Please Do Not Pay Money for an Online Ad Until You Read This


Articles about the ineffectiveness of online advertising are a dime a dozen. (See this one and this other one, from just this past WEEK!)

I rarely advocate authors spend money on advertising, in part because it takes a specialized skill set to do it well. Plus you have to know how to reach your target market, and some authors don’t even know the definition of that term.

But if you think advertising might be helpful to you or your work, here’s an introduction on how to do it well.

  1. Is your ad meant to build awareness or to make a sale? Most authors I know are interested in advertising to boost sales. If that’s the case, keep reading.
  2. Does your ad have a call to action? You need one. A good example might be, “Download a free sample now,” or “Explore the TOC now.”
  3. If your ad has multiple versions or multiple frames, make sure the call to action appears in every frame and version.
  4. Provide as much info as possible about the pricing or promotional offer. Discount offers and discount codes attract attention.
  5. Refer to deadlines or limits in quantity, if applicable. That will persuade people to take immediate action.
  6. An effective ad is well-designed and balanced. If your ad is more than just a text-based ad (i.e., a display ad), you should probably hire a professional designer to ensure it’s easy to read and hangs together.
  7. When people click on your ad, they should go to a landing page that matches the message in the ad, and offers more detail about the offer or product. Sometimes it is appropriate to link directly to an Amazon page. Just make sure that Amazon page has all the information it should (full book description, about the author, praise/blurbs, reviews, etc).

Other tips

  1. If you have little or no experience copywriting, then gather as much feedback as possible from other authors and readers about the effectiveness of your message and call to action.
  2. Your ad needs to be targeted to an audience that will be receptive to your message. The biggest site is not the best; rather, choose a site that has a devoted fan base that you know will be interested in the type of work you’ve produced.
  3. Consider what other ads (or noise) you might be competing against on a particular site. The position of your ad also matters. If it’s buried at the bottom of the site, or in a sidebar with a ton of other stuff, it might not register with visitors. (This is particularly important if you’re paying a flat fee for the ad, rather than a rate based on how many clicks the ad gets.)
  4. If you don’t know what CTR means, or you can’t define “conversion,” you’re probably not ready to start experimenting with online ads. Educate yourself fully (see resources below) before spending a dime.


If you’ve tried online advertising before, where did you decide to advertise and why? Was it successful? Will you advertise again?

MBA for Writers bottom

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Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.
Posted in Marketing & Promotion.


  1. Excelent pointers, Jane. I’ve just  created a banner ad to run on a influential local blog and, thanks to your list, I’ll be able to revise the banner and make it more effective. Having a “landing page” is a great idea. The banner was going to link to my blog, where the message of the ad is rather scattered. I’m going to create a page within the blog with all the appropriate information. Many thanks.

  2. Nice introduction to advertising indeed. I would also recommend to consider/research the following:
    1.) what is the purpose of your ad campaign; 2.) what are your KPIs (key performing indicators) – what results would you consider as a success?;3.) why does someone click on your ad? (what was his/her intention) – maybe it has something to do with a problem or with a friend’s recommendation;4.) beyond the click: how do people navigate on your website? – what information are people looking for;5.) test different landing pages in order to tend to increase success rates.Like you mentioned, advertising is not online about the advert itself, but about the complete experience. After all it is about what is effective or ineffective to you.

  3. I work in digital advertising (not specific to books). One thing I’d like to add, with animated gifs or swf files… ones with multiple frames, you generally have about 3 seconds to capture a reader. More movement and frames are not always better. People have banner blindness and a more flashy ad can be seen as remnant and ignored. Go simple, clear and easy.

  4. When we offered advertising space on the CataNetwork sites there were several issues I saw over and over again. 1) Poorly designed ads. Many authors would send their cover over for our Cover Spots and the covers were terribly low resolution/pixelated to the point that you could barely tell what was on the cover much less the title/author. It’s not the site’s responsibility to help you provide good ad copy. It’s yours. It’s your money. I personally wanted my site to look good so I’d send bad copy back. 2) Misunderstanding of what you’re buying/getting. Many authors didn’t understand the difference between hits/visits/impressions, etc. Nor did they understand the reality of click through rates. On average, click through rates hover between 1 -2 % www wide. That’s why you need 3) specific and realistic goals. What do you want the ad to accomplish? Click throughs should be looked at as an added advantage of online advertising. You still need to give a strong reason to click. And when someone clicks, you need to be ready on the other side. If you send them to a bookseller, make sure you send to your book’s specific page or your author page. Don’t send them to and hope they type in your title/name. If you send them to your website, send them to a specific page. As one of my favorite author’s said: don’t make me think.

    BTW, if you don’t understand hits vs. visits, here’s an article you should read before requesting stats from potential sites:

  5. Thanks for this, Jane. Advertising can be nothing but a big hole into which we pour money….Good to know what to look for.

  6. A totally sensible checklist, Jane. I particularly appreciated the note to check what other ads will be on the site or in your medium, as they are either competition or compliment. In designing something like a .gif ad, you want to know how it will look there, and how it will look next to other stuff.

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  10. Thanks for the advice. There are so many sites for romance writers to place ads that it gets confusing. Many of them send out newsletters to readers but I wonder how effective seeing someone’s book cover or reading a blurb as one among many others will make a difference in sales.

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