It's a crowded book market, and even if you have a quality product with a great cover, you still need to get attention for your book somehow. Amazon Advertising opened up to all authors who publish on Amazon in Dec 2016, and I've been trying them out with some success. In today's show, Mark Dawson goes into detail on how and why to advertise on Amazon.
In the intro, I give my personal update and thoughts from the London Book Fair, including why the global, digital, mobile and nimble approach as an indie is so awesome. I did a quickfire session on How to Reach More Readers and Sell More Books alongside Orna Ross, Adam Croft and Gabriel Mercer. You can find that session recording and a ton of other useful sessions on writing and publishing at the Indie Author Fringe, a free online conference run by the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Mark Dawson is the USA Today bestselling author of the John Milton thriller series as well as a number of other novels. He co-hosts the Self-Publishing Formula podcast and is well known in the author community for his Facebook Ads for Author's Course which is now a broader course on Advertising for Authors.
- Why advertising matters for authors and why it's never too late to start
- What Facebook ads are useful for now
- Why box sets are great for fiction income
- Why Amazon ads work better now than before
- The two types of Amazon ads and which works better
- How to do keyword research for your ads and how many keywords to use
- How to know if your ads are working and tips on the ad text
- How to address the problem that Amazon won't spend your ad budget
- Hacks for book launches to get more email opens and more sales
Transcript of Interview with Mark Dawson
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from the creativepenn.com and today I'm here again with Mark Dawson. Hi, Mark.
Mark: Hello, Jo. How are you?
Joanna: I'm good. It's great to have you back on the show. Just a little introduction.
Mark is the USA Today Best-Selling Author of the John Milton thriller series as well as a number of other novels. He co-hosts the Self-publishing Formula podcast and is well known in the author community for his Facebook Ads for Author's Course which is now a broader course on advertising for authors.
Exciting stuff, Mark. And I want to get straight into it. You were on the show last year as we speak, June 2016. So not even a year ago. But things have changed a lot.
Why this shift? This broader approach to advertising for authors instead of just Facebook?
Mark: When we started the course came together, I think, the first time towards the end of 2015. So this is only the fourth time that we've opened the course up. Every time that we've released it to new students we've added something new in.
So the last time we added things like Twitter advertising, YouTube advertising, copy-writing for author ads, and all of that kind of stuff.
And this summer we're adding in Amazon ads which is not something that we're gonna be talking about today but the more we added in the more obvious it was that it wasn't just a Facebook ads course. It was really advertising for authors and general principles on how we can make our books more visible, how we can build our mailing lists and sell and build our careers. So we felt that a re-branding was in order.
Joanna: I guess it's a broader question about advertising as part of an author's strategy is not just one thing. Is it?
You really need a kind of broader approach to marketing these days.
Mark: We have to treat ourselves as business people and a business needs a multi-pronged approach to selling stuff. So advertising, promotion, marketing. These are all tools that we need to have in our arsenal and it's not for everyone.
Obviously there are some authors who are just much more happy sitting down and writing stories which is absolutely fine but really I'd say generally the general principle these days is that you need to be able to do a little bit more than just that if you want to increase your odds of selling books.
Joanna: Yeah. Absolutely. And, of course, you know I'm someone that you've encouraged to do much more paid advertising and I'm always like, “Oh, I should have got into this earlier.”
So people listening are feeling like it's too late: it's never too late to get started.
Mark: No. No.
Joanna: We're going to focus on Amazon ads because they're the up and coming thing right now.
But I want to just talk about Facebook advertising first. So with what you know, your massive knowledge about Facebook advertising at this point and all the testing that you do on everyone else's behalf because I certainly don't have the patience for it.
What is Facebook advertising good for at this point?
Mark: It's still good for everything.
There are two main purposes that I recommend authors use Facebook ads for. The first one is building your mailing list and the second one is selling books directly. In fact, it is still, without any question, is the best platform for doing both of those things.
There are challenges that are coming up all the time, Amazon being the newest one, but Facebook is still the most efficient, the most targeted and focused platform available. At the moment, I just checked before I came on, I'm still spending $600 a day on ads across various different parts of the business.
So there's the course side of the business which is getting quite a lot of spend at the moment but at the same time I'm still running about $100 a day on list building and also a good chunk on sales, as well.
It is still the place to be. The thing that I would say though is that when I started doing this with Facebook, so 2014 something like that, that was probably the golden age. No one was doing it. No authors were doing it that I was aware of. So I quickly got into doing and the days of making 400% or 500% returns on investment are probably gone for most people because there's just more competition now.
Partly my fault, I'm afraid. So sorry about that because I had to do it. But it's still possible. I checked my ads last night. I'm still getting 100% return on some ads so in other words spend $1.00 get $2.00 back.
It's really great for advertising in Australia right now so I'm doing a lot of ads to Australians. And, well, you'll know about this having just come back from Australia but books are very expensive over there and if you can undercut traditional publishers and do that with ads, which Facebook makes very easy you can do really, really well.
Canada is great. Kobo is a really good platform to be directing traffic to be directing traffic to.
So that's working. And one other thing. I knew you were going to ask this question so I had a quick look through our closed Facebook group because I wanted to get an example of someone that we've taught how to do this and just have a look at how she's done over the course of the last year.
There's an author called Octavia Randolph who I don't know if you've heard of before. But she writes in a super small niche. She's writing Ninth Century English and Scandinavian historical fiction.
Mark: She posted a quick recap after a year's worth of doing this and she said in 2015 her writing income without Facebook advertising was $33,000. Her 2016 writing income with Facebook advertising was $159,000 and her list went from 720 members to 31,000 members. So there is no question that it is still the most effective way to advertise for authors. But the good news is there are others that are coming up that, you know, that we can also look to Amazon, as well.
Joanna: Yeah. That's awesome. I think one of the most exciting things about being an indie is I haven't heard of Octavia and most of the world has not and may never hear of her but she is making a good income. Same with me. And, you're much more famous these days but still it doesn't matter, Lee Child always says most of the planet hasn't heard of Lee Child and obviously he's not an indie, but what I love about this world we're living in now is, you know, you can make a really good income as a creative using tools like this.
Mark: Yeah. It doesn't matter.
Joanna: Who cares if anyone's heard of us?
Mark: No. You may not have heard this because I think you were out of the country but I was on Radio One Front Row not too long ago and the first question for me, I was with Neil Gaiman which was great to me. He's obviously amazing.
Joanna: Who is a super star.
Mark: Yeah. And lovely, as well. And the first question from the presenter was, “So, forgive me, I don't know who you are.” I answered it quite politely but I was tempted not to be quite so polite.
But you're right, it doesn't actually matter. It doesn't matter that 95% of the UK population has no idea who I am. And, yeah, I'm making a good living from telling stories so it's a good sign. It just means there's millions of people that we can sell our books to.
Joanna: I did want to ask, I mean you mentioned selling books and obviously most people just default to Amazon. But, you know, I've been looking through my iBooks revenue and, I mean, it just keeps coming in without even doing much. I've tried some Facebook ads with iBooks and just haven't really had success.
Have you had success with iBooks advertising specifically?
Mark: I did. Not as much as the other platforms. I find their affiliate tracking is a bit temperamental.
Joanna: Oh, yeah. It's terrible.
Mark: The interface is confusing, as well. I'm not a big fan of that. But I have had some success. Kobo is great. The reason Kobo works so well is because, and this is…I'm gonna give you credit for this again because you persuaded me to put my books together in like a mega bundle. So instead of a three book bundle, it's an eight book bundle and I can charge that at $25 which makes a royalty for me of about $18, something or other. And by, you know, I'm not going to sell quite as many of those because it's more expensive.
Mark: But I'll sell enough to make certainly 150% return most days and that's meant that the book is ranking quite highly and it's actually a pleasure to look at my Kobo report now because every time I get another sale it's another $20. And they just keep coming in. So that was a great piece of advice. Thank you.
Joanna: Ah, there we go. And just on for people listening, I mean, my fiction income in general, I just looked at it, is over 50% box sets. I mean, because the box sets make such a higher revenue. It's kind of crazy. So, certainly with fiction think in three books. There has to be three books and then you can do a box set. Otherwise you're kind of missing out.
I think we're still ahead of traditional publishing on things like box sets because they're not really doing them so much.
If I had some of those catalogs I'd be bundling a whole load of authors together as a traditional publisher. But they're just not doing that.
Mark: No. My agency set up a digital imprint for books and they've got people like Margery Allingham, kind of famous authors from days gone by and one of the first things that we did was we added a lot of content. It was to bundle it, it was to put it into box set bundles. And I think that's where they're making most of their sales from.
Joanna: Oh, okay.
Mark: You know, if you've got the inventory…
Joanna: Stop telling them, Mark. Stop telling them these things.
Mark: I know. Hey, there's loads of readers to go around.
Joanna: Oh, absolutely. Okay. So that's pretty cool to catch up on what's happening with Facebook. And it definitely still works for fiction and non-fiction so everything we're talking about is fiction and non-fiction. But let's get into Amazon ads.
Why are Amazon ads the thing right now? They existed but they were only for KDP select authors and they were a bit crap a few years ago. Right?
Mark: Very crap.
Joanna: I mean I tried them when they first came out and they were just bad.
Why are they now suddenly a good idea?
Mark: I tried them right at the start I don't have many books in Select but I did try them with some books that I did have and I couldn't get them to spend any money which is the problem which we'll get to. Is still the problem. It's actually getting Amazon to spend money for the ads.
They opened it up to everyone not in Select maybe October or November last year and I got into it quite quickly and I'm fortunate enough to have a reasonably large budget to be investing in and testing and trying to get these things to work.
I started running ads and something has changed since the, as you say, the crap version of Amazon ads and I agree with that.
I was getting sales, I was getting clicks, and they were starting to be quite profitable. And the issue was was getting to spend the full budget. I was getting, you know, the cost score so I think that's the total sales divided by the cost of advertising.
As long as it's not above 70% when you take your royalty into account that generally means you're gonna be in profit. And I was starting to see scores of 5%, 10%. So maybe spending $0.20 and getting a sale which is very, very profitable. So something had definitely changed.
And the reason they're hot is because if you compare them with Facebook. The purpose of Facebook, if you're a user on Facebook you're not in a buying frame of mind when you're on that platform. You probably want to see pictures of your family, cats doing stupid things, all of those kinds of things. That's what you go to Facebook for. Maybe news, all that kind of stuff.
The difference with Amazon is Amazon is an e-commerce platform so you're on Amazon not to look at videos of cats but you're on there to buy something. You're much closer to the buying decision than you are on other platforms and that's also true on Google, as well.
Amazon is perfect for that. And if you can start to serve ads to people who are looking for the kinds of things that you're selling you should find that the conversion percentage is much higher than it would be on those other platforms. And I did start to see that. And, you know, we can talk about my results as we go on but I'm finding they're quite effective at the moment and it's definitely the area that I'm most interested in right now.
Joanna: I'm just going to be totally selfish as I often am on this podcast and ask my questions that I want to know. Because there are two types of ads. The sponsored products and the product display ads. And it can be quite confusing because it doesn't really make it clear, like, what is the best one to use.
What is the difference between the sponsored products and the product display ads and what is each one better for?
Mark: Sponsored products…I do most of those so I'll talk about that first. They enable you to bid on keywords. Let's say you're comparing you've got books that are quite like Dan Brown, so you might want to bid on the key phrase “Dan Brown”.
And what you're aiming to do is whenever I go into Amazon and try searching for “Dan Brown” I'm presented with an ad for your ARKANE series and I might go, “Hmm. I'm actually, I'm fed up with Dan Brown. I'm gonna try this new series,” and try that one instead. So that's what you're doing with those ads. The ads appear within the search results and also on certain product pages.
The product display ads, instead of bidding on key words you're bidding on placement on product pages. So instead of typing in “Dan Brown” you might type in “The Lost Symbol”. And that's what you're aiming to get your ad on. You want it to be on that particular product page.
If you think about the Amazon page, product placement is just below and to the right of the actual buy button. So that's where you want to get.
And, also, product display ads can get you on Kindle lock screens which are quite an effective way to generate interest of people who are just looking at their Kindles.
Joanna: When I first started doing it I tried… I can never remember which one's which. The one where they have auto-targeting. Right? I think that's sponsored products.
Joanna: Yeah. So you go in and choose auto-targeting and it was just crazy expensive and just didn't seem to work. It had loads of impressions but no clicks.
What's the difference between auto-targeting or picking your own keywords?
Mark: A keyword ad you can, “Look, try one…This is the book I want to advertise.” Amazon will then analyze that and try and pick out key words that it thinks are relevant to your book. And I have seen campaigns like that. I've tested lots of them and others I've spoken to have seen those campaigns work quite well.
Unfortunately the problem with this is there's not often any rhyme or reason as to which ones work and which ones don't work. We try and divine what that is but it's not always obvious to do that. The problem with that is those keywords tend to be really broad and I suspect they're being offered to lots of people who are writing those kinds of books.
If we're doing books that are quite like Dan Brown, for example, you'll be getting keywords like that, your competitors will also be getting those keywords which probably means that it's going to be more competitive in order to win those auctions. So I don't use those so much any more.
I tend to do research and to build up a specific list of keywords that are reflective for exactly the kind of books that I'm trying to write. So it's like I tend to go slightly more niche rather than that broad brush approach.
Joanna: And therein lies the problem as it does for Facebook and for many of these things is keywords. I mean, many people have done a small amount of keyword research when they publish.
Can you talk us through the process of keyword research for Amazon ads and how many you need rather than just seven?
Mark: All right. So and kind of apologies, I'm a bit of a geek about this kind of stuff. I actually quite enjoy doing this research which probably makes me really, really weird. But there are lots of ways to do it. Some are easy, some are more difficult, some are free, and some you have to pay for.
The simplest way to do it is if you are trying to find keywords, and let's start with the easiest ones, so other authors. For me, authors in my niche are Lee Child, David Baldacci, James Patterson.
The best place to start is to go to your own Amazon author page and to have a look on that left-hand side beneath your bio where it says, “Customers also bought,” you know, “These authors.” I think it presents you with 10 to start.
You copy those down, put them onto a spreadsheet, and then drill down into each of those. Then go to Lee Child's author page and find out that maybe he has Mark Greaney or he has Tom Clancy. And then you can go further down the rabbit hole and click on those ones and you can build up a list of authors quite quickly by doing that. So that's one way of doing it.
Another way which is a more visual way of doing it is to use a free tool called yasiv.com. So Y-A-S-I-V dot com. And if you type in one of your books, it will in a visual capacity present you with links. The other covers that go to your book and then books that go to those books and you can get a really easy visual sense of what those books look like.
That's a good place to start and that's free, too.
And then to get into the slightly more complicated ways of doing things you can start to apply keyword research. This is not new stuff in the internet marketing space. People have been doing Google PPC campaigns for 20 years now so there's lots of tools available to try and use those for our purposes, too.
If you go to Google and you set yourself up with an AdWords account you don't need to spend anything. You just need to register for an account. You can then get access to the Google AdWords planner. You can then type in, for example, “Lee Child,” and you can ask Google to tell you a list of other things that people also search for if they're searching for Lee Child.
It will present you with all kinds of different things. It may be misspellings of his name. So this behavior is being replicated on Amazon so it gets you this list of keywords. It could be the books. You could then start searching on Jack Reacher.
All of this kind of stuff will start to generate more and more keywords that you can put into your campaigns. There are slightly more sophisticated than that and paid tools that you can start to do research on Amazon itself. So keywords that are being used on Amazon Sellers. Trying to think of one now. I might have to tell you afterwards the names and then we can pop some in the show notes. But there are some paid tools, maybe $10 or $15 a month where you can actually do research on Amazon itself.
Another good one. Goodreads is great. So if you go to Goodreads there's a site called Listopia that, I think, Goodreads probably acquired from somebody else. And there are loads and loads of lists there. So you can find lists like the hundred best thrillers that you need to read before you die. And there's a really good place to just get lists of thrillers that are probably quite like your books and there are some tools that you can subscribe to. Again, I can't remember the name of the tool now but you basically scrape the data off the page so you don't need to copy it down or cut and paste it.
It does it all automatically so it's very easy. And by combining all of those methods you can get up to 1,000 keywords in each campaign and I typically will get up to about 1,000 keywords from several campaigns. And I just identify them out and start to see which ones work, which ones don't work.
Joanna: Awesome. So many things there. And let me just write down my notes so I remember to ask everything. Okay. So first of all, so you obviously have had success in targeting Lee Child and Jack Reacher. Certainly in smaller niches or in general have found that targeting other indies might be a better thing.
You can't really do that on Facebook because most indies don't have a big enough presence to be a Facebook target. But because of the price differential, for example my perma-free, “Stone of Fire”, is there any point in trying to get that up on Dan Brown's audience because it's free whereas they're used to paying like $15 for the one Dan Brown book that comes out every 5 years.
What are your thoughts on targeting indie versus traditional authors?
Mark: There's two questions there.
Targetting other indie authors absolutely is a great idea. I do that all the time and you're quite likely to get people that are prepared to take a chance on an indie writer.
Joanna: Yeah. Exactly.
Mark: So if someone has, say, read Russel Blake or Barry Eisler, two other indies that my books are quite like, I'm confident that the readers will be open-minded enough to not bother that I'm not traditionally pubilshed. So that's a good idea.
Now the perma-free question, that's a different one. I don't really think that's a great idea and the reason…Well, it depends how big your budget is and what your objective is. If you just want brand awareness and impressions it's a good idea because these ads…The thing we haven't mentioned yet, you're only charged for the click.
You're hoping, of course, those clicks translate into sales. But most advertisers would take your arm off. I worked it out before I came on the call with you. I've had 15 million impressions on Amazon. So in other words my ads have been served 15 million times on the biggest e-commerce retailer on the planet and I haven't been charged anywhere near what you'd expect to get if you were in a traditional business and you wanted just to splash your brand across product pages. So that's a real benefit in itself.
But for you, for that free book you'll find it very difficult to track conversions because Amazon picks up sales and it won't tell you how many times it's been downloaded because you're not going to get any money from that. It's a freebie.
You could take a benchmark and see what read through is like into the second and third book. That might give you an idea. It's worth testing and that's the thing with this kind of stuff is original ideas are always worth testing and some…You may land on something that no one else is doing and it's a brilliant idea and you suddenly…You can, you know, buy a house in Malibu and put your feet up and relax. So, yeah, definitely give it a try.
Joanna: And you mentioned there are thousands of keywords. Let's take the number 1,000. I can see with what you're saying how you can get to 1,000 keywords. I've probably managed to get to about 200 but I haven't gotten that far.
Do you put all of those on one campaign or do you duplicate the add and put, like, 100 on each and then, you know, what happens if any of those work or don't work?
Mark: I've got probably about 190 different campaigns. And some of those will have 1,000 keywords. Others will have 50 keywords. And I'm trying different things with all of them. So maybe those 50 keyword campaigns, those keywords will be really laser targeted and no junk. It would all be really, really focused.
Other campaigns that may have got that 1,000 keyword campaign. There's one of them where, I don't know how it happened but the word “God” went in as a keyword so through that research process I'm not filtering much at that stage. I'm not looking particularly for relevance. The word “God” was included. And when I analyzed how that campaign was reacting to the audience I think five people who'd searched for the word “God” had actually bought my book and I don't know quite where that…
Joanna: Well, you have a book called “Sword of God”. Right?
Mark: That's very true. There you go, you fixed it. Yeah.
Joanna: So I would think that's obvious.
Mark: Well, yeah. You're probably right. Yeah. I hadn't thought of that. That is exactly it. Yep.
Joanna: But what we've just done there is, you know, used the keywords that are within your book. And, I mean, as someone, obviously, who reads a lot of religious thrillers your book “Sword of God” is the one that I was most interested in as a target market that is not as quite tangential to your more mainstream thriller. But that's, you know, the kind of title that I gravitate to as a reader. So I can see how that happened.
Mark: Well, those, thinking about that a bit more, if people are typing into Amazon “God”, that's the word they're typing into their search bar. So it's possible that they were just thinking, “That Dawson guy has got a book called “The Sword of…”” You know? “God is in the title.” That ad is being served, they're getting a box set so they're not getting the “The Sword of God”, they're getting a box set which doesn't even include “The Sword of God”.
Mark: I think you're probably right. That is probably what's happening but I'm not quite sure how it's all going together.
Joanna: But that's so interesting to me. This is another question, it might be tangential but do you benefit if that happens? Because Amazon suggests an amount that you put in so it suggests like $0.25 per click. Right?
Joanna: Have you changed that? Do you put it up? Like, a word like “God” I would think is…That should be totally targeted by a load of Christian writers.
Joanna: I mean, why are you getting that key word for, like $0.25?
When we find one do you put up the price per click? The bid?
Mark: I test at different levels so when I'm running the campaigns I don't. I tend to bid up to about $0.40 to $0.50 per click rather than the default $0.25. Other times I've set bids at $3.00 per click just because I wanted to test how the effect that would have on the actual budget being spent was.
I did a test on Patricia Cornwall and lots of keywords connected to her and I bid $3.00 per click and I did spend…Actually, those ads were profitable so you don't actually spend up to $3.00 it just says you could, that would be what you might spend. And I was getting more serves at that level with that going in.
But, you know, when I started to analyze the campaigns and you can see which keywords are performing, which ones aren't performing, I don't tend to tweak the spend per keyword in that campaign. I'll probably take those successful keywords and I'll put them into a new campaign and then start to build another list and I might start playing with the cost I'm prepared to pay for the click at that stage. And then maybe I'll copy that again and do another test to, you know, maybe go a bit lower this time to see if I can still generate the same kind of interest.
Joanna: That's very cool.
Just refresh us again in terms of how do we know if an ad is working?
Mark: The best way is are you making money. That's always going to be the case for Facebook, for Amazon, for all advertising. Are you reaching your objective within the parameters that you consider to be acceptable?
Amazon does make it pretty easy to do that because it has this metric it calls the ACOS score, so that's the average cost of sale. And to calculate that, as I said, you divide the total cost of advertising by the sales generated. Now you need to tweak it a little bit because as indie authors we're not getting 100% of the sale. We're getting 70% if we're, you know, in that bracket or 35% if we're below.
If your ACOS score is below 70% you're definitely in profit. If it's between 70 and say 85, 90% you're probably in profit because ACOS doesn't take into account Kindle page reads. It doesn't take into account read through and things like that. If you assume a little bit of added benefit you can probably be a little bit more flexible than the 70%.
The problem with Amazon's metrics right now, it's messy, the interface isn't great. I've complained to them about this before. And they know it's a work in progress. They are constantly iterating it. But the ACOS score is a pretty good way just to focus quite quickly on which ones are working and which ones aren't working.
Joanna: And are you using your print books and your audio or just your ebooks?
Mark: I advertise the ebooks but I know I'm getting sales on print and I'm probably getting sales on audio. It's a bit more difficult for me to work out audio because I sell them myself with Audible Studios.
Joanna: Oh, okay. Yeah.
Mark: So it's hard for me to track that. But I'm definitely getting print sales. My print has probably doubled since I started to do this and it's typically the box set that's going up. So that's making me maybe $5 a time when our price is at, I think, $15.00 in the States. And those are selling reasonably well now. I'm definitely seeing a positive effect over on that side of the business.
Joanna: Have you done a print boxed set?
Mark: Yes. I have. Yeah.
Joanna: I'm putting that on my list.
Mark: That's a good idea. You need to, provide that you can get it in within the creative space. If you start to get into..
Mark: Yeah. 700 to 800 pages you're starting to get into quite small type and margins are getting squeezed a little bit but it is possible to put out a decent quality product at that kind of door stop level.
Joanna: How interesting. Because I find that boxed sets are a different audience for ebooks. I presume the same is for print. Right?
It's not cannibalizing sales of your individual books it's just a different market.
Mark: Yeah. Exactly.
Joanna: Ah, okay. There you go, everyone. I think this is so important. Every time you and I speak we learn something. No one's ever stopping learning in this business. Right? And by the time I speak to you in another, what, I'll see you before six months but, you know, things will have changed by the next time you launch the course and, you know, these things are always changing.
I guess what I really learned is if you don't try it, well, you just might as well get going because things change all the time and this is so attractive is it's such low risk.
You can end up spending less than a dollar, to just get a whole load of data.
Joanna: Okay. Another reason I really like this as an ad platform is because one of the biggest issues with Facebook is, one, targeting. Because you can't target indie authors. And, two, the image. You have to come up with some smart image whereas this Amazon ad you can use the cover. The book cover. So if you, you know, you've spent some time and some money on a book cover that is your ad.
But what about the text? Because I've tried a couple of things now and it's difficult. You only get, like, two lines basically. Don't you? So how are you distilling?
What are your best sort of recommendations for the ad text.
Mark: This is copy writing 101. You've got no space for superfluous characters or even punctuation. You've got a certain amount that you can't go above that and you've gotta be very, very efficient.
I'd say think about it not from your perspective but from your potential reader's perspective. Make your copy hooky.
And you don't need too much more than that. Something like that. Adam Croft's hook was, for those who don't remember it, “Would you murder your wife to save your daughter?”
That's really good. That goes into my second point is to just ask intriguing questions. I find asking questions where you nudge people. You want them to keep saying yes and so the last question is, “Would you like to buy it?” You may not say that but that is your unsaid last question.
And if they've said yes enough times maybe they'll say yes when they hover their mouse over the buy now button. I would say don't follow the herd. So try and write something original. So, you know, don't say, “Would you murder your husband to save your son?” That's probably not a very good idea.
Mark: Certainly don't copy the blurb.
Joanna: Well, you can't. Can you? Because it's only two lines.
Mark: It's difficult but, I mean, I'd go away from that completely because people, if the hook is compelling enough they'll see the blurb when they click on the ad to go to the product page.
Mark: And then address the browser. So using words like “you” is a really good idea. “Would you like…Are you interested in…” Addressing it in that kind of conversational tone has worked very well for me in Facebook ads and this is looking like it's working quite well with Amazon ads, as well, which makes me think it's a fairly central, basic tenant of effective copy writing is to talk about a relationship between the advertiser and the potential customer.
Joanna: And in the course, Ads for Authors, are you going to include, you know, ads that have worked versus ads that haven't worked? I saw what happened last time. Everyone copied your ads. Right?
Joanna: But, you know.
Mark: No, that's fine. I said they could so it's no problem.
Joanna: Yeah. You'll be sharing those because I think it helps people to see that type of thing. And I guess the other question there is, okay, so I've got let's say “Ark of Blood” which is quite a good one for me because it's about the Ark of the Covenant. There are quite a few key words around Ark of the Covenant that are away from author names that I've been trying and that works, you know, quite well.
Let's say I have the same 20 or 30 keywords that I'm using.
Should I just replicate the ad and change the text in which case I'm bidding against myself and see which one works or do I have to run one for a week and then run another one for a week?
Mark: Say you're using James Rollins. Let's say you've got two ads and the first one is keywords around Dan Brown, the second one is keywords around James Rollins. What you might like to do in your copy is to say…Amazon's quite strict on what you can and can't say so you can't say, “It's better than…”
Joanna: Exactly. “Do you like Dan Brown?”
Joanna: You can say that.
Joanna: Oh, okay.
Mark: But you can't compare in a fashion which suggests that your book is superior.
Joanna: Ah, okay.
Mark: So you couldn't say, “More suspenseful than Dan Brown.” That would be rejected. But you could say, “For fans of Dan Brown,” or, “If you like Dan Brown then you might like…” Just, I think, a little bit of comparison can be quiet useful but you've got to dial it back a little bit.
Amazon's quite twitchy about the kind of content that you can use. I'm not a practicing lawyer. But there are some things that you can say in certain jurisdictions. So for Americans, for example, there's a thing called the Right to Privacy that you need to bear that in mind but generally speaking that kind of principle is not a bad idea just to look at and test.
Joanna: Okay, so, just some other questions that I've written down here. Someone said to me that if you find a keyword that works on sponsored products, use that to create a product display ad. So, say “Dan Brown Da Vinci Code Book” as a keyword phrase works.
Should I then just create a product display ad specifically for that one book?
Mark: It's not easy to do that because what you're targeting in the product display ads is ASINs, effectively. It's not keywords, it's the actual products themselves. So you might go in and type in “Dan Brown”, Amazon will give you all the Dan Brown books that it can find and then you click those ones, that's your targeting. So you're not targeting people as they type in that key phrase. It's actually people who are looking for the specific book. So I don't think that would work.
Joanna: And what about targeting yourself? As a keyword phrase.
Mark: It's worth testing. The thing I would say about that is it might be superfluous because if someone is looking for me, so they type in Mark Dawson on Amazon, Amazon will present them with 25 books that they can purchase. Adding a 26th, effectively, book in there being the one that I'm advertising. Although I wouldn't be charged unless they clicked on it.
I don't know what purpose that serves because they're already looking so why would I give them another? Unless I really want them to buy the box set rather than the individual book and I probably don't because I make more money if they buy all the individual books rather than buying the boxed set. So, no, I don't think that makes much sense.
Mark: Well and that's a good point because someone told me that and, of course, I just thought, “Oh, I'll ask Mark.” And I didn't think about it properly. Now you've explained it, I understand. But I think that question comes from somebody who's using Book Bub.
Mark: Oh, yeah. That's different.
Joanna: Where you should target yourself.
Joanna: That's the thing, each of these platforms has slightly different rules. Doesn't it? And you have to really put yourself in the mind of the user.
Joanna: When I was in Australia I asked, “So who reads on an ebook?” And there were still two people in the room who were not reading digitally at all and had never even looked at an ebook sales platform. And I was like, “Sorry, guys. You have to do this. If you're not a customer of the way you're trying to sell this is not going to work.”
Mark: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. You've gotta be able to put yourself in the shoes of your potential reader. This is absolutely essential.
Joanna: Coming back to, “It's very hard to spend money on Amazon ads.” I have a couple of ads that are really amazing in that they seem to be conversing really well, like a 6% or whatever it is and I'm like, “Yay.” And then I see that I've only spent like $19 in the last two weeks.
Joanna: So it's not amazing. It's like, “Oh, good. I made a couple of extra sales.”
How do we spend more money if we have the budget?
Mark: That is the main frustration with Amazon's ads right now and as I've said I've spoken to someone quite senior at Amazon in Seattle. He works on AMS and I want to understand how to make these work more effectively and then I can tell everyone else how to do it, as well.
So this is what I have come up with. They haven't come back to me yet. This is the way I've done it. Let's try and express this properly. If you've got 10 ads and you want to spend $100 or you could have 10 ads and try and get each of them to spend $10 each.
Joanna: Per day.
Mark: Per whatever. Per whatever your period is. Or you could have 100 ads and get them to spend $1 each. You scale it just by brute force.
So instead of having the 10 ads and maybe…Say each of those ads is spending $1 a day. You'll only spend $10 a day. But if you want to get to $100, just add another 90 adds. And the sales will increase provided they all…Let's assume they all perform reasonably well and that's not realistic.
Let's say that for the sake of this example they all perform well. That will get you the sale you want and it will get you the budget that you want to spend.
I'm probably spending about $60 a day at the moment right now. I'd happily spend $600 but it is quite difficult to push it up to that kind of level.
Joanna: Do you think they're doing that on purpose as in they feel like this might be a way to game the system in some form? I mean it's not really because, like, people are only going to buy if they're really interested.
But is there that feeling?
Mark: I think it's a capacity issue potentially. It's a beta. They're still in the open beta, which is what happens in KDP books. I think this is probably in that stage where they are still iterating it.
I think relevance is also quite important. I haven't actually had this confirmed yet but I'm pretty sure that they will serve ads that…They're the same with their Facebook rewards relevance ads with cheaper serves. I think Amazon is probably doing the same thing because they don't really want people who are searching for Dan Brown to find a book by Nora Roberts because those are completely incongruent.
There's no connection between those two authors so I think probably they want relevance to be quite fundamental. I think it could be a combination of all of those kinds of factors. But it is frustrating because I want to give them…You know.
Joanna: More money. Yeah.
Mark: I've got money, Amazon. I'm happy to spend it on your ads platform because they work.
Joanna: Well, yeah. And, also, I mean they get money every time we sell a book so, you know, that would be really good.
Mark: They win twice.
Joanna: You have relationships, as I do with the other vendors. Kobo now has a much easier way to get promotions and even pay for promotions.
Do you think Apple might do something like this because it would be really great to have a better way of advertising our iBooks.
Mark: The difference with Apple is Apple is highly curated. I've been lucky enough to have “Blackout”, the last John Milton book. They had it as a brick on the top of their sales page for about a month and Apple was a really, really strong seller for me on that book and it is because it's very visible when I released it.
Joanna: It's very clear to see on iBooks when you have a promotion from them because it like literally looks like that.
Mark: In the absence of them allowing you to buy ads on that platform, the way to get bigger sales on Apple is things like traffic will translate well to Apple sales. You can send traffic from Facebook, you could, you know, look at of those kinds of methods. Mailing lists, too.
I've got a big mailing list now and I survey them quite regularly. I've got a good percentage, 10% saying, “I buy on Apple.” So I know when I release a book I'll get a big spike on Apple because that's where my readers have gone.
I'd love it if Apple opened it up a bit more and allowed us to bid for placement on their home page but I can't see that happening in the short term.
Joanna: No. Okay, so you mentioned “Blackout” there and, I mean, we're coming to the end of the show here. But with “Blackout” you did a combination of ads alongside your email list. Now, obviously you've been building that list for a long time.
For the average author listening how can they use a combination of advertising with a new book launch?
Mark: I've refined this now so it works quite well. The main focus has to be your mailing list. So let's just say you've got 1,000 people on your mailing list. You send out that email out and there are ways that you can milk that a bit more by sending out a second email with a different headline.
And then recently what I've done is to take a look and see who didn't open either of those emails, put them into a different email provider. I'll go from Mail Chimp to another list provider for example and then send them again as just a plain text. And that tends to add another 10% of opens. My open rate is probably about 60% now which is really excellent.
Joanna: That's very good. Yeah.
Mark: But then in combination with that I would use a lot of Facebook ads. I'd take that mailing list and I would import that and create what's called a custom audience. I had 70,000 on my mailing list. It will take those 70,000 and work out which of them also has a Facebook account. So probably 45,000 of them would. You then serve out to those people.
Now, people will say, “Why are you doing that? They're getting the message twice.” But they might not be getting the message twice because they might be the 40% who don't open those emails.
Mark: And even if they did get it twice maybe the first time they saw it they were…
Mark: They weren't ready to buy or they were busy. Yeah. So you give them another opportunity to buy. So that works really well. I definitely targeted myself because, you know, that's another way to get people who might not have seen the Facebook ad, might not have opened the email.
And I also started to do Amazon ads on those, as well, and those have been quite profitable, too. So I spent quite a bit of money but made much more than that back and had really excellent coverage sort of telling people that that book was available.
Joanna: I think that's awesome. And so, you know, it's important to remember that you can use it on launch but you can always use it for promotions too.
When I hit the USA Today list last August that was using a combination of ads using the ad-stacking method as you're talking about in order to take it up the charts. And these were books I published 2011 to 2013.
I think the message to everyone is whether your book is old or new these things still work. Right? Because a book is new whenever someone finds it.
Mark: That's exactly right. It's always new to the reader. If they haven't seen that before then it's a new book, effectively. So no book is dead. You can always bring books back to life with advertising.
Joanna: We are excitingly going to do a webinar on this stuff which I'm excited about because, as I said, I've got a ton of answer from this and I fully expect to get more from our webinar. It will be on Tuesday the 28th of March at 3:00 PM U.S. Eastern, 8:00 PM U.K.
What can people expect in that webinar? What are we gonna show them?
Mark: I think we'll focus on Amazon ads because that is where most peoples' interest is at right now. We will look at tips for running successful sponsored product ads and product display ads and product display ads.
This worked quite well the last time we did our Facebook ads webinar but I'll create an ad live as we do it and this will be quick. I mean, Facebook I can do in five minutes. I think on Amazon I could probably do it in 30 seconds but we'll spend a lot of time going through what I'm doing, what I'm doing.
Joanna: And also maybe some tips on, you know, demonstrating how to find the keywords because that's such an important part of it.
Mark: Yes. That's a really good idea. Yeah. We'll look into that.
We'll look into the Google Ads AdWords planner, we'll look at list scraping from Listopia and all that kind of good stuff.
What we've always tried to do is to make sure that there's plenty of workable, actionable stuff as I'm not interested in doing webinars where you give four pieces of information, but you need the fifth and you hold that back. I want people to be able to start running adds immediately so we will make it as valuable as we can.
Joanna: That's so important to me, for everyone listening, that you can just watch this free webinar and you will be able to set up an Amazon ad. You don't have to buy the course or anything. You can just take that step if you want to but this webinar will contain how you can set up Amazon ads and I will hold Mark to that. So don't you worry.
And that is pretty exciting. Now just one final question because you now have a podcast, Self Publishing Formula, and you also have a YouTube channel and it's just not fair, Mark, because you have these professional ex-BBC-like guys who are doing all that.
Go to www.TheCreativePenn.com/ads for the course
Mark: I know.
Joanna: And you're, like, suddenly so professional. But it's awesome.
Tell people about the podcast and the YouTube channel and everything you guys are doing over there.
Mark: Everything's at selfpublishingformula.com and depending on when people listen to this we're having a big, big rebrand right now and we've got some exciting stuff coming down the track with regards to probably a membership site we're gonna be doing which will be very inexpensive but loads of good value.
The podcast is every Friday and it's a video podcast on YouTube and what we've been having loads of fun with is broadcasting it live on Facebook through Facebook Live. James is my co-host and we'll probably start getting guests on, as well, to actually answer questions in the comments as we replay the broadcast.
We're having loads of fun with that. I'm very lucky. I'm always very impressed with, you know, people like you doing this with a smaller team or sometimes even just you whereas I basically just turn up on Friday, whittle on for half an hour, and then James and John take care of all the stuff I can't be bothered to do. So, yeah. I know I'm lucky.
Joanna: They are. They are pros. Maybe we can do something at London Book Fair on Facebook Live because I'm always…I basically don't do much Facebook Live because it just scares me. But you guys are such pros, I'll just stand next to you and bask in your reflected glory.
Mark: That sounds like a plan.
Joanna: All right. Well thanks so much for your time, Mark. That was great.
Mark: See ya later.