along with other emails offering 'great deals' or 'fantastic products' which range from 'mostly hype' to 'scam.' The vast majority of these emails begin with 'Friend,' - which is also the same opening I see in much of the 'Book Baby' material. Not conclusive, but enough to put me on alert.

That said...Skip, you've had books out there for a few years now. I don't see them advertised on FB or Amazon...but when I pull them up, I see multiple positive reviews - so you must have at least some sales.
 
I won't touch Bookbaby with a ten-foot pole, but the comment isn't entirely off. "might as well spend nothing" I would disagree with, but $1k in that first month is a decent round figure if going the Advertising Route. Let's take some other advertising advice that comes from many sources...

$10/day on a FB or Amazon, Minimum, per ad. My personal opinion is that $10 a day on FB is solid for the algorithm to learn your target audience and make inroads at lowering the CPC or whatever conversion you're looking for. As for Amazon, IF you can get it to spend your money with reasonable bids, $10/day is going to be a slow learning process, IMO. The more I think (and I stress "think") I know about Amazon ads, the more I think that multiple $10/day ads targeting different sets of 100 or so keywords is the Time Efficient way to learn what keywords work, and at launch when Amazon is playing nicest with your book, it's likely time for Time Efficiency instead of Monetary Efficiency.

Now, that's for Learning, not maximizing sales, and if you're running one FB and 1 AMS ad at $10/day, you're already at $600/month. A grand goes fast. If you get something working on FB/AMS efficiently, you will want to move that spend up, even if sales aren't coming through yet (particularly with FB, which is better at hitting potential buyers over and over). Now, let's say you run a $10/day FB ad for Engagement and then a $10/day FB ad that retargets or goes for Sales... throw in just a single AMS ad and you're hitting $900 in that month, let alone if you start trying to scale up your spend on FB (suggested, max +20% every few days, to not screw the algorithm). Throwing in some Book Barbarian or other promos? More money.

Personally, I'd plan on $1k that first month, and prepare for more if you catch wind in your sails and take off.

EDIT: I'd also consider running a preorder ad on FB in order to start learning what works and what doesn't, and it might help the learning curve for you and the algorithm. I will do that this time around, in particular with the Pre-Order price reduced Carrot.
 
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Easing in sideways sounds good, but, you want to catch Amazon's attention (both from the inside and out) and that first period after release is the best time to make it perk up and notice you. A splash will do that best.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
I have a hard time wanting to spend a grand on advertising in a month. Especially when "success" means spending more grands hot on the heels of the first. I'm fairly certain I'll never have those kind of sales, not with "alternative history fantasy" as a category. And that grand is after having spent sums of money on covers and map illustrations and so on.

But I'm interested to hear the experience of others. Once I start releasing the Trouveres books, I expect I'll gain some sort of traction, however modest. I can see spending money on promos at Fussy Librarian and its kindred. But Amazon or FB? I dunno.

Amazon sort of drives me crazy because if I spend money on ads, then I do generate some sales and page reads, though the balance sheet each month is negative (a hundred dollars or so). But if I stop spending money, then sales and page reads flatline. Given that, it's hard for me to have faith that a thousand spent in a month won't simply mean I'll lose several hundred instead of a couple hundred, in exchange for scores of sales rather than tens. Hardly seems worth the effort.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
Whatever you do you need to learn how to successfully implement the ads first. To spend $1,000/m without having first mastered Amazon Ads sounds very dodgy to me.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
If its a first effort spending kind of sounds like the cost of an education to me. So i would be willing to spend some. But i would read everything Dems is posting here too.
 
Yes, the trouble is mastering Amazon ads without spending, a Catch 22.

Getting traction without Amazon or FB ads is a crapshoot and so is spending money on ads, but ads are like buying more rolls of the dice, heh heh.

You can probably "learn" Amazon ads for $10/day and you can probably learn FB ads for $5/day. Will you learn to make money? That's trickier to say. Read-through is one of the trickiest metrics, people make it sound easy, but getting an actual handle on it is about as tough as figuring out where your sales are coming from because you can't track onto Amazon and Amazon won't tell you where the sales came from... although this might change if you are a "Brand" and have their Beta marketing program.

Without knowing the numbers and whatever, I wouldn't recommend anything except "spend what you're comfortable losing." In theory, when you get enough books out and you get a feel for readthrough, advertising will make sense. And there is always the option of becoming a master of free promotion on TikTok and others, heh heh.

It's a frustrating world out there. And it doesn't help when they start changing the rules on you.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Along the lines of getting an education, you might get further on the learning curve faster if you are doing it at the same time someone else is doing the same, and you can share notes.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>"spend what you're comfortable losing."

This makes the most sense to me. It's the same advice given to gamblers and stock market investors. I'll add a codicil to that; namely, spend the amount of time you're comfortable spending.

One could easily spend hours a day reading the innumerable articles and books, keeping up with blogs and FB groups (and discord and reddit and all the rest of that motley crew), and in general tail-chasing. Once you felt comfortable and knowledgeable in that sphere, enough months would have elapsed that FB and Zon changed the rules on you and people are only just beginning to notice much less be able to adjust. Add to that, the dynamics of your own book(s) aren't exactly static.

Sometimes I think one reason there are so many advice books around is that folks spent so much time learning the ropes of how to market, they decided they'd say to heck with it, I'm just going to sell ropes. Why write fiction when you can write how-to-sell books? That's unfair, yeah.
 
There is a certain truth to that. One writer I've talked to hd things at least kind of rocking, and I think he'd formed a group like I speak of below, and they had great engagement and lots of review for their books, and several were doing well. They developed all kinds of techniques for scraping Amazon's lists for keywords, etc etc., but then it began to balloon. He had an idea for an app to kinda, sorta enter Bookbub's space for book sales, but in a more general way. It sounded like a helluva idea, but after God only knows how many hours and thousands of dollars, last I knew, it blew up. Books he released in this period of time? ZERO. Alienated readers and likely a financial implosion.

The one thing I would love to be to do is build a Fantasy Advertising Borg... I mean group! Group, yes. I haven't had the time and pluck to do it, but it would be to take a publisher name (with the publisher name having Zero Rights to books) and form an advertising collective. Basically, everybody's advertising clicks outside of Amazon lead to their books on a publisher's website, but it's the "publisher's site" so shoppers can also browse all the books by other authors of the collective. Basically a publisher without any rights ownership I think there are writers doing this out there, and anecdotally, they're having at least some success. This would kick up the number of new releases and build engagement.

But, with my time as limited as it is already, I fear what putting this together would do to my production.

>"spend what you're comfortable losing."

This makes the most sense to me. It's the same advice given to gamblers and stock market investors. I'll add a codicil to that; namely, spend the amount of time you're comfortable spending.

One could easily spend hours a day reading the innumerable articles and books, keeping up with blogs and FB groups (and discord and reddit and all the rest of that motley crew), and in general tail-chasing. Once you felt comfortable and knowledgeable in that sphere, enough months would have elapsed that FB and Zon changed the rules on you and people are only just beginning to notice much less be able to adjust. Add to that, the dynamics of your own book(s) aren't exactly static.

Sometimes I think one reason there are so many advice books around is that folks spent so much time learning the ropes of how to market, they decided they'd say to heck with it, I'm just going to sell ropes. Why write fiction when you can write how-to-sell books? That's unfair, yeah.
 
After some thinking, here's how I would approach the Borg's, I mean, Amazon's ads for a patient, low-budget testing approach.

Take 10-20 authors and titles and some other things like "alternate reality" and variants you reckon share potential readers. Start your budget at $5-10/day and start your Bids real low, like $0.20. The low # of keywords is an attempt to get as many impressions as possible on those words, if you have 1000 keywords the odds of getting high impression counts go down.

Step One is finding where your bids start taking off. If a keyword gets 0 impressions after a day or two, raise it.

Making a Negative judgment about a keyword before having at least 1-2k impressions is jumping the gun. Of course, if you're getting impressions, clicks, and sales, it's easier to make a tentative positive judgment.

If you have keywords running well for clicks/sales, then fire up a second campaign and move only successful keywords into it... Amazon will attempt to spread out keywords and spend, and this forces that ad set to chase your Positive Keywords. Now, back on the original Campaign, delete those you've moved into the Positives. Any keywords you determine are dogs, delete them. However, be slow to delete dogs (IMO) until you have a serious number of impressions/clicks to judge the keyword by. In particular, if it's one you know should be a good comp title or whatever.

The good and bad you delete from this original campaign, you replace with new comp authors, comp titles, and search terms. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.

And always remember the old advertising theory of 8 connections to make a sale. This is, in part, where a big spend is going to help, getting the title in front of faces over and over. But, it is possible to slow-walk the learning curve, at least in theory.

Trouble is if you have nothing perform well over a long period of testing. At the point where you're getting lots of clicks but few sales, then you can begin to conclude that something unidentified is preventing the clickers from buying.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
Well...lessee here...

Figure by the time Amazon and other get their cut, you are making $5 a sale.

You spend, $800 - $1000 a month in advertising, depending on how you play the add game.

Therefore, just to bust even, you need to sell 160-200 books each month - which is hit or miss.

Eyeballing the Facebook book adds, the majority make a bit of a splash for the first couple weeks, maybe a month or so. After that, their gone. I'd guess because the advertising ate the profits. A few times I'll see brief reappearances months later.

Starting to look like the best bet for profit would be the tax refund, expenses outpacing profits.
 
How much to spend on ads is pretty much a how long is a piece of string kind of question. It very much depends on what you hope to achieve and what you have in place already.

If you want to get picked up by the Amazon Algorythms and get all the love and visibility that brings then you probably need to spend more than $1.000. But that probably depends on what genre you write in. The bigger and more popular your genre is the more you probably need to spend.

It also depends on how fast you write and publish and how many followers you already have. If you have a mailing list of 10k fans, and 10-20% of them buy your book, and you publish 1 book a month, then you probably need to spend a lot less, since you're just looking to get the occasional new reader, not to start from scratch. On the other hand, if you're a slow writer with low visibility, then you probably need to spend more to get any traction.

However, if you just want to get a few readers and do better than my last launch (which had 1 person I didn't know buy my book), then $1.000 can get you quite far. It just means you have to focus on 1 thing at a time and go with that until you know it works. Most paid newsletters are well within that budget, and if you find one or two that work for you, you can use them to give you some sales on launch or shortly after.

Your own newsletter is free (up to a point), and can get you sales. For Facebook ads, most people say that $5 a day is enough to get started to learn about what doesn't work. Which brings it to $150 per month.

The thing with all of these is that it comes down to ranking. The higher your ranking is the more sales you didn't pay for you can expect. After all, if you're the #1 bestseller in a category, everyone who goes to that category will see your book, and you'll appear high in plenty of also-bought lists etc. As such, the higher you manage to rank, the more your sales will sustain after you stop advertising. Get high enough and release frequently enough and you might have to do little afterwards in order to sustain your rank.

Which incidently is also the reason why any advice from established authors to new writers about how they manage to keep selling books should be taken with a grain of salt.

In contrast, if you don't rank very high your sales will drop faster once you stop advertising. Which probably leads to quotes like the one from BookBaby.

In the end, spend what you're comfortable losing is the best advice. Of course you'll progress slower if you spend less. Spending more is a shortcut, but it might be a very expensive shortcut.
 
Another major reason not to listen to many of them is that they got their breakthrough during the golden age of indie, when readers weren't flooded by selection. Everything is way more difficult, even just on the way FB changed to monetize contacting your followers was a major blow. It was major BS when they started killing organic reach and making you advertise to your own followers, and there were other nasty changes in there before I got to take advantage. Right now, or maybe even a little bit ago, was the golden age of Tiktok (for people capable of dealing with that platform) as they're already heading for monetization and changing algorithms left and right.

Which incidently is also the reason why any advice from established authors to new writers about how they manage to keep selling books should be taken with a grain of salt.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>Most paid newsletters are well within that budget, and if you find one or two that work for you, you can use them to give you some sales on launch or shortly after.

Yeah, I have my eye on that one.

I'm wondering if there isn't another way of looking at this. I don't care about making money. I do care about losing money. So, one priority is to manage losses. I'm fine with spending a hundred dollars a month. I'm not fine with spending a thousand a month.

But I also care about readers. I'd like to have more. The obvious suggestion would be to do free promos, but I see little evidence that giveaways lead to return readers or reader engagement in any form. Many sources say that a large percentage of giveaways get downloaded and never read at all. Having a series to offer may change that for me.

Anyway, I have yet to see a strategy offered for how to manage expenses with an eye to breaking even or having small losses over the long haul (call it four or five years). Everything seems aimed at how to make Big Money.
 
At one point I might've suggested FB, but I think they suck crap right now. For just a little cash flow and with books on KU, I'd do the $5/day in Amazon ads and methodically find winners and losers, and keep only the winners. Other than that, the promo sites are pretty good value, in particular with more readthrough coming in. $150 a month, should make back at least $50 with KU, in particular with Book Barbarian and other little promos helping to kick things up. The odds of catching major traction are slim, but you'll find readers and have a shot at putting together an ad over time that might get you to break even or profit. Starting out super consistent will also help gauge readthrough now and down the line.

>Most paid newsletters are well within that budget, and if you find one or two that work for you, you can use them to give you some sales on launch or shortly after.

Yeah, I have my eye on that one.

I'm wondering if there isn't another way of looking at this. I don't care about making money. I do care about losing money. So, one priority is to manage losses. I'm fine with spending a hundred dollars a month. I'm not fine with spending a thousand a month.

But I also care about readers. I'd like to have more. The obvious suggestion would be to do free promos, but I see little evidence that giveaways lead to return readers or reader engagement in any form. Many sources say that a large percentage of giveaways get downloaded and never read at all. Having a series to offer may change that for me.

Anyway, I have yet to see a strategy offered for how to manage expenses with an eye to breaking even or having small losses over the long haul (call it four or five years). Everything seems aimed at how to make Big Money.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Yeah, that's sound advice. I have a few such services in mind. $150 a month is manageable, especially when kicking off something new. I'm not after major traction, but since stopping Amazon ads, my sales have dropped to zero, and even page reads are flatlined. My aim is to kick things up enough, then return to investing in Amazon ads merely in order to keep a few sales a month. I fear that if I flatline again, there'll be no recovering, ever.

So, how does one "methodically" find winners and losers? I've read Robert Ryan's stuff. I'm even on his FB group. I'm on a couple other mailing lists (David Gaughran, plus stuff from Reedsy and BookBaby), so it's not like I'm new to all of it, but it's still rather a cacophany of options.
 
Basically, what I mentioned above, that follows (in part) advice from a gal who worked on the Amazon algorithm. The theory goes like this:

If you slap hundreds of keywords in and aren't spending much, it will take forever to get enough impressions to decide what is and isn't working. So, start small. Target obvious authors, search terms, and book titles. By having 20, 30, 40 terms, Amazon is forced to run those in order to steal your ad money instead of spreading them all over the keywords list. You probably want a minimum of 1000 impressions before even thinking about deciding whether a keyword is bad... Good is more obvious. But, IMO, 2-3k impressions without a click and you're getting a hint that this isn't doing well. But of course, it's clicks that cost money, so, something that gets, mmm... 50 clicks and sales? That's probably a dud unless getting KU Pages. So, you run the limited targeting, kill the duds, keep the success stories, and add new keywords for testing. Slowly but surely you'll build an ad wth good keywords... or discover that something else is killing your sales, such as the ratings, the blurb, the cover, the first chapters, or whatever.

If you want to get a more detailed in analysis, you can look at Top of Search numbers. They should perform better, so if you're getting a lot of top of search on a keyword and no clicks, it might be quicker to call it a dud. To be honest, I'm running Sponsored Product ads, but Sponsored Brands is the click magnet and most of my sales through AMS are from Sponsored Brands.

KU downloads will mess up judging an ad's success some. People can download your book and not read it for years... I had KU pages come in 2 years after dropping out of KU. So, you might also keep an eye on your Overall Rank to help gauge downloads and potential Pages. This depends on how obsessive you want to be, heh heh.

A quick ROUGH gauge on Overall Rank in Amazon: If you float between 100,000-200,000 you probably got 1 download/sale. Depending on time of year, hitting the 50k area probably means between 4-6 sales. Averaging 2-3 will probably keep you in the lower 100,000 with spikes to maybe 60k. To hit the 20,000 area you're looking at around 10-15 sales.
 
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skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Actual data! Thanks! I won't hold you to any of it. <g>

FWIW, Robert Ryan agrees on the thousand clicks marker as a minimum. I've not heard a maximum, but 2-3k sounds reasonable. Somewhere between 1 and 3, I ought to be able to make some good/bad choices.

As for targets, we have categories, authors, book titles, keywords. Wouldn't search terms be more or less keywords? But there are also ASINs. If I am understanding the gist of conversations, ASINs are best for ebooks, while ??? is best for paperbacks. Authors, I think, but I disremember.

Whatever is chosen, I've heard as low as ten. You make it 20-40. But other advice was closer to a hundred and I think that's where I started. When I start up again, I shall be more focused.

I don't try to calculate overall profitability. I'm content to consider page reads a sort of separate income stream. I realize those are directly affected by ads, but imo it's only by way of emphasizing or increasing a trend present in the book sales. I imagine it's rare to have book sales driving in one direction while page reads go in the opposite direction.

FWIW and not that anyone asked, when I release the first Trouveres volume this summer (yes, delayed), I plan to also invest ads in my back catalog (three novels and a novelette). So I'll be hitting the whole spread over the course of summer-fall-winter. Then I'll assess. I can't be too obsessive about it. I have to write the other novels!
 
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