Advertising and Marketing

The 5 Rules of Good Advertising

By: Ginger on March 24, 2023

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

By: Ginger on March 24, 2023


As an author, it can be difficult to navigate the world of advertising, but there are some tried and true principles that can be applied to book promotion. Ginger, a former New York advertising professional who now uses his knowledge to promote his books and help other Hidden Gems authors promote their own, has distilled his decades of experience into a list of the five most important rules for successful advertising.

Despite the constantly evolving industry, these core principles remain relevant and effective, and authors should keep them in mind whenever they are trying to promote their work.

Before I threw myself into self-publishing full time, I worked in advertising, and what I learned in that industry gave me an excellent foundation to succeed in this one. This is especially true now that Amazon has filled their homepage with so much advertising space, and that advertising successfully on Facebook and other platforms has become so much more competitive. A good grounding in the basics of advertising is essential for success.

But advertising your books isn’t only about getting impressions and working out what your cost-per-click is. Because every person you present your ad to is a real, live human being, there’s a lot of human psychology involved. That’s why some of the advice I learned in my two decades in advertising continues to serve me well today.

I’ve put together a list of the five most important rules I learned during my days in agency advertising, and hopefully you’ll find this advice as useful as I did. If you do, let me know which your favorite tip was in the comments section below!

Rule #1: It doesn’t matter how much advertising you do if nobody wants to buy the product

I learned this snippet of advice when I got my first job in advertising, selling spots for a local radio station in the UK. We did an intensive course on advertising before I hit the city streets and one of the most important pieces of advice I learned was: It doesn’t matter how much advertising you do if nobody wants to buy the product.

This was an important bit of advice because the radio station didn’t just want businesses to spend money on advertising their products or services once. They wanted them to keep buying advertising – and the only way to do that was to make sure the advertising worked.

And the uncomfortable truth? Advertising will never sell a sub-optimal product. Advertising merely generates awareness – “hey, you can buy this thing!” It won’t make anybody buy the “thing” unless they really want to.

And when it comes to selling books, that’s the first and most difficult obstacle authors will come across. Speaking from personal experience here, I know most of us authors start our self-publishing career with books that “need a little work.” This could come in the form of a poor cover, unexciting blurb, or stacks of mediocre or poor reviews. This is why so many authors struggle when they begin advertising – because while the ads make readers aware of their book, it won’t convince them to buy it.

So, before you start spending money on advertising, make sure you’re advertising something people want to buy. Make sure you have a cover that looks like it belongs in the Top 100 lists on Amazon. Make sure your blurb crackles and entices readers to learn more. Edit your Look Inside so that it shines and hooks potential readers within the first few pages. Make your book as good as it can possibly be! If you don’t, it might be very difficult to make your advertising work.

Rule #2: Advertise your most popular products first

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what changes you make to your book – it simply doesn’t appeal enough to the people who click on your ad to make advertising cost effective. This isn’t to say your book is bad – it just might not hook enough readers because of the concept or execution.

If this is the case, perhaps consider advertising a different book – maybe your most popular book! This is because one of the other rules of advertising I learned during my days selling radio spots was to always advertise your most popular products first.

The most memorable example I can think of was a Chinese restaurant that used to buy advertising on my radio station. The owner desperately wanted to drive more traffic during lunchtime, but the ads he ran never seem to provide a good return on investment. He had plenty of patrons in the evening, though – in fact, his restaurant was known as one of the best in the city.

Which is why the owner was incredulous when I suggested he advertise his evening menu.

“Why?” He demanded. “I get plenty of visitors without advertising!”

But when I finally convinced him to try it, the owner of the restaurant found that he got more. In fact, the advertising worked so well, he had to instigate a waitlist on some evenings during the week, and ironically the more evening traffic he got, the more locals turned up to dine there at lunchtime, as well. Advertising his most popular mealtime ended up achieving what our lunchtime advertising never had!

And this is all linked to the first rule I wrote about – It doesn’t matter how much advertising you do if nobody wants to buy the product.

If you advertise a product people do want, however, even more of them buy it – and their money still spent the same as the lunchtime crowd this restaurant owner originally wanted to entice into his place of business. It’s easy to sell a product that sells itself, and that’s why this client’s advertising was so effective. In the end, the owner was able to reach his financial goals by serving more people in the evening and actually scrapped the idea of opening at lunchtime entirely. He ended up making more money and working fewer hours.

So, if you have a book that is successful, advertise that one – not the one you want to be more successful. I know, because I found this out myself the hard way. I was struggling to profitably advertise Book One in my series – but when I advertised Book Two (which was the original breakout bestseller in the series) I hit and exceeded all my advertising goals, and inadvertently found myself selling more copies of Book One than I had done when I’d been advertising it directly.

Which leads us onto the next rule:

Rule #3: Throw enough s**t at the wall and some of it will stick

One of my biggest clients at the radio station was a guy who owned the region’s largest double glazing company. They sold doors and windows like Anderson does over here in America. He spent a fortune on advertising, factoring in that 30% of his revenue should go towards promoting his business in newspapers, local television, and radio.

Did the advertising work? Some of it did, at least. As he explained to me one day over a cup of tea: “If you throw enough s**t at the wall, some of it will stick.”

This was in the days before digital advertising allowed you to track buyer behavior from click to checkout page, so it wasn’t always clear which advertising worked for him – but enough of it consistently did for his business to remain the largest in the southwest of England.

For those of us advertising our books, the same rule applies. You might be frustrated that your advertising isn’t breaking even, but remember that it’s still working. It’s just not working cost effectively. I know this first-hand after advertising a book and getting about 50% of my advertising budget back in book sales. For me, this seemed like a disaster – I was losing money! Yet at the same time, my advertising was still leading to book sales. Just not enough to justify my advertising budget (or so I thought.)

And that’s something important to remember. You might struggle to make your advertising profitable, but it’s still valuable as long as it’s selling books. Profitability might take time, but if your priority is to get your name and your book series out there to potential readers, it’s not unthinkable to advertise at a loss. After all, that’s what this double glazing salesman did. He spent 30% of his revenue on advertising whether or not he could track how successful it was. If you can reinvest 30% of your royalties into advertising you might not make your money back, but you’ll still sell more books than if you hadn’t.

And that might be worth it because of the next rule in this list – one that I’ve found to be consistently true:

Rule #4: The more books you sell, the more books you’ll sell

Last week, I described how my advertising was being more successful than my Amazon Advertising dashboard told me it was. My Attribution Tag reported $224.38 in profit during one week of advertising, whereas I was actually making $359.74 more than I would have done without advertising. This is because selling more books has the inadvertent benefit of (wait for it) selling more books!

Yep. Even though your Attribution Tag might not be able to track them accurately, one of the side effects of selling more books through advertising is that your books become more visible on Amazon organically, leading to more book sales through channels you can’t track. Maybe people clicked on books in the “Also Bought” section of your product page. Maybe Amazon suggested one of your other books after they’d visited the one you’d been advertising. Whatever the reason, there’s a definite uptick in overall book sales when you start selling books on Amazon and that means even unprofitable advertising might be closer to breaking even than you think.

So if you’re just started out, it’s worth thinking strategically about advertising and even losing money to promote your books knowing that these ads will boost sales overall. You can think of it like a Black Friday “loss leader” if you want.

If you’re not relying on your book royalties to pay your mortgage, advertising even at a loss is a great way to attract more people to check out your book, and in the long run the benefits stack up. The more people check out your book, the easier Amazon will make it to find your book. The more people who buy it, the lower your Advertising on Amazon cost-per-click will be. The more books you sell, the more Amazon will help you in selling even more.

So remember that the goal at first should always be to sell books. You can make a profit from it later (once you’ve figured out how to do so.) If you focus on improving your product and paying for advertising to shift copies, that work will result in more sales down the line, and make it easier to stay profitable in the future.

Focusing on selling books is always a better starting point than focusing on making a profit – but that part is important. That’s why the fifth and final rule I have for you is so important:

Rule #5: You can’t improve what you can’t measure

One of the most common problems I run into when working with self-publishing authors on their advertising is how reticent they are to measure things. A lot of them jump into advertising based on emotion – feeling that their advertising is working on some weeks, and not working on other weeks.

In reality, it’s impossible to know either way unless you track that information, which is why measuring your advertising is so important. If you don’t track your advertising budget, the clicks you get, and the sales that ultimately arise (or don’t) you’ll find it really difficult to scale your advertising or make it profitable.

This is why it’s so important to track that information. Fortunately, thanks to Attribution Tags, it’s now really straightforward to track how many sales and page reads your advertising results in, and figure out if you’re making a profit or not.

Unfortunately, that also makes it easier to be presented with bad news when you check those statistics. First time advertisers often find themselves losing money.

But knowing that you’re losing money is better than thinking that you’re losing money, and way better than spending a bunch of money on advertising and thinking it’s successful when, in fact, it’s not. Whether its good news or bad, actually being able to track your advertising is the first step toward improving it – so never rely on guesswork when you’re investing in ads online.

Advertising on Amazon provides all the information you need to make informed advertising decisions, and I’ve written extensively about how Attribution Tags provide the same information for your external campaigns. Learn how to use these tools and make decisions based on that data, not on how you “feel” about the success or failure of your advertising. If you track every click and every penny, you’re already on the right path toward making a profit.

Any more tips?

Was this advice useful to you? If so (or even if not!) let us know in the comments section below. Also, we’d love to hear any advice you’ve heard from people that I might not have mentioned here. Advertising is a massive industry, so there’s always more to learn about how to succeed in it – and whatever we find out, we promise to share with the rest of you!

Good luck with your advertising!

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About the Author

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

Ginger is also known as Roland Hulme - a digital Don Draper with a Hemingway complex. Under a penname, he's sold 65,000+ copies of his romance novels, and reached more than 320,000 readers through Kindle Unlimited - using his background in marketing, advertising, and social media to reach an ever-expanding audience. 

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