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