Paid ads will only ever go so far to sell books. Those full-page ads in the New York Times that famous authors get? Tens of thousands of dollars a pop, and they do more to stroke the authors’ egos than they do to sell books.
Word of mouth is your most valuable mode of advertising. It can spread quickly, is free, and there’s no time limit on it.
Not all paid advertising is so obvious. You know the tables near the front of the bookstore, laden with piles of new books? The publishers of said books paid a lot of money to have them placed on those tables, because the fact is that most people never get further than twenty feet into the store. Those tables are advertising tools, and they’re worth big money.
So what’s an author to do? If your self-published books are in bookstores, you could always go to the store and turn the copies face-out on the shelf. Of course, that’s time consuming and some clerk is just going to turn them spine-out again anyway.
But if you’re an ebook-only author, your strategy has to be different. Since your selling a digital product, you should concern yourself with digital advertising mediums. These include blogs, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Forget paying for banner ads right now. When was the last time you clicked on a banner ad? It was probably 1997 and an accident. So why would you pay good money for something you know people avoid clicking?
I made an exception to try the an ad campaign on Goodreads, since I’ve clicked on a few of their banner ads myself. Goodreads has a self-serve approach to advertising. You set up the campaign yourself, write the title, content, provide an image, and decide where/for how long you want the ad to run. I went with the pay-per-click option, paid thirty dollars, and set the campaign to run until I was out of money.
As of January 13th, 2012, my ad has appeared 127,021 times. 24 people have clicked on it. That’s a click-through-rate of 0.02%. Keep your expectations modest.
I can’t trace any sales back to my banner ad. What I can trace them back to are review blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.