The cover of Conquistador Voices

How to Self-Publish Like a Pro, Part 4: Selling Your Books

Note: I’m honored to present this guest post from my uncle, Kevin H. Siepel, a distinguished author of historical non-fiction who is highly skilled in the ways of marketing self-published work. His most recent work is Conquistador Voices, a two-volume history of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. His website is Spruce Tree Press.

Kevin Siepel
Tio Kevin

Read Part 1 in this series.
Read Part 2 in this series.
Read Part 3 in this series.

by Kevin H Siepel

LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon Marketing Services, Google Adwords, Goodreads, LibraryThing, standard magazine or newspaper ads and reviews. For the first-time indie author the array of possibilities for making a book visible to the reading public can be bewildering. Not only can it be bewildering (and even depressing), but, as you experiment, it can also get very expensive very fast. Fortunately the process is easily demystified. Don’t look beyond Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) and Facebook (FB), because they’re all you’ll need. Forget everything else.

Advertising on FB is relatively straightforward. You open an account, set up the requisite pages and proceed to design your campaign around one or more ad sets, with one or more ads in each set. You pay per click. The ads can be touched up, even radically revised, at any time. Numerous analytical tools are at your disposal, including the all-important relevance number, generated once your ad has appeared more than 500 times (this number should be at 8 or above; if it’s lower you should adjust either your targeting or your ad). Laser-like audience focus is possible, including geographic, ethnic, age, gender, interest, vocational, and myriad other audience-definers. You may direct the prospective buyer to any web page you wish—on your own site, for example, or on Amazon’s.

FB advertising is worth doing, but do it carefully because the money goes fast. Start with a low budget, maybe 5 or 10 dollars/day, and watch it. One more thing—if your landing page is on your own website, you’ll be able to track FB-originating sales using the FB pixel. But if the landing page belongs to Amazon, you won’t be able to track FB sales. If, however, you’re also using AMS to advertise, you can subtract units sold through AMS from total units sold, and get an idea of what is probably coming from FB. Not very exact, but somewhat indicative.

To my way of thinking, AMS advertising is a better bet than FB. The targeting is not as tight, but the placement of the ad is better.

To use AMS your book must be sold on the Amazon website as either a bound book or a Kindle. Prospective buyers are taken only to an Amazon landing page, but it can be a page of your choice. It might be your author page or your book’s detail page. There are restrictions on the number of characters you can put into an ad (which will also carry an image of your cover), and once the ad is submitted for review no changes can be made. The ad can be paused, terminated, or (if just paused) re-enabled any time you wish. If you’re unsatisfied with the ad copy, you can easily pause or terminate that ad and create another as a different campaign.

What makes AMS a slightly better choice than FB for the backbone of your advertising campaign is that the ads actually appear on Amazon’s pages, where the potential customers already are. You’re dealing with a potential buyer who is already in a book-buying, or at least a book-shopping, frame of mind. He or she is not being hit out of the blue by an ad for a book, as the FB user is—book ads are expected. You’re dealing with what sales pros call a qualified customer. This can make a significant difference in outcome.

AMS gives you various ways of attracting the potential buyer’s attention. Without going into great detail on the subject, suffice it to say that your ad might pop up on searches for competitors’ books, hundreds of which you might enter into your campaign settings. You can target potential buyers who are searching through a particular genre of books, whether of fiction or nonfiction. You may target by keyword. You may have your ad show up on the lockscreen of a Kindle device belonging to a pre-qualified customer.

Costs? You set a daily budget anywhere from $1 on up, you set your own cost-per-click (CPC) figure (a number above which you don’t wish to go), and you can alter these figures at any time. If a particular campaign is going well, you may wish to increase the daily budget or CPC. If it’s going poorly, you may decrease one or both of these numbers, or pause the campaign.

If your book is available as both a bound copy and a Kindle, you may target either of these editions, or both (in separate campaigns). You may run as many simultaneous campaigns as you wish.

AMS metrics are outstanding. The main page, showing all your campaigns, lists what you’ve spent to date on each of your campaigns. If you wish to view figures for just a portion of that period—say, just August instead of May through September—a report can be generated in seconds giving you that information. Another column of your main page gives you the amount brought in for goods sold since the campaign’s beginning. It’s important to remember that this is not a royalty figure, but an overall sales figure. A third column, headed ACoS, tells you the advertising cost of sale. This is a slight misnomer, since you are not actually being given a cost figure, but a percentage, dividing what you’ve spent by what’s been taken in, to give you a fraction. If you’ve spent $100 on advertising and $100 has been taken in on sales, the ACoS will read 100%. If you’ve spent $100 and $200 has been taken in, it will read 50%. And because the sales figure is not a royalty figure, but rather a figure you have to share with Amazon, you should look for a break-even point lower than 100%. If you’re advertising a Kindle book and your royalty bounces between 35% and 70% (depending on where the books are sold), you should perhaps consider an ACoS of somewhere just below 70% as your break-even point, and perhaps pause the ad on close approach to that point. If your paperback royalties are about 40%, but Amazon has reduced the selling price while keeping your royalty the same (giving you a larger share of the selling price), you might consider a 45-50% ACoS as the point to pause an ad.

An important characteristic of AMS is delay in reporting. You may have paused an ad for a paperback that has reached, say, 60% ACoS, and then, looking at your data a few days later, you find new sales posted, and an ACoS that’s come down to 40%. At that point you may wish to consider enabling the ad again.

AMS, even more than FB, requires daily experimentation and tweaking. It’s not terribly time-consuming once you get the hang of it, but you shouldn’t let the daily caretaking slide or you may quickly start losing money. You will be shocked at the advertising bills, but if you’re doing things right, your burgeoning royalties should make you smile.

A good source of advice on AMS is Mark Dawson. Click here and here for Mark’s more in-depth look at AMS. And good luck selling.

Kevin H. Siepel is the author of a two-volume set on the Spanish conquest of the Americas entitled Conquistador Voices (Spruce Tree Press 2015). He is also the author of Joseph Bennett of Evans and the Growing of New York’s Niagara Frontier (Spruce Tree Press 2006) and Rebel: The Life and Times of John Singleton Mosby (University of Nebraska Press 2008). His essays and articles have appeared widely in the national, regional, and special-interest press.