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How I Failed at Promoting my Novel with Amazon Advertising

Posted in: Book Marketing on May 12, 2016 78 Comments 💬

Amazon Advertising for Books

At Reedsy, we like to stay on top of new marketing opportunities for authors. We covered Product Hunt Books when they launched. Advertising on Amazon (via Amazon Marketing Services) is not “new”, however, it is still, largely, an untapped resource for authors. In this guest post, indie author Eliot Peper explains how he tried it out, and what the results were.

Marketing is a fraught subject among novelists. It’s often seen as outside of our purview, and some look down on those who aggressively market their own work, seeing promotion as a corruption of the creative process. Historically, many authors outsourced their marketing to publishers along with other responsibilities like printing and distribution. But technology-driven changes within the industry are forcing authors to become ever more involved with marketing their books, whether because they’re self-publishing or because their publisher demands it.

But novels are not a straight-forward product to promote. I read about 50 books a year, and I don’t think I ever bought a novel because of a banner ad. Book PR firms have an abysmal track record. Most growth-hacking strategies borrowed from the tech industry simply don’t apply well to fiction. At the end of the day, there’s a single factor that determines a book’s financial success: word-of-mouth. Most often, we buy a book because a trusted friend recommended it.

Some indie authors, like Andy Weir and Hugh Howey, have achieved blockbuster success without investing much direct effort into marketing. Others, like Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson, have engineered semi-automated systems that introduce their stories to new readers and hopefully inspire additional word-of-mouth. My own activities fall somewhere in between these two extremes. When I’m writing and editing a book, it’s a purely artistic process. But once a book is published and out in the world, I look at it through a commercial lens just like any other product.

As with other products, I’ve run a variety of marketing experiments for my books to see what works and what doesn’t. I serialized the first book in a trilogy and uploaded it to Medium and Wattpad; ran giveaways on Amazon that were promoted by Bookbub, Booksends, etc.; pitched journalists for coverage; partnered with publications; ran organic and paid social media campaigns; gave talks; published op-eds and guest posts; came on podcasts; and even created real websites and social media profiles for fictional characters and organizations from the books.

So when I discovered that Amazon had created a new service to help authors and publishers promote their books, I decided to give it a shot.

How Advertising works on Amazon

Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) allows you to run campaigns that deliver ads to customers based either on their interests or on specific products they’re viewing. For example, you might target folks that love science fiction or that are checking out the latest Stephen King bestseller. Amazon then displays the ads on specific product pages or on Kindle home screens.

Depending on your settings, there are three main places where your ads may show up:

In search results for a particular genre or interestAmazon ad search results banner


On a product page, next to the "also boughts"Amazon ad frequently bought


On a product page, below the product description

Amazon ad product placement banner

This looked extremely promising. Unlike Facebook, Google, or Twitter ads, you’d be reaching people where they already buy books: Amazon. Like many indie authors, more than 90 percent of my sales come from the Amazon ecosystem. Ideally, only customers who would be highly likely to be interested in my books would ever see an ad and they would be able to immediately click through to the product page. Finally, because the entire transaction happens on Amazon, I would be able to immediately see not only impressions and click-through rates but also actual sales and the average cost of sales.

My first three novels are a trilogy of tech startup thrillers that follow a pair of entrepreneurs that get caught up in an international conspiracy on the journey from garage to IPO. The series is the top-rated financial thriller on Amazon and I was confident that if the right reader clicked through, the description would pique their interest and the overwhelmingly positive reviews would whet their appetite for the story. If they liked book one, they might even go on to finish the trilogy.

My Experiment with Amazon Advertising

Brimming with newfound enthusiasm, I created an AMS account and created 10 parallel campaigns to test different variables. I created a few different combinations of relevant genre-based interests and carefully curated portfolios of similar books for product-based targeting. Then I assigned $250 to each campaign, scheduled them to run for a month, and pressed go.

The results were… [drumroll] ...disappointing.

Amazon Advertising Results

Across all 10 campaigns, I ended up spending almost $10 for every $1 of incremental sales. Marketing enthusiasts might point out that the $1 doesn’t take into account customer lifetime value because readers might very well decide to buy more of my books later. While true, I don’t have rigorous enough analytical tools to eliminate that effect from the data. Regardless, I’m quite confident that the discrepancy wouldn’t come close to materially impacting the results.

Analyzing the results

For all you data-heads out there, the spreadsheet shares the specifics for the entire experiment. As you can see, campaigns varied widely in effectiveness:

  • The most effective was an interest-based campaign focused on YA, thrillers, and science fiction, which earned 38,000 impressions, 247 clicks, and $17.94 in sales.
  • Arguably the least effective was an interest-based campaign focused on genre and women’s fiction, which had the same number of impressions but earned a whopping $2.99 in sales.
  • All three product campaigns combined failed to yield a single sale.

I was most surprised by how poorly the product campaigns performed. Because I had hand-picked books that were extremely similar to mine, I expected them to do very well. For comparison, I ran a giveaway two weeks before that cost about the same amount as the AMS experiment but yielded 33,147 free downloads and increased my paid sales by 5X.

Needless to say, I pulled the plug on the AMS experiment after the month was up. I have a new standalone novel coming out this spring so hopefully, the next experiment will go better!

Have you tried using AMS? How did it go? Have you published a book with Amazon Publishing? How effective were their internal promotional efforts? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

Cumulus by Eliot PeperEliot Peper (@eliotpeper) is a novelist and strategist based in Oakland, CA. He writes fast-paced, deeply-researched stories with diverse casts that explore the intersection of technology and society. His fourth novel, Cumulus, is a dark, gritty, standalone science fiction story set in a near-future Bay Area ravaged by economic inequality and persistent surveillance.

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The redhawk

When you say "Amazon Publishing" are you referring to CreateSpace or Kindle or is there something else?

Eliot Peper

In addition to being a distributor of both digital and print books, Amazon is also a publisher of books. CreateSpace and Kindle allow people to create their own publishing accounts and post their books. Amazon Publishing is similar to the other Big Five traditional publishers and offers authors advances, etc. and then produces and distributes their books.

The redhawk


John Young

Have you used it? How effective is it?

Stephen Black

Thank you for sharing this...looks like you did everything correctly. The CTR rate would seem to indicate that people have "blinders" on: they just want the one book they want, and have no interest in anything else.

Stephen Black

...oops...I am no expert. Maybe those CTR are normal?


Compared to other forms of advertising (Facebook for example), these CTRs seem low, yes. However it's hard to say whether they're "standard" on Amazon advertising or not, we might have to ask around.
The other thing that seems problematic here is the low conversion on the product page, indicating that the leads acquired through advertising aren't strong ones.

Eliot Peper

All correct. I'd be very interested to see benchmark data for Amazon if anyone has any.


Just to make sure I've understood: Your conclusion is that using an AMS advertising 'opportunity' with Amazon is quite ineffective. Correct?

Eliot Peper

Correct. Spend your time/money/effort elsewhere.


Thanks for a very informative article, Eliot. Something in it besides the point caught my eye: "I ran a giveaway two weeks before that cost about the same amount as the AMS experiment but yielded 33,147 free downloads and increased my paid sales by 5X." I would be very curious to learn how giving away books and downloads increased your paid sales... : )


Hi Patricia, looking forward to Eliot's answer on this as well 😉 But in the meantime, we have a pretty good post on giveaways by another author who managed to grow his mailing list by 10,000 readers in a week (thanks to relevant giveaways): http://blog.reedsy.com/6-steps-for-building-your-author-mailing-list-through-giveaways


Cool beans. Thanks. ; )

Eliot Peper

Sorry for the delayed response, I've been busy with the launch of a new novel that went viral in a way I never anticipated.

The giveaway was of the first book in a trilogy. After the giveaway ended, the first book in the trilogy got a boost ~5x boost in sales that declined over the course of a month. The second two books got ~3x boost starting a little later but lasting longer. More reviews (both positive and negative) came in and I noticed an uptick in signups to my author newsletter as well.


That clears things up nicely. Thanks for the reply. Best of luck with the new novel!

Bill Cokas, Writer

I'm a bit late on this, Eliot, but what kind of "giveaway?" Are you talking about a KDP select thing? How many days? Or do you mean a Kingsumo or Goodreads paperback giveaway?

Brenda Mohammed

I tried Amazon Marketing Services too and got one sale after two weeks. It did not go well.


Yes we asked around on social networks and so far haven't come across one author who found success with advertising on Amazon, so they probably need to re-think their platform (at least for books).

Rebekah Donaldson

I've never tried this, but it seems like it doesn't work at all. I agree with the word of mouth thing. I think the best way to get a book out there is that. I don't think I've read ANY book because of ads.


Has anyone tried Facebook advertising? I know that, when I click on anything, I end up seeing related ads on Facebook ad infinitum...

Discuss Much

The numbers just aren't there. You can't make work if your book is only $4.99. You would need a 50% conversion which is impossible.

Mark Brantingham

I don't think you should give up on Kindle ads. I am a completely unknown author at this point with a debut novel. I have been trying different ads with Kindle and I can tell you that my results are much higher. One thing I notice right away is that your "targeting criteria" is a problem. You want to target a very specific audience. If you spread your ads across markets that are not going to be interested, your ACoS will drop like crazy. I narrowed mine to a single genre target and that made a huge difference. I go… Read more »

Thomas Raven

Thanks for this wonderful experiment. It's a microcosm of my results in all online marketing attempts - even giveaways. I've spent on FB and Google ads only to see extremely modest results. I've come to the conclusion that readers will willingly click through an interesting ad but I have no idea what will make them interested enough to buy. I don't think it has anything to do with spending money. I think it has to do with spending the very limited time we all have available for reading these days. Readers want a sure thing so they return time and… Read more »

Discuss Much

That's true. I just read a new author, and he totally let me down. Now, I have to go back to reading 'Misery' for the tenth time.


I used AMS for about a week, but recently paused my ad. While I was happy with the number of clicks, this did not translate into enough sales to justify the ad buy. I used multiple keywords and then narrowed the keywords to a handful that were getting the most clicks. I think the bottom line is that readers prefer tried and true authors whose books already have X number of reviews. My book had only 5 reviews at the time I ran my ad. While they are 4- and 5-star reviews, perhaps it wasn't enough to earn the readers… Read more »


If the clickthrough rate looks good but doesn't translate into sales, it's usually a "landing page problem" (i.e. book cover or blurb, probably). That said, it can also mean that you're attracting the wrong kind of traffic to your book page.

Discuss Much

Yeah, I agree. I saw this: http://videoseries.freshsalescopy.com/ I don't know if it's any good or not, but it's worth a try.

Discuss Much

I read a lot on my Kindle and those ads don't even come close to the books that I'm reading. I don't know how they set up their algorithm, but I feel sorry for the authors. They don't seem to get their money's worth. I don't have one romance book on my Kindle, yet I'm being shown romance novels all the time.

On another note, I did buy a clock radio straight from my Kindle. I didn't look at the ratings or anything. The ad was there and I just bought thing. Crazy.

Claudia Herring

Yeah, those are totally cheesy and I hate those 6-pack covers.

Dr. Pam Young

I have not. However, this past week I have watched two presentations by Derek Doepker who says in effect that he went from rags to riches and so did his students because they used his strategy for selling books via Amazon's AMS tactic. He's offering a course in that now and the price for he course goes up by $100 after each presentation. He stated that it would probably land in the $397-497 range. Check kindlepreneur (Dave) or 5minutepublishing (Wesley) for that live interview or video. That said, I mentioned AMS to a fellow author and she has been using… Read more »


Thanks for your comment, Dr. Pam! You're right, we've heard from numerous authors in the past few months who've been able to make AMS work pretty well for their books, with astonishing ROIs. It looks like Amazon has improved its auto-targeting, so we're now preparing a *free* Reedsy Learning course on this very subject.

Dr. Pam Young

I'm in! Don't forget me!

John Young

Sounds like he went from "rags to riches" selling his course.

Dr. Pam Young

They all do. I am almost done with writing because i simply don't like the company motto: "Whoever has the most, wins." But t's not just corporations and writers; the entire planet is infected.

Xavier J Kelly

@Reedsy:disqus and @eliotpeper:disqus would you say that these results would be different or better for how to books or non-fiction books that book's topics might be getting a high volume of searches. where the users aren't searching for a specific book but books over specific topics and/or search term. I guess this is something else to test in the future. Also, @MDBrantingham:disqus is on track it looks like to making his ads profitable with some more tweaks. He is sitting at 125% from his previous post I would love to see where you are now. Thanks for writing this article… Read more »


Thanks for your comment and question, Xavier! We're seeing mixed results in the author community when it comes to AMS, but most of the late reports are much more positive.
We have a very special post coming on this blog in two weeks, from a non-fiction "how-to" author who is seeing *crazy* ROIs with Amazon ads, so watch out for that one.
But to answer your question in short: for how-to non fiction, you should definitely be experimenting with AMS.

Xavier J Kelly

@Reedsy:disqus Thanks you for the quick response and I'll be looking out for that new post in two weeks.


A fraught subject?


Yes, as in a stress-inducing subject 🙂

Fox Emerson

There's something glaringly obvious about book sales that I don't see very often on blogs when I'm hunting around for other author's opinions, and that is the simple fact that great books, sell themselves while average books don't. As readers, we are by far the greatest marketing tool when it comes to any product, such as books. If we love a book, we will go on and on and on about it. When we don't love a book, we simply move on. As an author and a reader, I have to concede that if those that have read my books… Read more »


"Great books sell themselves while average books don't." Well, yes and no. It's true that the best thing you can do marketing-wise is write the very best book you can, and that word of mouth is ultimately what turns a good book into a bestseller. It's also true that "average books", or books with a poor cover, will probably never sell even if you throw thousands of dollars of advertising at them. However, great books don't "sell themselves". There are many, many great books out there, both indie published and traditionally published, and only a tiny fraction of them sell… Read more »

Discuss Much

So true. There seems to be more and more authors... and less and less readers of books.


You're right about the AMS failure--the investment isn't yielding results for my CreateSpace-published novel, either, but it's hard to justify pulling my advertising dollars from something that is directly connected to a sales page, and from a site/name trusted by consumers worldwide. Where brand is concerned, Amazon is the best you could ask for these days. I've tried "the usual" as far as advertising goes--that is, reading helpful advice and cautions on the internet--but by releasing a self-published book, I know that I've already set myself up for failure. It's not the first time I've tried non-traditional methods before, having… Read more »

Feivel G.

How is it possible to use AMS for CreateSpace books?


Your CreateSpace book should be on Amazon Marketing Services. Go to your Kindle Direct Publishing page (kdp dot amazon dot com), sign in, and on the listing for you book, there is "Promote and Advertise" on the large button to the right. (This is, of course, after you've set up everything and it's live).

Feivel G.

Thanks. Does this only work with Kindle? I only publish paperback, not ebook. Any way for me?


That's where it gets tricky, because CreateSpace is an Amazon company and it will... some decade... but not for now. It's free to do the e-book transition, though.

Feivel G.

My book is in a language that is not supported by ebook. So no option for me to promote my book on Amazon?


Any language is supported by an e-book; it's a simple uploaded .pdf file.

Feivel G.

No, it's a right-to-left language. Not supported. Anyway, ebook doesn't fit my sales model.

Nick Vulich

I think it depends on the book you're promoting. I've run ten campaigns in the last two months. I've spent $45, and sold roughly $600 in books. The (ACOS) or cost of marketing works out to a little over 18%. Compared to running an add on Bargain Booksy or other promotional sites, Amazon Ads are a real bargain. I recently watched Mark Dawson's video on using Amazon ads and he thinks you should keep running ads as long as the cost is under 60% (maybe even under 100%) because the return does not include page reads with Kindle Unlimited, audio… Read more »

Tucanus Maximus

Now, this is an inspiring comment. thank you!

Ashley Dufault

That's an interesting point about using the successful ad keywords on the Amazon book page. Thanks for sharing!

Carol Bell

Hey I wanna ċhαt with you😏
My id 450853


Do you go for lower bids or Amazon's suggested bids, which are often at the higher end of the range? Thanks!

Ed Giambalvo

One takeaway for me was to update my landing page. The first line of my book blurb had read the same as the pitch for my ad, e.g., "unique and compelling, an unusual love story." But if the ad's pitch has already inspired the potential buyer to click through to my landing page, I decided I should start my blurb with something other than, ""unique and compelling..."
It's a minor point in the scheme of things, but something to think about.

Cameron Powell

Thanks for sharing this. In the year since it was written, have you figured out why your efforts weren't working? Such as by comparing to best practices being suggested by authors who have used Amazon ads successfully?


Thanks so much for doing this work and painting a clear picture for us.

Lynnette Hartwig

I have several non-fiction books. Amazon ads are the only thing that even approaches a payback. Ads take about 50% of my royalties--actual royalties, not the number on their report page, which uses the retail value of the book. Tip: try their autotarget. You have to leave it run at least 3 weeks to perfect the metric. I've been running two for over 6 months and the first month they took 80% of my royalties on those books, but now take 25%. Tip 2: Ads that show up on the initial Kindle screen are prone to being clicked by error.… Read more »


Thank you, Lynette, for this very informative post!

Kim Heinbuch

Thanks Lynnette. Sounds like you publish travel books as do I (dont' worry - I'm not competing with you. I've never been to Italy) I'm still playing around with marketing ideas and was just wondering if Amazon ads would be successful at all for my travel books. You're making me take a hard look at doing it based on your comments!

Lynnette Hartwig

Go for it! Just keep tweaking text and audience until you have the right mix. I tried having my book appear when people bought electric adapters with 'italy' in the title. Don't get spooked by 200% cost to sales; about half my sales don't count in the metrics. And if the actual cost is $20 per month, small price to pay for perhaps one or two additional reviews and simply more traffic, which boosts organic clicks.

Kim Heinbuch

So sorry Lynnette -- just one more big question I forgot to ask you. Do you use the KDP Rocket tool to get keywords. Does it give you a leg up on the competition to use it? thanks again!

heath shedlake

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who has had mixed results with AMS ads! I've tried them numerous times with little success. I've spent hours researching keywords and targeting similar authors and books to mine. As my books are a trilogy I've been targeting the first one, hoping that any sales would filter down to the other two. Many people have said that my first book is akin to The Alchemist, so of course I was excited by that and put that keyword in, and Paulo Coelho, among others, hoping that sales would flood in - but… Read more »

Scotie with one T

The issue is people don't click on advertisements.

Marty McConnell

The data I'm getting would appear to disagree with your statement, and AMS is actually quite wonderful in the method it uses to display the ads so they look like search results.

Sprydle McThud

In general they may not click on "ads" but the "sponsored" area below the "also boughts" does not feel like an ad. That's why they work, but you have to hone your targets and bid high enough to get into, ideally, the first loaded carousel.

Discuss Much

They do click on ads. Didn't you read the post?

Marty McConnell

Lynnette makes some awesome points. I want to add another one. Keywords I haven't been using AMS very long, but when I put out the paperback version of my non-fiction book, I started using it. This little book has become my marketing tester in a lot of ways, so I'm always up to try it first with new promo strategies. I lucked out and netted a positive return early on, but my ACOS quickly went to around 105%. I was getting impressions and clicks, and it didn't cost very much, so I let it go. I tweak my keywords list… Read more »

Discuss Much

The problem is the no one understands conversion rates. In this post, the average price for a book is $4.99 and the CPC is about 40 cents. You would need about one out of twelve people to buy your book. That's about an 8% conversion rate. That's nearly twice that of industries across the board. Look it up.


I am in the middle of an AMS ad set for the second book in my current series. The first book is free, which is why I am advertising the second book. Here is what I have been told and what is working. I am doing a keyword campaign. I have done both category, keywords, author names, and book titles. For me the issue is determining when impressions (which do not cost anything) and clicks (which do cost) should be kept. The ratio of clicks to impressions and clicks to sales. I am still working on this and I am… Read more »

Greg Turnquist

Actually, running those AMS ads may have shown you exactly what is needed to succeed. Tabulating all the clicks that reportedly made at least one sale (1353) and dividing by the total number of units solds (17 assuming $2.99/unit) reveals a conversion rate of 1 in 77. 77 people would have to click on your ad before a sale. At the exhorbinant rate of $0.30-$0.40/click, you would have to raise your price to over $26 to possibly break even. Given you received lots of impressions and clicks, the issue is probably a combination of your book's description, the cover, or… Read more »

Thomas Herold

Hello Eliot,

One of the most frustrating things with amazon ads is the marketing stats you get. I started to make screenshots to compare two days and get my daily stats. After that I decided to brush up my programming skills and created some nice charts. This helped me to improve my ads and I am happy to announce that this tool is now available for other book authors as well.



Thomas Herold


SO SHALL i opt for promoting in amazon or not


I'm selling books in india and my ACOS is around 3%-4%.

Jon burgess

Thank GOD! I'm not the only one. I tried AMS ads for three months and I can honestly say they are a money drain. The suggested keyword bid amounts can be high for popular fiction niches, such as those in the massively popular crime category. Bid too low you get no impressions, bid too high and your ad budget goes off on an expensive tangent that doesn't correlate to sales. Popular or similar author keywords are high. It’s only my opinion, but if you are selling eBooks at 99p or 1.99 you simple can't make a profit the maths doesn't… Read more »

Simon Griffiths

I'm struggling badly with promotion. I write technical/ educational books. Don't really want to spend the money on Amazon advertising in case it doesn't work... It's a minefield out there.

H. Wilson

I just changed the end date for my Amazon Advertising campaign to tomorrow. It ran for 3 days and... despite my searching on Amazon with the most active keywords (the ones with the most impressions and clicks), I could not get my ad to appear! IF YA CAN'T SEE IT, IT PROBABLY ISN'T THERE! I could assume that my ad is simply buried 75 pages deep in a list of books. However, having scrolled 40 or so pages without seeing my ad, I'm pretty sure the average Amazon customer has never seen it and never will.

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