Facebook Advertising: Does It Work for Indie Authors?

Advertising is a key component of most business models, and, like it or not, it’s critical to the success of an indie author. People have to know about your book before they can buy it, and, with who knows how many million books available on Amazon.com, the odds that someone is going to just stumble across your book and buy it are really, really low.

Of course, advertising requires a budget, and that’s something (as well as time) most of us indie authors don’t have a lot of. So it’s important to spend your ad dollars effectively.

Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been experimenting with various promotional tools for my short story, “Sleeping Beauty.” The book is enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program, so I have twice given it away for free. I’ve also advertised through Digital Book Today, The Kindle Book Review, and World Literary Cafe with varying degrees of success.

This week, I decided to experiment with Facebook advertising.  I had heard from several people that it was both affordable and effective. I thought I would see for myself.

Methodology

Facebook has a number of very cool features for advertisers. First, it lets you specifically target users by their interests. When I bought an ad on Digital Book Today, it was up on their pages for everyone to see. That meant that my potential customers saw it, but so did people who would have no interest in that kind of book. Not so with Facebook. The ad only appeared on the pages of the people who had specifically said they were interested in the things I determined.

In my case, I chose people who are fans of ABC’s Once Upon A Time. The Sunday-night drama supposes that the evil queen from “Snow White” has brought all the famous fairytale characters to our world and wiped them of their memories. Like the show, my version of “Sleeping Beauty” features a familiar tale retold in a modern setting. People who like Once Upon A Time are a natural fit, so I specifically targeted Facebook users who were fans of the show.

Facebook also tells you the size of your potential audience. As soon as I selected fans of Once Upon A Time as my target, Facebook said my ad would reach up to 1.8M users. That’s a lot of people! Had I added other criteria (like for example fans of Amazon’s Kindle) I could have increased that reach, and I also could have narrowed my focus by selecting, for example, only female fans the show.

Finally, Facebook charges on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis. That is, you only get charged for the ad if someone clicks on it to learn more. Facebook offers a bid range, where you set the price you’re willing to pay per click. You also get to set a budget, wherein you establish the maximum amount you’re willing to spend per day or for the lifetime of the ad campaign. I used the minimum bid of 68 cents per click and set a lifetime budget of $100.00.

Facebook also asks you to tell them when the ad campaign will run, and you can set that down to the minute. In my case, I began the campaign at 7:00pm CDT Sunday night — right when Once Upon A Time was coming on the air for East Coast audiences — and set it to end at 11:59pm Monday night. My thought was this would best capitalize on people discussing the show as it aired and for a day or so afterward.

Expectations

Never having done this sort of advertising before, I set my hypotheses based on some basic advertising rules. A two-percent return is considered good for a direct-mail campaign, so two percent of 1.8M is 36,000. At 68 cents a click, that would be 147 clicks before I’d exhausted my budget. I figured I would do much better than a two-percent return on sales, because people who actually clicked through were fish on the line, so to speak. If they clicked, they were interested in reading the book.

Now, here’s the thing. “Sleeping Beauty” retails for 99 cents. My royalty from Amazon is 35 cents per unit. At 68 cents a click, I was going to lose money. My thought, though, was to treat this campaign as a loss-leader. If I sold 50 or 100 (or more!) copies of “Sleeping Beauty” through this ad, that would cause the book to rocket up the Amazon.com Bestseller lists. That would get it higher visibility on the site, which would lead more readers to it. Plus, anyone who buys the book might review it. I’ve got five four-star reviews for it. Assuming I could maintain that average, that would help make some sales too.

So, invoking the old business adage, “you have to spend money to make money,” and setting my total budget at a very affordable rate, I launched my first foray into Facebook advertising to see what sorts of results I could get.

Results

Like my other advertising efforts for “Sleeping Beauty” this one was mixed. The best thing I can say about it is Facebook provides a lot of data for you to measure your ad’s efficacy. I have a much better picture of what happened than with any other promotional effort I’ve made thus far.

My total reach was 180,277 unique impressions. That’s only about 10% of what Facebook claimed was the total audience size for my ad, but it’s also a really big number. I don’t know how many people saw my giveaway offer on Amazon or my ads on the other websites I used, but I bet it wasn’t as many as the Facebook ad.

Facebook also tells you the average frequency with which a user saw your ad. At the end of my campaign, that number was 2.7. So, of the people who saw it, they viewed it more than once — almost three times. Unsurprisingly, this number grew steadily over the course of the campaign. It started at .5 during the East Coast run of Once Upon A Time. Thus, to meet another business assumption of making seven impressions to make a sale, you have to let your campaign run for a bit.

I got a total of 284 clicks, which is a click-through rate (CTR) of only .059% — way below the two percent I was hoping for. However, it is more clicks than I was expecting. That’s because the CPC fell steadily over the course of the event. At the end, it was 35 cents. I’m not sure why this was. I did use a $50 ad credit Facebook gave me, so that may have been factored into the CPC given my $100 ad budget, but the CPC number changed several times over the life of the campaign. I don’t know why that was.

So, with 284 click-through’s the big question is how many of those turned into sales. That’s where the campaign was most disappointing. I sold five copies of “Sleeping Beauty.” That’s a 1.7% rate of return — close to the standard two percent for direct mail. It seems the leads that click through aren’t quite the fish on the line I was hoping for. They were only fish in the pond. (That’s too bad too, since 284 clicks for $100 works out to 28.4 cents CPC, which would have made the campaign profitable if they’d all bought.)

There were a few encouraging numbers from Amazon. I hit new highs for “Sleeping Beauty’s” rank in the paid store. It got up to 50,000 at one point, and I peaked as the 1036th bestselling author in the Fantasy category. That surely raised the book’s and my visilibility, although not to levels that would have a significant impact on sales.

Analysis

There’s no way not to look at this experiment as a failure. My return on investment was minimal. Five sales isn’t very many at all, considering the exposure I got and the amount of money I spent for it. Advertising “Sleeping Beauty” on Facebook to Once Upon A Time fans for two and a half days (I hadn’t spent my full budget when the campaign was shceduled to end, so I extended it for 24 hours) wasn’t a good idea.

However, I did glean some useful data from it and an hypothesis about the book. First the data.

  • Return on Investment: Advertising a 99-cent eBook probably isn’t a good idea. The potential return (35 cents per copy sold) just doesn’t justify the expense. Even with the CPC at a final rate of 35 cents, I’d have had to sell a copy to every person who responded to break even. That would be fine if the rate of sales to those who clicked was pretty high, but it wasn’t. It was at the standard, two-percent return. So the potential exposure from a sales bump just wasn’t there at an affordable rate.
  • Time is a Factor: Also, you have to give Facebook some time to work its magic. I saw my total number of impressions, my average number of views, and my CTR all rise over time, while my CPC went down as the campaign went on. Advertising on Facebook requires a long view. It’s interesting to note that my sales went up over time too. The first night — the night I thought would be best given that the show was fresh in people’s minds — resulted in zero sales. I made two the next day, and three the following. Who knows how long that trend would have continued, but it seems clear you need time to build momentum on Facebook.

My hypothesis on the book is that my blurb may not be good enough. I have five four-star reviews, I gave away over 650 copies of the story, and I’ve pushed it to the moon in various advertising venues. But sales are sluggish. It could be I’m getting people to the book’s page but not convincing them they should buy it. Afterall, 284 people clicked on the Facebook ad, but only five of them decided it was worth spending a dollar to buy. It may be I need some better copy.

And that leads me to my thoughts on future advertising on Facebook. I think it may be a good move in conjunction with a KDP Select giveaway. If 284 people thought “Sleeping Beauty”  was interesting enough to want to learn more, how many of them would have downloaded it if it hadn’t cost them anything? I bet it’s a lot higher than five.

I also think it might be useful for a higher-priced book. If the book was $3.99, that’s a 70% royalty rate, which translates to $2.79 per sale. With the same $100 budget, I’d have to sell 35.8 copies for the investment to pay off. Obviously, I didn’t do that last time, but it’s possible I didn’t run the campaign long enough or that my marketing copy wasn’t good enough. Both of those things are changeable.

At any rate, this particular experiment failed, but it produced some interesting information I can apply to future attempts. If you’re contemplating Facebook advertising for your eBook, remember that the ROI can be tricky.

If you’ve tried Facebook advertising, I’d love to hear about your results. Please leave a comment.

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8 thoughts on “Facebook Advertising: Does It Work for Indie Authors?

  1. Pingback: Does Facebook Work For Authors? | Molly Greene: Writer

  2. Pingback: Facebook Ads for Authors - BookBaby Blog

  3. I’m an author but I’ve never used FB or any paid advertising (yet) but I found your post interesting. Thanks for sharing your experience and being so honest about it. Wish you lots of luck with your novel 🙂

  4. I’ve not used FB yet to advertise my book, but your article told me a lot. I did know one author who used it to advertise his Facebook page and he was very pleased. I, like you, would probably advertise a product. I did like your strategy of starting your ad during Once Upon a Time. Now, I need to work up the courage to do my own ad.

  5. Pingback: Will Facebook Ads Works For Book Marketing? | Authors Crib | Smart Writing,Publishing And Book Marketing Tips For Authors And Writers

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience, John. I’m about to launch my novel and am considering using FB advertising so this is valuable information. Hope your book is selling well.

    • No problem, Katrina! Please note that this blog is over a year old, so the information may be a little out of date. I’m planning on trying another Facebook ad next month, and I’m sure I’ll blog about my experience on it too.

      Thanks for the comment and good luck with your book!

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