This Is How You Use Facebook to Sell Books

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

This Is How You Use Facebook to Sell BooksI read the recent DBW piece “Why Facebook Cannot Help You Sell Books” with surprise, and I respectfully disagree with its contentions.

I’m pretty much the definition of a midlist author: I write full-time, I’ve hit a few Amazon best-seller lists over the last couple years, and readers seem to enjoy my books. I was making a very good income with the usual forms of advertising throughout 2014—BookBub and the other advertisers, permafree first in series, etc.—but when I turned on my first Facebook ads I immediately saw a massive spike in business.

I now use Facebook as a fundamental part of my marketing system and I know firsthand that the platform can be used to sell. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Facebook advertising is the single most powerful marketing and promotional tool that is available to authors, be they traditionally or self-published.

Between August 27th and September 2nd, I spent $3,029.17 on Facebook advertising. It sounds like a lot—and it is a lot—until you factor in the fact that I made $3,928.62 across the platforms where the book was available. I’ve spent more than $60,000 since the start of the year. That includes $13,278 on a single ad, but that ad has generated revenue of nearly $30,000, a return of 125 percent. The box set that I am selling has hit as high as 450 in the paid Kindle store and camps out at the top of its genre best-seller lists most of the time. That leads to significant additional discovery through better visibility, and that means more sales.

The problem with the arguments in the previous article is that the author’s tactics are out of date. The suggestions that it is a fallacy to spend time and money to grow your author page and that Facebook has slashed the organic reach of posts are true, and if the article had been titled “How Getting Facebook Likes Won’t Sell Books,” I would have agreed with it.

But getting Likes should not be the focus of a Facebook ads campaign today. Instead, authors should be using ads to meet two objectives: (1) building a mailing list by advertising a free book in return for a subscription and (2) advertising for paid sales.

I offer free training to lay out the steps needed to achieve the first objective (and a paid course that covers everything in detail), but I’ll spend the rest of this article going into how you can use Facebook ads to actually sell books.

Here are my five tips for getting started with ads of your own:

1. Use the Power Editor. You can use Facebook’s basic Ads Manager to create ads, but I don’t recommend it. The Power Editor is a Chrome plug-in for editing ads, and, while it is a little tougher to wrap your head around, it offers more flexibility and is the better bet. Save the Ads Manager for monitoring performance.

2. Ad Copy and Image. Approach the task of crafting your copy and choosing your image from the point of view of your potential reader. They will be browsing their newsfeed, enjoying updates from their friends and families, watching videos of cats—you need to jolt them out of that experience.

Ad copy shouldn’t be afraid to be promotional. If you have plenty of reviews, you should refer to them. If your book has been at the top of a best-seller list, then you should say so. Be proud.

Vivid images tend to return the best results. No more than 20 percent of an image should be covered by text (this can be tested with Facebook’s Grid Tool), but book covers themselves are specifically exempted from this requirement, as it’s just the associated text.

Remember to provide your image in the correct size. I’ve seen ads in my feed from traditional publishers that have been uploaded in the wrong size and then cropped across the middle, losing both the title and the name of the author.

3. Targeting. Facebook knows a lot about the people using it. Most relevant to authors, it knows what books readers like. It knows which authors they prefer. It knows whether they have indicated a preference for shopping on mobile or desktop. It knows who is more likely to click on an ad, or watch a video from start to finish.

And it has made all of that incredible data available to advertisers to produce the most accurate ad targeting system in the world today.

The easiest and quickest targeting option is to serve ads to readers who have indicated a preference for the kinds of book that you are writing. Write romances? Advertise your book to readers who like romances and exclude those who like thrillers. Write romances like Nora Roberts? Serve an ad just to her fans. And so on.

But what if the author you are targeting has a small following? Try combining authors and other interests to build the audience. But you should also try the next targeting option: lookalike audiences. In the Audiences section of the Power Editor, you can upload a .csv of your mailing list, and Facebook will match each email address with the accounts of people who are also on the platform. This produces a custom audience of people who you know are fans of your books. You can do the same thing with the fans of your Facebook page, or with people who have visited your website. It can be useful to run a short campaign to these audiences of “warm” leads when you have a new book to promote (combining it with a standard email campaign).

It’s when you’ve uploaded your custom audience that the fun begins. Ask Facebook to create a Lookalike audience. It will seek to populate this new “mirror” audience with people it thinks are similar to the ones in your custom audience. It might include people who like the same sort of books, who read on Kindles, or are voracious consumers of digital content—or all of the above. The audiences can be very large; mine tend to max out at around the 2.2-million mark. It will take me months to exhaust them, and they provide a positive return on my investment every day.

4. Placement. Facebook allows you to specify where your ads will be served. You can pick from mobile or desktop, with an option to place an ad in the right-hand sidebar. I’m experimenting with desktop only ads at the moment, because my data suggest that my readers are at the older end of the spectrum, and I have a hunch that they are more likely to buy on a platform that they’re more used to using for ecommerce. Early results seem to be bearing that out. Of course, if you write YA, you might find that your younger audience is more comfortable on mobile.

5. Monitoring. Direct the traffic to a landing page on your website and link out again to the relevant stores via affiliate links. Provided you use specific Tracking IDs with each variation of an ad, you can precisely match the cost of that ad on the one hand and the revenue generated on the other, allowing you to calculate the return on each variation. Facebook provides a host of metrics for you to get lost in, but my advice would be to concentrate on the most important one: how much money is the ad making you? My best-performing ad often costs more than 50 cents per click, and under most circumstances I’d consider that prohibitive. But the ad converts clicks to sales at the rate of 30 percent and generates a return of more than 200 percent every day.

Earlier this year, I shared my system with other indie authors. The result was a course that enrolled 450 of some of the biggest names in the industry. What has been reported back to me has been startling, including more impressive results than I managed myself. Once you understand how and why Facebook advertising works, the system becomes incredibly powerful. For many of the authors on my list, it’s been life-changing.


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31 thoughts on “This Is How You Use Facebook to Sell Books

  1. Chris Syme

    Thanks for showing the other side of the argument, Mark. I’ve taken your free video course and even though I don’t have quite your budget, I’ve still had success with clients using Facebook to grow email lists. I think we can get myopic about success strategies, but you hit the key: \once you understand how and why Facebook advertising works.\ Power Editor has a learning curve. If you can tough it out, you will be rewarded.

    Reply
  2. Jennifer Stevenson

    Yes, yes, this is very encouraging…for someone who has hit Amazon’s #1 spot at least a few times. What about for someone deeper in the trenches?

    This looks to me again like one of those “if you have a mailing list of merely 5,000 names” things.

    Reply
    1. Mark Dawson

      Hi Jennifer – no, you don’t need a big mailing list to make FB Ads work. You don’t need to have a list at all. If you have a suitable product – and I recommend box sets above $6.99 with a good set of reviews – then it can pay off provided you are prepared to work at it.

      And if you don’t have a list, and want to build one, apart from the Permafree First in Series >>> Free Second Book tactic, which still works very well, you can use ads to build a list very quickly. One of my students – John Logsdon – had 25 readers on his list when he started. Between April 12 and April 30 I spent $285 and added 1,420. It’s not free – what is? – but it can be very effective.

      Reply
  3. Kaylin

    No, sorry – these are not good numbers: “I spent $3,029.17 on Facebook advertizing… I made $3,928.62… $13,278 on a single ad… that generated revenue of nearly $30,000.”

    So in one case you made $900 and in the other case you slightly more than doubled your money. Maybe you can talk in terms of user engagement and follower count which might lead to repeat business instead? I’m definitely not trying to put you or your efforts down, but those numbers do not support the claim that Facebook ads are worthwhile.

    Reply
  4. mark dawson

    Hi Kaylin – I’m not sure I understand your concern. These are direct sales – the latter example yielded a return on my investment of 125%. I recouped the investment and added more than that again. How is that not worthwhile?

    User engagement and followers would have been relevant two years ago, but since Facebook slashed organic reach – as discussed in the previous article to which I referred – it doesn’t make any sense to invest in that. I certainly don’t recommend that as a tactic.

    My ad campaigns have one of two objectives: either build my mailing list (a longer term play) or to make sales (short term). Both are valuable to authors who want to make a career out of this.

    Reply
    1. jacqueline farrell

      I’m with Kaylin on this. I freely admit to being a dunce at maths, but I still can’t see how you made 125% profit when you say you spent $60000 (presumably on FB advertising) and generated $30000. To me that sounds like a loss of 50%. Am I reading your article wrong.

      Similarly, spending $3029 on adverts and making $3928 sounds a better because at least you made a profit of $899 but it’s still an awful lot to layout in the first instance and not money that I could lay my hands on.

      Am I reading your article wrong?

      Reply
      1. Mark Dawson

        Hi Jacqueline,

        Perhaps I could have worded this better: “I’ve spent more than $60,000 since the start of the year. That includes $13,278 on a single ad, but that ad has generated revenue of nearly $30,000, a return of 125 percent.”

        $60k is my TOTAL ad spend in 2015. I’ve made considerably more than $30k on ALL of my ads.

        The $30k was generated by the single ad that cost me $13,278 to serve. That’s a return on the $13k of 125%, give or take.

        I should also have made it clear that you don’t need to spend those kind of amounts to make a good return. I do weekly video income reports on the SPF site, and I will be sharing one this week that looks at an ad I have been testing in the UK. On Wednesday, I spent $10 on that ad. It generated $60.57, which is a return on the ad spend of 505%. It’s tricky to scale the ads so that the return is consistent when you are spending more, but other ads to the same market – where I am spending $50 or $60 a day – will generate a return of over 150%.

        If you can find a bank that will give you that kind of return on your capital investment, please let me know. I will invest there immediately!

        Cheers
        Mark

        Reply
  5. Eva Pohler

    Kaylin, who wouldn’t spend three dollars to make four? Especially if the alternative is to spend nothing and make nothing?

    As one of Mark’s students, I can attest to the power of FB ads. Currently, I’m spending $68 per day to advertise a box set and making $140 per day in box set sales, netting me $72 daily profit.

    My income is more than three times what is was before using Mark’s system. It’s definitely been life-changing.

    Reply
  6. Pippa Mattinson

    I read both the article which initiated this discussion and Mark’s rebuttal above with interest.

    I don’t use facebook to sell books directly, because I am a traditionally published author and don’t have direct control over my sales.

    But I do use facebook advertising to grow my fanbase and traffic to my blog where I promote my books, and I do pay for advertising.

    Facebook has definitely been instrumental in my success, even if I use it somewhat differently from Mark. I cannot think of any other form of advertising that allows us to target our readers of tomorrow so accurately.

    My average click through rate for Facebook advertising in August was 11.29% and I am not an expert.

    Facebook can be a worthwhile place to advertise but like anything, you need to put some work in to learn how to reap results. I think it makes sense to pay attention to people like Mark that have succeeded

    Pippa

    Reply
  7. Dan Alatorre

    At almost the same time, an author friend and I ran ads through Facebook Ads. Hers did well; mine did not. The biggest factor? Her ads looked awesome. I can’t say FB ads doesn’t work as fast as I can say my ad didn’t work. Hers did, and that made all the difference.

    Reply
  8. Seeley James

    Unsolicited testimonial: I have 30 years of old school sales & marketing experinece. I have three books, one of which hit the best seller list once over a year ago. I took Mark’s course, tested and tweaked and to fit my more limited bookshelf, and am now consistently hitting 170-193% ROI on a boxed set.

    Peace, Seeley

    Reply
  9. Philip Gibson

    Great article!

    I’ve gone through all of your many free and paid videos on Facebook marketing. However, I may have missed some important stuff. If possible, can you direct us to a simple step by step instruction of:

    1. How to upload a csv of our mailing list from Mailchimp
    2. How to turn this into a ‘custom audience’
    3. How to turn the custom audience into a ‘lookalike audience’.
    4. How to physically apply the lookalike audience.

    Is this covered in the existing videos? If not, maybe you could include it in the next iteration, or in your Facebook group..

    I have only 120 people on my mailing list. How many people would I expect to be on my lookalike audience.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Eva Pohler

      Philip, all that is covered in the course. You can find additional free information on how to do those things on Facebook. If the process is still unclear to you, you can contact a Facebook business representative, and he or she will walk you through the process.

      Reply
      1. Philip Gibson

        Thanks Eva. I found the way to do it and it is very simple. However, at the end I got this message:

        “(#2654) Source Audience is Too Small: There aren’t enough people in your source in the country you chose. Please choose a country that includes at least 100 people in your source.”

        Do I need to wait until I have 100 people on my list? I have 2 Mailchimp lists with exactly 60 people on each. Maybe I could combine them somehow?

        Reply
        1. Bryan Cohen

          I ran into a similar problem, Philip, and the best way around this is to start building up your list until it gets large enough. You can use ads without a lookalike audience targeted at authors in your genre until it gets up to about 300-400, then you should be able to do a lookalike. You’ll get there!

          Reply
  10. Mike Lovell

    I LOVE the concept of a lookalike audience.
    HOWEVER—If you have a policy that you will not share your mailing list when people sign up, and you then upload those emails to Facebook to create a lookalike audience, wouldn’t that violate your “we never share” agreement with the people who signed up?
    My understanding is that by uploading ANYTHING to Facebook you grant Facebook a perpetual, irrevocable license to use that material for any purpose.

    Reply
    1. Eva Pohler

      Mike Lovell, no that isn’t true. The only people who will be affected by the emails you upload to Facebook are those who already have profiles on Facebook and have thus granted Facebook that information already. See, when you upload your mailing list, Facebook will match emails to EXISTING Facebook profiles. The other emails are useless because the lookalike list is built upon existing Facebook profiles.

      Reply
  11. Caroline Clemmons

    I wholeheartedly support Mark Dawson’s position. Through taking his video classes and implementing what he suggested, I have quadrupled my income by spending only $4 a day–$2 each on two ads. I cannot overemphasize how valuable Mark’s instructions have impacted my life. When I invested only $2 a day, I doubled my sales by offering a free novella to anyone who signed up for my mailing list. I was targeting increasing my mailing list, but saw a dramatic increase in sales as well. When I invested another $2 a day in a second ad, my sales again doubled. Now I’m ready to increase the amount for each ad and/or put up a third ad. Listen to Mark Dawson–he knows what he’s talking about!

    Reply
  12. S.W. Hubbard

    I just started experimenting with FB ads. I’m spending $5/day and making $8/day for a 60% ROI (thank God I have my MBA husband to help me with this analysis!). So the ads are certainly worth doing, but they don’t produce the blockbuster results of a BookBub promo when I spend $850 and make $10,000 in one month. But, I can’t do BookBub every month, so I need to broaden my strategy. I have a few questions:
    Is it possible to tell FB to run my ad only after 6PM? I see most of my sales at night, and feel that the ads running all day are not as effective.
    What, in your opinion, is the optimal daily amount to spend? I’m thinking $5/day is too low. I’m reaching about 5K people a week.
    When you use a free giveaway to build up your mailing list, does this really add quality names? When you mail to your list. do you get a lot of unsubs and a low open rate?
    Thanks for this informative discussion.

    Reply
  13. Sunny Gupta

    Hi Mark. Thanks for the post. I would like to know more about your training courses. Where can i find more information?

    Thanks in advance,

    Sunny Gupta

    Reply
  14. Cheryl-Anne J

    Hi Mark,

    I just happened upon this great article and was pleased to see that you had found the same as I had. I was beating my head against a brick wall trying to convince other authors on KDP that Facebook ads do indeed work, and phenomenally.

    They bash me down each time I say it works; too many self-publishers are stuck in a rut of negativity and not bold enough to out funds and effort behind their sales.

    Before I found your blog, I’d been doing already almost all the things you say and I had a very high CTR with CPC between 20c and 50c. 25% of the clickers are purchasing.

    Like you, I have ignored from the start the ‘Like my page’ strategy as Likes amount to very little (I get thousands of likes but they bring no return) and I have been spending initially $750/day on ads that target sales channels. People run scared at that sort of money and will think I must have lots of funds. I don’t. My first book, a non-fiction, told the tale of how I self-evicted from my home in order to let the house on Airbnb, in order to make funds with which to get by…I was almost, almost broke…

    I came through that, and now I’ve launched my debut novel (Feb 13, 2016). I’m still trekking place to place, by the way, putting every penny into ads… I am still letting out the house to give me money to pay the credit cards, to pay the ads, ha.

    What I have is lots of belief that I have written a great book, and so I was willing to max out the credit cards and now I have truly begun seeing the returns. Now the ads are withdrawn most days, and I don’t run them more than twice a week… the sales are still high; visibility is all that matters, plus book quality, so if you have a great book and you get it in front of buyers, it will sell. It’s that simple.

    I am not aware of any mechanism that gets books in front of buyers like Facebook does.

    There’s no sense spending small sums because those will not propel a book to the top, so when I see authors saying ‘I am spending $5 a day’ I just cringe! Guys, do you believe in your book or not? If you do, put what you have into a big spend test. If out of (say) 5000 clicks you are not getting the sales you want, then sure, stop the ads, but until you have really exposed the book to the buyers on a consistent, day after day basis, they have no chance to buy. Five dollars a day won’t get you any meaningful exposure.

    I have spent $750/day for 28 days and the book went into the top 100 straight away, paid sales across all categories. After withdrawing ads it’s hovering around #400 of paid sales and I am seeing growth of organic sales and good/great reviews. I have been contacted by agents and top reviewers too, off these ads, as I targeted literary agents in my selections. Scary, but it worked.

    That will do me fine! It’s bringing a high daily return so now the initial investment is paid off and there’s a 30% uplift, growing daily. Reviews are polarised but even that doesn’t seem to matter. In US it’s 5* and in UK 4*.

    I have not done anything at all about blogging, tweeting, personal website etc… not my thing. I believe great results and subsequent reader engagement are wholly possible with just Facebook ads plus interaction with my readers on my Facebook fan page. The great thing is also, the Likes do grow at the same pace as sales. So the campaign doesn’t target Likes, it targets sales, but the Likes grow fast too and these Likes are from buyers, far more valuable than ‘Likes’ from people who’ll talk a lot on my page but never convert.

    Running a Facebook ad has also given me a long thread of comments by readers on the ad itself. As the ad circulates, it collects reader comment which has been absolutely invaluable for working out which bits they like and dislike, and how to refine the book itself to get better reviews. Remember; selling is part based on visibility and part on content, so, if readers do say they’re struggling with something, refining that part pay pay off in sales terms.

    I haven’t changed the book script yet but may do, if reviews keep saying the ending is confusing the readers. There’s no way I could have gleaned this depth of info without people commenting directly by using the Facebook ads’ thread, since those particular reviewers are not mentioning the issue with the ending in their reviews but are mentioning it to me directly on the thread (and giving a lower starred review)!

    The only thing I haven’t yet tried, which you mention Mark, and sounds interesting… is the custom audience. That’s a weekend task I’ll be getting right onto. I will post again when I have an outcome to report.

    Just a final note: I tweak my ads EVERY day and have sat in front of the laptop some days 24 hrs a day in order to keep a 5% CTR and a refined ad. For example, every day of the week my ad reflects that day and appeals to the lifestyle of the Facebooker… it’s not a bland ad. That seems to be the secret ingredient that often increases a 3% CTR into an 8% CTR.

    Anyway, great to see the blog and I will be back!

    CA, in UK!

    Reply
  15. Cheryl-Anne J

    Just a PS, I had not read reader comments when I posted my long post, above.

    I see some of you are having good results on minimal spend too, that’s great! I have no doubt that $2-5 a day spend is better than zero and has to bring a return. But my aim, and what I was referring to, was hitting the top ranks, the bestseller status from ‘cold’, with focus on rank initially and earnings secondarily.

    However, get the rank, and the earnings follow… so my approach has been fast-track, but $5 a day will definitely improve sales of a book that already sells… but it won’t help launch a new book from a new author without a backlist, into top ranks. So what you spend I guess depends, do you just want increased sales of an existing performer, or do you want to hit top ranks from zero! I was in the latter category of course as I have no backlist.

    Reply
  16. Terence Sadler

    Mark,

    Thanks for a great article. I’m interested in learning more…I signed up for your blog and would also like to find the videos mentioned by one of your readers.

    I’ve also got one quick question, my book is being sold as both an e-book and paperback on Amazon and has been a Number1 best seller in the Home Computer Network category many times over the past year and is consistently a best seller. My best royalties are on e-book sales but my paperback sells outperform the e-book version. When you create an ad do you send them directly to Amazon or to your website with a link to your books?

    Terry

    Reply
  17. Sela

    Hi, Kaylin:

    I’m one of Mark’s first students and I can attest to the success of his methods applied to my own books.

    I started to advertise my boxed sets for my two romance series and between April and September 2015, I made $50,514.93 on those two boxed sets. Prior to that, I made about $6862.83 on those two boxed sets for the previous four months. During that four month period after I started to advertise on Facebook using Mark’s methods, I spent approximately $12,854.77 on Facebook ads. That leaves a net additional revenue of $30,797.33 or an ROI of 240%.

    All of this I documented with screen caps from my Amazon page, my Book Report pages and my Facebook dashboard pages on Mark’s Facebook group, in case anyone doubts it.

    Try to get an ROI like that anywhere else! I credit Mark’s course, and my advertising on Facebook, with getting my one series more reviews and finally, a Bookbub, which sent the rest of the series into the higher ranks. Without the Facebook advertising, I wouldn’t have reached more readers, got more reviews, and got the Bookbub. His techniques work.

    Reply
  18. John P. Logsdon

    I, too, am one of Mark’s original students and I can say without hesitation that Facebook advertising works.

    I recently posted my one year results since starting to use Mark’s course with Facebook ads. Here’s what happened for me in ONE year:

    * Added over 13,000 subscribers. That is gross subscribers, of course, as I cull the list to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck. Just a note that I started with 27 subscribers, which took me over a year to build on my own … and most of them were friends and family.
    * Sold *thousands* of books and have gotten nearly a million page reads (just went back to KDP Select a few months ago).
    * Went from making $5-$10/month to making thousands every month (at an average of a 120% ROI).
    * Saw my books hit #1 in my genre on Amazon.
    * Saw many of my books hit the top-10 on Amazon.
    * The lead narrator of an audio production company saw my book bundle, bought it, loved it, and asked if his company could do the audio versions. Since then I’ve got 3 of my books out on Audible with a deal to have 12 more narrated/produced by the same company. Should have another 5 or so out this year!
    * Began getting paid to add subscribers, via the tripwire page. I tend to make between $10-$30/day when adding 20 subs! That’s insane!
    * Started a launch team that now consists of over 100 people who are all awesome and very supportive. Honestly, this alone was worth the price of admission for me.
    * Have been interviewed on a number of podcasts and also radio shows.
    * Began doing a weekly vidcast on YouTube to help other authors, and also started a website with videos and articles to help them as well. I would never have even considered doing this a year ago!

    All this happened due to starting up with Facebook ads. Prior to that, I languished in the low-sales zone for years.

    Reply
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