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Advertising and Marketing

The 5 Golden Rules of Advertising Your Book

By: Ginger on March 13, 2020

Hidden Gems Books ARC service.

By: Ginger on March 13, 2020

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When it comes to advertising your book, advice is plentiful – both on our site and elsewhere.  And while it’s vitally important to understand things like where best to spend your ad dollars, what type of ads to design, or how to figure out which audience to target, there are some much more general concepts that should be applied to all of that knowledge.  Because even if you’ve mastered everything technical about creating ads, if you don’t grasp these golden rules of advertising, you may still end up wasting a lot of money or letting opportunities slip through your fingers.


When I’m asked for advice about marketing and advertising books, one phrase keeps returning to my lips – don’t be afraid not to spend money. It’s originally attributed to Warren Buffet – but I’ve found that world-class investing advice also extends to selling books!

In an author’s journey, there are generally three phases. The first, is when they don’t know about advertising – it’s a mysterious, intimidating arena that they’d prefer to ignore, instead focusing on making their book the best that it can possibly be; and yet still wondering why they’re not getting the level of sales they desire. 

For many authors, this is the stage that makes or breaks them. I’ve interviewed a couple of authors who managed to knock it out of the park on the first or second title they released – cue that line from The Producers: “Where did I go right?”

Normally it’s a perfect storm of a great cover, a compelling concept, and market conditions that are just right for them to get their book seen by the right readers, at exactly the right time. They often spend weeks or months trying to replicate that success.

Most self-published authors, however, never get to that stage – and while they might have a really solid book on the market, there’s just so much competition right now that it’s difficult to get your title visible. Even small errors like an off-brand cover, or a blurb that needs a little tightening up, can hold a good book back from greatness; and it takes tenacity, a thick skin, and faith to continue along the self-publishing pathway when things don’t magically come together.

That’s when many authors reach the second stage – when they first experiment with advertising. This normally coincides with seeing some easily-digestible blog posts about getting started on Facebook or Advertising on Amazon, or they learn from courses like Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing 101 and Advertising for Authors.

Once again, some authors embrace advertising and knock it out of the park – but they’re in the minority. The basic fact is that advertising books is a lot more complicated than some people make it sound, and most authors don’t immediately start wildly successful advertising campaigns first time out. In fact, I speak from experience when I tell you that I blew thousands of dollars on ineffective advertising when I started out, thinking that just because I owned Mark Dawson’s two courses, somehow the knowledge would filter into my head by way of osmosis.

Most authors struggle with advertising their own books, and some become so disheartened by it that they stop altogether. I wonder how many talented writers ended up abandoning their dreams when advertising took their knees out from under them? It can be incredibly frustrating.

Then, finally, there’s the third stage – when writers start to advertise successfully. This is when things finally come together, and they find themselves spending less on advertising than they make back in book sales; and start to develop the confidence to expand and experiment with their advertising. This is a stage in your writing career that’s almost as exciting as seeing your first book go live on Amazon; and it’s equally something that few people who’ve claimed “I could write a book” ever achieve.

Stuart Thaman wrote a great post last week on some general writing advice, and I’m going to follow it up with some golden rules about advertising – ones you should be mindful of when you first start dipping your toe into paying to market your books; or when you’re licking your wounds after losing money in doing so.

Rule 1 – Money can’t buy you love.

When I first started advertising my books on Facebook, having freshly completed Mark Dawson’s Advertising for Author’s course, I expected it to be simple. I throw money at advertising, and I get profit back – right? 

Wrong!

My first few experiments with advertising netted a few sales, but they netted even larger amounts of advertising debt. For some reason, I just couldn’t make my ads stick. 

This was because I’d forgotten my own background in advertising – both on radio, and for advertising agencies like McCann. The one key rule to never forget about advertising anything is that you should never advertise something nobody wants to buy. If you’ve got a product that’s selling well – that’s what you should spend your advertising budget on; because people clearly want it.

If you have a book that isn’t selling organically, it’s unlikely to start selling profitably when you advertise it. This was definitely the mistake I made with my first few romance novels, which were missing key aspects to make them really appealing to readers. Unless you get your product right, there’s no point in advertising it – because no matter how much money you spend getting people’s eyes on your book, it won’t magically make them want to buy it.

So, first and foremost, focus all your love and attention on your cover, concept, blurb, and branding – because until you get that right, you might as well be flushing your advertising budget down the toilet. Money can’t buy your books love – or readers.

Rule 2 – Go big, and you’ll go home.

Another fledgling mistake I made is throwing money into my advertising like I was a sailor on shore leave. I’d been buoyed by hearing Dawson speak of spending tens of thousands of dollars on his own book advertisements, and made the same mistake as I had in the first piece of advice I gave – thinking that the more money I poured into advertising, the more I’d get back out.

Wrong!

All that happened was that I lost a lot of money a lot faster than I’d wanted to; and I had to go right back to the drawing board with a very unhappy bank account.

Even if you do manage to get everything about your book right – it takes time to be able to say the same about your advertising. Your call to action, your imagery, your audience and even your price point can all require tweaking, and that’s not something you want to be doing when you’re blowing $50 a day on Facebook advertising. You need to have all your ducks in a row before you start spending money – so you don’t blow through your entire advertising budget before it starts actually working for you.

These days, I’ll start very small and scale my ads up. The goal is to start turning a profit as quickly as possible on a $5 daily spend, and then slowly scale that up in $5 increments, or with additional $5 ads, so I can consistently manage my advertising spend, and feel confident in the return I’m getting for it.

This can be incredibly frustrating for excited new authors, but it’s a golden rule. My advertising budget comes from my book sales, and knowing that Amazon pays 60 days after month’s end, that means I need to know my advertising budget is going to stretch far enough for my book royalties to catch up with it. Working in a 2 or 3 month increment can actually work in your favor, though – as it forces you to be disciplined with your spend and really puts the pressure on to see a return on investment.

Rule 3 – Decide on your rules – and then stick to them!

Another piece of advice Warren Buffet probably didn’t realize he’d given fledgling authors was to stick to your rules.

What does that mean? Well, in investing, you want to decide ahead of time what price you’re going to sell your shares at. If you buy at $1 and plan to sell at $1.15, then DO SO. One of the quickest ways investors go broke is by ignoring their rules, and holding out for more and more profit – watching the share price increase to $1.16, and then $1.20, and then…

Boom! A bad quarterly statement sucks it down to $0.80, before anybody had a chance to sell.

It’s better to secure a 15% return and sell at $1.15 then chase a bubble and watch it burst – it’s one of the golden rules of investing, and it is the same for advertising books, too.

Have rules ahead of time like “I’ll stop advertising and tweak my campaigns if my cost-per-click reaches this much“, or “I’ll pause my campaign if I make a loss for more than three days straight.” It’s so easy to keep pouring money into a campaign thinking “it’ll come right” – but having firm rules and sticking to them is hugely important because it prevents you from going too deep into the red.

Remember, you spent weeks or months writing your book – it should be paying you.

Rule 4 – Never stop learning.

Pursuant to the above rule, you should never stop researching, studying, and learning about advertising. Take the Mark Dawson course, book a consult call with us, or ask your friends and fellow authors what works for them – and, more importantly, what doesn’t.

You’ll never know what snippet of advice might make all the difference. For me, it was when I first found out about Facebook’s ability to create ‘lookalike audiences.’ Then, I had the same epiphany when I learned about how my friends with online retail stores saw a huge uptick in clicks when they used emojis in their Facebook advertising. You never know when you’ll stumble across the next revolutionary tidbit, and it could be what transforms your advertising into a sustainable career.

You should always constantly experiment – and that’s why managing your spend is so important. Always be willing to gamble a little money on trying new tweaks, because something might pay off big-time if you stumble across it. Just don’t be a gambler, hoping with each book that this time your ads will pay off even though you’re trying the same old things that failed before. Instead, make calculated guesses based off the prior performance of tweaks and tricks. Your goal should be to tune your campaigns like a race car, to maximize their performance without blowing a head gasket.

Rule 5 – Stick with what works, ditch what doesn’t.

The frustrating thing about advertising books is that it is both incredibly complicated, and ridiculously simple. Once you start to understand the nuances of it – like using keywords when you’re Advertising on Amazon, getting the audience right when you’re posting ads on Facebook, or finding the perfect newsletter partner – you’ll start to see performance you can replicate. That’s when things get exciting – and success becomes that much simpler.

If something works – stick with it. If something doesn’t, analyse it, and either par it back, or experiment with tweaking it. Eventually, you’ll be able to have an advertising system that works consistently, and that’s when you can start to scale things up and really see your book sales fly.

For me, the bulk of my success has come from figuring out what works, and then doing it again and again. My major strategy for success isn’t to focus on advertising my current books, but to focus on writing the new ones, and advertising them effectively. Once you’ve identified strategies that work, you’re building layer after layer onto your writing career and each success you have will be amplified by the ones that you had before.

The trick is to not go bankrupt in the meantime – and I speak from experience. I’ve probably lost out on thousands of dollars of revenue by not having the cash flow to advertise my best books, because I’d spent it all trying to advertise my worst.

I think, at the end of the day, that this is the real secret to successful advertising – to remember ultimately that you’re a writer, not an advertiser, and to focus on what you do best. 

Whenever I have consultation calls with authors looking for advertising tips, I always finish with the same bit of advice – your biggest area of focus should always be your next book; because authors only become successful if they keep writing books.

Advertising is a tool – a potentially explosive one, that can turn your passion into a vocation. However, at the end of the day your success (or failure) as a writer depends on your ability to write; and that’s where the real money is to be made. 

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1 Comments

  • Thanks for the sanity check.
    I’m one of those authors that has had mixed success uaing paid Amazon ads. Most months I break even or take a slight loss. And I have discovered that some books just do better with paid ads than others. I have yet to solve the mystery of why.

    I’d love to hear your take on social media, especially facebook, now that organic reach is sooo low. I personally have stopped trying so hard to do ‘social posting’ I limit myself to one day a week, or special announcements. If I decide run facebook ads, I will build a lookalike audience from sources I’m currently vetting. But for now, of all the tools out there, social media seems to be getting the smallest return unless you’ve got money to throw at it.