Monday, December 31, 2012

Confessions of an Ebook Marketer

It's time for some tough love.

It's no secret for anyone who has followed this blog for the last two years that I am a web entrepreneur in the writing and publishing industry more than just "an author." In the last 6 years, I've made money

  • writing non-fiction SEO content
  • opinion pieces
  • working as a marketing copy freelancer
  • in social media campaign management
  • as a fiction author
  • as an ebook formatter
  • and most recently as the director of author advertising for a reader website and Facebook pages,, KotC and Cheap eReads.
The Internet brings a very REAL economy right into our living rooms and buying behavior is impulsive.

I buy memberships to wordpress template companies.... on impulse. (Check out

I buy ebooks and apps for my e-reader..... on impulse. Gotta love One-Click!

Even when I shop for more durable goods online, if I do NOT finish the transaction right then and there, chances are strong I will never get the product. Why? Because there is just too much selection. By the time I'm considering a product, let's say a new MP3 player, and I put one in my cart and then I talk myself out of paying the money for the product and leave it in my cart, the product already has a negative connotation in my mind. When I come back three days later, because I decide I really want a new MP3 player, I will need to shop around again because there might be a new sale price on one I considered before. If I don't find another MP3 player with better features and a better price, I might go with the original, but it's not looking good. Rarely will I buy a product I abandoned in my cart. Do you?

And that brings me to my next topic: authors thinking like a customer. (Not a reader as we all read, but a customer, someone who BUYS ebooks).

#1 feeling a customer wants to feel after clicking Buy Now or Deliver To My.... is they got a great deal. This doesn't mean a specific price point, but rather an appropriate price point for YOUR product, your ebook. You never want a customer to feel like they overpaid for your product. This means

  • quit pricing your short stories and novellas at $3.99 and $4.99, then wonder why you're in the nosebleed section in the Paid Kindle store
  • quit slapping a homemade cover on the front of your ebook and complain that customers won't give your book a chance
  • quit padding the front of your ebook with advertisements for your other books so that your sample doesn't even cover your first chapter
  • quit paying hundreds of dollars in paid advertising when you have no other title and no reviews on your new release

I want to be very clear here: every single book has an audience. All of them. Even the broken English, error filled books authors like to laugh at when the worst of the worst indie titles are rolled out. Why? Because every customer has a different reading level.

Shocker, huh? For the last six months, I've been in the trenches with ebook customers. Same title, read by 10 people, some love it, some think it's okay, some hate it. Every. Single. Time. One reader dislikes any book with profanity, plain and simple. Another reader only likes books that are genre mashups because he doesn't have time to read too often, so he wants to be impressed every time he picks up a new book. One book I personally thought was rubbish from the sample was a delight for a reader I admittedly have a hard time not correcting her their/they're/there confusion and remind her there is no letter "D" in the word "congratulations" in social media posts. She cares about the story, not the grammar, since she can read right past the mistakes.

It's just like television shows. My husband and I love documentaries and don't watch shows like Jersey Shore and the Kardashians. My sister hates stuffy documentaries and DVR's all of the reality show celebrities. 

Ebooks are entertainment. And there are fans of all kinds. As an author, the Herculean task is to find the customers who will like your ebook.

Test your product.

Your product consists of:
  1. Your cover. This is the shiny bright plastic that grabs your attention to products on the grocery shelf. BE shiny and bright.
  2. Your product description. Work that thing like your life depends on it. Every word counts triple than any other writing you will create. Get the customer's attention and make them want to own your product.
  3. Your price needs to be a good deal for the page count. Customers devour books. No one wants to pay full ticket price at the movie theater for a 30 minute sitcom. Don't get caught up in what you can GET for the book, but what price can you live with that lets your customer feel positive about your product's VALUE.
  4. Your author biography needs to sell YOU. No, you've been writing cutesy little stories since you were three. We all have, crayons and paper are the cheapest educational toys on the planet next to sticks and rocks. Include your interesting NON WRITING life information so customers can relate to you as it's not likely that they are all authors, too.
  5. Your product's metadata including reviews, keywords, tags, and any other tie-in features an ebook store will let you add on (like Amazon's Author Central will let you connect your blog or video to your author account). 
The only way to test your product is to place it in the path of customers. Beta readers are one way authors get early reviews up the day the book comes out. Other authors rely on networks and writing groups to help them publicize their novel. Another way is to use paid advertising.

I sell cheap ebook ads for a reason. I know I have 10,000 views of every single day, and 23,000 likes between our two most popular Facebook pages. When a book buys a $15 3 Facebook Posts in 1 Week ad from us, chances are good at the $2.99 price point, they will make that money back. Many authors, who have rocked 1-5 above, see a nice profit. The blog post/Facebook combo is only $25, and a great investment for authors with multiple books, because we promote all of them in the blog post.

There are books that do not make their money back, and as I look at the click reports, affiliate traffic and purchases, and sales ranks, I can usually identify the numbers above, 1-5, where the book product is lacking. I've helped authors who can't figure out just why their book won't appeal to customers via phone conversations, email, and even video chat. I'm not a snake oil salesman, I've turned down books that were not ready for paid advertising, and tried to gently let authors know their price is too high for a place called "the-Cheap."

If you've never paid for advertising for your ebook, for the love of God, don't start off with a $100+ ad. 

Start small. If you want to buy an ad, just to see how customers react to your product, go for $25 or below. Sites that charge that do not generally have the hundreds of thousands of followers that the more expensive places have. But here's the thing, you could have one little problem with your listing, and it won't matter if a million readers look at the book if the cover/description/price turn off 999,900 of the people who view it.

But Why Should I Pay for Advertising When gives it Free?

Here's where we go behind the curtain. 

A reader site falls into one of two categories: hobby and business. The hobby blogs are typically your review blogs, run by one or maybe two people, who have organically grown their audience over time. This blog here is a hobby blog, I don't monetize it nor have any plans to do so. I write here when I want to, and the last two years of blog posts gets me about 100-200 views per day. 

A business blog is a site usually run by more than one person and requires 24/7 maintenance. Increasingly, these reader communities are not just a blog, but also Facebook pages, Google + accounts, Twitter streams, etc. etc. Yes, you can schedule posts, and automate SOME of the work, but trust me, most of those tools are temperamental in the extreme.

There's a natural cycle to every reader community. Early on, it needs content. It needs books it can promote to help draw in regular visitors as a place to get VALUABLE ebooks when they go on sale. To do this, the blog owner must reach out to authors and publishers to get in the "know" before a book goes on sale. They often tout they will promote your book for free.

Eventually this need for quality products to showcase turns into an avalanche, and there's no rescue dog. There are many review sites and reader sites that opened up advertising for the year that quickly see their spots fill up for months out! The number of quality books out there written by indies outnumbers the spots available to advertise books. Plain and simple. Add in the books that aren't quite ready for prime time advertising, and it's an even bigger mismatch. 

Owners of reader blog and sites quickly realize they can get the cream of the crop in two ways: charge authors a small fee to be listed so only serious authors will apply, or just copy what another successful website is promoting. Either way, the ability of an author to get this advertising for free is tougher every week as more ebooks are available and fewer sites are able to stay up on the work involved to keep readers interested and adapt to the ever changing rules of social media sites.

Affiliate Monies

Unless you've had a Nook or Amazon Affiliate account, you might not have heard what this is, or you've heard other authors mention it in passing. When sites use affiliate links, they make a small percentage on the total sale completed within a specific time frame from when the link was clicked. 

For example, every book cover on is an Amazon Affiliate link. Each month, all of those monies are divided by the staff it takes to run the site and Facebook pages 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If someone clicks our free ebook link, buys that, and then also buys another ebook recommended in the Also Boughts, we make 8-10% on that transaction, depending on the volume we've sold for the month already (I believe you must sell 500 products to move up to the first tier above 8%). Some products DO NOT pay affiliate monies at all, like all of the video on demand content. But if the customer purchases something else within an hour, and hasn't clicked on another affiliate link in that time frame (almost all reader communities use affiliate links), that sale counts for affiliate monies for us.

Now I know you're thinking, 8-10%, that's a lot! Sure, but look at it this way: in a month where a site makes $1,500 in affiliate money, that site brought in customers who spent $150,000 at the Amazon store. 

One could argue that reader sites get enough money from affiliate programs. But you'd be wrong.

These programs are not dependable. Amazon changes their rules every few months about what products it will and will not pay affiliate monies on. Barnes and Noble does their affiliate program through Linkshare, but doesn't pay on ebooks and you can't directly link to products. Barnes and Noble wants you to put up a banner and give you a paltry cut of the non-ebook products you sell, meanwhile getting free visual advertising on your site. Yeah, no thanks.

Plus, if these programs think, even for a second, that you've not followed any of the rules on the 4+ pages of legal jargon, you don't get paid. ran into that when Barnes and Noble arbitrarily killed a number of book blog affiliate accounts last year with monies owed. We once had to change our Facebook pages to remove Kindle from the name to comply with Amazon's rules (and other sites have had to do this, too). 

The target is always moving, and while it's nice, a few hundred dollars doesn't compensate for the job is takes to RUN a reader community with thousands of members.

Alright, why should authors pay for advertising?

Most reader sites worth their salt will always have a way to feature your book for free. We do. Authors on the Cheap on Facebook is always open for authors to post once per day a link to their book. 5 seconds will tell you we are inundated with book links every single day there, sometimes as many as 50 different books! 

We can't run the same titles every single day, so we grab books we know our readers have liked in the past if we think enough time has passed since the last time we ran it, and new titles with great covers that grab our attention. Remember, when you are advertising for free, WE are taking the risk that customers will be attracted to your product and click and buy your ebook or other products on Amazon so we make a little bit of money. If readers only download your sample and buy your book later, we make nothing. 

In August 2012, we opened up paid sponsorships, where authors could schedule their time on our Facebook pages and website, for a nominal fee. For $15-$25, authors can pick a week they want their book featured. 

We are also doing a unique combo for authors using KDP Select to promote their freebie run and then also the book once it goes back to being available for paid status. I'm an author, too, I know the goal is to go as high as you can on the Free Charts, then turn around and sell as many ebooks as you can once it's back to regular price. The smart authors last year did this naturally: they booked promotion for their free listing and separate promotion for their paid listing. We're doing this all in one.

How do you think you're worth that money, though?

Two of us are the primary staff for author ads, meaning we are the ones getting up everyday to make the Facebook posts and blog posts. We also make the HTML pages authors sign up on, maintain the schedule, track down authors who paid for promotion but don't have their ebook out yet, handle email questions from authors who are new to this world or self-promotion, and design, run, and complete giveaways to attract new readers to increase traffic. We check to see if books are available on every ebook outlet and make each post by hand because prices are not consistent across the board. A book can be $2.99 on Monday, FREE on Wednesday, and $4.99 on Friday! 

Our two staff salaries are paid with 80% of the author ad money. I do the majority of the HTML work, schedule maintenance, emails, and giveaways. My friend and co-worker, Tobi, does the majority of the physical posts. We both work, just on THIS part of the equation, 10-15 hours per week, and we average about $8-$10 an hour. 

The other half of our staff hunts for deals and maintains the blog,, and have built the Facebook pages over the last two years. That side of the team also runs giveaways, and responds to the lion's share of reader correspondence. They rely most on the affiliate monies for their pay. They get up at the butt crack of dawn to get the best deals out in time for the morning Facebook check on the East Coast.

We walk readers through converting DRM free Kindle books to epub and sideloading them to their Nook. We provide both indie and mainstream published deal books so readers keep coming to us every single day for deals. And this helps indies because it brings mainstream published books into their Also Bought algorithms  We don't skip a day of posting deals, because the second you take a day off, you lose readers. We answer weird questions, like "I want Wizard of Oz to be free. Can you please post the link?" as if we have control over what books go on sale and when! We explain features and tips and tricks of the various ereaders in a friendly customer support way that Kindle and Nook don't offer.

All of us spend at least 5-10 hours a week just being human with the readers. Talking about what they're reading now, their personal struggles with exceptional children, or lingering disabilities from an auto accident, etc. We care, genuinely, for these people that patron our deal store every day. This is the interaction MOST authors miss out on doing because they're too busy either writing or spam linking their book on social media. They forget to BE social.

Yeah, but I could do that....

You're right, you could. You could easily spend 15-20 hours a week building a reader community, responding to spam and issues and discussions all week long, even on holidays. Some authors do, quite successfully. They call them Street Teams and the like. But for the most part, most authors do not have the organizational skills and discipline to run a reader community. It's like that getting up and writing 2,000 words every single day philosophy. Some authors have it, and they don't only rely only on paid advertising. Other authors choose to spend that time more wisely by writing new books or working on their day job, etc.

The bottom line is that running a reader community that buys ebooks is not an easy feat. It takes slow, methodical work, and a willingness to keep at it, even on days when you only earned $2.17 in affiliate monies. :) To allow authors to schedule promotions, even free ones, takes man hours and attention to fine details. Finally you have to do this not just for the money. It doesn't pay enough to feed a family, so all of our staff have a genuine joy of reading and promoting indie books, for a variety of reasons. That's what helps us ignore our families for an hour or two on Christmas to make sure deal posts go up, or checking our email one last time before going into a movie theater.

Once upon a time... 

I too was against paid advertising. I was right, back then, that I should NOT pay for advertising as I was lacking in a few of the five areas of my product I list above. My cover wasn't appropriate for my genre and I had only a few reviews. Now that my book has an attractive cover for my target audience, romance readers looking for something different, AND I have 23 book reviews, AND I've tweaked my product description to really send a clear message that my book is not a typical romance, I buy advertising all the time.

My book will be free tomorrow through Thursday. I've paid $60 for a KND sponsorship, $25 for The Kindle Book Review, and I will promote my book in an ad spot on (which is free, since I run that). $85. Last year, I made it to #12 in Free Fiction. Tomorrow? Who knows. I might not make it anywhere because too many other great books are going free for the New Year. I might crack the Top Ten Free. I haven't promoted my book in a few weeks because I knew I was going free, and I didn't want to encourage readers to pay for my book knowing it would be free a few days later.

No matter what though, I know as a business woman I have a great product for a great value and I'm going to advertise it. Paid advertising is about putting my book in front of the eyes of strangers to me, my book, and everything I do in the web world to help others around me. It's a one-shot, split second moment to see if I can hook the customer into an impulse Buy Click, or not. And at the end of the day, that has very little to do with the advertising site, since it's the same X thousands of readers that see my book as who saw the books yesterday, and the day before that, etc.

It comes down to MY product and the value I offer to readers. If I take care of that, then it doesn't matter what I pay for advertising, my customers will buy my book. 


  1. Very informative. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. Thanks Kathleen! Feel free to share this in any form anywhere you want. I think advertising is the black home many authors don't know too much about, and trust me, it matters in how they approach reader sites. That's another blog post I'm working on, how to approach reader blogs etc. to get advertising on the house without sounding like a pompous person!

  2. Awesome advice. Maybe you should write a book about it ;D

    Affordable advertisement is looking like an attractive alternative for me. I do have a site, twitter account (with 2k+ followers), and reviewers. The main problem I'm having isn't connecting with readers, but rather taking the time to find and reach out to them (not to mention making a sale). sounds like a pretty sweet deal, so I'll probably buy some time and see how it goes.

    Have an amazing 2013. I'll make sure to promote your free book run and hope that others will take a chance on it and enjoy "Cancelled" as much as I did.

  3. Andrew Hudson, shoot me an email man!

    We go way back, you can get some cheap advertising love on the house! :)