Why Facebook Cannot Help You Sell Books

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

Why Facebook Cannot Help You Sell BooksAs an author, book marketer and social media specialist, I cannot think of a single more wasteful thing an author can do for book sales than to market on Facebook. Put simply, there is no evidence that Facebook can sell books, unless you’re a celebrity with a mass following. There is, however, plenty of evidence that Facebook is both a waste of time and money if you’re an unknown or midlist author.

To understand why Facebook is so demonstrably bad at selling books, you have to understand two key concepts that agents, publishers and marketing experts fail to mention whenever they encourage (and sometimes force) authors to build their “platforms:”

1. You Need at Least 20,000 Facebook Followers to Move Product

No, that’s not an official figure, but based on my experience and that of my clients, 20,000 followers seems to be the minimum amount you’d need to make any real headway. The average person, though, has just 338 friends. So let’s be practical: how on earth are you going to get to 20,000 “friends” or fans as an unknown or midlist author? What can you possibly post on a regular basis that would be so compelling, entertaining or informative that people would flock to “like” your page or become a friend? I hosted a TV show on HBO and England’s Channel Four. I’m well known in my niche market and after five years I have 5,000 Facebook followers. What nobody tells you is how extraordinarily difficult it is to establish and grow a fan base on Facebook. It is so difficult that even small companies outsource the job to experts.

2. Facebook Charges You to Reach Friends and Fans

This is always the biggest shock to most authors and even publishers: Facebook will not allow you to reach “friends” or the people who like your page unless you pay them. On average, Facebook allows less than 16 percent of your fan base to see your posts.

Let this sink in for a moment: whether you have 338 friends or 20,000 fans, Facebook allows only about 16 percent of them to see your posts. And if you want everyone to see them? Take out your wallet, because Facebook has a business to run. You wanna play? You gotta pay.

I remember having lunch with a friend who’s an online editor at the New York Times, and he was boasting that the Times has more than two million Facebook followers. I replied, “You realize that less than a fifth of your followers actually see what you post on Facebook, right?” He was so incredulous that he texted his marketing director in the middle of our lunch and asked him if it was true. Ten seconds later, the director confirmed that unless the Times was willing to pay for each and every Facebook post, they could only reach between 10 and 16 percent of their fan base. The Times does pay Facebook, but only for big stories they think will go viral.

So let’s review: you need at least 20,000 followers on Facebook before you can start to make a dent in sales. But even if you spend blood, sweat and tears to achieve that number (highly unlikely unless you’re a celebrity), you then have to pay for each and every post to reach that fan base.

Let me give you an example of just how bad Facebook is at selling books:

I have a book that’s spent the last 12 months on Amazon’s Top 10 gay nonfiction category. It is often #1. I have 5,000+ Facebook fans and spent $60 to reach them plus another 8,000 like-minded folks. The result? I sold three books. Take a look:


Bottom line: I spent $60 marketing a popular book to 13,000 Facebook fans/like-minded people with a demonstrated interest in the subject matter and sold just three books.

But wait: maybe my post in the news feed wasn’t very effective? Well, look at the results in the above graphic: 188 post likes, 20 comments and 23 shares. The response was actually so good that Facebook sent me a message congratulating me on the fact that my campaign did better than 93 percent of others like it.

But wait again: maybe my niche market behaves differently? What about a broader market? Well, my latest book is Eat It Later: Mastering Self Control & The Slimming Power of Postponement, which is in the weight loss category—a massive market that cuts across age, gender, income and class. So how’d my campaign do? Take a look:


[Click to Enlarge]

Read it and weep (I did). A $344 Facebook expenditure to reach nearly 13,000 overweight people interested in losing weight got me zero book sales. Again: zero.

Imagine how well your historical fiction book would do.

Why Facebook Can’t Sell Books (Unless You’re a Celebrity with a Ton of Fans)

How can the world’s largest social media property with almost 1.5 billion monthly active users be so bad at selling books? Let’s look at a few facts about starting a page on Facebook (once you hit 5,000 friends, Facebook forces you to open a page if you want to keep growing).

1. People don’t “like” your page so they can be sold to. They signed up because they want free entertainment, gossip, information, advice and insight. You can only talk about your book so many times before you start sounding like an infomercial. This fact alone tells you how impractical Facebook is as a selling tool. Fans didn’t sign up to hear about your book, and now you’re going to sell them on it?

2. Facebook has a terrible click through-rate for posts. Remember my campaign that Facebook said outperformed 93 percent of others like it? I achieved a spectacular 3 percent click-through rate (the number of my fans who actually clicked on my post).

Three percent is spectacular? Yes. Facebook’s average click-through rate is less than two-tenths of 1 percent. So when Facebook advocates are telling you how useful the platform is for selling books, just remember that the average unknown-to-midlist author posting a pitch to fans is getting an average of two-tenths of 1 percent to click on it.

Here’s an even more depressing statistic: about 13 percent of fans who click on your post will actually buy the book. How do we know? Because experts believe that Amazon’s conversion rate is 13 percent. Just because a fan clicked on a post hawking your book, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to buy it. They’re interested enough to find out more about it, sure, but buy it? Only about 13 percent of the time.

The Balloon-Popping Conclusion

Let’s review: Facebook shows your posts to less than 16 percent of your fans, and you have to pay to reach the other 84 percent. And even if you do, only two-tenths of 1 percent of the people who see a post about your book will even click on it.

Facebook gets you closer to book sales in the same way that jumping up and down gets you closer to the sun. But don’t despair. While the Facebook reality is unrelentingly bleak, you should feel liberated, not incarcerated. Instead of wasting your time trying to build a platform on an unproductive book-selling channel, you can concentrate on proven methods of book selling, like on-page SEO, strategic pricing and high-converting copy. You no longer have to act as if you’re interested in being online “friends” with people in order to sell them your book. You can keep Facebook for what it was meant for: meaningful, informative and entertaining connections with family, friends and acquaintances.

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63 thoughts on “Why Facebook Cannot Help You Sell Books

  1. 2Dans

    Your post was super relevant, timely and data driven which made it valuable. Wondering Michael, along the lines of FB is really good as an entertainment platform; suppose you had a “free” book, vs trying to extract $$$ from FB users. Any thoughts on how that might affect or inform your analysis? Thank you.

    1. Michael Alvear

      Thanks for the kind words, Dan. My gut says FREE would not work, but I’ve never run a test on that. All the #s I quoted still apply–click thru rates, etc–although they’d arguably be higher for a free book. My point in the article is that you need scale. I think Facebook would work for a celebrity with a hundreds of thousands of fans.

      1. Michael Parker

        I have had a permafree title on Amazon since March 14th. and have given away about 20,000 copies. My subscription list grows steadily, but maybe not dramatically. I currently see downloads averaging about 30 a day now, and my list grows by about two or three subscribers each day. I think it’s a good base on which to build a following without actually paying for promotions, but it all comes down to how much time we are prepared to promote and market and how much we are prepared to spend. I have been giving some thought to FB advertising, but your comments have giving me something to think about. Thank you.

  2. Dave Bricker

    Thanks for your article, Michael. I had similar results for both fiction and non-fiction. After a quarter-million exposures and money spent, the results were disappointing. Your results confirm my own.

    I posted details at the links above.

    Facebook has its uses for authors, but advertising is low on the list.

  3. Chris

    I think there is a really important distinction that needs to be made here. You say, “FB can’t help you sell books.” The title of this article should be more like, “FB didn’t help ME sell books.” Averages that are being given here are inclusive of people who have no understanding of marketing, and/or of FB advertising and may not have the time, money, or energy to figure it out (which is the majority). Because it’s hard. Really really hard. I’ll give you that. But I can assure you with 100% confidence that FB ads can, indeed, sell books. The learning curve is steep, the trial and error stage is long (and crucial, but when you get it right, it can be magic. You won’t need to look at any metrics but your Amazon dashboard to see the results. I just wanted to comment in case those seeing marginal early success (or break even numbers) might be on the verge of giving up. Wishing you megasales in the future (wether it’s through FB ads or not 🙂

    1. Michael Alvear

      Chris, that’s a REALLY good point. I would say that I’ve run a few dozen different book campaigns on Facebook and there’s no doubt that some campaigns did better than others. But none did well. My advice to authors is to stay away from Facebook unless you can really come up with something out of the box or you will be bled dry.

    2. Victoria Hay

      And when you hire a social media marketing expert and get the same results Michael describes? Is that trial and error? One would expect a well recommended marketer would be past the trial and error stage. So far, for way too many dollars we’ve seen lots and lots of impressions and clicks…and not a single sale. When I forward Amazon’s monthly sales reports to the marketer, she can’t believe the (non)results and at one point suggested I must be missing something when I download monthly and past-six-week spreadsheets and send her screenshots of the “dashboard.”

      One book is getting five-star reviews but not selling a single copy through FB Ads. Another is selling modestly well…but it’s not being advertised on Facebook. Prices are hardly excessive, well below what you’d pay in a bookstore and barely enough to net a dollar (often much less!) per copy. I’ve found people are willing to pay many times the posted price when they buy print copies from my site (as opposed to electronic copies from Amazon).

      Dare one use the word “scam” in connection with these platforms?

  4. Chris

    eh, sorry for the above post. Typos abound. But also wanted to add that some genres are much easier to market on FB than others, which could also be a factor.

  5. Deborah Coonts

    FB isn’t the BEST way to sell books, but it does sell books. In all you data I’m finding it difficult to see where book sales numbers appear. Are you selling directly to readers or through online retailers? Where are those graphs that align with you campaigns.

    When I post to FB, not even boosted posts, I see upticks in sales, especially when I have new product to sell.

    1. Michael Alvear

      Deborah, I sell both online (Amazon, etc) as well as off my blogs thru digital downloads. I have no doubt that Facebook can occasionally sell a few books. But really? That’s what you want is to sell a few books. I’d like to sell thousands and Facebook can’t help me with that.

  6. Edward G. Talbot

    Chris is right.

    Facebook pages are an uphill slog and very very few people see anything of value from boosted posts. But Facebook’s targeting engine for its ads is excellent. Thing is, it takes a lot of effort and trial and error to find what works for your book. That trial and error does not have to cost a lot but it does take time. There are various people and courses out there – some free, some not – targeted at authors that can be very helpful in reducing the time and money spent to figure it out.

    Many authors won’t want to spend the time and (relatively small amount of) money to do this. This is fine. But to suggest that “Facebook cannot help you sell books” is simply not accurate.

  7. Seeley James

    Sorry to burst your bubble, Michael but you’ve gone about it all wrong. You can sell books on Facebook. I’m one of several hundred authors who’ve followed Mark Dawson’s advertising methods (they’re complex, involve special landing pages, boxed sets, carefully worded ads, etc) and had tremendous success.

    Yesterday one of my ads for one boxed set grossed $48.93, at an ad cost of $20 for the day. If you do the ROI math (Gross-Cost/Cost), I had a one day ROI of 144%. I’ve been seeing results fluctuate between 60% and 192% daily since 14-August.

    There is a reason Facebook’s stock is running a P/E of 91+ and hasn’t tanked with the DJIA. They have the most accurate targeting available today. If you learn how to use it, Facebook can deliver amazing results.

    Peace, Seeley

    1. Barbara Hinske

      I’m also following Mark Dawson’s advice and selling books through FB ads. I spend $1200 a month and gets sales of $2600-$3800 a month. Very nice return! And I followed the advice of VShareIt and their FanPageTrafficAcademy and grew my FB author page to over 19,000 in a little over a year. And they are good, engaged followers. I’m with Seeley — FB is a very valuable tool in your marketing arsenal!

    2. Victoria Hay

      Wait. You sold a boxed set (how many “books” were bundled in that?) for $49 and advertising it cost $20 for the day. This suggests a net revenue of $29 that day.

      How many hours did you put in to writing the books? How many hours did you put in to designing and formatting them, or how much did you pay a designer to create covers and format for electronic publication? How many hours per day or per month do you spend on riding herd on Amazon’s stats?

      You seem to be earning about $870 a month on this book, if sales average out to a fairly consistent $20/day. But from that you have to deduct the opportunity cost of your time and the cost of production (whether it’s your own hours or fees you pay a contractor). It you consider your time to be worth anything, chances are the result puts you in negative territory.

      You can earn more than that teaching adjunct (and adjunct instructors earn less than minimum wage). You can earn $80 a day cleaning house, without spending any of your own time beforehand and afterward.

      Something’s rotten in Denmark, my friend.

    3. Lisa Grace

      I agree with Seeley James. You can sell paperbacks and ebooks on Facebook. Boosted posts, and promoted pages may well be a waste of money, but there are other options for promoting on Facebook. I suggest taking Mark Dawson’s class, and joining his Facebook group if you are serious about learning the “how to market for a positive ROI” on Facebook.

  8. Perry Brass

    Thank God for you, Michael, someone has finally told the truth. I have almost 2,000 FB friends, most of whom I would not know if they bit me‚—sad, but true. FV sells virtually nothing. I have also done lots of boosted posts. The really sad thing was when FB banned my book “The Manly Art of Seduction,” another Amazon bestseller, from its pages. I tried to advertise the book on Facebook and was told that using the word “Seduction” in the title caused it to be put into an objectionable category. I was told, “Your product can never be advertised on Facebook. This is a permanent decision.” I looked up “Seduction” on Amazon: dozens of products, books, movies, etc. have it in their title. No soap. FB would not be moved; I even got “personal,” signed emails from FB staff, very unusual, telling me, flat out, “Don’t make an issue of this: it will do you no good.” They were, as ever, right.
    Perry Brass, author of “The Manly Art of Seduction” and “The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love.”

  9. A Writer

    I’ve found that Facebook can definitely help sell books–that aren’t overpriced. Your 166-page book sells on Amazon for $14.99 in paperback and $9.99 as an ebook for Kindle. That’s kind of steep for a book that isn’t even 200-pages long.

    Amazon offers over 1,000 books on dieting, and many of them are $2.99–or even FREE–on Kindle. There are 961 books that are rated over four-stars, and dozens of THOSE are available for a penny plus $3.99 shipping. It looks like you may have priced yourself out of your market.

    Maybe it’s Facebook’s fault your advertising campaign didn’t work for you, but it seems more likely that your advertising campaign was a success. It seems more likely that people clicked on your link, checked out your book, and then balked at the price. If you had priced it more in line with your market, you probably would have had more sales.

    I’ve found Facebook to be a great place to advertise. The prices are reasonable, and targeting is quite specific. Twitter seems okay, but Facebook works better for me. Google is worthless since they refuse to let you target very specifically. The best I’ve found are book blogs, but then that works best for romance, YA, paranormal and the like.

    I suggest lowering the price of your book to something more in line with the market the next time you advertise. Bring the ebook down to $2.99 and see if that makes a difference. If you don’t, you’ll never know really know why your campaign failed to sell a decent number of books.

    1. Harry Hallman

      A WRITER. It’s not fair to say Google does not allow you to target, Actually you target through your keywords and the content of your ads. I am not saying trying to sell books on Google is the best, but you can target. FB is a different ad system and I like it also.

  10. Troy Johnson

    The 16% figure is what Facebook says. The reality is much lower check out a presentation by Ogilvy where they report organic reach by major brands (with more than 20K followers) averages around 6%. Where did you get the 20K number anyway. I have 20K fans and my organic reach was 4 LESS than it was when I had 5K fans, a couple of years ago.

    I noticed that many people are saying in contrast that they have sold books via Facebook, but that it is \very hard\ or \complex.\ I often ask myself then why bother? Is Facebook more effective than maintaining a mailing list, advertising on a platform dedicated to books, or promoting one’s own website?

    I appreciated Michael shared actual data, but one person’s story is just an anecdote, interesting, but not actionable. We know you feel Facebook is wasteful, but what activities are NOT wasteful. How should authors be using their time instead?

  11. Alexis

    Your campaign was effectively buying website traffic at $.15/click (which is a bit steep, I can usually get it between $.01 – $.05 but $.15 is definitely respectable). That is still relatively cheap traffic as a whole however. Anyhoo…this makes me wonder, how effective was your landing page? If your traffic is landing on a page that doesn’t effectively sell your book your traffic conversion numbers will be low. This might seem like “FB doesn’t sell books” but really the core issue might be that your “landing page doesn’t sell books.” To my mind there are too separate issues:
    1) Can I use FB ad targeting to find the right people for my book and get them to my landing page cheaply.
    2) Does my landing page effectively convert enough of those visitors into buys so that my ad campaign is successful from a price performance perspective.

    Full disclosure: I don’t currently have a book out yet and have simply used FB ads to bump up site traffic.

  12. Shellie

    Ugh! So depressing, maybe the numbers won’t be quite so bad when trying to make friends and sell a memoir. Let’s hope so Michael. But thanks for the information!

  13. S. J. Pajonas

    Sorry, but I think your article in a bit misleading. First of all you focused almost entirely on your FB Business Page, which I feel that almost everyone knows does NOTHING for anyone. Organic reach is down down down and only the celebrities get any free advertising through their Page because people will always click on their links.

    But paid ads DO work if you can do ALL of the next four things: (a) sell something people want to buy, (b) target your ad appropriately to the right audience, (c) have a perfectly apt image to entice readers, and (d) write awesome ad copy. Guess what? MOST PEOPLE CANNOT DO THESE THINGS. Sure anyone can advertise on FB, but not everyone should. If you can’t do all 4 of these things, don’t bother. I looked at your ad and, yeah, I think your image and copy could have used work. You should have started out smaller with a $2-$5/day budget and watched your clicks, then adjusted your ad until you were getting a better click-through rate. It takes time and effort. It’s not something you throw a lot of money at and cross your fingers. Also, that 50% off coupon? That’s not going to sell books if people have to buy it from a 3rd party retailer they’ve never done business with. You’d have been better off doing a discount on Amazon and advertising that.

    All of these things I’m mentioning I’ve learned over a year of studying and taking courses on FB ads. You can do that too and see better results. Good luck!

    1. S. J. Pajonas

      Also, weight loss is an inherently spammy category all around, and if I had seen your ad on Facebook, I would have marked it as spam. The combination of copy, image, and link to a source that seems dubious (eatitlater.net?) would have led me to believe it was spam. Maybe you should try again with fiction or something else. As it stands, I see no reason to believe the premise of your article, “Facebook cannot help you sell books,” just because of your one experiment.

  14. Lisa Grace

    Thanks for telling it like it is. About once a month I put a reminder up on my page that only 15% or less of your “friends” will see your posts.
    My results were similar to yours. Probably the best course is to join active groups on topics you care about, or various “free” and “book on sale” groups, and post there.

  15. Nathan Smoyer

    Respectfully, I have to disagree.

    I’m working on a book that launched on Tuesday titled, The Unseen Realm, by Dr. Michael S. Heiser.

    Here’s what I can report that doesn’t line up with your article:

    Here are the facts about Dr. Heiser’s Facebook page:
    * He has less than 2,000 Facebook fans
    * Dr. Heiser’s personal page only has 1,490 friends
    * Prior to two weeks ago, his page hadn’t posted in over a year, yet engagement is way up
    * Facebook is the fourth highest source of traffic to the book’s website (that’s both referral and campaign traffic) in the last four weeks
    * We’ve used ZERO dollars in promotion

    Why Facebook has worked for Dr. Heiser:
    * Engaging videos with solid content
    * Like this one that got over 120 shares https://www.facebook.com/MichaelSHeiser/videos/981971461865061/?pnref=story
    * We used others’ interviews and reviews as a way to drum up interest in his book
    * His book is genuinely interesting
    * Dr. Heiser’s marketing doesn’t rely on Facebook, in fact, Dr. Heiser gets very little promotion on a regular basis
    * Its because he’s out speaking, on YouTube, on the Radio, and THEN Facebook that makes it work well

    The results of our marketing efforts:
    * #1 in Top 100 Hot Releases in three categories three days in a row
    * Dr. Heiser’s Facebook page has reached 21,000+ in the last week
    * The Facebook page has had engagement from 1,405 people in the last week
    * Likes are up 5.8% in the last week

    I concede Facebook is not the answer to all things. I agree Facebook will not likely be the sole source of success for a book campaign. However, I’ve used Facebook to build pages to thousands of fans that drive thousands in sales weekly–selling books! If I were to write a counter to this article, I’d title it Why Facebook ALONE Won’t Help You Sell Your Book.

    1. Carl Lasky

      The heated debate is raging. Does FB sell books, any product for that matter for the average FB user? Answer: Yes, no, maybe. I know, that’s helpful isn’t it? I recently read opposing articles by “experts” that I never heard of, the first claims, “Yes! FB sells books! Lots of them!” The next day, another “expert” published an opposing article claiming, “No! FB does not sell books.” Ugh. Again, so helpful.
      We first need to understand a basic principle of direct marketing that has not changed in 100+ years. To sell profitably, in quantities, for each direct marketing piece you “send out” you need to make contact with a minimum of 3,000 potential buyers, not lookie-loos — targeted potential buyers to make 1-3 sales. This rudimentary principle of marketing 101 was not addressed thoroughly in either article. Are there exceptions? There always are, but like the word implies, they are rare, however, lightning does strike.
      Even if you have 5000 followers on FB, that may translate into 1 – 3.5 individual sales and you’ll work your butt off getting them. One of the problems is FB does limit your reach, even with your friends and followers to 6% – 10%, unless of course, you pay them.
      What I explain to our authors is FB, Amazon, your website, other sites, are nothing more than electronic, digital marketing postcards and/or brochures and/or marquees. If no one knows they are there, or the bigger point of all this who YOU are, no one is going to consider buying anything from you. On the internet, this is why effective SEO driving is crucial. Another exception is celebrity, fame. If you are famous, you can advertise on public restroom walls with scribble and get lots of sales, just because you are famous.
      When we attempt to promote our authors’ books, we must “package” the book to the author. In other words, we promote and market the author as a brand, first…the book? It is the “meat.” If you’ve ever heard the tried and true sales technique, “Sell the sizzle…not the steak” you know what I’m talking about. That’s right, that is what I tell our authors, “We’re going to package you like piece of meat and market you as best we can. Our authors that buy into this strategy sell books, those that do not, don’t. And most don’t, because it is still an uphill battle to “brand” an unknown. There are many creative ways to market an unknown quantity, and we use all of them, plus ones we dream up while eating pizza and drinking beer or in my case, while watching football or old movies on TCM. Surprisingly, some of the spontaneous crazy ideas and ad copy that these “sessions” germinate are more effective than the ones you sweat day and night over.
      I want to comment on the “expert” that claims FB will not sell your book. He wrote and self-published a diet book and advertised it on FB. Good grief, another FAT book? Are you kidding me? Do you know how many FAT to SKINNY books are out there on the market? The majority of successful nutrition books on the market are written by attractive celebrities that have bodies and faces that the rest of us can only dream of having.
      Do you want to create “a buzz” about your book or any other product you want to sell on FB? First, create “a buzz” about yourself, and do it in a way that gives value to others without expecting anything in return, especially their hard-earned dollars. Then you may, may, sell your books in sufficient quantity to pay the bills. My last caveat is this, even when you do everything you can, everything right, it doesn’t guarantee success, unless of course, you are world-famous. Sometimes, it just leaves you scratching your head wondering, “What went wrong?”
      –Write well and prosper, your Publishing Pimp,
      Carl Lasky, Publisher, Editor, ghostwriter, cover designer for Ravenhawk Books, and I also sweep out the place.

  16. Tymber Dalto

    I disagree. Depends on how you USE Facebook. If you do it properly and set up a group for your readers, and you market properly on the right kinds of lists, you absolutely can sell a lot of books on Facebook. A good chunk of inbound links to my site originate from Facebook. And I can see real-time sales bumps when I post book promo to Facebook.

    The problem is, too many people don’t understand how to use Facebook PROPERLY, without pissing people off in the process and coming off as a scammer. If you build a solid readers group (using the Groups feature and NOT force-adding people to it) you can slowly build up a solid core reader base who will do a lot of word-of-mouth advertising for you.

    However, that’s predicated on two things: You write good books people want to help you promote, and you don’t come off as a raging douchecanoe to readers and piss them off. If people like YOU, and they like your book, then then will buy your book and help you get the word out about it.

  17. Madison Woods

    I’ve tried a few FB ads and got lots of clicks and page “likes”, but no sales I could correlate. However, when I reworked my website and made it more optimized, my traffic increased and so has sales. I do see a direct correlation between traffic to the site, clicks on links leading to book pages, and upticks in sales. I may dabble in low budget ads from time to time in the future on FB, and I do announce new products and projects on FB still, but most of my effort goes toward building my targeted mailing list, and making my landing pages and website content attractive to seekers.

  18. Olivia

    Well gosh, I must be doing something wrong, because the only advertising I do currently is Facebook ads, and since I’ve started I’ve seen my sales nearly triple. Weird.

    1. Madison Woods

      Olivia, I’ve seen others who had good results (a fiction author was one). It just didn’t work out well for me, whereas my organic traffic is doing a lot more for sales that I can see.

  19. Jeff T

    Sorry, with all due respect to the author, I could not agree less with this article. I currently use Facebook and Facebook advertising in the most difficult space possible…. Fiction – Romance Novels, where the margins are paper thin and CPC needs to be less than 15 cents. Non-fiction, piece of cake… explain what problem you are solving, show credibility, overcome the four reasons customers don’t buy (indifference, skepticisms, worry, and procrastination) give away content, and solutions to their problem then convert to sales.

    Fiction, a completely different animal. What are you selling… in essence your selling a relationship with the author and the promise of a great read. Tough no matter how you cut it…period. Well, I am currently doing marketing for a Paranormal Romance author who started using Facebook about a year ago….zero fans, zero mailing list, selling 1-2 books a day. Using Facebook, Facebook advertising, list building, as well as other “traditional” fiction marketing campaigns, she is now an Amazon Best Selling Author, IPPY Award Winner, plus other awards, but more importantly, selling over 150 books a day, each and every day, and growing. NY Times Best Selling List is the target in the next 12 months.

    While building a fiction platform is not just one thing, but the culmination of many things, if I had to point to one thing that has led the charge is Facebook Fan Pages and Facebook Advertising. I will admit, selling a “fantastic” product is much easier than selling something that is not so fantastic. Her product is top notch, her stories compelling, action riveting, and romance up there with the greats, so our results are a bit more successful that the average romance book.

    Selling fiction online is really only three things. Create traffic, capture leads, convert sales into “raving fans”. She now has 7500 fans. Not fans as described in this article, but real, fanatical type fans who love her product, love her personalized engagement and are fanatical about her books. These fans were built one by one through constant and personal engagement. Not selling, engagement. Not buy my stuff engagement. Not campaigns to get likes, but real engagement. Number of fans is unimportant, quality of fans is everything. I would rather have 100 die hard raving fans, than 10000 that I captured through non personalized like campaigns.

    Hence the reason I will not post the authors name here in an attempt to drive traffic to her Fan Page….while it might have a slight increase in sales due to interested readers, the readers here are not her demographic, gritty, dark paranormal romance and military suspense fans are, and to drive any other type of traffic to her sites, dilutes her base, costs her more money to reach her own fans… yes, it’s true, reach to your own fans is limited without paying to boost. Get over it, pay for it if you need to. And she doesn’t care less about reach, what she cares about is action, engagement and giving her fans “what they want”… which she does daily. She posts creative posts that her fans eat up… and IF I was to care about reach, she consistently gets 15K reach on a single posts with 400 likes and tons of comments… reach… who cares… comments and engagement YES. This means her fans are sharing with their friends of like mind and engaging with them. She answers each and every one of them and they cannot believe she is so reachable and personable…

    It’s not about one post or a series of posts or ads, it’s about “constant” engagement and engaging enough time to build a relationship to convert those that are not fans and buyers into someone who is a true believer. It’s about “omnipresence” in certain niches and audiences. If you are a Paranormal Romance reader, then most likely you have seen her ads daily. She is everywhere. She is getting .06 cents clicks and cost per engagement, which DIRECTLY drive sales, real sales.

    I have an extensive internet marketing background but only started with Facebook fan pages and Facebook advertising myself a year ago with her. How did we go from zero knowledge to cracking the code and ability to compete in the toughest space there is on Facebook – fiction? We listened to and read everything we could get our hands on… bought courses, read every article imaginable, and now only follow three or four of the most well-known Facebook experts in the field.

    I will not list them here for two reasons, first this is not an attempt to hype anything or anyone, and secondly, the most important part of the process is to try and learn this yourself from the ground up and build a solid base. There is no easy magic bullet, only hard work – the marketing grind. The learning journey is important, and it will eventually lead you to the ones in the industry that resonate and teach what your particular niche is….and the knowledge you gain by trail and error serve as your foundation. Soon enough, you will be the one people flock to for help and advice.

    And no, I do not work for Facebook, have Facebook stock and I only have one VERY IMPORTANT client… my wife… with absolutely no plans to take on any more clients.

    I write this post to correct the misconception that was given in this article that might turn hungry, eager, and motivated authors away from an extremely viable source of marketing. Frankly, I struggled deciding to write this article, as more competition going after the same limited ad space and eyeballs on Facebook only drive up the costs, but this article is wrong, IF you do your homework, IF your put in the time, IF you learn, IF you fully understand your demographics and IF you fully understand ALL the features that Facebook and Facebook advertising has to offer.

    The author, no offense meant, is simply doing it wrong. I suspect the fans are not real true fans, the engagement not so much, and the niche targeting done wrong.

    With a consistent 2X ROI on paid advertising in the toughest marketing space there is… Facebook not worth it?……you decide… Dig in, do your homework and you CAN make it work for you.

    1. James

      Anyone on this page should ignore the article above and just read the INCREDIBLY VALUABLE reply by Jeff T. (I do not know Jeff, I just have a lot of experience with Facebook ads and what he is saying is spot on).

      f it were easy everybody would be billionaires. The author of this post needs to take responsibility for his own failures rather than blaming his lack of success on ‘Facebook’. If he, or anyone else, wants to be successful you need to put the time and effort into learning the SKILL of building an audience and selling online. (Hint: you can’t just sell, sell, sell – you need to give lots of real value first and build real relationships with people)

      There are countless case studies of people making huge returns on investment on Facebook. Commit to learning the skills from an expert who knows what they are doing or hire someone else who does.

    2. Michelle Dear

      Jeff T. is absolutely correct. I am a Digital and Social Media Strategist for authors and publishers. He and I are of a mind and our strategies are the same.

      I have been reading through the comments looking for a comment exactly like Jeff’s. The author is wrong–not only in his content–but also in his assessment of what Facebook is about for authors.

    3. Janell

      Thank you! Easily the most informative comment I’ve seen in a while–but, then, I have so very much to learn. I know some of us appreciate your taking the time to share your experience in a most balanced, straightforward manner.

    4. AnnWrites

      You don’t make money if you don’t sell your facebook bag of tricks. Of course you disagree with the author. Understandable.

  20. PFNikolai

    Michael: Great job of demonstrating the type of promotion that does sell books:
    1) Create an article that is passionate, somewhat controversial, and targeted at a felt need of the audience.
    2) Provide real value by helping the audience do something better or avoid doing something counterproductive.
    3) Make sure the byline includes a link to your book on Amazon, your email address, and/or a link to your website/blog.

    Will you please do a follow up article next week to provide the sales data on how this article performed?


  21. Thomas DiPietro

    This was very interesting and informative. I am not an author, but I am a musician who has used Facebook to promote my live performances. I tend to feel discouraged when I get little response to my notifications about upcoming shows, but at least now I understand that less than 20% of my “friends” are even getting the post.

  22. Wei-Hwa Huang

    \Facebook shows your posts to less than 16 percent of your fans, and you have to pay to reach the other 84 percent. And even if you do, only two-tenths of 1 percent of the people who see a post about your book will even click on it. Facebook gets you closer to book sales in the same way that jumping up and down gets you closer to the sun.\

    Actually the numbers are quite different. Two-tenths of 1 percent of 16 percent is about 0.00032. I can jump about 2 feet high. The sun is 93,000,000 miles away. The ratio there is about 0.000000000004. That’s about 8 orders of magnitude difference. If you could jump towards the sun an amount proportional to your Facebook sales, you would be making a 30,000-mile high jump — just barely enough to jump over Mount Everest.

    Yeah, Facebook sales may be pretty crappy, but the Sun is really really really really far away.

  23. Ricardo Fayet

    Just, quick question: how many of your followers on Twitter will actually •see• your tweet. 10%? Less? How many of your email subscribers will open your email? 30%? If you know of a social network or marketing channel where the “impressions-to-total-followers” ratio is 100%, please let me know.
    Aside from that, I find it incredibly premature to dismiss a marketing channel that works for so many authors based on a small experiment with little testing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Facebook can work for every author out there, I’m just saying that — given how well it’s working for so many of them — it’s worth you paying more attention to it and testing it properly.
    So that led me to do a little poll on different writing groups asking whether authors still kept a Facebook page or not, despite the low reach. Here are their answers: http://blog.reedsy.com/facebook-author-page-still-worth-it

  24. D. M. Jarrett

    Great post. I have long suspected this to be the case. The metrics make compelling reading.
    I still use Facebook as a cascade point for other postings but not as a primary activity. I am bemused generally by the Facebook model which seems to do the opposite of what promoters need.

  25. Erik Schubach

    I think that success in selling books utilizing FaceBook ads depends on more metrics than are provided here. I can see where some categories it would be far less successful than others. For me at least, the more focused the genre the better the results. While annoyed at having to pay to reach people who like my author page, I am consistently increasing my sales and my fan footprint as others like my page.

    I follow the internet sales 2% rule. If I do not see a 2% conversion rate then I drop the ad. I am consistently seeing a 2% engagement on my ads. Then from that two percent, I am seeing a 2% conversion rate on purchases. Add to that a few extra page likes per campaign. So 2% of 2% doesn’t sound like much, but if you can see an extra hundred or so books each time, while building your audience, then I see that as an exercise worth repeating.

    True it is just incremental income but every little bit contributes to a whole and drives your success.

    Now of course, this is just my experience any anyone else may get different results. And I’ve had a couple campaigns that went right in the toilet. It seems to be an extremely steep learning curve to be able to sell to the people who should be seeing your posts anyway.

    It feels sort of like Facebook is double dipping. They are earning income off of the ads they are placing on your page as well as the money you are paying so that your audience can actually see your posts. It would be more fair of them if they didn’t display ads if you have active ad campaigns running on your page.

  26. Chris Syme

    Even though these numbers look convincing, I’d be careful of using them to make a decision about using Facebook ads unless your parameters match those of the author above: you write niche nonfiction and are trying to promote a book that has already reached number one in its category. Numbers w/o context are just numbers. Jeff T above has a good counter to this narrow view.

  27. Jaimee Ellis

    I’ve never attempted to sell books through Facebook. However, I have built and nourished relationships with my readers, fellow authors and other industry people. They love hearing about me and being among the first to know what’s next for the professional me. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without my efforts here on Facebook. I would have sold the same amount of books but I would know nothing about the industry or the people/types of people who enjoy my books. 🙂

  28. Philip Martin

    Thanks, Michael, for this insightful article. I’m an indie-press book-trade professional, and this piece generally matches my experience with Facebook, which has led to my steadily diminishing expectation that it’s a very useful place to market books (which are low-priced and low-margin products, so there’s not a big pay-off from selling a book here and there, given the amount of work and the learning curve in dealing with a platform that keeps changing its algorithms, policies, etc. A couple of relevant points to add:

    1. A few years ago, I spent some effort to build a modest fan base for my Crickhollow Books indie press page. Facebook encouraged these ads to build a fan base, at a cost. Then, they turned about and began throttle the visibility of posts to that base, so that the posts only appear on the Newsfeeds of 10% or less of that base. In my opinion, that practice was deceptive (and was not well known until some major sites began to discuss the throttling).

    2. Facebook also has rejected a number of my attempts to boost a post with an image because of their restrictions on the amount of type they allow on a promoted image (no more than 20%) . . . so that trade book covers with fairly normal type coverage are rejected as “unsuitable” images. (I have considered overlaying the book cover images on background photos of cats, to decrease the type-to-image ratio . . . )

    3. The problem is that Facebook has become a cluttered experience, delivering a mix of more ads and randomized content to any Newsfeed. The result of the throttling and random info is that visitors no longer expect to see much from pages or friends they have liked; their involvement in FB reflects a free-entertainment/low-involvement mentality. Lots of people may click “like” but very few click through to links, and fewer buy. Book buyers have other channels to discover good reads (GoodReads, for example, or review-rich sites like Amazon), and those are better places for authors to figure out how to develop their presence. Personally, I used to visit Facebook with more delight and saw more posts from friends; now, what I see is so heavily filtered and ad-heavy that I no longer get as much out of it, so I only visit perhaps once a week, instead of daily.

    4. Facebook can change their policies at any point, and have shown a willingness to do that. They implement policies without much fanfare, and likewise may change them at any time without much explanation. This creates a platform that is inherently unreliable over time, so long-term strategies to develop an audience there don’t make much sense.

    Of course, certain topics will be favorited by the FB algorithms, and some books can be sold via FB ads and content marketing tactics. But it’s not a good or reliable or efficient platform for general book marketing for most authors, which is a useful take-away from Michael’s post.

  29. Troy Johnson

    @Michael You left off the a really important point and that has to do with actual FRAUD taking place on Facebook (http://aalbc.it/facebookadfraud). The number of clicks you got, as a result of your promotion on Facebook, was actually very high. So the quality of those clicks may explain why you did not convert many of those clicks into buyers.

    My conversion rate at Amazon averages 8% and this is across 100’s of different titles (I’m an Amazon affiliate), so if I sent almost 400 people to Amazon I would expect to sell 32 books. Again, click fraud might explain the lack of sales.

    For those who are adovating for Facebook the real question is always; what are you comparing Facebook to; Twitter, a website, newspaper ad, a mailing lisr, SEO, etc? Of my last 3,000,000 visitors less than 1.5% came from Facebook. I have more than 20,000 fans on my Facebook page, and they took me several years to cultivate. So you can imagine my frustration when my enagenment plummeted. I get less enagement paying for promoted posts today than I did a fews years ago with FAR less fans fans for free. I have recently stopped paying Facebook to reach my fans. I concentrate of SEO, my mailing list etc.

    I still have a Facebook account occsaaionly I’m make a post that goes \viral\ and results in a lot of traffic for a short period of time. But I do not invest much time on Facebook. I spend more time on websites like this; which is twice as effective for me than all of social media.

  30. Michael Alvear

    Good point, Troy. But what website do you have that gets 3 million visits?! FYI one thing I should have mentioned in my article is the near mathematical impossibility of selling books on Facebook. If you know anything about selling online you know it’s about click-thrus and conversions. Right now am targeting people four different categories of people with affinities to the subject of my book. Facebook charges me at 60 cents-$1.78 per click. Do the math: .60 x 100 clicks= $60. Let’s take your 8% conversion rate (which btw, I would KILL for–it’s excellent). That means 8 out 100 clicks bought a $9.99 book= $80. That sounds like I’m good right? I spent $60 and made $80. But Amazon takes 30%. That means I spent $60 to make $56 ($80x 70% royalty). Not so good. Now, imagine if the book was priced below $9.99. CARNAGE. In the end, Facebook can work IF and I mean IF you get a MONSTER conversion rate–something on the order of 12-20% conversion. I don’t need to tell you that’s an EXCEPTIONALLY high rate that maybe 1-2% of people could ever hope to achieve.

  31. Audrey

    Michael, what have you used that help you get book sales? Thank you for writing this piece. It saved me some $$.

    Health and Happiness,

  32. Adam Croft

    This article shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Facebook ads. It reads like an article written by someone butt hurt that he didn’t do FB ads properly.

    “You Need at Least 20,000 Facebook Followers to Move Product”
    — I had 300 FB fans when I started advertising and was topping the charts within a week or two. And I’m talking overall fiction and non-fiction, not ‘super cozy crime set on a spaceship’ subcategories.

    “Facebook Charges You to Reach Friends and Fans”
    — No it doesn’t. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how it works.

    “Facebook has a terrible click through-rate for posts. Remember my campaign that Facebook said outperformed 93 percent of others like it? I achieved a spectacular 3 percent click-through rate (the number of my fans who actually clicked on my post).”
    — 3% is a very good CTR on any form of online advertising. I double my money daily with a 1.5% CTR. And I’m talking about doubling £1,000 a day. What other form of marketing gives you that?

    From reading the article, it sounds like this guy only tried advertising to people who already liked his FB page, which is frankly stupid and isn’t what FB ads are for in the slightest.. Maybe he needs to take Mark Dawson’s course. Or maybe it’s a good thing that not so many people are cottoning on to how to make it work, because it leaves the market for the rest of us to clean up.

    FB advertising got me to the top of countless international bestseller lists, sold over 100,000 copies of a single book inside 4 months (on $3-4 royalty a copy) and got me a life-changing six-figure deal direct with Amazon. It also paid my mortgage off before I was 30. And that was all inside 4 months. All I can say for that article is it provided me with a good few minutes of laughter to kick the morning off.

  33. MJH

    You’re giving information to people based on your failures that is literally a sample size of one. You need to be careful about how you frame this. “I was unable to sell books on Facebook” is a better title. Because you don’t fully understand how something works, have not taken the time to do your due diligence on how a specific advertising platform works, and show a lack of the basics of good ads, copy, or targeting techniques, you’ve blamed the platform. I think you need to make a caveat in this article that states that people DO find success on Facebook, but that it requires more effort than you were willing to put in.

  34. AnnWrites

    What a spectacular flop. All because you kept pouring money into a poorly performing campaign even after looking at that ridiculous cost per result. Did you keep throwing money in the bonfire even after realizing that the cost per result is so MASSIVE? Did you not stop once to reconsider? Make your mistakes small! I started tinkering with fb last week. I was spending $0.28 per click to my Amazon page. I aborted several campaigns, I spent all of three days tweaking, researching, endlessly, till I got my CPC down to $0.0681, and I have spent barely $7 so far. Now that my CPC is optimized, I am willing to bet serious money.
    You are not a marketer, sorry to say you’re a GAMBLER. You gambled big money with the hopes of winning big, but lost big. No wonder you’re weeping! Cut your losses short, let your profits run – if you were unable to make that ad turn a profit, you should have moved on after you spent around $30. Move on, try something else that works for you. It’s a lesson applicable to every business risk you take.

  35. Joshua Edward Smith

    I recently beta-read a book with the rather enormous title “The Ultimate Guide To Growing Your Facebook Following: How I Grew My Facebook Page from 2K to 30K Followers in Just Six Months Without Paying For Ads” that gives a pretty straightforward strategy for getting your Facebook follower count up. (Here’s a link: https://amzn.com/B01GQYUFOY) It takes a really long time and a lot of work, but it’s definitely a necessary starting point if you are going to try to use FB as an ad platform.

    Personally, I’ve had a lot of success with Twitter ads. Reach is great, the audience is more book-friendly, and they charge per click (not CPM), so the CTR doesn’t really matter all that much (I get about 1%). I’m typically spending $0.10-$0.15 per click, and at $2.99 my conversion rate is about 5%. If you do the math, that means I’m about breaking even, but I’m promoting the first in a series of novels, so I make my money back when people buy my other books. You can get details on my blog if you want to try it yourself. http://wp.me/p4iZaq-oo

    My gut agrees with the above commenters who think your book is just too damn pricey to be sold via advertising. If they are clicking through an ad, that probably means they don’t know who you are. And those readers are going to be risk-averse, so pricing matters a lot. In another post on my blog, I documented a pretty linear drop in conversion rate as I walked the price up. I’m not saying your book is too expensive. Just that it’s too expensive for ad-based marketing. If you want that price, you need to do recommendation-based marketing, like getting bloggers to talk about it or getting celebrity endorsements. People want assured quality at your price point.

  36. Robert Rosales

    Fair point but it appear to me that you’re using Facebook ads much like your average marketer uses Adwords.

    People who don’t know you, and haven’t heard of you till seeing your ad, aren’t ready to buy on Fb. As an experiment you could instead use FB to lead them down a funnel and collect emails by offering them something free or useful. At the end of your email funnel you could see which of those users bought from you.

    Also, how did you set up your ad sets on FB? It’s worth split testing that $344 to different audiences and then funnel the rest of your budget to the best performing ad set.



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