Amazon Taketh, Amazon Giveth

I logged onto my AMS dashboard today to find that I now have the option to show Kindle Unlimited page reads attributed to an ad, something people have been asking for for ages and ages. You can add it by customizing your columns and going to the very bottom of the list, assuming it’s available to you. I mentioned it on Kboards and someone said they didn’t see it, so it may be rolling out.

I don’t know how well it works or how timely it is because I’m not currently advertising any books that are in KU and it doesn’t look to be retroactive. I had ads running in the past on books that were in KU but activating that option didn’t display results for those old ads.

Nice that they added that since they took away displaying any associated sales that weren’t for the formats specifically listed in an ad. I get that a lot of people complained to them about that, but it would’ve been nice to leave the information available in a separate column somewhere.

(Maybe they’re trying to discourage people from using ad copy? Because the only way to list multiple formats, I believe, is to have an ad with no ad copy, but I could be wrong and am too lazy to go check right now.)

On one hand I’m glad that Amazon keeps trying to improve AMS. On the other hand, this is exactly why I ended up unpublishing my books on AMS ads. Because all of the practical, here’s how it works sections became outdated almost as soon as I wrote them.

One guarantee in this business: it is constantly changing.

A Few Thoughts on AMS Ads vs FB Ads

As I mentioned earlier I’ve finally been taking a more serious look at Facebook ads in the last few weeks. I’d dipped a toe in here or there but never really stuck with them long enough to see if I couldĀ  make them work like I did with AMS ads. But I felt like maybe I should circle back to them for a few of my older titles where Amazon makes it harder to advertise them because they’re no longer new and shiny.

So, some thoughts. (And I talked about some of this a bit in Data Analysis for Self-Publishers, too, but this is specific to these two ad platforms.)

I think that Facebook ads are probably an excellent choice for someone who writes squarely in their genre and whose genre is big enough to support ongoing ads. So that would be thrillers, traditional mystery, contemporary romance, etc. (And you’ll notice that the people who run the big ad courses for FB ads meet this criteria.)

One of the issues I’ve had to struggle with when advertising my books on Facebook has been target audience and audience size. My books sell best to fans of certain authors and a lot of those authors are not available as a choice on Facebook. Or if they are available the audience size is small enough that I can’t imagine running ads to that author name for more than a limited period of time. My frequency goes up fast, especially in the foreign markets where the audience sizes are even smaller.

Compare that to Amazon where I can advertise to the most obscure name I can find if I want. (I don’t recommend doing so with just one name like that, but I could. And I can use any name or any combination of words I want.)

The other factor with FB ads is their complexity. I think this can be a benefit for some authors but is a problem for most.

On FB ads you can have any image you wantas well as a lot of text both above and below the ad image. Amazon ads on the other hand pretty much have the book cover and a few lines of text, if that. And the star rating and price.

The complexity of a FB ad is likely a benefit for more experienced authors who have a lot more bells and whistles they can use in an ad. They can include glowing review text AND a punchy little tagline AND a killer image that draws people in.

But for those who are new it’s more opportunities to get it wrong. You can have a killer book cover but if the ad image you choose is bad or the text you choose is clunky, all that choice can work against you.

Another thought about the two is that for FB ads tracking performance is trickier. Which is saying something because we all know that tracking AMS ad performance is challenging enough. But with FB ads, if you aren’t violating TOS and using your affiliate links or reducing ad performance by going to a landing page first, you really can’t tie specific clicks to specific sales.

This becomes a problem if you’re trying to run an ad that has multiple target audiences, for example.

I had an ad running with both Tamora Pierce and Anne McCaffrey as target authors at the same time. And I was getting good cost-per-click for both. Tamora Pierce was actually better at 7 cents a click, but Anne McCaffrey was good at 12 cents a click.

Here’s the problem, though. Turns out that Tamora Pierce doesn’t convert for me. People love the ad, they click on it, they go to Amazon, and then they don’t buy.

Whereas with Anne McCaffrey they do.

So if I were just looking at the data I can see on FB it looks like I’m doing really well getting low-price clicks with Tamora Pierce. But it doesn’t matter what those clicks are costing me because I’m not getting sales. And the only way to know that’s happening is to just run ads to Tamora Pierce one day and just run ads to Anne McCaffrey another.

FB itself has no way to know which of my clicks (if any) from their site actually bought the product on Amazon. (I would love for there to be a feedback system in place where i could manually tell them my estimated performance and have them incorporate that into their allocation algorithm, but that’s not going to happen.)

So it can be easy with FB to focus on the wrong metric. “Ooh, I’m getting lots of cheap clicks, woohoo!” What matters is are you making a profit. Are those clicks resulting in sales. And that takes more effort to figure out than AMS ads.

I do think if you’re in a good genre for it and have everything aligned that FB ads have probably far more potential than AMS ads. But I am also very glad that I started with AMS ads before I tried moving to FB ads. Because I would have probably lost a lot of money on FB ads early on because the books I had to sell were not packaged to sell well through FB ads.

One final thought. I’ve seen both on author boards and in the group for the class I’m taking people say, “What am I doing wrong? My cover is fantastic, my blurb is great, my reviews are wonderful, my landing page is stellar, and yet I’m not getting the sales I would expect.” And I have to say that most times when the person provides a link in those situations that’s not actually true.

I saw one where the color scheme for the cover was completely different from all other books in the genre. Another where the review quote at the top of the landing page was formatted in such a way it wasn’t clear it was a review quote. Another where the blurb text was clunkier than it needed to be.

Trust me, I don’t get this right myself half the time, so I’m not going to wade in there and tell anyone what they’re doing wrong. But if you think everything is perfect and you’re just somehow not getting sales, then everything is not perfect. There is a disconnect somewhere and you have to keep poking at it to find where that disconnect is. That’s true of AMS ads or FB ads. You either aren’t targeting the right audience or aren’t packaging your book in a way that appeals to the audience it should appeal to.

Anyway. Something to think about. (And now the dog must be fed because she’s big enough to make a meal of me if I fail to provide for her.)

 

Amazon Advertising Problematic Change

I’m sure some people received an email this week from Amazon Advertising and were incredibly pleased at the change they announced. Per the email, “As of 1 July 2020, sales for current and new Sponsored Products campaigns featuring Book ASINs will be reported for the advertised ASIN only. Prior to this date, reporting may have included sales for various formats of the title advertised.”

I will tell you why this is bad. My AMS ads for ebook often generate paperback sales and my adds for paperbacks often generate ebook sales. Having that type of data reported in the dashboards confirms that that happens and better lets me see my ad performance.

Now, they think the simple solution is to just list all formats of the book in your ad. But here’s the thing, I’ve found that for each of my books one format or another is the better one to advertise. It’s the price and image that appeals more to shoppers. And I’m not going to list multiple versions of the product in my ad and decrease my ad performance just to see which products are selling.

I know a lot of authors freak out about “OMG, AMS says I sold something but that book I was advertising didn’t sell” so I figure Amazon got tired of hearing about that and having to explain over and over and they thought this was a solution.

But it’s a bad one for Amazon long-term. People will assume that the ads are not doing as much as they actually are and back off on ad spend. Which I guess is good for me since I rarely use the dashboard as the ultimate arbiter of my performance. But monitoring ad performance in the short-term is about to become very annoying.

What they should have done in my opinion is added one more frickin’ column to the dashboard. So you could have sales of advertised products in one column and sales of other related products in another. While they were at it they could’ve included sales of other books in the series when someone one-clicks the entire series…That would’ve been nice.

But no. They had to go and make it worse.

2020, I tell ya. I’ve decided based on events in the year so far that this is the last year in the decade rather than the first year of a new decade.

Revise or Remove

When writing non-fiction you sometimes have to make a decision whether to revise a title or remove it. Or at least I do.

Case in point, Easy AMS Ads. When I first published that book it was current as of the date of publication but then Amazon made a lot of changes that made the material outdated. They removed an entire ad type, for example. So two years later I updated the book.

It ended up being an almost complete re-write by the time I was done because so much had changed in the two years since I’d published the original. And then within months of my publishing the updated version, Amazon made even more changes. They moved where billing info was located, they opened up additional stores, they changed where keywords were displayed, etc.

Which brings us to today. I had a decision to make with respect to that book (and the rest of the books in the Self-Publishing Essentials series.) I could try to update it again and hope that the pace of change had slowed enough for AMS that the book remained useful for a couple of years.

Or I could unpublish it and step aside from writing on that subject anymore. I’ve chosen to unpublish and step aside. Making money off of selling books about how to use AMS is not my focus as an author.

As of today my dashboard tells me I’ve sold over $113K worth of books using AMS ads, so I absolutely believe in the power of those ads. (That’s retail price, not what I actually was paid, FYI.) But I don’t want to have a product out there that isn’t up to date and I don’t want to have to keep updating that book every six months.

I’ve also unpublished the rest of that series which covered Excel for Self-Publishers, ACX for Beginners, and Print Books for Beginners. Excel for Self-Publishers had also become outdated. (It covered how to see your ad performance for a period of time but the AMS dashboard now lets you do that yourself.) And I haven’t done audio books recently enough to even know whether the ACX book is outdated. Print Books was probably fine, but without the rest of the books it didn’t make sense to continue to publish it.

I don’t expect that I’ll be publishing more books for self-publishers in the future. I’ve never directly had anyone say it to my face but I have most certainly noticed the number of times when authors make snide remarks about authors who publish books on self-publishing to “make a buck off of their fellow authors” especially when those authors don’t think that those publishing the books are successful enough by their standards to do so.

I published my books because self-publishing can be confusing and overwhelming and I saw misunderstandings and miscommunications in those particular areas over and over again. It was easier to put what I knew into a book format than to try to counter all the misinformation one forum post at a time. And because I’d put time and effort into creating those books, I felt I deserved to be paid for that time and effort and so sold those books instead of giving them away.

I hope those of you who bought the books found value in them. And I wish you all luck in the future. And, as always, I’m available via email if someone has a question or gets stuck. (Just have done your homework first or you’re likely to have me point you to one of the writers’ forums with instructions to read up a bit.)

AMS SP Ads for Authors in Germany and UK

As of sometime yesterday or this morning Amazon announced that authors can now access Sponsored Product ads in the UK and Germany. I’ve been running ads in the UK using an Amazon Advantage account which has a few more options than this, but it’s still a nice development for those authors who hadn’t managed to set up an Advantage account.

Keep in mind that each market is different and they’re going to respond to different bids and different keywords than the U.S. market. Think spelling differences, for example.

Also, in both accounts I had to fix my payment information. They had my credit card on file but I had to provide my address and legal name before I could run an ad. For those not in the EU, I just skipped the VAT field and checkbox at the bottom.

And in the German version it originally came up in German. Click on the top right corner dropdown just like you would for .com to change the language to English.

I’m not sure of the reporting delays in those markets. I had a German sale today that is probably from my AMS ad that I started there this morning but when I checked the dashboard it wasn’t even showing impressions yet let alone a sale.

As with everything this is good and bad. For those of us already advertising in the UK it’s going to hurt some. But it also levels the playing field a bit more which I think Amazon needs to do more of.

Also, those who are willing to poke around and figure things out on their own will do better initially as they get up and running first, but that’ll level out as information percolates down.

Expect click costs to go up over the next couple months. If you don’t stay on top of that expect impressions to drop significantly as more people enter the market.

Enjoy.

 

Some Random Advertising Thoughts

Once a month I load all my sales reports into an Access database and then proceed to generate a bunch of different reports and graphs to see where I am. For me that’s as fun as the writing so it’s never something I have to force myself to do, but I do think some sort of analysis is important to anyone working to run a writing business. (As opposed to just writing books and seeing what happens.)

So a few thoughts from the most recent analysis.

One of the metrics I was looking at this time around was the percent of revenues that was spent on ads for each series.

So let’s say I have a series that earned $10,000. And I spent $3,000 to make that amount. Then my ad spend would be 30%. That to me is an acceptable cost of doing business.

But I had a few that were higher than that. When that happens I think it’s important to dig in deeper and ask why, because understanding that why is going to drive what needs to happen to fix it.

In one case, it’s increased competition which means I can either hang in there and take the additional costs and know I’ll earn less on each sale of that series or I can step back and let the big spenders take part of my share of that market. Which way I choose to go will depend on how committed I am to that series and how committed I think those competitors are to entering that market.

In another case though, it’s because the series simply isn’t developed enough yet. The more books that readers can go to after an initial purchase, the more effective the ad spend.

For example, if I spend 75 cents to make $1 on the sale of a book and that book is all I have then my ad cost is 75% of the money I receive, which is higher than I ideally want. (If I could scale that sufficiently it’s doable, but the question is how much you can scale.)

But if I spend that same 75 cents and make $1 on that book sale plus $2 on two other book sales then my ad cost for the same ad spend and same initial transaction is only 15%. Much better.

Which means that often what seems like “I should abandon this and move on because I can’t make money at this” is actually “I need to write more books in this series so I can properly recoup my ad costs.”

Of course, there’s another option which is that something is off about the book that needs to be fixed to make it sell better.

Let me give a concrete example. I published a cookbook a while back and being too clever for my own good I called it “You Can’t Eat the Pretty” because it wasn’t about fancy cooking it was about cooking for yourself without burning down your kitchen.

But advertising that book was like pulling teeth. Every sale was a struggle. I thought the cover was good. I thought the content was good. But it barely broke even. Ad cost was probably 90% of money received.

So I changed the title. It’s now called “Quick & Easy Cooking for One”. I made one edit to one line of text in the introduction and changed the title but kept everything else the same. This year ad cost is 26% of money received.

That’s not the only time I’ve retitled a book and seen significant improvement in sales.

It isn’t always going to be the title. It could be price. It could be the cover. It could be the blurb. It could be the category. It could be who you’re advertising to. All of those deserve a hard look if you’re spending too much to sell your book.

And then you have to decide if you’re willing to make that change. Sometimes you won’t be. My YA fantasy books are currently at $7.99 each in ebook. I could probably sell more at a lower price point, but I’m okay with where they are at the moment. I can drop those prices when I finally release a new book under that name.

The key I think is to make these choices deliberately instead of just letting things ride and hoping for the best. Especially as we enter a maturing market.

I saw a flare up recently of “oh Amazon hates us and pits us against each other” when in reality it’s just that this is a maturing industry. Ironically we are trending back towards publishing houses even on the indie side. Because that’s an effective model for running a publishing business. And people are going to be less open about what works because there’s enough supply now to meet demand and we are in fact competing with one another for customer attention and customer funds.

Which leads me to another discussion that recently happened on one of the author forums that I wanted to address here.

Someone shared AMS numbers where their ad dashboard showed let’s say $90K in sales and $45K in ad spend. And someone else on that board somehow extrapolated that spend to the person running their business with a 90% ad cost, which was horribly inaccurate.

I wanted to walk through why that is. So let’s talk about what happens when you advertise.

One, your product is seen by new people. Someone becomes aware of your product even if they don’t buy it right then. That means an ad today results in a purchase a year from now.

Two, there’s direct sales. So in the case of AMS and how those are reported a $5 ebook sale means $3.50 received and $5 in sales showing on the ad dashboard.

Three, there’s follow-on sales. So if you run an ad on book 1 then (hopefully) a certain number of people will either immediately or eventually go on to buy other books from you. The more other books you have that are related to that first book and the more people like that first book, the more you will earn in follow-on sales. This is key. It’s what determines the winners from the losers probably 95% of the time.

Four, there’s another form of increased visibility if as a result of your ads your books do well enough to make a top 100 list somewhere or to be recommended by Amazon in one of their emails. These aren’t direct sales that will be reported on your AMS dashboard nor are they likely to be seen during a promotional period, but they are sales that resulted from that ad.

Five, specific to books advertised via AMS that are in KU, there’s the fact that the dashboard doesn’t show KU borrow revenue so each sale that’s seen on the dashboard can represent much more revenue. For example, my romance books tend to be 75% borrow revenue when they’re in KU.

So let’s work through this a little.

Say I pay $2.50 to get that first sale that’s worth $3.50 to me. That looks on the surface like I spent 71% of the money I received on advertising.

But if that book is in KU and 75% of its revenue comes from borrows then that $3.50 on the dashboard may represent $14 in revenue. In that case, then only 18% of money received was spent on ads.

What if the book isn’t in KU but is part of a five book series? And what if one purchase of book 1 means an additional $7.50 earned on sales of the other books in the series? Then in that case the ad spend is only 23% of money received.

Someone who looks at AMS dashboard numbers and doesn’t understand the impact of KU borrow revenue or follow-on sales is going to significantly overestimate the cost of those AMS ads to the user. Not to mention the visibility-driven sales which are almost impossible to quantify.

Which brings me back to the need to look at your numbers on a regular basis.

I look at total money received (which I call revenue for my purposes but technically isn’t since all the platforms take their cut before they send me a check) versus ad costs for each period for each title. I also do that by series and author because sometimes a loss leader first-in-series title can look horrible on its own even though it’s driving great sales for a series.

I also look at total profit and loss for each title, series, and author which incorporates cover cost, editing, etc. And I take that profit and loss number and calculate per hour and per word rates as well. (And when I get really bored I do a per hour or per word rate per day since the book was released since the longer a title is out the higher the total per hour and per word rate should be so you have to find a way to account for that difference between a title released this year and one released five years ago.)

But you can’t stop there. You have to put business knowledge on top of all of that. You have to ask why the difference between different titles. What can look bad today may actually be trending well. And what looks good today may not continue to look so good long-term. So you have to interpret the numbers properly.

You do all that and then you hope for the best.

There are no certain answers in this business (or in any business really.). All you can do is reassess after a bit, adjust, move forward again, and hope for improvement each time. If that happens, eventually you’ll get there.

More AMS Changes Coming

It never fails that I publish a book on AMS and then Amazon makes changes to how the ads work or, in this case, the navigation options. So for those of you who might have noticed a little note at the top of your AMS dashboard today that said changes were coming but that didn’t know how to find the Amazon Advertising blog, because who wants to provide a link for that sort of thing.

Here you go.

Short version: They appear to be moving all of the options at the top of the screen to the left-hand side of the screen.

Easy AMS Ads 2019 Edition

I hadn’t intended to update Easy AMS Ads because the pace of change with respect to AMS last year was so fast and furious it seemed like an impossible task to keep the book updated. But things hit a critical mass this month and I decided I either needed to update the book or unpublish it entirely because so much has changed with AMS in the last twelve months.

And since I’d just published the last cozy and needed a project before I started the next one, I figured why not go ahead and update the book.

So…

Easy AMS Ads – 2019 Edition is now live in ebook format and will soon be live in print as well. This one has some pictures in it and is also about 50% longer than the first edition which may give you some idea of just how much things have changed.

For those who read the first edition I’d say the information on portfolios, reports, and the new bidding options still make this one worth checking out if you haven’t already dug into those on your own yet.

Easy AMS Ads 2nd Ed V5

 

AMS and Pricing And Experiments

About a month ago I decided to take my romance novels out of Kindle Unlimited. Not because I necessarily expected them to sell on the other platforms, but because I just grow sour on KU and how it operates at times and I think there’s a growing schism in self-publishing land that somewhat revolves around KU and I’d rather be on the “people pay for my books specifically instead of borrowing them because what the hell” side of things.

(No judgement here on anyone who chooses or feels differently and not saying that there aren’t authors in KU who have name recognition and a loyal fan base, there definitely are. If you’re making money at this, go you.)

Anyway.

One of the things I try to do when I advertise a book that isn’t in KU is to also only target books that aren’t in KU. I do this because I think it cuts down on the number of clicks without buys that my ad gets because I’m not attracting buyers who are looking for a title to borrow.

When I was going through the list of authors who’ve been good targets for AMS ads on that first romance novel, I noticed that many of those authors were priced at $6.99 in ebook. My price on that novel at the time was $4.99.

Now, if you were to go to any of the author forums and suggest that you wanted to list your romance title for sale at $6.99 as a self-published author, you’d be laughed out of the building. Who on earth is going to buy a self-published romance novel at $6.99 when they can buy a box set of twenty romance novels for 99 cents? The market just doesn’t support that. Maybe you can get away with $4.99, but $6.99? No.

Well…

It turns out there are some readers out there who will buy a self-published novel at $6.99. And that I can still run successful AMS ads on a romance novel that’s not in KU at that price point.

I’m not burning up the charts by any means, but the outcome I’m seeing is pretty much the same as when this novel was in KU and priced at $4.99. In the 30 days before I pulled the novel it had 13 paid sales at $4.99 and 21,000 page reads. (Keep in mind this is a novel that’s been out for over four years and where I only have two titles out under that name and the last novel was published two years ago.)

In the 30 days after I pulled the novel it’s had 28 sales at $6.99.

The only problem is that the ad doesn’t result in borrows/buys as often as when it was in KU at a lower price, so I’m not sure the ad will continue to run. AMS likes success and if you fail to hit that level that it deems successful, you get shut down.

I do think, though, that this highlights an important issue to think about with respect to AMS. There are a number of moving parts to running an AMS ad. One is how much per click you have to bid to have your ad shown, another is how much you have to pay for clicks on your ad, another is how many clicks to a purchase or borrow, and another is how much you make on a purchase or borrow of your book.

All four of those factors come into play in determining whether you can successfully run AMS ads long-term. It’s easy to bid really high and get visibility on a title. You might even get sales. But if you’re paying $1 per click and it takes 5 clicks to a sale and you only earn $2 on that sale, you’re very nicely losing yourself $3 per sale of your book. If you instead make $5 on that sale, you’re at least breaking even.

It seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes raising prices makes your ads more profitable. At each price point there is very likely a differing number of clicks that will lead to a sale and if you can find that sweet spot where the number of clicks needed is smaller relative to the income from a sale, you can increase profitability even if sales or the number of readers go down slightly.

Of course, you have to back that up with a good product, too, or long-term a poor customer experience will take you down. But that’s a whole other discussion…

I should also add here that when I looked at prices for fantasy novels that the price point I was seeing a lot of was $9.99, but I just couldn’t bring myself to try it, so even I have my psychological stopping points when it comes to pricing ebooks. (I put those books to $7.99 again because they actually do alright there and that is yet another pen name I am not actively adding to at the moment. Sigh.)

Big AMS Changes Ahead

In case you hadn’t logged into your AMS account yet today, it’s changed. Finally authors who access AMS through their KDP dashboard have the same metrics and display options as those who access AMS through an Advantage account.

This means you can see ad spend and sales for a period of time and not just the lifetime of an ad. (As someone who runs ads for years at a time I have to say this is a very very nice feature to have. Who knew I was up to almost 40 million impressions across all my ads? Not me.)

Also, if you ignored all my advice and focused on Product Display ads, those can no longer be created as of today and existing ones will disappear as of February 5th. (They’re being replaced with Locksreen ads which are one of the places that PD ads used to display. So looks like no more of that box right under the buy option on a book’s product page, at least not using that ad type.)

You can also now use product targeting with your Sponsored Product ads.

There’s a nice summary of the changes available here. (The link should also be available in your AMS account when you go in. Don’t be shocked when you see the new display. It may take some getting used to if you haven’t seen it yet.)

Anyway. Another day, another change.

I will say this makes the AMS video course and book less relevant. I’ll leave them up, but a lot of the mechanics section of both have now become largely outdated. I have no plans to update either one at this point.