Amazon Sponsored Adverts on an Indie Author Budget

Amazon Sponsored Adverts on an Indie Author Budget

Amazon adverts have been a feature available from Kindle Publishing for a while, but they had to be either product based or interest based. This month Amazon added a new way of reaching customers, through keyword-sponsored advertising. Now authors can have small adverts for their books listed whenever a customer types in their keywords – if they are willing to compete in a bidding system for ad placement.

I decided to try out keyword sponsorship with one of my books, my horror collection The Bone Yard and Other Stories.


First of all, authors need to know there are differences in the way sponsored ads work. Unlike product and interest adverts, you have to set a daily minimum budget instead of a maximum one. Also, you can set an end date or leave the ad running indefinitely. You still compete in a bidding war for ad placement, but the new rules mean there is no limit on the cost of an advertising campaign.

Amazon recommends you bid the maximum you are willing to spend. They suggest $0.50 per click – but I’d not do that for a Kindle book unless you are a billionaire. If you were advertising a television or expensive laptop, it might make sense to pay so much. For a book costing $0.99, with a profit per sale of $0.33, you’d be losing out on every click, even if the customer bought your book. The minimum figure is $0.02, which would give you a far better chance of breaking even. There isn’t a good reason for bidding high.

After selecting which title you want to advertise, Amazon gives you a list of supposedly relevant keywords. Unfortunately, the keywords suggested are produced by an automated system. Most are irrelevant. You’d be better off choosing your own keywords, which you can do by entering them into a box. You can choose up to 1000. That’s a ridiculously generous number. I can see some authors will try to swamp customers with ads using keywords like “novel”, “book”, “Kindle”, “the” and “and” – resulting in chaos. I hope I’m wrong – but I fear I’m not.

You can add or delete keywords after a campaign is running – so don’t worry about forgetting something. Add what you think it relevant – then complete the process.

After your campaign has been approved, you’ll soon get a report on impressions and clicks. You only pay for clicks – but the impressions data is useful. It tells you how many potential customer saw your advert and tells you how well each keyword is doing. You can see the success of each keyword, which is a great improvement. In this screenshot for a horror story collection, taken a day after a campaign was started, you can see some keywords have good impressions and others don’t.

The first day results of a sponsored advert.
The first day results of a sponsored advert.

It is clear “dark fiction” is not a popular keyword, but “horror anthology” and “scary stories” are. It is also clear “horror fiction” hasn’t received many impressions. I was surprised, since that must be a very popular search phrase. The data suggests I underbid for “horror fiction” because it applies to so many titles. I could increase my bid – but I won’t. I don’t want to spend too much running my ad or competing against authors with bigger budgets. It’s a lose-lose strategy bidding high.

I like this breaking down of the sales information. It doesn’t just help target ads. It also shows if my book’s keywords are good search words. “Dark fiction” is not a successful keyword – so I will delete it and replace it with something else.

I don’t know if running a sponsored ad will produce more sales – my ad hasn’t been running long enough to learn the answer – but I think it is an improvement on interest-only ads. Interest-only ads have become too expensive for the ordinary indie author trying to reach an audience. Keywords are cheaper – for the moment. I just wish Amazon would let customers put a sensible limit on their campaign cost. Without that safety net, authors could end up in serious debt, especially if they follow Amazon’s advice for bidding.

You can find out more information on this subject here.


Author: John Moralee

John Moralee writes crime, horror and science fiction.

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