Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Adventures in Amazon Advertising: BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS

One of the reasons that I independently published Battle for the Wastelands rather than continuing to submit to traditional publishers is that I wanted to use it as a test-bed for various book-marketing plans I've learned via writing podcasts like The Sell More Books Show and The Six-Figure Author (successor to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast). Although the coronavirus outbreak has scuppered my usual strategy of "sell books at lots of events and get lots of e-mails for the newsletter" (seriously, that's how I've made most of my money from 2017 when The Thing in the Woods came out until today), on the bright side that's given me some very strong incentive to try other methods.

However, even before the outbreak I ran a series of Amazon advertising campaigns using relevant keyword sets for searching like "post-apocalyptic," "western," and "steampunk." I also attached Battle as a sponsored product to similar books like William R. Forstchen's the Lost Regiment series, books like the Atomic Sea series by Jack Conner (who blurbed it), etc.

Results were mostly negative, although they did help me learn a bit about keywords that might be more successful. Here's a breakdown:

*One Amazon campaign using various derivatives of "western" like "western books for Kindle" and "western weird" got me three Battle sales for a total of $11.97 at a cost of $17.88. Battle is in the Kindle Unlimited program and I do remember upticks on Kindle Unlimited page-reads during this period, but I don't think it's enough to cover the difference. Plus $11.97 divided by the three copies is $3.99, the e-book list price and not my net profit, so the profitability gap is even larger. The "western weird" keyword set got me two sales totaling $7.98 for a spend of $0.51, which to quote the great Borat is "very nice," but "western books for Kindle" got me one sale for $8.60 spend, a substantial loss. And two variants of "Western Kindle" spent $8.77 between them for no sales at all.

*Another advertising campaign ate $28.73 for no sales whatsoever. That one was focused on post-apocalyptic fiction with military fiction as the follow-up. A keyword related to steampunk that was almost an afterthought spent $2.55 for no sales and that was the best performer in that campaign. 😭 This was the first ad campaign I straight up shut down to stop the bleeding money-wise.

I think the reason that happened is that post-apocalyptic readers prefer stories that take place immediately after the apocalypse or within a relatively short time (think The Walking Dead, Zombie Road, or various EMP-type books), while the apocalyptic event in the Wastelands world was centuries in the past. This is more secondary-world fantasy with an apocalyptic background--Lord of the Rings had the Fall of Numenor and the decline of its colonies/successor states like Arnor and Gondor in Middle-Earth as the background and my short story "Lord of the Dolorous Tower" has a comet impact the medieval-ish society remember as "the Hammer of the Heavens." Meanwhile, Wastelands has...well, I can't get into that for spoiler reasons. :)

*Another ad, with a focus on steampunk, netted one sale at a cost of $18.94. The keywords that got that sale are "steampunk fiction" (broad), while "steampunk fiction" (phrase) lost money and "steampunk books" lost lots of money.

*An ad campaign focused on steampunk books, in particular higher-selling ones, only got clicks on three of the six books and made no sales on those and straight up lost nearly $7 on "steampunk fiction" as a category.

I think there's at least one more ad campaign there, but I'm pretty sure you get the point. As a result of all this, I shut down all my Amazon ad campaigns, period. Although Kindle Unlimited pay-reads--and those did go up--does provide a bit of "fudge factor," the profitability gap was so large that there is no way hundreds of pages at half a cent each was covering them.

In some discussions online about Amazon and Facebook advertising, someone I've talked with said that AMS ads make a lot more sense if you've got a series rather than just one book. That way, even if only 10% of people who click buy your book, if a bunch of those go on to buy later books, that ad is a lot more likely to pay for itself. This bodes well for my planned related novella "Son of Grendel," which will probably be out sometime in the spring once I make some revisions and get it formatted.

And if I do give Amazon ads another spin before I have another Wastelands story out, "Western weird" might be the way to go. 😎


  1. Interesting research into the nitty-gritty of advertising self-published e-books. :-)

    1. Glad you like it. I have another post about the use of Facebook, which proved to be more successful. If you're interested in giving this a spin yourself, I'd take a look.