How to Sell More Books with Amazon Ads

Amazon is a huge marketplace for self-published authors, but there’s a lot of competition. How to break through the noise? It’s all about the ads.

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To say that Amazon and indie publishers have a complicated relationship would be an understatement. But the truth is, Amazon still presents a real opportunity for people trying to sell books. And not just publishers, but also independent authors who choose the self-publishing route.

Amazon has over 150 million Prime members (as of January 2020). It’s the world’s largest self-publishing distributor in the world, offering over 1.4 million self-published titles. Their print sales numbers have also been on a steady upward trend

There are self-published authors out there making half a million dollars a year through Amazon sales. Not to mention the case of Mike Omer, the engineer turned self-published author who outsells J.K. Rowling and Stephen King on Amazon. 

The reality is, self-published authors need to be marketing and selling their books on Amazon.

Of course, the popularity of the platform means that there’s a whole lot of competition to contend with. There are hundreds of thousands of authors trying to sell their books on Amazon. 

That leaves us with the question: how the heck do you break through all the noise with your title?

One of the best ways is with Amazon ads.

What Are Amazon Ads?

Amazon ads are like the ads you see on Google. 

Say you do a search on Google for “Best Horror Books 2020.” You’re sure to find info about the top-ranking titles this year, along with ads from businesses selling those books.

The same thing happens with Amazon ads. The difference is that the ads exclusively promote products that can be purchased on Amazon.

Think about what this could mean for you as a self-published author. If you write fantasy novels, wouldn’t it be great if your book showed up in search results for The Lord of the Rings?

The trouble is, it’s easy to spend money on these ads without making much of a dent. That’s why you need a strategy before you dive in. For that, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are our top tips to help self-published authors sell more books with Amazon ads.

1. Start by Understanding Your Audience

While you can’t specify the types of people who will see your ads on Amazon (like you can on Facebook’s ad platform), it’s important to think about the right audience for your book before you start running any ads on Amazon.

Why? Because your ads need appeal to your audience. You could spend all the money in the world getting ads for your book in front of people, but no one will click on it if the ad copy doesn’t speak to them.

Think about your book’s subject matter, and consider the types of people who might be interested in it.

A book about The Beatles will appeal to music nerds and Baby Boomers, while a war novel might be interesting to history geeks, vets, and perhaps current members of the Armed Forces.

A how-to guide will interest people who like to do things themselves. That means they’ll be more likely to respond to language that highlights the “Why” — for example, “This book will show you the easiest way to make your own beer and save money while you’re at it.”

When defining your ideal reader, figure out answers to the following:

  • Which well-known authors and books do they enjoy?
  • Why are they interested in your genre and/or subject matter?
  • What can your book uniquely provide to them?
  • Age, gender, occupation, and where they live (these may or may not matter for your book, it totally depends on your subject matter)

If you’re not sure how to think about your ideal reader, start by looking at your current fans. What is that they like about your books? What keeps them coming back for more?

2. Choose the Right Keywords

Keywords are one of the ways that Amazon determines where to show your ads on its platform. They’re also the best way for self-published authors to use ads to promote their books.

When you set up an ad, specify a lot of keywords, at least three hundred. This increases the number of places your book will show up, and gives Amazon the chance to figure which ads work best for your specific title.

Three hundred may sound like a lot of keywords, but don’t worry — getting there isn’t that hard.

Start by coming up with a list of authors and specific titles that are similar to your work. These are books and authors whose fans you imagine would also like your book. 

The work you did in defining your audience in our previous tip will be helpful here, especially if you’ve had the opportunity to ask your current fans about other books and authors they love. 

Of course, this isn’t helpful if the authors and titles you’re targeting aren’t particularly well-known. If no one is looking at those books, then no one will see your ad. 

Think big. It’s good to include famous authors in your list, because more people search for those names. That means more people could see your ad. 

Look for books within your genre that have recently been turned into popular films — these titles attract a lot of attention thanks to the movie version’s advertising blitz.

Another place to look? Books published by Amazon imprints, such as Thomas & Mercer, Montlake, and Two Lions. 

Amazon loves to promote its own titles, so these books are bound to draw a lot of traffic. And you can get more ideas by browsing the most popular titles on Amazon within your genre.

If you still need more keywords, you can use a keyword multiplier tool to get you across the finish line. This will suggest other keywords related to the ones you’ve chosen. Amazon will also suggest keywords for you to consider.

Just remember that even though it may be a lot of work, once you get a keyword list together, you can use it for future ad campaigns and tweak it as needed.

A note on negative keywords: They may sound like a bad thing, but they’re actually really awesome. 

You can use negative keywords to tell Amazon the authors and titles you don’t want your ad to show up next to. So if you write sci-fi but really don’t want to show up next to Dune for whatever reason, you can do just that.

3. Take Advantage of Automatic Targeting

Automatic targeting is a fantastic feature built right into Amazon’s advertising tool that helps you expand the reach of your ads. 

With automatic targeting, Amazon will show your book to people who search for similar kinds of books, or even products related to it. 

Maybe you’re promoting a cookbook about Southern comfort foods. With automatic targeting, your book could show up on the product page for a deep fryer.

The pro is that these ads are super easy to set up, and they use smart data to get your ads in front of the right people. When the algorithm finds a placement that gets a good click rate, it’ll focus ads in that direction, optimizing over time to bring you more views for less money.

The con with this approach is that you can’t specify keywords. So run multiple ads, one that uses a manual keyword targeting approach, and another that uses automatic targeting. That way you get the best of both worlds!

4. Focus on ROI

You may be a self-published author first, but you’re a budding marketing expert second! 

Think about your ad spend not in terms of the total amount of money, but in terms of ROI, or return on investment.

The point of paying for ads on Amazon is to sell more books. You spend money to make money. 

If it costs you $10 in ads to sell a $15 book, you aren’t making money when you consider the cost of printing the book (not to mention the time you put into writing, producing, and marketing it).

But if it only costs you $1 in ads to sell that book, you may be on to something. And if you can scale that up, do it! Yes, you’ll be spending a lot of money, but you’ll be making a lot, too.

With Amazon ads, you “bid” on placements against other authors who are advertising their books. That means it’s a balance of bidding enough to get placements, but to not overpay for those ads.

Start with lower bids as a trial run to see which keywords are getting action. If none perform well, move your bids up a little. 

Once you find the sweet spot on your bid amount, up your overall daily budget to pour more money into those keywords. The bid is how much you pay to have your ad shown, while your budget dictates how many times your ad can be shown.

Make sure you’re giving Amazon enough to work with to display your ad as much as possible. $10 a day is a great budget, and usually Amazon won’t be able to spend that amount. 

Either way, it puts a cap on your ad spending, which means at most you’re spending $300 a month to promote your book on Amazon.

5. Tweak As You Go

The best part about Amazon ads? You can change them whenever you want. 

Check in on your ads every couple of weeks to see how they’re performing. If you’re not getting the ROI you’re looking for, try tweaking your keywords, ad copy, and budget. 

You can even run multiple versions of the same ad to test different approaches at the same time. When you look at the analytics of your ad performance, keep an eye on a few things:


  • A low impression count means that not many people are even seeing your ads.
  • To improve this number, you need to revisit your keywords and bids, and possibly your budget.


  • Are your ads getting a lot of impressions but not many clicks? Tweak your ad copy to really hook people.
  • Think about your audience and what will speak to them. By the way, the average click rate on an Amazon ad is .36%.
  • That means that for every 10,000 people who see your ad, at least 36 should be clicking on it.


  • Are you getting a lot of impressions and a decent click rate, but not many sales? The problem could be in your book’s product page.
  • Maybe your ad is driving potential readers to your product page, but they aren’t sold on what they find there. That means you need to refine your book’s description.
  • Remember your audience — what resonates with them? Speak their language on your product page and they’ll be more likely to buy. 

6. Be Patient

Amazon’s algorithm needs time to figure out where best to show your ads. It can take up to two weeks for sales to even show up on your account.

Let Amazon do its thing, and only change your ad strategy once or twice a month at most.

It’s All About the Follow-Through

One of the biggest barriers in selling a book is in the presentation. Unfortunately, people do judge books by their covers.

It’d be a shame to write an amazing book, do all the work of developing perfect ads, and spend loads of money on getting your ads in front of potential readers on Amazon, only to have them shy away from buying because your cover art looks unprofessional.

That’s why you should work with a professional book designer for your next title.

Read our interview with professional book designer HR Hegnauer to find out what’s most important when designing a cover > 

Adam user

President & CEO,
Steuben Press

Adam Ellis has worked in the book industry since 2002, when he was first exposed to the wonderful world of Self Publishing. Over the years he has worked with thousands of authors and helped to produce, print and publish countless books.

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Printing our books at Steuben Press has been the easiest step in the very hectic journey of publishing a book. They were friendly, accessible, and delivered a quality product right on time. Will definitely be working with them again in the future. 
– Josiah Hesse, Denver, Colorado
Pick up a copy of Josiah Hesse's latest book in his Carnality series at