“To swear off making mistakes is very easy. All you have to do is to swear off having ideas.” – Leo Burnett
Creating good ads is complicated – Initially, an indie author’s digital advertisements may not be very good. However, working to understand the platforms’ sometimes abstruse logic for ad deployment allows the writer to refine their design and targeting. This also presupposes understanding of a book’s potential readership (e.g. male and female fantasy readers who like George R R Martin and Celtic mythology). Indeed, planning an ad forces the writer to better define their audience. Importantly, authors should pilot ad design/copy on a micro (or nano) scale before rolling it out more broadly and peruse their ad’s performance metrics carefully to determine what works. Trial and error validates inference about readership characteristics.
Self-publishing books has low barriers to entry, but ad complexity creates a barrier to success for authors unwilling to dedicate resources to announcing their work. In other words, developing a few rudimentary advertising skills sets you apart from the tens of thousands of other neophyte writers in a given genre.
Advertising distracts from writing – For sure, advertising is a fresh capability for many authors that they’d rather not learn. However, unless they already have a robust reputation, their work won’t sell itself. Further, learning ad basics by focusing on a limited number of platforms (or perhaps just one) moderates the time demand. Also, an unsung benefit of designing ads is that it makes the writer better understand their literature: What audience will its message resonate with? How to reach this audience without diluting ad spend across readers with no interest in their genre? Why is your book better than others in the same space and how can ads call this out?
In self-promoting, you’ll need to think through issues including how ads fit into your overall marketing plan; the size of your budget; the strengths and limitations of various media to promote your book; and when ‘traditional’ media could work better than digital advertising. So, how about hiring a publicist to do all this? For starters, publicists can be expensive for an indie writer and you’ll still need significant time to explain what makes your book special so that the publicist can leverage this uniqueness. In addition, capability varies widely with some publicists providing rather generic guidance offering no insight beyond what could be gleaned yourself (more on publicists in a separate post). While there are discerning publicists, finding the right fit can be tough.
Conclusion – Theoretically, digital advertising offers unprecedented access to a global readership. However, despite smiley-faced optimism, platforms are not necessarily optimally configured for most self-published authors’ miniscule budgets and limited marketing expertise. Further, though loads of advice is available, much of it is either: 1) banal and not very useful; 2) time-consuming to digest; or 3) expensive. Moreover, like other aspects of the publishing ecosystem, platforms capitalize on authors’ desperation for sales. Caveat emptor. With common sense, some creativity and testable predictions about who you intended to read your book, the author can achieve a lot on their own. Further, without advertising, a new author’s work is destined for a closed casket funeral; readership will be quite limited.
Importantly, advertising is a trial and error process where the author tests the appeal of various designs and placements. There may be surprising results, but these can refine the next generation of ads. I plan to continue this process for my modern fantasy, THE LORDS OF OBLIVION
Digital advertising is a dynamic space, so further posts on this and other topics related to the business of being an indie author are in the offing.