Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Marketing Using Paid Advertising - A Study – Part 2: The Bad News

Currently many authors are using paid on-line advertising to increase sales and their exposure. Unfortunately the reports back from some authors is not good news. Not when your spending your own money to promote your book and get little or nothing in return.

This is part two of my study of paid advertising. Part 1 of this study discussed the good news about paid ads. Now we turn the page and see the other side of the news.

I have solicited the help of a group of outstanding, award-winning authors to help with the study. Almost 50 authors responded to my plea for assistance. I will try to summarize my findings so you can get something out of this post. His part is devoted to the bad news about paid advertising the authors had to report and maybe the best way to deal with the situation.

On-Line Paid Advertising

Here is the meat of the post. Paid on-line book advertising can be an expensive propositions with, in many cases, no visible sales impact. Remember the paid sites are just the front end advertising for Amazon or another retailer.

Some of ad company’s successes are attributed to large email audiences. They qualify their offerings with a selection process. Although it appears each ad group’s process is different, those authors that make the cut are usually because of a low price, a specific genre, good reviews and high rankings.

Also, the author’s brand and quality of the product contribute to the success of the promotion.
Most of the advertisers double up on the revenue. They charge the author a fee to promote the book and then they get affiliate income from Amazon for advertising the book if it results in a sale.

Why do paid on-line ads work?
1.      They send a permission-based email to prospects. (not spam)
2.      They have a well-targeted audience by genre.
3.      The audience is device specific. They zero in on Kindle or Nook or iPad, etc.
4.      Some offer a limited selection. Others offer many books at a discounted price.
5.      The offer is for a limited time creating urgency with the buyer.

So now that we covered the why ads work. As before, I am sure you can come up with other reasons I have missed. Make a comment and let’s develop a list.


So why don’t paid ads work for everybody. It looks like the ideal sales situation.
You know high rankings and explosive sales were too good to be true. Here is the darker side. The bad news.

Generate No Sales

Many authors in the study reported no sales and no after sales.

Kelly Abell @kellyabellbooks is a best-selling Romance, Mystery & Thrillers Author. Kelly had this to start off with.
“I've used Google ads which I had no success with and I've used private blog sites that I got a lot of clicks to my website but they generated no sales.”

Award winning Indie Author John W. Huffman @johnwhuffman writes Historical Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers. John echoed the same thing.
“I have used paid advertising twice with my first two novels...both times it was a very disappointing experience resulting in few if any sales. It has been my experience that paid advertising does not cover it's expense nor give the author any good exposure.”

Young Author Richard L. Sanders @RichLSanders is a bestselling Science Fiction & Fantasy writer. Richard added this.
“I have tried paid advertising on several different websites and platforms. I have not noticed a statistically significant difference between using ads and not. So, from my perspective, either the ads are not as effective in general as everyone wants to believe, or else my ads in particular were not as successful as I hoped they would be.”

No Impact

Some of the authors not only had no sales but no impact at all.

Award-Winning Arleen Alleman @aallemanwrites is the author of the Darcy Farthing Cruise Crime Adventure series. Arleen said this about no impact.
“The few I have tried didn't seem to have any impact. I currently pay an Internet radio station in my area to run ads that I record… In the beginning, I tried paying for a print ad in a top literary magazine and nothing came of it”

Dave Folsom @davefolsombooks is a Mystery & Thrillers author based in the Northwest. Dave said this.
“I tried paid advertising on a small number of so-called book promoting sights and was unable to detect any difference although I did it concurrently with other no-cost efforts so that might have clouded the effort.”

Best Selling Author M. R. Cornelius @marshacornelius writes post-apocalyptic thrillers. Marsha added this.
“I paid for a couple listings on websites when my latest book was 99 cents, but I got very limited response. I have not used any of the big boys, like Book Bub. I have heard that if your book was free on Amazon, and now you want to advertise with a price (99 cents and up), Book Bub may turn you down.”

Mixed Results

Some authors had mixed results. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes, not so much.

Connie Flynn @ConnieFlynn is the bestselling award-winning author of many Mystery, Fantasy, Paranormal and Romance novels and short stories. Connie had this to say.
“I ran 3 different paid advertising campaigns. The first one was a one-day front page visibility on a well-known author and reader website. I saw no increase in sales…

The second was with eBook Addict, who asked for $40 to list my free book with a minimum of 25 free book sites. This one really paid off.

Even better, because free giveaways aren't converting to paid sales the way the used to -- but it stayed solid when it went back to paid at 99 cents.”

Rejected by Vendor

So now I’m an author who is looking for sales and exposure. I am willing to pay for the opportunity to sell my book. I do my homework. I find the best engine to advertise my book and I run head into the unexpected. I get turned down by the ad company. They are looking for qualified authors. [Really ads that will generate affiliate income.] The author’s reasons for being rejected varied depending on the point of view.

Reason: No Explanation

The first reason for an author’s turndown is UNKNOWN. The author just didn’t get an answer.

Annamaria Bazzi @AMBazzi is a Mystery & Fantasy Writer and is noted for her White Swans series. Annamaria said this.
"I've only tried to use BookBub and they rejected me with no explanation..."

Reason: Lack of Reviews

The next reason makes a little more sense as the marketer tries to present to his readers quality books. (Not so fast. Wait until you get to the detail study below.)

Australian Author Karin Cox @Authorandeditor is the prolific author of more than 28 titles, from travel guides, to natural history, to illustrated children's storybooks. Karin said this.
“I was turned down by BookBub to start with [because] I didn't have enough reviews.”

Best-Selling Author Debra L. Martin @dlmartin6 Science fiction and fantasy writer.
You can also find her writing Romance novels as Debra Elizabeth. Debra added this.
“BookBub has turned down one of my romance titles for lacking enough reviews. There doesn't seem to be any magic formula they go by because I've seen books advertised that had fewer reviews than my title.

Reason: The Novel is New

Another reason passed on to the authors who were turned down. Your book is too new. What you’ll hear is things don’t get better by age.

International Best Selling author Stacy Eaton @StacySEaton is the creator of the popular My Blood Runs Blue series. Stacy had this to say about her new book.
“So, I signed up my newest novel, “Garda ~ Welcome to the Realm” and got turned down for a paid spot. They said it was to new. It has been out for about 3 months.  A month later, I requested a place for a free promotion for that same book and got turned down again. This time they told me I didn’t have enough reviews on the book.”

Connie Flynn @ConnieFlynn is the bestselling award-winning author of many Mystery, Fantasy, Paranormal and Romance novels and short stories. Connie had similar experience.
“Book Bub has turned The Dragon Hour down twice. The first time the book was brand new to Kindle and I queried them about whether I should hold back for a while or advertise the new launch. They suggested I hold back. So when I got a few more reviews I went to them and they turned me down [again].”

Writer Matthew Iden @CrimeRighter is the bestselling author of Crime fiction, suspense, dark humor, fantasy, science fiction and more. Matthew echoed the same results.
“I've been turned down by BookBub on a new release (One Right Thing). It had been out for only a month, though with 12 or 15 high starred reviews, but the 'Bub still demurred. They took it about a month later for a $.99 deal...which netted me over 3,000 sales.”


Well it is time for a detailed study. I picked two of the most popular paid for advertising groups. Again, both of these sites are front ends for the Amazon sales engine. They don’t take orders or deliver books to readers. They just email ads to qualified readers.

BookBub Study
This study lasted 24 days and included 75 books offered in the Mystery genre.

50% of the books listed were free
55% of the free books reached a top 10 ranking
27% in of all books in the study reached a top 10 ranking
Only 7% of the books listed were over 99 cents
20% of the books in the study had less than ten 5-star reviews

So, what do we have? It looks like if your book is free, you have more than a fighting chance to be in the top 10 Amazon ranking by using BookBub.

Another thing that stands out is that the number of books listed in the advertising email has decreased to two from 4 or 5 at the start of the study. This is good news for the authors picked because it limits the choices the email recipient has to pick from.

The other thing that stands out is that 20 percent of the books in the study had less than ten 5-star reviews. That is not what we heard from the authors in our survey.

Kindle Nation Daily/BookGozilla Study
This was a similar study of another popular paid advertising group. Unlike BookBub, the reader gets to select how many books are listed in your email. I picked 15 entries in the Mystery genre.

16% of the books listed in their email ads were free.
8% of the books reached a top 10 ranking.
(That matches BookBub 50+ percent of free books reaching a high ranking.)
20% had less than 5-star reviews. (Same as BookBub)

There is not much more I can say.

Amazon Problems

Now remember I keep saying Amazon or the retailers control the show. You can have a great plan, organize everything, pay your money but you need Amazon to hold up their part of the bargain.

Annamaria Bazzi @AMBazzi is a Mystery & Fantasy Writer and is noted for her White Swans series. Annamaria had this experience.
“Amazon messed up the promo and it ran an extra half day or so.”

Best-Selling Author Claude Bouchard @ceebee308 writes Mystery & Thrillers novels in the Vigilante Series.
Claude had a resent experience with Amazon which should bring attention to the fact that Amazon and, to a lesser extent; Barnes and Noble are controlling the show as noted above.

Claude had an Amazon KDP arranged for free days and a BookBub paid ad setup. The whole thing turned into a disaster when Amazon gave him no ranking on his sales page. With a check of the book downloads, the title was having exceptional activity and Amazon dropped the ball. I didn’t include Claude’s quote because my ‘x’ key is not working on my keyboard.

Disclaimer: I am not judge and jury on this. Some of the results depend on the genre, the author’s brand and their recognition. That said the authors in this post are all outstanding in their own right.


So the takeaway I get from my study after digesting the Good News in Part 1 and the Bad News in this part is if you get in the right position with a free book, you can reach a high ranking on Amazon. Hopefully the sales follow the ranking and it keeps on going.

And the other side of the news is, when you pay the money to advertise, you must beware. Your payback may be disappointing.

Part 1 – Check out The Good News which was posted yesterday.
Book Marketing with Paid Advertising - A Study – Part 1: The Good News

For a complete detail summary of all comments check the post:
Book Marketing with Paid Advertising - A Study

Follow me:

Or EMAIL at: jim@jamesmoushon.com
Or visit my blog: The eBook Author Corner
Take a look at my Author’s blog: HBS Author’s Spotlight
Or my Mystery blog: HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle

Check out the Jonathon Stone Mystery Novels:

Similar post about promotions.

Free eBooks Promotions Can Be Pure Gold for Authors  
Free Books: Give it away. Just give it away.                        


  1. Hi Jim, you've really done your homework and this is an interesting blog on the subject of promoting. I see that a lot of authors are complaining that they get rejected when they don't have enough reviews. Yep. It's a numbers game alright. But easily fixed, too. I have a free pdf on promoting with some ways to get those reviews. E-mail me and I'll send it: rp@rpdahlke.com

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  2. Thanks Rebecca. Authors don't realize how important reviews are. The way the industry is expanding,( no. of ebooks and authors)readers are relying on reviews and rankings more and more.

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