Advertising Books In 2019

One of my main goals this year for my author business is to advertise books in a cost effective way and increase profits. (Books includes ebook, audiobook, and paperback editions.)

As I talked about in The Good, The Bad, And The In Between Of Advertising Dollars Spent In 2018, last year I spent a lot trying different types of advertising. Thousands of dollars, in fact. While I did see some sales from some of the ads, I feel sure at least half of what I spent did nothing to increase sales.

That's why I decided this year to be diligent about tracking what works and doesn't and to spend far less–unless or until I figure out what ads are generating an overall profit.

Today I sat down to figure out specific goals and dollar targets. By sharing them I hope I'll inspire you.

Setting Specific Goals

While in early January I set a budget to keep spending in check, I hadn't really thought about exactly what result I wanted other than to earn more than I spent.

That's the kind of fuzzy thinking that led me astray last year. I basically threw money at the wall (okay, at Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, and a whole lot of enewsletter listings). So long as my overall royalties per month exceeded my ad spend I figured I'd sort it out later.

(Not a great plan but, to be fair, I was recovering from a fairly serious injury and a little overwhelmed.)

What saved me from doing the same this year but with a spending limit was a  brand new podcast by Bryan Cohen called Relentless Authors Advertise. Bryan asked listeners what their goals were for their ads. I realized I had a budget but not a goal.

The Basis For This Year's Goals 

I set my goals based on these theories and data:

  • My ratio of ad spend to sales was about 1:2 last year
  • By looking at what worked best last year and eliminating platforms I'm certain added no sales I should be able to spend less and earn more
  • If I monitor the ads carefully, I ought to be able to tweak them, increase my spending, and increase my profits throughout the year
  • Starting much lower than last year and increasing my spend gradually based on results should help me keep my expenses reasonable
  • I like setting ambitious goals

My initial idea for the entire year, after looking at last year's results, was to limit my spending to $180 a month ($2,160 a year). I planned to split this among Amazon Ads, Bookbub Ads, and enewsletters, averaging $60 per month for each category.

After listening to Bryan's podcast on scaling up his ad spend, though, I decided I ought to do that if I can figure out over time what's working best.

I'm used to thinking about the amount of work and profit on a quarterly basis, which is what I did with my law firm. For that reason, I'm aiming to increase spending and profits each quarter.

Last year I spent 50 cents to earn a dollar in sales. That doesn't mean I doubled my money, though, because I earn between 30%-70% of the sale price for each book. So this year my goal for the entire year is to spend 30 cents to earn a dollar in sales.

My ambitious sales goal is to double the average monthly sales each quarter by gradually increasing my ad spend but keeping it to 30 cents on the dollar.

In Dollars And Cents

In dollars and cents, here's the plan/goal:

1st Quarter

  • Average monthly ad spend: $180
  • Average monthly sales: $540

2nd Quarter

  • Average monthly ad spend: $324
  • Average monthly sales: $1,080

3rd Quarter

  • Average monthly ad spend: $640
  • Average monthly sales: $2,160

4th Quarter

  • Average monthly ad spend: $1,296
  • Average monthly sales: $4,320

In addition, any time I can get a Bookbub Featured Deal I'll take it regardless of the spending budget. Those deals always pay for themselves for my books and earn a profit. Because I can't count on getting one, though, I haven't factored them into the average monthly ad spend.

Stay tuned for updates once a quarter.

Also, I encourage you to check out Relentless Authors Advertise if you're doing any advertising of your books or plan to in the future. Bryan includes useful tips and information. And he shares in detail how much he's spending compared to his total sales, which is invaluable information.

That's all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly 

Four Ways To Overcome Your Fear Of Failure As A Writer

If you're struggling to start writing, or to finish what you write, you may fear failure.

Asking questions like the ones below is a clue that you may have this fear, even if it's unconscious:

  • What if I spend all this time writing and I never finish?
  • Or I start writing and find out I'm no good at it?
  • What if no one buys what I write?
  • And what if people criticize my writing or write bad reviews?

If you suspect the fear of failing might be part of what's keeping you from setting or meeting your writing goals, here are some thoughts about overcoming it.


Let’s start with looking at how you define a failure, and asking whether you can revise it in a way that won't get in the way of writing.

For instance, if you define failure as failing to try something you want to do, then you can choose whether or not you fail because you can choose to try. If you write something, anything, you won't have failed because you tried.

On the other hand, if succeeding or failing rests on other people’s actions, such as buying or not buying your books, or their reactions, such as criticizing your writing, you’ve got limited say over that. That definition of failure puts success out of your control.

So why not choose a definition that gives you the most say over your own life?

Moving Forward Despite Fear

But let’s say in your heart it matters deeply to you what others think of your writing. Redefining failure may feel like semantics.

Success to you may mean people buying your books or selling a certain amount of them or getting rave reviews. Many writers, including me, set all those goals.

The key is not pretending those things don’t matter, it’s moving forward despite those fears.

Just as I don’t let feeling nervous my first day teaching a new class keep me from doing it, you don’t need to let fear of failure keep you from writing.

You can ease yourself into this by imagining yourself writing. Take a few minutes to shut your eyes and picture yourself typing, writing in a notebook, editing pages, or holding your finished book.

Next, in real life practice writing when you feel anxious about it. Start with a journal entry or list of favorite movies if you need to. Get used to feeling afraid and writing all the same.

Odds are the feeling will fade. Before you know it you'll be writing your novel or whatever other projects you set your heart on.

Ask New Questions

Another approach is to look carefully at the list of questions above. Add any others that spark worry about writing or make you tense.

Now write out different questions, ones designed to ease your transition into writing.

For instance, you could ask yourself:

  • Which writing project am I most excited about?
  • What do I love about spending time writing?
  • What three things can I do to improve my writing skills?
  • How can I find ways to increase my chances of selling any book I finish?
  • What do I hope readers will like best about my writing?

Each time you begin to dwell on your fears or concerns, you can ask yourself one of these types of questions. It will help redirect your mental energy toward enjoying writing and getting better at it.

Results Rather Than Failures

Finally, you can decide there are no failures, only results. (A view I’ve seen attributed to many different people, including Tony Robbins, and which has helped me the most.)

Most everything we learn in life is a process of doing something that doesn’t work, changing our approach a bit, and trying again. Whether it’s learning to walk, swim, ride a bike, or write a book that sells, most of us need to “fail” many times to learn.

Gothic horror in Chicago's South Loop

For example, I published a novel, When Darkness Falls, in a genre I don’t otherwise write in. (Paranormal romance/gothic horror.) When I offer it free for Kindle it gets some downloads, but it rarely sells. In fact, it took two years before it earned back what I spent paying a service to convert it for Kindle and for a cover.

I could see it as a failure.

Instead, I value what I learned from it. I figured out how to publish a paperback using the KDP dashboard for the first time. It's also the only novel I published in Kindle Unlimited. I use it to experiment with Kindle Countdown deals and free days. And it's a good one to try out different ad platforms because any sales I do see almost certainly result from the ad.

In addition, it’s a book I wrote before my successful Awakening supernatural thriller series, though I published it after. I see a progression in my writing from that book to the Awakening series to my newest suspense/mystery series.

As another example, I once told my brother Keith, who has loved taking photos all his life, how my favorite photos of myself (and pretty much anyone else) were ones he took. I asked him how he did it.

He said, “You don’t see the thousands I throw away.”

This was back when all photos were taken on film, meaning he spent money on the film and processing for each one. He could easily have viewed all those thrown-out photos as failures and let that stop him. If he had, he’d never have produced so many images that have made so many people happy.

He also wouldn’t be the excellent photographer he is today.

By seeing the results of his efforts, adjusting his approach, and choosing the best photos, he succeeded in his goals.

That's all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. This article is based on an excerpt from the latest draft of my new non-fiction book Anxiety, Happiness, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life. To get a notice when it's released (as well as a Free Story Structure Worksheet), join the Writing As A Second Career email list.

Easing Winter Blues While Working From Home

I get a bit blue in winter. Working from home adds to those feelings, as while I like it, it means there's no one around to help lift my mood.

Last winter was particularly hard.

The temperature in Chicago often dropped well below zero with high winds. Many days featured nothing but gray skies. I struggled with feeling down and not very productive. I also seemed to catch every virus that crossed my path. (Not really, but it felt that way.)

This year I’m making a few changes.

If you work at home and sometimes get the winter blues, maybe these ideas will help you, too.

Your Writing Space

A few years back I finally was able to move into a place with a second bedroom that I use as a home office. As thrilled as I was to have a dedicated writing space, it took a while for it to feel right.

When I first began working from home I was more apt to write in my main living/dining room. There were more windows and I felt less like I’d been banished to a far corner all day.

Gradually, though, I’ve shifted to working mainly in my office.

The color of the walls is a warm apricot (see photo below). It helps me feel warmer on chilly days. And I discovered that if I shut the door, the room stays warmer than my main room because it has fewer windows and more inside walls. So it turns out that keeping the door closed, rather than making me feel cut off as I’d feared, makes me feel cozy.

Finally, I just bought the lamp you see in the picture.

I have another office lamp and had been using that and an overhead light that glared. While this new tulip lamp doesn't shed a lot of light, I love it.

Sunset occurs around 4:45 p.m. these days in Chicago. Turning on this spring-like lamp as the sky darkens in late afternoon helps me feel more cheerful.

It’s also great for the gloomy, gray days that are often a trademark of January, February, and March where I live.

Happily, the lamp, which I got through Home Depot, was only about $20 more than the plain banker's lamp I could have gotten.

Sleeping More

I’m trying something new this winter with sleep.

Normally I’m an early to bed early to rise person. Not shockingly early, but say 6:30 or 6:45 a.m. Usually I do my best thinking mornings, and I also like to do yoga first thing. Plus in summer I find it hard to sleep later than 6:30 anyway because the sun wakes me.

In winter, though, it’s dark at 6:30 a.m. I don’t want to get out of bed.

When I worked at my law firm, I fought that and got up anyway because I had morning commitments. I carried that approach over when I started working mainly at writing. But it often left me feeling draggy (not sure that’s a real word, but it’s how I felt).

Now instead if I feel exhausted when the alarm goes off I give myself another 30 minutes. Often after 15 or so I’m awake and out of bed, and I feel much better. I've also shifted the time when I go to sleep to 15-20 minutes later.

So far, that’s led to me feeling more relaxed, less stressed, and happier. I think it's because I’m not fighting what my body seems to want and need.

I’m hoping that will help me stay healthier this winter as well.

Exercising Outside

Despite disliking the cold (I know, I know, why do I live in Chicago? Because I love it all the same), I try to go outside every day and walk at least thirty minutes. Often that’s split between a walk to my business mailbox address and back or to a coffee shop and back.

It almost always helps my mood, and it helps me stay in shape.

Some days I don’t get out until late in the day, though, and those usually are the days I start feeling blue. Because of that, I now try to get out by 2 p.m. every day.

This new plan has an exception, though. Last year I went out each day despite that it was often below zero with a high windchill. This year if it’s zero or below and I’ve been out the day before, or will be out the next day, I plan to skip going outside if I don’t need to be anywhere.

Instead I’ll go down to the workout room.

There are large windows there, so I’ll be getting some light, and I can walk on the treadmill to get exercise. But I don’t need to push myself be out in the intense cold and wind that wears me down.

I’m hoping that change, too, will help me stay healthier and happier.

Seeing People In Person

Part of why I teach legal writing and research is because when the semester is in session I’m guaranteed to see people—my students and sometimes other professors—once or twice a week.

But that’s still not a lot of contact with people. Also, there are weeks when most of my work is grading papers, not meeting with students or teaching.

This year I’m trying to build in more times to get together with people in person. Last night I met with a new book group I belong to for dinner. And as I write this, I’m at a Barnes and Noble café with three other writers.

I took an L train here plus walked nearly mile in twenty-degree weather toting my laptop. From a purely time management standpoint it probably didn’t make sense. I could write as much or more at home. But it felt great to have some company. Especially because every other day this week I worked at home alone.

My other plan this year is to add one more coffee, lunch, or dinner date to my schedule that is purely social.

I already have one friend I have dinner with once a week. In the past I’ve certainly gotten together with other friends in winter but not as regularly as I want to. This year my goal is to make sure each week to see 1-3 friends whose company I enjoy.

If you have other ideas for a more cheerful winter, please let me know.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about ways to overcome fears of failing as a writer

L.M. Lilly

3 Things To Leave Out Of Your Dialogue

Below are a few things I've learned to omit from dialogue to make it sound more real.

I say “sound more real” because, as I mentioned in Improving Your Dialogue, the best dialogue gives the feel of true-to-life conversation, but doesn't duplicate it.

If it did, it'd be pretty dull.

Leave Out the Uhs and Ums

Uhs, um, likes, and you knows are words and sounds most of us say some or all of the time. Consciously or unconsciously we use them to stall for time while we think, to fill pauses, to show we belong to a social group that uses them, or simply out of habit.

Just as professional speakers strive to eliminate them, most of the time so should we as authors.

That's because while they certainly sound realistic, using them distracts and annoys most readers. They stand out in print, where we're not used to seeing them. Also, these filler words and sounds can make your characters sound less confident, more hesitant, or younger than you mean them to be.

Which brings me to why you should use these vocalizations some of the time.

If saying “uh” or “you know” reflects something about your character (age, nervousness, discomfort in social situations), then by all means include it. Even so, you probably don't want to put these types of phrases or words into your character's conversation as often as they might occur in real life.

Let's say you're modeling your character after someone who says “you know” in nearly every sentence.

On the page, that will probably drive your readers crazy. So you might try “you know” in one out of three or four lines of dialogue.

If you're uncertain, find some books where you love the dialogue. See how the author handles these types of words and how often they appear, and use that as your guide.

Don't Say Hello or Good-bye

Pay attention next time you see a phone conversation in a movie or on a television show. The actors rarely greet one another with Hello or Hi or end calls with Bye. When they're done talking they just hang up the phone.

In real life, we'd consider these characters rude.

That's especially so because, along with greetings like Hi or Good-bye, most of us ease into and out of conversations whether in person, by text, or by phone. Rarely do we simply walk away or hang up.

Typically one person on the phone says something like, “I should let you go.” The other responds by agreeing but typically adding something about talking again soon, or having a good week. The other person responds in kind. There's often some sort of “take care” or “be well” back and forth and finally both parties say good-bye and hang up.

The beginnings of many conversations are similar.

Usually both people exchange Hellos and How Are Yous that go on for a minute or two before they talk about anything significant.

If you included these types of interactions in every conversation in your novel, you'd massively extend its length without furthering the plot.

You may  get in a little character development, but your readers will likely miss it, as they've probably taken to skimming the beginnings and endings of all the conversations.

Here are a few ways to omit these types of exchanges without making your dialogue seem unrealistic:

  • Start the scene when the conversation is already in progress
  • Summarize the beginning or end of the conversation or both
  • Include a word or two in one character's dialogue to give the flavor of a Hello and Good-bye sequence: “Hey, Juan, I'm calling about the party.” or “I've heard enough. Good-bye.”

Eliminate the Is

In my Advanced Playwriting class in college (I got a Writing degree–did you guess that?) I read a scene in class. The professor, Paul Carter Harrison, wrote one of my lines on the board: “I'm sorry.”

When I finished, he said, “Nobody says ‘I'm sorry.'”

At first I was confused. I thought he meant no one ever apologized, which obviously isn't true.

Then he explained that he meant that unless it's a very formal situation or there's some reason for emphasis, people say “Sorry” not “I'm sorry.”

As I started listening more to people and to myself, I realized how often we omit pronouns when talking about ourselves.

As an example, which of the two dialogue sections below sounds more realistic?

  1. “I'm sorry I'm late. I had to stop at Starbucks because my mother wanted coffee.”
  2. “Sorry I'm late. Had to stop at Starbucks–Mom wanted coffee.”

Two is probably spot on for most characters.

Of course you could have a character who speaks more formally or precisely, and that person might use the phrasing in One. Also, depending on your character's speech patterns, you might write some combination of the two.

Further, the situation matters.

At a funeral a person might well say, “I'm sorry about your mother's death” rather than “Sorry your mom died” because the latter sounds terse for the circumstances.

But I'd start with One as a default and go from there.

That's all for now. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly