Marketing is an umbrella term that covers several aspects of business, and one of those is advertising. In this article, we’ll talk about four fundament aspects of marketing and apply them to marketing your book. 

The following fundaments apply to all advertising, whether on Amazon, Facebook, Goodreads, or BookBub. These basic principles apply across the board. 

1) Have a “Good” Book

A “good” book doesn’t exclusively mean a well-written book. A good book has good “product market fit,” as they call it in the business world. For authors, that means your book is the kind of book readers want to buy.

Since readers buy your book before they know how good it is, your book’s first impression must convey the right promise.

A good book (i.e., the right product-market fit) makes advertising less expensive. Your ads may drive people to your book page, but if people rarely purchase, the cost of the clicks you buy with your ads may equal or exceed your revenue on the occasional sale, and that is not profitable. At the very least, your profit margins will not be optimal.

What makes a book “good” from an advertising perspective?

Front Cover

An excellent book cover makes the right kind of promise. We’ve previously discussed Ten Things Every Book Cover Needs and Book Cover Mistakes that Can Sabotage Your Marketing. Your book’s cover is important because people always judge a book by its cover, even if they know they shouldn’t.

Many authors try to design their own book covers because they believe it will save them money, and design tools are so readily available that it seems like a good decision. However, I always caution authors against designing their own covers. 

Graphic design is a skill that must be learned, and most authors do not have the skill set or the proper emotional distance from their projects to design an effective book cover.

If you have a robust educational background in design and years of design experience, you still need to remember that most book covers will be viewed as thumbnail images on a phone screen.

If you don’t have educational or work experience in graphic design, please give your book the best chance for success by hiring a graphic designer. You can also learn about book cover design by checking out my interview with a top book cover designer.

The front cover of your book will make a promise to your reader that “this is the kind of book you’d love.” Your book cover must be similar enough to other books they love, so they’ll know your book is the kind they like to read. They’ll want to learn more about your book if they believe that promise.

If your cover is too unique, readers will not immediately understand what kind of book it is, and they will scroll right past.

Back Cover

If your cover has piqued a reader’s interest, they will either flip the book over and read the back or scroll down to read the description on Amazon.

Your back cover copy is the most important writing you will do for selling your book. It’s so important that many authors will hire professional copywriters to create the back cover copy, also known as “the blurb.”

Whether you write your back cover copy yourself or hire a professional, be sure and check out our episode on How to Write Bestselling Back Cover Copy for your book.

The paragraph on the back should articulate what your book is about and why someone would want to read it. Space is limited on your physical book cover, so you should aim to convey this message in 170 words or less.

Your back cover copy should make readers curious. Readers will want to look inside your book if your copy is strong.

Lots of Reviews

The number of stars each review has is far less important than the total number of reviews. For example, you might be pleased with seven five-star reviews, but your readers will be more impressed and likely to buy if you have 178 four-star reviews.

If you get triple-digit reviews, your advertising will be much more effective. But getting reviews can be difficult. If you need help, check out our episodes on How to Get More Book Reviews and How to Get More Five-Star Reviews.

Priced Correctly

Besides researching the average price point for books in your genre, you need to account for the cost of advertising when you price your book.

If you’re going to advertise, you may need to charge more for your book. Sometimes it makes financial sense to raise the book’s price by a couple of dollars so that you have the budget to acquire readers via advertising.  

The cost of reader acquisition must be baked into the book’s price so you can continue to sell it on an ongoing basis. 

2) Measure, Measure, Measure

If you don’t track where your advertising dollars are going, you’ll have no idea if you’re getting a return on your investment. If you spend $100 advertising your book, are you selling enough books to cover and exceed those costs?

What should I measure?

Cost of Reader Acquisition (CRA)

Measure to find out how much it costs you to get a new reader. To find your CRA, use the following formula:

Dollars Spent ÷ Books Sold = Cost of Reader Acquisition

Sell Through Rate

Only indie authors can access the data that allows them to measure their sell-through rate. It’s one of the advantages indie publishers have over traditionally published authors. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher should be spending this money and doing the math.

The sell-through rate tells you how many readers who bought your first book went on to buy your second book. For this formula, use the number of copies you sold rather than the dollar amount. 

Book 2 Unit Sales ÷ Book 1 Unit Sales = Sell Through Rate

Example: You sold 8 of Book 2 and 10 of Book 1. 

8 ÷ 10 = .8

If your sell-through rate is .8, you have an 80% sell-through rate. That means 80% of the readers who buy book one go on to buy book two.

Lifetime Value of a Reader 

You can calculate how much money you can expect to earn from a reader as they make their way through your books. This metric is called the Lifetime Value of a Reader (LVR). To find the LVR, use the following formula.

CRA – [Book 1 Profit + (Book 2 Profit x Sell Through Rate)] = LVR

Return on Investment (ROI)

You’ll want to track the return on your investments for all your marketing efforts. Ideally, you want your ROI to be a positive number, which means you’re making money. To calculate your ROI, use the following formula:

Profit ÷ Investment = ROI

Warning: If you’re not willing to measure, you shouldn’t spend your money on advertising because it’s very easy to waste money. 

Amazon measures some of these metrics and gives you access to them. They know how many books you sell. However, you must adjust their numbers because they don’t account for the fact that Amazon takes a cut.

Once you learn to measure your marketing by calculating these metrics, you’ll know where you should and shouldn’t spend your marketing budget.

3) Experiment

Always be experimenting. Once you find something that works, you can dial back your experimentation and concentrate on the most effective methods. 

You can use advertising to test your marketing assets. For example, if you are wondering which book cover is best, run an ad campaign to split-test both covers. 

In one ad, you’ll use Cover A with your ad copy. In your second ad, you’ll use Cover B with the same ad copy. Both ads are shown to the same large group of people, and the ad that gets the most clicks is the “winning” ad. Split testing is a scientific way to discover which pieces of your marketing are most effective. To learn more about split testing, listen to our episode on How to Split Test Your Book Title Ideas with Facebook Ads.

You can test

  • Ad Copy
  • Back Cover Copy
  • Book Covers
  • Book Titles
  • Graphics

Case Study

When I started my podcast, The Creative Funding Show, I broke my own rules and designed my own podcast cover. My friend, a graphic designer, suggested that my design was not as good as it could be and offered to design one for me. 

When she was done, I didn’t like her design as much as I liked mine. I wanted scientific data to tell me which would be most effective, so I ran a split test with Facebook ads. Sure enough, her logo beat mine. 

So often, book marketing is driven by opinion rather than data. In traditional publishing, book marketing decisions are often driven by the highest-paid person in the room. In indie publishing, it’s driven by your own opinion. 

A good professional is suspicious of their own opinion, and I am certainly suspicious of my own opinion about my graphic design skills. The data proves that I should be.

The author who is willing to test, measure, and organize their results in a spreadsheet will outperform the author who doesn’t. 

What if I don’t have any money for test ads?

If you don’t have $20 to spend on ads to test your marketing, you should probably get a part-time job before you begin to advertise. Follow the fifth commandment of book marketing: Thou shalt not dig thy well whilst thou art thirsty.

That being said, your email service provider may allow you to test email subject lines in an A/B Test feature that may be included in your service.

If you’re just starting to experiment, begin by split-testing your email subject lines. If you don’t yet have an email service provider, find out which email marketing service is right for you

As you learn which words and phrases resonate with your audience, you can refine your advertising campaigns accordingly. 

4) Follow the Matthew Principle

The Matthew Principle actually comes from a story Jesus told in the Bible, but many business books refer to it as the Matthew Principle.

In Jesus’ story, three employees (or servants) were given various amounts of money to invest so that it would earn a return for the employer (or master). The first two employees doubled the employer’s money, but the third was afraid and hid the investment in the ground so he wouldn’t lose it. 

When the employer checked in, he saw the returns on his investments. He took the money from the third servant and gave it to the one who’d had the best return.

The point for business marketers is to pull money from advertising investments that aren’t working and put it toward the things that do work. 

Take money from your ineffective ads and give them to your effective ads.

For example, as you’re testing keywords for your Amazon advertising, you’ll discover that some will have great conversion rates and others won’t. When you see how they perform, you can stop the ads with ineffective keywords and put that money toward the ads that perform well. Learn more about keywords in my interview with Dave Chesson, or find out how Amazon Ads have changed in recent years.

Put your energy behind what works best. 

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