In the past few years, advertising via BookBub Ads and other display ad platforms has become an increasingly important part of many authors’ book marketing plans, but getting started with ad campaigns can be a daunting experience.
To help guide authors who are dipping their toes into digital advertising for the first time, we interviewed four authors who created their very first BookBub Ads campaigns earlier this year. We’re sharing their experiences in a four-part series, where they each discuss why they decided to start running BookBub Ads, what resources they used to set themselves up for success, how they set up their first campaigns, and everything they learned along the way!
In this post, author Rachel Davidson describes how she used ads to reinvigorate sales of her series after the publication of the third and final book — in just three months of advertising, she generated more sales than she had in the past three years!
Check out the other posts in this series to learn how first-time advertisers:
Preparing to advertise
Rachel published her first book, The Point of Me, in 2017, but waited to start running ads for it until the third and final book in the series was released. She set up her first BookBub Ads campaign in March 2021.
“I knew I wanted to wait until I had the complete series available before I started advertising — to keep my day-to-day focus simpler. Also, I wanted to optimize the possibility of read-through and organize my finances in order to give myself a useful monthly advertising spend!
Having studied with Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course, I felt well informed about the pros and cons of advertising books. I knew I wanted to have access to highly motivated readers — BookBub’s members are definitely in the avid reader category. They are more price sensitive, but I’m not sure this is vastly different from, for instance, Facebook readers. Facebook does allow targeting based on other authors, though for my genre it isn’t granular enough. I’m in a pretty tight niche, and I was finding it hard to target specific authors on the other platforms. BookBub doesn’t suffer from this limitation, and I’ve been able to tightly target readers of particular authors that I know resemble my writing.
My goals for BookBub advertising are:
- Sell books. My organic sales on the first book — which had achieved #1 bestseller status in 14 categories across four countries on Amazon when it first published — had pretty much dried up prior to beginning BookBub advertising (this does at least make it easy to know where my sales are coming from and therefore judge the return on investment (ROI) on the BookBub advertising!).
- Build my following within BookBub. I have a fourth standalone book in the pipeline and I’ve an eye on doing a launch campaign on BookBub when it publishes. I’m treating my current campaigns as ‘seed banks’ for this. From a reach of two people when I started, I’m showing as having a reach of 443 as of today.
- Gain reader reviews. If the book is getting read by more people, then chances are a small proportion will write up reviews for me. I’ve already had two new reviews since beginning BookBub advertising.
- Get read-through. The holy grail of making advertising pay a profit! This is where I hope the long-term positive ROI will begin to show. I don’t see lowering the price of my first book to $0.99/£0.99 as losing out on revenue — I see it as a sensible pricing strategy to attract interest, get momentum on sales, and hook a proportion of those sales to go on to read the second and third books in the series (which remain at higher price points).”
Rachel set up her first two ad campaigns at the end of February to promote a $0.99 discount on The Point of Me, with campaign start dates of March 1. She created two additional campaigns later in March.
Designing ad images
“Being ‘avant-garde’ with something entirely new and unique might sound cool, but I think that sticking within the boundaries of ‘usual’ is often a more successful strategy. I created an image using the BookBub creator in the ad form and one using Canva. I tested these in one particular region (UK) and waited to find out which variation of the artwork worked. The Canva one was the clear winner. After this, I began to alter the call-to-action text, testing variations to see which headlines attracted clicks. Fairly quickly — within the first month of advertising — I had a clear sense of which ad creative was working the best. Having reached that confidence level, I felt able to test the targeting for geography, categories, and authors.
It’s worth mentioning how grateful I am to have picked a brilliant book-cover designer who did a great job. That money was extremely well spent at the time but has paid dividends every day since — the book cover is a massive part of what makes my ads work.”
Choosing ad targeting
Rachel selected five author targets and two category targets — Fantasy and Religion & Spirituality — for her campaigns. This means the audience of readers who were eligible to see her ads had to be fans of one of the targeted authors and subscribed to either Fantasy or Religion & Spirituality on BookBub.
Setting bids and budgets
“My bid strategy was to start at the higher end of what BookBub’s system was giving me as the range; I figured it was better to win the auctions and collect impressions quicker so that I could make testing decisions quicker. I set the initial campaigns up with fixed budgets for a fixed period of time. I set the budget based on what I knew I could afford to spend in any given period. I was reassured through the course I took that a low daily budget could still provide useful results — it gave me the confidence to get started and spend the money.
I did all my testing with a cost per thousand impressions (CPM) bid. I also waited until each ad variation had achieved at least 1,000 impressions so that I could feel confident that the results were significant and representative. After I was happy that my ad creative was giving me good results — 3%+ click-through rates (CTRs) — I moved from a CPM bid to cost-per-click (CPC), as this is meant to give better value.”
Analyzing campaign results
“I look at my ad results daily and keep a track of the trends with a separate spreadsheet. Now that I am beyond the detailed A/B testing phase I generally keep an eye on the CTR and eCPC as indicators that the ads are running in an upward or at least stable way. My conversion rates when the BookBub reader has clicked on the ad and landed on the Amazon page have also been pretty good (at one point I was getting over 30% conversion!).
I’m currently running two campaigns and getting great results from a daily budget now of just $2 per ad. I have found that the UK market is particularly good for me. They click through at a lovely rate and my CPC isn’t too high. The US market was slightly less successful and was definitely more expensive for me (an extra $0.15 or so more expensive per click). It’s a competitive market for sure! I’ve paused my US targeted ad for now, using my budget more cost-effectively within the Canadian market.”
To date, Rachel has served 36,900 impressions and generated 770 clicks across seven ad campaigns. Here are the results of her ongoing campaigns in the UK and CA, which have been running continuously since mid-April and early June, respectively:
“I am into three-figure sales volumes now — more books sold in the last three months because of advertising than sold in the previous three years put together, when I was relying on ‘organic’ promotion.
At the moment it is costing me just over $2 for every UK purchase of the book and just over $3 for every CA purchase of the book. So obviously I am not making any profit on those sales at $0.99/£0.99 and a 30% royalty! If I just considered that metric alone then the advertising spend is failing. But I see this as a good foundation-building activity which will achieve positive ROI in the long term. The value of achieving reviews and author awareness is less easy to quantify, but is still of considerable use too.”
Advice for other advertisers
Rachel’s advice for other advertisers is to be patient and realistic about what advertising can help you achieve.
“Don’t rush in. Take a moment to really think about what you’re aiming to build and why. Remember that adverts are not magic wands creating overnight successes and #1 bestselling books in a day. Adverts work best if you’ve put in the work to optimize your book page and your knowledge of the genre. I’ve achieved a 3%+ CTR on my ads, but that wouldn’t mean a thing if the Amazon landing page was badly optimized and my book description boring.
Don’t rush out. As much as I would love the profits to be overwhelming after only a week of advertising, this isn’t likely to be the case for anyone just starting out. I’ve seen comments on author forums where an author has given up on advertising after only a few months. I think this is too soon to know that the ads are failing and there’s nothing to be done about it. Be patient and realistic about what ‘success’ looks like for you and the timescale it might take to get near this.
Test and learn to love the hokey-cokey of it! As I neared the moment of actually, finally getting some ads created and running, I got more and more anxious about it all! The advice I have, having been there and done it anyway, is to do it anyway! BookBub Ads allow you to control all aspects of spending, and starting really small enabled me to feel in control and reduce my anxiety about the ‘risk’ I was taking. It has proven to be affordable and still highly effective for me.”
What other advice would you share with newer advertisers on driving sustainable sales? Share your own tips and experiences in the comments!
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