My Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) Analysis

How does a writer find people who want to buy their books?

It’s the question keeping many writers up at night, myself included. I had dreams of being the next big author when I published my first novel (The Great Scottish Land Grab) which slowly, but surely faded as I realised the enormity of the task before me. Publishing Fallen Warriors this year, I’ve set out to learn from my mistakes and experiment more.

One potentially useful tool to help writers sell books is Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). In America they are currently offering $100 free advertising to new sign ups until 30th September. There are terms and conditions which aren’t 100% clear whether the offer is open to Kindle authors (On the front page of their website it states “Amazon Marketing Services is currently available to Amazon vendors and KDP authors” but the terms and conditions at the bottom of the page only refer to vendors.) If you sell ebooks through KDP in America then I recommend signing up and asking if the offer applies to you – what could you lose?

So far I’ve only tried using AMS in America. It may be possible to use in the UK, but that’s another blog post…

I have a tiny marketing budget, but have been experimenting over the last few months to see whether I can use AMS to get the word out about my novels.

I believe Fallen Warriors has a better chance in America than Land Grab. There are more Christians in America than Scots so I’ve primarily focused on Fallen Warriors as I’m marketing it as a Christian thriller.

Here’s the high level view of what I’ve done, all nicely laid out on AMS’s dashboard:

If you’ve never heard of AMS, basically it allows advertisers to advertise their product (an ebook in my case.) I can select keywords that I think people will use to search for books (author names, book titles, themes etc) and I set a bid price I am willing to pay up to to get my ad shown when someone uses those keywords. I only pay that bid price if someone clicks on my ad. All advertisers are competing to see if they pay enough to display an ad, but Amazon only charge 2 cents above the next lowest bid so in theory you shouldn’t pay more than you need to.

I started in May with a toe in the water $5 a day campaign. It ran for five days, appears to have been shown 66,862 times, clicked on 43 times with an average cost per click of $0.13. It cost a total of $5.55, but appears to have resulted in $9.98 in sales.

Amazon actually take 30% margin as their profit from my sales so I netted $6.98 giving a profit of… $1.43.

Well, that is $1.43 I probably would not have made if I hadn’t experimented.

Excited by the possibility I could maybe make some more sales and find more readers I tried again.

I wondered if my timing was wrong and so this time ran the ad over two weekends thinking maybe people are more likely to buy then.

Eleven days later I only had the ad shown 46,087 times. Quite a drop. I only had 20 clicks at an average cost of $0.17 costing a total of $3.34. I had no sales…

That was discouraging, but only a little. I’ve been following the SPF Podcast and that has been useful for understanding the fluctuations that can occur.

I then wondered if it made more sense to send people to my free ebook: Fallen Warriors Episode One. If I could get them to download that and hopefully read it, would it result in more sales? Here’s what happened:

I had been averaging around 6 downloads of the free episode a week. After that short campaign I saw an extra 30 downloads. That was interesting.

The AMS stats are also useful:
Impressions (when the ad is shown): 120,406
Clicks: 88
Average cost per click: $0.12
Total cost: $10.60

I can’t tell if I had any follow on sales of the later episodes or the full novel, but the hope is that once people start reading, they’ll get hooked and I’ll see sales over time.

I then decided to try a more radical experiment. I signed up for a $20 a day maximum spend, campaigning with the free first episode again. I upped the bid price on many keywords and let the campaign run for a full two weeks. The results?

Impressions: 303,834
Clicks: 295
Average cost per click: $0.29
Total cost: $84.38

Over those two weeks I had an extra 118 downloads.

I would need to see 72% of those downloads convert into purchases before an ad campaign like that was worth trying again. (Though I confess it didn’t cost me anything…)

My total American sales over this period looks like this:

The spikes are less grand than they appear, those are mostly for individual episodes which earn me a much smaller royalty at 30%.

However, it suggests that people are slowly going on to read the free episode and buying either the full novel or the individual episodes.

I’m planning to start a new campaign soon and will be experimenting more. I need to be careful that I take into account what I’m actually selling and whether the advertising I’m doing is providing a return.

What are your thoughts and experiences with getting the word out to readers?

10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book

When you’ve never done something before there is a high chance you’ll try things that just don’t work. Then again, perhaps you’ll eventually look back and have mixed feelings about what you did. I’ve found that I’m not at all sure that every mistake I made while publishing The Great Scottish Land Grab was quite as bad as I saw it at the time.

For the last few days I’ve been carrying out an analysis of Sales of The Great Scottish Land Grab. You can find my first post here and Thursday’s here. (Friday is my flash fiction day…)

Here is a round up of some of my biggest (maybe) fails while publishing and marketing my first novel:

1. Paying for a libel read
In 2014, in the UK, if you wrote a book defaming a person or organisation you could find yourself being sued. The situation in the US is much safer for writers and it may have improved in England with recent law changes, but don’t quote me on that! Currently in Scotland an MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) is being sued for defamation for something published on his blog.

Defamation of character is a problem I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand I don’t think we have an absolute right to say whatever we like about other people. On the other, I think that defamation law is abused in the UK to protect the rich and powerful. I think the law in the US is too lax while the law in the UK is too extreme. There has to be a better way.

Regardless, when I set out in early 2014 to rewrite Land Grab, I knew I needed to be careful. The first draft lampooned various well known political figures and while politicians are one group of people who can be legitimately targeted with humour, there was a real undercurrent of nastiness as the Scottish independence referendum grew closer. One of the main campaigning groups – Better Together – had set itself up as a limited company, potentially allowing it to sue anyone who attempted to defame them.

I run my own company and had no desire to lose that, or my house if someone took offence at what I was planning to publish.

I contacted several solicitors for quotes and ended up selecting one. They read each of the three books as I wrote them and offered their legal opinion on whether I was at risk of being sued. It cost me £2,580.

Just to put that into perspective, I receive £1.67 per ebook novel sold through Amazon. I will need to sell 1,545 full ebooks novels before I break even on that cost.

As I wrote here, I’m nowhere close to that.

I have regretted that decision. Yet, as I wrote above, I have mixed feelings about it.

I was extremely nervous about publishing my first novel. The process of discussing the situation with the solicitor and applying his advice gave me a confidence that helped me overcome a real hurdle. In my writing now, I’m conscious of the threat of defamation and do research my characters to ensure I’m not inadvertently libelling real people.

I believe that far too few indie-authors give proper thought to the risk of defamation. Certainly if you’re writing fantasy or off world science-fiction you are unlikely to be at risk, but even in these genres, if you lazily base a character on a real person and that person can identify themselves – and is offended by how you’ve portrayed them – and they can show it in court, you may find that that catch-all declaration “Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locations, is entirely coincidental.” doesn’t save you from legal costs…

And that is the real killer in the UK. You can win your case, but still lose everything when the bill comes in.

2. Paying for indemnity insurance
Being aware of traditionally published authors who had found themselves in court defending themselves against defamation, I decided to take out indemnity insurance, insurance that covers legal costs and gives some protection against damages awarded.

Six months on and £265 lighter I cancelled the insurance. The fact was that I’d already paid more in insurance premiums than I’d earned on book sales. I’d sold nowhere near enough copies to think that I’d managed to find someone who would consider themselves defamed and since I’d followed the solicitor’s advice, it was extremely unlikely anyone would have a case against me.

Again, the act of taking out the insurance policy gave me confidence to write what I felt needed to be written, while also reminding me to take care with how I did it.

Still, that’s another bill that it’s going to take some time to pay back…

If you are writing a contemporary novel and there is a risk that you could defame someone, even inadvertently, it may be worth you considering.

3. Rush into marketing decisions
In the summer of 2014 I was commuting to Edinburgh from Cumbernauld on the train and I had this brain wave that I could get a T shirt printed up with the book cover on it and could become a walking advertisement for the book.

It was a disaster.

I still was in love with my first cover design and was filled with a sense that if I didn’t get the word out there about the book, no-one else was going to.

I turned up at a printer with a USB drive and the notion that since everyone was obsessed with voting Yes or No in the referendum, I should add some text above the book cover image saying:

Vote Yes?
Vote No?
Vote For…

It didn’t take long for me to decide that wearing that T shirt may actually do more harm than good.

Fortunately that mistake only cost me £12.95

4. Don’t tell anyone how to buy your book
I think I’ve mentioned this already, but it is worth repeating. I had thousands of leaflets and business cards printed up, none of which told people how to buy my books on Amazon. I still mentally kick myself over that mistake.

It meant that every time I gave out a leaflet or card, I had to tell people where they could buy the book. Yes, some of those people did then log onto Amazon and did buy it, but I’m sure I could have given more leaflets out and had more sales with just a few extra words telling where the book was on sale.

5. Tell people your book will make them scream
Unless your genre is horror, that just doesn’t work, trust me…

I was desperate for someone to review the first book in my trilogy and allow me to include their quote on my marketing material. Unfortunately, one of my earlier reviewers was extremely taken aback by my reveal and cliff hanger ending at the end of book one and wrote the following:

“Interesting ideas as one man searches for answers to the direction his life has taken, to the backdrop of the referendum. Knowing the author I can see where the story could be going, but I’m sure he will surprise me. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in current events in Scotland, though I know a fair few who would be shouting at the screen. Look forward to the next instalment if only to find out what he has done to Eck”

For some reason I thought referring to this reaction would be a good idea. I think that deep down, I want to avoid people having a negative reaction to what I’ve written and so want to warn them that it might be somewhat controversial…

I foolishly included the following statement on business cards I had printed up:

“Described by some as an easy read, by others as making you want to shout at your screen
The Great Scottish Land Grab
Scotland’s future is in your hands”

It’s wrong on so many levels.

I’m advertising a book, why is it talking about a screen? I could see people reading it, confusion growing on their face as they asked me what I was selling them.

Then there was the statement about shouting (okay, not screaming.) How many readers actually want to sit down, relax and get comfortable with a book that might make them throw it across the room?

6. Don’t try and get reviews for your book
While there are clear benefits from splitting a book into a series and making the first part free, one downside is that you will draw reviews away from your main book.

With Land Grab I wasn’t very focused on reviews. I was delighted to get them as I published each book in the series, but was focusing far more on selling copies than trying to get reviews.

Then, when I published the full novel, I failed to ask people I’d known to go on to review the full novel. As a result, three years on, I still only have one review for The Great Scottish Land Grab – The Complete Trilogy. I need to rectify that!

For the last few months, almost a year now, I’ve been almost totally focussed on Fallen Warriors, but Land Grab is still a book of interest and at some point over the summer I need to get my begging cap on and start asking people for reviews because even just a few positive reviews make a huge difference to how people perceive your book.

7. Waste time by contacting people who are never going to review your book
I emailed every single MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) and offered them a free copy of Land Grab. All 129 of them.

It was such a waste of time. A couple did write back, but the vast majority either ignored the email or it went straight into spam. You would think a novel exploring issues around independence might appeal to a few politicians, but how many of them actually have time to read. Especially during the run up to a critical referendum.

I’ve started to discover this group of people called book-bloggers… They are the people I really need to get to know and spend time on…

8. Rush out and get thousands of leaflets and business cards printed
While getting thousands of leaflets printed is a cost effective way to go about it, the problem is with the rushing.

However much time you spend on your book cover, you probably should spend as much or more on your marketing material. You get it wrong and you’ve just invested in some very expensive fire lighting material…

I still have several thousand leaflets and cards that I really should just recycle. I confess that the whole situation is holding me back from getting better thought out material printed up. That’s something I need to overcome soon.

9. Expect bookshops to buy your Print On Demand books
Print On Demand is not the way to go if you intend to sell paper copies. The per unit cost is way too high and that’s before you factor in delivery costs and the discount the bookshop will need to make it worth their while stocking your book! Finally, you may have to accept returns to be stocked by many bookstores. Not all of them, but most.

Using CreateSpace is great for getting your book available online and ordering a few copies to sell yourself to friends and family, but it is a poor option for small print runs compared to contacting a book printer and ordering 50 or 100 copies.

I actually walked into bookstores asking them if they would like to stock my book when all I had was a couple of POD copies. Once I realised I would make no profit on the deal, I gave up. It seemed like too much effort for no reward.

I’m now working towards my first small print run for Fallen Warriors and will go back to organise one for Land Grab over the summer.

10. Give up.
At various times over the last few years I have given up. I stopped writing, I stopped trying to market my novel, I stopped trying to get it into bookstores.

Giving up is the easiest way to slide into oblivion. If you never write another book, people will forget about your first one. If you never try and sell your books, people won’t know to buy them.

Don’t give up!

If you have a good story, if you believe in your heart you are a writer, keep trying. Keep trying different methods until you find one that works. If you can learn from my mistakes above and avoid them, great! You probably will make your own mistakes and that’s okay. If we want to achieve anything great in life, we’re going to make mistakes.

To misquote Edison: “You might find 10,000 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book, but all you need to find is one right way…”

Are you willing to share some of your biggest mistakes below?

Analysis of Sales of The Great Scottish Land Grab Part Two

Yesterday I started an analyis of what worked and what failed as I attempted to market my first fiction ebook: The Great Scottish Land Grab.

Today I want to look in more detail at what I was doing to market the book and what results it had.

The chart below shows the lifetime sales of Land Grab book one since June 2014:

First thing to point out is that Orange/yellow shows sales where I got paid, blue is sales of the book after I set the price to free.

One of my biggest mistakes was not making book one free right away. Instead I priced it at 99p.

I was marketing Land Grab every single day during the summer of 2014. I printed up business cards, approached random strangers at village fairs and at train stations. I posted on Facebook and Twitter and while I sold over a hundred copies, look at the difference in numbers from October 2016… I did almost no marketing at all for the three months from October 2016 and people still found and downloaded the book!

I wonder how many more downloads I might have had in 2014 if I had enticed people in with a free offer.

The next two charts show life-time sales for books two and three respectively:

The numbers are not huge so I can’t make any hard and fast statements about what worked and what didn’t work, but it does seem to me that releasing Land Grab as a series did allow people to try at a low price and then free, and then go on to buy the other books in the series.

Both in 2014 and since October 2016, I’ve seen people go on to buy book two and three after downloading book one.

The chart for the full trilogy looks very different:

The fact is that I still carry business cards with me and still give them out or leave them in cafe’s and other venues for people to find. The business cards only advertise the full novel and I think that people who are intrigued by the cover image on the cards or maybe by something I’ve said will go on to buy the full novel.

Contrast the final chart with the first three and you see that huge dead area from November 2015 till August 2016. Without advertising I don’t see sales.

That’s a really important statement. Early this year I had an offer from Facebook. A £30 credit towards Facebook advertising. I used £12 of that voucher to advertise The Great Scottish Land Grab and later worked out that I made a slight profit off the back of it. (In reality a full profit as Facebook gave me a free voucher, but looking to see whether I would make a profit in future, it was small, but there.)

Tomorrow I’m going to try and round all this up into some sage advice to anyone thinking about how they can sell their book.

Analysis of Sales of The Great Scottish Land Grab Part One

On 13th June 2014 I published my first fiction book: part one of a planned four book series titled The Great Scottish Land Grab. Published solely as an ebook through Amazon KDP, I fully intended to cash in on the hype surrounding the rapidly approaching referendum on Scottish independence.

This post is intended as an analysis of what worked and what failed as I attempted to market my first ebook.

Here’s the high level sales figures:

Total downloads:

The Great Scottish Land Grab Book One …. 227
The Great Scottish Land Grab Book Two …. 58
The Great Scottish Land Grab Book Three .. 56

Total sales receipts:

The Great Scottish Land Grab Book One …. £33.66
The Great Scottish Land Grab Book Two …. £74.75
The Great Scottish Land Grab Book Three .. £73.29

All these numbers are up to the end of May 2017, effectively three years worth of sales.

Somewhere during editing book two I realised that I would only manage to write three books before the referendum and so books three and four became one book.

On 24th September 2014, I released the full trilogy as a complete novel.

Total downloads:

The Great Scottish Land Grab …. 43

Total sales receipts:

The Great Scottish Land Grab …. £87.93

So, in total, in three years I’ve sold 384 books and made £269.63 from these ebooks.

I confess that at times it has been extremely depressing to know how few copies I’ve sold in a three year period. However, I’ve had a large number of readers contact me to tell me how much they enjoyed the story. I enjoyed writing the book and even enjoyed the rush of trying to market it at the time. It has been a worthwhile learning experience and I was able to go on to write a much better second novel in Fallen Warriors.

And I’ve gained knowledge about how not to market a book which does seem to be helping as I concentrate on Fallen Warriors. Tomorrow I’m going to look at some of the lessons I’m still trying to learn and apply.

Amazon Academy The Detail

Following up to my earlier post on attending Amazon Academy here is the detail…

Alliance of Independent Authors

Membership of Alli includes legal support (Legal support is an area where I suspect many indie authors could benefit from)

Alli are apparently hosting an author fringe event in Edinburgh on June 3rd, 2017. Contact them for details.

Kindle Owners Lenders Library (KOL)

I’d not heard of KOL. Sounds similar to Kindle Unlimited (KU) where the author gets paid based on page reads. Haven’t researched yet.

I asked Darren Hardy, the head of KDP in the UK, what happens to the reader when an author withdraws from KU, but they haven’t finished reading the book. He answered that the reader is allowed to keep reading and the author still gets paid for page reads.

Recommended Sites

The panels recommended several sites that may be of use to indie authors.

Ultra cheap book covers (circa $1) at
https://www.canva.com/create/book-covers/

Extremely cheap book covers at
https://www.fiverr.com/categories/graphics-design/ebook-covers?source=category_tree

Paul’s Blog with useful posts for indie authors at
https://paulteague.com/
(Look for posts on Story Beats and The Novel Factory)

A home for your books at
https://www.librarything.com/

A site for authors to introduce and promote their books at
http://www.abouttheauthor.co.uk/

Sites for managing mailing lists at
http://Mailchimp.com
http://Mailerlite.com

Poor mans version of Bookbub for US audience at
https://www.freebooksy.com/

UK version of Bookbub for £20 at
http://bookhippo.uk/

Automate your social media at
https://buffer.com/
http://www.tweetjukebox.com/

Licence free music for your book trailers at
https://www.premiumbeat.com

Movie clips for book trailers at
https://www.fotolia.com/Info/Videos#

If you love your books, let them go at
http://www.bookcrossing.com/

Recommended Reading

Save The Cat – apparently written by a minor Holywood writer and invaluable for insights to how stories are put together.

You can also search for Save The Cat Beat Sheet which seems to alude to: THE BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET described here:
https://timstout.wordpress.com/story-structure/blake-snyders-beat-sheet/

Hang in there!

Murray McDonald shared that he was on Amazon for 18 months selling one or two copies a day until things took off.

General advice

For some people Facebook advertising works. For others, Amazon Ads.

‘Non-fiction is easier to sell because it is based on key words’ Paul Teague

Go into Google Keyword Planning Tool – to find out what people are ACTUALLY searching for – when deciding on keywords

Goodreads giveaways – be wary of the high cost of international postage!

On Twitter use the hashtags:
#selfpub
#indieauthors
To find other authors, get conversations going and pinch other authors best marketing ideas! 🙂

Use instafreebie.com. Organise instafreebie giveaways in your genre and build genre specific audiences.

Google “best marketing sites for authors”

Put your advertising budget against one day rather than over a month to drive yourself up the charts!

Bookbub is just the Holy Grail to become number one in your genre

Approach hotels and tourist attractions at sites that feature in your novel and ask if they would be interested in stocking your books.

Editors

The panellists had the following to say about editors.

‘I’ve not yet hired an external editor’

‘An editor should give you a demo edit, a sample edit for free. If you feel they are looking down their nose on you… you shouldn’t feel torn down by your editor.’

‘Concentrate on the relationship with your editor – is this someone you want to work with?’

‘I paid £500 for a full edit.’

The best quotes from the day
(Some of these may be paraphrased, I don’t know shorthand!)

‘Decide what it is you want from your writing career.’ Darren Hardy

‘Build in a detour when planning your novel!’ Harriet Smart (Allow room for the characters to go off on their own journey when that feels right)

‘Sometimes I’ll plan to kill a character in a scene and then someone else gets it!’ Steven McKay

‘You could kill someone on this ferry…’ Paul Teague

‘The trick is to build up relationships on Facebook.’ Steven McKay

‘Non fiction is about pain and pleasure. People buy a book on how to use Twitter because they’ve got some pain. Write your sales copy with that in mind.’ Paul Teague

‘Have to use some paid advertising to tell people about the countdown deal you’ve got or no one will know about it!’ Steven McKay

‘If people enjoy your books, they will enjoy interacting with you but they really want to read your next book.’ Murray McDonald

‘I built up my following reader by reader.’ Linda Gillard

‘I promote myself as a brand because I can’t market as a genre.’ Linda Gillard

‘The best use of my time, the most lucrative use, is writing.’ Linda Gillard

‘What they are investing in is time. Used to be, people read a book because they paid £7.99. Now you have to hook them, have cliff hangers at the end of every chapter, every page.’ Linda Gillard

kindle Instant Book Previewer

You know how you can preview a book on Amazon’s site? Amazon provide an embed option to allow you to embed their previewer on your own site! Check out this preview out for my latest novel Fallen Warriors:

You can find out all you need to know here https://www.amazon.com/Kindle-Instant-Preview/b?ie=UTF8&node=13489836011

It’s worth noting that if you are an Amazon Associate, you can link the embedded code to your account (They just do it as default) and you get commission on sales.

Amazon Academy

Yesterday I took a day off of paid work to attend the Amazon Academy in Edinburgh. Hosted by Darren Hardy, the head of KDP in the UK we had a day of sessions with several UK authors:

Steven McKay – Historial Fiction
Harriet Smart – Historical Crime
Paul Teague – Non-Fiction and Science Fiction (who also represented the Alliance of Independent Authors)
Murray McDonald – Action Thrillers
Linda Gillard – Romance

Sessions included:

Making a book
How to write a bestseller
Marketing your book
Making it happen: The business of being an author

I’ve hesitated about attending author events like this in the past. I’m not yet selling enough books to justify taking a whole day off work, but Amazon are my biggest source of sales and I wondered whether I might “bump” into an agent or publisher.

If you, like me, are a lone(ly) author, struggling to make yourself known and learn how to market yourself, then I can only recommend getting yourself to one of these events!

It was a huge boost to my morale.

Amazon were a fantastic host. The event was well run and lunch was five star.

The authors on the panel were worth listening to, honest about their journey and full of helpful advice.

And…

It was great to meet up with other authors who are also going through similar journeys to myself and talk to people who understood what it is like to write, edit and market your books.

I’ve typed up my notes from the day, but the rough draft is over 800 words and I don’t have time to edit it tonight (when I’m writing this post) so will share them in a few days time.

[Update: you can now view the detail here: http://www.dragonlake.co.uk/2017/05/amazon-academy-the-detail/]

If you are working on a long term project on your own, make time to meet with others in the same line of work, to find out what is going on in your field of interest and be inspired.