Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
I 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The problem with the arguments in the previous article is that the author’s tactics are out of date.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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