Do Google Ads Sell Books?

No, not in my experience. My ad appeared 3,898,083 times. It was clicked on 68,481 times. I sold 15 books, most of which were bought by friends and acquaintances.

Just the facts:
10 Jun 15:  Penguin Books’ Book Country e-published my first novel, The Phoenix Diary. The book was offered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Kobo (Japan’s “Amazon”), Flipkart (India’s “Amazon”) and on Book Country’s own sales site.

28 Jul 15:  I received a phone sales call from Google representative, Britanny M., a “Welcome Account Strategist” for the “Google Ad Words Welcome Team.” We set an appointment to talk at length the next day.
29 Jul 15:  Britanny phoned at the appointed time and we set up a Google “Display Network Campaign.” We created an ad that consisted of my book cover and 2 lines of ad copy. I added Google Analytics to the ad’s landing page,

28 Jul 15 – 2 Jan 16:  The Google Ads ran for five full months (Aug-Dec 2015) with the following results.
The Phoenix Diary ad appeared on various websites that Google said related to people who like the book’s genre, science fiction, 3,898,083 times.
People clicked on the ad 68,481 times to go to my landing page where they could read a bit about the book and click on any of the retailers’ icons to purchase it.
15 Books were purchased.
My cost: $1427.93.

OKAY, I tried to sell eBooks the easy way: Put an ad on Google to let the sales roll in. It didn’t work for me. But selling books is not a new challenge for writers. Writing in the December 1980 issue of Future Life (#23), Harlan Ellison pointed out that, “It is a constant anguish with which we suffer.”

We need a new approach. The old ways didn’t always work in the old days, either. For most writers, including many whose names we know, marketing books is jousting windmills. This Writers Co-op is about re-examining old ways that still work and finding new ways to sell our books. I believe we will succeed.


15 responses to “Jousting Windmills”

  1. atthysgage Avatar

    Hey GD. I never went the Google route (pretty sure I never will now) but I did try an Amazon promotion. It’s a similar system (only you don’t work with an Amazon agent, you just craft a little ad of your own using their templates): pay per click, set a budget, hope for sales. There’s a bidding system in play (which I don’t fully understand) in terms of the cost of a click. I paid about 40 cents per click. Results were…awful. Alarmed at the rapid rate at which my funds were disappearing with nothing to show for them, I pulled the plug after about two days. End results: 9,698 people saw the ad; 92 of them clicked through to my landing page; 0 people bought the book. Total spent: $36.36. (I actually pulled the ad at about 28 bucks, but it took a few hours (apparently) for the money to stop flowing.

    Needless to say, I was not impressed. I mean, opinions vary, but I’ve gotten some positive professional input about my landing page, my cover was professionally done, the editing likewise. I think I had about eight reviews at the time, but they were all 4s and 5s.

    So, did 92 people (with, apparently, SOME interest. I mean, they were among the 1% or so who clicked on the ad—not a terrible rate from what I hear) go to my page and think, nah? I guess so. But this was Amazon. Presumably people were shopping for books and had some history of buying books in my so-called genre.

    Whatever. It didn’t work. Some might say I bailed too soon, but there’s really no reason to assume that a viewer on day four (or day forty) is any more likely to buy that on day one or two. I think, ultimately, that you are correct. The so-called easy way doesn’t work. If anybody out there had a different experience with either of these methods, I’d love to hear about it.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. GD Deckard Avatar
    GD Deckard

    Hi Atthys,

    I don’t think you bailed too soon. I mean, if you stick your finger into boiling water, should you just wait for it to cool? But I have no idea why the ads didn’t work. If anyone out there has a theory, I’d love to hear it.

    As a follow-up, today I checked my local supermarket for books. They used to have an aisle of 6 racks with each rack displaying 50 little stacks of books facing you. 350 books to browse, best sellers, popular authors, reprints and -I remember- first books by unknown authors. Not anymore. Today I saw only 2 racks, one of best sellers and the other of popular authors at a discount. If you are not a Clive Cussler, Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts or James Patterson, you damn well better be promoting a current movie or TV series. At least, there are some good and popular writers still reminding the public of the joys of literacy.

    I did entertain the thought of proposing to the store manager that they have a shelf of “Local Authors.” I believe that would sell some. It was such an entertaining thought that I imagined a business, setting up shelves for local authors in stores nationwide. Most towns have a local writers’ organization. They would help. This could be big! Then, my Lady bumped me with the shopping basket & it was time to check out before the Haagen-Dazs melted. I felt like Coleridge, unable to finish Kubla Khan because a knock on his door interrupted him.

    Oh well, the idea was too labor intensive to work profitably and it didn’t address the other side of the equation: fewer readers. But I am working on another idea.

    – GD

    Liked by 4 people

  3. mimispeike Avatar

    This is surely the kind of report that we all can use. I would have been tempted to try that route myself, but GD has done it for me. So I may take my ‘sucker’ budget and pay for a Kirkus review. The name Kirkus used to mean a lot. Then it was opened up to paying clients. Does it still?

    Does anybody think Kirkus has a chance of being a decent idea? Does the name still register with readers? Would you be impressed by a few good words from those folks? I think I read that a fortunate few of the top reviewed books are sometime included in their catalog, which used to make my heart beat faster when it showed up in my mailbox.

    It doesn’t come anymore. I guess I went too long without buying. But I sure used to drool over it. That was my favorite porn.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. atthysgage Avatar

    Kirkus is still a big deal (in some people’s eyes) but it is very expensive ($425). And, of course, there’s no guarantee they’re going to give you a review that you are going to want to share with the world. As with Publishers Weekly reviews, a good two thirds of your 300 word review will be a plot rehash, followed by a short paragraph on what the reviewer thought of the book. This guy here does a pretty good summary.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. mimispeike Avatar

    Yes, ya pays yer money an’ ya takes yer chances. I’m prepared to blow a modest sum (I consider five hundred to be in that arena, a very fine Xmas present) on the chance that a line – to which I can attach the name Kirkus – may mirror a few really thrilling remarks I’ve gotten on Book Country, sure, along with less delightful pronouncements. What the hell. My whole book is ‘what the hell’. It doesn’t scare me.

    But I’ll check out your link. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mimispeike Avatar

    Okay, I’ve read half the article, and I had to hustle back here to say this:

    The man writes, “I went to Kirkus’s site and read through dozens and dozens of reviews. I have to agree with the other authors: not a single one inspired me to buy a book.”

    I don’t understand this. I recall the reviews in the mailed catalog ten years ago, and most every one made me want to get the book. I yearned for, easily, a dozen or more immediately, and with each re-perusal of the catalog, I added to my wish list. But, of course, I had not the money to run wild and had to settle for one or two.

    Is it a different set of readers? Is the solicited review department handling, simply, less thrilling material, the reviews reflecting this? It may be that the volume of business has led to a production line mentality, push the stuff out as quickly as possible. Strange. I will continue my read.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. mimispeike Avatar

    Atthys, that was an excellent, excellent piece. I am going to follow this guy, I have bookmarked him. You have done us a real service by giving us the link.

    I don’t know if I’ll throw my spare change at Kirkus after all. But I do plan to earmark some mad money for whatever foolish initiative I choose.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. GD Deckard Avatar
    GD Deckard

    Thanks for the link, Atthys! That was worth reading because it debunked one windmill and suggested another, Bookbub. (I’m researching a different angle at the moment and) I don’t know Bookbub.
    Is anyone going to try it?


  9. curtisbausse Avatar

    Chris McMullen gives a comprehensive review of the Amazon Marketing Service here:
    On the whole he comes down in favour, but it’s clearly a bit of a hit and miss affair. Worth trying perhaps if you have $100 to burn, but one of his caveats is that ‘It probably isn’t the solution for a book that hasn’t been selling on its own.’ Basically only worth giving a go once the sales ball is already rolling.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. GD Deckard Avatar
    GD Deckard

    Thanks, Curtis. Amazon’s marketing service was on my list of things to try.

    Hmmm… you saved me a hundred bucks. Woot! This site is already fulfilling one of its objectives: To explore ways to sell books without going broke.


  11. Atthys Gage Avatar

    GD: regarding BookBub, most people say it is effective and worthwhile (and it isn’t cheap, BUT it is very difficult to get a place. Their acceptance rate is about 10% depending on who you ask, and is dependent on number of reviews and other signs of success (contest winners, words of praise from well-known authors.) If you scan their lists, a lot of their listed books already have hundreds of reviews and seem to be doing pretty well—and yet they still consider it worthwhile to mark their book down (to free, usually) and spend a few hundred bucks for the privilege of being on BookBub’s mailer. So yeah, it probably lives up to the hype, but it’s incredibly competitive.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. […] (GD Deckard and Atthys Gage share their experience with Google and Amazon ads on this very site, in Jousting Windmills and its […]


  13. […] of readers likely to like it. They also cost money, so you have to be very careful how you do it. GD has told us about, and warned us away from, Google ads. Facebook could well be the same, so I’m approaching this […]


  14. […] Do Google Ads sell books? […]


  15. […] I know that advertising with Google ads doesn’t work. […]


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