Category: business

AMS Ads: KDP’s PPC Advertising Option

Amazon has allowed authors to advertise their ebooks for several years, but it was limited to those ebooks enrolled in KDP Select. In December, 2016, though, they opened it to any ebooks.

The AMS (Amazon Marketing Service) ads are the latest addition to options for authors to advertise their books. Like any small business, advertising should be a big part of your budget. The biggest advantage of AMS ads is that you will be advertising on Amazon, the biggest online store for books. That alone makes these ads worthwhile.

The biggest problem is the clunkiness of the program.
Overall, the program runs much like any other PPC — pay per click — advertising platform, except it’s more limited. If you’re confusing at this, look for basic tutorials that explain how a PPC ad works. In AMS Ads, you only pay for clicks, not impressions. Keywords are always a broad match and not an exact match.

Let’s dig into some details of my results and evolving conclusions.

My AMS Ads: From March 1-March 23 – THE RESULTS

36 ads set up, 2 rejected, 34 served
#ads served 3,407,928 times | average of 100,233/ad
#clicks 11,650 clicks | CTR of 0.0034185%
$spent $172.06 | highest spend of $21.60 | lowest spend of $0.00 ( a 2-day old ad)
$ earned: Gross of 581.84
Gross x 70% = approximate net: $407.29
236% return on investment (For every $1 spent, I receive $2.36.)

AMS Ad Screenshot | IndieKidsBooks.com
This is an example of a successful AMS ad. I spent $8.59 and the gross income was $92.42, for an aCOS of 9.29%.

NOTE: AMS reports gross sales, the money they actually collect. But your ebooks are set at either 35% or 70% payment rates. Therefore, you must adjust the gross to understand your net income from the ad. If most of your ebooks are set at 70%, you can estimate by multiplying the gross by 70%. If most of your sales are paperback, you can estimate by multiplying your gross by 40%. If you have a mix of ebook and paperback sales, you’ll have to decide on an acceptable aCOS.
INDIE AUTHOR - How to Use Kindle PPC Ads to Promote and Sell Your Book | IndieKidsBooks.com

AMS Reporting


First, AMS reporting is awful. You don’t know if you have sales for 3 days. Ridiculous. It appears that all other data is reported daily. Apparently, though, ads for products other than books have this same delay in reporting. For Amazon, it must be the norm.

Beyond that, AMS only reports aggregate numbers. Your options are to manually copy data daily, or daily download a .csv file and then figure out a spreadsheet formula to calculate a graph of daily clicks/sales—or something. After doing this diligently for a couple weeks, though, I’ve decided that there’s really only one number you need to track daily and that’s the aCOS%. This is the Advertising Cost of Sales: Amount spent on a campaign divided by total sales during the campaign run dates.

What I care about are sales. If the aCOS% is zero, the ad isn’t selling books, no matter how many clicks it gets. If the aCOS% is under 70%, I’m probably breaking even. If it drops to 10% aCos, I’m making money because that means for every $1 spent, I receive $10. Since sales reports are three days late, you must run an ad a minimum of four days to know if there are any sales. Therefore, on the fourth and fifth days of an ad, I’m watching carefully the aCOS% to see if there are reasonable sales. If it goes three days with no sales, I’ll check the number served and clicks, adjust keywords, etc., or perhaps kill the ad.

Keywords

Overall, it’s hard to predict which keywords will do well and which won’t. Last month, I tried ads with auto-targeted keywords suggested by Amazon, and they didn’t sell any books. This month, I’ve only tried manual keywords. I haven’t heard a limit on the number of keywords possible for an ad; many people report they use 1000 keywords for each ad. I’ve tried these keyword options: book titles, author names, and keywords about the topic of the book. Overall, book titles do best. However, I can never predict which titles will convert for my books, which is frustrating. It means I have to try a huge range to find the few that work.

Often, out of 500 keywords, only ten are getting clicks. If you put those into a separate ad, they still get clicks. I’m in that 3-day-no-sales-report period, so I don’t know if they will get sales. In other words, single-keyword ads are still a test for me.

And, BTW, is you find some great keywords, work them into your product description. It’s easy to update your descriptions on AuthorCentral.

Bidding

The suggested starting point for keyword bids is $0.25.
For novels, I’ve found $0.25 works because the actual bids run about $0.15-0.25.
For fiction children’s picture books, I might leave it at $0.25, or so, but usually bids are under $0.10.
But for nonfiction, children’s picture books, I often bid $0.10 and get plenty of impressions at pennies.

Clicks

Lots of clicks doesn’t always mean a sale. If a book isn’t selling in spite of lots of clicks, I look to see if there’s a keyword getting lots of clicks, but no sales, and kill that keyword. For example, the keyword “children’s book” might be getting all the clicks, but it’s too generic to specifically target my title.

For a couple books, I’m getting good clicks, but few sales in spite of tweaking keywords. I need to reevaluate their sales pages, work on getting more reviews, reevaluate covers, and so on.

Sales

  • Books that already sell well, do best with the ads. More ads served, more clicks, more sales. I can get ACOS% of 7-30% with some predictability.
  • In my experience, good ads with good sales rarely performs more than a week or two. Then, it slows down: number of impressions goes down, so clicks/sales drop. But when I duplicate that ad, it may or may not get sales. Duplicating success is unpredictable, at best.
  • For the backlist titles and poor sellers, AMS ads do get sales. For the first time, I feel like I’m supporting all my titles with the marketing each deserves.

  • Tweaking an Ongoing Ad

    The only thing you can change in an ongoing ad is the keywords. You can add more, pause keywords, or change bids for individual keywords.

    Pause Keywords. Sometimes, I’ll kill a keyword that gets lots of clicks but produces no sales, such as the generic “Children’s book.”

    Add keywords. If I suddenly had a thought about new keywords, sometimes I’ll put it into an existing ad. The best thing would probably to start a new ad, but sometimes, I’m lazy and add to an existing ad.

    Change keyword bids. I have played with changing bids, especially bidding higher for well-performing keywords. This rarely has any kind of noticeable impact. The bids remain pretty consistent within just one or two cents. Changing the bid seems to have no effect.

    What Books Work Best

    Does this work for bestsellers, backlist titles, midlist titles? What books will benefit? My front list titles do best; however, the midlist and backlist titles are finding new life with the advertising program.

    Surprise – Sell in All Formats

    I only have a couple books in audio: The Aliens, Inc series, Saucy and Bubba (novel), and The Girl, the Gypsy and the Gargoyle (novel). They sell zero. As in zero.

    During the time period of this report, they’ve had 8 sales. That was a nice surprise. It’s not a big chunk of money, but it was something.

    In other words, it doesn’t matter what version of a book you advertise; on Amazon, people will buy their preferred format. Advertising will move books across all formats. For adult books, it moves ebooks the most. For children’s books, it moves paperbacks the most. Across the board, though, books sell in all formats.

    Surprise – Teach Amazon How to Sell My Book

    Another surprise has been the overall effect on a book’s sales. I had a nonfiction picture book, targeted at a small niche market, and it wasn’t selling. Before I started advertising it, I checked its sales page. All the copy was good, the cover is good, but there were no sales. On the page, there were no Also-Boughts shown, at all.

    I targeted books in its niche and ran ads. Within a week or so, the book’s page started to show Also-Boughts. I interpret that to mean that Amazon’s algorithms had finally categorized it correctly. In spite of putting the book into appropriate categories and using appropriate keywords, it wasn’t getting shown by Amazon. The sales copy, categories and keywords weren’t enough to tell Amazon how to sell the book. However, the ads were “teaching” the algorithms where to show the book to get sales. Sales have been good (not spectacular, but good) on the book since running ads.

    Scaling Ads

    As Mark Dawson, the indie publisher guru on advertising for books, said, the problem with AMS is scaling. He’d love to spend $500/day, or maybe more. But he can’t get Amazon to spend the dollars and show the ads.

    He solved it by setting up ads at $1/day and has over 200 going at any one time.
    My results aren’t supporting that kind of ad, yet. When I set the daily limit to $3, I get fewer impressions (ads served). If I set it at $1, I am afraid it will be even less. Further, it seems that the ads with a $20 daily limit are shown more, which results in more sales. They still don’t spend the daily limit, but they spend more than those with lower daily limits. It’s not easy to figure out, but my best guess (for my books in the month of March!) is to use a higher daily limit. I’m going to try more of these.

    Further, right now, I have three ads for one book running. One has become dominate and churns out sales. The other two are barely being served. They do get impressions, but not as many. However, they all have similar keywords. The next thing for me to try is low $/day, and each ad has unique keywords. If I can get three ads working, instead of one, it might increase sales. As always, it’s a matter of testing.

    Overall, AMS has quickly become a strong tool for generating sales for my books. Even when there are few sales, if an ad gets an average of 100,000 impressions, the exposure can’t hurt. I suspect that AMS Ads will become an ongoing experiment to get things right because there are so many factors: different times of year, different titles, book cover, reviews, etc. But even with the volatility of the ad platform, it sells books. And I’m loving it.

    Have you tried AMS Ads for your books? Any tips to share?

    Typical Day at the Offfice

    I go to work.
    My husband and I own a 3-story Victorian house in the historic Quapaw District of Little Rock, AR. My office–home of Mims House publishing–is the attic of the Mims House. In the historic district, the houses are named by the family who lived there in 1890. Our house is the Mims House, hence the name of my publishing company.

    8 am. I got to work at 8 this morning. I had a Skype visits scheduled at 9 a.m., so I set up for that by pulling up the right programs and logging into Skype. The teacher called for a quick check of the connection and then I had about 30 minutes to work. I’m changing the service I’ll use for email lists, so I had some work to do on that to fill the odd space of time.

    I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay, Book 1 of THE READ AND WRITE SERIES | IndieKidsBooks.com9-10 am. I’m registered on Microsoft’s Educator site that lists Skype Lessons with a proposal to talk about How to Write Opinion Essays. I read the book, discuss worksheets and answer questions. This time, I Skyped a fifth grade class in New York. Of course, this promotes my picture book READ AND WRITE series, especially Book 1, I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay. They’ve done well and the illustrator is working on Book 4, My Dirty Dog: My Informative Essay.

    10-noon. I had various emails and tasks to attend to. An order came in, so I printed the invoice/packing slip and packaged up the books. Answered a few emails about an upcoming writing retreat that I’m teaching.

    Noon – 1 pm. Lunch at the Rivermarket with my husband.

    1-4 pm. Right before I left for lunch, I heard from Peter Willis, a UK illustrator. He’s working on a new picture book, The Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News Story. Peter said he’d sent me “scamps.”
    “Dictionary definition of scamp: “verb (used with object)4. to do or perform in a hasty or careless manner: to scamp work.”

    His rough illustrations or scamps are always wonderful. But that meant I had work to do. When I get roughs from an illustrator, I like to put them into the Indesign Template so I can see what we’ve got. He was one or two spreads shy of what he needed. Also, when I roughed in the text, I saw some interesting things. About six of the spreads had the text in the same position on the spread (2-pages together). It was on the upper left hand side. Nothing wrong with that, but the repetition of that placement was a bit too much.

    I wrote about a page and a half of notes to Peter about the illustrations, discussing things like that. A few spreads, I just wrote: “Love it!” But most had some additional comment. I love his work! But there are always tweaks to get the best possible book.

    At this point, I encourage illustrators to discuss anything! I want their input as professional artist on what they think works or doesn’t work. But I also have to make sure they are thinking about the overall book. Avoid the gutters (the space between pages where the art and text will disappear). Leave room in the art for the copyright info, for the text, vary text placement, overall balance the images, keep everything funny, and so on. It’s a balancing act all the way across the book.

    I modified the text slightly to set up two great page-turns. In other words, the text sets up an expectation and makes the reader want to turn the page. I couldn’t do that before I saw the rough illustrations!

    The Blue Planets World series. IndieKidsBooks.com

    While working on the Rough PDF, I got a shipment of books. These are ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) for my release of SLEEPERS, a middle grade novel, Book 1 of a series.

    Read the free Prequel: ENVOYS !

    I’ll be sending out about 30 paperback copies of the book to reviewers, educational distributors, and other interested folks. This is a big chunk of my publicity budget for each book – ARCs.

    4-5 pm or thereabouts. Write this blog post.
    5:00 pm Go home.

    So, it’s been a busy day! I started with some technical things on email, went into a teaching mode about opinion essays to promote a picture book, filled an order, answered emails on upcoming events, ate lunch with hubby, and then dove into the layout and design of a forthcoming picture book.

    Things on my To-Do List that didn’t get done: Book order form sent to school for an upcoming school visit, registering copyright on February release, send science/nature books to a science review service, write on Book 3 of The Blue Planets series, and send emails about the winner of a book giveaway.

    Add to that To-Do List for tomorrow: Prioritize writing on novel, send out ARCs.

    Every day is a wild mix of creative, administrative, business, sales, marketing, and teaching activities. Never a dull moment for an indie author and publisher!

    What's it like to be an Author-Publisher? Here's a typical day. | IndieKidsBooks.com

    What Will You Publish?

    Early on, every indie or self-publisher must answer a crucial question: what’s the scope of your publishing program. Will you publish only one book? Will you publish every book you write? Or will you become a hybrid author, publishing some yourself and traditionally publishing others? There is, of course, no right or wrong. There are only options.

    Becoming a Successful Small Business

    I like to put the question of self-publishing into a wider business context. In the U.S., most small businesses fail within the first year. Usually it takes 3-5 years to turn a profit and start making money after the initial investments.

    What that means in practical terms is that self-publishing a one-off book is the least likely to make you any money. Indies who do well think long term and think about overall income over a variety of books. Often at first, nonfiction takes off first, because nonfiction is written to solve someone’s problem. Finding that audience is often easier.

    It takes time to build a reputation with fiction. For those authors who already have a reputation in the traditional publishing, it’s possible to do well with a one-off book, especially if you’re finishing off a trilogy or series that was dropped by a traditional publisher. You can do well, that is, if you’ve built a mailing list of fans and know how to contact them!

    Most indie publishers will succeed if they have a long term strategy of consistent publishing in certain genres for certain audiences. The more you can concentrate writing and publishing in one area, the more likely it is that your reputation–and sales–will grow.

    Projects of the Heart

    For some people, though, making a profit as a small publisher doesn’t matter. For example, you may have a deaf daughter and want to write a story that helps other families with deaf children. For niche markets like this, you’re unlikely to turn a profit. If you must commission art and hire freelancers for editing and layout, then your budget is hard to balance. Some indie publishers will be happy with just breaking even on such projects. Nothing wrong with that. For these folks, maybe publishing just one books makes perfect sense.

    Traditional Contracts – Will You Ever Go Back?

    An interesting thing happens, though, as you start to self-publish. You no longer have to split profits with a publishing house. Your per book profit is much better. For ebooks sold on Amazon, for a $5 book, Amazon keeps 30% and the publisher receives 70%, or $3.50. Traditional publishers normally pass along 5% for a picture book ($0.18) or 10% for a novel, or ($0.35).

    After a couple books under your belt, traditional contracts don’t look as enticing as they once did! This isn’t a post about contracts, but Kris Rusch has done a series about contracts that explains her indie mind-set. At the very least, Kris gives you lots to think about!

    On the other hand, there are times when it does make sense to work with a traditional publisher. They have a wider reach and have the ability to make huge sales on certain projects. There’s nothing wrong with being a hybrid author who both indie and traditional publishes. Just go in with your eyes wide open.

    If you choose to self-publish, the first question is what will you publish? Everything? Only some? Hybrid or full indie? These are crucial questions. | IndieKidsBooks.com

    Do you have to choose the Scope of your publishing program? Yes and No.

    Yes, you must decide what you plan to do. It’s important for many business decisions what you plan to do.

    • Taxes. If you only want to do one book, maybe sole proprietorship is fine; if you do many, you may want to incorporate.
    • Name and Logo. Will you publish under your own name or give your publishing company a more professional name? Please, please, please do not put your publisher as Create Space! I can’t think of a more amateur way to list your books. Unless maybe it’s one of the other scam “book publishers.” If you only publish one book, maybe your name is OK; if you plan many, you need to be a pro about †his issue and really create a publishing house.
    • Freelance or DIY. If you only publish once, maybe it’s fine to freelance everything; if you plan to do many, maybe you want to invest in learning programs to cut costs and gain control.
    • Publish wide or only Amazon. If you only publish once, maybe it’s enough to go exclusive with one distributor; if you publish many, maybe you want to maximize your income streams and not put your company’s success squarely on the shoulders of one fickle distributor.
    • ISBN. Will you buy a single ISBN or a block of ISBN? 10? 100? 1000?

    The list could go on, of course. The decision of the scope of your publishing affects every other business decision you make.

    No. You don’t have to decide what you plan to do. One idea in the business world is the “minimally viable product.” That means a business will bring a product to market as bare bones as possible and let the success or failure in the marketplace determine what comes next. They will add or subtract features based on customer feedback. It’s an interactive process based on the market the product finds.

    My own experience in self-publishing has followed this trajectory in some ways. I first published a workbook for a novel revision retreat that I taught. Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise is in its second edition and doing well. My first children’s picture book, 11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph, was a learning book and hasn’t yet found its real audience (translate: poor sales). But the second children’s book, Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for over 60 Years received a starred Publisher’s Weekly review and has done well.

    That early success with a science picture book has set me on a path of doing more science books. It’s a good market for me, with sales so far this year of 2900 in special orders alone. I also publish fiction picture books and hope they do well, such as Rowdy: The Pirate Who Could Not Sleep.

    Initially, I planned to only publish the one workbook. But it was easy, the money was good, and I learned early on that I was a DIY-type person, so I could keep budgets streamlined. When I decided in 2013 to go full-time with Mims House, I bought a block of 1000 ISBNs to signal my serious commitment to indie books. The scope of my publishing has grown until I have about 30 titles, and about 60 ISBNs used between hardcover, softcover, ebooks and audiobooks.

    You can choose one path and then change your mind later. You have options. But you must choose something, even if you later change your mind! What is the scope of your publishing?

    Digital Files: The Assets of an Indie Publisher

    As an independent publisher, what are your assets? Your digital files!

    As I uploaded files today to the EPIC! app, I was struck again with the fact that I’m in a digital file business. Every place that sells my books wants a digital file, even the printers who produce the print books. I recently uploaded my whole catalog to Overdrive, which sells ebooks and audiobooks to libraries. The upload included about 60 files; I was proud that only 3 files had to be revised slightly for their platform. Pristine digital files are crucial for indie publishers.
    When I think about publishing, I think books. But the assets of a publisher are really digital files. Read about how to maintain and protect your business assets! | IndieKidsBooks.com
    Organized. This means you must be strictly organized with your pdf and jpeg files that constitute the assets of your business. Of course, each book gets its own folder. I further subdivide a book’s folder into these subfolders:

    • Production (ebook, interior, covers). These include the original images, InDesign files, high-resolution pdfs for each platform, and ebooks for each platform.
    • Publicity or Promo (covers, sell sheet, reviews) includes everything that I might need to promote the book. One folder holds covers jpgs in every size and resolution that might be typically requested; I’ve gotten in the habit of generating the range of jpg files immediately when I finish the cover. The sell sheet includes all metadata, slugs, descriptions and any other copy that I might need to cut and paste to a sales platform. Reviews are collected in another folder.
    • Other folders might include book trailers, awards, updates, foreign languages, video, audio, contracts, etc.

    Metadata files. Besides the actual book files a spreadsheet of metadata is essential. Typically, a platform that sells books will want to know ISBN of each format, title, subtitle, author, illustrator, narrator, description, category, keywords, BISAC categories, language, publication date, release date, age range, and maybe other things unique to the platform. I keep a Master MetaData list and update as often as needed. Still, it’s always a pain to create a metadata file for each different platform, as inevitably, their template lists items in a different order. Or, they require unique information. It’s a necessary chore because metadata sells books by allowing the reader to find your book.

    Backup. Do I have to say it? If your business assets consist of digital files, then you should back up regularly. My computer’s video card went out recently and of course, it was right before I had to go out of town to teach. While Apple sent my Mac to Memphis for a new video card, my only recourse was to buy a new computer which I would return when my computer was repaired. My backup was a week out of date. Fortunately, nothing important was lost. But it reminded me of the imperative of keeping good backups of data.