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Indie Publishing: Amazon Ads

Hey, my fellow aspiring authors! Today, I want to take you on a journey through my experience with advertising my apocalyptic ebook, METAL, on Amazon Ads. It's been a ride filled with challenges, learning curves, failures, and a few successes.

EDITED: Disregard most of this post. Every time I get a handle on advertising my novels, the algorithms change and my ads no longer work.

Self-Publishing: Amazon Ads

There's a ton to cover here, so hold on tight. FIRST, THE BUDGET One thing I knew from the outset was that I needed to tread carefully with my budget. I chose a modest budget of $3 per day, $21 for a week, and $80-ish for a month. I didn’t renew my yearly subscription to some strictly unnecessary software to cover most of the budget. At less than a cappuccino a day, I was comfortable with the spend even if it didn’t pan out. This approach allowed me to test the waters without taking a massive financial plunge.

WHERE The first question you’re asked is where you want to advertise. I chose the US ( as the region I wanted to focus on. I have a decent readership in the UK too, but with a limited budget, I stuck with one marketplace.

TYPE OF ADS Amazon’s three types of ads for books are “Sponsored Brand,” “Sponsored Product,” and “Locked Screen”.

Sponsored Product Ads: show your book when a keyword/term is searched, and you pay every time someone clicks on the link to your book’s page. This was intuitive to me.

Sponsored Brand Ads: send shoppers to your author page with all of your books listed. These are more useful if readers are aware of you and you have a bunch of books to choose from. This doesn’t describe me.

Locked Screen Ads: appear on the Kindle screens when they are locked (i.e. before/after you start reading). It engages a group of avid readers where they read. This seemed more complicated, so I veered away from it.

As a greenhorn in the world of advertising, I decided to go with Sponsored Products because it gave me the control to target specific keywords, gauge their impact, and adapt.

AUTOMATIC SEARCH TERMS With my budget set, I began my campaign with automatic search text ads rather than customizing the searches with my own. This initial phase was invaluable. It let Amazon's algorithm take the wheel, showing my ad to readers when they thought it would lead to a sale. This maximized exposure with the same cost and let me see which search terms succeeded or and which failed. I could watch which keywords led to clicks and which conversions resulted in sales or pages read on Kindle Unlimited.

Some search terms led to lots of clicks (which costs money) but no sales. Others led to fewer clicks (which cost less) but more sales.

CUSTOM KEYWORDS Once I'd gathered enough information and had a clearer understanding of what was working, I transitioned to custom keyword search ads. This was a pivotal moment. Armed with terms that worked. the knowledge from the automatic campaigns, I carefully selected specific keywords that had proven successful. This shift allowed me to optimize my ad spending towards what really mattered.

ACOS Amazon’s advertising makes it easy to keep track of the Average Cost of Sale (ACOS), meaning how much you spend to make a sale. A lower ACOS means you spend less to make a sale, which was the goal. This is a great measure, but it doesn’t account for what kind of sale, and eBooks may earn more than paperbacks, or vice versa. So, it’s flawed. When I started, I spent about $8 per sale, which is awful.

PROFIT I prefer to measure Profit, which Amazon doesn’t help you track. Profit measures the amount you earn compared to the amount you spend. In my first month, I earned about $3 per eBook sale (after Amazon’s cut). In other words, Losing $5 of every $8 I spent was painful.

KENP When I included royalties from Kindle Unlimited pages read (KENP), I earned another $3 in royalties, bringing my total earnings to about $6 for every $8 spent. While not good, my profit wasn’t as bad as I thought.

ADAPTING When I switched from automatic keywords to custom keywords, I earned $7 for every $8 spent, then after tweaking my keywords, I got to $8, then $8.50. So, with a lot of effort, I finally started making money off of advertising. While it's only a little profit, I count it as a huge win.

Edited 11/12/23: Amazon keeps messing with the algorithm, and I keep having to adjust keywords and budgets. The maintenance takes a lot of effort. Not sure if it's worth it.

Edited 01/28/24: I gave up on Amazon ads because I started losing money and couldn't turn it around.

Edited 02/05/24: I'm trying Facebook advertising.

THE AUDIO BOOK Here's the twist. When I estimate the number of audiobook sales coming from advertising, my profit-to-loss goes way up. The problem is that it takes a lot of guesswork because royalties are counted on Audible/ACX, not through Amazon Ads. Audible sales earn way more than eBooks. With Audibls included, I now earn about $11 per $8 spent. As far as I’m concerned, that’s better than I could have expected.

MY OTHER BOOKS I tried Amazon Ads for my other books with atrocious outcomes, so I quickly abandoned them. My genres, ratings, number of reviews, and book descriptions might make my other books big losers on Ads. I suspect that METAL has a better hook than my other books, so it naturally performs better. Some genres are more competitive, meaning you have to spend more to even show up on an ad, which was definitely a problem for me.

BOOK COST I charge about $4 per eBook, earning about $3 per eBook after Amazon’s cut. If you sell your eBook for $.99, you earn less per book. You might sell 10 times as many books, which sounds great, but might not be. The problem is that Amazon Ads charges by the click, so if a click costs $1.02, you can never make a profit. The big questions are: What are your KENP earnings? And do you have Audible earnings?

RATINGS I didn’t advertise my books until I had ten ratings with a four-star average. Readers are less likely to buy books without good reviews. There is nothing magical about ten ratings or four stars. I picked them out of thin air. You can choose different numbers.

UPCOMING CONCERTS I read somewhere that advertising costs increase over the holidays, meaning I might have to spend more to advertise METAL, meaning less profit. The questions I don't have answers to are...

  • How much will ad prices go up?

  • Can I find successful keywords that don't get more expensive?

  • Will sales numbers decline due to increased competition? [EDITED 12/01/23] - Ad costs have gone up over time, but I'm hanging in there on ad costs by occasionally tweaking my ads.

  • Will sales go up during the holiday season as readers buy more gifts? [‍EDITED 12/04/23] - Holiday sales go down for me because ad costs go up, so I can't afford to show up on anyone's shopping page. I halted ads during the giving season.


I wish I could tell you how to make money with Amazon Ads, but I don’t think there is a silver bullet. It takes experimentation, data analysis, and refining campaigns, and who knows what else? Whether you find a winning path through advertising or not, remember to enjoy yourself while writing. Happy writing, and may your Amazon Ads journey be as thrilling as mine!


As always, I appreciate your support of self-publishing and indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.

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