Editor’s Note: As the COVID-19 crisis continues, it can be difficult to know how to approach book marketing. But reader behavior data indicates that people have been turning to books to entertain and distract them during these challenging times. As such, while we’ll keep providing updates on how authors and publishers are approaching book promotion during this uncertain time, we’ll also provide our usual tips, idea roundups, and case studies on how to reach more readers, like this guest post from author Patricia McLinn. We hope you’re staying healthy and safe, and wish you all our best.
When I was asked to write about how I use BookBub Ads, I said, “Really? Me?” I don’t have a system with hard and fast rules. If you’ve ever inherited a family recipe that includes pinches of this and that, mix until smooth, and cook until done, my inexact method will be familiar. And aren’t those always the best recipes? They’re adaptable to your tastes and whatever else is on the menu. I hope by sharing how I use BookBub Ads, others will find ideas to adapt and apply to their particular circumstances.
After reading a lot about BookBub Ads and experimenting a lot, I’ve adopted an approach that matches a core tenet of my business plan — to build sales gradually and steadily — and aims to work around my flaws as an advertiser. In the past year since I started running continuous BookBub Ads campaigns, my monthly revenue has been steadier and my overall income has increased by nearly 9%.
In my marketing, I go for incremental growth rather than lightning strikes. Experience has taught me that momentum is easier and more cost-effective to maintain than it is to build, let it slide, then rebuild. How do I aim to do this? First, by concentrating on feeding my multiple series, which helps hold my bottom line steady. Next, by gradually lifting the sales numbers — even slightly — across a good chunk of my backlist so my overall income is smoother and higher.
My flaws as an advertiser include being short on skill and patience with designing the creatives, and at the same time, recognizing infinite variations to test. In other words, I could fiddle around forever with ads. Forget writing, there are 43,223 versions of each ad I could try! (Not good.)
My solution is to aim for simple creatives and run them continuously over long periods of time, limiting the temptations to fiddle. And because I’m not aiming for peaks, I run low-spend ads, with a few exceptions (for example, if one of my books is selected for a Featured Deal).
My ongoing BookBub Ads are predominately for free first-in-series books, emphasizing my longer series so the cost of advertising is spread across more books and my ads more easily reach a positive ROI. My longest-running campaign is for Sign Off, the first book in my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series. The series has eight books out now and book 9, Reaction Shot, is on preorder for a May 20 release. Even with a new release coming, my focus will continue to be on drawing more readers into book 1. I watch the trend of downloads on Sign Off as a bellwether for how the whole series is doing.
Designing the creative
My ads images are simple, simple, simple. The best thing they have going for them is they’re not confusing. The next-best thing I can say is their ROI has been better than ones with gorgeous graphics I hired designers to create. They’re not exactly fancy, but that keeps me from fiddling with graphic variables. As it is, I spend way, way too long adjusting elements a pixel at a time in Photoshop. (Don’t do that! Most people will never notice. My brain knows that. My fingers still nudge a pixel at a time.)
I change images reluctantly. After more than 18 months of using one image for Sign Off, I’ve added a second one. I set up the new image with my existing targets, but keep the old ad live with new targets. My goal is to extend the life of these ads to avoid time spent fiddling with new campaigns.
Choosing a bidding strategy
I aim for low-cost clicks. Those are essential to my goal of keeping advertising juice flowing to multiple series. I use CPC bidding to keep a firm grip on the cost of clicks. And I bid low — I’ll try in the $0.20–$0.30 range, rarely going over $0.40. As long as the cost per click is low, I don’t worry much about click-through rate.
My daily budget depends on how much the series has earned over the past few weeks or month. I use BookTrakr to determine the average amount a download of book 1 is worth at each vendor by dividing the amount the whole series has earned by the number of book 1 downloads for the same time period. But not every click will lead to a download, so I assume a 40% conversion rate.
If the earnings start to slide, I prune ads not performing as well in order to funnel more of my budget to the ads with the best ROI. If the earnings go up, that’s when I experiment with new targets.
Targeting is the one experimenting temptation I cannot resist. That’s because I am always wrong. Always.
I look at an author I think will be a great match — after all, I love their books, and they have smart humor in their mysteries, too, so surely our readers will overlap… nope. And then there are authors who turn out to be great targets for my books who never, ever occurred to me as good matches. The only way to tell which authors work as good targets for my books is to try them. I look for names on retailer also-boughts, also-boughts’ also-boughts, bestseller lists, books my readers mention, and names I stumble upon. And because so many of us write in multiple genres, I also add category targeting.
I usually test targets at $1/day, starting in the United States, and assess results once they hit 1,000 impressions. Yes, this takes patience, but my observation is it takes about three days for an ad to settle into a groove. From what I’ve seen with my ads, that’s true for whatever the spending level is, so I believe I spend less overall by testing slowly.
A great advantage of BookBub Ads is the ability to target by vendor. I use that a lot, especially to reach Apple, Nook, Kobo, and Google audiences. And for non-US ads, I’ll combine targets who’ve been successful in the US to create large enough audiences in those countries.
Monitoring the campaigns
I look at the ads every few days to make sure they’re on track. I’m mostly eyeballing the ad stats by looking at the previous day’s results, perhaps the previous two days (I pay no attention to “today” results; they’re too fluid to be useful). But I pay close attention to how much I’m spending on advertising a series and how much that series is earning. I have a daily budget that I stick to (though it can vary depending on what I’m trying to achieve) and I never spend more than the amount that series is earning. That I check frequently and with firm figures, not just eyeballing.
As much as I try to resist temptation, I do fiddle with the targets. I’ll try a batch of new targets in a group in one ad and let them run until some of the targets have hit 1,000 impressions. Those that have high CPC get pruned. If one name is doing well enough that no other targets are getting impressions, I pull that name for a separate ad and see how those remaining do. Then repeat as needed — within budget!
If an ad’s doing well, then I’ll raise the spend. But I seldom go for big spends because I want the ad to last a long time. My goal is to have enough clicks to bump up downloads and sales while stretching that target audience. Low daily spends extend the life of ads by not using up good audiences too quickly.
Since I started running continuous BookBub Ads campaigns, my year-over-year income has increased by nearly 9%. To calculate this, I excluded months in which I released a new book in order to eliminate outliers.
I also dug back into the statistics to see what these campaigns have done for my goal of making my income more stable. In the 12 months before I started these campaigns (again, excluding release months), my income varied month-to-month by an average of 26%, and up to 43%. In the past 12 months of running these campaigns (excluding release months), my income varied month-to-month by an average of 15.5%, and up to 21%. In other words, the swings aren’t as extreme.
My big takeaway is that the most vital aspect of dealing with ads is to find a process that is sustainable for you — what you’re comfortable with financially and what accommodates your weaknesses and strengths as an advertiser to make it long-lasting.
As long as you’re within that sustainable works-for-you framework, you can experiment, tweak, and try pieces of other people’s systems (with no requirement to adopt them wholesale).
If there were one answer to successful advertising, every author around would be lined up behind that single method. Instead, there are countless how-to’s, because different approaches have worked for different people at different times. That’s good news! You are not on a daunting crusade through an endless forest of possibilities in a quest for The One True Answer that “everybody says” is out there. (It’s not.) You’re a creative free agent, picking up bits and pieces of ideas, wisdom, hints, and tips to build your very own method.
Go to it!
The views and opinions expressed in this guest post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BookBub.
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