Find Books Like Yours To Target For Your Ads

I’ve written before about how to improve the content and look of BookBub ads for better results. But how do you choose which readers to whom to advertise? In particular, how do you find books similar to yours and their authors?

One way is through

A Graphic Look At Your Book is free to use.

Once there, enter the title of your book and wait for it to show on the right. You’ll also get a list of other books, so you may need to scroll to find it.

Click on it and you’ll get a graph showing your book cover and the covers of books that readers of your book bought on Amazon and vice versa.

Here’s a page from the search of the first book in my Awakening supernatural thriller series:

You can keep scrolling in any direction to see what other books the ones that appear near yours connect to.

Learning About Other Authors And Genres

I often discover books and authors with which I’m not familiar near mine on Yasiv, and I don’t always see the books I expect. That’s why Yasiv is so helpful.

Instead of guessing which readers will like your books and spending money advertising to them, you can instead target authors and books you see on the Yasiv graph. I’ve used these authors for both Amazon and BookBub ads.

Experiment with other sales platforms as well, not only Amazon.

For example, I found Harlan Coben, whom I target with ads for Kobo for my Q.C. Davis series, through Yasiv. Ads targeted to his readers on Amazon, though, don’t work that well for me.

Yasiv also helped me see that a lot of sci fi readers like my Awakening series, despite that it has no hard science at all. But it loosely falls in the sci fi/fantasy genre and it’s a four-book series, which often appeals to fantasy readers.

Connections To Your Own Work

If you have a number of books published, you’ll be able to see whether readers move from one to another. The later books in my Awakening series (The Unbelievers, The Conflagration, and The Illumination) appear pretty close to The Awakening.

That didn’t surprise me, as I generally see sales of the later books after a spike in sales of Book 1.

What did surprise me is that When Darkness Falls, which I think of as my orphan book, also appears pretty near The Awakening. I’m surprised because WDF doesn’t sell much.  Occasionally I run a Free Day through Kindle Unlimited and people download it or borrow it.

It’s a standalone that loosely fits in the same genre as The Awakening but has significant differences.

WDF is a paranormal romance that features a woman in love with a man who has become a vampire-type creature but doesn’t know it. In contrast, The Awakening has little romance and no supernatural characters. It’s about a young woman against a powerful cult convinced she’ll trigger an Apocalypse.

I had thought about making When Darkness Falls wide (available on multiple ebook platforms) like my other books. Now that I know that free downloads of When Darkness Falls drive some sales of The Awakening, though, I decided to keep it in Kindle Unlimited.

I also learned that not many readers cross over from the Awakening series to my Q.C. Davis series, a suspense/mystery series with no supernatural or occult elements. Disappointing, but it confirms that I need to target entirely different readers for the two series.

That’s all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly


Are You Giving Your Readers Good Customer Service?

A CVS I once shopped at every week closed the other day. Its disappearance made me think about customer service and how that relates to the business of being an author and publisher.

An Unsurprising Store Closing

The CVS that closed was once directly on the way to my office, which is how I started shopping there. When I switched my place of business, I detoured a few blocks out of the way because the pharmacist was helpful and cheerful, and I was in the habit of picking up things like toothpaste and Advil there.

Gradually, though, going a few blocks out of my way became less and less appealing.

It started when CVS put in self-checkout machines.

No matter how long the lines were, how many employees were stocking shelves, or how many machines errorred out and stopped working (I found them very unreliable in the beginning), the employees rarely opened up a regular cash register to ring people up.

Also, working or not, I find the machines cumbersome and awkward to use.

There’s no room to put anything down, as the machines are jammed against one another.

The only shelf is for bagged items you’ve already rung up, as the mechanical voice sternly advised me when I momentarily set my purse there to keep from dropping it.

All of that means that when it’s twenty degrees and sleeting outside I have to juggle my umbrella, hat, mittens, shoulder bag full of files, wallet, credit card, and items to check out with only two hands. While sweating under my winter coat.

Other times the specific item I need is out of stock.

Or it’s been recategorized and shelved elsewhere. (I don’t have kids, so it doesn’t occur to me that I might only find cotton swabs, for instance, in the infant aisle.)

While I occasionally buy a few things at CVS, these days I usually order online. And that’s despite that because I now work in my home office I’m looking for reasons to take walks and interact with other people.

CVS simply makes it far too hard for me to spend money there.

What Good Service Looks Like

My first order with Amazon might easily have been my last.

Early on when Amazon sold only books I ordered five on the origins of monotheism and on goddess cultures. I wanted them for research for what eventually became my Awakening supernatural thriller series.

Local bookstores didn’t carry the books.

Amazon offered free shipping. But weeks after I ordered I’d gotten nothing. Happily, I pretty easily found a link on Amazon to report the missing books.

A few days later a box of books came. No questions asked. Two weeks later the original set of books also appeared at my door. But Amazon had already told me to just keep them if they ever showed up.

I was thrilled. One set stayed at home for close study. I kept the other at work to read in those rare times when I had a break.

I also became a customer for life. Especially later when one-click ordering made it even easier to buy.

Putting It Together

What I learned from these experiences about retail business:

  • Make it easy, not hard, for your customers to give you money
  • Make your products easy to find
  • If you make a mistake, fix it quickly and add some value

These seem like obvious points. Yet I go into stores all the time that don’t follow them.

Authors And Customer Service

What does all of this have to do with your author business?

Easy Spend

Most of us sell through other companies like Kobo or Amazon, so we we have limited control over how easy it is for a reader to buy.

But one thing we can do is make our books available in as many places and in as many formats as possible.

Audiobooks, for example, took off very slowly for me. But the other day I sold my 1,200th audiobook, not counting The Worried Man, which is published by a separate company. And the great thing is that I either did a royalty-share deal or paid the narrators up front. So all royalties to me are pure income at this point.

Similarly, at first I issued only ebook editions. But as I met more people who only bought paperbacks I decided I ought to make those available too.

Now about one-third of my sales are paperback editions.


Having books in multiple formats and on multiple platforms also makes them easier to find. Having your own website that lists all the editions also makes it simpler for a reader who hears your name to track you down.

In addition, covers and book descriptions that accurately convey your genre will help readers determine quickly if your books might interest them.


If you learn that there’s a typo in your book, or if you discover your book description is giving people the wrong impression, if you’re a self-published author you can fairly quickly make changes and updates.

And, as an author, sometimes fixing an issue means responding to a reader who emails you. If the reader didn’t like the ending, you can say thank you for the feedback, empathize, and let the reader know that with the next book you’ll keep those thoughts in mind.

It doesn’t mean you need to change your writing style. But if you’re thoughtful and appreciative in your response, the reader may give your next book a try. And you may learn something.

That’s all for today.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Color, Copy, And Theme In BookBub Ads

For the last 3 months I’ve been running BookBub ads for my novels and non-fiction books. (More on why I started doing this in Advertising Books in 2019.)

Here’s what I learned about split testing and ad appearance so far:

Split Test To Learn The Why

On BookBub you can target readers of one particular author at a time. So I regularly tried the same tag line in one ad targeting a particular author’s readers and a different tag line in another ad to the same readers.

This approach is called split testing and I’m so glad I did it.

Otherwise, had I tried a tag line targeting one author and gotten few or no clicks, I might have assumed that author wasn’t a good target for my books. Or that the tag line didn’t work.

Or both.

Instead, for example, the tag line “One woman stands against an ancient and powerful cult” resulted in Amanda Carlson’s readers clicking on it 10%-20% of the time.

Douglas Clegg’s readers, though, barely clicked on ads with that tag line at all.

But Clegg’s readers clicked often on a different tag line: “They thought she would give birth to a messiah….” This ad led to sales of my Awakening series 4-book box set at $9.99. That set is my highest priced item, so finding an author whose readers it interested made a big difference to my bottom line.

Had I not done the split testing, I would have thought Douglas Clegg wasn’t a good choice for my Awakening series at all.

Create Ads Similar To Target Book Covers 

I also played with different background colors and typefaces in ads. That didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference in clicks or sales.

In in Month 3, however, it finally occurred to me to see if I could evoke the color schemes and patterns of the target authors’ book covers.

When I targeted Harlan Coben’s readers with an ad for my domestic thriller The Worried Man and tried to echo themes I saw in many of his book covers the click-through rate doubled.

To the left is the latest ad, which I created on Canva.

If you click through Coben’s covers here you’ll see many use similar shades of yellow. Also, many have a sort of distressed or cracked look in the background.


Echoing Key Words

When I looked at Coben’s book descriptions, too, I noticed they often referred to “secrets.”

As The Worried Man includes the main character discovering secrets about her boyfriend (the victim) and various suspects, I added the word into the ad copy above.

This month I plan to try a variation on this ad with a shorter tag line. I’ll let you know if that works better or not.

That’s all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Choosing Amazon Categories For Your Book

It’s hard to find time each day or week to market your books. Especially if you’re also working another job. One thing you can do once to help books sales is to add Amazon categories.

When you upload your book on the KDP Dashboard (which you can use to publish a Kindle ebook or paperback edition) you’ll be asked to choose two categories.

But where do you check out other books in those categories?

And are you limited to just two?

Number Of Categories

About a year ago at a writing conference a speaker said that if you contact KDP support, you can request a total of up to ten categories. So that’s eight in addition to the original two.

While I haven’t found an official rule confirming that, when I’ve requested additional categories, they’ve been added.

You do that through the KDP Help once you’re signed into KDP. You need to provide the ASIN for the Kindle edition of the book, its title, and the categories.

What’s New

The first time I asked for additional categories, I copied them from the sales page of books that I thought were similar to mine. A KDP support person added most of them.

For a couple, the support person advised that categories had changed but added my book into similar ones.

I still think this is a good way to get ideas.

But when I requested categories this week, I discovered I hadn’t conformed with current requirements.

In my first request for my latest non-fiction book Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Lead A Calmer, Happier Life, I asked for these categories:

  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Self-Help > Stress Management
  • Books > Self-Help > Anxieties & Phobias
  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Personal Health > Healthy Living
  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Counseling & Psychology > Mental Health > Mental Illness
  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Counseling & Psychology > Pathologies
  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Counseling & Psychology > Mental Health > Mood Disorders
  • Books > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Mental Health > Mood Disorders
  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Counseling & Psychology > Pathologies > Anxieties & Phobias

KDP Support responded that I needed to choose specific, current Kindle categories, which apparently I hadn’t done.

Where To Find Them

It turns out you find the current categories on the New Release page.

The email also advised that the categories are different for each Amazon company. So the U.K. might have different categories than the U.S.

On the U.S. page I found on the left hand side toward the middle a broad list of categories. Clicking on each expanded to sub-categories.

Sometimes there were multiple layers of sub-categories. I had to drill down quite a bit to get to ones that struck me as worthwhile. Doing that took me over an hour.

Better Something Than Nothing

In a perfect world I’d investigate the top books in each possible category. Ideally, my book would be similar to those in the Top 20 or so. Also, I’d want books in the Top 20 that didn’t rank so high (say in the Top 5,000 overall) that I’d need massive sales to get there.

I’d also want ones where the Top 20 books didn’t rank so low (say 200,000 and up overall) that probably no one is browsing those categories.

One Category Worked Great On a Recent Free Day

But because I’d already spent over an hour, I had other things to get done (including write), and it’s better to do something than nothing, I skipped that research.

Instead I picked what I thought were the best categories based on the topics and the number of reviews the books had. I requested the following:

  • Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Self-Help : Stress Management 
  • Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Self-Help : Happiness 
  • Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Health, Fitness & Dieting : Counseling & Psychology : Mental Health : Mood Disorders 
  • Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Health, Fitness & Dieting : Counseling & Psychology : Pathologies : Anxieties & Phobias 
  • Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Reference : Words, Language & Grammar : Reference 
  • Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Reference : Writing, Research & Publishing Guides : Writing Skills 
  • Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Reference : Writing, Research & Publishing Guides : Nonfiction 
  • Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Reference : Writing, Research & Publishing Guides : Publishing & Books 

I left researching other countries for another day.

It may not be the perfect list. But at least there will be more places where U.S. readers may come across the books.

That’s all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly


Author Marketing: What’s Different About You?

A marketing coach told me when I was a full-time lawyer that I ought to tell clients about my fiction writing. All of them met and dealt with skilled attorneys all the time, but a very small number of those attorneys also wrote books. What was different about me, he said, was what clients–and potential new clients–would remember.

He was right.

I’ve been thinking about how this same concept applies to marketing novels and non-fiction.

So Many Books

With millions of books on Amazon alone, and new authors releasing work every day, it takes more than a good book to stand out from the crowd.

I’ve been exploring advertising, but I don’t think that alone is enough. Also, I want to connect in a more personal way with readers. Artificial Intelligence is advancing at a rapid rate. Soon AIs will be able to write tons of content. So a personal touch matters more than ever.

For all those reasons, I’ve been thinking about what’s different about me and how it ties into my writing.

A Song In My Heart

I started playing guitar and signing when I was in junior high. My first paid job singing was at age sixteen at the Two Way Street Coffeehouse in Downers Grove. (It’s still there.)

But I got away from playing music in my twenties for a few reasons. One was that I was working a regular job and writing novels on the side, and I only had so much time. Another was that I developed a repetitive stress injury in my hands and wrists. Faced with limited use of my hands, writing won out over guitar playing.

Since then I’ve played and sung now and then for fun but not professionally.

Writing What You Know

My music background comes into my fiction, though, and into my non-fiction.

The main character, Q.C. Davis, in my new suspense/mystery series is a lawyer, but she’s also a singer in an a cappella group. In addition, I talk about singing in my upcoming book Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live a Calmer, Happier Life. Because when anxious thoughts grab hold of me in the middle of the night and won’t let go I often sing a few bars of an upbeat song in my head to derail them.

So for my Q.C. Davis series, I recorded myself singing a cappella the song quoted at the beginning of the second book. It was fun to do, and my readers enjoyed hearing the song. It also allowed me to post about the book on Facebook and Twitter without doing an actual sales pitch.

For the Happiness and Anxiety book I’m planning to record myself playing and singing Keep On The Sunny Side, one of the songs I use to derail those anxious thoughts.

I’ve got some practicing to do before then, and my guitar desperately needs new strings, but I’m hoping to post the video within the next two weeks.

And there’s another plus — guitar strings became a tax deductible expense.

What about you? What’s different about you that you can have fun with, tie to your writing, and share with the world?

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Author Marketing: Don’t Do What You Don’t Like

Most of us have a To Do list a mile long. And it almost always includes things that we don’t like to do.

Maybe we used to like a particular task. Maybe we never did. Either way those items keep moving from one day to the next or one month to the next, always hanging out there, weighing on us because we’re not doing them.

I find this is particularly true when it comes to marketing.

Building Your Platform

Whatever kind of writer you are, though, and however you publish marketing is likely to be key to your career. A big part of that is building your author platform. (Jane Friedman defines your author platform as your “ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.”)

And so many tasks go into building a platform.

Here are just a few you might have tried or that might be on your list:

  • building and regularly updating an author website
  • interacting on social media
  • staying in direct touch with fans, potential fans, and readers
  • networking with other authors and professionals who might be able to help you and whom you might be able to help
  • book signings
  • other types of public speaking or personal appearances

In addition, a lot of writers still need to work another job or have multiple other responsibilities.

Shortening The List

When I’m feeling overwhelmed often my answer is to try to power through my list. Like it or not, if I decided a particular task is one most successful authors do I feel like I need to keep it on my list.

So it was with great relief when I heard Jim Kukral of the Sell More Books Show say this week that if you don’t like something relating to marketing don’t do it.

When I thought about it, that made a lot of sense.

If you don’t like something, it will probably take you more time to do than focusing on something that achieves the same purpose but that you enjoy. You’re also less likely to be effective, or come across as genuine, if you’re trying to engage with readers in a way that’s not fun for you.

Finally, what works for one author doesn’t necessarily work for someone else. So why push yourself to do that thing that you keep moving from one week to the next (or one month to the next) on your To Do list.

Changes And Social Media

What you enjoy or don’t can change.

As an example, when I first started using Twitter, I loved it. I was working 10 or so hours a day (sometimes including weekends) at my law practice. Twitter was a nice way to take a break for 5-10 minutes a few times each day.

I connected with other writers, shared blog posts I’d written, and found content that helped me in my writing and publishing journey. It reminded me that I was also a writer in addition to being a busy (and often super-stressed) lawyer. It’s how I first came across The Creative Penn, which is now my favorite podcast on publishing and writing.

I also met terrific people who made a huge difference in my career.

Women’s fiction author Melissa Foster and I connected when I had only one book out, my first supernatural thriller, The Awakening, Book 1. Melissa included it in one of the first book launches she organized. We advertised that launch mainly through Twitter.

That experience was key to me learning more about how to present my e-books and introduced me to other authors that I still keep in touch with to this day.

I also met Shiromi Arserio. She later produced and narrated three of the audiobooks in my Awakening Series. We bonded over a shared love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We traded blog posts, proofread each other’s manuscripts, and became friends. The last time she was in Chicago, I got to meet her in person.

Over the last year or two, though, scheduling tweets is one of those things that keeps moving from one To Do list to the next. I’m just not as excited about spending time there. While I still check in with people that I already know, it’s been a long time since I met anyone new through Twitter. And there’s so much content out there now that my issue is scaling back on what I read and listen to rather than searching for insights and information.

Finally, I see a lot more angry and frustrated tweets these days about politics. I’m all for people sharing their viewpoints, but Twitter no longer serves as an escape for me.

All this is not to say I’m abandoning Twitter.

But I decided to stop feeling guilty if I don’t go there a lot. I’ll post the articles from this page and other occasional updates. I’ll see what friends are tweeting. But otherwise I’ll probably let it go.

What Do You Enjoy?

Without particularly planning it I’ve found myself spending more time on Instagram.

I like it because it’s very different from when doing the rest of the day. Rather than sitting in front of a laptop I use Instagram on my phone. Also, rather than writing more words, which I do the rest of the day, I’m looking at or taking photos. I really enjoy using that visual part of my brain.

Also, because I haven’t been on Instagram that long and I’m pretty particular about who I follow everything I see there is something I find inspiring or encouraging or striking or peaceful. Or that makes me think in a new, interesting way.

Is it as good for marketing?

I’m not sure, but maybe that’s the point. I connected the most with readers and other authors on Twitter when I was enjoying it for what it was rather than saying to myself “time to market.” So I figure that’ll be the case for Instagram too.

Anyway, it’s fun.

Have you been struggling with something on your to do list? If so, can you let it go and do something else instead might serve the same purpose?

That’s all for today. Until next Friday—

L.M. Lilly

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 

The Good, Bad, And The In Between Of Advertising Dollars Spent In 2018

Though it’s not quite the end of 2018, today I looked at what I spent on advertising my novels and non-fiction books over the past year.

My goal was to set a 2019 budget as well as to figure out how to spend less and earn more.

Where The Advertising Dollars Went

My yearly spending broke out as follows:

  • 43%     e-Newsletters (BookBub, Fussy Librarian, etc.)
  • 22%     Goodreads (ads and giveaways)
  • 16%      Facebook Ads
  • 14.5%   Amazon Ads
  • 2%         My own email lists
  • 1.5%      Other (in-person book fairs, promotional copies)

My royalties totaled almost 2 times what I spent on advertising. If I thought the ads generated those sales, I’d think that was well worth it. Who wouldn’t spend $1 to earn $2?

I’d also double it if I knew for sure what was working and felt confident I’d earn twice as much.

But I’m fairly sure some of these advertising dollars resulted in next to no sales.

Dropping From The 2019 Spending Plan

There is some value to new potential readers just seeing my book covers and tag lines more often, so I don’t feel any of my advertising dollars were wasted. And I learned a lot, as I wanted to experiment with new platforms if only to rule them out.

Here are the areas, however, where I don’t plan to spend in 2019:


In previous years I always had Goodreads self-serve ads running. While I couldn’t be positive they generated sales, my click-through rate for my Awakening series ads was usually 5% or 6%, which is very good. And when the ads stopped running because the funds ran out, I typically saw dips in sales.

This year, though, not only did my ads for my new suspense/mystery series (the Q.C. Davis novels) not get any clicks, the ads for my Awakening series also stopped getting clicks.

Q.C. Davis Mysteries, Book 1

Unfortunately, self-serve ads need to be funded in advance.

I typically put $70-$80 at a time on my credit card and let the ads run and use those funds. I renewed the Awakening ad campaign and started the Q.C. Davis campaign at the same time a few months ago. As most ads have gotten no clicks since then, almost all that money sits waiting to be spent.

So far as I know, I can’t get a refund (though I may check into that). Right now I plan to keep experimenting with different ads to see if I can get anything to take hold, but I won’t be adding any funds.

Goodreads also switched this year from allowing authors to conduct free book giveaways for paperbacks to charging hundreds of dollars for giveaways.

While I may have gotten a review or two from both paid giveaways I tried (one paperback and one Kindle), the cost seemed too high to me for the benefit.


I experimented with Facebook ads during much of 2018. When I advertised the audiobook edition of The Awakening, that got the fewest clicks.

My best results were for Kobo in Canada for The Awakening, Book 1. But by results, I mean the click-through rate on the ads, not necessarily sales. I did see a little bit of a spike in sales but it wasn’t clear it came from Facebook versus other ads running at the same time.

Also, as I’d been warned, it’s easy for Facebook ads to use of a lot of your funds very quickly.

I haven’t ruled out trying Facebook again sometime in the future. But for 2019 I think I will skip it in favor of focusing more on the platforms in the next section.

Planned 2019 Spending

Amazon Ads

Not all my Amazon ads have done well, but most of them have an average cost of sale well below the royalty I earn. (Amazon’s dashboard calculates this figure for you and shows you the sales from each ad.)

Because the ads are generating more royalties than they cost and because it’s fairly easy to tell what works and what doesn’t, I plan to keep spending on Amazon ads. I’m aiming to fine tune and increase spending on those books and ads that are doing well.

BookBub Ads

By BookBub ads, I mean the ones you create yourself and that you pay for based on either the number of impressions or the number of clicks, not the BookBub Featured Deals. (With the latter, BookBub accepts your book or not and charges a flat fee.)

BookBub ad currently running

I only started spending on BookBub ads this month, so they are not in the percentages above.

While I’m uncertain if I’m coming out ahead with them, each day I’m able to see clicks for each ad. Based on increased free downloads of The Awakening, particularly on Google Play, I believe the ads are effective.

Also, because there is so much data, I feel confident I’ll be able to tell going forward which ads are working and which aren’t.

Finally, BookBub offers good options to tailor the ads. For instance, if you’re getting a low click-through rate on Kobo in Australia, you can turn off just that platform and country and leave the ad running for other platforms and regions.

Email List

I handle my writing email lists through MailChimp. The dollars spent on it are well worth it. I see the largest spike in sales when I send out emails to my lists.

In 2019, I plan to do more to provide value to subscribers and to draw in new ones.


I spent the most on e-newsletters. As a whole, I don’t think it was worth it. For quite a few I paid $40-$60 and saw only 10 or 20 additional sales, if that.

On the other hand, some were very effective. I spent over a hundred dollars on a BookBub Featured Deal for three countries. That deal earned me the money back in a day and generated a profit.

I also like Fussy Librarian because it includes an Audible link along with ebook links, making it one of the only ways to advertise audiobooks.

Part of my challenge this year is that I spent the most on e-newsletter ads for The Worried Man, the first book in my Q.C. Davis mystery/suspense series. But I defaulted to e-newsletters that worked well for my Awakening supernatural thriller series, which may not be the same ones that draw mystery/suspense readers.

I plan to try e-newsletters again next year. But I am going to set a budget so that I don’t spend as much.

Also, I plan to try one at a time when I’m running no other promotions so I can be more certain whether the e-newsletter is generating the sales.

The Year As A Whole

Through the year I felt disappointed with my advertising expenses and royalty income. The first was up and the second down.

Looking back on the year, though, I feel better.

I did spend more than last year on advertising, and some of that money didn’t result in sales. But I feel like I needed to try different platforms and track results to find out what works and what doesn’t. As I did so, I learned a lot about which tag lines and images resonate with people. Also what readers are most interested in my books.

As far as the royalties drop, it didn’t turn out to be as much as I feared. And I feel more hopeful that next year I’ll do better with what I’ve learned about ads. (I’m also hoping not to spend a lot of time recovering from breaking any bones, so cross your fingers for me that 2019 will be injury-free.)

That’s all for today. Until next week (and year)–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you’re free January 1 from noon to 2 p.m. U.S. central time stop by the Writing As A Second Career Facebook page. I’ll be sharing 2019 writing goals and plans and would love it if you’d join me and do the same. (Or just read, that’s OK too.)

3 Things To Think About Before You Write In A New Genre

Most writers read a lot, and many of us read more than one genre.

These days I mainly read suspense, thrillers, and mystery. I used to read a lot of horror and supernatural fiction. And now and then I read mainstream fiction and classics.

Liking to read multiple genres often leads to wanting to write in more than one of them.

But is that a good thing?

Before you switch genres, a few things that are worth thinking about:

Audience Size

At first it seems like a larger audience would be better. I thought so when I switched from supernatural thrillers and horror to suspense/mystery.

But a large audience presents its own challenges.

  • It’s harder to reach a very large audience because there’s no one specific place to go to find them.

Mary Higgins Clark sells a ton of books per year. So does James Patterson. Almost anyone who likes fiction has probably read at least one if not many of their novels.

Which is the problem.

People who love vampire paranormal romance will likely look for more of those types of books. They may join Facebook groups or like pages devoted to that type of fiction. Or search sites like Amazon, Kobo, or Apple Books for “paranormal romance” or vampires.

But a James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark fan, especially one who only reads a few books a year, can simply wait for the next book. They’re bound to hear about it through an ad, a friend, or a physical book in a store window or on a shelf.

  • Lack of common interests, making it harder to engage in content marketing.

Content marketing means creating written content such as articles, blog posts, or short stories that you give away to draw in readers who might also buy your other work. This article, for example, can serve as content marketing for my non-fiction books on writing craft, though it’d be better if I sold marketing books.

But it’s hard to tell what might be a common interest of fans of major bestselling authors. Sure, Patterson fans might like other thrillers. But they also might just like Patterson.

It’s a little easier to guess related interests of people who like more niche genres.

An article about haunted houses or true-to-life spooky stories is likely to draw an audience of readers who like horror fiction.

In contrast, readers who like thrillers don’t necessarily read nonfiction about true crime, law enforcement, or real life suspense stories.

  • Many readers in popular genres only read a few books a year, and voracious readers often already read multiple series.

Readers who read 1-5 books a year probably stick with big names we’ve all heard of. And there are enough of those, at least at the moment, that there’s no need to shop around for a lesser known author.

That’s not to say there aren’t voracious readers in popular genres like mysteries. Many of them, though, already read multiple series by multiple authors. They’ll try a new author, but typically only when they want a break from existing series or if something truly catches their eyes.

In genres with smaller audiences, voracious readers are often more excited to find another author, as they may be having trouble feeding their love of that type of book.

The flipside of all of the above is that if you do get your books to catch on, you can potentially draw in a much wider audience. I gave copies of the first book in my new mystery/suspense series to my dentist, my eye doctor, and my podiatrist (might as well get something more out of breaking my foot this past Spring). They all not only read and loved it but passed it on to other people.

My supernatural thriller series, on the other hand, is one I only promote to people who definitely like that genre because many people simply don’t like that type of book. Giving them a copy is sort of like giving them homework.

So what if you have an existing fan base? Will it help you when you switch genres?

Readers Rarely Cross Genres

In a recent interview on the Science Fiction And Fantasy Marketing Podcast author Tammi LaBrecque talked about genre crossing. She said when she was young she read whatever she could get her hands on because publishers had no way to target readers specifically.

I had the same experience.

My mom had three bookshelves of books she’d bought in the 60s from a book club. They included everything from suspense to historical fiction to humorous essays. I read them all.

In addition, I used to simply wander the stacks in my local library and pull out titles at random that looked interesting. I wasn’t even looking at covers because all I could see were the spines.

Now, though, if you shop on Amazon you’re likely to see books that are similar to ones you’ve already read. Other platforms do the same. Because marketing is so targeted, and so many books are so easily available, fewer people read widely.

I love that books are easy to come by. But it also means your readers may very well not to follow you to a different genre, something I’ve been finding out the hard way this year.

Last year I more than doubled my royalty income from the previous year. I put out the last book in my Awakening Supernatural Thriller series and released two non-fiction books.

This year due to an injury and some other issues I wasn’t as productive. I did, however, put out the first novel in a new genre. It’s a suspense/mystery novel, The Worried Man, and I just released the second book in the series, The Charming Man, this week.

Given that I now have two more books for sale, I would have thought I might at least match last year’s royalties. After all, the previous series is still selling a bit and my email list has grown.

What I discovered, though, is that the readers who eagerly awaited the fourth book in the Awakening Series are not necessarily jumping right into my Q.C. Davis Series. Those who do so far have liked it, but there isn’t the same eagerness as there was for a new book in the past series.

This difference surprised me because I always thought of supernatural thrillers as a subset of suspense, thrillers, and mystery. I figured most people who read the sub-genre would read the larger genre especially from an author they know and like.

But the books are different.

My supernatural thrillers brought in the elements of ancient prophecy and philosophical questions about religion. They also were told from multiple viewpoints, quickly shifting from one to the next.

My suspense series is told in the first person, deep in the point of view of my female private eye type hero, Quille Davis. It’s still suspense and still fast-paced, but it’s a different type of suspense.

Interestingly, I’ve gotten more reader email in the seven months since The Worried Man came out than I did in the first few years with the Awakening Series. But so far it’s a much smaller reader base.

So does all this mean you should stick with your first genre especially if you have built a fan base?

Not necessarily.

Love What You Love

Story expert Lani Diane Rich often says of the fiction we consume that you should not apologize for what you enjoy. Love what you love.

I believe that’s also true with writing. Yes, if we want people to read what we write we do need to think about our readers. But it also matters what we feel excited about writing.

Most of us have or had other jobs that we don’t love the way we do writing. Perhaps we dislike those jobs at times but they pay the bills.

If you’re going to write something you don’t enjoy to pay the bills you need to weigh whether you might be better off doing that other thing for the money.

Of course, it’s not an either/or question.

The best advice I got on this point came from author Steve Barnes in a retreat group he led. He told us to think about writing as concentric circles. One is what we absolutely love to write and really enjoy, shown in the yellow circle above. The other, the green circle, is what is the most marketable. The place to aim for is where the circles overlap.

How seriously you target the overlap depends upon your goals.

If you need your writing to be a significant part of your income, you will probably want to aim for the K and M in the graphic above. If earning a lot and becoming well known is important to you, you’ll probably do your best to write all the time in the green circle.

On the other hand, if you have other sources of income you might inch farther into the yellow circle. And if you write mainly because you simply love writing, you can write anywhere you want.

There is a caveat to this, too. We don’t always know what’s the most marketable. Sometimes we’re surprised.

But if you aim generally for that overlap you can adjust from there depending on your goals.

That’s it for today. Until next Friday —

L.M. Lilly 


Making Your Novel A Fast Read

If you write commercial fiction or hope to, you probably want to make your novel a page turner. Plot is a big part of that. But making it a fast read is also about how easy it is to comprehend the words you write.

Of Sentences And Syllables

The Flesch-Kincaid index estimates the level of education needed to read a piece of writing.

The calculation is based on the average number of words in each sentence and the average number of syllables in each word.

Many bestselling authors write books at the fourth grade level. As did Ernest Hemingway.

Why Write Below High School Level

If you want people to read fast, writing in a way that’s easier to understand helps. Compare the amount of effort and time it takes to read a scholarly article or college textbook chapter to a non-fiction book on the best seller list about the same topic.

Which are you more likely to read for fun? Or for information for that matter?

Writing below high school level (and perhaps at a sixth grade or fourth grade level) also helps ensure your novel will be read it at all. And finished.

If you hand someone 60,000-100,000 words and the first page takes a lot of effort to read, many people won’t continue. If your reader flies through page one, though, and there’s a story hook, it’s easy to flip the page or hit the button for page two.

Also, as readers go on in the book, they’re bound to hit points where they feel tired. Or to have days when they return home exhausted.

If your novel takes a lot of mental focus, they’ll be less likely to pick it up in the first place. They’ll also be more likely to put it down in the middle.

Calculating Reading Ease

This article  explains the specific formula if you’d like to manually calculate the grade level of your work. Some word processing programs will figure it out for you. In Microsoft Word, it’s part of the information you get after you do a Spelling and Grammar check.

Some blog platforms, including Word Press, which I’m using to write this post, provide a readability analysis and tips.

You can also do an Internet search for online reading level and reading ease calculators.

Too Basic

Writing at a too-basic level can backfire. Most of us don’t want to read See Spot run. It’s boring and distracting.

But writing that’s easy to read doesn’t need to be dull. Or limit itself to three-word sentences, one-syllable words, or generic plot lines. The Grapes Of Wrath is at a 4.1 grade level. To Kill A Mockingbird scores 5.9.

Also, preferences vary from person to person and during a person’s lifetime. I sometimes like reading something a little more complex because it takes me longer. The downside of wading through dense case law in law school and in my law practice is that sometimes I fly through novels far too quickly. I want to savor them, not gulp them whole.

Other times I want a book that takes little or no effort and pulls me along. That’s especially so if I’m working through issues in a novel I’m writing.

At those times my brain tends to go into analytic mode when I read unless the book is so fast-moving it sweeps me away.

Look at your favorite books or a group of popular books in the genre in which you write. You can do a formal calculation or eyeball the sentence and word length.

Once you’ve done that, you can get a sense of where you’d like your work to be.

By the way, this article scores a 6.7 grade level.

That’s all for today. Until next Friday—

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Looking for help with your plot? Try out the Free Super Simple Story Structure worksheets.