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Marketing Backlisted Books on Amazon
Written by
Diana Y. Paul
October 2019
Written by
Diana Y. Paul
October 2019

An indispensable tool—for marketing any book, new or not-so-new, —is Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). They will assist with your marketing campaign on their advertising platform. The ads are designed as an auction-bidding format determined by keywords, which will entice consumers to click and hopefully purchase.

How do you  market a backlist title through AMS?

A backlist title refers to any book that has been on sale for more than six months.  If you are marketing a backlisted book, the book marketing strategy is different than it would be if your book were just released.  In most instances only the backlist titles that sell at a significant rate, or are part of a seasonal promotion, will find a spot on the physical bookstore shelf.  

Technology has given authors broader access to a digital marketplace that puts all books on the same timeless cyber-shelf provided by the virtual bookstore. The fact that backlist books can now be digitally available all the time has created a different type of consumer browsing experience, and has resulted in significant shifts in marketing campaigns. 

My debut novel, Things Unsaid, will celebrate its fourth anniversary this October, so it’s been a backlist title for a while. I have completed three ad campaigns with AMS.  

Step one is selecting a list of keywords.

First, some tips.  There is both an art and a science to developing keywords that not only exemplify your novel (which, IMHO, is much more difficult than for nonfiction), but also targets your readers.  Your keywords need to entice and hook your prospective reader into a click and then a buy.  I could have spent hours and  hours spinning my wheels overthinking and obsessing over what keywords (at least 300 up to 1000!) could possibly describe my novel  in ways that are not redundant or overused by millions of other authors on the Amazon website. Kindlepreneur and its unbelievably smart product, KDP Rocket, were indispensable in helping me figure out effective keywords.  Like Scrivener for writing a book, KDP Rocket anticipates authors’ needs in a way that only a fellow author could imagine (which Dave Chesson, the founder of Kindlepreneur, happens to be).  And the ease of use is another plus. I promise this software will save you hours of frustration and time that could be better spent writing your next book.

Keywords require you to think like a shopper—like the person who’d be typing words into Amazon looking for a certain type of book, hopefully similar to yours.  With KDP Rocket, a list of over 19,000 keywords are provided, with estimates of the frequency a person types that word into Amazon. It also provides information about how competitors' books are ranked for any particular keyword.  In addition, and most important of all, this software tells you how many books are competing for a given keyword and therefore how much you should bid (pay per click) for any given keyword.  Why is this so important?  So you won't waste your money bidding on keywords that  are  heavily searched and expensive. The greater the demand for a keyword then the greater the cost.  Basic supply and demand dynamics. In other words, if you bid on a given keyword, how many books will appear before yours? If your book is not a blockbuster, there is no way you should be bidding on a very competitive—and therefore expensive—keyword.

What if you can't figure out the vocabulary, even after watching the remarkably well-organized Kindlepreneur video modules?  Well, I found out quickly enough by sending my questions about keyword-to-ROI ratio, the difference between an  impression (=ad)  and a cost-per-click, to Dave Chesson himself. And he responded and walked me through everything I needed to know without any service fee.

On the AMS side of things, there are dynamics to understand too. Your publisher submits the list of keywords, bits, and timeframe provided by the author to Amazon.  She Writes Press efficiently did this for me. Your publisher is allowed to see the dynamic bidding process for the author. If you are self-published through KDP, then you submit the keywords yourself to a separate KDP division. You have the advantage of being able to constantly monitor the ad's dashboard, which allows the KDP author to analyze the live-action of the bidding process per keyword. 

I enthusiastically give a big shout-out to my publisher She Writes Press for continuing to be a step ahead of me and for helping me to monitor my dashboard metrics.  I was able to review my metrics twice, once midstream and once after the final report. In the meantime, She Writes Press provided screenshots of activity so I could analyze which keywords worked and which ones didn't.  I knew when I was going above my budget and was given suggestions to switch keyword strategy midstream.  For example, when I was spending approximately $2.00 of advertising per $1.00 of sales.  That is an Advertising Cost of Sales (ACoS)of 200%.  What this means is that I was spending twice as much in advertising as I was getting in  sales.  To break even, the author needs an ACoS of 100%.

So, midstream I changed some of my keywords and started a new advertising campaign.  I went through the laborious task of seeing which keywords were "duds," meaning they had a very low click-through-rate (CTR) after seeing the ad,  and a high bid price or CPC (over fifty cents per click), which was my per-bid budget limit.  Best-sellers have high bids (over fifty cents per click) so key words used by best-sellers are not cost-effective for a new author who hasn't risen to that exalted rank, or almost at that rank.  [More is explained at Kindlepreneur.]

After weeding out unpopular keywords with low CTR midway through my second ad campaign,  I added a new set of thirty or so keywords to my list, retaining only the ones I either thought were still potential high-CTR performers  or had already given me some sales.  I managed to increase my Advertising Cost per Sale (ACoS) to approximately 77% before my second ad campaign ended.  What that means is that I  brought in one dollar for every 77 cents I spent on advertising. I made 23 cents per dollar purchased so my ads were more than breaking even.

Is it worth it?

So, is AMS worth the expense for new authors and those not yet on the best-seller list?  I would say a resounding "yes," but only if you are willing to:

  • put in the time and effort to continually fine-tune your keywords;
  • look closely at the analytics provided by your publisher (or as a KDP author, your own metrics provided by KDP);
  •  be willing to experiment over the course of at least three ad campaigns.

That is what I did. And I could have done more. I am an enthusiastic convert to advertising on Amazon.  For me it was cost effective, which isn't always straight forward in the advertising world.


Good luck!

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