Marketing Uncovered: How To Sell Books Marketing Resources

Marketing is more complicated than ever, but the tools we have for reaching readers are fantastic these days, and the rewards for reaching the summit of Mount Discovery are simply immense. Even worth this long-ass intro I’m about to drop! Sometimes we forget. I hear people complaining that things are down across the board and Amazon is squeezing the margin out of everyone, or that the Golden Era is over.

Sorry, it’s not true. The game has changed, and you might need to retool your approach, but don’t mistake that for a downturn. It’s dangerous to be over-influenced by Moany Maura threads on Kboards or Facebook. They will naturally attract fellow travelers — those who are also suffering right now for whatever reason. It’s totally not representative though. One why: if I was to post there, for example, and say that I’ve already made much more than I did last year… I would sound like a dick. Always beware confirmation bias.

I’m far from alone either. The KU author whose marketing I manage just hit 10,000,000 reads yesterday. For May. Which is insane! Last year was a record one for him and this one is shaping up to smash that. And if that doesn’t boggle the mind enough, there’s 50+ self-publishers out-earning him in reads right now too and a serious crowd nipping at his heels.

Look, I know exactly how painful it is to play catch-up. I hit a low about 18 months ago. Stomach-churning sales drops, ones which made me all blocked up instead of writing for my life, just to compound things. I stopped promoting too, rounding out the trifecta of ennui.

I did one smart thing though: I put everything on the table, questioned all my assumptions and realized many were flawed. I decided to revamp my whole approach (a process that is still underway, life is a WIP!) and then tested the Living Jesus out of everything. As such, I don’t just have a considerable toolbox at my disposal for marketing in this crazily amped-up 2018 Bookapalooza environment, but also have a growing sense of what each tool is specifically best for — meaning I can put the parts together with intent.

Reader sites, to give you a basic example, are usually the cheapest clicks but only scale so much. Facebook Carousel Ads are great for pushing those troublesome middle children in a series but can be finicky in other ways. AMS ads are great for adhering ideal Also Boughts to a new release, but the reporting makes me want to perform laser eye surgery on myself with an icicle. BookBub Ads will also help with Also Boughts but can be expensive and are better as a Get Out Of Jail Free card for my money.

Then there’s content marketing — wonderful for non-fiction, awful for novels. Or those precious mailing lists, they’ll happily do the heavy lifting on a new Book 4 but something else will have to pick up the slack on those earlier books. And the vast array of aforementioned reader sites will usually be great for that Book 1 but less useful if you switch them to a Book 2 or 3, and some won’t even take those anyway.

BookBub Ads, on the other hand, may be effective at shifting freebies, but most of the work should probably be done by the cheaper muscle-for-hire at Freebooksy or Robin Reads. There’s always a trade-off though because those sites don’t scale but BookBub does — albeit to a (growing) limit — whereas Facebook is only limited by your know-how, imagination, and budget. And tolerance for risk, I should underline two or three times.

Wonderful! We’re all caught up. Kidding.

Let’s twist this kaleidoscope of anecdotes into something more digestible, and pretend we are actually launching that fourth book in a series I mentioned above. I’m going to give you a marketing plan, is what I’m saying. But I’m not just going to throw it out there and get you to admire the girth of my nous. We’ll build up to that.

First, the pricing approach. These hypothetically awesome books are all $4.99 regularly, but will be discounted for the launch week of Book 4 — with the exception of our official new reader-greeter: Mr. Book 1, normally $2.99. And in this soon-to-be-amazing sample book marketing plan, we are just taking one of very many possible approaches. This is most certainly not a prescriptive catechism. It’s a way. Indefinite article, people.


Your first thought might be that this is leaving a lot of money on the table. Even if you are in KU and getting 70% on those Countdowns, you’re still leaving a lot behind. Couldn’t you get $4.99 from all your mailing list people by the time they are deeply hooked and eager for Book 4? Of course you could. But we’re building something bigger and we want to ensure your list all buy the moment they get the email, and not the next day or week or month. We want to condense those sales. Corral them, even, but I’m typing too damn fast to go backwards!

(This approach works wide as well as in KU, just be aware of the usual caveats, which I’ll repeat in a bit.)

We’re running deep discounts across the series for a few reasons. Most pertinent right now is encouraging spillover. The lower the step up in price from one deal to another, the greater the immediate sellthrough. Which is what you want. Yes, your writing is stellar enough to funnel readers all the way through your series losing nary a soul, but we need the price to be enticing enough that they grab the next book (and the next book) right now. Sales now. Visibility now. New eyeballs now.

You want the sales right away so that the entire series will rise up simultaneously and dominate your niche. There is no greater social proof then all 9 books of a series appearing in the Top 20 of a given subcategory on Amazon. Readers just gobble them up at once, overdosing on FOMO.

That’s the price-stepping logic, in part at least. But what about getting up into them charts in the first place? Well, let’s start with the easy parts.

Your mailing list will sell the new book, and reader sites are usually the cheapest clicks in Christendom, particularly for a freebie. Yes, I hear you. That fruit was so low-hanging that Earthworm Jim could have had a nibble of its delicious nectar. Captain Obvious chipping in here with some real pearls of wisdom. THANKS GRANDPA.

Self-publishers know it’s easy to flog the first and last in any series. Ads pushing price promos on the former, existing fans set loose on the latter. It’s those middle feckers where things can get unstuck. Because what we ideally want is all books moving up together. Oh. Wait. Digression needed. *clears throat*

This is where marketing in 2018 is like riding a unicycle while juggling chainsaws and spinning plates on your nose. You’re aiming at:

  1. Selling a lot so your book jumps up the Best Seller charts and gets seen by lots of new people who buy it.
  2. Selling increasing amounts over an extended period so that your book moves up the Popularity List and starts getting recommended en masse to Amazon customers.
  3. Selling at a consistent level over four/five days with as few dips or spikes as possible to convince the Kindle Store algorithms that you are the real deal.

Errr, and this also:

  1. Only selling your book to the right readers so that your Also Boughts are in good shape and Amazon’s system has a clear read on who to recommend your book to (i.e. the highest converting readers).

Oh and if you could do that for all 4/6/9 books in your series simultaneously and have them all sell similar amounts too that would be great, thanks.

Before anyone develops their own personal opioid crisis, let me caveat: this is hard. Even when you know exactly how to do it, this is hard. We’re shooting for the moon here, but falling short can still land you somewhere pretty sweet.

Anyway, we need some tools to move those trouble some middle-of-series books. Some of the work is already done by our smart decision to engage in price-stepping. Thousands will download that freebie. Plenty will follow through to that cheap Book 2 also… if the price gap isn’t too big.

We’re still looking a little thin on Books 2 and 3, but we’re about to roll out the big guns: Facebook and BookBub. I’m going to do a few things with Facebook here, and something with BookBub Ads you mightn’t expect. First some totally made-up theory!

You know when you have slaved over a book and weeded out all 4,000 typos and your editor finds 5,000 more? Then your proofer finds more again? And then you upload six new versions in the first week cleaning up yet more? Yet you still find one super embarrassing one the first time you crack open the paperback? Yeah.

I think we notice different things in different contexts, like that time my ex-girlfriend didn’t know how annoying I was until the first time we were trapped in an elevator.

Aaaaaaanyway, in the fast-moving, ab-filled newsfeed of Facebook, I absolutely believe in hitting that audience more than once, with a slightly different ad. Not just a tweaked image or ad text, but a different format too, so they’ll get a Carousel Ad, a static image ad, and maybe some video too. And if you set it up right, the sellthrough to those troublesome middle fellas is unreal.

Okay! Here’s our yacht-generating launch plan with all those elements incorporated:

I’ll take two of your imaginary and planted questions…

What about AMS? I find it too unresponsive for a launch plan. I like AMS for a baseline of sales and for attaching those Also Boughts to a new release, because I can drill down to specific books and authors quite handily.

What about BookBub Ads? I have the opposite problem here. BookBub Ads are so damn responsive they are my Get Out Of Jail Free Card. Remember all those moving parts and chainsaws being juggled and this being hard? Well, the car goes off the road all the time. And BookBub gets it out of the ditch.

Book 2 lagging behind the pack? Drop some BB on it. New release looking saggy because one of your email sends was borked? Call Señor BB. Freebie stuck behind a block of scamweasels? Your BB springboard will leapfrog those fools.

And then if you haven’t needed those BB-shaped superpowers during the first few days of the launch, you can still drop that bomb on your last couple of days, channeling your inner Vanessa Williams and saving the best for last.

Finishing strong isn’t just a good way to form long-lasting booty call scenarios, it’s also great for the Amazon algorithms. While I said that the ideal is four or five days of consistent sales, the absolute ideal would be a slight upward tick all the way along. I just didn’t want to bug you while you were busy juggling.

Oh, and don’t forget to split your mailing list over those four/five days, or otherwise redistribute your juice to compensate ad-wise, or else Dr. BB will have to make an early house call.

Further Resources: All my damn books. Just kidding! Well, actually not kidding…

Let’s Get Digital — the basics on publishing everything the right way and finding your first readers.

Amazon Decoded (FREE)figuring out them Amazon algorithms and associated marketing.

Strangers to Superfans — how to create an army of raving fans who promote for you.

Reader Sites — way easier for me just to link to Nicholas Erik’s awesome tiered promo list.

BB Adswriting a short book for all y’all to cover this. If you had been on my weekly marketing tips and tricks mailing list for the last few months you would have the basics, but I’ll totally be talking about this again.

FB Ads — lots of well known stuff like Mark Dawson’s course and Michael Cooper’s book but I haven’t experienced either because I’m — errrr, I walked myself into this — working on a bit of a different approach for this too but, eh, do some searching! Lots of opinions, lots of advice. Facebook Ads are crazy complex and there are a million ways of doing everything. One resource I have actually used and can properly recommend is anything by Jon Loomer. His stuff is great but be warned those are general pointers he gives out, not book-specific advice.

AMS Ads literally have nothing to put here. I’ve detailed my frustrations with AMS in this post. I have a lot more experience with AMS now. Am I any better at it? I don’t even know how to answer that question because all the frustrations laid out in that post are still a source of endless beard-tugging AND reporting is worse now, with full results taking up to fourteen everloving days to come in. Ain’t nobody got the time. (Blind clay pigeon shooting as usual, in other words.)

Everything else — the hundreds of free blog posts here covering everything to do with marketing and publishing and any imaginable related topic. Which are no longer buried! Not only do I have a much better search function now, everything is also broken down into six handy categories. You’ll probably want the Marketing one to begin with and you can easily scroll through all those posts and/or dig through all other topics.

P.S. Welcome to the new digs! *curtsy*

46 Replies to “Marketing Uncovered: How To Sell Books”

  1. A very nice, clear summary of your campaign. The one thing I’ll be looking closely at going in the future is the cost of all those campaigns vs. the projected return. I’ve been tweaking my AMS campaigns, and my sales have gone up, but I have to bring down my spend if I’m gonig to see more return on the investment.

    1. ROI can be variable. Your personal situation too, obviously. Someone wide with 2 books is going to have a much tighter ROI-needle to thread than someone all in with KU and 20 different titles to play with. I notice more and more that the very biggest sellers don’t necessarily camp out in the Top 100 or make big splashes at the very top. Often they are hanging a little further back, but very consistently with a lot of books. AMS can play a part in that. I find ROI more stable if it is just fulfilling the simpler tasks outlined above. I can scale up… sometimes, and then the wheels come off. Other times you hit a groove for a while, and then the wheels come off. On rare ocassions you can even get a 99 cent ad profitable and scaling up. For a bit. Then it stops! Then you copy it and start again and get 100% different results across all keywords. Oh, AMS.

  2. This is very possibly the best thing on the Internet. But then I’m about to launch book 4 in a series, so I guess that might just have swayed my opinion a little. Anyway, thank you for your invaluable information.

      1. This is the most entertaining and creative way of explaining the mysteries behind self-publishing. I quoted the 4,000 errors/5,000 errors –pull down/re-do upload… too damn funny–I thought it was only me!

  3. Such a helpful post. Brian Meeks has a great book and fb forum on AMS ads but I’m author of soon to be two books threading that proverbial needle, so I’ve not yet jumped in with ads yet.

    1. I’m not up to speed with his particular approach. Is it something that still works in the current environment – i.e. with way more people flooding AMS now and click costs soaring? Any resources I’ve seen so far are all success stories from when it was pretty much a closed beta, and not really representative of AMS in 2018 at all.

      1. I guess my homework is to get my head around his book but from what I can see it is trickier than it used to be but the advice he gives on optimising descriptions alone means that many have seen a big leap on how their clicks convert to sales. Some have also had success branching out to target UK sales too. I’m still at the stage where the intricacies can seem overwhelming so will now fade into the background…

        1. His book is useful. However, in my opinion the CPC have risen significantly since the book’s publication, particularly for Product Display – Interest ads (Brian’s bread-and-butter). As I recall from the book, he typically bid in the $0.08-$0.15 range for Product Display – Interest ads. Some of his Facebook message board members suggest you need to bid at least $0.25 to be seen.

          My success has been with Sponsored (keyword) ads. The problem is trying to scale up.

  4. If I am wide and want to mimic your price points, would I attempt to make Book 1 (normally priced 99 cents) permafree ahead of this launch? Or is there some other trick outside of using KDP Select?
    And doesn’t making the first book free and offering the 2nd for 99 cents contradict your goal to keep the “also boughts” relevant? Maybe I missed a tip there.

    1. Dang, I wrote out a big-ass answer to your question and cut-and-paste it into oblivion. Sorry, you’re getting the shorter version now!

      1. Also Boughts will be fine on those earlier books. Those are out a while, remember, and should have them firmly attached at this point. More:

      2. Yes, you have to factor in lack of 70% Countdowns and lack of borrows into any ROI calculations if wide. More:

      3. Also wise to shift some budget over to non Amazon retailers if wide. More:

      Basically, the plan above is A way not THE way. You’ll always need to tweak based on your own circumstances. You can be more aggressive than this even with price if you have a long series in KU. Less so with a short series and/or if wide. You can scale budget up or down depending on your situation too. The skeleton is the same, just try and use the right tool for each job.

  5. This is fascinating, and makes sense, but what about ongoing marketing between launches? When a new book in the series doesn’t launch more than two or three times a year, what do you do to keep the sales steady?

    1. Not easy! All sales will decay and that naturally hastens the longer you get from launch/promo. BUT you have a couple of options.

      1. If you are in KU, the algorithm tickling approach can trigger a page read wave which can last for weeks (or months if the planets align) and keep your book visible. Becomes a feedback loop. NOT easy to do, but the basic strategy above can result in it. Talked about it in Decoded in more detail. Also this post:

      2. If you are wide, then a drip marketing approach (or having some element of that at least), might be better than the Big Bang approach above which is more designed to max out KU reads. Talked about that a little here:

      But, more generally, AMS is a good tool for a baseline of sales continually… ish. Caveated by the usual AMS frustrations of course.

  6. Fantabulous! I’ve a 4th-in-series launching end of July, and just (HURRAY!) booked a BB feature deal on the first-in-series (permafree). So this really is helpful, and sort of a DOH! moment. I’d planned to focus only on the perma-free for ads and whatnot, but this makes a whole lot more sense. (p.s., really glad I got the subscription thingy to finally work!)

  7. Thanks for posting this. There’s a fair bit of information that I didn’t have, so it’s really helpful. Also, the new site looks great! 🙂

    What do you do if your books have no Also Boughts, no matter how many books you sell? Can the BB lifesaver help with that, or do you need to find out why your sales aren’t counting in the Amazon Algo first?

    I’m spending a lot on AMS atm, but it isn’t doing much to change my Also Boughts. I started with no ABs 8 weeks ago. I’m targeting and selling books under a lot of similar author names as keywords, but I still have no ABs pointing to my books.

    According to the auto AMS campaign, the abysmal 10 keywords my book is relevant to are things like the book title and ‘1 1’ (<– IDK WTF that means, but it has nothing to do with my book).

    I run a manual campaign, but the lack of auto keywords is telling in terms of how devoid of data my books are on Amazon.

    I dunno if a BB would help in my case if AMS doesn't.

  8. Do you have any advice for launching a stand alone book club read? I usually do an online book tour, send to my mailing list, AMS ads targeting similar books/other authors in my genre, and after reviews roll in, submit to BookBub for a featured deal. I used to get picked but haven’t gotten a featured deal in a few years. I haven’t tried their CPC ads yet.

  9. Good post! But don’t forget: KDP Countdown Deals are only available AFTER 30 days in KDP Select.

    Email from KDP to me: “You can run a Kindle Countdown Deal promotion only after 30 days from the start date of the first enrollment period in KDP Select. For further enrollments, you need not wait for 30 days, only for the first enrollment period this is required.”

  10. This. Is. Brilliant. I’m on the last two days of launching my 4 book series (a launch pattern I’d cobbled together from reading all your other books…so am almost close to what you suggest here). I shall tweak now! Tweak! Like a madman.

  11. Chiming in two months later as I get ready to launch book 5 in a series. I’m going to follow this whole recipe and see what happens, but I have one question: how long do I keep those prices dropped? A Kindle Countdown is 8 days. These books are wide, but I’m happy to follow that pattern. I really want to boost reviews (a measure of readership) on the middle books, so I don’t mind missing out on some sales at the regular price for this once-a-year promotional fandango.

    Thanks so much for this article!!

  12. Have you ever looked at Pintrest Ads , David ? It seems to work pretty much the same as facebook ads, in terms of logistics… i’m not sure its for me since 80% of pinners are said to be affluent women in their thirties or forties which isn’t a target demographic for hard boiled thrillers, but it looks interesting for someone with a more on target book

    1. I haven’t, personally. I’m happy to let others be the canary in the coal mine on that one. I get really solid results with FB and BB and reader sites and email, and, eh, up-and-down results with AMS, I guess. Experiments with AdWords (even though I know the system well) have been pretty poor and Twitter ads also, as clicks are sooooo expensive, except for very extreme cases where you might want to engineer a little… virality on something. Haven’t really tested beyond that except a little dabbling with Project Wonderful which was whatever.

  13. For Book 9 in my paranormal mystery series I followed this advice to the letter, and also consulted the aforementioned Nicholas Erik. After a 15 day pre-order period (sold 843 copies at $0.99), the book launched yesterday with 300 sales and is currently sitting at #422 overall. #1 in 2 niche categories.

    Still $0.99 this week to run some more ads and hammer down good also boughts, then up to $4.99 on Monday and see what happens. New release also clocked 16k KENP reads in first 24 hours. I have documented every penny spent (and where), and will send it on to you Dave as the next weeks play out. Many, many thanks.

    My previous new releases were never settling in at anything better than #3,000 overall. Oh yeah, still havent touched my 12k newsletter base. Will roll that out over the next 4 days.

  14. David – A quick question on the FB side. The carousel ads seem straightforward enough, given that you can advertise the whole series with (for example) an image of each book and it’s price point amidst the carousel. But for static ads, are you going for the same idea? I.e. run a single static image ad for each book/price to the same audience, or use a single image to showcase all books in the series together?

    1. I don’t know if you have a copy of BookBub Ads Expert, but I talk a lot about series ads there, and much of the advice will be transferable to Facebook. But if you can wait a little bit, there will be more detailed advice on series page ads coming soon.

      But to answer you quickly here, I do both. Sometimes I run a static image ad campaigns on Facebook just pushing a Book 1, or a middle book on sale, or a new release – and then obviously that image is just of the respective book. But sometimes I run a static image ad which is a series page ad, and I usually will include all the book covers in that image. The design can be fiddly, but it’s worth spending time on. I do take an alternative approach sometimes though and just highlight the Book 1 and mention it’s the opener of a series – it really depends on the covers themselves and if I’m struggling with the design. Or sometimes that can be results driven – i.e. I’ll test both ways and double down on the winner.

      SOOOOO it depends!

  15. Oddly enough, I just bought BookBub Ads Expert last night, so it’s on the reading list (which is ever-growing; I need to stop buying NF until I can catch up lol). On a side note, I’ve been constructing BB ad copy/graphics for all my upcoming releases because I like that format (one graphic, done well). I might shoot you an email with my images and politely ask for feedback 😉

    1. Feel free to email but your first port of call should probably be the Bonus Resources page for BookBub Ads Expert – which has a gallery of winning ad images, including for series pages ads, and tons more help on key aspects. There’s also a place where you can ask for help, so that everyone can benefit too. I update the page now and then when BookBub makes any changes to the interface so it’s super handy (for everyone!). The link to that page is in your book (Chapter 10 is one spot for sure – the chapter on how to build your firs test ad – and it’s repeated multiple times throughout). Email me if you are having trouble finding it though.

      1. I will certainly make use of the Resources Page and (of course) the book itself when starting the BB process. But I have a follow-up and semi-related question, regarding multiple launches in a year, assuming we are using the strategy outlined above. It’s recommended to allow 6-12 months before running a promo to the same audience on any given reader site, which makes complete sense given what I’ve learned on fatigue. So if one is releasing three books in year (Let’s say Books 2, 3, and 4 for simplicity) – then obviously a free promo for Book 1 on each release will need to be handled by a different venue given that each release is only 4 months apart, right? And if we only utilized Tier 1/2 reader sites, which can easily be exhausted in a single campaign, what’s the next best alternative? For example:
        (1) $0.99 launch of Book 2, Book 1 free on T1/2
        (2) $1.99 launch of Book 3, Book 1 free on BookBub
        (3) $2.99 launch of Book 4, Book 1 free on Facebook
        So, essentially each “free” audience is fresh for any given release. Is that a viable approach?

        1. You have a few options when it comes to something like this, and I always like to to cycle through various tactics to keep things fresh. Specifically, I like to lead with 99c deals sometimes too because this loops in other ad sites and different audiences, and affords a different approach with my FB/BB ads also.
          I’ll talk about this in huge detail in Amazon Decoded 2, but just to give you an example, if I’m doing a backlist promo of a trilogy, I might do a 99c/$1.99/$2.99 batch of simultaneous Countdown Deals during one promo period, and then when the next one rolls around, I might switch that up and do Free/99c/$1.99(or $2.99). And where I used BargainBooksy in the first promo, I’ll use Freebooksy in the second – as well as a bunch of other sites that either only do free books, or are better with free books. Conversely, there are some I prefer using for 99c promos (like BookSends, which charges a good bit more for freebies). Also, you don’t always get the full slate of ad sites with each promo. Sometimes you won’t get RobinReads but will get ENT. Other times it goes the other way. So that helps keep it fresh also.

          Rotate the deals, switch up the ad sites, use different graphics and ad tactics and maybe try new audiences sometimes with your paid ads, and things should stay fresh enough. Having new books in the pipeline helps too, and then keep applying for BookBub Featured Deals. When you eventually get one, that’s a whole new (and huge) audience for you to be discovered by.

          Personally, I don’t like the idea of doing BookBub Ads on one promo and then Facebook Ads on the next. You could make it work because you are often targeting very different audiences. Not just platform-wise, but FB tends to be bigger (and often more traditional published) authors. With BB you’re often hitting mid-sized trads or indies. But I personally like the flexibility of having both at my fingertips for every promo. Not least because if my FB ads are not firing, I can shift the budget over to BB instead.

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