Hello, everyone. For regular readers of my blog who have come to expect entertaining posts about bizarrely random occurrences in my life, you might be advised to sit this one out. It’s geared more toward writers, but you’re welcome to give it a read on the off chance you’re considering entering the publishing world.
This time I’m going to put on my Independent Author hat and talk about something called Amazon Advertising (Also known as AMS Ads) and discuss my year long adventure while trying to ‘get rich’ selling more books.
If you’re an indie author, you’ve undoubtedly laughed after reading the above sentence because you know there’s no easy path to getting rich by selling books. It takes a LOT of books, a LOT of time, and an immeasurable amount of blood, sweat, and tears. Sure, maybe the rare exception, the .001% statistic, one lucky soul might crack the code and make millions after being discovered by the right person. For the rest of us, it’s a labor of love, frustration, and a vicious cycle of writing, marketing, promoting, and then back to writing. But I’m not here to complain. I love to write. The part that chaps my ass is the need to market your books. After all, the word hungry masses can’t find your brilliant stories if they don’t know they exist. That’s how we come to the evil monster called ‘advertising.’ Today, we’re going to discuss promoting your books through Amazon’s Advertising program.
I spend a lot of time of Facebook in author groups ‘researching stuff.’ Amazon Advertising pops up over and over again. In fact there are several Facebook Groups dedicated to tips and tricks on making the most effective ads. If you know me at all, you know I’m loathe to spend money on anything. I do my own editing (Yeah, KKH, I know you help, so here’s your shout out!), my own covers (with a little critique from some lovely friends who aren’t shy to tell me when my font stinks, thanks Dawn and Ginger!), and I do advertise in a few newsletters two or three times a year (total spend is probably $50 a year). So I was naturally hesitant to dive into the deep end of Amazon Advertising. I cling to every nickel like it’s a life vest and I’m on the Titanic.
That being said, I did some research and found that you can set a daily budget for AMS Ads to a mere $1.00 per day with Sponsored Advertising. Okay. I have a dollar. Let’s give this a whirl!
In case you’re a rookie and have no idea about how this works, I’ll break it down a little bit for you.
1) Choose one of your books to advertise. It can’t be in the erotica category because Amazon does not let you advertise Erotica. If you said, “What? No way, Grace! You’re shitting me! I’ve seen several ads on there for ‘Taboo Tales of Forbidden Encounters.’ You’re lying to my face!” No. I would never do that. Click on these books and see what categories they’re in. There are ways to side step everything if you’re crafty enough.
These books are all in the ‘sponsored products’ meaning they’re using AMS Ads to let you know about their book. Wow. How can they do this if they’re clearly short erotic stories? The category. They’re in ‘romance anthologies.’
2) Once you choose your book to advertise, you have to come up with a crafty short tagline to entice readers to buy your book. If you’re an author, you know that it’s soul-sucking to come up with a short three paragraph blurb to try and sum up your 100,000 word novel. Try coming up with 140 characters to grab the reader’s attention. Not easy, folks. Not easy at all.
3) Do you think you’re ready to move on to step three? No. Actually, you’re not. You’ve just spent an hour writing the perfect catchy two sentence statement and you’re convinced it’s going to hook every reader. You might even have asked a few friends if they like it. They might have given you glowing praise. You’re stoked! Hit publish on that ad, baby!
No. Not yet.
Because if you’ve used ‘banned terminology,’ then that ad you wasted hours perfecting is never going to see the light of day. How do I know this? Because this is the reason for the entire blog post today. I’m bitter. And Angry. Ah, shit. I might have gotten ahead of myself though. We’ll come back to this topic later. I promise. You need a bit more background info first.
4) Once you have the book chosen, the ad copy chosen, and you’re ready to rock and roll, you need to come up with dollar amounts and key words. If you let Amazon automatically choose your keywords, you’ll come up with about twenty crappy phrases that are somewhat bizarre and don’t really fit anything. Go over them and pick the best ones and then make up your own. I find a mix of random keywords that apply to your book PLUS names of authors in your genre will work the best. So if you write military romances, search Amazon for ‘military romances’ and then see what authors pop up. Once you find a few names, see the ‘also boughts’ and you’ll have more names. See those names, check their also boughts, and you’ll have more names. Before long, you’ll have a ton of author keywords. You can have up to 1000 keywords per ad. With my most successful ad, I had about 950 keywords.
5) Once keywords are chosen, you need to set the bid amounts. I started off with 25 cents per keyword. Some keywords never cost me a penny because no one clicked on them EVER in the entire length of the campaign. Some keywords cost me $50 because they were high traffic. The more book sales I got from a keyword, the more I increased the bid amount to get more visibility. The higher the amount you bid, the more exposure the ad will receive. You know those super popular authors who’s ads seem to be everywhere for every single book? They must spend in the high thousands every single month.
Okay. You’re all set. Sit back and let that ad generate revenue for you!
I would now like to share my results with you. I took the plunge in March of 2018 with two of my romance stories. I noticed immediate results in regards to page reads. (Let me explain that all my books are in Kindle Unlimited exclusively on Amazon. I am not ‘wide’ which means my books are not available on other platforms. Therefore I get paid for page reads when a subscriber in the Kindle Unlimited program reads my books). So page reads went up dramatically from the hundreds a day (500-ish on a good day) to the thousands (1500 on a good day). This lasted a month or two and then died down. No worries.
Let’s fast forward to July of 2018. I had a new release of a romance book in a bit of an obscure category. Since the category wasn’t very large (and I struck gold and designed a cover that actually looked like a romance book and turned out quite well if I do say so myself), this book took off like a rocket ship launching into space. I also did a pre-order and I also started an AMS Ad for this book.
Am I a millionaire? No. I did have three months in a row where I made more than I ever have before. I was super excited, did a happy dance around my house, and was able to pay for a dental crown on my chipped tooth. (I know, right? Just when you have some extra pocket change, the universe will not hesitate to find a way to spend it!)
I attributed this successful book to (1) the good cover, (2) the obscure category, and (3) the Amazon Ad.
I’m going to show you a screenshot now.
This is the summary of my Amazon Ad Screen. This chart goes from March of 2018 until today when I just ‘archived’ or ended my last two campaigns with Amazon Advertising.
Please see the sixth campaign from the top. The one that has over a million and a half impressions (views by customers), 229 sales, and cost me $825 dollars. If this was not successful, I would not have spent the money. If you’re thinking, “Dude…you spent $825 to make $682 in sales….so….if you only get a 70% royalty on sales…uh…you got hosed, man!”
No. This chart doesn’t take into account the page reads. They don’t let you track that. So, I assure you, it was worth my while to have the ad.
Now, I’m sure you’re asking, “Dude…if you’re making enough bank to pay for fancy new teeth, why the hell did you archive the ad? Are you an idiot?”
This is the sad/bitter/angry/insert curse word here/rotten part of the story. Around the first of the year in 2019, Amazon decided to revamp their Amazon Ad home screen. When something is successful and working, why not change it and mess things up? Yes. I believe that’s their motto.
The home page was changed, ads that were previously terminated by authors were suddenly turned back on, and some ads that were LIVE and running were now turned off. (If an ad campaign is not performing as well as you’d like, you can always ‘pause’ it. If you ‘archive it,’ that will stop it completely and you’re unable to turn it back on.)
Several authors noticed this right away and were kind enough to post on Facebook that everyone should check their ads. One of my old, underperforming ads was turned back on. No worries. I turned it off right away. No harm, no foul.
However, a week later I noticed that my most successful, ‘$825 paid to Amazon’ campaign was ARCHIVED. Did I do this? HELL NO. Why would I stop the money maker?
I placed a call to Amazon Customer Service on January 17, 2019. After telling the story to no less than four customer service representatives and spending upwards of twenty minutes on hold, I was told they were ‘escalating the case’ to tech support.
I received over ten emails telling me the case would be resolved by January 31, it went to a different department, they were working on it, blah, blah, excuse, excuse, lie, lie.
In the meantime, I decided to re-create the ad.
However, I had one small problem.
Remember the earlier freak-out fit I had in step number three about writing your ad copy? Well, that’s about to come into play here…and it’s not pretty.
When I first started out with AMS Ads, it was like the wild, wild west. In other words…not so many rules and restrictions. This is my best selling ad…
Can you figure out what’s wrong with it?
Shortly after I started the ad, Amazon banned the use of ‘kindle unlimited’ or ‘read in KU’ in the ads. However, I was somehow magically ‘grandfathered in’ and they let my ad stay there. I believe the ‘Now in Kindle Unlimited’ helped my ad perform as well as it did.
So there was no way in hell they would let me use that phrase on a new ad. Curses, foiled again.
But I can’t just sit there and have no ad running at all. So I tried to recreate the ad and just eliminate that part about kindle unlimited. No worries, right?
My new ad copy:
“A volunteer opportunity at a veteran’s charity pairs a defiant alpha male with the one woman who refuses to give up on him.”
Does that strike you as having any taboo element?
Nope, me neither. It looks perfectly fine.
However, the cock-blockers DENIED my ad.
What the heck is wrong with that?
After more scouring of Facebook and several pissy emails to Amazon, this is the response I got:
“Please note that keywords which are based around sexual preferences such as BDSM or keywords like dominant, submissive, alpha, omega, harem, reverse harem, ménage, erotica, virgin, or similar words which suggest similar activities are not permitted.”
Okay. So evidently ‘Alpha’ is not allowed. How in the hell did I know that? When you buy a hair dryer, there’s a nice little tag that warns, “DON’T DROP THIS IN THE TOILET OR YOU’LL ELECTROCUTE YOURSELF.” I appreciate the warning. How am I going to know what’s allowed/not allowed unless the rules are spelled out, Amazon?
I did, indeed create another Amazon ad that didn’t have the banned words, but it tanked. In addition to my flaw of being insanely cheap, I have no patience at all. After spending $5 and seeing absolutely no results, I cancelled the new ad.
As of today, February 9, 2019, Amazon still hasn’t gotten back to me as to why my $825 ad was suddenly archived. I believe they shut it down because of the taboo use of ‘alpha’ and ‘kindle unlimited’ but were too embarrassed to tell me they let it run for so long and just discovered it now.
Transparency is not a strong suit of Amazon. When you have a brick and mortar store with thirteen bottles of shampoo sitting on the shelf…you know that you sold one of them if twelve remain at the end of the day. However, authors have to trust Amazon not to screw them over when everything is done digitally and there’s no way to track anything.
So, guess what?
As of today, I ‘archived’ my last two Amazon Ads and I’m not paying any more for this sketchy program. It has run its course for being effective in my world.
Am I shooting myself in the foot? Possibly. Do I care right now? Absolutely not.
I’m going back to writing.
Thanks for taking the time to read about my experience!