Advertising Your Book–Categories, Targets, and Comp Authors

I was browsing through my social media writing groups the other day, and someone said something so profound that it has stuck with me ever since reading it. You know I’m a big fan of writing to market, a true believer in the idea that if you want to write a book that people want to read, write a book like the ones people are already reading.

We resist that idea because no one wants to write what someone else is writing or has already written, even going so far as to say they don’t want to write the same tropes because they have already been done before. This isn’t a blog post about that, per se, but along the same lines, I suppose.

When we write a book and publish it, that’s only half the work, something we don’t find out until the book sinks like a stone in the rankings because no one knows it exists. We might tweet about it, put it up on Facebook somewhere, create some pretty graphics and post on Instagram, or try our hand at some videos via TikTok, the new kid on the block. That bumps us up a little bit, but eventually we’ll run out of new people because free social media only goes so far (ask anyone who relies on Twitter for sales to tell you how far free social media can really take you).

So we turn to paid advertising, and what that author said blew my mind–write what you can advertise.

Just that simple thing. Write what you can advertise.

What does that mean, exactly? Can’t we advertise any book?

Yes. But can we advertise any book to success? Not necessarily.

You can advertise any book, say on Amazon, but if Amazon doesn’t know where to put your book, they won’t show your ad and you’ll get zero impressions and no clicks. That makes genre and categories really important. When you create an ad on Amazon, you have a few ad type choices: you can do an auto ad and let Amazon do the work in figuring out who to show your ad to, you can run a category targeted ad, or you can use comparison authors and comparison titles as keywords. You can also target ASIN’s of books like yours, which I have heard works better, but I can’t tell you from my own experience that it does. I’ve done all four, and I didn’t realize until just now why, but All of Nothing is a billionaire romance and one of the reasons why it has always done so well when I ran an ad is because there is actually a billionaire category to choose from when creating a category ad on Amazon:

taken from Amazon Advertising ads platform

If I choose that, and my metadata matches, Amazon knows exactly who to show my ads to–readers who want to read a billionaire romance.

My age-gap romance, The Years Between Us, doesn’t have its own category, and choosing Contemporary Romance gets me impressions, and even clicks, but if someone isn’t in the mood to read age-gap, or doesn’t like it for whatever reason, I lose that sale. The same goes for Coming of Age, which I have listed The Years Between Us under, but even though it can be considered Coming of Age as my FMC is 18, readers may not like the age gap element of the novel.

taken from Amazon Advertising ads platform
taken from the Amazon ads dashboard
taken from the Amazon Ads platform

There’s a lot more competition using an umbrella category like contemporary romance.

You can always use comp authors and comp book titles as keywords, but if you’re writing a very niche genre (like age gap, haha), or mashing together more than two, you’ll have trouble targeting the correct authors because there aren’t that many. Targeting authors is something you can do on Amazon Ads, Facebook Ads (if the author is available in the list and I’ve heard from several people that list is arbitrary), and on BookBub. If you’re one of few writers in that genre, ads may not work. Not because your book isn’t good, but because the platform doesn’t know who to show your ads to or the audience isn’t large enough.

Does this man you can’t write what you want? No. Does this mean you can’t still advertise? No. But you may not get the results you want. You may waste money figuring that out or come to the conclusion that ads don’t work which won’t be true. I stopped using Coming of Age completely because I lost a lot of money on clicks and I should probably take that book out of that category as it doesn’t honestly represent the book.

I still advertise The Years Between Us but when I do, I use the Contemporary Romance category on Amazon to mixed results. Readers like my ad copy (He’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe . . . even if that means breaking her heart), they like the cover, but once they read the blurb and realize it’s an age gap romance, sometimes I lose them. Not always, but until I started keeping track of the ads for that book and pausing them when the spending overtook the sales, I lost money on the readers who decided that book wasn’t for them.

I’ve only dabbled with Facebook ads, and I don’t understand enough to give you any kind of guidance steeped in experience. I know that targeting books isn’t as zeroed-in as Amazon, which can be better and can be worse depending on your point of view. Facebook seems to have more flexibility allowing you to cast a wider net, but that flexibility can also cost you money if people are clicking on your ad and deciding your book isn’t for them after all. There are plenty of billionaire romance authors out there, even if you discounted EL James and Sylvia Day. The idea is to drill down as narrowly as you possibly can so the ads platform you’re using shows your ads to only those readers who would want to buy it. But not so narrow that you don’t have anyone in your audience! Creating a viable audience is probably the trickiest thing about Facebook Ads but I’m willing to keep trying because so many authors say that it works for them.

So what does this mean for writing to market and writing to ad platform? Already lots of indie authors balk at writing to market. They want to write what they want to write, as did I when I thought writing “Contemporary Romance” would be enough to build a career on rather than focusing on subgenre. Marketing and targeting those books was expensive and some books I couldn’t get to sell no matter what, like my road trip romance because Road Trip Romance isn’t a category, nor is Close Proximity, and besides Contemporary Romance there isn’t another category I can try. (I experimented with Romantic Action and Adventure, but my cover didn’t fit and I got some impressions, but no clicks.)

Taken from the Amazon Ads platform

I did everything I could from swapping out covers to rewriting the blurb more times than I could count and still, I just can’t sell it. My Tower City trilogy doesn’t sell either, because while there is a sports romance category on Amazon, my covers aren’t made to the sports romance subgenre, and it turns our long distance running isn’t sexy and no one is interested in it. Who. Knew.

taken from the Amazon Ads platform

The best thing you can do is a little research before you start writing. Who are your comp authors? Are they writing what you write? How is your writing different? Is it too different?

You can use (click author tools and use the cat finder) and find all the categories that a book similar to yours is listed under by searching the ISBN or ASIN. Then you can email Amazon and have those categories added to your book. That way you can run auto placement ads and Amazon will know where to place your ad. I asked around to see if there’s a list of categories available in the Amazon Ads platform, but unfortunately there isn’t one.

Nobody likes to be told what to write, but everyone likes to find readers. Make finding readers easier on yourself and do a little market research before you begin to write. I wish I would have known this before I started publishing. I love all the books I’ve written so far–they are some really good stories and I’m proud of them–but I truly do love writing billionaire, and I think I’ve found a niche I can have fun with for a long time. And also as importantly as enjoying the subgenre, I know there is a market for them and I’ll be able to advertise them.

What do you think? Is thinking about how to advertise your book taking it a little too far? Too limiting? Let me know what you think!

12 thoughts on “Advertising Your Book–Categories, Targets, and Comp Authors

  1. I majored in business and finance at uni, so I understand this completely — even though it seems counterintuitive to writing. We want to write what we want to write, after all… but, as you pointed out, we also want readers 😉 My first book is something I wanted to write, so will its sequel, but I’ve actually started doing market research for what others I might write next.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I, too, wrote what I wanted to write for a long time, and there was nothing wrong with what I was writing. It was just harder to market. Everyone should write what they want to write. As long as you’re happy that’s all that matters. It’s when you start getting discouraged and think maybe something needs to change is when you need to take a look at how you’re running your business and what you want in terms of success. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I think one of the most common misconceptions is that writing isn’t a business… but it is. So there’s nothing wrong with writing what we want to write, only that the path with more returns might not be what we might think 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. My viewpoint is tarnished by being on Twitter so much. The refrain there is “do what you want” but in the next breath everyone is like, “my books aren’t selling” or “I can’t get an agent” and sometimes you can’t have both. Sometimes you can (maybe with a little compromise on your part) and that’s the sweet spot you have to try to find. There was even a thread yesterday about indies not being able to sell books, and I was dumbfounded. Of course indies can sell books–and make a good living at it too. The misconception infuriates me and *whispers* I should probably just stay off Twitter and water my own grass. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have not found the indie community on Twitter yet so maybe I shouldn’t go looking LOL. 😂 But I agree. Sometimes you can’t have both. Others get lucky and land on that sweet spot, but most take time and effort to get there. There’s a lot of factors, and some are outside the writing process entirely — economics, marketing, finance. So yeah, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting article with helpful info, Vania, but for me, writing-to-market seems like more of a writing challenge. True, the payoff can be quite profitable, but what if the stories in your head aren’t what’s at the top of the charts? Do you decide to go for selling books or writing the story that’s growing inside you?

    These are rhetorical questions I’ve asked myself when I have to consider what my ultimate personal writing goals are. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand, and even if you try to write to market, it may not be exactly what everyone else is writing, so whether it hits the mark with what readers what you won’t know until you try. When I first started I wrote whatever, and maybe eventually I could have built a business on doing that, but after five years and seeing little traction, I decided to pivot. I knew for me, and what my version of success is, if I didn’t start selling some books I would get burnt out. I work hard on my books, craft, keeping up with the industry. I didn’t want to lose my joy because my books weren’t selling. I know it will be different for everyone. If anyone is super happy writing what they love, that’s all that matters. Thanks for reading and sharing!


  3. Pingback: Self Publishing Guides – Tracy Durnell

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