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.


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.

Too Much Focus on Earnings, Too Little on Expenses

Self-publishing is a business. You’re selling a product to people for money. And, unless you have some independent source of wealth, at some point you need to make more than you spend to keep doing it.  And yet…

What do self-publishers focus on 90% of the time? (I think the exception would be some of the promotions threads I’ve seen where people break down what they spent and what they earned from a promo.) They focus on earnings. Or how many books they’ve sold.

We talk about six-figure authors and how impressive they are without ever asking how much they spent to earn those six figures.  And we take their advice over the advice of others even if it’s possible that they’re worse business owners than someone who makes fifty thousand a year. If someone spends $90,000 to make $100,000 they’re actually doing worse than someone who spends $10,000 to make $50,000.  At least from a long-term sustainable business point of view.

(Now, we could argue about whether that person making $100,000 will be better off in the long run because they’re building a bigger customer base for all their subsequent books, but if you’re not in fast-build mode that 90/100 ratio is not going to be sustainable unless you can scale the hell out of it. And if the only way you’re bringing in those readers is with heavy advertising and they aren’t staying once you get them…Well…That’s not good either.)

So why am I talking about this? I’m not at either level.

Well, because I needed a reality check on this myself.  I was so proud in June to have my first $1,000+ month. And to repeat that in July and now August. I thought, finally, I’m getting some traction with this. I envisioned a $30,000 year maybe. And that was exciting to me.

And then I added advertising costs into the mix.

Revenue-wise, year four was more than four times year two. But when you account for advertising?  Year four was only 1.25 times better.

I made thousands more, but I also spent thousands more to get there. And even though I’m still net ahead year four vs. year two, it’s not by near as much as I thought it was. And my best month when you account for advertising expenses? The month I released my written to market billionaire romance short story. My second best month? When I completed the other stories in that series and ran a free promo on the first in series.

Good news is that since I started running AMS heavily in July of last year my months have been more profitable than before. But that sure shows me the power of writing to market, because when you do that customers are looking for you. You don’t have to pay to find them.

AMS and Accounting for KU Borrows

AMS reporting is horrible. Amazon gives you this pretty little dashboard that looks like it tells you what you need to know, but if you actually use the dashboard numbers as provided, you’re going to mismanage your ads.

I think most self-publishers have clued into the fact that you can’t just look at the ACoS and say that anything less than 100% is good.  Most everyone I see talk about ACoS knows that it’s based on the list price of their titles, so it doesn’t account for their payout percentage.  Knowing this, they use 70% (or 35%) as their threshold to judge an ad or keyword instead of 100%.

But that’s flawed, too.  As we already discussed, you have the value of a customer to consider.  If x% of customers who buy book 1 go on to buy book 2 and y% of those go on to buy book 3 you need to account for that in your numbers.

Another thing you need to account for is KU borrows for any title that’s in KU.  Sometimes this amount is insignificant (like for my non-fiction), but often times that borrows revenue is what makes an ad profitable (like for my romance novel). So you need to account for it.

But how?

Ideally you’d determine what percentage of customers for that title buy vs. borrow. Problem is, you don’t have that information. You will never know how many people borrow your book vs. buy it.  You can guesstimate based on your rank each day and your sales and using the sales/rank chart Phoenix Sullivan has put together, but as more books are listed that ranking chart becomes less and less accurate.

What I do is focus on what I call full-read equivalents.  So if I have 10,000 page reads and a book with a KENPC of 500 then that’s 20 full-read equivalents.  (It could be 10,000 people reading one page for all I know, but you have to work with the information you have, right?)

I then use that number to calculate a ratio of borrows to sales.  So if I have 30 sales and 20 full-read equivalents, then I have a borrow/sale ratio of 20/30. I can then use that ratio to create a factor that I use to gross up my AMS-reported sales number.  (Just to give you an idea, for my fantasy series that number is 1.61 but for my romance series it’s 3.10.)

So instead of the $10 in sales that AMS tells me I have, I’m actually looking at $16-$43 in sales.

Of course, I then have to adjust that number based on what an average customer who buys is worth to me, what an average customer who borrows is worth to me, the proportion of customers who buy vs. borrow, and what the list price of the advertised book is. (It’s the weighted average customer value divided by list price of the book I’m advertising.)

Because I use AMS to advertise full-price books that second number is actually a number less than 1. It takes that $16-$43 value for sales and brings it back down into the range of $14-$26.  But I ran the calculation for a 99 cent series starter for a five-book series and it was 5.4.

The math stays the same, but the numbers vary greatly depending on the series you’re advertising.

Key takeaway here is that unless you have a standalone title that’s not in KU, you need t realize that your sales from your ads are greater than the amount reported by Amazon.

One last thought.

My next step after I do all this is to calculate an estimated profit and loss from that adjusted number and prioritize all ads with a positive adjusted profit and loss.

You could also use the adjusted sales number to calculate a revised ACoS and keep any keywords or ads where the revised ACoS was below 100%. For example, my best performing keyword on my romance ad shows an unadjusted ACoS of 154% but when I account for borrows and sellthrough it has an adjusted ACoS of 60%. (I just thought of this and ran it on my romance keywords and think I might play with it some more, because it highlights some words I should probably bid higher on that aren’t my highest in sales but are my lowest in terms of ACoS.)

Anyway. Hope that made sense. I’m including the actual formulas in the Excel for Self-Publishers book I’m writing in case it didn’t and you want them. Although, honestly, I think that book is going to appeal to about five people. It’s been good to write though, because it lets me refine my thinking on all this.  I’ve already updated my ad tracking worksheet because of it as well as this whole analysis.

(Of course, now that I thought of including a revised ACoS I have to go add that to the book.  Grrr.)

A Mini Rant

So yet again I’m seeing James Patterson’s name drug through the mud because supposedly he doesn’t write his novels.  And it annoys me. Not because I read the man’s books, I don’t.  Or at least can’t remember reading any of them.  But more because I find it a symptom of the “they don’t deserve it” -itis that is so common in the writerly community.

Hang around long enough and you’re bound to hear how horrible Stephenie Meyer’s writing is, how E L James’ books are awful, how Dan Brown can’t write his way out of a paper sack, and, of course, how James Patterson doesn’t even write his own books.

It drives me nuts.

One, because so often when this critique is made it’s because writers are focusing on one aspect of writing (the words) and failing to see how plot or emotional engagement are just as important.

And, two, because it comes off sounding like sour grapes. As in, why is that horrible author so successful when I’m so much better?  (Well…perhaps you aren’t.)

And the James Patterson thing annoys me because I took his Masterclass (through masterclass.com–I also did the Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes ones and enjoyed all three) and in there he talks about his co-writing process.  And from that I can assure you that he doesn’t just slap his name on something someone else writes.  He’s heavily involved in the process and in the plotting and polishing of the novel.

And if we go back to this concept of what is writing a story, I would argue that the easiest part of writing is putting together the sentences.  Finding a way to make those sentences work together to create an experience that pulls a reader through the book is the challenge. Having something happen that’s unbelievable yet totally plausible at the same time isn’t easy either.  And coming up with a way to engage with a reader’s emotions so they actually feel something about your characters and what happens to them is maybe the hardest skill of all.

When these criticisms crop up, those skills are never considered.

Anyway. Next time you find yourself wanting to complain about some very successful author and their lack of writing ability, maybe check yourself and try to figure out what they do right instead.  And, no, it isn’t going to be “spends a lot on advertising” because the people we’re talking about here are all people who’ve generated word of mouth beyond their advertising efforts and who I’ve heard readers rave about.

So when that happens, ask yourself why. You might just find a way to improve your own writing.

(And this rant is not directed at anyone that I know reads this blog, so if any of you recently wrote or posted about this, I’m not writing this rant because I saw your post. It most recently came up in a forum discussion about something else, but it was the third time I’d seen someone say something similar this week and figured it was a good choice for a Wednesday random thoughts post.)

AMS Ads and Value of Customer

First, the AMS Ads for Authors book is rolling out of KU in approximately a week, so if you think you might want to borrow it, do so now or forever hold your peace. And sorry for not posting on Wednesday.  I had jury duty and almost did a post on Thursday about how that experience always reminds me how not-normal I am but then couldn’t figure out how to write the post without sounding like an ass. So sorry about that.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way.  I’m currently working on a series of Excel guides and one is going to be for self-published authors. One of the calculations in there is a simple calculation of how much a new customer should be worth to you assuming you have a series and know what your read through rates are at your current prices.

(As with most things, the calculation is a more simplified version of something that’s far more complex than it looks.  For example, my read through rates are different for purchases versus borrows and for when I run a 99 cent promotion versus when I’m not running a promotion.  But some of that nuance you can’t even calculate because who knows if today’s sale of book 2 is from someone who just bought book 1 or if it’s from someone who bought book 1 during that promo six months ago.)

The value of customer calculation is crucial to anyone doing advertising.  Because if you limit yourself to what you’ll make back on that one book you’re advertising, you’re not going to spend as much as you could and you’ll miss out on potential sales.  Especially if you have a 99 cent or free series starter.

For example, AMS just billed me about $500 for the last two weeks and, as I do every time they bill me, I crunched the numbers for each book I was advertising to see if I was profitable on my ads for that period.  On the romance side I have two novels in a related series.  On the fantasy side I have three novels in a related series.  If I had just looked at the ad cost for book 1 for those two series, I would’ve concluded I was unprofitable for this period and possibly shut the ads down. (No one wants to spend $500 in two weeks and not make money off of it. That gets expensive fast.)

But when I factor in sales and page reads of the later books in the series, it turns out that both series made more money than I spent on advertising.  Which means those ads are worth continuing.

So how do you get that number?  How do you calculate the value of a customer.

The rough version is this:

Add together the following:

Book 1: Sales price * payout percent (So basically what you net for a sale)

Book 2: Sales price of book 2 * payout percent * (number of book 2 sales/number of book 1 sales) (So basically x% of what you net for a sale of book 2 where x% is based on how many people go on to buy book 2 after buyung book 1)

Book 3: Sales price of book 3 * payout percent * (number of book 3 sales/number of book 1 sales) (So basically y% of what you net for a sale of book 3 where y% is based on how many people who buy book 1 also buy book 3)

And so on and so on.

So if you’re selling on Amazon and have a book 1 at 99 cents and books 2 and 3 are at $2.99 and 50% of the people who read book 1 read book 2 and 50% of those read book 3 then:


Instead of trying to limit your ad spend to 34 cents you can actually spend up to $1.91 to acquire a new customer and still be profitable.  That’s a big difference if you think about it.

This is why having lots of books out under one name and ideally in series is a very very good idea.  (Assuming you write well enough that people will buy more than one.  If your read through is 0% at some point having a long series won’t do anything for you.)

Anyway. Something to think about.

And now time for me to procrastinate writing the next novel by writing non-fiction guides no one will want…