Oct 04 2010

Does paid advertising work for small-time novelists?

Published by at 1:48 pm under Marketing,Online Novel

Probably not.

A professionally-published novelist usually makes only $1 in royalties per paperback sale.  Typically, I’d guess that a well-tailored cost-per-click Adwords campaign could get the costs per incoming reader to somewhere between $.05-.20.

If you’re selling a single book, you almost certainly can’t break even with ads*. If you spend $20 on cost-per-click advertising, you have something somewhere between 100-400 prospective customers and need to get 20 sales to break even.  That almost certainly will not happen.  If your material is good, I think you’d probably convert 1-3% of your readers into buyers.  So attracting 400 readers would probably generate between 1-12 customers.  You probably couldn’t break even with that.

However, there are several situations that might shift the numbers in your favor.

  1. You’re aiming at customers that will buy tens of copies or convince many other people to buy copies.  For example, if a teacher assigns your book for class, you’re probably looking at 25 or 50 sales rather than just one.  If a bookstore employee or librarian falls in love with your book, he might end up recommending it to many people that will go on to buy it on their own.
  2. You have written many similar books with a lot of audience overlap.  For example, if you’ve written a fantasy series of seven novels or ten different horror novels, a dedicated reader would probably buy more than a single book from you.
  3. You’re self-publishing a book that is good enough to have sold hundreds of copies. (Unless you are absolutely drowning in money, I would not recommend paying for ads until you’ve demonstrated that level of quality and salesmanship). One of the few advantages of self-publishing is that you receive a larger proportion of the proceeds from each sale.  If a person buys a $10 professionally published book in a bookstore, about $1 goes to the author.  If an author prints 250 copies through Lulu, the printing run will cost $6 per copy.  If you sell your copies for $10 + shipping, then you’d be making closer to $4 per sale.

Generally, my favorite type of promotion is giving out copies to bloggers and/or journalists that have demonstrated an interest in works like yours.  Each promotional copy costs you ~$10-15 to print and mail.  If a smallish blog has something like 2500 or 5000 readers a day, I suspect that a positive review would sell at least 20 copies.  (Plus, there is some hope those 20 customers might end up talking up the book with their friends or blogging about it themselves). Even a negative review can result in sales–some readers will buy the book to see if it’s as bad as the reviewer says.

*There are other types of ads besides online ads, but ads in newspapers, radios, magazines, TV and other media are even less promising for novelists than online ads are. They cost more and have trouble reaching the fairly small proportion of the population that is actually interested in buying books.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Does paid advertising work for small-time novelists?”

  1. Johnon 07 Oct 2010 at 1:14 pm

    A good way to gauge if advertising can work is to sign up for Google Adwords (as an advertiser) and don’t buy any ads. Eventually they will offer you $100 in free advertising.

  2. B. Macon 07 Oct 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Haha, neat. I got $50 free but I unwisely spent it on ads before I had a product to sell. (Not that readers like you don’t bring unbridled joy into my life, but readers will have an opportunity to bring even more than unbridled joy into my life when I have a book out 😀 ).

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