Mystery Authors and Amazon Ads

an ad botan ad bot
an ad botMany authors, whether traditionally published or self-published, shy away from advertising on Amazon because they think it’s too complicated. Admittedly, many of the available explanations make it seem a lot harder than it is in real life.

Here’s a quick look at some of the things that make people wary of dipping a toe in the Amazon ads market.

Auctions?? YIKES!

We all know what an auction is like in real life, and they’re actually kind of fun—once in a while. But when authors hear the word auctions in conjunction with ads for their books, they think “No way! I don’t have time to sit around all day placing bids.”

Well, the good news, is you don’t have to. ALL online advertising —not just Amazon ads—functions using automatic auctions that happen within nanoseconds. Run by intelligent algorithms and completing in nano-seconds.

Whenever a user enters a search term, the auction bots check all outstanding bids for that search term. They quickly scan through the bids and decide who wins the auction. They place the ad, and it appears instantly. The user has no idea what went on behind the scenes, but they do see and notice the ads.

The good news for Amazon ads is that if you win an auction, you never pay more than one cent higher than the next higher bid, so you don’t have to worry about cleaning out your savings by mistake.

Search Terms and Keywords

The trick to successful online advertising is carefully selecting the search terms you’re willing to pay for. You need to select terms that apply to your book, that people actually search for on a frequent basis, and that set you apart from similar products.

For example, you might say “Well, I write mystery novels. I’ll use that as a search term.”

Hmmm, then you realize that you’re not getting any results. Why not?

People search for “mystery novels” thousands of times a day. There are also hundreds of thousands of mystery novels, so the auction robots sort the results by popularity as well as bids and display them in an order known as page rank.

If you’re Lee Child, Michael Connolly, or Louise Penny, that may not be a problem because the inherent popularity of these authors ensures they’ll most likely show up on the first page or in the first row of titles.

So, if the page can hold five ads, and you rank sixth, you’re on the scroll page. If you’re number sixty, you’re on the twelfth page. And so on.

The bad news—nobody goes there.

If you are a debut, self-published author with no platform, rest assured you will rank far down the list, and it’s highly unlikely that anyone will scroll through all the results pages to find you.

You Need a Better Way

Think about what makes your book unique. This is not the time to go generic. In my case, I write mystery novels / thrillers about a female underwater photographer in the Cayman Islands.

So “mysteries set on Grand Cayman” is a good search term for me. So is “scuba diving fiction.” “Female protagonist”—not so much. Who doesn’t write female protagonist mysteries nowadays?

You get the idea. Look for what will make you stand out.

Amazon will actually help you with this. If you think something might be a good keyword, start typing it in Amazon’s (or Google’s) search box. Either of them will complete the phrase you’re typing with matching phrases, sorted in the order they’re searched for most frequently.

If no matching phrase comes up, no matter how appropriate you think the search term is for your book, using it will probably be a waste of time because nobody searches for it. Don’t be afraid to try it out, but definitely keep looking.

Use Lots of Search Terms

When you’re creating an Amazon ad, don’t be afraid to use lots of search terms in the keyword list. You can set a daily cap on your spend, so you won’t blow your rent money in a single day, but you will get to see what terms work.

Monitor the campaign portal every day to make sure you’re getting clicks. Don’t worry if at first you get a lot of impressions but no clicks. Sometimes, people have to see something several times before they’re intrigued enough to click.

But if you see a lot of clicks on the same term, and you never get any sales from it, then it may not be a good search term for you. People are interested; they are searching; but your product (or your jacket text) are not compelling them to buy.

Make sure your jacket text and book description are snappy and punchy enough to excite someone. If they are, and that high click term still doesn’t result in sales or KENP* delete it from your ad’s keyword list. You’re wasting money.

Don’t Set it and Forget It

I get it. We’re authors. We love to write. It’s what gives meaning to our lives and makes us whole.

But it would be nice to earn some money for our work.

DON’T check your ad on Day One and start messing with your keywords. Give it a week. Better yet, two. Then check your results and prune your keyword list.

Don’t forget to add new keywords. New books are published every day, and some of them may have the same readership you’re after. Find a way for your ads to show up on their pages.

The only exception to not checking your ad every day is to make sure that your bid is in line with current market conditions. Bids go up and down all the time.

All day long. All night long.

Every. Single. Day.

You won’t win a lot of auctions if your bid on a key word is too low. And if you don’t win the auction, your ad doesn’t show up.

Si make sure you’re in the right ballpark. Don’t just throw in crazy high numbers to “guarantee” you’ll win, because everybody else will start matching your bid. The only one who wins that game is Amazon.

Try to Create a Bid Strategy

Maybe there’s key word that always results in a sale if someone clicks on the ad after searching for it. Those are auctions you want to win. Make your bid competitive by upping it by a penny or two over the average.

Be careful not to get too competitive. You know how much you earn on a book. Decide how much of that you’re willing to spend to earn a sale and keep your bids below that threshold.

See? Not so complicated!

*Kindle Edition Normalized Pages. These are good. You get paid for these.

Sharon Ward is the author of the traditional mysteries In DeepSunken Death, and Dark Tide, all part of the Fin Fleming Sea Adventures Thriller series. Killer Storm, the fourth book in the series, will be released in November. It’s available for preorder now.

Mystery Author Sharon Ward


  1. Sharon,
    This is great information. But I have to say, my eyes blur and brain shuts down when I try to think about doing it.

    1. I agree Catherine. I HATE doing keyword analysis. But when I do it, it pays off. When I try to fake it, I get poor results. The first time through takes forever. After that, it’s just maintenance. So an hour or so every few days can pay off if you’re willing to put in the work up front. There are also some great tools that can help you do it faster. I’ll cover them in a future post. 😀

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