Adventures in Advertising: Can self-published writers advertise effectively?

ad_hereBefore the holiday season derailed my progress here on the blog, I was tackling a critique of the various advertising channels I’ve tried to bolster my self-publishing sales. I started with my adventures with Goodreads self-serve ads, but I realized after writing those 2,000 words that what I should’ve done is give an overview of all of the services and outlets I’ve tried first, then delve into the specifics of each outlet. This post is that summary.

The single largest problem for the budding self-publishing writer is exposure. Participating in Amazon’s KDP Select program, conducting Goodreads and Librarything Giveaways, pestering book reviewers and bloggers, and creating and maintaining a robust social media presence are all tools in our tool chest that we can use to draw attention to our writing, but at some point we’ll all be tempted to pay for our exposure.

After all, we’re surrounded by it every day in almost every waking media channel–TV, internet, radio, web, movies, print, physical billboards. If it didn’t work, it’s hard to see how it would’ve become the multi-billion dollar industry that it is.

But, as the saying goes, while half the money spent on advertising is wasted, the trouble is figuring out which half. Add to that a very limited budget and we’ve got some issues deciding where to put our handful of ad dollars.

While my adventures in advertising have been far from scientific, I did work from some basic “positive” premises:

  • A budget of $250 or less per “buy”
  • Proven user metrics whenever possible; success and reach metrics were bonus
  • Ad venues with a focus on writing, then fiction, then genre fiction, then mystery/suspense/thriller.

And some “negative” ones:

  • I wouldn’t always be able to track click-through to sales, since some ad venues don’t allow or other trackable links or one wouldn’t want to handicap the ad with a “mystery” link.
  • I wouldn’t have the benefit of long term, repeated exposure, as all but the Goodreads ads  were one-off buys. I’ve read that consumers have to be exposed to a brand 5-7 times before making the choice to buy. There are different exposure cycles that I’ll describe in each ad description, but generally speaking, repeat exposure was limited.
  • There is no index of popular sites that speaks directly to e-books sales (though one can extrapolate from sites like Alexa and Technorati), meaning that finding a good ad venue is like sifting for gold: you know you’re in the right stream, but did you stake the right claim?

With the preceding in mind, I’ve taken ads out in the following venues. I’ve summarized my reasoning for choosing those venues briefly; the plan is to blog about each one in a separate post.

Ereader News Today
While ENT’s Book of the Day is well known to boost a book’s sales into the sky, the slots for BotD for the entire year are taken in about 24 hours. If you miss it, however, Greg offers self-serve advertising through an ad service called (wait for it…) While the banner ads are naturally less effective, they do allow for repeated exposure by running until your cash limit is reached.

Do banner ads still work? Do they pay for themselves?

Another ala-carte advertising venue, Facebook is an obvious choice for most of us and is more targeted than you might think at first: with their much-maligned gathering of personal data, you can fine-tune your ad exposure to incredibly detailed levels.

Self-imposed spending limits keeps you from breaking the bank, but may also limit your effectiveness and give you, in essence, false readings about FB’s value as an ad venue. The main question: do you want to point click-throughs to your FB page or to your book? Followers for long-term gain or buyers for short-term sales?

goodreads_iconGoodreads self-serve advertising
I believe GR is the current hands-down social media leader in connecting readers with writers. More to the point, the site is incredibly writer-friendly in quantifying qualified readers of your work, as the main gist of the site is to lump like-minded readers with each other, which is of obvious benefit.

I have experimented with their “self-serve” advertising for several months, currently the only affordable option for most of us. Read about it here.

Kindle Nation Daily
With amazing metrics to help guide your advertising decision and a killer reach with readers (they claim 132,500 subscribers), KND is a no-brainer for most self-publishers. But exposure, while wide, is brief: most KND ad options are for a single day. Expense is an issue, as well, with prices ranging from $129-$399, which quickly takes the “no” out of “no brainer.”

Is the expense worth it? Do you just make your money back, or are there additional benefits to using KND?

KB, long a haunt for self-published writers, also boasts a readership of 65,000, a FB following of 22,000, and an Alexa rating of 4200. What’s not to like? But do those numbers translate into clicks?

Note: I participated in the Spotlight only, not KB’s normal advertising. I’ll also be an Author Profile on Feb. 13, which I’ll cover separately.

suspenseSuspense Magazine
Having heard through the grapevine that Suspense has helped both launch and sustain careers, I approached the owner/editor John Raab about advertising in their January issue. While a one-off purchase, the ad is both full page (the magazine is distributed as a .pdf) and stays in the issue forever. Back issues are permanently available, but those effects are difficult to quantify. Their website offers banner advertising which I passed on in order to gauge Suspense’s general reach and because their web ads are more expensive than their issue ads.

That’s it for the summary. I plan to dissect each venue in future posts. I’ll apologize now: detail and metrics will vary wildly, as several venues can’t/don’t track numbers, sales were sometimes difficult to attribute to ads and some ads overlapped in time. At the very least, I’ll give you cost, effort, and a subjective feeling for each ad venue’s effectiveness.

If you have experience with other sites, please share in the Comments section below or contact me separately; I’d love to hear your stories!


Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in Advertising, Tips for eAuthors
7 comments on “Adventures in Advertising: Can self-published writers advertise effectively?
  1. I can’t wait to hear the specifics with each!

  2. Hey, thanks for doing this! I’m sure all of the information is going to be very helpful.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hey Brian – I’ll do my best. Some venues are pretty skimpy in terms of their info, but I can give you an impression of how it went.

      BTW, does Cemetery Dance do online or print advertising that’s within self-pubbers’ reach?

      • The magazine ads are pretty affordable, I think, for our 10,000 copy print run of each issue. Drop me a line via email, I can send you all of the details!

        We actually don’t offer online advertising at this time. We’re probably missing the boat there given the number of hits I keep hearing we get every month, but we haven’t had a chance to explore the idea more fully!

  3. looking forward to the these articles, thanks matthew, lots of these are things i hadn’t heard of yet (ie, spotlight?) – thanks 😉

  4. I just wanted to check to see if you had time to post an update on your adventures in advertising. We actually just tried promoting one of our $60 signed Limited Editions via Facebook to GREAT results. I was honestly surprised how well it went. We’re promoting two more books right now to lesser results, but there’s still 48 hours to go.

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