author C.C.Cole's blog

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On the Mathematics of Ads

"The Social Network"

Times Square, NYC
Going back to some of my original articles about being a new author, I mentioned some of the non-cheap “promotion packages” offered by self-publishing companies who found my book so fascinating they didn’t need to read it.  Being overly eager and overly stupid, I tried a few of these “fantastic, state-of-the-art” marketing programs.  The end result was similar to what John Locke described in his “How to” bestseller; lots of bucks shelled out on my end and minimal book sales from their end. 

When I look back at these “packages” wondering how many Coach handbags I could have purchased instead and put to better use, I remember the methods used.  One was an “email blast.”  On hindsight, this was spamming my work I actually paid for.  Then I succumbed to temptation of social site ads.  After paying for “clicks” for about six months, I had a full credit card and an empty sales account.  When I decided I could hardly get any worse, I took on search-engine ads, with some strange hope that when someone surfs the Internet, he/she would somehow find my book and decide it looks so brilliant the day could not go on without purchasing it.

Only after epic-failing at every attempt at getting noticed, I started networking at small doses with gradual increases over time.  After lots of dollars down the drain, I spent small, single-time sums on the right services for advice to get me started on blogging and Twitter.  The results aren’t “sudden fame” but it’s a slow, steady, growing Internet presence all of us get as we use social networking. 

Question:  Why do ads fail for new authors?  Why does the single tried-and-true method for selling pretty much everything else from real estate, lingerie, and diet soda not work for newbie writers?  Ads come natural for big-name authors.  Car insurance sells by clever commercials featuring a cute reptile.  Wireless cell phone services are sold with obnoxious music.  Beautiful women sell anything/everything.  So, what’s the deal with books?

I don’t really know the answer to this question.  I noted on “The Social Network” when they said, “Ads aren’t cool.”  OK.  If ads are so un-cool, why are they used to sell just about everything?  The reflex answer is:  “Ads look spammy.”  OK.  Ads look spammy.  So how many handbags or computer gadgets are we purchasing with no knowledge about them from advertising?  It’s no secret that big companies shell out the big bucks to sell their products, be it the food, clothing, film, or publishing industry for bestsellers.  We live in a world of advertising, and rely on it for entertainment during the Superbowl, but for new authors, it’s truly a hard sell.

I find it interesting what we tag as value to consumption.  It’s easier for Coach to sell a $900 handbag than for a new author to sell a $2.99 book.  Of course, many reasons include competition and alternate modes of entertainment.  Whatever the reason is, for new authors, if traditional routes of advertising works, that’s great.  I don’t tell people what to do with their money, but I will say to be careful before stepping into the deep chasm of purchasing ads.   The mathematics don’t “ad” up.


  1. I read this post with great interest CC. It is a very difficult balance between advertising, marketing and promotion. Especially in such a volatile and rapidly changing market such as books and ebooks. But I agree that paid ads aren't good value.

    I've travelled your road so to say, and the only observation I would make is that no matter what you do, the end game is in getting your name out there. Paid or free.

    I run a couple of secondary Twitter accounts just for this purpose. Maybe considered tacky by some, but I have found that it provides the balance for me. I can promote myself and my books (not too much though) and at the same time keep my own Twitter timeline much more personal.

    No matter which type of promotion that is used though, I do think many authors fall into the trap of over promoting a book and not the author. In the long run it's the author who people buy, not a single book.

  2. Excellent post. It's hard out there for a newer Author. But when there's a will.....
    Thank you for this great post!

  3. Well done, C.C. -

    Although my first novel, The Ezekiel Code, was self-published about 4 years ago, and even though I'd reached the conclusion that paid ads on the internet are pretty much a waste of money, nevertheless, I recently gave it another try with my most recent novel, Ash: Return Of The Beast. This time it was on the goodreads.com site. The site is populated by millions of book lovers so it seemed like a reasonable gamble. So far my ad has appeared a little over 20,000 times but only 36 people have clicked on it. Of those 36, none have made a purchase and only 11 have added it to their "to be read" list. When the ad runs its course I will have spent $30. Not a lot of money, to be sure. But also not much of a success when it comes to sales.

    One thing that does help to get a book noticed is the "tag" function on amazon. For those who may not know, if your book is listed on amazon, there is a "tags" function about midway down the page. Tags are just keywords that amazon visitors use when searching for specific types of books. For example, "paranormal romance", "crime drama", "mystery", "historical fiction", etc. You can add whatever tags you think people might use to find a book like yours. Next to each of the tags you provide, there is a tiny box with a number next to it. If someone clicks that box, the number increases by 1. The higher the number, the further up the list your book will appear when people use those tags to search for a book. ••• (Note: the system is set up so that a person can only click the tag one time. Multiple clicks will result in the number decreasing instead of increasing) ••• Since there are many thousands of books in any given category on amazon, it takes a lot of tag-clicks to get your book up there on the first 1 or 2 pages of search results. But if you can get enough people (friends, relatives, whoever) to go to your page and click the tags, it can be a great help to getting your book noticed.