Print Friendly, PDF & Email

When readers browse Amazon, they have already decided to purchase a book. The only question is: which book will they choose? What if there was a way to reach readers at this pivotal moment and persuade them pick your book from the list they’re considering?

There is! It is called Amazon Advertising. Amazon ads allow you to prominently feature your book in search results and on book pages. It has become one of the most popular forms of book promotion for indie authors.

But many authors feel intimidated by the idea of running Amazon ads. How do you get started? How do you know if your ads are effective? And what should you do if your ads aren’t working? 

To find out, I interviewed Alana Terry because she knows a lot about Amazon ads. She’s an award-winning Christian suspense novelist and a USA Today bestseller who’s written over 40 books. She also runs the Successful Writers Academy to help writers like you reach the goal of achieving creative and commercial success.

Why advertise on Amazon, of all places?

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: There are many places to advertise a book. Why should authors advertise on Amazon?

Alana Terry: One main reason is that people are already browsing Amazon. If they’re on the Kindle store, they’re already browsing for a book. Your ads will be seen in the Kindle store when people are already searching for books.

Amazon ads can help your book appear at the top of these searches. Amazon ads appear in various locations within their ecosystem, which enhances your book’s visibility. For instance, if someone searches for ‘how to become a podcaster’ and you’ve authored a book on that topic, your ad appearing at the top of the search results could significantly increase the likelihood of a click-through—much more so than if your book were organically ranked at number twenty.

Your ads might also appear on sales pages for similar books. Imagine you’ve authored a book about starting a podcast, and as someone browses the sales page for a related book, they see your ad. Recognizing your name as the host of a podcast they follow, they may feel compelled to click on your ad, which may lead them to potentially purchase your book.

Amazon ads provide numerous opportunities for your book to gain visibility and reach the audience that is actively seeking content on your subject or in your genre.

Thomas: I was working on a presentation where I discuss the history of nonfiction and was researching old copies of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I noticed that the most recent edition of the book was advertising on the older editions. The new edition is competing against its previous editions, and customers must decide whether to buy a used copy of the third edition or a new copy of the fourth and most recent edition.

an ai generated renaissance style painting depicting a vendor booth selling books with amazon ads

I thought that was a savvy place to advertise. The customers clicking on those sales pages have already decided to buy a book, and they’re ready to buy that specific book. The only decision left is whether to buy the most recent version with the latest scientific discoveries.

I expect they got a high conversion rate on those ads.

Alana: I like to advertise on books in my series. I’ve got a nine-book Christian suspense series, so if you visit any of those book sales pages, most days, you’ll see ads for the eight other books in that series on that page.

Some people wonder if that’s a waste of time, energy, money, and space, but it’s so good for your brand awareness. With Amazon ads, you’re only charged if somebody clicks the ad. I view these ads as a free billboard for the rest of my books. It makes my books look more branded, recognizable, and popular. It also means that a potential customer is less likely to click on another ad and be directed to someone else’s book.

Thomas: It’s a defensive strategy. Many traditional publishers don’t advertise on behalf of their authors, so when you search for that traditional author’s name on Amazon, the first results are from competing authors with similar books. A lot of those books are by indie authors who are scooping up that market share of readers. The reader may not even notice, at first, that the author or title they’ve searched for isn’t in the top results. They may see an indie author’s book on the same topic and choose to buy that one. When that happens, the traditional author loses a sale.

If you’re traditionally published, ask your publisher whether they plan to buy ads on your name to promote your book and for how long.

Traditionally published authors may find it valuable to have at least one indie-published book on which you can profitably advertise for your name. In the past, advertising on Amazon wasn’t an option for traditional publishers, but now it is; however, financially, it rarely makes sense for a traditionally published author to run ads on their traditionally published books. Only indie authors can advertise profitably.

With the millions of books on Amazon, how do I know which ones would work for me to run ads on?

Alana: I like making keyword ads, and the secret to those is to think about what people will be typing into the search field on Amazon. If you had written a book on podcasting, you’d want to use keywords people will be searching for. They probably won’t type “podcast,” but they may type in phrases like the following:

  • how do I start a podcast
  • how to start a podcast
  • podcasting for authors
  • podcasting for novelists
  • podcasting for pastors (or whatever niche you’re in)

Most of the time, the keyword ads that I like to make are author names. I would say 70-80% of them are my names, the names of my books, and the name of my series. The other 30% are the names of similar authors.

Amazon now offers predictive text to help you find keywords. For example, if I set up a keyword ad and typed in “Alana Terry” as a keyword, Amazon would suggest a dozen other keywords, such as

  • Alana Terry novels
  • Alana Terry Christian fiction
  • Alana Terry Christian suspense

You can just click one button and grab all those keywords to save time.

Targeting your name is a defensive strategy, but it’s also good for brand recognition. When somebody types in “Alana Terry,” I want my books to come up in search results. I tell authors, “Never shy away from targeting someone else, and never get upset when someone targets you,”

If you and I had both written books on podcasting, your ad might appear on my sales page. If I was an amateur, insecure author, I might say, “What in the world is Thomas doing? Why is he on my lawn? Why is he trying to steal my readers?”

If you’re inclined to think that way, remember that most ads an author makes are either automatic or target tons of keywords. It’s highly unlikely the author thought, “Who do I want to steal readers from today?”

On the outside chance that you did target my name, my reaction should be “Wow! I’m glad I’m on Thomas’s radar and that he thinks my book is similar.”

If you’re a novelist, you don’t want to be the only novelist in the genre because that means nobody will care about that genre. Readers will read through your books and have nothing to hold them over until you release your next book.

Don’t get upset when other people are advertising on your page, and don’t feel bad when you’re targeting someone else.

Don’t get upset when other people are advertising on your page, and don’t feel bad when you’re targeting someone else.

Alana Terry

No one is maliciously stealing readers. It’s just how ads work. Your readers will probably like my books, and the readership will grow. Authors can collectively elevate a genre.

Thomas: This concept of clustering or agglomeration is demonstrated in business when you see department stores that want to be located near each other.

Consider the diamond district in New York City, where all the diamond sellers are on one street. If one lone diamond shop is on a different street, it won’t do well because people are drawn to the diamond district to buy diamonds. If you’re not there, you’re not where your customers are.

The market incentivizes proximity to your competitors. If half a dozen Christian historical romance authors are advertising on each other’s pages, they’re going to be sending each other readers and business. However, if one author in that genre is off on her own, not advertising and not being advertised on, it’s as if she’s isolated.

The lack of other authors advertising on her page won’t help her. In fact, it may hurt because she won’t get any spillover effect. Readers who visit the other authors in that genre will think, “I like this author, so maybe I’ll like this other one on this page as well.”

As authors, we must realize that we’re not competing with other authors; we’re competing with Netflix.

As authors, we must realize that we’re not competing with other authors; we’re competing with Netflix.

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.

People can choose to watch Netflix, play video games, or read a book. The more books they have to choose from, the more likely they are to become a regular reader, which boosts all authors collectively.

Why should I pay Amazon to target my name?

Alana: If someone types “Alana Terry” into the search bar, that means they’re looking for an Alana Terry novel. So why do I want to give Amazon $0.50 when somebody clicks on my ad?

You do it as a defensive strategy and for your brand awareness. My most profitable ads are almost always the ones where I use my own name as a keyword.

Thomas: I know Google assigns a quality score metric. If people really like to click your ad when they search for a certain keyword, those clicks are cheaper for you than for somebody else who’s bidding on that same term and getting fewer clicks. Does Amazon have a similar quality score element that makes it cheaper for you to advertise to Alana Terry than for me to advertise to Alana Terry?

Alana: They’ve never fully pulled back the curtain on how their entire algorithm works. But let’s ask ourselves, “Why does Amazon show this ad and not that one?” Amazon always wants to do what’s best for Amazon. So, if Amazon runs your ad on my page and 80% of people who see your ad end up clicking on it and buying your book, that tells Amazon, “Show more of this ad to this type of reader.”

That’s why I don’t love general keywords like “book,” “novel,” or even “thriller.” I don’t recommend using those as your primary keywords because they are so generic.

Let’s say I’ve written a thriller\horror novel with a female protagonist. At first, I might think, This would be great for Stephen King readers,” but Stephen King is such a big name that it’s not a very useful keyword.

When you’re looking for similar authors, I recommend finding midlist authors or those slightly above midlist. They probably aren’t household names, but they are still making a pretty good living from their books and are known and loved in the subgenre. Those tend to be the best similar authors to target because you’ll put yourself in front of readers who love the genre.

Most people who read big names like Nicholas Sparks, read his books because of his name, not necessarily because they love the genre. Same with Dan Brown. So, try to avoid targeting words or authors that are too general.

On the other hand, you can get too specific. If you and I write a book about “underwater podcasting for scuba divers,” that keyword might be a perfect fit, but how much traffic are either of us going to get? We’ll both disappear into obscurity.

Thomas: Novice authors who don’t really know what they’re doing tend to advertise on celebrity author names simply because it’s an author they’ve heard of. Some indie authors don’t read many books and aren’t familiar with all the authors in their genre. They simply pick a famous name that comes to mind. Those authors are all bidding against each other, and the clicks for those celebrities are really expensive.

What’s the first step to start advertising?

Thomas: For somebody who’s independently published and has a book listed on Amazon, how do they begin running ads? Walk us through the steps for the quickest path to setting up an ad.

Step 1: Log into your KDP Account

Alana: Your KDP account is where you publish your book to Amazon. Click on the marketing tab and choose which Amazon store you want to advertise on. I recommend starting with Amazon.com because it’s the largest audience.

Step 2: Choose the kind of ad you want to make.

I recommend beginners start with the first option, which is “sponsored product.” Amazon offers other types of ads and occasionally changes the ad names, designs, and requirements, but “sponsored products” have been steady forever. Sponsored products are your bread-and-butter ad.

Thomas: What is a sponsor product ad? Is it a search ad, or is this an ad that appears on another book’s Amazon page?

Alana: It could appear in either place. The ad is a book cover plus a tiny bit of text (which I encourage you not to add). The ad looks like your book cover, its title, your name, and the number of stars and reviews.

It can appear in several different spots on the sales pages, including the sponsored product carousel (what we used to call the also-boughts).

Another nice thing about Amazon ads is that you don’t have to make any graphics. That makes it far easier than ads on Facebook, where the graphic can make or break your ad. On Amazon, your book cover is the graphic.

Step 3: Set a Daily Budget

How much should you spend on an Amazon ad?

Alana: Start with a daily budget of $5.00 per day.

Which of your books do you want to advertise?

Alana: Select your book or series. Amazon will give you a list of books from your KDP and Author Central accounts. If you only have one book, you pick that one.

If you have a series, select all the books in that series. You can decide whether you want to do an ad for Kindle and print or if you want to save time and do them together. More often than not, I combine them.  

Step 4: Choose Automatic Targeting

Next, it will ask you all kinds of questions about targeting, and that’s where the sponsored product ads branch out into several different types.

The simplest and fastest ad is going to be the “automatic ad.” You’ll see a button that says, “Do you want to do automatic targeting or manual targeting?” and you’ll pick the automatic targeting.

That tells Amazon to place the ad wherever they think it will do best. There’s never a scenario in which you know more about your reader than Amazon does. That’s why automatic ads are so quick and efficient.

Step 5: Set Your Bid

What do I bid per click?

If you’ve never done any type of cost-per-click advertising, it can feel a little scary. If you’re not super strapped for cash, take Amazon’s bid suggestion and subtract ten cents.  

Step 6: Publish

Next, click “Publish.” That’s the simplest way to get it going.

If you can’t spend $2.00 without making your money back, you could set the bid even lower, but you risk your ad not being shown to anyone. The good news is you only get charged if someone clicks on your ad, so you haven’t really lost anything other than the few minutes it took you to set it up.

Thomas: One reason I like Amazon as a place to start is that they are so familiar with your book. Amazon has already read your Kindle ebook; it has your full description, and it knows which readers have read it. That’s why it makes sense to choose the automatic targeting option.

How does bidding work on the Amazon Ads platform?

Thomas: Amazon uses the same kind of bidding auction that you see on Facebook and Google. Everybody is bidding for the inventory collectively.

Let’s say I set my ad budget at $5.00 per day, and I bid $5.00 for a click, which is more than everybody else bid. I will get my click, but I’ve also spent my whole budget for the day, and my ad will stop appearing for the rest of the day.

Now, the ads of the next highest bidders are shown and clicked until their budgets run out. Your place in that line is affected by your bid but also, I suspect, by a quality score. Amazon would rather have customers click than not click. If you’re bidding $5.00 and your ad is appearing but isn’t getting clicks, then Amazon isn’t making money from your ad. That’s why they attach another score to your ad based on how likely someone is to click, and that score will also affect when your ads are shown.

That’s a very simplified version of how this kind of auction works. Most people don’t fill out their bids. If you’re bidding $5.00 per day, that doesn’t mean you’ll spend $5.00 per day on ads on Amazon.

By contrast, Facebook will take every penny you budget on its ads platform. They’ve got a vacuum in your bank account. If you accidentally misplace your decimal and set your budget at $5,000, Facebook will find someone to show your ad to until that entire budget is spent.  

Amazon doesn’t have that kind of inventory to sell ads against. Often, people have trouble getting any clicks or spending any money on their Amazon advertising. That’s when they start to increase their daily budget and boost that bid per click to see what will happen.

I asked Alana to give the quickest method as opposed to the best method. If you go through her course, you’ll learn about manual targeting and how to go deep into ads.

But with advertising, it’s better to launch and then fiddle with it than to become an expert before you run your first ad. You learn best by doing. As you learn more, you can do multiple campaigns and find out how to improve the ads.

Alana: If you follow those steps and make three different auto ads for your book, it’s very possible you will only spend $0.25 in a month.

It’s hard to get traction at first, but it’s even harder to lose money. You won’t suddenly lose $500 in a day. After you’ve spent $20, you’ll know whether your sales have increased.

Amazon makes ads very beginner-friendly.

How do I know if my Amazon ads worked?

Thomas: I’ve published my campaign, set a $5.00 per day budget, and run the ad for 30 days (max ad spend of $150). After 30 days, I’ve spent $100 on ads. How do I know if that was money well spent?

Alana: The Amazon ads dashboard gives you decent reporting. People with old information on Amazon ads reporting old will caution you about the accuracy of Amazon reporting. Over the years, it’s gotten much better. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

In fact, it’s good enough that I’m spending thousands of dollars per month on my ad campaigns based on what I see in my ads dashboard. In my highest month, I spent $8,000. I’m happy to trust their reporting with that type of budget.

What data does Amazon give you?

Number of orders: The actual number of units of your paperback or ebook that were sold.

Sales in a dollar amount: Keep in mind this number is actually the retail value. It’s the total Amazon has collected. If your royalty is 70% of your $3.99 ebook, you have to shave off a little bit of that total sales number because Amazon takes its 30%.

Page reads: If somebody clicks on your ad and adds your ebook to their KU library, assuming your book is in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon ads will track how many pages they read for up to 14 days.

If you have a book in KU, and I see your ad, click on it, add it to my library, and read the whole thing in 12 days, you’ll see 300-page reads (or your book’s page count).

But many readers don’t read that fast. Some readers will put an ebook in their KU library and not read it for a month. The good news is that the numbers you see in your Amazon ads dashboard are never higher than what’s reported. They’ll always be accurate or underreported because of the lag time between a reader’s purchase and when they finish the book.

Authors sometimes get confused when they see a sale on their ads dashboard but not on their KDP dashboard. KDP reports paperback sales when the book is shipped. Amazon ads report the sale when the customer checks out. If you see a discrepancy, nobody’s cheating you out of money. They each report in slightly different ways.

You can also determine how your sales page is performing by doing one calculation. Divide the number of clicks (how many people clicked on your ad) by the number of orders (how many books you sold). That number is a good indication of the health of your sales page.

Amazon ads cannot sell your book. Their job is to get someone to your book’s sales page. After a customer arrives at your Amazon sales page, it’s up to your cover, blurb, metadata, and reviews to close the deal.

Once you have about 150 clicks on an ad, divide that by your number of orders. If it’s taking more than 30 clicks to get one sale, you might want to reevaluate your sales page. Your cover is the most important element, and your blurb is probably second.

If you’re getting ten clicks or fewer, you’re doing really well.

If you’re considering changing your book’s cover, you could use these ads to test your covers. To do that, you would measure the clicks to sales for a month under the old cover. Then, change the cover on your sales page. Don’t change anything but the cover, and don’t run the ads around holidays or Amazon Prime Day. If your old cover took 20 clicks to generate one sale and your new cover takes 15 clicks to make one sale, then you’ll know your new cover is performing better.

Do I need a new book cover for my Amazon ad?

Thomas: After an author starts running ads, they often see the need for a new cover. Your friends, family, and fellow authors usually tell you your cover is good, but when you see how many clicks it takes to convince someone to buy your book, you’ll get actual data on how well your cover is working.

You can spend a lot of money on a cover that still doesn’t work from a marketing perspective. To learn how to get a cover that works, check out the following episodes on book covers.

Alana: Sadly, cover trends can change. I feel especially bad for romance authors because romance covers almost need to be changed as often as a seasonal wardrobe. Some authors recover their books several times each year just to keep up with trends. I hate the cover process, so I wouldn’t do that, but some people do.

Thomas: Romance is very driven by the latest colors coming out of Paris and what’s resonating in the market. Fortunately, most genres aren’t quite that intense in terms of the fads. Still, covers change.

The perennial seller What to Expect When You’re Expecting was first released in 1984, and that cover does not resonate in 2024. They’ve changed it many times over the years.

You’ll need to budget for recovering your books because it can be expensive. However, if a new cover cuts your cost of reader acquisition in half, it becomes a good investment.

Alana: Authors also commonly increase the retail price for their ebooks after they start running ads. If it costs you $0.45-0.65 per click at 30 clicks to make a sale, you’re going to lose money on your $5.99 ebook.

Thomas: That’s what’s causing this much needed price increase for ebooks. Before indies had previously been in a race to the bottom. Ebooks used to cost $9.99 but now indie authors are trying to make a living selling $0.99 books.

Alana: I’ve been doing Amazon ads long enough to remember the days $0.10-0.15 clicks. I’m glad we’re no longer in those days because it means that the people who are continuing to run ads are the people who have good conversion rates. They’re selling books.

In the past, people could produce very amateur books and still profit from a $0.02 click. Now that our books are being placed alongside professionally designed books, it elevates the experience for everyone.

Thomas: The level of quality needed to succeed is much higher than it used to be. In 2008, when people needed to fill their brand-new Kindles with ebooks, indie authors only needed to price their books lower than traditional ebooks, and they’d make sales.

Today, there’s a flood of cheap books. Being the cheapest option isn’t going to get you the attention that it used to.

There’s still room for discountingprice promotions, and price pulsing that can work as a part of your overall mix, but it’s not a cheat code.

How can we become more sophisticated in our advertising?

Thomas: What can improve the quality and efficiency of our ads? What tips do you have for authors who are ready to dive in?

Be Patient

Alana: First, be patient. It can take time. Don’t expect to make a couple of ads and be done. At this moment, I have a couple hundred live ads running. Once you find an ad that works, your instinct might be to increase your bids, but that just eats into your profits. Find what works and pay attention to it.

There are about eight different types of sponsored product ads you can make with different types of targeting. As a beginner, do two or three and see what happens. Once you find the one or two types of ads that work really well, keep doing more of those.

Ignore Ill-Informed Instructors

You are absolutely welcome to ignore people if they say, “You can only have one ad per book,” or “You can only have one keyword,” or “Never repeat a keyword.” All of that can be completely ignored.

Note Your Read-Through Rate

Note how much you’ve spent in your Amazon ads dashboard, then see how many units you’ve sold or that sales number that gives you the retail price for your read-through.

For example, if I’m just advertising book one of my nine-book series and I spend $100 but I only make $80, I’m going to keep that ad going because I know that I get it back in the read-through of the subsequent books. Do enough math that you know your read through rate.

I saw a big increase in my read-through rate when I changed the back matter in each book to entice the reader to read the next one in the series. That change increased my earnings from about $8 to $15 per reader in that series.

Once you start really paying per click, you want to be as efficient as you can. Pay attention to your read-through and how many clicks it takes to get a sale if you make tweaks to your sales page.

Have Fun Experimenting

Treat it as a fun little experiment. You won’t have to lose hundreds of dollars to find out whether it’s going to work for you. In my early days, it felt like playing Candy Crush because I would put in some money and get some money.

Don’t Try to Understand the Algorithm

You’re going to come across confusing things. Let’s say one of my ads has the keyword “Christian suspense book,” and that might be the best keyword in the world. That same ad might have “Christian suspense books,” and that might lose me $30. I don’t spend tons of time pulling my hair out wondering why. I just turn that keyword off.

It can turn into a time suck that makes you anxious, but I encourage you to approach it with curiosity just to see what happens.

Realize Prices Rise and Fall

Thomas: 

Prime Day can cause the prices to fall because the supply for ads goes up.

More readers viewing more pages increases the inventory of page views on which advertisements can appear. Conversely, when a large group of authors complete an Amazon ads course, demand rises.

Prices rise and fall for many reasons, so don’t freak out over a bad day, and don’t celebrate too much over a good day. Average those numbers and take it in stride.

Only Spend Money You Can Afford to Lose 

Don’t apply next month’s mortgage payment to your ad spend and hope to earn it back, especially not at first.

Alana didn’t start by spending $8,000 on ads. Plus, she’s not really spending that money. She’s spending last month’s money that came in on ads. Once you’re advertising profitably, you’ll build up a war chest that you get to keep re-spending over and over again.

Write More Books

You might only break even on your first book if it’s a standalone. But if your first book is the first of a ten-book series where people return to buy the rest of the books, you can be very profitable. You don’t necessarily have to advertise to bring that reader back over and over again.

Think About Your Back Matter

In the pages after “the end,” you can give readers an incentive to join your email list, which means you can also grow your email list with your Amazon ads. Customers are the very best email subscribers because they’ve already paid money for one of your books.

When you email them about the release of the conclusion of the trilogy, they’re going to say, “Shut up and take my money,” and you’re going to get full price from that person.

Offer a Reader Magnet in Your Back Matter

Whether you offer a prequel or a novella in your story world or with a character from the book they just finished, give your reader a way to subscribe to your email list and get the reader magnet right away.

It could be as simple as a letter in the back matter saying, “Thank you for reading this book. By the way, if you want to be the first to hear about new books, go to my website and sign up for my email newsletter.”

Check out my episode about How to Use Your Book’s Back Matter to Sell More Books.

All those things will help make your writing business more profitable over time.

Take a Course on Amazon Advertising

Training can be a really good investment. Listeners who go through Alana’s course get good results themselves, and that’s how I judge a teacher. What matters is the results your students get.

I’ve sent listeners to Alana’s course, and they’ve come back to me with very positive things to say.

Check out Alana’s Courses at the Successful Writer Academy:

New April Patrons:

  • Mark Redmond
  • Lora Arbraodr
  • Caroline 
  • Jana Riediger  
  • Dave Slick
  • John
  • Kelly Lagisquet
  • Jill
  • Jane Curry Weber
  • Candice James
  • Susan Jenkins

Thank you for being a patron and for helping keep this podcast on the air!

You can become a Novel Marketing

Patron here.

Related Episodes

Liked it? Take a second to support Thomas Umstattd Jr. on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Want more help?

Get a weekly email with tips on building a platform, selling more books, and changing the world with writing worth talking about. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!