Successful fantasy writer Karen Myers has recently written an article on her experience with Amazon AMS ads and has kindly agreed to us to republish excerpts from it. You can read the whole article on her blog, and we really recommend that you do that.
I’d like to focus on my own experience with Amazon AMS ads over the last 9 months.
For context, here are some basics. (If you’re already familiar with AMS ads, you can skip this.)
1. You can only run ads for your own book and, at this time, only for the US. Other regions are anticipated, e.g., the UK.
2. There are “Sponsored Product” ads (which show up at the bottom of product searches and below the “also-boughts”) and “Product Display” ads (which show up near the “Buy” button and on Kindle screensavers) — I’ll only be talking about Sponsored Product ads.
3. Each ad is a “campaign”. You supply up to 1000 keywords or keyword phrases for each campaign, and a maximum price you’re willing to bid for the ad. You compete with other advertisers to show your ad prominently in its display area.
4. I call a cluster of campaigns for a single product (to use more than 1000 keywords) an “ad farm”.
5. You supply a 150-character ad copy, and Amazon supplies the book image from your book listing. There are restrictions on what you can claim in the ad (e.g., “Bestseller”).
6. Amazon will suggest some “automatic” keywords of minor usefulness, but I will be talking about the “manual” keywords I supply.
7. You are charged the bid amount each time someone clicks on your ad, whether or not they buy your book once they look at the book’s page. You are not charged for impressions (the display of your ad).
8. You set a daily budget for each campaign which caps the maximum spend. Raising the budget for a successful campaign does not necessarily make Amazon display the ad more frequently — it is difficult to really maximize the use of successful campaigns, once identified, aka “Amazon won’t spend my money”.
Why Amazon Ads?
This post arose in response to an innocent question on a forum about “Why should I care about Amazon Ads?”
This is why.
I write fantasy, mostly, and among these 24 titles there are two completed fantasy series. Series 1 (abbreviation ANNWN – The Hounds of Annwn) is 4 novels and a story collection, and series 2 (abbreviation CHAIN – The Chained Adept) is 4 novels. Each series also has book bundles – one for books 1-2, and one for the remaining books. Series 1 is in green, above, and series 2 is in yellow/orange. Series 2 is more attractive to new buyers (wizards) than series 1 (wild hunt), but both are in the 4-5 star ranks with favorable reviews, if not as many reviews as I would like.
My books are priced in the middle of the fantasy genre overall (indie & trad), where book 1 is $5.99, book 2-4 is $6.99, and each 2-book bundle is $9.99. This graph shows the results for full-price books (I rarely do discounts). The lower your book price, the harder it is to make money from advertising.
I do very little marketing of the newsletter variety, so this is a nice extreme example of the difference between doing nothing vs running AMS ads. You can see the immediate spikes for new book releases, followed by the long decay as no new books come out.
I run ads for book 1 of each series, and for the 1st book bundle of each series: 4 ad farms in all, each composed of several campaigns. It is harder to make money from advertising for single books which are not part of a series.
One of the big challenges is coming up with a lot of keywords for your books. There are different philosophies of where to look.
Authors like you/titles like yours – your opinion
Since you are familiar with your own genre, possibly over decades of reading in it, you have your own list of authors and titles where you’re pretty sure a reader of those would also like your book.
Readers like yours – their opinion
The “also-bought” section of your book page, or a schematic of that from a product like Yasiv, shows you what readers who bought your book also buy. That’s a list of authors and titles reflecting current buying practices.
Current buying trends by keyword – finding potential readers
You can take your current metadata keywords, the handful of things you think are important about your book, and feed that into Amazon lists of books by detailed genre, looking for popular books that also consider those keywords important. There would naturally be some overlap with their readers who have already discovered you (also-boughts), but mostly not.
Searches made by others – unfiltered chaos
Taking the authors and titles which you think might appeal to readers, you can do searches using products like Google MerchantWords to see what people have typed in when searching. This will turn up every variant of “Book X” or “Author Y”, such as “Book X TV Show” or “Book X volume 7” or “Author Y obituary”.
I’ve tried all of these approaches. My first ad farms, which I retired in January altogether, went for volume of keywords based on searches made by others. This was founded on the “Authors like you” approach as seeds, and a certain amount of “Readers like yours”. There were 20000 keywords in each ad farm.
Halfway into January, I retired all the existing ads and made a new set (10000 keywords/ad farm) based on successful keywords from the prior campaigns and the “Readers like yours” and “Current buying trends” classes.
One key takeaway… It doesn’t matter if I have a perfect list of classic authors whose readers would like my books, if no one is buying those authors currently and seeing my ads. It’s much better to find authors who are currently being bought whose readers buy my books now, or might buy my books based on similarities of metadata keywords.
Most retailers will not let you use 3D images for book bundles, but Amazon is the exception. You will certainly want to display book bundles as 3D images for the instant identification that it represents a multi-book purchase.
It’s hard to cram your message into 150 characters, and you have even less space for a bundle, since you need to make sure the message supports the multi-book nature of the product. Here’s my current ad copy for the first book and first bundle of series 2.
Book 1 of series
A strong wizard with unanswered questions and an unbreakable chain around her neck. Who was she before it happened 3 years ago, and why was it done?
Book 1 of the series bundle
A strong wizard with unanswered questions and an unbreakable chain around her neck. Who was she before, and what happened? 1st 2 books in the series.
While you want the ads to generate more sales, the primary consideration is to prevent them from generating unnecessary costs. That’s caused by clicks (for which you are charged) which do not result in offsetting sales.
This happens for many reasons… Your ad copy might be misleading. Your ad might be running on book pages that are too far removed from your target audience and the idle curiosity of the clicker costs you money. The content of your book page, once they arrive, might be disappointing (full book description, reviews, “look inside” issues).
You want to find those keywords that cause unproductive clicks and suspend them, before they cost you any more money. This means you must monitor the performance of the ad campaigns on at least a weekly basis to make sure that some of those keywords are not harming the efficiency of your campaigns. If you don’t do this, you will find your advertising is costing you more money than you are earning from it.
Once you have enough data, you can also fine-tune the productive keywords that do result in sales. After all, if it takes 20 clicks to generate 1 sale, you’ll never make money. So make sure that the amount you spend in clicks is reasonable for the amount you earn.
There’s also the question about monitoring impressions, assuming you have checked that your book cover seems attractive and sends a good genre signal. Impressions don’t cost you anything, but do you really want your ad appearing on book pages for unrelated genres, and so forth, where it has no relevance at all? While you’re monitoring your keywords, look at the impressions, too. If you have more than, say, a few thousand impressions for a keyword and no clicks, I would suspend it — why clutter things up? While no one knows exactly how Amazon’s algorithms work, it can’t be a good thing to have keywords generating meaningless impressions when, perhaps, better keywords might be chosen by the algorithms.
Amazon AMS ads have a significant learning curve, and it costs money if you make simple mistakes, so I recommend treating this seriously as a marketing investment and paying for a for-fee course to make sure you don’t blow more money on doing this poorly. (You can always use the free online introduction courses to get some feel for what you’re getting yourself into.)
You will need to pay for ads now whose related earnings don’t show up for 60 days, so it requires upfront capital.
You have to keep an eye on how your ads are doing; monitoring and tuning are a requirement for efficient cost control.
If your books are priced too low, or not part of a series, it is much harder to make a profit using AMS ads.
Because the AMS reports are so ill-suited for decision making, you’ll need a good handle on your real sales figures from the KDP Dashboard, including series upsell results.
There are limits to how many additional units you can sell even with highly successful ads — it can be hard to make Amazon take your money.
Volume is its own reward — more reviews, more exposure, etc.
Don’t forget the psychology of moving more units… I’ve sold more books using AMS ads in the first 2 weeks of January than in all of 2015, when I only had the one stale series. That may not be a lot, but when you despair over “no action” inbetween releases, it’s a great boost.