A Small-Budget Advertising Experiment

Haole Wood by Dee DeTarsio

Today’s guest post is by Dee DeTarsio. While it is more of a brief advertising anecdote than a serious ad campaign with strong conclusions, many authors ask me about online advertising (where, why, how). But I find it difficult to offer concrete advice on the matter since so much depends on the place where you advertise, whether or not your target audience sees your ad, what ad copy or images you use, and what your landing page is like. Still, I think this anecdote offers a nice peek behind the veil. On a related note, check out Elizabeth S. Craig’s recent post about her thoughts on what impacts her sales. (Hint: It’s not advertising.)

Chick-lit author Jen Weiner (The Next Best Thing) is my idol. I’ve reread everything she’s ever written, including her recent post that started out, “What if you were a novelist, hoping and praying for your new book to take off?”

Hey … that’s just about everyone I know. She mentioned her ads that were posted on literary websites, which is where I met Largehearted Boy.

Hearkening back to my old marketing professor’s three rules of advertising—KISS, hunt where the ducks are, and circulate to percolate (I told you he was old)—I pushed the go button. I acted Now! For a limited time only! and paid people ($200 for the first week of July) to pay attention to me, as I hoped and prayed my new book would take off.

“Take off” is such a strong phrase, but it was cool to see my book hanging out with the goddess:
Tarsio & Weiner ads

Below, you can see the spike on the right side of the graph–Haole Wood made it all the way up to 21,000 on Amazon’s chart. (And I’m only being a little sarcastic.)

Tarsio Amazon graph

I published Haole Wood on May 15. For the month of June, I sold 87 copies, with 15 borrows. I also offered it FREE from June 7-11 (by being part of KDP Select) to the tune of 5,301 downloads. For the first two weeks of July: 32 sales, 14 borrows.

Just as I am not a wine connoisseur (and choose from the emptiest bin, relying on greater palates than mine), I followed the amazing Jen Weiner and her marketing gang to Largehearted Boy. Who wouldn’t love to have a few of her readers sample their wares? (Largehearted Boy has been an award-winning music, literature, and pop culture blog for the past eight years.)

My one-week run got 18,312 impressions, 22 clicks and five tweets. I’m pretty sure I was three of those tweets.

Would I do it again? Advertising is way more fun than abusing Facebook and Twitter (Holla! @Porter_Anderson!). There’s just that pe$ky little $ituation that sent me back to the drawing board.

I don’t have any idea why the book tanked on this chart on June 28. Was Mercury in Retrograde again?

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion.

At risk of going all Gladys Kravitz on “real” authors, Dee DeTarsio is a writer living in southern California.

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Turndog MillionaireJacklyn CraftGreat Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 27, 2012 « cochisewritersFriday Features #15 | Yesenia VargasTom Bentley Recent comment authors

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Friend Grief

This is a great first-person account, Dee, so thanks a lot for sharing your experience. I’m a novice at this writing thing, so mostly I’m going on marketing experience from previous lives. But I think we can benefit more directly from giving away our time than from giving away our money. I’m more inclined – and this is just me I’m talking about – to guest blog or write an op-ed piece or attend a conference than I am to spend money on an “ad”. It definitely has to do with your old professor’s advice to “hunt where the ducks… Read more »

Dee DeTarsio

Thank you, Victoria. I agree with you on guest blogging and being part of the community (there is a great post on this at Writer Unboxed today!), but I am glad I tried the ad. It’s all part of my learning experience and trying to figure out how this business works, on a teeny-tiny level…(Not only that, it was fun, and dangerously easy to place that on Largehearted Boy!)

Holly Robinson

It is a very odd thing for writers with little money to plunge into the thick of the advertising world, but plunge we must, because we want to send our babies out into the world with sparkly outfits and brand new shoes! I’ve been buying (cheap) ads here and there since self-publishing my first novel, plus doing the guest blogging thing, and it takes time to pay off–it’s definitely the layered approach that works; i.e., just the way you see movie trailers three or four times before you remember the name of that movie you wanted to see, people have… Read more »

Dee DeTarsio

Thanks, Holly! That’s just it–we don’t know if our efforts will even be noticed, and if they are, how they will be perceived! Best of luck to you with your new novel!


Hi, grats to success! How was the $200 spent?

Jane Friedman

To help clarify for Dee, it was spent on that single ad you see in the screenshot above.


I’ve advertised off and on over the years but I never once expected that an ad would get me on the bestseller lists. I worked hard to do that myself. Advertising was only one aspect in my overall marketing plan that got me in the top 20 on Barnes and Noble and the top 200 on amazon. Advertising works if you do it frequently and adjust your expectation of what “working” is. When I think of advertising I think of it as a small voice that lets people know about me 24/7. It has that ability. Click throughs are just… Read more »

Dee DeTarsio

Thanks, Selena, and congratulations on your success! I think you have the right secret of building name recognition with a combination of tools!

Adriana Ryan

Hahaha, I love this post. I sooo feel your pain, Dee. My book doesn’t come out till February 2013, but I am already looking at ads going, “Huh? Is it worth it?” I will probably save the big bucks for when book 2 in my series comes out, but man…I wish I had a little pot of money buried in my backyard. That would make decisions so much easier. (Why yes, I would like to buy ALL the ads!)

Dee DeTarsio

Thanks, Adriana–an honest-to-goodness ad budget would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Good luck with your books (and with getting the word out!)

Vaughn Roycroft
Vaughn Roycroft

Darn those $tumble-point$ that sent you $crambling! Although I never feel like you’re abusing fb and Twitter, Dee. Not like some, who are sure to go blind if they keep it up. Thanks for sharing!

Dee DeTarsio

Ha ha, good one Vaughn! And yes, my sorry allowance $tink$:( (And why is Boy George’s ‘Miss You Blind’ stuck in my head? Thanks.)

Tom Bentley
Tom Bentley

Dee, thanks for the peek. I just finished “Dollars and Sense: The Definitive Guide to Self-Publishing Success” (which oddly, doesn’t appear on Amazon right now, though that’s where I downloaded it) which provides a very measured, step-by-step approach to book promotion, including the use of purchased advertising all the way up to AdWords campaigns, though the authors are very declarative about potentials for tossing away money without return. They give advice for incremental campaigns and steady measurement on return. I am going to try some of their techniques for audience-building for a small-press book of short stories of mine that… Read more »

Dee DeTarsio

Good luck with your new book, Tom! It is so hard to decide where to focus, and how much time, energy and $$ to spend (especially when so much time and energy have already been spent writing!)…


[…] A Small Budget Advertising Experiment by Dee DeTarsio at Jane Friedman […]


[…] DeTarsio (@deedetarsio) guest posts on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog about her Small-Budget Marketing Experiment. Not all marketing efforts produce big results. Dee offers no explanations for why hers performed […]

Jacklyn Craft
Jacklyn Craft

Great post Dee. I’m a long ways off from finishing my book but have been researching the marketing side along the way. Very daunting. I’m starting to think that writing a book is a lot easier than selling one.

Dee DeTarsio

Thanks for your comment, Jacklyn! You are so right–writing is soooo much easier than selling! Good luck on your book!

Turndog Millionaire

Timely post, I was just looking at some advertising things yesterday.

I’m not massively sold on the idea of advertising for books, but feel certain types (like a day or two on Kindle Nation) might be worth the money. I feel it all has to be done in one go though, so your book can shoot up the charts. If it gets high enough, you might be able to stay there.


Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

Dee DeTarsio

Thanks, Matthew–Turndog Millionaire! I agree with you on maximum presence in one go-through, and I just tried that with KDP by using all 5 free days in a row to try and reach (and sustain) a more visible position. I’m going to try it again next month and see how it goes. (I also have heard Kindle Nation is a good idea!) Good luck, thanks for your comment!