6: Traffic & Promotion

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It’s time to talk about marketing. If you recall from the rest of our guide, selling anything online is governed by a simple three part process, which I call the Internet Marketing Formula:

  1. Traffic (getting people to your Amazon page)
  2. Conversion (getting them to buy)
  3. Doing these two things profitably

That means the first step in our marketing process is getting traffic (visitors) to our Amazon page. This is actually the easiest part of the three step traffic-conversion-profitability process. But the prospect of getting strangers to find your book in a sea of millions of titles can seem initially daunting. While there are many ways to generate traffic, from social media to newsletter swaps to conference appearances, my preferred approach is paid advertising.

More specifically, the “Big 3” advertising platforms (Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub Ads) and paid email newsletter promotional sites (view my current curated list at nicholaserik.com/promo-sites).

There are three reasons I prefer paid advertising to the alternatives:

  1. It’s controllable. I can spend $5 or $5,000. And I can do so at any time; if I wanted, I could stop writing this section and go put up some Facebook Ads.
  2. It’s scalable. This dovetails with the first point: as you gain more experience and your bankroll grows, you can reinvest this into more ads.
  3. It’s instant. That doesn’t mean the skill required to run effective ads is instantly attained; this requires months and even years of careful practice. However, you can start funneling traffic to your books right now. Whereas with say, social media, it might take weeks to gain ten additional likes on your Facebook.

A caveat: it takes significant skill to use paid ads effectively. Almost every course or book singing their praises usually glosses over the high degree of difficulty involved. There is significant competition for ad clicks, and that competition grows every day. That means they are not the best source of traffic for every author, particularly if you do not currently have cash (not credit card space) on hand that you can afford to lose. The first couple thousand dollars, at minimum, with paid ads is typically an “educational” experience wherein you see little in the way of return for your efforts.

To be absolutely clear, you can use the underlying principles in this chapter and guide as a whole if you use other traffic sources. There are, after all, many ways to direct people to your Amazon page. But if you break through, using ads is the quickest, most controllable, and most shock-resistant way to build a career.

I do not, however, employ paid ads by themselves. They are just one half of the traffic equation.

The other half is the Amazon Algorithms, which govern the book recommendations on Amazon’s site. These are regarded with near-mythical status in the indie community, with getting “sticky” (having your book perpetually “stick” at a good rank with minimal or no ranking) the holy grail. Alas, the algorithms and understanding how to coax them into your corner is less of a silver bullet and more of a game of blackjack, wherein you can understand the rules of the game and have an edge over the house, but still walk away dollars lighter.

Thus, you shouldn’t be reliant on the algorithms to buoy your promotion or career. Live by the algorithm, die by the algorithm. However, setting up your launches and promotional efforts to maximize the chances of them smiling upon your book is always a good call, and best of all, it’s free.

Here’s are the three main algorithmic factors:

  1. Sales volume & velocity (this is the main factor) (key for pop lists/bestseller charts)
  2. Sales consistency (key for pop lists/bestseller charts)
  3. The sample of people who buy your book (key for Amazon’s automated emails, also-boughts, and on-site merchandising.

The algo also factors in:

  • Newness: promotes new content more readily than old backlist
  • Sales history: if a book has a consistent history of poor sales, it’s harder to revive than one with a consistently solid sales history. Don’t worry; if your book is in the cellar, you can market it. Just understand that a book with steady sales is easier to revive/boost up than one camping in the telephone number ranks.

What this boils down to is you want as many readers who like your sub-genre to purchase your book over a period of 5 – 7 days, aiming for a gradually upward trending sales curve. This builds a consistent sales history which Amazon’s algorithms are more favorable to than a single 1-day spike. And if you have a new release, you should do everything in your power to promote it, since Amazon bestows additional algorithmic visibility perks upon new releases for the first 30/60/90 days of a book’s published life.

A visual illustration of this concept:

Together, these form a double-levered strategy:

  1. Launching and promotions. I concentrate a lot of my ad effort and dollars here, since Amazon’s algorithms provide substantial additional visibility during launches. And promotions like BookBub Featured Deals are great to consolidate ad dollars around, because you’re hitting so high in the store and riding that momentum further. The harder you push launches/promos, typically the more profit you make, the longer the sales and page read tail in the weeks/months to follow, and the more organic subscribers/fans you generate (because of increased sales volume)
  2. Backlist ads in non-promo/non-release months. You can extend the visibility you generate from a launch or promotion by running backlist ads to that series (generally the first book) after the promo ends. This extends the tail further, generates more sales/page read volume, and helps you build your fan base further.

Basically, you’re leveraging the algorithmic power of the launch, then riding that further with the ads than if you just cut your spend completely. This helps you maintain visibility and momentum, thus giving you a higher watermark to launch your next book from. Additionally, because you’ll be pushing more sales/page read volume, you’ll have a much larger base of organic newsletter subscribers and readers who have read a book or two in the series. Thus, the idea is you chain launches and promotions together with the backlist ads in between to sustain momentum, ultimately allowing each launch to hit a higher and higher point in the store.

This also has the benefit of being low maintenance: you run 5 – 7 day launches or promotions, hit hard, then let the backlist ads sit at around $50 – $100/day on Book 1 of the series in between (it can be less; generally speaking, most books max out at around $50 – $100/day in effective and profitable spend, split between Amazon and Facebook, for a regular daily ad spend. I call this the “equilibrium point.” For some series it will be more; test the ads and find out where it lies for your own books.) In the off months, you just track the ad spend weekly and/or monthly, making sure it’s still profitable and you submit to BookBub continually with every book that’s eligible.

That’s it.

Note on Being Wide

The Amazon Algorithms are not usually going to help you very much when you’re wide (not exclusive to Kindle Unlimited). This is because each borrow of your Kindle Unlimited book counts the same as a sale for Amazon’s sales ranks. That means that KU books have a distinct advantage when it comes to store visibility. Thus, when you’re wide (or marketing a KU book that’s unlikely to get much help from Amazon), you want to focus less on the algorithms – wherein you might see a spike in page reads / profitability when you hit a visibility tipping point –  and more on making your advertising profitable in the moment.

Free Runs

There are many ways to approach book promotions, and these tactics will vary based on the number of books you have out (and whether you’re wide or in Kindle Unlimited). Two of my favorites and most-used tactics (in Kindle Unlimited – these are not usable if you’re wide) are the free run and Kindle Countdown Deal.

Let’s talk about the free run first.

  • BUDGET: $0 – $500+
  • KU or WIDE: KU
  • TIMEFRAME: 5 days.
  • THE STRATEGY: run a KDP free promo on Book 1 (or any book in the series if they can be read out of order) for 5 days.
  • THE GOAL: Give away a lot of copies to generate sellthrough to other books.
  • OTHER
    • The more books in the series, the better, since this offers substantial profit upside if readers buy later volumes at full price (or read them in KU).
    • It significantly helps if the advertised series is in a sub-genre popular with Kindle Unlimited readers, since a chunk of your revenue will come from page reads after the promotion.

The goal here is one of download volume. You want to generate as many downloads as possible of the free book with the hope that some of these readers will go on to purchase later books in the series at full price. Sellthrough from a free book to a paid book tends to be fairly low (2 – 5%). Thus, we need a lot of downloads to produce results.

This is a simple strategy. We have two structure options when it comes to organizing our traffic sources:

Structure 1:

  • Day 1: pretty much everything
  • Days 2 – 5: coast

This maximizes download volume. While free downloads do have an algorithmic impact, it’s relatively minor. You’re mostly doing free downloads to generate sellthrough, which is why having a series and pushing a lot of free copies are both so critical to your success.

People who open the promo site emails and other traffic sources on Days 2 – 5 can still download a copy. You can also hit the Top 100 on Day 1, then coast from some of that visibility for the rest of the promotion.

Structure 2 keeps the algorithms in mind, but sacrifices some download volume since the book flips back to paid after the big push on Day 5. Thus anyone who opens the promo site email or sees the deal later is out of luck:

  • Day 1: promo site/newsletter/cross promo
  • Day 2: 1 – 3 promo sites
  • Day 3: 1 – 3 promo sites
  • Day 4: 2 – 4 promo sites
  • Day 5: 3 – 6 promo sites

One benefit here is actually that on Day 6 (when the book returns to full price), some people who find it in newsletters or other places for free may decide to buy it anyway. So you can get a paid sales pop from this.

Kindle Countdown Deals

Once you have four books in a series one of my favorite strategies is using Kindle Countdown Deals (KCDs) on the first three books in the series. This is especially powerful when paired with a BookBub Featured Deal or a new release, where the KCDs will lift the visibility of the first three books substantially, and then either be amplified by the BookBub, or complemented by ads on the new release lifting up the latest book.

You can even pair together all three. This obviously isn’t always possible, but the principle is one you should keep in mind: the more firepower you can bring to the party to get Amazon’s algorithms moving and sales volume up, the better your launches or promotions will go.

Note that you can use a Kindle Countdown Deal on a single book (i.e., a standalone or just one book in a series). But its power is amplified when you discount multiple books in the same series at once.

Here is the Kindle Countdown Deal strategy:

  • BUDGET: $1000+
  • KU or WIDE: KU
  • TIMEFRAME: 5 – 7 days (full 7 if only doing KCDs, 5 if they coincide with a free run). Absolute minimum of 4 days.
  • THE STRATEGY: use a combo of PPC, promo sites, and your platform (newsletter/social media/promo swaps) to push the first three books (or more) in a series via Kindle Countdown Deal.
  • THE GOAL: get Book 1 into the Top 1k and generate a page read tail that peaks 4 days—2 weeks after the promo.
  • OTHER
    • The more books in the series, the better, since this offers substantial opportunity for profit if people go on to pick up later volumes at full price (or read them in KU).
    • It significantly helps if the advertised series is in a popular Kindle Unlimited sub-genre, since a lot of your revenue will come from the page read tail generated by the promotion.
    • You do not want to use a KCD if the book(s) are already in the Top 5k. At that point, they already have plenty of visibility and discounting doesn’t help you. Wait until they’re outside the Top 5k to use this strategy and boost their visibility back up.

My preferred price structure is Books 1, 2, and 3 for $0.99/ea (you can do 1 – 5 if your series is 6 or more books). That works better than reducing some of the latter volumes only to $1.99 or $2.99. You can also do free Book 1 and $0.99 for Books 2 and 3. This is a good alternative if you have a lower budget (it’s cheaper to generate downloads on free books) or have burned out the promo sites at $0.99 for Book 1.

Your main objective here is sales volume. This is what triggers Amazon’s page reads (where the bulk of the profit comes from) 4 – 14 days after the the KCD concludes. The more volume and visibility you push, the greater chance those page reads will come en masse.

I stack most of my firepower on the final two days of the Kindle Countdown Deal. Assuming we’re running Monday – Sunday (which I often do, simply because it makes comparing the promo’s results to non-promo weeks easy since my accounting goes from M – Sun), that would mean Saturday/Sunday would see the bulk of the ads budget (60%+). We’re trying to hit critical mass and come off the promo at peak rank/visibility to maximize our page read tail.

Thus, your ad spend might look like this with an ~$1,850:

  1. Monday: $25 on Facebook, $25 on BookBub
  2. Tuesday: $50 on Facebook, $30 on BookBub
  3. Wednesday: $75 on Facebook, $50 on BookBub
  4. Thursday: $100 on Facebook, $100 on BookBub
  5. Friday: $100 on Facebook, $100 on BookBub
  6. Saturday: $125 on Facebook, $125 on BookBub, $200 on promo sites
  7. Sunday: $200 on Facebook, $200 on BookBub, $300 on promo sites

Note that I want to use as much of my budget as possible on promo sites; you can generally spend about $800 – $1200 here efficiently, depending on the genre. Promo sites will provide your lowest cost per sale out of your advertising options; visit nicholaserik.com/promo-sites for a curated list. From there, if you can get BookBub Ads working, those will provide the next lowest cost per sale, and can push a ton of fairly scalable volume (you can spend $2k – $3k during a week in many genres). However, it can be very hard to use BookBub Ads in a cost-efficient manner if you haven’t used them before.

Thus, Facebook Ads are a good fallback. Amazon Ads are less useful during promos, since they’re not super responsive (they often don’t start serving significant impressions until they’ve been live for a few days). But if you can get them rolling OR have Amazon Ads that are already up and running, they can be very useful not just during the promo but for extending the tail. Why? Because during the KCD you can generate a ton of sales for various keywords, which helps you build relevance for that book and those keywords. That stays after the KCD ends and the books return to full price, which means a well-run KCD can help your Amazon Ads kick it up a notch and run better after.

From here, we have one of two options: cutting the spend completely and coasting on the (hopefully impending) page read tail or continuing with ads on Book 1 to “pin” the rank at a decent level. With $50 – $100/day split between Facebook and Amazon Ads, it’s possible to pin Book 1’s rank in the Top 10k indefinitely. With a long series, this can be quite lucrative and profitable. You do not have to spend this amount (and it does not always make sense to do so, but it is my recommendation to keep some ad spend going after the KCD. I’ve tested both, and by cutting immediately, you’re usually leaving money on the table.

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