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Whether they’re marketing their first book- or their fiftieth- many authors rely heavily on advertising to launch their book. While advertising can be helpful, it’s often not used strategically enough to move the needle.
A lot of times, when I talk to authors and ask what they’re doing to promote their books, they’ll tell me they’re running some form of social media advertisement – whether it’s Facebook or Instagram, or maybe they’re running print ads. Regardless of the ad type, most ads need to anchor to something – and by that, I mean something more than a book.
In this post, I’ll take you through the various types of ads that authors run and suggest some strategies that may help you get more success from your ad campaign. But first, let’s look at some issues with ads and how to fix the ads that aren’t selling books.
Your Ads Aren’t Selling Books
While there are maybe deeper issues here that we’ll look at later on in this piece, let me say that regardless of the ads you’re running, your Amazon book page needs to convert your ad traffic into buyers. I’ve written a lot of blog posts on the importance of your Amazon book page (I’ll link to some in the resources section of this post) but suffice it to say that the #1 reason why your ads aren’t working is this: your book page isn’t strong enough to turn a click into a buy.
Yes, your ad copy could be bad, too – that’s true. But I find that it comes down to a poorly written or poorly designed book page on Amazon in almost every case.
When it Comes to How to Launch a Book – Some Ads are Main Players, and Others are Your Supporting Cast
One of the best things you can do for your ad planning is knowing which ads are the main players and which are your supporting cast. The reason it’s important to know is that the main player needs minimal incentive to the reader, while a supporting cast member is in support of another, more significant strategy you’re doing. The problem is a lot of authors treat all ads the same way: as main players when they are not.
You’re Sending People to the Wrong Link
Maybe you want to build your mailing list, and you want to send people to your website to buy the book. Certainly, it’s a reasonable idea, but it won’t execute effectively enough to sell books. The reason is this: most consumers default to Amazon for their book purchases, so trying to use your ads to push potential readers to your author website gets tricky. First off, they don’t know you, and with so many scammers out there, we have to be careful. Amazon is a trusted source; almost everyone I know has an account there, and building trust takes time. So consider where you’re sending your ad link and maybe think about updating it.
You Aren’t Incentivizing a Buy
Ads need to push readers to do something, and by “something,” I mean not just buying your book. Ads need to have a strong call to action, and ideally, a limited time to do so! I love using ads – especially supporting cast-type ads – to help push more attention to eBook discounts and promos. I tend to use Bookbub ads (a solid supporting cast type ad) for that very purpose. Running a Bookbub ad strategically placed in a newsletter is a great way to help build more momentum for your promotion.
But it doesn’t have to be a discounted book promotion either. Let’s say that you’re running some other special or incentive to help with your book launch- maybe it’s a limited BOGO (buy one get one) or something of that nature. Ads on social media and Bookbub can work great for that too!
Remember that the best ad campaigns are strategic. Many authors run ads just to run them, to feel like they’re doing something to proactively sell their book when a better use of their time and money is to plan an ad campaign more strategically.
You Aren’t Targeting Readers Where they “Live”
When running ads, one rule of thumb is to make sure you’re running ads where your reader “lives” -meaning online. So you’re running ads on Facebook – but is your reader on Facebook? Are you sure?
Be sure to align your ad strategy to your reader, absolutely. While you may love running ads on a particular social media portal ( maybe you are a pro at running ads), first make sure that you’re targeting in a place that your reader will actually see. Otherwise, you’re just wasting money and time.
Types of Ads Authors Should Never Run
I once consulted with an author who decided to run ads in a movie theatre ahead of the movie. She spent a lot of money on a book trailer that ran during the previews, and the trailer was great, but unfortunately, it didn’t really have an impact.
The reason is that people in movie theaters are often pretty distracted until the movie they’re there to see actually starts. To add another layer to this, the book was a children’s book – have you ever been in a movie theatre packed with little kids? I can almost guarantee you none of them saw the ad, and neither did their parents trying to get the kids settled and ready for the movie.
I think that potentially this could have worked if the author had done something else to support this strategy, like posters in the theater lobby, or a bookmark, or some other swag for each kid.
The other type of ads to avoid are Google ads – though let me say that this isn’t meant to bash Google Adwords at all, but they don’t sell books. If you have a business connected to your book, that’s a different thing. But running Google ads to drive more sales to your book is often a wasted (and very expensive effort).
I’ve also known authors to buy billboard ads in heavily congested areas – where commuters sit in traffic, or they buy subway banners, etc. This is a strategy that could work, if there is a strong supporting cast and a hefty budget to do this. For example, the subway ads could have a QR code or some other incentive to get the book now. The billboard ads would have to have a simple and very catchy URL to send people too, remember your audience is in a car, maybe they have a pen, maybe they don’t. Sure, they could snap a picture of your billboard for later, but then they’d have to grab their phone, taking their attention off of the traffic. It’s risky, at best.
Print/online ads in local or national publications are another good news bad news kind of a thing. I think print ads, much like the example of the author doing movie theatre ads, needs to have a separate foundation to drive potential readers to a purchase. Maybe that foundation is an upcoming local event. Either way, tread carefully here. I had an author once spend over $5,000 to run an ad in the New York Times book section and got nothing for it in return. The problem wasn’t the ad, or the publication – because we know this book section gets a lot of eyes. The problem was the author was an unknown, with his first book just out.
The lure to run ads, and especially pricey print ads, is that we often see big, full-page ads running for people like Nicholas Sparks or David Baldacci. These ads are specifically designed to activate their existing readership. Authors with big, robust platforms can afford to take a chance on a print ad, knowing it’ll probably show a return in the form of a pre-order, because their fan base is solid.
But honestly, this works for maybe 3% of the authors out there, so don’t feel bad if you had your heart set on this strategy. Instead, save your money and look at some other opportunities that might better fit your audience.
When Should You Run Ads to Launch a Book
Most consumers are impatient, we don’t want to wait weeks and weeks to get a book. Yes, I understand wanting to build some momentum for your book launch, but running ads weeks in advance of your launch probably isn’t the best way to do that.
Instead, consider running Amazon ads for the two weeks leading up to your book launch. Will this sell books? Well, maybe – but my goal of running Amazon ads is not to sell books, per se, but to build up the algorithm to help rocket your book strongly out of the gate.
Book ads can be a terrific partner to help launch a book. If used strategically and with the proper reader incentive, a solid ad campaign can be a great addition to everything else you’re doing. But it’s almost never a stand-alone strategy. Though ads can help to elevate the book impressions that helps to attract more buyers, so in cases where your clicks aren’t converting to immediate sales, but your book is still selling, you know you’re doing something right.
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