Authors Are Paying for Ads and Their Books Aren’t Being Seen

Book promotion Message_Clipped_ForIU
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Several authors have reported to IU that they’ve had disappointing sales after paying for an email advertisement, only to find their book didn’t show up in emails sent to recipients using a few of the big web-based book promotion services. Why not? Because companies like Gmail cut off emails they consider too long. So, here’s a typical scenario an author has reported to IU:

I was all excited because I got accepted by one of the advertising sites for discount books. On the day my book was scheduled to run, I opened up the email, scrolled all the way to the bottom and didn’t see my book. I was really mad as I paid money and was told I was scheduled for that day. I was about to email the site to find out what happened, but I decided to look at the email again, just to make sure I hadn’t missed my book. Then, I saw something I’ve never noticed before. At the bottom of the email, it says: “Message Clipped” and indicates to click here to “View Entire Message.” I clicked the link and it opened a new screen where I saw my book listed as one of the last few books in the email. But, my heart sank as I realized I was probably the only one who clicked that link. I didn’t even notice there was a link until I realized my book wasn’t there. And the resultant sales — or lack thereof — confirmed my suspicion. Very few people clicked to view the entire message. Most people didn’t even know my book was advertised, even though I paid money to be advertised in the email.

It’s a very frustrating situation for the author. It’s not entirely new in email marketing though. Mail services like Gmail have been truncating long messages for several years. For some reason, we’ve only been hearing about it affecting book advertisers in the last couple of months. Because marketers have known of the email truncating problem for a couple of years, there is an established fix: keep email content to less than 102 kb. This fix is recommended both by MailChimp and Adestra. However, some advertising services that are charging authors to feature their books aren’t following this best practice.

So, if you’re an author and you’re about to advertise on a site, what do you need to do to make sure you don’t pay for an ad that gets clipped? Well, there are no guarantees, but here are a few suggestions of things to do to lessen your chances:

1.    Subscribe to the book promotion services you plan to advertise on (using a Gmail and/or Yahoo address) and check the emails for a week or two. Are their emails getting clipped? If so, that may not be a site you wish to advertise on.

2.    Ask the book promotion service how they combat the problem of truncated emails. If they can give you an answer, it means they’re aware that this is a problem and are actively striving to make sure you are getting what you pay for: an appearance in their email ad.

3.    Ask the email service what they do for authors whose books got cut off. If your email service is trying to do the right thing and keeping their emails under 102kb and generally have no truncation, then they might have a policy about what they’ll do if they have a problem now and again. Perhaps they offer a second run at no cost at a later date. Or perhaps they give you a discount on a future ad. But it will be something more than, “Too bad for you,” which is the response some of the authors who complained to IU heard.

book promotion email truncated in yahoo
This is in Yahoo mail.

Our readers reported that advertisers they’d experienced the truncated email issues in both Gmail and Yahoo! mail with included KB&T (Kindle Books & Tips), Choosy Bookworm, and BookBub. This may be entirely dependent on how many genres they are subscribed to.

When authors pay for email ads, the goal is to increase visibility. And while we all know those at the bottom of the email get less visibility than at the top of the email, we don’t expect those at the bottom to not be seen at all. And that’s what happens when messages are truncated. Those books that would have been mid-mail become bottom of the mail, also reducing their sales. So, the problem affects all the books except for those at the very top.

If you can think of any other strategies that can help authors avoid this problem, feel free to post them in the comments.

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49 thoughts on “Authors Are Paying for Ads and Their Books Aren’t Being Seen”

  1. This is very frustrating. We expect that when we pay for an ad that the viewer will see all of what we requested. It’s what we paid for. Good suggestions for dealing with the issue. Perhaps we need to ask them what readers will see before it prints so we can be assured that what we sent is actually what will appear. That will increase the workload for the advertiser, though, so may not be practical from their end.

    1. There is (or used to be) a provision in radio/tv advertising for running a “make good.” The station or network has to re-run the ad if if doesn’t get run for some reason.This needs to be mandatory for e-mail newsletters when what we paid for doesn’t happen.

      I question the legality of saying “that’s the breaks” because even though authors such as myself aren’t always aware of clipped e-mails, the newsletter companies are aware. I have no concept about the length of an e-mail so long it gets clipped, but wonder if people even see the ads that far down in the newsletter when they get them via providers that don’t clip them.

      Newsletter companies need to keep the lengths of these e-mails within the limits providers will allow, and then consider breaking them up into multiple kinds of newsletters so they aren’t running up against lengths that (a) aren’t transmitted or (b) don’t get read all the way to the end.

  2. Excellent post. The thing is, if every author that advertises makes a point to ask questions and check this out, I believe the companies will very quickly realize they need to address this and make adjustments. If their promotions are deemed ineffective, who will advertise with them? Thanks for pointing this out. I rarely use my gmail, so I would never have known.

      1. Absolutely right! Speak up and post about the problem in all social media sites, and I think that they will soon sit up and take notice. The pen is definitely mightier than the sword!

  3. Way back when I first discovered book ad subscription services, many of them had a policy of only sending out a specific number of ads per email. I’ve noticed lately that emails will sometimes have 20+ ads (I only subscribe to a couple of genres, neither of which are the most popular). That’s a huge number of ads to be included in one email, and no doubt contributes to the problem. My guess is sites are trying to accommodate more authors, and some might not be realizing the emails are then cut short.

    1. I’m probably the rebel on this because I like advertising my books in these newsletters even though I don’t use the newsletters as a means of finding the books I read. So, I see this puts me at a disadvantage of not being very aware of the venue.

  4. In a marketplace that seems rife with ineffective promotion offerings, it’s articles like this that help us to know what to look out for. Thanks!

  5. Yes, speaking up might help, but I think many of these sites (other than BB) face challenges right now. I notice my emails from Kindle Nation Daily and Book Gorilla ALWAYS truncate. Worse, KND often ends up in my spam folder! I still get sales from BG appearances, but so far I’ve been lucky to fall “above the fold.” In general, I’ve seen a fall-off in response to paid promotions.
    There’s also the issue of Amazon apparently telling some of these sites they can no longer make money off affiliate marketing fees. That is bound to result in a shake-up. Presumably they will need to charge more to make up for the loss of that income, making the return on investment for authors even more questionable.

  6. This also happened to me with OUTSKIRTS PRESS. I paid them over $200 to market my book, and nothing happened. When I asked for a report, they simply ignored my email. The whole book advertising setup seems like a scam.

    1. I was with Outskirts Press to begin with and soon learned they are like all the other pay-to-publish companies (predatory publishers) – take the money and do substandard work or nothing at all. I withdrew my books from OP and self-published them. It was a big loss of money, but I’m much happier now.

  7. I had no idea this was happening until now. It is quite possible that many other authors aren’t aware of it, either. I’m going to be sure and share this post. Thanks for the heads-up, IU!

  8. Thank you for posting this information. This is something I had no idea about and could explain why some of my sales are down. Thank you for this and have shared it among other authors as well.

  9. Thank you for posting this. I’d be interested to see if there’s any response from the advertisers. Some of their emails are growing so long that I wonder if anyone sees the books “below the fold,” and now…maybe we know a piece of that puzzle.

  10. Good article, thank you for explaining this, I wondered what was going on with Book Bub. I had my yahoo email account set to subscribe to Book Bub. There used to be 4 to 6 books of interest in their daily email. Then I noticed the other month they started running a separate ad at the bottom of the daily email and suddenly there were only 2 books a day in their newsletter list plus the separate book advertisement at the bottom of it. Finally, after about 4 weeks of this, I gave up on them and stopped subscribing. Their variety and quality of books greatly decreased. Now I for go their email and log in directly to book bub every few days. I also notice a lot of redundancy in their book offerings and series on their list with very little turn over for new books. It seems to be the same books all the time.


  11. This is very alarming. Checked out a couple of emails i got today and true, there are more books hidden from sight. I would be steaming if a BookBub had a truncated massage.

    1. This post is definitely something to follow up on for self-pub authors when promoting our books. However, in fairness, I’ve been a daily BookBub subscriber, in several genres, and have never received a truncated email from them.

      1. You may not subscribed to enough genres, Tracy. One of our readers told us that historical fiction is almost always truncated in her emails, but she subscribes to a lot of genres. She sent along the screen capture. We wouldn’t print it if they couldn’t provide that.

          1. Probably because then some people would receive seven emails (if they chose seven genres) and depending on the email plan the advertisers are on, they may be charged a fee for each email that goes out.

  12. I think the other part of this equation is the receiver’s email program. Every email program has a different set of rules and settings. It’s now fairly well known by authors who use Mailchimp that having a Gmail or Yahoo or other free email address isn’t a good idea because of what Gmail, Yahoo, etc do as a receiver of email. In fact, Mailchimp is forcing users to click on a button to acknowledge the issues surrounding using a Gmail account before being allowed to send out a newsletter. So…I guess there is fault to go around – senders of newsletters/emails as well as receivers of newsletter/emails.

    1. I agree that we’d all like it if Gmail and Yahoo stopped truncating our emails. If an email is too long, then I’ll just stop scrolling through it. But, at least I know I stopped scrolling through it and left some stuff on the table. When a webmail company truncates a message, I have no idea I’m missing out, which is not what I want. I’m sure there are legitimate reasons to truncate mail (I imagine, it taxes their servers), but I wish they wouldn’t do it. Or if they did, instead of a little tiny, “View Entire Message,” that they had big headline size print that says, “THERE’S MORE. WE’RE JUST NOT SHOWING IT TO YOU.”

  13. I’ll just note that I’m subscribed to almost all Bookbub categories and my mails always truncate (Yahoo). Bookbub runs its most popular categories — romance and mystery/thriller — last in the mails. Those categories still seem to perform best. I think more people do understand how email services have worked for years than seems indicated here.

    Another consideration is how daily emails propagate from the website listings — first on the webpage is last in the email and vice-versa. Those who pay more for Daily or Spotlight or Featured listings are posted last in the day or are manually placed at the beginning of the mail to ensure eyes-on.

    From the reader/subscriber perspective, I don’t want separate emails per category, so if I sub to 20 different cats, I’m going to expect at least 20 selections per day. It’s on me, not the service, to figure out to retrieve all the books I’m asking for.

    The advertising sites appear to be damned no matter what they do. They add more category choices in order to better target the reader preferences and to accommodate more authors demanding more ad opportunities. Now they get dinged because they’re offering too much choice and are urged to, what, limit their choices? List books by cover only with no descriptions or by title and one-line blurb only and cover?

    Educating the consumer seems to be where effort should lie, not in chastising the advertisers for consumer ignorance.

    Lots of comments about sharing with other authors here, but not much in the way of solid, actionable advice for how to deal with this ‘problem’ that’s been around since the very first POI, FKBT, ENT and Bookbub mails I received back in 2012. This isn’t new, and it’s not *suddenly* the cause of worsening ad site promos.

    My suggestion? Put the effort you were going to spend on this toward coming up with other tactics you can use in conjunction with ads to achieve better visibility.

    1. I didn’t read any chastisement of ad sites in the post, just information on something a lot of people hadn’t noticed, and a call for suggestions.

      I agree with those saying they don’t want multiple emails from each site. Heaven knows, I have too many emails as it is. And, as I stated above, I think the issue has grown because of exactly what you’ve said – sites are working to accommodate more authors by running more ads and offering more categories. This benefits everyone – readers, authors, and the ad site.

      Having said that, if I pay for an ad I’d like people to see it, even if that means (as RJ stated above – or maybe below) end the email before the truncated portion with a big announcement to click for more, instead of a tiny link that’s easy to overlook.

    2. I appreciate your willingness to look upon the promo sites in the best light possible, but I can’t agree with most of your conclusions. I think that most of them are adding more categories because it ups their earnings. As far as “educating consumers,” that is a rope that I don’t think will push uphill. I have tried to teach thousands of people how to sideload a Kindle or do any other number of basic internet operations, and I don’t think changing people’s email reading habits has a chance to succeed.

      The reality is, there are a number of easy to achieve solutions that these lists can implement in order to stop the truncated messages from happening. When they choose not to, I think the deserve every bit of scrutiny they are receiving.

  14. I just checked and this is happening with Freebooksy too! Some of their packages are $150! This is fleecing authors!

    1. Hi Lynn – I am the founder of Freebooksy and I can assure you that we base our pricing on the results and the returns that our customers are getting. We pride ourselves on being partners and advocates for authors and we categorically do not fall into the realm of services that are predatory when it comes to indie authors.

      I think the missing piece to this discussion is that for most book marketing services, including ours, every email that a reader receives is personalized. So what you see in your email is not what everyone else is seeing.

      The majority of our readers are seeing all their book selections above the fold. Readers only receive books from genres of their choosing, and most readers opt in to a handful of genres (the genres they love to read) making their emails shorter than if they had opted in to all of the genres that are available.

      We find that authors opt in to many more genres than the average reader, presumable because authors are using the services as an industry tool, whereas readers are using it as a discovery tool specifically for the genres that they are interested in reading.

      As Phoenix notes above, emails of a large size have always been clipped by email clients, this is not a new issue. So if our (and BookBub) features have been effective for promoting your books in the past, you can expect they will continue to be effective in the future.

  15. If you are reading on gmail, you expect them to truncate. You know to look for that message at the end. Because of that I design my (rare) emails to have the main message in the first paragraph or so. And I know some promoters like KND warn you that you might fall beneath the fold. But if you are a promoter, I would think it would be better for your paying writers to send more emails with fewer books in them than to send out a long one where lots of books end up underneath the fold. Either that or offer a good discount for being on the bottom half. And in general, the more uncurated books you offer, the less attention people are likely to pay.

    No doubt this does get tricky if someone literally subscribes to every genre offered, even on BookBub. I’ve seldom seen them offer more than one or two literary or women’s fiction titles in a single email, though. Christian fiction for some reason seems to get more, thought it could be I’m lumping the fiction and nonfiction together.

  16. BookBub emails are pretty much always truncated by Yahoo. The best solution would probably be to place a broad banner at the top of the email notifying readers that the content might be truncated and that they need to scroll to the bottom and click on the link that allows them to see the entire email.

  17. As a bookseller, I can tell you that the only “book ads” I read are PUBLISHERS’ marketing from publishers I like (e.g.: those publishing in my preferred genres), and for which I signed up, and review-heavy e-newsletters such as “Shelf Awareness” and “Unshelved” (library serial comic; every week includes a comic review). Unsolicited crap from vanity presses gets SPAM-canned & reported to my ISP as SPAM (which results in the ISP “blocking” the SPAMvertisers).

    Authors, DO NOT waste your money on B.S. “Marketing” like this. (In general, don’t waste your money on “vanity presses” either, but that’s another rant.) They tell you they’re “marketing” you to hundreds of bookstores, but just SPAM us with NO consideration as to whether your book’s even something we’d want to stock. Getting unsolicited copies of a WW2 memoir, for instance, addressed to my Science-fiction/fantasy specialty business just makes me pity the poor author, and LOATHE the predatory “publisher” who’s ripped off an elderly vet. 🙁

  18. Another point to consider with newsletters is the “open rate.” MailChimp says the average for this industry is 30%. So you send 10 thousand emails, but only 3 thousand get opened.

  19. Huzzah! This well-time article explains a lot. Even my Mad Mimi newsletter gets truncated. I’m gonna do as one author commented: Tell my subscribers to Click on that Show Full Message or SEE More so they don’t miss a FREE or discounted book or a giveaway. A recent 99$ promo with KND did not get a single spike in downloads. It was the only promo I had on the unit on May 25, which left me scratching my head and wondering if that book was D.E.A.D. When our books don’t see downloads with a premier or established promoter, it leaves the author wondering about content, cover, book description…we always first think is is US or our book is struggling to find an audience. Nice to know that perhaps it is not the book, but the truncated newsletter and subscribers not clicking that Show Full Message. Thank you Indies Unlimited for an accurate and telling article.

  20. Thank you for this informative blog post. I received an email from Kat at Indies Unlimited a few days ago, informing me of the truncated newsletters.

    I have since adjusted some of the coding in the newsletters to avoid having any future newsletters truncated. I will keep an eye on them.

    The books are also available on our website, but we do find that the newsletters are more effective than the website. As the article suggests, if any of our newsletters did get truncated again (which hopefully will not happen anymore), we’d be happy to offer a future run free of charge to make up for it.

    Thanks again for the info,
    Jay at Choosy Bookworm

  21. I’ve also had a disappointing service with a paid promo through a company called ShoutMyBook and its subsidiaries (Shoutoutmybook and others inc WeTweetBooks). They promise to ‘tweet’ your book to 1000s of Twitter followers. I selected and paid for the 4 week promo, and after two weeks they had stopped promoting my book. When I queried this with them they said they had had technical issues and promised to fulfill the promo I’d paid for. But they never did. Also, the tweet went out at 3am – fine for reaching people in the USA but not so good for Europe.

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