A Fiery Crash-Course in Facebook Ads for Indie Authors

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I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with Facebook Advertisements. We have a love hate relationship—mainly because once I think I’ve found something that works for me, my own hubris becomes my downfall. It is difficult to narrow down exactly what motivates consumers to make a purchase. I excel at this when face to face, but find using automated systems to grate my nerves. Alas, I cannot afford to spend 100% of my time on a sales floor, and so online advertising (Facebook being the primary method we will discuss) to be a necessity.

Before you begin—make sure that you have all of the necessary pieces in place. Before you wade into the choppy waters of Facebook Ads you should have already setup an author webpage, social media accounts (including an author one for Facebook, it must be different than your personal account or Facebook won’t give you access to ads,) an email service such as MailChimp or Constant Contact, and an optional blog.

Check your heart and head—are you purchasing ads to sell books and make money or are you trying to build something? Understand that if you are trying to make bank by selling your books, Facebook ads probably shouldn’t be your primary funnel. Effective ads are generally ones that help you break even and perhaps make a little profit. It has to be about more than the money—and if you are in charge of your own ads and promo as an author, then you’re probably a relatively unknown commodity for now, so building brand awareness is worth the risk levied by adverts and reduced profit margins (everyone’s got to pay the piper.)

Decide what you want to achieve—are you looking for more followers, email signups, drive website traffic, or are you trying to sell more copies of your book. I will concentrate on the latter for this article. Also, for the sake of keeping it easy, we won’t cover things like tracking conversions via pixel

Do your research—just like you’ve got to be in the right audience to sell your fantasy novel or your nonfiction “choose your own adventure” knitting challenge to a live audience, you’ve got to know as much about the demographic you plan to advertise to. Take advantage of the Audience Insight feature in Facebook’s ad tools to get (scarily) detailed information audience pools based on what they like and follow.

Cover appeal—as important as a book cover and back cover text is to your physical novel, appealing graphics and ad copy are equally vital to the success of an ad. If you choose to run ads, don’t do everything right and then drop the ball here—that amounts to a fumble on the one yard line. For graphics, make sure no more than 20% of your image is covered in text or the system will block it—be sure to set a hook with an amazing image that evokes emotion. For your ad copy, identify a pain to avoid or benefit to be gained by reading, use a call to action like “click to know more” or “sign up for mailing list,” and try to create a sense of urgency.

Know your numbers—do the math with me. Remember when I said to check your heart? Let’s check it against your wallet—by the time your book gets to the consumer, everyone will want to have gotten their cut. Let’s look at a hypothetical 300 page 6×9 novel.
Reader pays $15 for book on Amazon. Amazon takes $6 for distribution and shipping. Createspace takes about $4.50 for printing. You now have about $4.50 in royalties—you can about another $0.25 if you setup this sale via an Amazon Associates account, too. Facebook wants their advertisement money in the end.
For the sake of the math let’s assume a click costs you $0.20 and everything is typical about your budget and clickthrough averages for indie book ads. The average clickthrough rate is 0.2% and the average conversion rate is 1-2% (that’s one or two people buying your book for every hundred clicks). That’s not good, but at least we know where the norm is. You need to get $4.50 in order to break even with one sale, but at two-tenths of a percent, you will have spent $20 for every $7.36 made at an average 1.5% conversion rate (with Amazon Associates included) meaning you lost almost $15 trying to sell your book.
However, the low clickthrough rate means that for every book you sold, thousands and thousands of people had an ad on their screen, so at least there is some brand awareness being built on some deep level. But counting the cost is hard when it’s this difficult to make the numbers match up to simply break even.

Count the Cost—simply put, the conversion rate dictates your maximum spending if you insist on breaking even. To find that number, multiply your book’s profit ($4.50) by the average conversion rate (1.5%) to get the number of cents you would want to cap your CPC at (6.75 cents). Markets fluctuate and change regularly, each month (even weekly) you should take the temperature of the advertisement to see how well it is selling (though you may have to guess, since traffic sent to Amazon for sales is difficult to separate from all sales). If your book is converting sales at something closer to ten percent your breakeven point is closer to $0.45. Constantly keep an eye on your numbers so you don’t get hit with a giant bill and very little sales!

The How-To:

First, go to https://www.facebook.com/ads and click to create an ad. Select what you want your ad to do (send people to your link—either your website, privately hosted page, or an amazon URL from your Associates account).

Follow the prompts in the wizard that will help you build your ad. Pick your demographic and input their likes, interests, etc. You want a very specific audience (use the Audience Insight feature to find them) that will be interested in your book and also likely to purchase. You want your target audience somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people; stay within those bookends or risk becoming unheard on the low-end or white noise on the high-end.

Set your placements, budget, and ad delivery details and save the info. The next part is to input your graphic, ad copy, URL, and anything else. The trick is to balance the ad so it is highly appealing, intensely targeted, and doesn’t muddy the waters by overdoing it. It must be succinct and powerful.

Submit it when you are ready for it to go off to review to the Facebook Ad team for approval, and good luck. The turn-around is pretty quick. They want your money.

There are many bloggers and experts who advise steering clear of Facebook ads like they were a plague. Many have gone so far as to say that using Facebook ads to sell books is impossible to do without losing money. I see little results with them when I’m trying to push fiction, but do better than breaking even when I’m pushing my nonfiction, so there are some variables.

The jury is still out, and the market is constantly changing. Facebook ads are one tool in your marketing toolbox. I make the most sales when I’m selling person to person at events and make the most money when pushing self-published books that cost me less than five dollars to produce.  Perhaps online marketing will get better, easier, and more profitable… perhaps you will find the key to success and never have to leave your writing cave. Give it a try, but don’t jump in headfirst… wade in slowly. This lake’s got nasty surprises for the unwary.

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