Hopefully you’ve already read Marketing Principles part one and part two. They’ll give you a foundation to work with, and both should be implemented before you consider advertising. All done reading? Great, let’s get started.
We’re all familiar with paid advertising. In fact, most people equate ALL marketing with advertising. To them you shell out some cash to do a book promo with a bunch of sites, usually during a Kindle Countdown. Then you call it a day, right?
What is your objective?
Before you consider any paid advertising you need to have a clear objective. What are you trying to accomplish? ‘I want to sell more books’ will be most people’s answer, but it’s one that can get many people into trouble. It certainly did for me.
I’ll explain. I launched two massive promos for No Such Thing As Werewolves during the first thirty days of its launch. That moved a combined three hundred books, and it lost me about six hundred bucks.
If I’d taken the time to figure out my objective I probably would have chosen a whole different set of ads. Instead I decided that I wanted to wallpaper the internet with my book, and that’s exactly what I did. I would have had to sell about two thousand more books to break even.
I told myself I was happy with the launch, that it was a loss leader and I’d make it up later. I did make up that money down the road, but here’s the thing. Not only did I cost myself that $600 when I didn’t have to, but I also prematurely started the market saturation process.
The what now?
Fortunately for us, there are tens of millions of readers out there in every genre. We’ll never reach all of them, not even if we get Hugh Howey big. Unfortunately, the paid advertising audience is much smaller.
Let’s use a small book ad site for example, one that has performed well for me. The first time I used The Fussy Librarian I moved probably 20 books. The second time I used them I moved about twelve. The third time I used them I moved seven.
So what happened? The Fussy Librarian has, let’s use a round number, 100 list members in my genre likely to buy my book. The first time I advertise all those people are seeing my book with fresh eyes. This gives me the greatest impact, and thus the greatest number of sales.
The diminishes the second time. Twenty of the people most likely to buy my book already have. There are still plenty of others who’ve never seen my book. Maybe they missed the first email. Maybe they just joined the list. Or maybe they saw the book, but didn’t buy it because they were already reading something.
Each time I advertise using The Fussy Librarian I get fewer sales, because I’m further saturating that market. I will get to a point where almost no one buys my book, because I’ve already hit everyone interested.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is market saturation at work. Simply put the more you use any given advertiser the less effective they will be. If you hit a bunch of sites every time you run a countdown you’ll get to the point where none of them are effective anymore. I know, because I made exactly that mistake on my first book.
Why you shouldn’t advertise your first book
I advertised the hell out of No Such Thing As Werewolves. By the time I released No Mere Zombie it had been listed on each of the major promo sites at least twice. In some cases three times. You can guess what market saturation did to my launch numbers for book 2. They were pitiful.
Instead of being a massive launch, No Mere Zombie came out with a whimper. My mailing list got it some initial exposure, but beyond that it just sat there. My big ad campaign failed, because I’d already saturated the market. Ouch.
If I’d waited until the 2nd book in my series to advertise, then I’d have had a much bigger return. People could have immediately purchased another title, and people are much more likely to get into a series if they see that more than one book is out.
Just recently I released my first non-fiction book. 5,000 Words Per Hour is the first in a series, but I didn’t use a single paid ad on it. The book’s launch has been my best to date, despite that fact. It’s done so well because I knew where to find my audience, and I used passive marketing to get them interested in the book.
Project Solaris is the first book in my next series, and it launches in November. I won’t be doing any paid advertising until the 2nd book launches in January, because I’ve learned my lesson.
Mailing lists and acquisition costs
There is one potential benefit to advertising your first book that I left out. If you have a signup to your mailing list in both the front and back matter (you do, right?), then anyone who buys your book will see it twice. If they really like your work they’re very likely to sign up to your list. What’s more, they’ll be highly engaged. There’s a very high likelihood that around half of them will buy your next book when it launches.
This is vital to your long term success as an author. If your mailing list is large enough, then you don’t even need ad sites any more (though I plan to use them anyway).
In my case I gained around 200 signups during my ad based promos. Since I lost $600 on the whole campaign that means my cost to acquire each of those 200 people was $3. That’s rough in our industry, but will still end up being worth it.
If 50% of those people buy the next book (and 60% of them did when No Mere Zombie came out), then I made $336 from the mailing list sign ups. If those same people go on to buy books 3-6 I’ll come out ahead, making that $3 cost to acquire totally worth doing.
If that’s the case, why do I suggest not advertising on your first book? Immediacy wins out.
I recently left the safety of Kindle Unlimited to venture into the wider ocean. This decision came from two factors. First, I was in a box set with the biggest authors in my genre. They wanted to go wide, and so did I.
Second and more important to this article was that Apple had directly courted me. They offered to run a promo on iBooks if I’d bring my books over, and they were as good as their word. During the first month I sold over a thousand books there.
This was important for a lot more reasons than just sales. I had three books out in my series, The First Ark (prequel), No Such Thing As Werewolves, and No Mere Zombie. Over 60% of the people who finished NSTAW picked up NMZ. About 50% also bought TFA.
They did this because they could impulse buy. They finished one book and were immediately looking for another one. This is exactly how you want people to discover your series. If they trickle in when you only have one book available, they may never even know when book 2 comes out. Even if they do they may never come back to it.
For this reason you don’t want to drive massive amounts of readers to your book until you have more than one novel out. This assumes you’re doing a series, but if you are save your advertising dollars until you have multiple books. Trust me on this.
There was also another tangental benefit. Mailing list signups from the launch at Apple were over double what I saw during the promos on Amazon when I only had one book out. Readers were far, far more likely to get involved in the series with more books out.
The best part? My cost to acquire all these new sign-ups was $0.
Paid advertising sites can be a boon to your career, but as I’ve proven with 5,000 Words Per Hour they aren’t necessary to a successful launch. Use them sparingly, both to save yourself some money, and to husband their effectiveness.
One day you may land that coveted BookBub spot (the king of all book ad sites). When you do you want to be able to tap into the power of all the little ones to build up to it. Patience, grasshopper. You are playing a long game, and you’re playing to win.