2020 Indie Publishing Predictions: Pay-to-Play and ad platform resources for indie authors

2020 indie publishing predictions

Thank you for staying with me through this blog series about Written Word Media’s predictions for 2020. I’m discussing these predictions as an Emerging Author who has less than 10 books published and making less than $60,000 a year (let’s be honest according to my 1099s I made less than $2000 in 2019).

In the last post we talked a little bit about author collaboration because there is power in numbers, though the group opportunities don’t mean much to me because I’m still building my own career in my own right. Just as I’m sure most readers of my blog are.

The next point WWM predicts is that running ads will become a requirement. This isn’t a prediction so much as it’s already a fact. You need to learn an ad platform and not be afraid to use it. Meaning, you can’t be afraid to spend a little money to make a little money.

Various people say that Amazon ads are the smartest way to go. You’re putting your ad in front of shoppers who’re already in the mood to buy books. I like Amazon ads, too, because you’re selling books to readers who do not have a KU subscription and your enticing readers to borrow your book if they do.

It shouldn’t need to be said that running successful ads means you’re advertising a quality product. Unfortunately you may waste a little money on clicks figuring this out. You may recall in a prior blog post of mine where I described losing some money in ads for The Years Between Us. My ad copy was good, my cover was good, but I was losing people at the blurb. The Years Between Us is an older man/younger woman novel, but it’s not naughty. I was marketing it as a older man/younger woman, when maybe my blurb should have emphasized the forbidden love aspect instead. At any rate, you may need to experiment. If your ad doesn’t get any clicks, but you are getting some impressions, maybe your ad copy isn’t hooky, or your cover looks too homemade or doesn’t reflect the genre clearly. In any case, the blurb cost me clicks. I should have turned my ads off a lot sooner than I did. I was optimistic and I paid the price.


Mark Coker has is own opinion on this prediction–it’s evident he hates that Amazon took this direction. He claims that being pay-to-play makes us compete against other authors. He also states that since Amazon took away the also-boughts at the bottom of the product pages and replaced those with sponsored ads, Amazon is pitting us against each other. (Amazon is always playing with their platform looking for ways to improve the customer experience. Just because they are gone today doesn’t mean they won’t be back tomorrow, or a variation of them.) My book, All of Nothing, does still have some also-boughts, and I’m happy to say that they seem to fit into the kind of book All of Nothing is.

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It’s true that when you search an author, their product pages can be peppered with ads. That’s business. It’s no different than driving down the main strip of the city and having your choice of Dairy Queen, Hardee’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, Sonic, Popeye’s, KFC, and a million other places. It’s up to their marketing team to make them stand out, just like it’s up to you to have a good cover, blurb, title, and look inside, so your potential reader isn’t lured away by a prettier cover and better ad copy.

The motto of the 20booksto50k group is a “A rising tide lifts all boats.” There’s no competition. Be the best you can be, put out the best quality product you can. If you write against the grain (the book of your heart), and/or can’t afford an editor and/or can’t find someone to trade with you, if you have to make your own cover, these are choices in situations you’re going to have to work with. Your book isn’t anyone else’s responsibility.

I don’t agree much with Mark Coker. We aren’t competing against each other. It helps to look at other authors as allies instead of competition. Make friends, not enemies, and stay in control of what you can–the quality of your own books.

I like Amazon ads. They don’t cost much money, and they are surprisingly easy to learn how to use. I haven’t ventured into the UK, or Germany territory. I advertise in the US store, and small sales I do have are because I run ads. But you may find better luck with Facebook or Bookbub ads. In my experience, they eat up money faster. We can blame, or try to blame, Amazon for a lot of things, but taking your money isn’t one of them. Except for when they do–but then that usually is due to operator error not the machine.

No matter where you advertise, you’ll need comp authors and their book titles. You need these because in Amazon’s case they’ll be your keywords, in Facebook’s case they will help you find an audience to target. That’s why it’s important to know what genre you’re writing in, and what books fit with yours. Always stay up-to-date with what’s happening in your genre. Keep an eye on authors who are doing well who write the same kinds of books you do.

Take time to learn how ads work. There are a lot of free resources out there. All they take is a little bit of time to listen to a podcast or to read a book a generous person (usually an indie author himself or herself) has taken time to write for the rest of us. Going in blind is silly and will cost you money. As a writer, you should be used to researching. This isn’t any different – you’re only researching wearing your businessperson’s hat and not your writer’s hat. I’ll list them at the bottom of the blog post.

When it comes to this prediction, the future is now. You won’t get far without some kind of paid advertising. You won’t have a launch, strong or otherwise, without ads, and they are especially important in keeping your book in front of readers if you’re going to take a while to release another. Jami Albright has said she wouldn’t make the money she does releasing one book a year without depending on ads.

They are a huge piece of the indie–publishing puzzle.


Resources

Amazon

Bryan Cohen hosts an Amazon ads challenge every once in a while. The next one is scheduled for April 2020. In this ad challenge, he teaches you the fundamentals of Amazon ads: where to find keywords, how much to bid, what to set your daily limit at. Ultimately, he wants you to buy his Amazon Ads course, but in the challenge, he’ll teach you beginning information for free and it’s enough to get you started. It runs for a week, then a week after that he closes down the information. If you miss participating, you have to wait until he does it again. Eventually he may stop doing the ad challenge and think of something else to advertise is Amazon Ad course.

Follow Bryan on Facebook. This is his Facebook group for his business, Selling for Authors. Join his group for lots of Amazon ad tips, blurb help, copywriting tips and more. This is where he’ll announce a new ads challenge. You can request to join the ads challenge group here. He may not approve your request until the ads challenge opens up again. He’s very generous with his time, and if you have a question, he’ll do his best to answer it. He posts a lot of info on Instagram, too. I would follow him there, as well.

Dave Chesson has made how-to-learn Amazon ad videos. You can access them for free and watch at your own pace. He teaches you the same as Bryan: how to find keywords, how much to bid, how much to set your daily limit. His way is a little different from Bryan’s methods. Though like Bryan, he wants to sell you something and Dave wants to sell you a Publisher Rocket, a software to analyze what the competition is doing, how much they’re making, how many books are selling. It’s also a keyword grabber, though both gentlemen kindly teach you how to find keywords for free. I have Publisher Rocket and it’s worth the money.

Reedsy also has a course that is delivered in chunks to your email. Taught by Ricardo Fayet, this course is free, and you can sign up for it here. 

Facebook

There is only one free way to learn Facebook ads, that I know of, that’s signing up for the email class by Reedsy. Otherwise, you need buy a book explaining how to do them, or take a paid class. I recommend you do something before diving in because Facebook loves to take your money, and if you don’t have the proper audience targeted, or your ad isn’t put together correctly (bad graphics, bad ad copy) you’ll be broke and your ads won’t attract any engagement, never mind convert to sales. Mal Cooper is the powerhouse here, and she has an updated Facebook ads book available (you can even download the ebook version for free though I would encourage you to throw her some coin for being so great!), and she was just interviewed about Facebook ads on the 6 Figure Authors podcast. You can watch it here.


Bookbub

41hhK-35Z0L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_As with Facebook ads, free ways to learn the platform are scarce. To be clear, Bookbub ads are not the same as being approved for a featured deal. Those are expensive and you have to submit and be approved. Bookbub ads are what they sound like — ads you make yourself using Canva or BookBrush that are placed at the bottom of their newsletters they send out to their subscribers. The only authority I know of is David Gaughran. He wrote a book about them, and you can find it here. In partnership with Reedsy, he also did a course that is delivered in segments for free to your email address. You can sign up here.

He’s very generous with his time, and he includes links in the book to a forum where you can ask questions. He’ll answer or someone else will help out. The book is a year old, so if you have a question and you search the forum you might find your answer without having to ask. But Bookbub is good for discounted books only. That’s the basis of their whole platform and they’ve trained their readers to look to them for deals. Don’t advertise a full-priced book there. You’ll get plenty of clicks and no sales.

The pros say to choose one platform and get really good at it.

Good luck!

PS: Since I love throwing podcasts at you, this is one by Joanna Penn with Russell Blake and Michael Beverly. Michael founded Adwerks, a business that runs Amazon ads for indie authors who don’t have the time to manage them on their own. They are a wealth of information on how the Amazon ads work, and they give you a peek into the mysterious Amazon Algorithms. I highly recommend it!


The next prediction that Written Word Media talks about is the Big Five putting books into KU. See you there!


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Being a Career Author. Do you have what it takes? Part 5 Marketing

Happy Monday! I hope the weekend treated you well!

If you just popped onto my blog, welcome! If you’ve visited before, welcome back!

We’ve been going through the Written Word Media Survey they conducted last year in October.

They broke down three types of authors–the ones who make less than 60k a year and have six books in their backlis, 60kers who have 22 books in their backlist, and 100kers who have 28+ books in their backlist. They broke those groups into sections on who pays how much for what.

My last blog post was a convoluted 2000 word monstrosity on how even though everyone advises authors to have a professional cover made, if you write in a genre that supports a simpler cover, there’s no reason why you can’t learn how to do them on your own. At any rate, you can read it here, and watch my rudimentary YouTube video on how to use Canva templates for an e-book cover so you don’t have to start from scratch. I hope to do a few more of those videos–if I can make a cover, anyone can.

The next installment of this blog series is marketing.

For fiction, marketing isn’t what it used to be. Even three years ago when the words “author platform” were the buzzwords in the author community, hardly anyone says those words now because nobody cares. (And this is for fiction. Memoir and nonfiction have their own rules and nothing I’m going to get into here.)

For fiction, author platform isn’t as important as a simple newsletter, and before, author platform meant your presence on everything from Twitter to Google Plus. That’s not true anymore.

If the author platform is falling by the wayside, how do you “market?” Marketing is simply finding out what kind of books people want and/or need to read and telling them about your book if your book fills that want or need. That’s it. Author platform used to do that. You would use your platform to draw readers to you and your content.

But as the survey points out, you can use promos and let them tell readers about your book. That’s a lot easier than tweeting into the void.

marketing promos

graphic taken from survey linked above

According to the chart, BookBub came in first for promos. Not everyone will be approved for a featured deal, and sometimes Amazon doesn’t like them. The too-swift uptick in sales flags their algorithms. I’ve heard from some authors that they’ve had their books frozen due to suspicious activity. They get it sorted out but it takes time and they lose sales. Also, featured deals are expensive. I know in some genres they can cost up to $600 so they aren’t an option for all authors. 

Promos like Freebooksy and Bargainbooksy work better than ads. I have found that for my own books, anyway. And as the article points out, there is no learning curve. Set your sale, set your promo, and walk away. Let the promo platform deliver your book to their readers.

Marketing-Is-Hard-graph

graphic taken from survey linked above

But what the article doesn’t say is it makes the most sense to use a promo on a book one in a series. If you run a Freebooksy promo on a standalone, yeah, you’re paying to give your book away. And contrary to that poor delusional soul on Twitter who thought being on the top 10 list of free books on Amazon made her a bestseller, unfortunately that isn’t the case. A bestseller implies you are selling books. Nice try though.

If you’re in KU, sometimes you can get some page reads from a Freebooksy on top of giving your book away because instead of downloading it for free, a reader who has a membership with Kindle Unlimited will read your book there instead.

Ads aren’t bad, but they’re complicated and keeping tabs on them so they don’t lose money is time consuming.

If you’re in KU it makes the most sense to learn Amazon ads–then you’re advertising for sales and page reads. If you’re wide and are everywhere like Kobo, Google Play, iBooks, Nook, using Facebook and BookBub ads (not the featured deal) makes sense. Though there is a way when creating your Facebook ad to choose Facebook users who like the Kindle, and that would target only those who buy books from Amazon.

I have dabbled in all the ad platforms and lost money on all of them, too. Your ads will only work if you have a killer product (cover, blurb, title, and look-inside) and it’s only after you lose money when you find out that your cover may have missed the mark or your blurb sucks.

Promos also feature your book’s cover and promos like Freebooksy and BargainBooksy gives you 130 characters or so for a short piece of ad copy so it’s worth it to take the time to write a short hook for each of your books.

Of course, the saying that the best marking marketing for your book is writing another book will never be wrong, and a steadily growing backlist will ensure your readers that you’re going to be around for a while.

Which may also take the place of author platform. Why be everywhere when you could be writing?

What can you do?

  1. Write more books. Promos only work if you have a library to offer your readers. Unless you’re looking for reviews. Freebooksy is around $100 a pop. Not in the BookBub featured deal pricing, but still spendy. Know what your goals are and make the fee count.

  2. Make sure your book is solid. It’s all a waste if you don’t have a good book to offer.

  3. Don’t be scared to stagger promos or overlap them for a longer sales tail. If you put your book on sale for .99 schedule a BargainBooksy and an E -reader News Today (also known as ENT). Authors who are trying to get in on a list like the USA today bestseller list schedule a ton of promos for the same time.

If you want to learn an ad platform there are lots of resources out there:

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For Amazon ads, the best thing you can do is follow Bryan Cohen on Facebook. Ask to join his Selling for Authors Facebook group, and do the 5 day mini challenge he’s starting on January 13th. It’s free, and he will teach you how to use the platform correctly and not go broke. Oh, but I thought you said you lost money, you ask. Yes, yes I did. It wasn’t due to following his instructions, but because an ad for The Years Between Us took off, and no one liked the blurb. So I got plenty of clicks on that super awesome ad, but no sales. I should have killed the ad sooner, but I didn’t and that’s my fault.

BookBub. BookBub has a newsletter they send out to all their subscribers. At the bottom of every newsletter are sponsored books. You bid like you would on Amazon, and if you win, your book has a place at the bottom of the newsletter.

Readers click and it takes them to wherever you linked the ad. The best resource I can direct you to is David Gaughran’s book. He knows how to run that platform, and I would’t try to do any BookBub ads without reading that book cover to cover. When I was wide for two months, I tried BookBub ads. I wasted the money to test ads, to test the graphic, whatever. Don’t Run Away was permafree, and I got a lot of downloads. That didn’t lead to sales of the other two books in the trilogy, and only after two months I went back to KU.

412mZB5USRL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Facebook ads. Mal and Jill Cooper came out with the second edition of their book, Help! My Facebook Ads Suck! They explain the platform, what works, how to target your audience. I wouldn’t do a Facebook ad without at least skimming this book so you know what kind of ad to choose, how to put it together, and what kind of graphic to use. I haven’t done much with FB ads. Sometimes I’ll boost a post off my FB Author page. I did that a few times to announce I was back in KU, and I got a small bump in page reads for a little while. I also am boosting posts from my pen name author page to start a little awareness of the books I’ll be releasing in the spring. But nothing too hardcore.

They do include a page about Instagram ads. Since IG is owned by FB, you can run Instagram ads from your FB ad account. I never tried it, so I can’t tell you anything about my experience.

It’s best to focus on one ad platform and learn it really well. I’ll stick with Amazon Ads. Bryan is really easy to understand, and what he teaches you works. But he can only hold your hand for so long. You need to have a viable product or it won’t matter if you choose ads or promos. Nothing will work.

As for a list of Promo sites–people are so generous with what they know. A round of applause to Dave Chesson for putting this list together. 


That’s all that I have on marketing. No two books are alike, so no two books are going to sell alike. Find your audience. Are they like you? Where you do you find your books? Market your books there. Sounds simple, but in the end, it’s enough to make you swear off writing forever.

Good luck!


My next post talks about exclusivity vs. going wide and what the Written Word Media survey has to say about that!  See you then!

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