Conspiracy Theories

The indie self-publishing world needs to take some deep breaths. The blows have been coming fast and hard lately. Kindle Worlds is gone, people lost half their KU page reads for April, RT convention is gone, there was that whole trademark thing…

Everyone wants to understand. They want an explanation. They want it to make sense. And it doesn’t. At least not given what we know.

So then the conspiracy theories start…

Like the one that says that running AMS is why people lost page reads.

Or the one that says that somehow Amazon used Pronoun as some sort of data gathering effort and then turned on Pronoun and merged with Draft2Digital? (By the way, person who said that, that word does not mean what you think it does. A merger is a very different thing from a distribution agreement. VERY. Also, Amazon doesn’t need Pronoun’s data. I think you got that backwards.)

So let’s all take a deep, deep breath. In…..Out…..

Here’s the deal:

Self-publishing is chaotic. It’s one of the only areas in my life where I’ve ever felt the need for the serenity prayer. You know the one that basically says grant me the strength to do what I can and ignore the rest?

If you’re going to stick with self-publishing long-term, you need that. Put it on your wall. And every time one of these situations arises ask yourself: “Is this something I can do anything about?” and “Is this something I should do something about?”

If it’s yes, then act. If it’s no, then move on. Usually the answer to one or both of those questions will be no.

Also, if someone makes some sort of insane claim about what’s going on, step back. Think Occam’s Razor. The simplest solution is usually the correct one.

It’s not some vast conspiracy. There is not some masterplan bent on your personal destruction. Usually what’s happening is the outcome of a lot of people or companies making decisions that are best for them without thinking about the impact on anyone else. It’s that simple.

Yes, there are cutthroat assholes out there. At the individual level and the corporate level. For them it’s rarely personal. They make decisions based on what will earn them the most money. So once you know that about them, act accordingly. Don’t feel betrayed that they acted within their nature. They are what they are.

One more point.

I was about to respond to the umpteenth post I’d seen recently about how everyone who had page reads stripped last month seems to have been running AMS. (Not necessarily true. Just like it wasn’t true that they were all running Bookbubs last year when page reads precipitously dropped for some people.)

I was going to make a comment about how it’s easy to look at a small number of people who had X happen to them, see that they all had Y in common, and conclude that Y was the cause, while failing to see that there are a hundred times as many people who also had Y but where nothing happened to them.

But then I asked myself whether I should be spending my time on the internet trying to convince strangers to calm down and stop seeing conspiracies around every corner.

No, I should not. I should be writing. I have a book I need to finish editing. So I can publish it. And advertise it. With AMS.

AMS and Writing

I had an interesting conversation over the weekend about AMS Ads for Authors and writing in general. And one of the points we discussed in that conversation is something I specifically call out in the AMS video course (now renamed Easy AMS Ads), but maybe not as strongly in the book, so I thought it was worth addressing here.

Which is that: as a self-published author looking to make money off of your writing (lots of assumptions in that sentence, but that’s who I’m talking to here), you need to keep producing new material.

Yes, you should market what you’ve already done. (And I am arguably not as good at that as I should be which is why I thank my lucky stars for AMS because I can run them full-time and with maybe fifteen minutes a day spent on them.)

But more importantly, you need to feed your readers. You need to give them new material. Otherwise you’re spending all this money to acquire customers (readers) and then you’re losing them because you have nothing more to offer them.

The most effective use of advertising is when you can bring people in the door and then keep them there and buying more from you. (See Amanda M. Lee for a good example.) Now, not everyone can write that fast, but if you’re spending all your time advertising what you’ve already written to the detriment of producing new material that is not a successful long-term strategy.

And what’s even more important about this is that AMS are an Amazon ad product. Meaning they favor new and shiny and already successful.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m running ads on books I published in 2013, 2014, 2015. But my most successful ad the last six months was on a book published September 2017. My second most successful, same thing. There’s a reason for that. Amazon is the reason.

So writing one or two books and then running AMS on them to the expense of everything else will perhaps do really well for you the first six months or year or maybe even two years you run the ads. But after that you need something new. You need new material to throw at the ads.

(And you need new material for your fans, too. Don’t forget them.)

Never ever lose sight of the fact that new material is what will keep the lights on. The JK Rowlings of the world who have a series selling well a decade after release without new material are the rarities. (And even she has had new stuff come out related to the original HP books. The movies. A play. A book of the play. The website that tells you your house and your patronus.)

Always be sure that whatever strategy you take to promoting your books doesn’t keep you from producing new material.

Speaking of. I have a book that’s waiting on final edits.

A Quick & Dirty Guide to AMS for Authors

Once again the main AMS thread over on Kboards has grown to the size where it’s probably intimidating to newbies. And one of the wiser members over there suggested that maybe I should just put together a quick FAQ on AMS to direct people to.

Now, remember, I wrote a whole book about AMS ads (AMS Ads for Authors by M.L. Humphrey) the last time I decided to do something like this, so brevity on this subject is not my strong suit.

But here goes.

What Are AMS?

AMS is shorthand for Amazon Marketing Services. AMS ads are a type of pay-per-click advertisement that authors can use that allow them to advertise their books in Amazon search results, on Amazon product pages, and on Kindles.

There are multiple types of AMS accounts that have different dashboards and advertising options, but most authors just open the type of AMS account they can access using their KDP account.

If you do this, there will be two types of advertising available to you: Product Display and Sponsored Product ads.

What is the Difference Between Product Display and Sponsored Product Ads?

There are a number of differences between the two ad types. They display in different locations, contain different information, and behave differently. Also, how you target the ads differs.

For the purpose of this quick and dirty overview, be sure when you’re talking to someone else about AMS that you understand what type of ad they use. Otherwise you may get “bad” advice.

How Long Does It Take For An Ad to Be Approved?

It should be approved in less than a day.

My Ad Was Rejected. Why?

Usually it’s a cover that Amazon thinks is too sexy or violent or you tried to use ad copy Amazon doesn’t like.

There’s a guide to their ad policies that it’s worth reviewing if you run into this or if you write books with sexy people or guns on the cover. And don’t use ALL CAPS in your ad. Or ellipsis. Or a double dash.

When Should I Expect My AMS Ad to Start Running?

For SP ads, immediately. You should see impressions and clicks the day the ad is approved. For PD ads…Maybe never.

I’m Seeing Sales or Page Reads, But the Dashboard Shows No Sales

That’s because there is usually a two to three day delay in the reporting of sales on the AMS dashboard. So you’ll see clicks and impressions but the sales that were generated from that won’t show for a couple days. This is why you shouldn’t use the dashboard to monitor your ads.

Also, the AMS dashboard shows nothing related to KU borrows.

If I Don’t Use the Dashboard, How Do I Monitor My Ads?

For new ads I only use the AMS dashboard to see what I’ve spent. That I believe is pretty accurate. I then compare that to the KDP dashboard and CreateSpace dashboard to determine if I’m seeing increased sales on that book. For a book in KU I will also watch the book’s rank to see if there are increased borrows.

If I’m seeing a lot of spend but not a lot of increased sales/borrows, I will shut that ad down. New ads can sometimes generate a lot of clicks but lead to no sales/borrows.

For my long-running ads…

On a daily basis, I only pay attention to those ads where I’ve maxed out my budget. So if I have a $5 budget and Amazon tells me I’ve spent it, I go look at the Amazon dashboard and CreateSpace to see if I’ve earned more than $5 on sales of that book that day. If so, I up my bid. If not, that ad is done for the day. (If you’re in KU, you should also look at your book’s rank to see if it reflects enough borrows to justify keeping the ad going.)

In addition, I look at profitability across all of my ads every time Amazon bills me. I spend enough on AMS that they bill me every ten days or so. At that point I go and compare what I spent for the period to what I earned on ebook sales, print sales, and page reads for the period. (There are some minor flaws in that approach, but it’s good enough for me.) If I’m profitable, I keep the ad running. If I’m not, I either adjust bids or shutdown the ad.

(You will be billed at least once a month for your AMS ads no matter what you spend, so you can do this at least once per month.)

You Mentioned Print Sales. How Does That Work?

AMS is very good for driving print sales in addition to ebook sales. You have to have an ebook version available to run this type of AMS ad, but they seem to do very well with print sales as well. As a matter of fact, I have a couple non-fiction titles where I get about 60% print sales to 40% ebook with AMS.

Keywords. How Many? Where Do I Find Them? What Makes One Good?

Different approaches work well with AMS. I am of the limited number of keywords, high bid, sponsored product ad school of thought. Others do well with as many keywords as they can find and low bids. So it’s really up to you.

And there are many, many places to find them. (I cover ten in my book.) Think like a reader. When you go to Amazon and look for a book, how do you search for it? I’ve found that with fiction I do best with generic genre terms and author names. With non-fiction I do best with topic-related search terms and book titles.

There is some debate about what makes a keyword a good one. For me, it’s about sales. So lots of impressions with low clicks? Bad. Lots of clicks with low sales? Bad. I want impressions that lead to clicks that lead to sales. I don’t care about visibility if it isn’t also resulting in paying customers.

(And be careful if you’re in KU because AMS ads can lead to borrows that won’t show on the dashboard, so you can see clicks but low sales on a good keyword.)

Bidding. What Should I Bid?

That’s up to you. Some choose a low-bid strategy. Some choose a high-bid strategy. I tend to be on the high bid side of things but I’ve seen people do well with the low bid side. When I say low bid I’m probably talking under 15 cents. When I say high bid I’m probably talking over 45 cents. (But those are moving targets. AMS is a bid system where you are bidding against others for that ad slot. Some genres, like romance, are more competitive than others.)

I Bid Really High. Why Didn’t It Work?

Because AMS is not a pure bid-based system. There is a relevance factor involved in how AMS evaluates your bid against others’. None of us know exactly how it works, but it’s in your best interests to have as successful an ad as you can manage if you want to win your auctions. That means you want people buying your book if you want to continue winning your auctions.

Start a New Ad or Revive An Old One?

Once more, there are different opinions on this. New ads tend to run hot so will rack up more impressions faster. If they’re working that’s great, but they can be a quick way to lose a lot of money. I prefer to keep an older successful ad running because I think that’s part of what Amazon looks at when it judges two bids against one another. But you can’t do that without maintaining that ad. (At least on the SP side of things.)

To maintain an ad, I kill off non-performing keywords, change bids, change budgets, and sometimes will pause an ad for a bit and then start it up again.

AMS Are a Nightmare. It’s All So Confusing. Why Use Them? Aren’t They Just Scamming Us Out of More Money?

I love AMS because they give me direct access to the largest ebook and print book market in the world. And they give me the opportunity to advertise my books at full price on a daily basis.

They also work for me. I make a profit running them. I have one ad right now where I spend about $125 every ten days and I make about $400 in sales.

Are all of my ads that successful? No.

Is it frustrating sometimes to have an ad stop running and not know why? Yes.

Can one competitor entering the market and outbidding me change all that tomorrow? You betcha.

But before AMS existed, that book I just mentioned? It would’ve never sold as many copies as it has.

Since I started running AMS I have seen significant improvement in sales of all of my books. That doesn’t mean I’ve sold millions of copies. I don’t write to market. And some of what I write probably only has a potential audience of a hundred people. But AMS have been a lifesaver for me.

They are what they are. Yes, sales cost more if you run them than if you had organic sales. But…Most of us are not at the stage where we get organic sales. So the choice is: pay to advertise your books or don’t sell at all. I know which I prefer.

If you want to learn more about AMS there is a thread on Kboards with lots of information and opinions: A New AMS Thread

And, of course, I did write a book on this: AMS Ads for Authors that’s only $4.99 in ebook or $10 in paperback.

It’s also now a video course, available here  and for a special introductory price until June 30th.

My First $5,000 AMS Ad!

First, for those who signed up for the video course of AMS Ads for Authors yesterday, thank you. Also, thank you to Liz for pointing out that the video was too quiet. I had listened to the videos with headphones on so hadn’t caught that and it wasn’t caught in the Udemy quality review either.

Fortunately, I have a videographer friend whose Friday nights are as exciting as mine who helped me figure out how to fix it. (Noise Leveling + Gain=12 for those who are curious.) I revamped all the videos and reuploaded them last night so they should all be good to go now. And apologies to anyone who was trying to listen during that two hour period while I was uploading the new versions, but hopefully you all have more exciting things to do on Friday nights/Saturday mornings than learn about AMS and didn’t even notice.

(But no judgement if you don’t. I’m right there with ya.)

ANYWAY. I wanted to share my cool little milestone. As of today, I have my first AMS ad that has $5,000 in reported total est. sales:

My first 5000 AMS ad

I love this ad. And this book. (It’s also responsible for my first $1000+ month on CreateSpace.) If only they were all like this…

A few things to say about the ad and how it confirms how I think AMS work:

-This was a new release that I started advertising in September. So it was a fresh book with a fresh history.

-The book had outside sales that helped it get started initially. So AMS ran better on this book due to that outside momentum.

-The ad has tried to die on me a few times. I’ve had to change the bids and keywords to keep it going.

-It was also a title that readers wanted and would go and actively try to find. (Most of the things I write, aren’t.) Which means that the click ratios on the ad are very good and so are the click to sale ratios.

-The ad only has 106 keywords so you can definitely get high sales off of limited keywords if they’re the right ones.

And one final point. This is a newer ad. I only started running it in September. So AMS are not dead. They may be more challenging, especially in fiction, than they used to be. But they can definitely still drive sales.

Also, something else I’ve been seeing on my dashboard that I’ve mentioned before, but is worth pointing out again: Product Display ads will continue to accumulate spend even after they’re paused. I set up a PD ad as part of the video course, paused it four or five days ago, and it keeps getting one or two clicks a day and spend to go with that. So be careful with those if you run them.

(And, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it…Don’t forget that there’s a promo code for the AMS video course available in my last post. And I’ll always make sure there’s some sort of discount on the course available from this website, so if someone reads this many months from now, look for the course listing tab to get a discount link.)

 

AMS Ads for Authors Is a Video Course

Whew. That took some effort. But the video course is now live on Udemy. A very exciting moment.  It is not perfect, but I think it’s good. And for those of you who were wanting something more visual than the book (which didn’t include screenshots), this does the trick.

And I have a special deal for you blog readers. The course is priced at $99.99 but if you follow this link you can purchase the course for just $9.99. That link will work for the first twenty-five folks who use it and is a pretty good deal if I do say so myself.

But some of you should check your emails or Kboards PMs before using that link. If I could link you to a review of the book, you have a different promo code to use. And if you reviewed the book and didn’t hear from me, reach out please. I appreciate people who put themselves out there by leaving a review.

Onward and upward. Next one is going to be Excel for Self-Publishers. Good times!

 

 

I Did Not Know That (AMS)

So I’m hard at work on turning AMS Ads for Authors into a video course. Step one of that process was to read through the book and turn what’s there into PowerPoint slides I could use in the videos. Step two is to record video using those slides and AMS.

And today I learned something I hadn’t known. Now maybe this is old news to everyone else and maybe it’s in the Meeks book since he’s (from what I hear) highly focused on product display ads, but what I realized today is that you can extend a product display ad indefinitely.

I was in a product display ad that I’d started ten days and I was showing how you can change the end date of the ad. When I set up the ad I’d set it up for the maximum allowed six months. So when I went in to the date to change it I expected I could shorten the ad period but not extend it. I was wrong.

It turns out that if you have a PD ad running today and go into that ad that you can set the end date for six months from today. Which should mean that you could set up an ad for six months, go in right before it expires, and extend it for another six months from the date you edit it.

Maybe this is old news to all of you. I don’t use PD ads much. But I wanted to pass it on in case of any of you hadn’t realized that either.

(I do have a few minor nits for the book that I’ll make before I publish the video course and will let you know about here, but none were what I would call significant. This is, though.)

I Beg to Differ

One of the challenges of self-publishing is that it’s so broad and so different that it’s almost impossible to see the whole picture and the different possibilities. Which is why I really hate absolutist advice.

I’m probably guilty of it myself from time-to-time, but I try to caveat what I say with “this is my experience” or “this is how things work for me.” And because I have books published across non-fiction, romance, and fantasy I can see that things work differently depending on what you’re publishing, which maybe helps me keep things in check a bit more.

Perhaps.

Anyway. I was at a conference this weekend and there were a few times I wanted to raise my hand and say, “I beg to differ.” I didn’t. I probably made a funny face, though.

So since this my blog, let me have those imaginary arguments here.

Debatable Point #1: You won’t really sell paperback copies as an indie.

I beg to differ. Last month I made over $1,000 on the sale of paperback books. It was almost as much as I made on Amazon US for the month. Now, is that normal? No. Absolutely not. My romance paperback sales are still under twenty copies sold ever.

But for non-fiction (in my case) and middle grade and folks who really work the convention circuit but aren’t good at online sales and for picture books and gift books, it’s quite possible to sell a good amount of paperbacks.

I even want to say I saw a romance writer on Twitter who posted a screencap that showed $30,000+ in paperback sales. (I have no idea what she sells in ebooks to have that number, but I do know my jaw hit the ground.)

So what I would say is: You are more likely to sell ebooks than paperbacks as an indie. In general. But there are definitely categories where print will sell better. And the more you sell overall, the more paperback sales you will have and that amount can add up to a pretty penny. So don’t neglect print. And don’t assume print sales aren’t possible or profitable.

Debatable Point #2: AMS Are Too Complicated and You Shouldn’t Use Them Unless You’re an Analysis Junkie

Once more, I beg to differ. Yes, you can get very analytical with them. In Excel for Self-Publishers I get obscenely analytical with them. But you don’t have to. Most days all I do with my AMS ads is check in a couple times a day to see if any have exceeded their daily budget and up the budget if they have. (I like to start all ads at $5 in spend each morning.)

When I started my last AMS ad for a new title this is what I did: It was non-fiction so I did a search on Amazon for the subject matter and listed the names of the top fifty or so books that came back in my search results plus a bunch of generic search words like the one I’d used. And then I occasionally checked in on the ad. If it wasn’t moving, I upped my bids. If it was and I was getting sales, I upped the bids for those words that were profitable, and pulled back for those that weren’t. I paused keywords with lots of impressions but no clicks and lots of clicks but no purchases.

That’s it. There you go. That’s what you do.

For fiction I would’ve used author names instead of book titles. Otherwise, it’s the same process.

Can you get a lot more in depth with your analysis? Absolutely. And I have. But 90% of the time, what I just described is all it takes. I have 20+ ads running on a daily basis and I maybe spend five minutes on them daily.

(Keep in mind, my approach to AMS is to use a single Sponsored Product ad per title that I try to keep running long-term by tweaking the ad as needed. Other approaches may be more analysis intensive.)

Debatable Point #3: You Should Only Run AMS If You Have Ten or More Books or At Least a Trilogy Completed.

I beg to differ. Look, I get the point. The more books you have for readers to go to, the better off you are and the more profitable an ad will be. A weaker first book can still result in a profitable ad if you have ten books for readers to go to afterwards. And maybe there’s an idea behind this advice that you shouldn’t be wasting your time early on with ads but should instead be building up a product base.

Fair enough. But here’s the deal: Self-publishing can be soul-destroying. You put out a book that you think is well-written. It has a nice cover. People who read it like it. But no one is buying it. Maybe three people a month. You just worked hundreds of hours on something and you think it’s good, but…sales say otherwise.

Do you know how easy it is to give up at that point? To never write that trilogy? To circle back and try to fix your “mistakes” or decide that writing is just going to have to be a hobby for you?

It’s so, so easy. I know a guy who put out a book about four years ago and set it to free because no one seemed to want it. He quit writing because why bother? And then he started running AMS ads on it. And got reviews. And switched it back to paid. And made $25,000 in less than a year on that same novel that no one had bought. Because the issue wasn’t his writing. It was visibility. People can’t read what they can’t find.

So, sure. Best practice is to wait until the last possible moment to advertise because you’ll get that much more of a bang for your buck. But in reality, sometimes those initial sales are what keep you going. And AMS is the best way I know to get long-term full-price sales. So why not try them?

And this idea of needing ten-plus books before you dive into them? Why? Because of the learning curve? It’s not that hard. Trust me.

Yes, I run ads across more than ten books, but I know many authors doing well with the ads with far fewer titles. Does it take some tweaking? Yeah. Does it take some money up front? Yep. You pay now, you get paid two months from now. But why would you not give it a try? It just makes no sense to me.