AMS and Also a Vellum Shoutout

First, let’s talk Vellum real quick. I switched all my files over to Vellum this summer. Me being me I just sort of stumbled my way through how to use it and had to learn a lot on my own through trial and error that wasn’t covered in any of the FAQs. (I was doing a lot of non-fiction formatting.)

But turns out there’s now a pretty good guide to the basics of Vellum available. (You know where? Can you guess? You got it. In the NaNo StoryBundle. After that’s gone if you stumble across this post and want it, look for The Author’s Guide to Vellum by Chuck Heintzelman.)

The guides includes a few of the workarounds I had figured out, like how to have my Also By listing before my title page, and using Vellum Styles before you import from Word. So if you’re new to Vellum or shaky on using it, check it out. It’s a good resource.

(On a side note: After I did it, I honestly wasn’t entirely sure it was worth it for me to have moved all my files over to Vellum. It took a lot of time, I didn’t see any drastic change in sales, and it added an extra step every time I wanted to make a change to a file. But moving to Vellum did make all of my non-fiction titles eligible for Overdrive, which has brought me money, and it also made it incredibly easy for me to participate in the StoryBundle. So for those reasons alone it ended up being worth it. But on a list of things to do, buy Vellum and make all your files pretty probably isn’t where I’d recommend you start.)

Now. On to AMS.

I am not happy with Amazon at the moment.

The other day, I noticed something a little odd when I went to look up one of my romance titles. The first entry I saw in my search results was a Sponsored Product ad for the book followed by the normal, organic search result for the same book.

I almost clicked on the ad and I know better.

So here’s Amazon, taking anyone who comes looking for my book in particular, and charging me money for it by having them click on my ad instead of returning an organic search result first. How tacky is that?

Here’s another example that’s even worse. I have a book under the name Cassie Leigh that is called Puppy Parenting in an Apartment. It’s not a big seller, but I can run AMS on it and generate a few sales here or there. This is what I see when I go to Amazon and search for it:

AMS sponsored ad

The ONLY result is my ad. My actual book with that actual title isn’t shown at all. And, because someone asked, I don’t have the book’s title in my keywords for that ad. So Amazon knows damned well what they’re doing and could actually display my book in their search results, but they’re not.

They’re trying to suck every last penny they can out of their authors instead.

Does this mean abandon AMS?

No. No more than any of the crap they pull means stop selling on Amazon. They’re too damned big and dominate the market too much for it to be feasible for most people to not sell their books on Amazon. (Which is why they can pull things like this…)

Fact is, AMS have become too much of a driver of traffic on Amazon US to ignore without likely taking a hit to your income.

What this tells me is that Amazon is slowly tightening the noose and that authors are going to have to spend even more money to get every single sale on their platform.

I’m grateful to AMS. They let me move from low three figures a month to low four figures a month. But I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket and neither should you.  I have some list-based promos I’m running this month as well as a Kobo promo and I’m playing with FB and Google CPC ads, too.

AMS should just be one part of getting attention for your books. It can’t be everything. Amazon is too prone to pulling the rug out from under authors to rely on them that heavily.

It’s Friday…

Which means I should say something about AMS. And I will in a minute.

First, Dave Higgins has a poll up on his website about which books from the NaNo bundle he should review. So if you are tempted by one of the titles in the bundle but not quite sure it’ll be what you’re looking for, get over there and vote. (You should also take a look around and read his other posts while you’re there.)

Also, when I was over there grabbing the link to the poll, I noticed he’d already reviewed my Excel guides. Reviews are here. I’d had someone ask about whether the books could be used with programs other than Excel and I couldn’t honestly answer them because I haven’t used other programs enough to judge that, but here’s Dave’s comment on it:

“Humphrey includes sufficient explanation of the intent behind a step that authors are likely to be able to reproduce the reports in other office suites (such as Open Office or Libre Office) [with] a little extra effort.”

I’d also had someone voice concern about their level of Excel ability since the introduction says you should be familiar with Excel to use the guides.  And here’s Dave’s comment on that aspect of things:

“…both books also include both a clear definition of terms and extensive appendices of methods and commands, and provide instructions for each report in fine detail, so authors with even basic experience of any Excel are likely to find each report easy enough to recreate.”

So there you have it. Keep an eye on his blog for perhaps more reviews over the next six weeks.

Alright, so AMS. First, the original AMS thread on Kboards has become a bit overwhelming for anyone trying to read it from the start, so there’s a new one that will hopefully catch on: A New AMS Thread. The first ten or so posts summarize what we’ve all been able to agree on about the ads and how they work. It’s a good place to start if you’re just getting into the ads.

As I’ve said before, they’re a bit of a moving target. They were wonderful for my romance novel for four months, but then ads on that book just sort of died off for me. It’s hard to say why. I think part of it was I tried lowering my bids because it just made me uncomfortable to spend $800 to make $1000. I know, the rational part of my brain says if that’s what’s happening, then find a way to spend $1600 to make $2000. But I’m just not sure when I’ll go back to that pen name, so I didn’t think it made sense to push too hard to attract all those readers when I only had one other title for them to go to.

Which is maybe the thought for the day which isn’t AMS-specific: In a weird sense you are better off the later in your writing journey you attract readers. Because they’re that much more likely to read the rest of your books. If you have one book out and it takes you a year to get book two out, every reader you attract to book one during that time has to like you enough to come back in a year.

And maybe they will. I’ve certainly circled back to writers (or musicians) years later to see what else they had out now. But they won’t all wait for you. So all that ad money you spent to get that reader to your first book ends up being wasted, whereas it would’ve been really profitable to bring in that same reader when you had four or five books available.

I constantly struggle with this.I don’t want to have low sales. It’s demoralizing to think no one wants what you’ve written. But at the same time, none of my pen names (except maybe now M.L. Humphrey) have enough titles out to really justify pushing hard to get in readers. I’m pushing on the Rider’s series now because the trilogy is complete, but even there I should be waiting until I have at least one more trilogy out and possibly two. That’s the difference between breaking even on a promo and making two to three times the promo cost.

That’s one of the reasons I like AMS ads. They let you get in a little trickle of sales that makes you feel good about where you are, but it isn’t like cranking out a Bookbub and generating 400+ sales in a day. (Although I still want them to burn a little hotter than they do most days, because I’m a fool and I like to make money.)

Anyway. That’s where my thoughts are today. I’ll tell you what I’m telling myself: Write more and publish more. The rest will follow.

(And sorry for anyone who saw this post while the formatting was messed up. Block quotes were not my friend today.)

AMS and Bids

I almost didn’t write an AMS article today. I tend to write non-fiction when I’m blocked on writing fiction, but in the last four months I’ve written and published six non-fiction titles and am almost done with a seventh. Which means I’m ready to escape back into a fantasy world where dragons are real and good eventually prevails.

But there I was, poking at my AMS ads just now and trying to figure out what to do about it, and I figured why not? I’m having a few thoughts worth sharing.

See, there’s a lot of talk lately about bidding low on AMS and waiting for ads to start performing, sometimes weeks later.

I’m personally a little too impatient for that approach. If I start a Product Display ad and it doesn’t move I keep upping the bid until it does.  (And then think, oh shit, I need to turn that thing off before it spends all my money.)

But right now I have a few low-bid ads running. One is on the AMS book. It has 19,827 impressions, 29 clicks, an aCPC of 8 cents, has spent $2.36 and has reported sales of $14.97 for an ACoS of 15.76%.

That’s a successful ad. Do that a million times and you’d be rich.

But it’s taken it weeks to get those numbers.

On the flip side I have another AMS ad that’s currently turned off that has 81,314 impressions, 60 clicks, an aCPC of 31 cents, has spent $18.61 and has reported sales of $22.44 for an ACoS of 82.93%. (I should note that the book was in KU while this one was running so factor accordingly when looking at the ACoS.)

Not as successful an ad in terms of pure profit.  But the ad built up most of that performance in a much shorter period of time which meant a good rank and good visibility and a shot at organic sales and momentum.

So which is better?  The slow and low approach that’s pretty much guaranteed to be profitable but usually results in one isolated sale at a time and has no opportunity to build momentum?  Or the fast and high approach that can result in a good enough ranking that it generates organic sales and maybe plays more into that seven-impressions-to-a-sale phenomenon but can cost money if it doesn’t work?

I tend towards fast and high. But I did hesitate to pause the slow and low AMS ad today. Partially because I think the fast and high ads require more attention than the slow and low and October is going to be one helluva month for me.  But partially because that’s a nice profit margin and no guarantee the fast and high ad will deliver more sales if I turn it back on.

So it’s tempting to leave that slow and low one going.  But there’s nothing like seeing sales hit your dashboard.  And mama’s gotta get her fix.  (Haha. I swear, I’m not drinking. It’s just Friday.)

Anyway. When it comes to bidding, both strategies can be profitable, but one probably has much more risk than the other.  And also the potential for much better outcomes. It’s all a question of how much of a risk-taker you are.

 

AMS And Losing Keywords

The folks who’ve read Excel for Self-Publishers will know that I recently shut down one of my best performing keywords on one of my ads after doing some analysis on how each keyword was performing.

Long story short, when I really feel like analyzing my keywords I take the amount reported for sales on my AMS dashboard, gross that up to include an estimate for how many KU borrows I’m not seeing in that number and then adjust for series sell-through. This lets me see that some keywords that initially appear to be non-performing are in fact doing just fine.

But with my “romance” keyword it was still showing as losing me money.

So I shut it down.

And the next day I had six paid sales at $4.99 on that book, so it didn’t seem to do any harm.

But I hated having that keyword shut down. According to AMS, that keyword was responsible for $198.49 in sales. When I gross it up for borrows and adjust for series sellthrough it was more like $430 in revenues from that one keyword.

That’s hard to walk away from.

So yesterday I decided I’d take my “loser” keywords that had generated sales but were net negative and figure out a way to keep them running but at a lower bid.

This is what I did:

I took that grossed up revenue number (the $430) and divided it by number of clicks (2396 in this case). That gave me a rate I could pay for that keyword and still be profitable. Then I doubled it, since most of the time the amount I pay per click is about half what my bid is.

Will this work? I have no idea. I suspect that for romance it’s too low a bid to do anything because I won’t win enough auctions for it to run. But with some of the other “losers”?

Hopefully.

It’s worth a try, right? Right.

 

The Flaws of AMS

It’s Friday, so time to talk AMS.  And writing. And life.

A few things happened this week that have me thinking. (Nothing new there. If my mind isn’t off on about ten tracks at once I don’t know what to do with myself.)

First, I almost wrote a post called “Maybe Indie Writing Isn’t For You” after seeing one too many authors losing their shit over stuff you can’t control. Namely, reviews. Oh, and going back a couple weeks, price matching. (This does tie back to AMS, just give me a minute.)

Second, this week Amazon issued a credit to some users of AMS for over-reporting estimated sales on certain Product Display ads. I’m pretty sure my credit related to ads I ran in 2015 and 2016 and estimated sales isn’t how I judge ad performance anyway so I was quite happy to take my $50 and continue doing what I’m doing.

Third, someone made a comment in a thread on Kboards about how people claim to be doing well with AMS and then you go and look at their book ranking and they’re only selling a couple books a day.

So, let’s start with that third point first.

I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Kboards. Every once in a while I pick up some little bit of information there that helps me move my writing one step further along the path, so there’s value in being there for me.

But I get heartily sick of the “if you’re not selling thousands of books a day you’re not worth listening to” mindset that pervades the place. I know far more self-published writers who would be happy with a sale or two a day than I do authors who sell thousands of copies. And, quite frankly, a lot of what those who sell thousands of copies a day have to say doesn’t apply to newer writers.

This summer I listened to a presentation by someone who is full-time self-published and their advice was that you could write a book a year and do well. All you had to do was launch it with a Bookbub on the first in series, which had happened for them every single time they published.

Oh, is that all? Yeah, okay. I’ll get right on giving away 25,000 copies of my novel so people read the rest of the series and I gain a lot of new fans.

Before that little pep talk I ‘d read another post about “how I launched my book into the top 1000 of the Amazon store.” Step one, mail your 15,000-person mailing list and tell them the book is out.

Oh, right. Okay. I just need a 15,000-person mailing list of people who like my books. I’ll get right on that.

(Neither of these were on Kboards, by the way.)

I appreciate that someone who is selling hundreds of books a day and wants to get to selling thousands of books a day isn’t going to view the information of someone selling a handful of books each day as worth listening to.

And because of that I can even go farther and say that AMS won’t have as much value for them.

AMS does not scale well for most people or for most ads. I have the one romance ad that was willing to spend up to $50 a day a while back. I’ve dialed it back some so now it’s willing to spend up to $30 a day.  Which for me is big money.  That’s $900 a month on one book. That’s plenty for me to spend, thanks.  But for a heavy hitter who wants to spend $10,000 a month it’s a waste of their time to try to get AMS to scale to that level.

I have twenty-plus ads running at any given time and only one or two of them perform like that. For someone trying to generate hundreds of sales, yeah, my advice won’t help.

For someone where I was a year ago who just wants to see steady sales? AMS are great.

Also, because of the horrid reporting, AMS are a much better tool for someone going from basically nothing to having sales as a result of AMS. Before I started running the ads a lot of my books were only selling maybe a copy a week. Which makes me comfortable attributing all of my paperback and ebook sales to the ads while they’re running.  For someone further along than me, that wouldn’t work.

(It’s like when I was in KU a while back and I could say that most people read my novels in about two days. A more successful author wouldn’t be able to say that. I could at the time because I would see one borrow and a full-read and then nothing for a few days. We are not all seeing or experiencing things the same way and that’s too often forgotten. Fortunately? My page reads are now to steady for that.)

There was some discussion when those credits were issued this week about how horrible Amazon is and how we can’t trust them.  And, it being the 15th of the month, I’m sure there’ll be a nice juicy thread about KU and page reads today that says similar things.

But here’s the deal. The way I judge AMS has nothing to do with what that dashboard says about sales. I ask, “What did I spend on an ad on that book for this period of time?” And then I ask, “What did I earn on that book for the same period of time for ebook sales, KU page reads, and paperback sales?”  If what I earned is more than what I spent, who gives a *bleep* about the rest of it?

I get really analytical at the keyword level for AMS ads because I’m trying to refine them the best I can.  But in terms of keeping an ad going? What did I spend?  What did I make?  For me, I get to make those calculations about every ten days when I get billed by AMS.  Everyone can make those judgements monthly if they’re running the ads.

Is Amazon flawed? Sure. Absolutely. KU is a cluster half the time. AMS reporting is shit. But at the end of the day, it’s very simple. Are you making more participating than it’s costing you? If so, continue. If not, bail. Find another solution. Accept that it’s a flawed system and judge by the outcome alone.

At least that’s what I do. And sorry this was a bit blathery. I’m still recovering from writing and publishing those Excel guides.

Bottom-line: Accept the system as it is and judge whether you can work within it, no matter how flawed. Also, know that what works for someone at one level may not work for someone at another level so factor that into who you listen to and what weight you give what they say.

 

Miss Priss Mondays (and an AMS Ads for Authors Note)

It’s been one of those days. While dealing with something that required the use of copious amounts of  bleach, I dropped my phone in said bleach, so then had to run it under water to get the bleach off before it did any damage. Now my phone is soaking in rice while it hopefully dries out so it can start working again.

If it does die it’s not the end of the world. I have an iPhone so small that people comment on it, that’s how old it is. But I really didn’t need to buy a new phone right now, so fingers-crossed water and rice save it from the bleach.

In the meantime, have a puppy who really didn’t want to leave the dog park. This was at Glencarlyn in DC where they had a great river for the dogs to swim in.

Sad Faced Pup

And, two quick announcements. AMS Ads for Authors is now available on pretty much every retailer except Google. (If someone really wants me to put it on Google I can, I just don’t seem to sell non-fiction on there and don’t particularly like their preview options, especially when it comes to non-fiction.)

Also, the Rider’s series is rolling out of KU this week. If anyone was in the midst of reading those books through KU, be sure to borrow them before September 8th. You don’t have to read them before then, just borrow them. So, fair warning.

AMS and The Mystery of the Also-Boughts

One of the things I do with my own AMS ads, and that I recommend others do, is list the authors in their also-boughts as keywords.  Makes sense, right? Enough people who bought your book also bought books by this other author so it seems like a good place to target your advertising.

Except…

AMS ads don’t work on a pure bid-based process.  You can’t just bid the most and be placed on a book’s page. There’s some Amazon algorithm at work that decides how relevant your keywords are for that particular author, book, or search. And if Amazon decides you aren’t relevant, almost no amount of money will get your ad on that page.

You’d think that Amazon would see that an author in your also-boughts is a good match for your advertisement. But in my experience it’s just not the case.

I spent most of today consolidating impressions, clicks, spend, and sales on my Rider’s books across about 18 different ads I’ve run over the last 18 months. When it was all combined I had 5.7 million impressions and 1,567 keywords. (80 with a paid sale, 447 with at least one click, for those who were interested.)

Right now, for the top author in my also-boughts I’ve only managed to rack up 3,124 impressions using their name.

For the next author I only have 5,479 impressions.

Compare that to 370,000 impressions for my most popular author name.

So what gives? Why can’t I get more impressions on those authors who are in my also-boughts?

Is it because they aren’t popular enough so there just aren’t that many impressions to be had?  Well, no. After Rachel E. Carter’s books dominated my also-boughts in January I tried my darnedest to use her as a keyword but had almost no results. And she was in the top 50 paid in the store at the time.

Maybe those authors are just really expensive to use as keywords and I’m not bidding high enough? That could be some of it. Many of them are in the top 100 authors for the genre, and one of those authors did cost me about 75 cents when I managed to get a click using their name.

The other thing I always wonder is, how did these authors end up in my also-boughts int the first place?

Granted, about 20% of my impressions and clicks are from generic genre-driven keywords.  So that could explain that…

I kind of like that you don’t know exactly what’s happening with AMS. It makes them a fun challenge. (Although the last few days they seem to be a fun challenge that has stopped working well…Last time that happened was in April and it hurt. A lot.)

Anyway. Back to drafting a whole new set of keywords because the Rider’s books are rolling out of KU in a week and I don’t want to target lower-priced or KU-dominant titles when I won’t be in KU and will be selling at $6.99. Good times.