15 Rules For Advertising Books

I started working in digital advertising way back in 2004 and while it is tricky to generalize about three very different ad platforms – Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub Ads – there are some general rules that I recommend everyone considers, before losing their shirts on book advertising.

Not least because books present a pretty unique marketing challenge when compare to generic products. Something which can surprise marketers who move into publishing.

Make sure to check the end of this post for some free book advertising help. I’ve got lots of resources for you to help with Amazon Ads, Facebook Ads, and BookBub Ads. Whether you are a beginner or more experienced, you will find something useful!

Rule #1: Don’t spend what you can’t afford

I mean it: don’t spend what you can’t afford. Experienced advertisers may look at this a little differently. But when you are starting out with ads, the old gambler’s rule should apply, i.e. only spend what you can afford to lose.

Certainly don’t borrow money for an ad campaign. That’s putting incredible pressure on yourself and multiplies the chances of a terrible outcome. Consider rolling your book profits back into marketing instead. It’s a nice, organic, and sustainable way to grow your business. And whether you have a lot to spend, or a little… start small.

Only increase your budgets when you are sure the ads are working. Ad by that I mean selling books, rather than generating traffic or hoovering up Likes; not all Likers blossom into lovers, alas.

When you are more experienced – i.e. when you have tried-and-tested targeting and you already know that your ad assets convert – you can start campaigns off much hotter from the get-go. But you can’t shortcut that process when starting out without taking huge and unnecessary risks.

Rule #2: do explore the wider world of marketing first

It’s really wise to explore other paths to readers before deciding advertising is the most suitable. Advertising sounds sexy… when it’s really tiresome number crunching for the most part. Or epic frustration as you spend hours wrestling with technical issues. And/or a boring slog learning how the systems work.

Book advertising is also a massive time-sink as well as a real money-pit. A whole legion of course sellers and tool floggers might claim that advertising is the cure for all your ills. But remember that it’s only one part of the big world of marketing. Other approaches may work better for you, especially when you’re starting out or your budget is restricted.

I especially recommend that beginners (and anyone on a budget) pay attention to the world of deal sites. It’s often the cheapest clicks you’ll get anywhere and no specialist knowledge is required.

best promo sites 2023 book promotions promote a book promoting

Rule #3: don’t blindly take advice from anyone

This is a good approach generally and especially important in the world of advertising. Everyone’s ad knowledge is built on constantly shifting sands and is heavily skewed by their own personal experiences. Question everything and everyone, and don’t blindly take advice from any source.

I’ve been working in online advertising on and off for enearly twenty years now and I’m still frequently wrong, or just stumped, or catch myself acting under any number of cognitive biases. And I might not realize until after the fact.

For all the talk in advertising of data and spreadsheets and testing, it’s a deeply pseudoscientific world. Data is cherry picked. Theory becomes best practice and then dogma, without being subjected to nearly enough scrutiny.

Most advertisers are chasing results above all, rather than scientific rigor, so that’s understandable. Just keep in mind that things are never as “objective” or as “proven” as they seem, even when everyone is experienced and has the best intentions. And that’s before we get to all the bluffers and schemers that advertising attracts.

Rule #4: do survey the field before making your choice

Definitely do take a look at each of the three major ad platforms before deciding where to spend all your book advertising dollars: Amazon, BookBub, and Facebook. Play with each of them a little. Dip your toe into some resources and get a feel for what works where. Look at the strengths and weaknesses of each platform – because they are wildly different in so many ways.

Go deeper again, if you want my advice, and check your comp authors on each platform are viable targets. Because one of your key authors might not be targetable at all on Facebook but might have a healthy following on BookBub. Or they might have no followers on BookBub. Or might be too expensive to target on Amazon.

Time invested researching these things is often money saved on bad ads.

Rule #5: don’t ask this question

Please, I beg you, don’t ask “which ad platform is hot right now?” They’re all hot if you know what you’re doing and they’re all not if you don’t.

Rule #6: do focus your dollars on one platform

All of the ad platforms are challenging enough to master… when you focus on them. Trying to make headway with all of them at once is going to melt your brain. While the fundamentals of digital advertising can often stay the same, how that plays out in terms of best practices on each platform can be utterly different.

Learn each platform individually, and in turn, and approach each platform as a distinct problem to be solved. Besides, mastering one platform is often more than sufficient. Getting a handle on two is just gravy. (I’m not sure I know anyone who is excellent at all three, by the way.)

Finally, stick to the three platforms of Amazon, BookBub, and Facebook. There’s always who’s sure they’re about to crack Twitter or Pinterest or Google. I’ve been hearing that for years and I’m still waiting…

Rule #7: don’t sweat it if you struggle

You really shouldn’t get too disheartened if you can’t crack one particular platform. Move on to another, it might be more your speed. I was able to master BookBub Ads relatively quickly. Facebook took me a lot longer despite having far more resources at my fingertips. And I’ve never been able to fully crack Amazon Ads – despite being on fairly intimate terms with the Amazon algorithms for some time now.

You don’t always know what will work in advance; you might need to play the field a little before finding your perfect match.

Rule #8: do be careful of generic tips

I strongly recommend that you seek out specific best practices for book advertising rather then simply applying generic advice. As someone with a general marketing background, I can tell you that books are… weird.

We are selling super cheap products with tight margins where the customers are uber-picky and have the most bizarrely niche tastes and we are competing in a marketplace with maybe 1m suppliers and over 8m products. Yikes.

(It’s quite the marketing challenge btw, so don’t feel bad if you are struggling with it.)

Anyway, my point is that general advertising advice can sometimes lead you astray. I personally love some outside resources, but I also have the experience to parse what will and what won’t work for books. (Jon Loomer for Facebook ads is great, for example.) If you do venture beyond the Pale, keep this caution in mind – certainly with Facebook Ads, and to a lesser extent with Amazon Ads.

Rule #9: don’t listen to obvious nonsense from shovel sellers

It’s really important not to listen to obvious BS from people with something to sell. I hear people saying things like “Amazon is just pay-to-play now” or “Facebook has completely throttled organic reach.”

Neither of those things are true, as a simple glance at your inbox or newsfeed should show you, which will be filled with Amazon recommendation emails and organic Facebook updates respectively. I can get still get excellent organic reach with my Facebook Page. It’s harder than it was – it takes work to keep the content focused and engaging – but it is doable. And Amazon makes millions of organic book recommendations every single day by email and in various locations all over its site, which drive millions of book purchases.

Ignore anyone saying otherwise – such things usually originate with (surprise!) someone selling a course or tool which “solves” the “problem.” 

Rule #10: do befriend the algos

It’s important to figure out how organic visibility works on Facebook and Amazon. Organic visibility is not only a potential alternative to advertising, it’s also something that will massively augment the ROI you get from your advertising efforts.

If you know what makes content enticing and share-worthy on Facebook, you can bake that into your ads as well. And if you know what triggers Amazon’s recommendation engine, you can bake that into your marketing campaigns too.

Rule #11: don’t rush

The people who really need to hear this probably skipped over the headline so let me repeat it. Don’t be in rush. Set your expectations appropriately. Save up a budget for learning the platform. Learn the fundamentals. Understand how the system works. And take your time on these critical steps before rolling your ads out.

Spend significant time ensuring that the product is in good shape (that’s your book). Ensure your ad assets are in fine fettle (your ad text and image, where appropriate). And be as certain as you can be that you are pointing these things at the right people and that the ensemble you have put together in terms of the product and its packaging and your ad assets are all screaming “This is the kind of book you love” to all those readers you’re aiming at.

Rule #12: do spend a lot of time on your landing page

Make sure to focus a lot of attention on optimizing your landing page. Whether you advertise on Amazon, BookBub, or Facebook you will, most likely, be pointing your ads direct to your listings on Amazon (or elsewhere). Conversion is the most critical variable in advertising and probably the most under-discussed.

The experience that readers have when arriving on your book’s page will close the sale or drive them away. Everything must be in harmony, working towards that goal: your cover, price, title, blurb, sample.

Authors invariably waste dozens of hours in the advertising weeds when the real problem was on their book’s page. If the traffic you are sending to your book’s page is good quality – i.e. the right readers – then the problem is invariably with your landing page.

While we are on the topic of conversion, Amazon is better at closing the sale than any other retailer. It has crunched a gajillion data points and iterated its sales pages endlessly. Which means you should probably start off just pointing ads to Amazon before trying to solve the harder problem of selling at other retailers (or direct sales).

Ignore that advice if you wish – as with any advice that doesn’t work for you. But perhaps keep it in mind if you struggle to get ads to convert outside the Bezosverse. Perhaps there are more fundamental issues you need to solve before attempting more difficult advertising challenges. (Same goes for advertising full price books over deals, btw).

Rule #13: don’t forget about genre variances

Not all best practices are universal across every single book niche, and that’s especially true when it comes to advertising your books. Yet another good reason to test everything at a lower level before making bigger bets.

Rule #14: do remember that common problems have solutions

Most common problems have well-established solutions – at least in a meta sense. For example, if your ads aren’t getting enough impressions, it’s usually an issue with bids (or maybe budget). If your ads are getting impressions but no clicks, it’s usually a problem with your ads themselves (targeting, image, or text). And if you are getting clicks but no sales, then it’s usually a problem with your landing page.

These are all just rules of thumb, but they have endured since I started in online advertising in 2004 – holding up remarkably well across different platforms too. It might not be right 100% of the time, but it’s true often enough to be useful.

Book advertising is now different in this respect and approaching things with this general framework should – at the very least – save you precious time when trying to diagnose issues with our ads.

Rule #15: don’t let it happen in Vegas

It’s really important not to succumb to gambler’s fallacy – a fallacy so powerful that it’s hard to avoid even when you are acutely aware of it.

Whole cities have risen from the desert because of this, bankrolled by our desperation to dig ourselves out of a hole, by digging in the same spot which dug the hole in the first place. Another $100 isn’t going to flip an ad from bad to good. Please note this fallacy is easier to avoid if you follow Rule #1.

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David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.