The Value of “Exposure”

We will Tweet your book ad to our 1,000,000 followers 6x/day for just $19.95/day!

Every author out there has seen ads like this in every shape and flavor. Because the idea of massive exposure appeals to us, and stokes our dreams of success, we often check out this type of offer. While the poorly-written barely-in-English pitches on and similar sites are fairly transparent scams, there are many other book promotion services across the continuum to fully legitimate (and very expensive) advertising agencies, all who hint (without actually promising) that your book will instantly rise out of the pulpy slush to become an instant best seller.

Upon further examination, the more legitimate services have a disclaimer that goes something like this: “Exposure does not guarantee sales.” ¬†It’s one of the often-heard excuses for an apt-to-fail blog tour – they guarantee exposure and that’s what you are paying for. Here’s the obvious problem. “Exposure” doesn’t pay the electric bill. You can’t even buy a stamp with it. Lots of non-selling authors will tell you how much exposure they are getting by doing this or that, and they’ll tell you how important it is, but they aren’t paying their bills either.

So what’s it worth? What price should an author pay for it? Let me define a few items first for the sake of this discussion:

Exposure (E): The number of times your ad is seen. Also called reach or impressions.

Click-through-rate (CTR): Out of the number of people who see your ad, how many will actually click on it to learn more? Anything higher than 1% is good, but in non-targeted ads, you might be lucky to get 0.1%. This is vital for measuring the quality of exposure, meaning how well you are targeting your potential market, but we aren’t done yet.

Conversion rate (CR): Out of the number of people who click on an ad and read your book description, how many will then go ahead and buy your book? If you have a neat cover and an exciting blurb, you can expect a higher CR. If it’s blah, well…

This leads us to the following equation:
E x CTR x CR = Sales

So let’s go back and take a look at that offer of a million Tweets – who doesn’t want to get in front of a million people? However, if those are random Twitter accounts, there is a good chance that many aren’t active (or they could even be fake accounts). So E might not be 1M after all. It could be far less than that – perhaps only 10% of the total. So let’s say that 100,000 random people see the tweet at least once that day. Still great, right? Take my money!


What we want

Not so fast. Those 100,000 people aren’t necessarily book buyers. We all see hundreds of ads each day, and we scroll right past most of them. But let’s say that you are lucky enough to get a 0.2% CTR, so that means 200 people actually click your ad and read about your book.

Your book ad isn’t anything special, but your mother and all your friends tell you it’s great. You might have a 1% conversion rate. So out of those 200 viewers, 2 of them go ahead and buy your book. Since your book sells for $2.99, you earn about $4.00 in royalties. Each hard-earned dollar to the advertiser made back about 20 cents – better than a goose egg, but not something you’d want to do very often, is it? But you got exactly what you paid for, so there’s no sense in complaining.


What we get

Here’s another example:

Let’s say I am lucky enough to be accepted for an ad at Bookbub, and I happen to write new adult romance (I don’t, this is just an example). If I lower the price to $1.99, I can reach Bookbub’s list of 980,000 for $450 (current pricing). Wow, that’s expensive, almost 25 times as much, with a lower royalty per copy! Why would I ever want to do that?

Because these aren’t random and fake Twitter accounts. These are 980,000 real people who have indicated they are interested in new adult romance. Let’s say half of the people who get the Bookbub e-mail ignore and delete it. I’ve reached a half million people who READ my genre! Because they are interested already, a lot of them click on my ad to read more about my book. My CTR might be as high as 3%. 15,000 readers of my genre saw my ad. Now that is exposure.

Since I’ve written a professional, interesting, and engaging blurb, my conversion rate is 5%. I just sold 750 copies, and made back $525. Not only am I $75 ahead, but I’ve reached readers who will write reviews and otherwise spread the word about my fantastic new adult romance book. If I have several books in this genre, I can expect that a number of these folks will buy my other books.

Here’s a third example: Amazon’s pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaign does not charge for exposure. Instead, they charge me a few pennies (whatever I bid) every time a potential reader clicks on my ad. In this scenario, CTR is not relevant, because I’m not paying for it. I’m paying for clicks, and anyone who clicks is presumably interested.

So with that same 5% conversion rate on a $2.99 e-book, for each 100 clicks, I would sell 5 copies, meaning I’d make about $10 in royalties. Am I making money?

It depends on how much I am paying for those 100 clicks. if I take those $10 in royalties and divide it by the 100 clicks it took, then I have a break-even point of 10c/click. If I am bidding what Amazon tells me is the “average” price of 33c/click, I’m losing my shirt, but if I bid 8c/click, I’m spending $8 in order to make back $10. Wouldn’t you love to do that a million times!

In summary, authors should evaluate the value of “exposure” with conservative estimates of CTR and CR to determine if an ad is worth the price tag. Even then, it’s a crap shoot. It’s always best to look at the sales of other books promoted through similar means.

Disclaimer and disclosure (So you know I have at least some idea what I’m talking about): I’m not endorsing any of the campaigns mentioned above – caveat emptor. I’ve never used Bookbub, and I’ve wasted a few bucks on Fiverr and Facebook ads over the past year. I have an ongoing Amazon PPC campaign – and out of thousands upon thousands of exposures, My book has a 0.8% CTR and a 6.3% CR. That sells a few copies almost every day, with the occasional unexplained spike in sales now and then. I’m not getting rich, but I sell enough that these numbers do not vary much. I don’t have a second book yet, so I have no idea of the extent the sales of one will affect another in this type of campaign.

I hope the authors out there have found this information useful, and I welcome comments that contain hard statistics from your own experiences. Good luck, and happy writing.

Yancy Caruthers is the author of Northwest of Eden, a memoir of his experiences while deployed to Iraq in 2007-08 with the United States Army. He was a trauma nurse in the E.R., so the story is a mix of tragic, scary, and hilarious, often on the same page. ¬†Midwest Book Review compares the work to “this generation’s updated version of the Korean War’s MASH.”

You can follow him on Twitter @yancycaruthers or on Facebook: Northwest of Eden.

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