A Few Words About Advertising Your Books

Times SquareLast week I chatted a bit about marketing my books, what has worked, and how revisiting my core strategy required some shifts in my current methods (that sounded  like jargon-speak).

At one point I mentioned that advertising was a pretty lousy way to sell books. That may have been a bit of an overstatement. The phrase “advertising” is broad and I don’t think one blanket judgment sums up my thoughts on the subject very well.

When I said that advertising is a lousy way to sell books, I was referring to the ads that most people think about whenever this project comes up in conversation. Big ads. Showy ads. Expensive, one-time ads. For instance, a lot of people have suggested that I price out a billboard in Times Square. I doubt highly that I could afford something like that, but, living in New York, most people throw that idea out. I mean, why not at least get a price quote?

Well, because I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do anything. For one, the signal to noise ratio down there is absurd. But, more importantly, the advertisements in Times Square are parts of much larger marketing campaigns. Those billboards are not sole attempts to have those products interact with the masses in midtown. Those billboards are usually marquis ads for large brands that also have lord knows how many other ads, signs, catalogues, etc. where they can catch a hold of someone’s eyeballs, if only for a moment. And if you can catch someone’s attention with your product a few times in a few different ways, well then you’ve got something

AD building by By Straws pulled at random from FlickrThe other types of ads in Times Squares are ads for musicals. These ads are much easier for me to relate to. Why? Well, why are there musicals advertising in Times Square? Because that’s where the theaters are in New York. It’s Broadway. You’ve got the ads, then you’ve got the theaters themselves with copy all over them, you’ve got tickets for sale right there in any number of formats, it’s just a great place for musicals to advertise. That sort of overlap is, as I said, easier for me to relate to than the mega-campaigns of GAP or Apple. And, more importantly, that sort of overlap is achievable by me on the web.

There are four basic methods I have tried for advertising my books online. Here are my thoughts and conclusions on each.

1. Designing an ad and buying ad space on a specific website, such as a popular book blog.

This has not worked and I don’t recommend it…for me. I think this method would work wonderfully for a book whose genre is easily accessible. If you write Urban Fantasy as that genre is perceived by the current market,  sexy vampire/werewolf/ghost/human who is out hunting/being hunted by a sexy ghost/werewolf/vampire/human, then I think buying an ad on an Urban Fantasy blog could be great. The audience is primed for you, they came there looking for exactly what you’re offering, and, though it can be costly time-wise or money-wise to put a good design together, you’d just have to hit the proper notes to get clicks.

Me? My books? I have no idea what genre they are. They’ve been eviscerated by urban fantasy fans and adored by urban fantasy fans. I ask people what genre I write in and I get a complete hodgepodge of responses. Fantasy? Thriller? Literary? I mean there’s a scene in my book where an undead ronin saves a two-thousand year old Roman slave from being incinerated by his combined efforts with Isaac Newton to come up with a unified theory of gravity.

What the fuck genre is that?

So, no. This method has not been good to me.

2. Google Ads

Google ads were where I first started experimenting with advertising and I highly recommend you do so if you’re an indie author. It’s cheap, as low as a dollar a day, and you should treat the experience as a crash course in marketing. Don’t just set it and forget it, really dig deep into the data. That’s where this method had its merits. I started thinking about genres (yes, I know I just said I was genre-less but I still have to try to target something), what other authors my readers enjoy, and I definitely learned a lot about simple hooks and call to actions to put into an ad in order to get a higher response. “Click now!” sounds like a stupidly annoying thing to put into your ad, but, seriously, it works.

So Google is a great place to hone, or discover, a wide number of tools that are needed for advertising and bigger picture marketing.

The problem? It’s just too damn big. And the space you’re given to write an ad is laughable. Honestly. It’s like writing haiku.

Facebook by Scott Beale / Laughing SquidIf I was selling vacuums, okay.  “Vacuums on sale. Low prices. Click now.” I mean, it’s easy to get to the point with some products. With books though? It’s hard enough to get across that you’re selling your specific book, not just books in general. You have to cram in your personality and flavor and a sense of your genre. And that’s not so bad, but unfortunately Google awards you when the words in your ad match up with the words you choose to trigger your ad during searches.

So I had to try to get all of the above stuff in while fitting in words like “books,” “urban fantasy,” “thriller,” “zombies.” It’s rough.

And it’s made rougher by the fact that Google doesn’t understand English. If I write, “Probability Angels by Joseph Devon,” well that’s quite obviously a book. The tiny word “by” in there conveys that concept. But for Google this phrase has nothing to do with books because the word book doesn’t appear.

Short answer? It’s cheap and a great place to get your feet wet. But I found composing ads that got clicks, showed up for the searches I wanted to, and weren’t slowly tuned out by Google more difficult than writing a freaking book.

3. Facebook Ads

Now we’re on to something. Equally cheap, which is nice. You can start with a few dollars a day and experiment with their interface and what they like to see in ads. More importantly, they have great targeting. I know that my writing gets compared to Neil Gaiman, for example.

How do I know this? I’ve asked people, and researched what key words have brought people to my site, and taken note of what books amazon pairs me up with. And on Facebook I can write an ad, have my book cover up there, and then target it only to people who have “Liked” Neil Gaiman. This is wonderful stuff.

Furthermore, I can create a larger campaign. Instead of one ad, I have a series of ads. They all  run under the same budget, so I’m not adding dollars here. They all have the same basic info, but they all are offer new angles into my books. Most of them are memorable quotes from my characters. Catching, jarring quotes. Someones sees one, okay, they do a double take and they move on. But that person will see various quotes over time and, again, engaging a target in different ways helps your product sink in. This isn’t quite as varied as the mega-campaigns I mentioned earlier, but it is variation within my ads. The reader is exposed to different characters and their tones while the basic ad image remains the same. It feels much more like a marketing campaign instead of just ads.

And, most importantly, it’s working. Sales are up. Can’t argue with that.

Recent Reads by giveawayboy on Flickr4. Goodreads Ads

I have high hopes for this. Remember the musicals advertising in Times Square from earlier? Well this is the same concept. Goodreads is one of the largest social book networks out there. Eventually I’ll poke around Shelfari and Librarything too but for now I’m learning the ropes at Goodreads.

One thing I like here is that my ads click through to my book’s Goodreads page. My visitor has no sense of leaving one site and landing at my site, which can be jarring. They’re in familiar territory the whole way and they know perfectly well how to ad my book to their “To-Read” pile. You can also choose to have a tally of your reviews included in your ad. That’s great data to throw in there and, again, it’s data that Goodreads users understand.

Plus, you can create multiple ads under one budget so you can come at people from a few different angles just as with my Facebook ads, which I love.

The downside? Currently there’s a massive site-wide bug in their advertising code that is causing zero ads to show. So I have no idea if this idea will pan out. But I think it will. It seems like a good system.

So those are my thoughts and experiences from the trenches. I’ve got a lot of online ad campaigns under my belt and I really hope that my blunders can help others find a quicker and easier path to their audience.

Now…who wants to fund my billboard in Times Square?


  1. Wonderfully informative…thanks so much for sharing…and yes, you’re right – I think you may have created the Joseph Devon genre but I’m thinking that’s a good thing.


  1. […] much of which took place in the comments, and one from Joseph Devon (http://josephdevon.com/2012/04/words-advertising-book/7130/), where the author discussed things he has tried and what has worked for him. All of this is very […]