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 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.

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.)

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:

(.99*.35)+($2.99*.7*.5)+($2.99*.7*.25)=$1.92

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…

 

Bidding and AMS Ads

So over on the Kboards thread devoted to AMS ads, one of the users shared an interesting response they received from Amazon about AMS ads and bidding.  I’ll quote part of it here so you don’t have to wade through all those pages to find it:

CTRs build up overtime, so if you are just beginning to advertise with AMS it is wise to go with a high bid in order to win impressions and thus build up your CTR. Once you have a high CTR for an ad and this is based on longevity so the longer you run an ad the better, you can lower your bid, but only if you have a high CTR.

Which is interesting and fits with my own experience in a few ways.

  1.  I’ve found that my best ads are the ones that have run for a very long time.
  2.  I have been able to back my bids down on some of my longer-running ads as time goes by. (My romance ad had bids over $1 at one point which just isn’t sustainable. I still bid high by many standards, but not that high.)
  3. I recently tried some low bid/low budget ads for books I’m not focused on right now just to keep some sort of momentum on them and found that my impressions were high but my clicks were low, and that the ads ultimately stalled out and really don’t deliver.
  4.  My most successful ad is one that I ran through a free run which I’m sure boosted my click ratio and is the reason the ad got sticky. I think of it as AMS rewarding momentum, but maybe what it is more is AMS seeing an ad that’s getting a lot of activity and pushing that ad more and then as long as that ad continues to get activity keeping it running.

The response doesn’t say what a high CTR is, but in my experience my ads that do well have around 1 click per 1,000 impressions with individual keywords doing much better than that.

So if you’ve been trying AMS and not seeing results, maybe try a new ad with higher bids combined with a price promotion that will result in more clicks early on and then you can raise the price later and back your bids down a bit once the ad has established itself.

AMS Ads and Names With Initials

The other day someone mentioned that they’d run an experiment with names that use initials (like R.K. Thorne) and that they’d determined that you get the most impressions from AMS ads if you leave the periods out of the name.

I haven’t done as systematic of an experiment as the individual who posted about it, but I had been thinking that AMS ads do behave strangely with author names that have initials in them and had wanted to go look at my results to see what I could see.

While I generally agree with that person’s conclusion, I’m not sure for me that it was quite as black and white.

So let me share some numbers.

One of the authors in my fantasy novel’s also-boughts is R.K. Thorne who is listed on Amazon as R. K. Thorne, which interestingly seems to be the one variant I hadn’t tried. At various points I had used r k thorne, r.k. thorne, and rk thorne. And the clear winner was rk thorne which had almost three times as many impressions as r.k. thorne.  The r k thorne option had almost none.

Another one though isn’t as clear-cut as that.  It’s T.A. White who is listed that way with no space between the two letters. In that case I had at various points used t a white, t.a white, t.a. white, and ta white.  The one that had the most impressions was the one with the typo, t.a white, followed closely by t.a. white and ta white which were almost equal.  The last one, t a white, had the least. (One reason for the difference might be because when I type ta white into the Amazon search bar it shows towels instead of books.)

One more example would be K.A. Linde.  I had tried ka linde, k a linde, and k.a. linde.  By far the best performing of the bunch was ka linde. Neither of the others did much.

The problem with my numbers is that I didn’t do this in a controlled experiment where the bids were the same and the words were started at the exact same time. What I think I’m comfortable in saying is that if you do go without a period in there don’t bother with spaces between the two initials.  So use ka linde not k a linde or rk thorne not r k thorne.

Also, if you do have names with a period in them anywhere, definitely be sure to test out variants of the name without the period included.  I have a few with full first names and a middle initial where dropping the period from the middle initial seems to have resulted in more impressions as well.  (But others where it didn’t.)

The Difference AMS Can Make

Time for my first AMS post.  I’m fairly active in the AMS Ads Learning thread on Kboards, but I’m horrible at posting screenshots on user forums, so this blog gives me the chance to show something I’ve been talking about there for a couple of months now.

AMS is definitely the reason my sales have increased over the last year. I had played with them some in 2015, but I really started running them consistently in July of last year. I didn’t say much about it for the first four or five months because, well, the more people who use them the more expensive they get.  And it was nice to actually have steady full-price sales for once.  I’m not busting out the champagne by any means, but to be able to sell my books at full price month after month?  That I like to see.

I will say that the more genre-targeted your covers are, the better you’ll do.  That’s why, for example, my Rider’s Revenge series does well with AMS whereas Erelia never really did the few times I tried to advertise it.  (I define well as consistently ranking under 100K.  If you’re someone looking to move from 25K to 2K ranking, I’m not the person to look to.  But if you want to move from 250K+ ranking to under 100K, then AMS and what I’m going to talk about may help with that.)

Ironically, the example I’m about to discuss is for my first-in-series romance novel which I have yet to link to here on the blog.  But it’s the ad that’s really doing well these days and the one that most clearly shows how a free run combined with AMS can really help move a book to a higher rank.

Here’s the visual of that:SWH AMS Snapshot Free Run Comparison - Copy

As you can see above, in February 2016 I did a free run on this book which resulted in about 3,750 downloads and a free rank in the top 50 of the Amazon store.  The book was in KU at the time and I was happy that the promo paid for itself through page reads since it was a standalone with no other books under that author name.

But you can also see that the free run didn’t result in ongoing sales of that title.  It quickly sank back down to the 700K range where it stayed until I started running AMS ads on it in November 2016. (I had tried a few ads on it before and they sort of kind of worked, but November is when I finally had an ad that worked steadily to generate a few sales here or there.)

May 2017 I decided to do another free run.  I’d just released a related standalone and wanted to goose sales of that title while it was still in its first 90 days.  This time I had about 3,500 downloads and the book once again made it to the top 50 free in the Amazon store.

But now I had AMS ads running on it.  And when it came off free, those ads allowed me to maintain the rank I’d achieved through the free run as you can see very clearly on the chart above.

See below to understand what a difference that made in terms of sales and page reads.

SWH AMS Snapshots Pre and Post Free Run - Copy

I was sort of limping along with my AMS ad on this book but the free run and the momentum it gave me, goosed that ad into running.  Since that free run I’ve had 145 sales at $4.99 and 193,000 page reads on that novel using AMS ads.  The only reason I’ve been able to sustain rank and continue to generate sales is AMS. I start my ad at $10 every morning and bump it up as it hits its budget throughout the day. If I don’t keep the ad running I can see my rank start to drop when the ad runs out of funds.

It’s also pretty clear to me that AMS ads run better on books that already have some sort of momentum. This is the same ad I was running before the free promo, but now it actually spends my budget.  And it takes me a lot less effort to keep this ad going than it does my other ads.

It hasn’t been cheap to keep this ad running. Romance is expensive to bid on.  (I pay about twice as much per click for a romance click as I do for a fantasy click.) I’m basically barely profitable on the ad for book 1 but that makes all the sales for book 2 profit.

For someone with a deep backlist or books in a related series where readthrough is really high, combining a free run with AMS could have a very powerful result.  Even for me with just two standalones under this pen name it’s been profitable.

Now, some caveats here if you want to try this strategy:

  1. This is only possible if the book is in KU at the time of the free run.  Some people will borrow a book rather than download it for free if it’s in KU. This means you can come off of a free run with an improved paid ranking, since those borrows count towards your paid rank. If you’re not in KU your ranking will drop after a free run because you’ll have no sales for the days while the book was free.
  2. Also, I think I’ve managed to sustain that rank because the book is still in KU. My full-read to buy ratio is about 2:1 in romance, so without those borrows boosting my rank I couldn’t have sustained the rank I reached.
  3. I think this approach is easier to do in romance, at least for me.  I think romance readers are more prone to borrow during a free run than fantasy readers.  Also, I find it easier to promote romance than fantasy. I did a free run on Rider’s Revenge with one of the same ad sites as I used for this book and only had about 2,400 downloads. That wasn’t enough to crack the 25K mark when it came off free.
  4. I’m not sure if it makes a difference, but I left the ad running during the free run for the book.  That means my ACOS numbers look horrible for this book, but that’s not how I judge ad performance anyway.
  5. This was also a book that I knew had some potential.  When it released in 2014 it sold maybe 50 copies without any advertising and has always performed well when I promote it and been fairly well-reviewed, too.
  6. These were legitimate readers borrowing or downloading the book.  (I feel I should mention that given recent click-botting issues we’re seeing these days.)  I wouldn’t recommend using some sort of service that gets you rank without exposing you to legitimate customers who will actually read your stuff.  Yes, I think the momentum from the promo goosed my AMS ad and let me get in front of more potential customers, but I’m just not sure that would be true if the book were botted to the top. And, honestly, the promos I used for each of those free runs were $100 or less to buy, so it’s not the like the honest approach is prohibitively expensive.

So there you have it.  My first AMS post.  A free run to get momentum plus AMS ads to sustain it can work and work well.

If you aren’t using AMS yet I’d recommend it even if that means more competition for me.  There is a learning curve and the ads do require maintaining, but they’re worth it to me to have steady long-term full-price sales.  The information is out there.  I taught myself through reading the help documents and experimenting to see what worked for my books and now there are forums where the ads are discussed routinely and people share their experiences.

Of course, if you don’t want to take the time to read through blog posts and forum posts and all of that to figure them out, I do have a book I published on AMS, AMS for Authors, that walks through the different types of ads and my experience with them and recommendations for how to use them. I think it’s helpful, but I’m probably biased.