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Episode 298: How to Master Book Ads with Nicholas Erik

Feb 12, 2020

Nicholas Erik is a science fiction and fantasy author who also writes in-depth marketing guides; this is, in fact, how I discovered him...when I stumbled across this epic guide to free book sites and then went down the amazingly informative rabbit hole that is his website.

While he’s launched over a dozen books in a variety of genres, he also specializes in Amazon, Facebook and BookBub ads. I liked this interview because it was straight-up technical…like you could almost say we were talking literature but doing MATH. 



1) Test your titles and covers, using Facebook 

2) Build out a successful sales funnel from your book

3) Focus on the marathon and not the sprint


Anna:                           00:00                Okay. So, recording. So, as I was just telling you, I'm very impressed by your clear knowledge of the ad world when it comes to books and also utilizing the sites and email lists that have readers who will buy free books or discounted books. So that's what I want to talk about is your own history as a writer, how you've launched books, what you found to be most successful. And let's just go into it. So, how did you learn the world of launching? I'm assuming it's through launching your own books.

Nicholas Erik:                00:37                Yeah, so my background essentially is that I started publishing around the end of 2012 so I started with my own books and basically just branched out from there. A couple people early on asked if they could get help with the marketing and publishing side. So, I kind of cut my teeth on that and it's expanded to where I think in the last year for other people, I probably launched over a dozen books in a variety of genres. So just a lot of trial and error trying to figure out what is consistent, and what works over time, and what kind of was just random.

Anna:                           01:24                Yeah. And I saw on your site, you do take, you don't have room even for clients right now unless that's changed and people have to have a minimum $3,000 ad spend. Is that a month?

Nicholas Erik:                01:37                It depends, at whether I'm working with someone long-term or whether it's for a launch only. Basically, what the ads, the more money you can spend, you need to spend a fair amount of money testing. But the more money spent, the more velocity you can get on Amazon because of the way Amazon works, the ad sales boost your rank and then that boosts your visibility on Amazon, and can get you organic sales. So really the more you have to spend, the better the ads and launching tend to work. If you're doing an aggressive marketing spend.

Anna:                           02:20                Is there a set amount that is the ideal amount to be able to spend in order to be effective with ads?

Nicholas Erik:                02:28                Yeah, you can start small and then scale up. But if you really want to see explosive results, and in the Indie world, a lot of people aim for the top 100 that's not necessarily my goal. Top 100 meaning the top 100 overall on the Kindle store. So that's not necessarily my goal. But like if you want to have a shot at really getting Amazon's algorithms moving, you're probably looking at somewhere around 2000 to $3,000.

Anna:                           03:00                And for somebody who's going to spend that amount is there a, what's the range of books they tend to sell or can you even say that?

Nicholas Erik:                03:11                Yeah, that's definitely a question I get quite a bit. But it's going to vary so much based on the genre and also the key elements on the Amazon page, which are going to be your cover and your book description. So, what you find with the ads is that the conversion rate, which is essentially just the number of sales you get for each click, is going to have such a wide range of outcomes even in the same genre based on that cover and that book description. So, you want to make sure that those two elements are as good as possible before you start advertising. Whether that's for a [inaudible] title or going into the launch.

Anna:                           03:59                And when you, here's the real, you know, subjective question. What is good? Do you recommend people putting surveys on Pic Fu or on Facebook to try to determine what is good, what do their readers want when it comes to cover and description?

Nicholas Erik:                04:16                Yeah, so Pick Fu and similar types of surveys are what's known as qualitative testing where you're getting feedback from people. I've done that and I haven't found that to be particularly reflective of what the actual marketplace wants. So, I do something called quantitative testing where I'll take a couple of covers actually, I'll get a couple of covers commissioned for a book. And then I'll put them up on Facebook using Facebook ads, and see which one gets a lower CPC and a higher click through rate. And then if one of them beats the other by a wide margin, then I'll know that that is a better cover for that target audience. So, I tend to rely on data rather than my own opinions and the reason I do that now is because in the past I've been burned where I've spent a lot of money on covers and invested heavily into really expensive things that just didn't move the needle. And that's not to say they weren't good design wise, but what's good design wise or impressive artwork wise isn't necessarily what people are going to click on in an endless scroll of hundreds of different posts or the top 100 list on Amazon or wherever they're finding their books.

Anna:                           05:41                Can you say what the range of like how long you put the covers up for and what your ad spend is when you're doing testing?

Nicholas Erik:                05:50                Yeah, it depends on how much divergence there is in the results. A lot of times the covers will perform similarly, particularly if they're both professional or you can do more than two. I did three for a book that I'm going to release under my own pen name, and basically two of them performed similarly and then the other one didn't perform as well. So, I kind of chose between them. And you can spend about two to $300 doing that and get pretty reliable results in terms of you can see in the data, okay, this covered it well, this cover maybe didn't do as well. And you should be able to see that fairly quickly. We're looking for big differences, say 15 cents a click versus 25 cents a click or 15 cents versus 30 cents a click.

                                    06:47                If two things come in and they're 18 cents a click and 20 cents a click, then that's not something that I can really determine which one is best at that time and I'm not going to spend thousands of dollars to do so. Then I'm going to use my own experience and knowledge of the genre and just my own discretion to essentially look at it and say, okay, I think that this one is better and go ahead with that. So, it's a little bit of an art and you need that to make the final determination when it comes to the data, it's not just pure numbers.

Anna:                           07:28                And how far ahead of a release do you do that?

Nicholas Erik:                07:31                You could do it pretty quickly, so if you're coming up on a release, you could probably do it the month before or a couple of weeks before. If you're familiar with Facebook ads. I have done that. Basically, I don't know, I delayed the book quite a bit, so it ended up being pretty far in advance, but it depends on your facility with Facebook ads, I'd say probably a month or two.

Anna:                           08:04                And so it's not like you post something in a Facebook group and go, Hey, which, which ones do you like prefer that would go back to sort of the Pick Fu. They say actual results, what do people click on? Not what do they say they like?

Nicholas Erik:                08:17                Yeah. Because what you'll find is that what people say they'll click on or what they say they like is a lot different than what they'll actually click on a lot of times. Because if you survey your readers, they may be trying to figure out which cover you liked the best or just some other element may have caught their eye or they may be saying, I like this one best from an artwork perspective. But the covers job is to signal the genre at a less than one second glance and it's really amazing the diversions in results you can get from very, very professional and well done covers by the same artist even. You can have one that just kills and generates a great click through rate and really low CPC and then the next one can just be decent. But those types of differences or the differences between being able to advertise profitably and really struggling or just barely making a profit, and that makes a big difference in the long-term.

                                    09:23                So it's worth doing. It's one of the cheapest things you can do launch wise. I know people don't like eating 200 or $300 for a cover that they're not going to use. They see that as a waste of money. I definitely get that. I had to overcome that same mindset, but you save so much money on the back end, particularly if you're going to scale up your ads. If you're going to spend two or $3,000 and the clicks with one cover are 20 or 30% cheaper and the conversion rate is 20 to 30% higher, that cover pays for itself really, really quickly. And you have a long-term asset that you can leverage for months and years to come as you invest in more ads. So, I'd highly recommend that. I think it's one of the best things you can do, and you can do the same thing with the book description as well. You can test that on Facebook before the launch and see which angle resonates the best with your target market. And the good thing about that is that all that that requires is time. You don't have to commission 10 different blurbs. You can write them yourself and see which one does the best. So, I'd recommend that as well.

Anna:                           10:41                And how long do you recommend running the ads for? Does it start day one that the book is available? Do you do it to get a resurgent six months later? What's the actual plan?

Nicholas Erik:                10:57                Are we talking for the launch or are we talking about testing?

Anna:                           11:00                Done with testing, talking about the launch.

Nicholas Erik:                11:02                Okay. It really depends on your budget and your goals. So there are going to be a lot of different approaches to the launch, but one of the main things you have to determine before launching is whether you're going to be exclusive to Amazon, which in the Indie community is called being in KU, which stands for Kindle Unlimited or going wide, which means that your book isn't exclusive to Amazon, it's on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, etcetera. And the launch strategies you're going to use are very different here because Kindle Unlimited, you need to get enough visibility on Amazon to get Amazon's algorithms moving so that they start your book to Kindle Unlimited readers. Kindle unlimited is an Amazon product, so therefore they have the bulk of the customer list.

                                    12:04                You can access those readers via Facebook ads and some of the other advertising platforms, but mostly you're relying on Amazon recommending that book to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. So, most Indie authors are going to be exclusive to Amazon, at least for when they start out or they're going to try it with a new release a lot of the time. So, assuming that you're in Kindle Unlimited, what I do is a seven-day launch window a lot of the time, and you want a steadily increasing sales curve. You want that trending up. And I tried to end with a big bang at the end of that seven-day period. And after that seven days, there are two approaches where you can just cut the ad spend completely. Some people prefer to do that. So, if you have a $3,000 budget, they'd spend that entirely within the seven days and then try to coast for the rest of the month.

                                    13:07                What I prefer to do is instead take maybe somewhere between 30, 40, 50, and $60 a day and spend that for the rest of the month on ads. And I find that that tends to be more profitable and keeps that visibility going a bit longer. So again, the first question people have to answer is whether their book is going to be exclusive or not. That really dictates the rest of the launch strategy because it doesn't often pay off to do a super aggressive launch strategy one year wide because your book isn't going to get that same visibility and you don't have that page read, payoff coming later on.

Anna:                           13:51                And do you recommend doing KU or does it depend on the book?

Nicholas Erik:                13:57                It's going to really depend on the book. So certain genres are really KU heavy where basically the only option you have is Kindle Unlimited. So, things like Lit RPG or Reverse Harem

Anna:                           14:15                What are, what are those? Okay. What is Lit RPG?

Nicholas Erik:                14:19                Okay. Lit RPG is, it varies. I guess, the core backdrop is either a kind of Epic fantasy style book or there are some Sci-fi type of ones as well where a lot of them are, someone is living in a virtual world, like a massively multiplayer online RPG type of thing where they either get sucked into the game or the world itself is a game, and it has these game mechanics in the actual book where the main character has hit points and levels up and stuff like that. So that's relatively new. I think that that really started coming about maybe three years ago. And that's proven really popular. And that basically is all Kindle Unlimited. I'm sure there are exceptions. There are always exceptions where people figure out ways to sell things wide that are very popular in Kindle Unlimited, but most of that isn't Kindle Unlimited. And then Reverse Harem.

Anna:                           15:26                So actually most of these listeners are doing nonfiction, either memoirs or business books. Is that something that would be good for KU?

Nicholas Erik:                15:37                You know, it's going to depend. I think with a nonfiction book you have to ask yourself whether your goal is to make money from the book or whether it's to use that book as either an authority builder or an expert kind of establishing book as a business card for lack of a better term type of thing where you're using it for authority.

Anna:                           16:09                Yeah. And our clients, at least and listeners, we always recommend number two because we have clients who've made hundreds of thousands of dollars by, you know, going for number two, whereas number one, maybe thousands of dollars. And that's, so the goal is always the second one for the people I work with.

Nicholas Erik:                16:31                Yeah. So, I think, Kindle Unlimited obviously you can streamline some things, you don't have to worry about the other retailers, but probably with that type of book you're going to have it in as many places as possible rather than have it in Kindle Unlimited. Probably you want that additional access for people if they want to pick it up on Barnes and Noble. If a potential client or something is looking at Barnes and Noble and they want to pick it up, then you want to have that available to them. And a lot of these are probably specific books in that they may solve a specific problem in a nonfiction niche. And that's not necessarily what Kindle Unlimited, at least in the nonfiction area, is most like the readership is looking for. A lot of the books, if you have a self-help book or a productivity book or something like that, those tend to be popular in Kindle Unlimited, but you're probably not going to get a lot of additional visibility or page reads and readers from Kindle Unlimited if you're writing a specific type of nonfiction book.

Anna:                           17:46                And what are some, so let's say somebody does want to do an ad spend, you know, of about $3,000 and you are all book. What would be some recommendations for them doing it on their own?

Nicholas Erik:                18:00                Yeah, that's a good question cause it's easy to spend a lot of money and not get much. Like you can definitely maximize your ad spend and you don't need to spend $3,000, I should be upfront about that. People hear that number and they say, I don't have $3,000 so I can't do stuff. You can get a good cover, you can get a good description, you can work other marketing angles in terms of building your mailing list. That's really important. A lot of successful authors really get Amazon's algorithms working in their favor because they have such a big mailing list and social media and stuff like that. If you engage with your followers and get them excited about the book, that can be a really powerful source of sales. So, it's not just about the advertising and really what I like to do is use the advertising as a compliment to those other aspects of the platform.

                                    18:57                That's when it works best because it gets very expensive just to push the book from a standstill where you're trying to just sell books via advertising and have no other source of sales. But on the advertising end it's going to depend on whether the book is 99 cents or 2.99 so the reason people launch a book at 99 cents is because it's essentially frictionless. It's an impulse buy and you can get a lot more sales that way. So, if you're launching at 2.99 then it's harder to get that visibility because your conversion rate is going to drop. So, you need to make that kind of determination. And some people launch higher at 2.99, certainly in the nonfiction space, 5.99 or 9.99 are all very common. So, if you're launching at those prices, then you should be prepared for it to be very difficult to generate sales, particularly via cold advertising like Facebook or Amazon ads or whatever.

                                    20:14                So with the launch strategies that I use, a lot of them come into play when the book has a bit of a discount or I can discount other books to push that full-priced book. So, assuming that you have something that's 99 cents to push, what I'm going to do again is have a seven-day window. I'll even do that if I'm wide mainly because just for administrative purposes, seven days is a good number is enough to get the algorithms working in your favor, but it's also enough to keep your sanity. There's a lot of moving parts to a book launch and it can be pretty stressful if you haven't done it before. So just running ads indefinitely and having an all month type of launch is going to be really untenable for a lot of people.

                                    21:11                So seven days is a good number there just from an admin perspective and also it can get you really good results. So, what I would do is start small and then scale up as you get ads that work. So, I'm going to use the first part of the week for testing if I haven't tested anything during the preorder period. And I mean testing on Facebook and Amazon Ads, BookBub Ads, if the book is 99 cents can be very effective. And as I get things that work, then I'm going to scale that up and that's going to naturally get my sales curve trending upwards as I spend more money because I'm going to get more sales. And then the last couple of days I'm really going to scale up my ads spend to maybe $500 a day or 700, $800 a day. So I may spend 60, 70% of my budget on the last couple of days to hit as high as possible on Amazon to maximize my visibility and maximize my chances of the algorithms taking hold and selling my book hopefully for the next couple of weeks and pushing it out to Amazon's vast reader base.

Anna:                           22:31                And for people getting scared by these numbers, does it come back in terms of the amount people tend to make from the sales?

Nicholas Erik:                22:42                The profit margin on a single book is not good, especially if you're going to be launching at 99 cents, you're going to get 35 cents a copy. If you're launching a 2.99 then you get a 70% royalty rate, which ends up being around $2 when you take out the delivery fees. And what you find with fiction authors is that they write in series. For this reason, it really increases the amount you can spend on ads because you can spend five or six or $7 to get that sale and still generate a profit. With a nonfiction book, you typically don't have a series, so if your goal is to strictly be profitable on that book and generate money via your book sales, I wouldn't do an aggressive 99 cent launch and I probably wouldn't do a super aggressive launch unless you had a big platform to push the bulk of those sales.

                                    23:44                The reason being is that it's very expensive to just push sales via advertising. You can certainly do it, but a lot of times you hit a ceiling and you can't necessarily push past that. So that might be 50 sales a day. That might be a hundred sales a day. It really is going to depend on the book and the genre. It could be a thousand, but as you scale up further, it just becomes extremely, extremely expensive to do. So, if your goal is to profit from the book, I would try to be more conservative. If you don't have a series behind it. If you're a fiction author and you have a long series, then that really opens up a lot of the possibilities with advertising that you just don't have otherwise.

Anna:                           24:32                And you know, you mentioned briefly email lists. Is that something that you recommend? Sort of putting lead magnets throughout the book? Do you recommend blogging? Do recommend all of the above?

Nicholas Erik:                24:46                If you're a nonfiction author, then you have a lot of options with the content marketing side, so you can blog, you can podcast, etcetera. You can do short snippets on social media and slice up your content and a lot of different ways you can do YouTube videos, so you have a lot of different options there to build your fan base. Within the book itself, certainly nonfiction authors have either upsells or links back to their site to sign up for the newsletter and I think you want to include an opportunity for people to sign up for your newsletter and follow you, obviously, especially if you're using that book as a lead gen tool or something like that. But you want to be careful in that some nonfiction books are, I would say even a lot of nonfiction books, very much read like a book as a business card or as a marketing tool.

                                    25:45                And they're a not helpful and B, they have a link almost every other paragraph upselling people to their $2,000 program or whatever, and that's fine in moderation or if it makes sense in the flow of the book. But readers are very savvy and they can sense that really quickly. And not only are you going to get negative reviews, but you're not going to get that end goal, which is building a relationship with this person and getting them to trust you. Like they're not going to like that. They're going to feel tricked. No one wants to pay $5 or $10 for what amounts to a sales brochure. So, you want to be careful there and make sure that whatever links you have in the book are actually valuable and relevant because otherwise you run the risk of alienating the reader and you don't want to do that.

Anna:                           26:41                And in terms of doing say a prelaunch six months later and utilizing that amazing list you have of websites that you can have your book listed in, can you talk about the effectiveness of that?

Nicholas Erik:                26:58                Sure. So that is a list of what are called promotional sites. That's what indie authors refers to them as. Essentially, they're just email newsletters that various people and companies have set up over time, have built over time, and then they charge you to advertise to their readers. So, these readers are looking for discounted books and you pay to be featured in that newsletter on a specific day and then they blast your book out to 10,000 readers or 100,000 readers, whatever the case may be. The most famous of these, and the most effective by far is BookBub, which many people are familiar with and BookBub is heavily curated, so you're not guaranteed a spot. With a lot of the other newsletter providers, you can get a spot provided your book looks professionally presented and has a few reviews, things like that.

                                    28:00                So it's much easier to get placed in those. Going back to the launch strategy, what I do with the promo sites is I'll use those if I am launching at 99 cents and I'll stack those up usually on the last couple of days. And that helps me really accelerate those sales on the last couple of days. If I book 500 or a thousand dollars in promo sites from that list, then I can get a couple hundred sales from those sites and on a pure ROI basis on that day, that's going to put me in the hole. But if I'm looking for velocity and to get Amazon algorithms recommending my book, then that can put me over the top and get me ranking really high on the store. And that can be really effective. So that seven-day strategy that I talked about with the launch.

                                    29:00                You can do that same approach for running a backlist promo down the line six months a year, and it works the same way, like the mechanics are exactly the same. You're just trying to push as many sales in a shorter time frame as possible and build that consistency so that hopefully one of your books goes back to full price on day eight or whatever the last day of the promo is, you can leverage Amazon's algorithms to your benefit.

Anna:                           29:36                And that might be less intimidating to people who go ads. I don't know how to ads, but I know how to list my book on a bunch of websites and just pay the money, I would think that would be less daunting.

Nicholas Erik:                29:49                Yeah. Yeah. So, you can use those by themselves as well. You don't have to use them with Facebook Ads and all the other stuff that we talked about. You can just use them alone and the learning curve, what's nice there is zero. You just submit via form and then if you're accepted, you pay them and that's it. Very low time commitment. What I will say about promo sites that in isolation, they're probably not going to be effective outside of BookBub, which is really powerful. So, if you just use one or two on a specific day, then your results are probably going to be underwhelming. The reason I stack up five or 10 or even 15 or something like that, on the final day of my promotion or launch or the final couple of days of my promotion or launch is because you can get that critical mass where one plus one equals more than the sum of the parts. Because you're hitting high enough on Amazon where then Amazon takes the reigns and starts recommending your book. So that's a big goal. If you're trying to sell books on Amazon, particularly in Kindle Unlimited, you want them recommending your book to their reader base.

Anna:                           31:10                And also don't you need to be exclusive to Amazon in order to be able to periodically lower your price to 99 cents or two free?

Nicholas Erik:                31:21                Yes. If you're going to run something called a Kindle countdown deal. So, there are a few main benefits of being exclusive to Amazon. One is that you're in Kindle Unlimited so people can borrow your book. The second is that you can set your book to free for up to five days during each 90-day exclusivity period. And the third is that you can run what's called a Kindle Countdown Deal, which allows you to lower your price to 99 cents or 1.99 for up to seven days, but still get 70% royalties. And you can do that once every 90-day exclusivity period. You can run either a free run or do the Kindle Countdown Deal. You can't do both during a 90-day exclusivity period. So, you have to choose which one you want to do. But a Kindle Countdown Deal is really, really great because that 70% royalty rate can make a huge difference in your overall profitability. You're making twice as much for each copy you sell, so that can tilt the profitability margins in your favor and make certain advertising mechanisms much more attractive if you use that.

Anna:                           32:36                Okay, so we have to, we have to get wrapping up. So, if you wanted to summarize your top three recommendations, which is how I always like to end, would you say it's, do the testing on Facebook ahead of time with ads, run ads on Amazon, you know, over ideally a month. And also use the free sites. Would those be your top three?

Nicholas Erik:                33:04                Yeah, I would recommend doing the testing via Facebook and when it comes to launching, I think the main mistake I've made is focusing too much on the launch month in the seven days. A lot of the results are going to be what you do beforehand. So, if you're trying to make this into a career where you're making money on your books specifically, and it's not just a one off type of deal or a hobby, something that you do occasionally, what you need to always be doing is building up your fan base. And that is where the majority of your sales and where that critical mass, that's so key to getting Amazon recommending your book is going to come from. So, if you can build up your email newsletter and if you're into social media, things like Facebook, Facebook groups.

                                    33:56                If you can build those up over time and build a fan base of people who are excited for your next book then and they're going to buy it on day one or during launch week, that helps tremendously. So, I would say that my main takeaway is if you're doing this long-term and planning to release a few books a year, view each one as a building block in your career and always be thinking, how can I maximize this? Not just in the short term but in the long-term, to get as many new people into the fold as possible and keep them excited.

Anna:                           34:38                But again, for people who are using a book in order to maximize, to try to make hundreds of thousands of dollars off of what the book can do for them, these are more going to be people who are going to release one book and make it a career, but not through income from the book. So, for people like that, possibly the recommendations are the testing and the Amazon ads and the free sites?

Nicholas Erik:                35:05                I would say that stuff. I would say one more thing is considering your funnel. I think that if you're using the book as the entry point to your marketing funnel, then you want to make sure that the stuff that you have on the back end, whether it's courses, speaking, services, whatever is congruent with the book and think that through in terms of how you're onboarding people to your mailing list or however you're getting them into your funnel after they read the book because that's going to be key to making this profitable. So, you want to make sure that those numbers work. And one of the nice things about that is that if you have things on the back end to help people out, that you can sell them, then if you're losing a few thousand dollars for the launch on the book itself, then that may be really profitable to use that as a loss leader and make that back on the back end.

Anna:                           36:09                Absolutely. Well and, thank you so much. If people want to reach out to you for help with advertising or access that free list of sites, what, how can they do that?

Nicholas Erik:                36:24                Yeah. You can visit my website at that's Erik with a K. N I C H O L A S and the promo site list is linked there in the menu. If you want to go visit that directly, then it's So that's totally free. And there's a bunch of other free content and guides to book marketing on the site.

Anna:                           36:53                And if they want to reach you in order to hire you, is that the same place they would go?

Nicholas Erik:                36:59                Yeah, there's a contact form and everything like that, or my email I think is on the site.

Anna:                           37:05                Okay. Well thank you so much. This was massively helpful and thank you everybody for listening. I love how different this is, you know, different strategy than what we normally talk about here. So, thank you for listening. And Nicholas, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Nicholas Erik:                37:21                Thank you for having me. It's been great.

Anna:                           37:22                Awesome.