Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is it worth spending $$ to advertise a self-pubbed ebook?

I’m advertising on Bing, Google, and Project Wonderful. Project Wonderful is by far giving me the best impressions, clicks, and cost-per-click so far.

I am not, however, selling enough books to pay for the advertising yet. I spent $205.34 on advertising, but only earned royalties of $135.27. Hopefully, that’ll switch to a profit someday.
I am not experienced in online advertising, so I’m probably not optimizing my search or image ads as much as I could. However, here are my numbers and evaluations of the 3 ad efforts I’ve made.
Google Adwords
It took Google 3 weeks to approve my 13 image ads. That’s way too long!  I contacted support and they basically said “you’ll just have to wait.”
The cost-per-click for my Google image ads is between $0.38-0.49. This is too high since I only make $2 per book sold. A click only means someone went to the Amazon purchase page for Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance. It doesn’t mean that they actually bought the book.
The cost-per-click for Google search ads is also too high. It ranges from $0.09 to $0.86.
I have suspended my Google advertising because it is too expensive per click.
Bing adCenter
Bing has better cost-per-click numbers than Google, but it’s still a lot compared to Project Wonderful. Therefore, I suspended my Bing advertising.
Project Wonderful
PW gives me the best impressions, clicks, clickthrough rate, and cost-per-click. However, it takes a lot of effort to stay on top of all the bids and make sure that expensive sites are winnowed from my campaign.
Also, the average clickthrough rate and cost-per-click don’t tell the whole story. My CTR ranged from .01% to .48% and cost-per-click ranged from $0.03 to $0.78. By monitoring my ads closely, I can advertise on websites where my clickthrough rate and cost-per-click are very good.
Project Wonderful has excellent customer support. I found a bug and PW customer support responded to my email in one day and fixed the bug in 2! They are very responsive, helpful, and friendly. The customer support rep I worked with, Linden, even provided suggestions and solutions above and beyond what I asked in my questions.
Advertising is expensive, especially for low profit products like my ebooks. Google and Bing are not optimized for tiny $ advertisers like me, so I probably won’t do much advertising on them.
Project Wonderful has a vast number of participating publisher sites, and thousands of tags ( to find a relevant website to advertise on. I can target specific sites and closely monitor my cost-per-click to visit the Amazon book page down below $0.10.
But, did I actually sell more books by advertising? I have no hard evidence that I did. Amazon does not provide conversion rate numbers for originating websites. However, my sales did seem to increase a bit when I started advertising. Was this due to my ads, or due to the Christmas shopping season?  I don’t know.
I spent $205.34 advertising Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance.
Over 2 million people saw my ads.
Over 2,300 people clicked on the ads to visit my Amazon book page.
I sold 53 copies of Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance.
Just looking at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like advertising is worth it. I mean, 2 million people saw the ad and I only sold 53 copies? That’s pretty grim.
However, just because 2 million people saw the ad, doesn’t mean that 2 million people read the ad. Also, most of those ads were on relatively untargeted websites not specifically dealing with cyberpunk or science fiction. I’m sure I could improve the clickthrough rate by better targeting. But, then I would get fewer clicks, because cyberpunk sites don’t have as much traffic.
For the time being, I think I have to continue advertising. One month of advertising won't give me a full picture of how well it's working. And, hopefully, as people who saw the ad and bought the book finish reading the novel, they'll tell friends and sales can snowball.

And, hopefully, my advertising skills will improve.
Someone once said "you have to spend money to make money". 

Merry Christmas to all!

PS: Here are some examples of the image ads I'm running (click to see full size):


  1. Yep, I know of three other authors (together) who also had a FAIL marked with paid advertising.

    Jane Fancher tels about it at ( ).

    Your images were great though, such a shame that they didn't work out ! BTW : still missing is the Nook, Sony, Kobo... e-readers compatibility ;-)

  2. I really like your banners. This is a really interesting experiment.

    I've also been thinking about advertising, although I was toying with the idea of buying spots on specific sites. The traffic is probably less, but they are sites which are more closely targeted to my audience. It would probably cost me about the same as what you've spent, but be on only two or three sites. I haven't done it yet, though, so I can't say how effective it is.

  3. Once again your intrepid trail blazing informs the rest of us.

    I'm guessing that advertising on would be too expensive? Project Wonderful looks good though.

  4. There is also the possibility that some people may bookmark a book for future purchase. I sometimes click on an ad, then try to find reviews of the book. If it's something I want, but can't afford/don't want to spend money on right now, I will put it in a "Buy" folder or on my Amazon shopping list. One reason advertisers conduct campaigns is the repeat factor. If a consumer becomes familiar with the title through repetition, he/she may be more likely to buy it sometime in the future.

  5. Yeah, I remember reading some study somewhere that a person has to encounter a book x number of times -- I don't remember the exact number but high, like a dozen to twenty -- before interest translates to actual purchase.

  6. Interesting analysis. I'm going to try Facebook ads as well; I'll keep you posted.

  7. Highly focused advertising is where it's at. I don't even look at google adverts anymore, and I don't even see facebook ads. However as an example, I was on Tara's blog earlier and ended up buying a few things from the ads going down the side of her page (well bought the kindle book and the physical books are in my cart).
    Reason being there is a trust factor, as well as knowing I not only support the author, but also Tara through the Amazon program, and it's almost a certainty I'll like the book.

    The obvious problem is the reach and scope, but there has to be a way to meld the two.

  8. Thanks for posting your experience, it's very relevant to where I'm at right now. I'm sure -as others have noted- that there are a lot of variables involved here. That's the stuff the publishers figured out long ago, but Indies are on their own for now. I'm playing with some very targeted keyword advertising for now but I won't know for at least a couple weeks if it's going to help or not.

    As an aside, your banners look pretty kick-ass to me. I'm going to check out your Amazon page now...

  9. Derek, I hope the investment is worth it. My novel just went live on Kindle a few days ago.
    For now, I'll let it move at it's own pace. When I was trying to publish in the traditional way, I invested money that turned out to be a wasted effort.

  10. SFReader, I still haven’t had time to get the books on Nook, etc. Still hopefully soon.

    Tara, Project Wonderful lets you pick specific sites to advertise on. You should give it a look.

    Ed, yes, SyFy would be too much, I’m sure. I contacted the ad dept for Penny Arcade and Ctrl-Alt-Delete. Minimum buy was $3000.
    Catana, “bookmarking”. Yep, that’s a possibility. No way for me to know, alas.

    Tara, ad repetition is a very important ploy. That’s why you see the same ad more than once during the same TV show. It’s also why Wall Drug has hundreds of billboards on I-90 in South Dakota. I’m not finished advertising. I’ll be doing more. I need more data before I can call it a waste of time.

    Burrito, focused is the way to go. Unfortunately, the focus for my books is cyberpunk, which doesn’t have a lot of traffic. So, I had to expand to science fiction, ebook, etc. If I go for more impressions, I get fewer clicks. But, if I go for better clickthrough, I get even fewer clicks.

    Steve, I didn’t start advertising until month 3. Good luck on your book!

  11. Thanks for sharing this. Love the banners!

  12. Derek,

    Thanks again for your blunt examinations. You are really generous and helping out fellow authors, like myself. Have you (or will you) look into advertising on and Kindle Nation Daily? Also, I've been sending lots of emails to various Kindle and Ebook Blogs to see if they'll feature or review my book Bloated Goat. If the blogs say yes, I think that is free advertising that will pay off in future.

    My book is a small market: children's book on Kindle. Not as big as erotica, thrillers, romance, fantasy, sci-fi, etc, so my outlook isn't good to begin with right now. But, I did get Bloated Goat featured on Daily Cheap Reads, and received 14 sales in one day, and I'm very confident it was from that site.

    See ya,

  13. Thanks for posting your experience, Derek. It's good to know. I've recently started Tweeting, tho I'll be the first to admit I don't know what I'm doing, but it seems to be having an effect. Whether that is a cumulative effect from other avenues, or indeed, the Christmas spurge, is open to debate. If I find out I'll post.

  14. Manley, I'll look into kindleboards and Kindle Nations next. I haven't done much review requests yet. If you have a list of blogs you approached, feel free to post them here. 14 sales in one day is really good!

  15. Congratulations on your success so far, Derek! The banners look cool. I pubbed my first ebook this month and paid for advertising on Kindle Nation, but it'll be months before my slot comes up.

    Adwords is okay for small-time folks (I used to make money affiliate money by writing some of those ads), but I don't think many people search for new books to read in the search engines, so I agree that it's probably not a good route for authors.

  16. Derek,

    All the blogs I emailed are tailored to children books, so you don't want to advertise there. But what I did was just use google to search for keywords like: children books, kindle, ebooks, middle grade, etc. This way I could hone in on the blog audience that might actually buy the book.

    After I find a blog, I read their review policy or contact page to see if they accept indie and ebook submissions.

    Hope that helps,

  17. Derek, you may want to approach the guy who play role playong games in he cyberpunk genre, especially Shadowrun (which you mentionned previously). There may well be at least an active forum or two ... You KNOW what RPGers pay for their hobby, as do I :)

  18. I heard some good things about Kindle Nation over on Konrath's blog, Derek. Might be worth trying a sponsorship with them as advertising.

    I don't know that we can really say how many, if ANY, of those sales resulted from ads, unfortunately. Might be ten. Might be none. Hard to judge. Since sales tend to rise on ebooks over time, your increased sales might just be a measure of that.

    It IS important to remember that some level of sales is a good thing, because it aids you in getting more sales. More sales = higher bestseller rank = more visibility = more sales. So ads can pay off hard to track dividends - as readers buy the book, which boosts the ranking, which helps get more sales...

    Worth noting though that Dean Wesley Smith has commented a few times that there is a direct relationship between number of pieces for sale and increases in sales. He's noticed an upward trend at somewhere around ten items for sale, and a continuing boost as more items are put up. His argument is, if you have one thing, you have one chance to catch someone's eye. If you have two, you get two. If you have fifty, you have fifty times the chance of grabbing a reader as you would if you have only one... So he is putting short stories up at 99 cents each, and will be doing collections of them at higher prices. Something to think about - I know you have some shorts in a collection!

    You could pop the collection to $2.99, maybe add a "bonus story" to it (he suggests five stories at that price, if I recall). Then also sell those same stories at 99 cents each. Think about it like the MP3 albums that sell for $8 or so, or 99 cents a track. I see no flaws with his logic here - should definitely help your visibility, and you already *have* the shorts.

    Some of us should perhaps begin to consider freebies in each others books, too. "Free first chapter of Derek's new novel with Tara's new short story collection", that sort of thing. Gives everyone a boost, potentially.

  19. Good ideas, Kevin. I had just been thinking about doing something similar. Putting some single short stories up for $.99, then also a collection for a larger amount. I think that is a great marketing idea, and you may not see lots of sales, but having "more" products available makes sense to get your brand out there.

    Also, Derek, have you read this article:

    All indie writers should read this to feel good about your future.

  20. All, I’ve bought advertising for a full banner ad on KindleBoards coming up in late January. I’ll post the results soon after then.

    Burrito, KevinMc, you should check the ad when it comes out, I used quotes from your reviews in it!

    SFReader, I have done some posting on Shadowrun and cyberpunk related sites. Not much activity there. Alas, cyberpunk is not as popular as it once was.

    Kevin, Joe Konrath has also espoused multiple titles. The only issue with breaking out the collection into smaller bits is the cost for new cover art. The freebie stuff in other author’s works is also interesting. I’d certainly be interested in that. I wonder if other authors would be interested in “trading” short stories in our anthologies? I should do a blog post about this to gauge interest.

    Manley, I did read that story about Pratt. Wouldn’t it be great if we all got that much?

  21. Dean Wesley Smith is suggesting just powerpointing some public domain art into short story covers, rather than paying for it. I'll be honest - I don't like a lot of his covers. ;) But I have an art background. Get a nice logo-style design, something that looks good as a postage stamp (which is what readers see anyway!), and get it done. Simple iconic covers are the way to go for shorts.

  22. So I just stumbled on this blog entry, and I found the information useful. I noticed that this was written over 2 years ago, and I'm curious what you've learned about ebook advertising in the meantime, and if you're still happy with project wonderful?