Self-Publishing: Paid Advertising, Is It Worth It?

pay-palOnce you’ve written a book, edited a book and published a book, you need to promote the book. We know this, but how?

You can go asking and begging for book reviews, you can try marketing/PR stunts, you can go on a social network and blogging frenzy to drum up some business and you can also try the old fashioned, uncreative method of paid advertising.

I’ve tried all these but here is my sorry tale of paid advertising, so you can save your money, or at least, better target it. Also, many, many ‘experts’ go on about the vagaries of online marketing, lovingly vomiting the latest buzz phrases to build up an impressive wall of hyperbole without actually nailing their colours to a mast. Here I’m skewering my colours to a sinking ship.

My budget was miniscule. I didn’t put a hard and fast rule on it because if I’d said, ‘£100’, that would’ve seemed a lot straight off the bat, so I kept my eye out for deals and experimented here and there. I could’ve put £100 into targeted Facebook ads but that was putting all my eggs in one basket, not as experimental and to be honest, £100 ain’t going to get you far on Facebook.

So here is a list of all the places where I paid for a text ad, a ‘banner’, newsletter or tweet. A combination of websites and Twitter accounts, in the vain hope of discovering those unrelenting hordes of hungry ebook readers;

Venue – Ad Type – Cost = Result

In total, that reads as: $122 (£78) spent = 3 sales + 2 free downloads.

Why so crap?

I used to work in online marketing for a number of years so I’m no newbie, I know the difference between your CPC and ROI, plus you can argue the toss about the content of the ads (yes, there was a call to action, link to book, book cover if possible, etc) but the main factor is going to be ‘how many hordes of hungry readers are viewing this particular ad?‘ It’s called ‘eyeballs’, how many eyeballs are seeing your ad? Also, what is the quality of these eyeballs? Here in lies the rub.

On reflection, I targeted small sites and Twitter accounts to keep within budget but these properties mainly targeted writers, not readers. I think most of the eyeballs that saw these ads were writers visiting these sites and Twitter accounts for advice, useful links and ways to promote their own books; not buy a new book from someone else.

The Bookbub deal went a bit awry when Amazon wouldn’t price the book for FREE as per the Bookbub agreement, so Bookbub only listed the Apple Books link. I’d like to run another ad with them including the Amazon link just to see how many downloads this generates.

So, is paid advertising worth it?

On a small budget, no. The cheap deals you can find online are cheap for a reason, I don’t think there are any hidden treasures out there.

I would say a small budget is anything under $1,000/£650. I don’t think you’re going to achieve much with that purely via advertising, apart from Bookbub and maybe Bookbear. I wouldn’t go expecting any positive ROI (return on investment) anyway especially as Bookbub expects a heavy discount or a freebie.

I would definitely not get tempted to do any cheap banner or website advertising (text links, blog post, etc), users just don’t click on them. I don’t. You don’t. I think only psycho’s do.

Also, I wouldn’t do any Twitter account ads again, they constantly churn out book promotions which I can’t imagine many people closely examine. I followed a couple but soon became blind to them and then unfollowed.

A bigger budget would allow you to test out Goodreads and Facebook, maybe give Twitter a bash and some of the other social media sites that allow you to target your ads towards known readers in your country with interests that overlap the subjects in your book or mention other similar books to yours. Spending more money would allow you to experiment (A/B testing) with targeting, ad copy, placement, timing, pricing, links and more. $50 on Facebook is going to disappear very quickly and you’re not going to glean much useful info from such a campaign.

Define your goals before forking out your money. I wanted to kick start my novel by getting reviews onto my Amazon listing, generating some word-of-mouth. I was less interested in sales & profit and more interested in getting reviews, so I lowered the price to tempt more people in. I think money can be better targeted at dedicated review services such as StoryCartel and others listed here.

Next time, apart from Bookbub (and maybe Bookbear), I’d skip any kind of paid advertising. I’d better organise my Bookbub ad to coincide with an Amazon KDP Select deal. I’d put the rest of my marketing budget towards paying for reviews, an offline marketing stunt, posting free copies of a paperback to reviewers/journalists, entering competitions and targeting readers of my first novel with an offer to buy the next one.

It would be fun to smash £10,000 on Facebook and Goodread ads though *hint, hint*