SPS-250: Book Ad Tips to Boost Your Author Business – with Nicholas Erik

Nicholas Erik offers experiential advice about the different advertising platforms for authors, what’s working now, and why persistence and testing will always be required for those advertising books.

Show Notes

  • How Nicholas manages advertising for other authors
  • How ad platforms differ for different authors
  • How to target Amazon ads without losing too much money on the comp research
  • How and when to pay attention to Amazon’s reporting
  • Why relevancy is critical to the success of a social media ad
  • Tips for the art that goes with your Facebook ad
  • The importance of not confusing the person being served an ad
  • The ever-present importance of testing ads

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

WEBSITE: Get a free marketing cheat sheet at NicholasErik.com

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-250: Book Ad Tips to Boost Your Author Business - with Nicholas Erik

Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Nicholas Erik: It's probably the highest valued skill that you can develop as an author because if you have control over that marketing, then you really have control over your career.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. Hello.

James Blatch: I'm making a concerted effort for people who are watching on YouTube to look into the camera, because Catherine, our producer in the background, told me off.

Mark Dawson: Okay, I'll do the same. She hasn't told me off but I know I don't look at the camera very much.

James Blatch: Actually, I'm now worried about looking into glass. Netflix have just released The Haunting of Bly Manor, I don't know if you've seen it?

Mark Dawson: I haven't.

James Blatch: I think The Haunting of Hill House, I think, was the first one, which I haven't actually watched but I just watched The Haunting of Hill House, I think was the first one, so I haven't actually watched but I have just watched The Haunting of Bly Manor and I'm now slightly worried about looking into mirrors and reflections.

Mark Dawson: No spoilers.

James Blatch: Ghost stories ... No spoilers.

Okay, good. Here we are. We are going to be talking about your favourite subject, I think, Mark, which is advertising.

Mark Dawson: No, it doesn't work. We'll ignore this episode and do something else. Advertising's a complete waste of money and time, or maybe not.

James Blatch: Facebook Ads don't work. Amazon Ads don't work. We get these posts very now and again from people. Clearly they do work, but what comes across in this interview in a moment with Nicholas Erik is that it does, of course take some application and hard work and some know-how. There are no short-cuts, same with everything in life, right?

So, we've got that to come today but we have a special thing to talk about which is that our editing suite of courses, which is two at the moment, which is Revise Your Book, fantastic course by Jenny Nash, good premium, quality course on your structural approach to revising, to go from good to great, is the kind of the catch phrase, the tagline for that course and bundled into that is a copyrighting course, which actually has exceeded our expectations, I think.

ProWritingAid have created this copyrighting course and so we initially thought it will be for people who use ProWritingAid, but actually, the copyrighting ... Copy editing course I should say, not copyrighting, that's a different thing. The copy editing course is just that. It's about the fundamentals of copy editing, why you should be looking at some adverbs, all the rest of it, how you do that, and then, yes, there's a bit about how to use ProWritingAid to do that and there's an offer code, of course, in there to use that. But it's a really, really good ... It dovetails beautifully with the revise, which is about the developmental revision of your book.

So, before, I'll have a little chat with you, Mark, about your process in a moment, but we should say that if you would like to take advantage, as always when we launch these courses, it's going to be $297, that includes the full How to Revise Your Book course and the bundled in copy editing course. However, for the first few weeks, it is going to be $197 for both of those, and you can go ahead and have a look at what's in the courses to decide whether it's going to be good enough for you. There's a refund policy, of course, no questions asked, 14 days, I think, on these smaller courses, and all that information is there at selfpublishingformula.com/editing.

Mark Dawson: And make clear that that's the price for two courses, it's not two separate courses both at that price, it's both courses for that price.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: It's really good value. I've seen both courses and they're both really good. Jenny's an excellent teacher, it's a really well put together course, and we've had, I don't know how many people have taken the course so far, maybe 10, I suppose. We were kind of very, very quiet and did a little beta testing to start with, and the feedback has been really strong, which is great.

And then on the copywriting, it was quite funny, we actually had to tell ProWritingAid that they ought to put something in about ProWritingAid ...

James Blatch: Yes.

Mark Dawson: Which is very graceful of them to not actually want to pitch their product, but I like ProWriting and I think it's something that is certainly worth a little bit of tuition as well, so they've gone back in there and added a session on using that. But beyond it, there's much more on copywriting, sorry, copy editing as a thing in itself.

So the two of those courses together will ... I don't think we're suggesting that it cuts out the need for an editor completely, I would still run all of my stuff through an independent set of qualified eyes, but what this should do is enable you to present a cleaner, more coherent manuscript to your editor then as you move into the next stage.

James Blatch: Yeah. As I say, 197 rather than 297, probably until the end of November, but you also have a payment plan on that, which I think, from memory, is 21 a month for 12 months, to make it as accessible as possible. Yeah, we've very excited about adding that, so we have our Best Seller course, Cover Design course and How to Revise Your Book, all lowered price, all very niche, specific areas.

And we're building up below that, a third strata of courses coming in the background which are going to be called SPF Short, these will be dirt cheap and they will be very, very niche, they'll be things like how to use Vellum and stuff like that, but a more polished, professional version of it than you're perhaps going to pick up on the sort of instructional videos you do see around for free on YouTube, so we're working on those at the moment.

So, yes, developmental editing, I think we should have a quick chat about this. Developmental editing has occupied me for a couple of years now.

For you, you write your first draft, what happens to that first draft then?

Mark Dawson: It goes to the copy editor. I've done enough writing now, millions of words, I don't know how many words I've written but, yeah, more than 30 books, I don't feel that I need a developmental editor. I'm not saying I never would but generally, with the books I'm writing now, I know what they're supposed to look like and how the flow should be and the pace and all that, I've got a good understanding of that now after doing so much.

So I don't need a developmental edit, but I do certainly need copy editing and proof reading, so I think we've probably mentioned this on the podcast before, so I won't go into too much detail, but I just had a new Milton book, which will be out next month, I just had it back from my copy editor and yesterday I went through it, I went through her suggestions, agreed with 99.9% of them pretty much and just adding an epilogue today and then that book, hopefully by the end of today will be formatted in Vellum and then sent out to my advance team, and they will then come back with their comments and then I'll tweak it, and then it has a proof read to make sure that I haven't introduced errors during the edit.

And provided it goes through all of those stages without any kind of big issues popping up, it then gets released, so looking pretty good at the moment.

James Blatch: Out of interest, roughly how many copy edits do you get back?

Mark Dawson: One.

James Blatch: No, I mean individual edits within the manuscript.

Mark Dawson: Oh, actual edits.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: Oh, I don't know. 4 or 500.

James Blatch: Okay.

Mark Dawson: But there's a very small bit, usually consistency issues, occasion typos will get picked up. It's nothing very significant. Occasionally I ... I had a scene set in a tower block in this new block and over the course of drafting the book, I got the numbers of floors wrong, so I had a lift that went up to a 13th floor at the start of the book, then the 12th floor was the top floor at the end, so those kind of things that I ... Slip through, that's something that my copy editor will always pick up. And if she didn't, then I'm actually sure my advanced readers would pick it up.

James Blatch: And so you can go through all of those individually and reject or accept them.

Mark Dawson: I can do. I look through, but I've worked with my copy editor for a long time now, five years probably, and we know each other very well. I trust her completely and I'll skim them quickly, it doesn't take me too long. To go through that copy edit probably took me about two hours, and that was just basically ... I will reject a few, or I don't accept them, I'll just kind of reject a handful if I don't agree with them, and then at the end just accept everything else that's been left.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: So it's not a painful process.

James Blatch: And going back to the development side of things, when you're writing your first draft, how much do you go back and fix developmental issues as you go along?

Mark Dawson: I don't really have that ... I mean, depends what you mean by developmental issues. I mean, things like characters and pacing and dialogue ...

What kind of areas are you thinking about?

James Blatch: So it might be something like so the character was ... The journey didn't work properly, they were two one-dimensional, so you need to start them off differently in a different place, or ...

Mark Dawson: That never happens.

James Blatch: They should have met at a different point because you've changed the way the story's going to go. You never have any of those developmental moments?

Mark Dawson: No, not really. Certainly not the first. The second, I mean, the story will develop, it's kind of just plotting, really, it's not necessarily a developmental thing, I may change the plot because I don't have a ... I don't follow a road map, I'll have an idea where it starts and ends, and I usually pick my way through it and get there ... Like the new Atticus book I'm starting to write, I know roughly what happens, I know there's some points on the way, but I don't know what he needs to find out. I'll only know that once I start writing it.

I don't normally have those kind of issues where I have to go back and start changing things. I've just, not bigging myself up, but I've been doing this for a while now and I have a fairly good instinct, I suppose, for plot and that kind of thing. I write myself into corners occasionally but fairly rare these days.

James Blatch: Good. Well, that's always interesting to hear process from different people, from the master himself. Good. To remind you, selfpublishingformula.com/editing is where you're going to learn all about the How to Revise Your Book course and the copy writing course, which are bundled together and you can get going on those right now for as little as $21 I believe it is a month if you take the payment option. They will go up, that will go up in a couple of weeks time.

James Blatch: Right. Let's move onto advertising, the other side of the writer's life. Today we have Nicholas Erik, who is a well known expert in this area, somebody who runs his own, and other's, ads account and has become, I think, a very I would say measured voice about advertising, very interesting to talk to, so let's hear from Nicholas and then Mark and I will be back to have a little wrap up at the end.

Nick, I literally waited until you got a mouthful of water to start the interview because that's how we roll. How are you? Thank you very much for joining us.

Nicholas Erik: Thanks for having me, James.

James Blatch: You're very, very welcome. Okay. We're going to talk about paid ads, marketing. I know you've worked one on one with quite a number of authors.

Why don't you give us a little bit of an introduction to you, your writing and your work with other authors.

Nicholas Erik: Well, I'm an author. I write sci-fi and urban fantasy, so I've written over 20 books there and I've also, over the past year and a half really had the privilege of working with a lot of great authors on the marketing end, running ad campaigns for them, marketing strategy, things like that.

James Blatch: That area is an interesting one. Obviously Mark's role really is to teach people to do it themselves, but we get asked a lot, "Can you run my ads for me?" It does seem to be an area where there's potential for growth, but, on the other hand, the margins are quite slim when you're selling books.

How do you make it pay for an author? You basically have to be doing it better than they could do by themselves, enough to pay you and them, does that work?

Nicholas Erik: It's a good question. it's difficult because you need a certain number of books to make the advertising worthwhile and it's definitely a challenge because books are probably one of the hardest products to sell online in terms of entertainment. There's no shortage of entertainment, so you're competing with a lot of different things from Netflix to movies to other books, obviously.

So in terms of making it pay, what I personally do is, if you're working with an ads manager, sometimes there's a long term contract or something like that, I tend to go month to month, so if things aren't working out and my skills aren't a good fit for the books or we can't get them moving in the manner we would like, the author's not on the hook for something that isn't working, so I think that flexibility helps quite a bit.

James Blatch: Do you find you're better off working with somebody and effectively working alongside, allowing them to eventually take it off themselves and work by themselves, or are you like a one person agency for somebody, who they outsource to?

Nicholas Erik: It's more of the latter, where they outsource Facebook, Amazon, BookBub ads to me and most of the author's goals are really just writing more.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Nicholas Erik: They don't want to handle the ads, they don't want to keep up with the updates on Facebook and Amazon. BookBub updates a bit less but certainly there are updates as well there, so it's really about them focusing on what they like to do and pursuing that aspect.

James Blatch: Let's talk a little bit about your writing and then we'll talk about marketing.

So sci-fi, you say, is that your first love as a reader and a writer?

Nicholas Erik: I'd say it's something that I kind of just stumbled into. You decide that you're going to write a book and I came out of college and eventually I guess I settled on writing as a way to make money, which, in retrospect, perhaps was ... There are easier ways to make money online or offline, but I started writing and I finished the novel and then kind of kept going, so it just snowballed from there.

James Blatch: Were you a big reader before then?

Nicholas Erik: I tend to read more non-fiction, which plays into the marketing side of things, where I have ideas and I read books that a lot of authors who are more into novels probably don't come across, so that kind of informs what I do on the non-fiction business side of things.

James Blatch: How many books have you published yourself?

Nicholas Erik: About 20, 22, 23, something like that, so it's been a while since I published a book myself because I've been focused on running the ads for other authors, so I certainly understand why authors want to outsource the ads ...

James Blatch: Yeah.

Nicholas Erik: Because it can be hard to get in the head space and then switch over to the business aspect of publishing.

James Blatch: It really is, yeah, I even struggle with 500 words a day frankly, in my busy, busy life, but I try and do what I can.

Let's talk a bit about the marketing side. Obviously are you somebody who enjoys the book marketing side?

Nicholas Erik: I'd say that that's going to play a big role in what skills you develop and where your strengths end up lying, so, as an example, within the marketing side, you have Facebook, Amazon, BookBub, and then you have social media and things like that, I don't really focus on social media until probably a year, a year and a half ago, I didn't really focus on Amazon ads, they've become a lot more important, in my opinion, just because Amazon is pushing their ads a lot more.

I really focused on Facebook and BookBub to begin with, and what you'll find is certain platforms are a fit for not only your skillset but your mindset, and that's really important in terms of maybe enjoyment isn't the right word for most authors, but at least you want to find something that's bearable because otherwise it's very hard to keep going, especially with the marketing, because often times in the beginning, you're paying what amounts to tuition to learn, which I guess is a nice way of putting losing money to Facebook and BookBub and Amazon and so forth, until you get the skills required to market your books effectively.

James Blatch: Let's talk about the platforms a little bit. You mentioned BookBub and Facebook ads and Amazon ads being, well, Amazon ads becoming more important in the last year or two. As a snapshot at the moment, I mean, this is difficult, I find this is difficult because I talk to a lot of authors and some authors just are crushing it on Facebook and Amazon ads are dead to them, and quite often vice versa, and I find it very hard to pick out whether it's a genre thing or whatever. There seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Do you find that, that just some books lend themselves to some platforms?

Nicholas Erik: I think one of the interesting things about working with so many authors is you start to see trends, and Amazon ads are not even so much genre dependent as they are book dependent, so if you have a book that has wider mainstream appeal, you can often scale those up a lot more.

A good example, of course, is everyone's familiar with Mark's books, his books appeal to people who like Jack Reacher and James Patterson and things like that, those generally are going to be more successful in scaling up the ads, which is one of the main questions I get about this is how do I make the ad spend, right?

Whereas Facebook and BookBub, they'll spend your money regardless. Sometimes you might not want them to after you see the results, certainly, but Amazon, I think it really hinges on the book and you just have to test different books.

The books that work well with Amazon tend to work really well, and then the other ones that can be quite effective are if you have specific type of book in a very specific sub-genre, because you can target exact books and titles and authors, and that is very helpful. So sometimes when you're in the middle there on Amazon, it can be a little bit difficult to get the traction that you want to make it worthwhile, because I find that Amazon ads are very hands on, they take a lot of time entering the keywords, making sure that they're spending, that they haven't stopped, that they're not spending too much, that sort of thing, as you try to scale them up.

So I think that that's why sometimes authors gravitate towards Facebook. If you give Facebook $50 a day, you know it's going to spend and you know that the results are going to maybe not be consistent, but more consistent than what you often find with the Amazon ads, where it might spend $10, then it might spend $50, then it might spend $30, there's a lot of variability there.

James Blatch: Let's talk about Amazon ads a bit further then. I think one of the issues with Amazon ads is people start at the beginning with the keywords and they might start with an auto campaign at the beginning, but once they move onto keywords, they sit there and they think they know, if they think hard enough, who their books are like, as people and subjects to target in terms of keywords, but you're always aware, as an author, that you don't really know who your audience is, at least until you've not got a few years under your belt of being surprised by where your audience is.

How does an author who writes an action and adventure and picks out a couple of other Indiana Jones type authors, how do they then start fishing wider without it just being a waste of money?

Nicholas Erik: Yeah, that's difficult, especially in action/adventure/crime/mystery/thriller, those can be both the easiest and the most difficult to advertise because you have so many options, so if you find something that works and resonates, then you can often scale that up rapidly, but finding what exactly works in that vast sea of options is extremely challenging and can be expensive.

In that instance, what I generally recommend with the keyword or ASIN targeting is finding things that match your book's sub-genre very closely, so an example from urban fantasy, since I write urban fantasy, I have books with a male protagonist, I would target those at the beginning to other authors and other books who primarily write books with a male protagonist.

Then I would slowly expand that circle to books, urban fantasy books, with a female protagonist, and then you can slowly branch out from there. But I think where people get in trouble is that they shotgun out too much, so an adjacent genre to urban fantasy is paranormal romance, and they might throw those books in there, they might go into LitRPG, you don't need, actually, that many targets a lot of the time to write Amazon ads. Most people's goal isn't to scale up to 100, 200, 300, 400 dollars a day generally speaking, they're just trying to get the Amazon ads to spend 30 or 40 or 50 dollars and you can do that, actually, pretty effectively by maintaining a fairly tight keyword or ASIN targeting and just building that over time.

I think that the reason that people don't do that is it's very time consuming, because you have to go in and I have to have a knowledge of the sub-genre first, which takes time, but also, for example, if I'm looking for indies, an example of someone who writes that kind of male protagonist book is James Silvers and his Nate Temple series, so I have to go in and then I have to either pull all the titles by hand or all the ASINs for that specific series by hand. That's not exactly scintillating work, if we're being honest, and it's time consuming and it can be very frustrating too when you do all that work and the ads don't serve or they get two clicks in a month, that sort of thing, so there's upsides and downsides to that approach.

James Blatch: I've certainly been there filling up spreadsheet columns with books in a series and merchant words and everything else and getting a decent list from one author. Also on Amazon ads, how are you finding the dashboard reporting now in terms of its true reflection of how your book is doing, particularly if it's in KU? We now have page reads, but I think I'm still seeing it under-reporting the reality of how well the book's doing. Obviously there's read through to take into account.

How do you find the dashboard?

Nicholas Erik: This is a great question and it's one that I see authors discuss a lot. I think that there are two primary reasons why people think that the dashboard under-reports. The first is that the attribution window for sales and KEMP read is 14 days, so it can just take time for those to basically register.

The second is that you get a tremendous organic visibility boost if you've scaled up your ads to a decent amount per day on Amazon. They can produce a tonne of borrows. That may not necessarily translate into a tonne of page reads but your rank is increasing, and that has effects on the store where you're more visibility, so you are getting indirect sales, borrows, reads, as a result of what you're doing with the Amazon ads, but it's not going to show up on the Amazon ads dashboard because they're actually organic, they're not from the ads, but they are an indirect byproduct of the ads and they wouldn't exist without the ads.

That's probably the trickiest part of just advertising on Amazon and advertising in general, in that that organic effect on Amazon, if you capture it, is so incredibly powerful but it's very hard to account for.

James Blatch: So the answer to this is a spreadsheet where you feed in your own external factors and try to use the limited data you've got to get a real world picture.

Nicholas Erik: I'd recommend with the Amazon ads, tracking weekly and having a set day where you go in and you put in the keywords, adjust bids, see how things are going. You want to check on the budgets every day to make sure something hasn't run away with a bunch of money and changed performance wise, but you really want to do your tracking and things like that weekly because of that attribution window.

Otherwise things can fluctuate a bit in the meantime and the data really isn't stable until a day or two after the previous day has ended and that prevents people from making decisions are based on data that actually isn't accurate, which you want to avoid if possible.

I found that that is helpful from not only getting better results but also streamlining the management process, because otherwise if you're in there every day managing things, it can take an hour, hour and a half of your time easily.

James Blatch: Yeah. And that's interesting, you mentioned the attribution window being a couple of weeks.

There's the potential for if you go in and look at yesterday today, that that will continue to change for two weeks after you've looked at it.

Nicholas Erik: Yeah, I think it's hard to tell exactly from Amazon's help documentation how exactly that works. The KEMP, I believe is a little bit different because the KEMP people can read offline and then it can sync and things like that, so what you'll actually see is, if you turn off an ad with the KEMP read, it will continue getting KEMP after the ad is off, so that's important to know if you've scaled up aggressively and then are scaling back, that can be deceiving.

If you say we're at $300 a day and getting 20,000 reads from your ads and then you scale back to a hundred, for a couple of days you might still be around 20,000 and you can be mislead into thinking that your ads are a lot more efficient after that scale back, but really the device is syncing and the attributes window.

So there are little quirks to it that you pick up as you run more ads. And I think that the way you find those is just you have to run the ads, because it's a little bit difficult to parse out from the help stuff. Although I will say that Amazon's help documentation is pretty useful.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Nicholas Erik: If you take a look at it, they try to really explain what's going on. It is, of course, the drive but that information is pretty good.

James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. Well, let's talk about Facebook, which is, when I first met Mark, it was Facebook ads that took him into the earning bracket of being able to live as an author, so he's very fond for that reason, of Facebook, and it's ... Took a backseat, I think, a little while to Amazon ads and probably still is, but Facebook's still an important platform for him.

James Blatch: For the books I market for Fuse Books, which are this sci-fi/future dystopian books, they live and breathe off Facebook ads rather than Amazon ads, I mean, that's a vast majority of my spending.

James Blatch: So the Amazon ads platform works fundamentally differently, as you alluded to earlier, in that it will go for impressions and spend your money, so if you put $200 a day, it will spend $201 or 199, roughly $200 a day, no problem at all. So what you're looking at, I guess you're going to tell me, Nick, is you're looking at the cost per click, the click through rates.

Are these are the key metrics when you first start running those campaigns?

Nicholas Erik: Yeah, with Facebook, you definitely want to set the budgets to what you're willing to pay because they will spend that. The main metric I look at is called unique outbound CPC, so what's reported on the default dashboard is just CPC, but as you run the campaigns for longer, it will count people who clicked on the ads multiple times in that, so that's totally fine having people click on the ad multiple times but they can obviously only buy the book once, generally speaking, so you want unique people.

What you'll find is that CPC will diverge from the unique outbound CPC as you run the ads for longer. So this is especially important if you're launching aggressively or if you just have ads that have run for a month, two months, three months, they're going to be getting it from the same people and then the other metrics you can also add unique outbound CTR, which uses unique outbound clicks, and then you would have unique outbound clicks as well.

CTR wise, I don't tend to focus on that unless something is disastrously wrong, so CTR is actually very important on Amazon ads because it's a gauge of how relevant the ASIN and keyword ads are, I don't worry about that for auto and category ads on Amazon. On Facebook, I tend not to worry about it unless it's very low.

What you're going to find is if you run something with the book cover on it, which is what I recommend on Facebook, to ensure that conversion isn't exceptionally low, is that the CTR is going to be significantly lower than if you run a stock photo, but that's because the stock photo appeals to a lot more people because they're clicking on it, they don't know if it's a book, they don't know, maybe it's a dating service, something like that, skin lotion, et cetera, it could be any number of products, so I'm not really that worried about that unless I'm expecting it to come in at 5 or 6% and something comes in at half a percent, that type of disaster scenario.

James Blatch: So relevancy, obviously, is critical to the success of a social media ad.

Nicholas Erik: Yeah. I would say that you want to target it well. I think with Facebook, you can target broader than most people anticipate, so an example, of course, would be if you're writing a mystery, you can target something like Lee Child, who writes thrillers, so that is perhaps fairly obvious but, for example, with romances, sometimes people write specific type of sub-genre in romance, in that they might write romantic comedy, and you can target that to the broader contemporary romance authors.

One thing I've found is that there are fewer romance targets on Facebook, but you can oftentimes target those to authors who are considered senior when you've exhausted those, so you can get into more tangential targeting for urban fantasy, going to start with things like Jim Butcher, who's a popular, traditionally published urban fantasy author, but then I can branch out into paranormal romance authors who are not exactly what I write but I've found that those can be good sources of clicks and ways to scale.

That's especially important when you have smaller audience pools to work with, so the main urban fantasy audiences are about half a million people or so, maybe a little bit more. If you're trying to run campaigns at scale then it's very difficult to basically do that without them burning out, so you have to go looking for alternatives, and you can often find those in adjacent genres that share reader overlap.

James Blatch: Yeah, good tips. There are so many sub-genres in romance in particular, and I suppose it's easy to get caught in the trap of thinking you only have limited appeal to one sub-genre, as you say, people can read quite widely, or certainly show interest, and that's all they need to do on Facebook is show interest in other romance authors, it should be enough.

The other thing you can do on Facebook you can't do on Amazon ads is introduce your own data with your own audiences. Is this something that you find important?

Nicholas Erik: You know, it's helpful because you can re-target your mailing list, you can re-target website visitors, but you don't necessarily need to do it. I think one trick that is under-utilised if you have author friends is that you can actually share your audiences between accounts.

So say I write thrillers and Mark obviously writes thrillers, we can share our page audiences with each other, and if we're both advertising pretty considerably, Mark might have a quarter of a million people in his audience or 500,000 people in that audience who have clicked on his ads in the past year, and if I had a significant audience then that gives us a pool of different targets that are unique to us.

Oftentimes, those are going to be very good targets because they're Kindle Unlimited readers, or they're specifically ebook readers on Amazon, so that can be very useful and you can basically ask your author friends to share with you and you can share with them, and that's useful, especially in a scenario, I think, like a launch, where you can wear out audiences very quickly. Having those supplementary audiences that are quite warm and interested in the type of books that you write is very helpful for scaling and maintaining performance for longer.

James Blatch: And what about the creatives on Facebook? Again, it's an area different from Amazon ads where you have very limited control over the creative. I'm a big fan of the creative hub, I like spending some time creating the ads, variations of them, so when I'm putting the campaign together, I'm not suddenly distracted by trying to think of a new tag line, which you used to have to do. And personally I think it's a good way because you can deviate as much as you want. When you actually create the campaign, you just start as if you've created your own template.

Do you have any top tips for us in terms of the creative side of things? I know a lot of authors struggle a little bit in this area.

Nicholas Erik: Oh, definitely. The first is to use what's called the Facebook Ads Library, so you can look that up and what that allows you to do is type in any authors' page and you can look at the ads that are currently running. You can also Google search their author page and then go down to page transparency, so you can see their ads and get inspiration from that. That's a good source.

What I like to do is look at people that have been successful for a long time, because that means that their campaigns have been running for a long time. I don't want to be refreshing campaigns on Facebook every week or every couple of days unless it's a launch scenario, that is very time-consuming, and it can be often difficult to find what converts, that's the main problem on Facebook, so when I have something that converts I want to run it for a while, so those are good sources for things that have run for a while.

The other tip that I would recommend is I start essentially every campaign that I run with a very simple approach, and that's the book cover on the book cover background, so if you don't have that from your designer, you can ask for it. Sometimes they'll give it to you for free, other times it's a relatively nominal fee of $25/50 but it's very versatile for marketing, so you can use that for a lot of things. I would recommend getting that, and I typically start with that.

If you don't have the book cover background, what you can do is blow up the book cover and try to figure out a way to basically crop it where there's no text and that, I've found, is very effective. It's very quick, it tends to convert the best, and for the copy, I use the book or a piece of it, so I'll use the first 90 or so words of the blurb or the tagline, something like that, and that combination is not only fast to put together, but it has exact congruence with the Amazon page, in that they click on the ad and then they're taken to the Amazon page and they see the book cover that they just saw, they see the blurb and maybe they continue reading it, if you only gave them the first 90 words or the tagline, but they're not jarred.

And sometimes the problem that people have with the Facebook ads, especially with stock photos or very clever pieces of copy is that someone thinks that they're clicking on a completely different product, and then they get to the Amazon page and they're either confused or it's not what they've wanted, so if you confuse the potential buyer at all, they're generally not going to stop and figure out what you're selling and whether that book is for them, they are 7, 8 million other books that they can try, so you really have to make that as streamlined and one to one as possible.

So that works from the time perspective, that takes five minutes to put that together, but it also works just from the results perspective. I find that that is almost always the most effective approach.

The other thing that can work well for a conversion, which is what I'm focused on Facebook, is excerpts. So with those, you want to have a little bit of dialogue in them, preferably at the start, because that introduces the character conflict. It also introduces white space, which is important, because people skim on Facebook. And then the same principle of writing applies, where you end the excerpt on a cliffhanger to leave them wanting more, to go to Amazon where they have to buy the book to satisfy their curiosity.

So if you have a really good conflict heavy piece of writing from the book, you have a great scene, that can be a really good thing to run in the Facebook ads. And those might cost you a little bit more, but conversion wise, they can do quite well.

James Blatch: That's interesting. So you talk about quite long descriptions copy here, whereas I think I've been using quite shorty, pithy taglines for my ads.

Nicholas Erik: Yeah, I think I probably tend to use hundred, 150 plus words a lot of the time. Sometimes it's shorter, but oftentimes, especially with the excerpts, I might go fairly long and I think people make the assumption that people won't read it, and that's true for the majority of people, but the people that you get to read it are exactly who you're trying to reach out to, so it's really about trying to get your target reader interested and they're quite effective for that. Certainly I'll try taglines sometimes.

I think what I find is it's very difficult to write a good tagline, that's pretty challenging to encapsulate the book's feel and convey the tone and generate intrigue in that. It's a pretty difficult skill to master, and I've run a lot of ads and I would not say that that is one of my primary strengths, even after running thousands of ads, so if that is a strong point for the author then by all means, go for it.

You're going to find that you gravitate towards certain things with the ads and maybe you're better at the short form copy versus long form copy, but I haven't noticed a huge difference in performance between the two. It mainly comes down to, I think, the quality and also making sure that you establish the right tone and expectations going into the Amazon page to maximise conversion.

James Blatch: So Nick, before we leave Facebook, I was asking you a long-winded question about where the ad should show, because I tick everything off apart from Facebook newsfeed, but I'm wondering, looking at that long list that has all sorts of weird and wonderful places on it, whether I'm missing a trick here and there should be some other outlets for Facebook ad campaigns.

Nicholas Erik: Facebook's automatic targeting has gotten a lot better over the years, so if you look at recommendations for eCommerce, what the general best practise is to use the automatic placements. The issue with what we do is that we can't instal the Facebook pixel on Amazon, so it gets no information from Amazon about what's converting and what isn't, so when you're choosing traffic, which is the objective of the campaign, that's optimising solely for the cheapest clicks, that's not the same as clicks that convert.

So if we could choose the conversion objective and use that to essentially teach Facebook what people to target for books and generating sales, then I think that that would be great and we could use the automatic placements, but what tends to happen is that it optimises for the lowest price click, so you can get lowest price clicks from the Messenger network and things like that versus the newsfeed, but those don't tend to convert very well in my experience.

So the newsfeed converts the best. It can be a little bit pricier than the other options but the other options, if Facebook is weighting your campaigns towards them, can convert extremely well, so it's not worth it to be getting 8% clicks that convert at 0.1% or something like that.

James Blatch: Sure.

Nicholas Erik: The overall cost per sale ends up being massively higher than just paying more for the newsfeed, so I do newsfeed only.

James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. Good. Well, I was pleased that's the right answer for me, because that's what I've been doing. Okay, let's, finally, let's talk about BookBub ads. This is a platform I know the least about. Started my first BookBub ad campaigns about two days ago because we're doing a new course on BookBub ads and I wanted to be familiar with it.

So what do we need to know? For those of us familiar with Facebook ads and Amazon ads, what do we need to know about the BookBub ads platform?

Nicholas Erik: BookBub is the most time consuming and the most frustrating. It's also my favourite platform by far, so those statements don't seem to align with one and another, and this goes back to, at the beginning, where I talked about not only playing to your strengths but also you're going to find certain things that you enjoy and certain other things that you don't.

That's not necessarily a strictly rational time-based decision, there are just certain platforms where you like the reporting, you like the kind of feel of what you're doing. The main thing I like about BookBub is that your ads convert, so you really have to only focus on the traffic side of things, getting your CTR on BookBub to a reasonable level, and that alleviates a lot of the stress of on Facebook you're always, in the back of your mind, thinking, "Is this converting? Is this translating into page reads?" That sort of thing.

Whereas with BookBub, especially when you're running a deal, you can be pretty confident that your ads are converting and you can really see it on the dashboard, if your ads are running, that you start to see those sales pile up, which is both satisfying but it's also a great reliever of stress in that you don't have to worry about that aspect.

I like BookBub a bit, I will say that it's very time consuming. The thing that people underestimate about BookBub is how much you have to test, so they'll come up with, say, three audiences that are exactly like their book and then they'll spend $5 or $10 on them and the clicks will cost them $4 or something ludicrous and they'll never try it again. So it can be a very sobering experience in that regard.

You have to test dozens if not hundred plus type of audiences in some instances, especially for something broader, like thrillers and mystery and crime, that tends to be the hardest to advertise on BookBub and get an effective CTR, so you really need to be relentless in your audience testing and also your creative. So in the beginning, getting that match between the creative, where you're trying to find something that works there, and then an audience, can be a little bit random, because you don't know if it's your creative that's impacting the CTR or if it's just that audience.

So for audiences, I tend to start with indie authors who are 3,000 to 25,000 followers or readers I guess they're called on BookBub, and that is not a foolproof approach, but it does weed out a lot of the really bad performers in that someone who has 100,000 or 200,000 followers on BookBub, they likely had a couple of free BookBub feature deals, because those get added to the audience, and those people might not be huge fans of that author, they might not be huge fans of that sub-genre, so by going a little bit narrower there, you're more likely to get people who are actually fans of the author.

And then one trick I do use for the audience targeting is you should subscribe to the BookBub email and then at the bottom, go and see who is currently advertising on BookBub. Generally speaking, I find that the best targets are other authors who are advertising on BookBub in your sub-genre. Reason being is that when someone clicks on an ad, they're added to that person's audience, so if that person has run quite a few BookBub ads, their audience is essentially comprised of people who like that sub-genre and also click on BookBub ads, which is exactly the combination you're looking for.

James Blatch: Top tip that. So just give me those figures again, you tend to look for authors at the beginning between ... Did you say between 3 and 25,000 readers?

Nicholas Erik: Yeah, 3 and 25,000, yeah.

James Blatch: Okay. That's interesting, so I'll have to go and have a look at ... I think I somehow created ads that didn't serve for the first 48 hours, anyway, I haven't really gone back and looked at them properly, but I'll see what I've done wrong there.

James Blatch: So you do target authors and genre? Or would you have those in separate campaigns?

Nicholas Erik: I generally target the author and the genre, so that the genre acts as a narrowing filter, for example if we target Ilona Andrews, who's an urban fantasy author, she also writes some paranormal romance type of books, so if I only want to target her urban fantasy audience then I can just select supernatural suspense, which is where urban fantasy lives on BookBub, and that will narrow things down.

Generally speaking, I'll always do that. Never target by genre alone, that is super ineffective, so if you give BookBub $20, it's entirely possible, and target, say, the crime genre, it's entirely possible that you'll spend that $20 and get zero clicks, or one click or something like that, so it's just too broad, but it's useful in conjunction with the author targeting.

James Blatch: Yeah. So they're the three main platforms. How do you feel at the moment in terms of the market? Is it buoyant? You hear some people come on and say, "Oh, the good days are gone, you can't make money anymore." Other people come on and show that they're killing it.

What's your general feeling on the optimism/pessimism scale?

Nicholas Erik: Depends on what day you ask me. But I think part of the frustration is that you can spend a lot of time setting up ads and testing things and then not get the results you want, and then it feels like it's taking time away from writing, but the core principle of all the platforms has never changed, in that you have to do that testing. It's so key to your overall results, and certainly the market has become more competitive, but if you can commit to that then that process will lead you to the audience and creatives and converting ads that you're looking for, it just doesn't necessarily happen on a one month timescale or a three month timescale, sometimes it can take longer, and sometimes you find that the books that you are advertising aren't a good fit for ads, that you can't make them profitable. That should certainly be stated, you can't make every single book or single profitable, but overall, what I've found is that the ad platforms are definitely still effective.

I use them every day running ads for clients and one thing you'll find is that, yes, there are fluctuations. So one thing with Facebook earlier in the year, because of coronavirus, a lot of big advertisers pulled out and pulled back their ad spend, so click cost dropped a bit, and then over the summer, some of those bigger advertisers came back and then click cost rose. Whether that's because of that specifically or another factor is hard to say, but definitely over the summer, if you were trying to scale up your ads, they were spiking in CPC much faster where they'd jump up to 30, 40, 50 cents much quicker than usual.

So you'll find things like that, where outside events or things outside your control sometimes affect your results, but one of the useful things about having multiple options is that if that's the case, where one platform doesn't work for both, or one platform suddenly becomes expensive, you can shift gears a little bit and move some of your spend over to Amazon ads or put together a discount campaign and run some things on BookBub to get things started.

Nicholas Erik: So having options, I've found, is very helpful because then you're less affected by algorithmic changes or platform shifts, anything outside your control.

James Blatch: So you have to work at it, basically.

Nicholas Erik: Yeah, unfortunately, there's no, I guess, shortcut, and for some authors, it may not be worthwhile to do that and they might want to look for people who can run their ads for them. I would say that if you can run your ads yourself and are willing to devote that time, it's a good skill to develop. It's probably the highest value skill that you can develop as an author, because if you have control over that marketing, then you really have control over your career.

James Blatch: On that subject, how many authors do you tend to look after, Nick?

Nicholas Erik: I keep it pretty narrow in that I can't scale up that much since I'm just running the ads myself, so it's not a situation where I outsource the work to other people at this point, it's just me and that makes it tough to scale up beyond a handful of authors at a time, so typically I'm working with somewhere between five and 10 authors in various capacities. But beyond that, you're managing a lot of ad platforms, so it's Facebook and Amazon and sometimes you have little glitches that you run into or you have to put out some fires, the algorithms change or whatever, so just being able to manage that and keeping things under control. I only work with a few authors at a time to make sure the results are good.

James Blatch: And how easy is this technically? Do you run ads on your own account for other books or do you have to have the keys, basically the log in or be a user on everyone else's account? I'm trying to think of the practicalities of doing this.

Nicholas Erik: I run them on the author's account and I would recommend, if you're working with an ad's manager, to do that, because then you get billed directly to your card so you know exactly how much you spent, but more importantly, you have the creatives, you have the data, and that's very valuable if you want to go in and look at what they did and learn from it. And also if you hire someone else to run the ads in the future, you can pass that off to them and they can look at what the previous ads manager did, so that's very helpful.

On Facebook, you don't have to give anybody your password, you can add them without any sort of password exchange from the dashboard. Amazon works the same way, so you can add editors and administrators to your ad account. BookBub doesn't have that feature at this point, so you do have to give you ads manager the password if you want them to manage your BookBub ads, but the other two can be just managed without any sort of passwords.

James Blatch: Okay, Nick, and finally, how do people get hold of you if they're interested in your services?

Nicholas Erik: You can visit my site at nicholaserik.com, that's Erik with a K, N-I-C-H-O-L-A-S, so you can check that out. I have a bunch of resources for indie authors in terms of marketing guides and things like that, I also have a sometimes weekly newsletter, it depends on the week, but you can sign up for that, that's free, and you can also reach out at [email protected] if you want to get in touch with me about something.

James Blatch: Superb. Nick, thank you very much indeed for joining us tonight. Sorry about the hiccup in the middle of it but we got nice clean audio, Nick, at the end, so ...

Nicholas Erik: Yeah. It's a tale of two halves here ...

James Blatch: Yeah.

Nicholas Erik: So hopefully that's a lot better and great talking with you today, James.

James Blatch: There you go, there's Nicholas Erik and from memory, I think that we had a microphone issue at the beginning of that interview but we did sort it out and the sound quality got a lot better. Yeah, so quietly measured guy, Nicholas, but has his head down in the platforms and I tried to gauge from him towards the end as to where ... Is he optimistic about everything or, you know, you get people, as we discussed at the beginning, who just write it all off as being, it's too competitive, you can't make money anymore, all the rest of it, and he's definitely somebody who believes in the platform, definitely says that they can work for you, but does reiterate that the devil's in the detail. You have to get into the weeds with advertising, and there is no shortcuts.

I'm running our Fuse Books advertising account and I'm at the stage where I go into it every day. I spend every day, at least every day looking at the figures from the previous day and the trends and then twice a week, probably, into the actual advertising platforms as well. And I don't think there's a substitute. It's not fire and forget, unfortunately, unless your employer gets someone like Nicholas.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, I suppose so. There aren't any shortcuts, that's for sure, and I still do the same thing myself, going in every day. It doesn't take too long these days, but I did spend a bit of time last night, I've been chatting with Alex at K-lytics, we've had a couple of conversations. I've been thinking quite a lot about the keywords that we use in Amazon ads and how I don't think ... This will be a topic for another day, but I don't think always the obvious ones, things like comparative authors, are a very good choice for lots of different reasons.

And so Alex and I have been chatting out some ways to generate a different approach to keywords, and he sent me over yesterday, I don't know, 2 or 3,000 keywords in German that I'm testing, so I set those campaigns up last night and they're very different from ... They're the standard, accepted, I will bid on the word Lee Child, or the words Lee Child. They're very different from that, and there's quite a lot of thinking that's gone into it and I don't think this podcast is necessarily the time to talk about that but we will, perhaps, talk about it if, especially if it works.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: I'll come back and crow about it if it works. If it doesn't work ...

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: You'll never hear me mention it again. But, yeah, so I set those up. And it doesn't take long, especially I had three screens at home so I had kind of the stuff I was picking from on the left hand screen, middle screen was something else and then a big kind of pro-display with other bits and bobs and just kind of dragging and dropping between the two, or between the three, and those campaigns, I think I ran about 10 last night, and, I don't know, took me maybe half an hour to set them all up, so we'll see what happens.

James Blatch: I think that sounds like an episode, as you say, if things pan out on this, some learning from that, we'll have Alex and you on together and perhaps have a round table discussion on that.

The other thing bubbling in the background, and I have to just confess I haven't had the bandwidth to properly delve into this, it's quite complicated, is the ROI calculator, which I know you've been working on with the guys over at Prestozon. That's something we hope to get to a position we can roll out, but it's still in its developmental stage at the moment.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, so, yeah, as you said, I've been working with Dierk at Prestozon and he's built a kind of a shareable Google Sheet that we hope to roll out to the ... A free tool for people to pop in their numbers from KDP and work out what we think, or what we think will be useful information to work out what the first sale of a book in a series, especially, might be worth, because I still think we don't always bear that in mind. So, as I've mentioned before, I'll run campaigns, AMS campaigns to 2 to 300% ACoS because I still think those are profitable, and that's how I justify that, and so, yeah, useful to ... A useful tool but it's not quite ready for prime time yet, we've got to kind of attack it a bit more until we get it right.

James Blatch: Things to roll out in the future. Great, okay, thank you very much indeed, Mark. Thank you very much to our guest, Nicholas Erik, he gave his website address at the end but I think it is Nicholaserik.com, Erik with a K, Nicholas with an H, if you want to check out his work and possibly even contact him if you're in that market. That's definitely an expanding area, I think, people who can run other people's Facebook and Amazon accounts, so if ... There's a very good reason, if you're an author just making enough but not maybe enough from your own books is to really get to grips with advertising and start being useful to other authors as well, I definitely think that's an opening.

All that remains for me to say, Mark, is it's a goodbye from him ...

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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