The first year with Amazon’s AMS ads — one author’s review

November 27, 2017 AMS ads blog post Sarah Lentz
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My first year with AMS ads

I started using AMS ads shortly after signing up for Derek Doepker's KD Sales Machine -- a little more than a month after the day I launched my first self-published book, The Hypothyroid Writer, on October 20th, 2016.

The ads made an immediate, noticeable difference in my book's sales, and I created ads for each new book as I finished and launched it. 

The more ads I had, the more I was spending on them each month, trying to keep sales up.  But no month so far has reaped as much in royalties as my first full month with AMS ads -- on just two books: January, 2016. 

And now November of 2017 has come -- almost a year later -- and I've had to drastically cut back on my ads. I may yet have to pause the one that remains active, if I don't terminate them all.

Because I can't afford them -- at least not the way I've been using them for the past several months. 

But there's more to the story than that. Because the whole point of AMS ads is to increase your book's visibility with the aim of selling more of them -- so, the argument goes, as long as you're earning more than you're spending, you're in good shape. Your books are more visible, and they're selling -- no doubt more than they would without the ads. 

It's not often said, though, that the profit margin has to be large enough to enable you, if you're using a credit card to keep your ads alive, to make large enough payments to offset your monthly ad spend.

If you're monthly royalties aren't making it possible for you to pay more than the steadily-growing minimum payment, . . . it won't be enough to keep the ship from sinking. 

And there will come a time when you realize you're beyond the need for advice on how to "optimize" your ads.

You might be tempted to use a different card, just to buy yourself some more time, telling yourself once again that you'll be in a stronger financial position before you run out of credit on that card. After all, you're doing things differently, now. And you have a plan in place to reach your goals well before you'll have to worry about the cards you've maxed out to keep your ads running. 

I've been tempted to do this, but looking at the debt I already have has made it harder to believe I'll do better "this time around." I've heard the stories of successful authors who ran up thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars (or more) in debt to get their writing business going. I don't have that luxury. I can only manage the debt I have now -- and only just.

Lessons learned

Lesson #1: 

Short answer (because I've already given the long one): if you're going to use a credit card to cover the cost of your AMS ads, keep track of your monthly ad costs and make sure you can afford to stay on top of them, so your debt doesn't outgrow your resources. 

This sounds obvious, I know. But it's easy to ignore the obvious -- until it bites you. And then you need a shot (and we're probably thinking of different kinds of shots, but maybe we aren't). 

It's especially easy to ignore the obvious when you convince yourself that you'll be further along with your writing business before you really start to feel the pinch from increasingly painful credit card bills. 

And when it finally catches up with you . . . it hurts. There's some mourning involved. And then you need a plan to dig yourself out of the mess you made. 

Hypothetically. Of course. Except when it's not. 

Lesson 2:

If you're going to try AMS ads, and if you're going to use a credit card to fund it, start with just one book. Work on creating effective ads for that one book, which will draw some attention to your other books, too -- especially if they show up in the "Also bought" listings on your book's sales page.

But if you have another book that makes you think, "This could actually be a bigger money-maker than my first book," you can pause all but the most effective ad for that first book and focus on creating effective ads for the second book.

Just don't do what I did and create multiple ads for every single book you have (including those selling for only 99 cents, which requires a much lower bid per keyword) -- expecting a proportionately huge return on your investment -- because the cost adds up quickly. 

And unless you're keeping close tabs on those mounting ad spends, you're likely to hit a wall much sooner than you thought you would. 

This coming from me -- the cautionary tale. 

Help with AMS ads

Here are some links to programs designed to help authors make the most of Amazon ads: 

In the interest of full disclosure, I only have experience with the first three in this list -- exactly in that order. Of all of them, I found the first most helpful -- which is a relief, because it cost me the most. But it came with coaching! 

I learned something from each of those three, though. And I don't regret the time or money (or both) I invested in them. 

I declined to join the last (though I was tempted), because I was already feeling the pinch from higher credit card bills (my fault) and couldn't justify the extra hunk of debt. I was accumulating it quickly enough as it was -- because I couldn't keep up. 

Advice on how to "scale up" in order to see a bigger return on my investment was too little and . . . well, just not very helpful when I didn't have the means to maintain my investment, much less increase it.

The advice on how to improve my ads (through experimentation with different ad copy, different keywords, a better book cover or description, etc.) helped to some degree. 

And I did see a return. It just wasn't enough to fill up the holes in my rapidly-filling boat. 

This post wouldn't be complete, though, without some attempt at providing extra insights into AMS ads through free videos available on YouTube.

You can find other paid programs if you Google "AMS ads course" or "AMS ads training" or something else to that effect.

But if you're going to try AMS ads, you can learn plenty from free resources created by those (like me) who have experience using AMS ads, who've earned more than they spent, and who've still ended up in a worse financial state because of them. I don't believe I'm alone in this.

But Sarah, you may be thinking, other authors -- like Derek Doepker, Mark Dawson, Brian D. Meeks, and Dave Chesson have done really well with AMS ads. So, why are you being so negative? Just because you never learned how to make the most of them doesn't mean others won't. 

Fair point. And I'm not writing this post to warn people against using AMS ads.

But I'm guessing these authors started AMS ads as more-established authors who had more money to put into their ad campaigns. Yes, they probably learned as they went, and they then chose to teach others with what they learned -- because they wanted other authors to enjoy the same success. 

Besides, these authors probably didn't jump into AMS ads thinking, "I don't really have any money to spend on this right now, but I do have this credit card, and I can write it all off as a business expense, so . . . what the hell!" 

Nope, they were probably smarter than that.

I'm writing this review -- such as it is -- as an author who was already in a financially fragile position, using a credit card to pay for the AMS ads, because I had no other way to pay for them. And yes, hindsight would tell me I was a moron for doing that -- because hindsight is nothing if not painfully blunt.

I was optimistic (at the outset) that I'd earn far more than I invested, that I'd be in a much better financial position before the debt payments became difficult to pay, and that I could keep up with the charges. January's royalty check was encouraging, and I planned on writing three more books by the year's end. 

April's royalties (with three books published) came close to January's. but since publishing book #4 and then my first novel, it's been a challenge to even bring in $300 a month with book royalties. And in early November of this year, Amazon charged my card a little over $200 for the ads. <gulp>

So, I think it's important to point out that if you can't afford to cover the cost of your monthly ad spend without spending someone else's money (which eventually runs out) or without keeping on top of those monthly credit card charges, you will very likely end up having to scale DOWN or pause all your ads to stop the hemorrhaging and begin to make repairs. 

When I first started with AMS ads, I had one ad for one book -- The Hypothyroid Writer. Then I created another ad, with the same keywords but with a different bidding range, just to see what bids would work better for certain keywords. I then created different ads with a different set of keywords, though usually the ads had some keywords in common. I'd try different ad copy, to see if one worked better than the other. 

Eventually, my monthly ad spend outgrew my ability to cover it in a monthly payment. Instead of cutting back on the ads, though -- which I should have done -- I followed the advice of authors who'd had better success with the ads, to optimize the ads I had and to create better ones.

The idea was to "scale up" -- invest more to profit more. The authors who described it were careful to make it clear that there was no guarantee that scaling up would lead to greater profits. If my book didn't have enough reviews, or if it didn't have an appealing enough book cover or book description, increasing my investment would only cause a decrease in profits. 

And that's what happened. It's not clear to me what stopped people who clicked on my sponsored ads from buying my books, but whatever I tried to optimize the ads and improve my books' descriptions, if it helped, it made only a marginal difference in my sales numbers. 

I was earning more than I was spending, but the profit margin wasn't large enough to keep my head above water. And the water rose more quickly with each passing month -- (no) thanks to the miracle of compounded interest. 

To be clear, the problem was not the ads themselves but the way I used them. 

So, what now?

To stop the hemorrhaging, I've drastically curtailed my ads, though I haven't stopped them completely (not yet, anyway). I'm not spending more than $3 a day -- and only on one book.

I'm experimenting, and I may divert a dollar to one or two of my other books. But the daily outlay won't go above $3, and it may go down from there.

My sales have (predictably) taken a dive, but so far, I still get some sales from books that no longer have ads running, as well as from the one that does.

I'm hoping to see a return of at least twice my paltry investment this month, but we'll see. 

As for the lion's share of my monthly income, I'm still a lunch lady, but I'm a substitute/on-call lunch lady, now.

When I'm not working outside the home, I'm doing freelance writing and editing and searching for new clients every day. I work more than 40 hours a week (though most of it here on my laptop at home), but I don't have much to show for it -- yet. But I've found clients, and I've earned something with one writing or editing project and another over the past few weeks. 

It's a long game, and all I can do is keep showing up for it -- writing and editing more, learning new things, helping more people, and eventually earning a substantial monthly income doing something I'm good at. 

And I should mention, here, that those royalties that came in during the summer months of 2016 -- when I wasn't earning anything as a school lunch lady -- kept our heads above water.

They weren't a huge amount, but they made a difference. So, while I'm paying off a monstrous debt of business expenses (monstrous to me, anyway, since I never had credit card debt when I was single), good has come of these ads, even though my eagerness to sell more books made me reckless.

Honestly, I'm used to either being a cautionary tale or comic relief. You can still learn from me and laugh at my mistakes -- because I do (sometimes). You'd think that as a mother, I'd want to be seen as an example to follow, but if you can learn something useful from this post, that'll be enough of a reward for writing it.  

And tax time . . . should be interesting. And by that I mean a huge headache, but (hopefully) yielding a nice return. 

Thank you for spending some of your valuable time here. I hope to read something from you, too. Have you had better success with AMS ads, and is there anything you'd like to share with other readers of this post? 

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Key takeaways from my first year with Amazon's AMS ads -- what I learned and what I'll be doing next. #selfpublishing #Kindle

By Sarah Lentz

Writing and designing book covers are two of Sarah Lentz's favorite things. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, their four kids, and two messy but adorable guinea pigs.

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