Facebook Ads for Authors

This is the latest of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page. If you'd like to get announcements, coupons, news, and more, sign up for the Powder Mage Newsletter!

For this essay, I've changed things up a bit by running an experiment in marketing. As far as the "behind the scenes of being an author" thing goes, you're watching me throw crap at the wall to see what sticks. Warning: there will be lots of numbers. Hope you find it interesting.

There's a lot of literature out there extolling the virtues (or more often, the lack thereof by companies like Priceline) of using Facebook ads to help grow your business. I've always wondered whether these ads could be used to help spread the word about my self-published novellas, and upon doing some research found that "Facebook ads for authors" have some very loud proponents out there. Being someone who likes to wade into the nitty gritty of the business of publishing when I can, I was intrigued.

One of the loudest of these proponents I found was an author named Mark Dawson. Mark is a self-pubber who has found great success writing mysteries and thrillers. In this interview, he attributes his success to leveraging a combination of newsletter lists and Facebook ads. His method is straight-forward: run FB ads promising a free book with a newsletter signup. Once you have that email address, tailor newsletters to that person offering to sell them more books in the series.

I'm always a skeptic. Mark claims that the ads way more than pay for themselves for him and several of his colleagues. He buys the ads, the ads bring him subscribers, the subscribers buy his subsequent books, he re-invests profits in ads to get more readers. It's a solid theory, but the success of it sounded suspect, and I figured if it worked as well as he said I would have heard of far more authors using Facebook ads. But I was willing to do a small-scale experiment.

Disclaimer that I'm not trained in marketing or a statistician or anything else. I'm just an author trying to figure out how to expand my audience.

My setup was this: using my Facebook Author Page, I purchased $10 worth of ads for each of seven days, for a total of $70. I targeted people who showed interest in Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks, two authors I share a lot of readers with, and offered a free powder mage novella to anyone who signed up for my newsletter. I don't have the newsletter-fu of a guy like Mark, but I set up a separate list on my Mail Chimp account to keep track of things. Here's my ad:

The results were... underwhelming? There are two different sets of numbers, one of which is "paid" and one "organic," meaning the people who would have seen the ad on my author page regardless of any money I spent on it. I'm going to just look at the "paid" results, which you can see below:

  • 67 link clicks (people who decided to take a look at my newsletter signup)
  • 29 page likes (people who now (might) see what I post to my author page in the future)
  • 57 post likes (which means pretty much nothing except that they clicked "like")

My new list wound up with 34 newsletter subscribers, roughly a 50% conversion from people who bothered to click on the link at all, which is pretty decent. It's hard to tell whether page and post likes are actually worth anything, but 29 and 57 weren't exactly thrilling numbers even if they are. (It should be mentioned here that FB has been accused in the past of farming out purchased likes to "clickers" in third-world countries)

Considering all that, let's focus on the newsletter subscribers. If you saw my essay on newsletters last month, you'd remember the subscriber-to-sale rate for that one particular email was .6%. I've had higher and lower, but let's run with that number and see where it gets us, assuming that those 34 people are the right audience for future novels and novellas.

A novella makes me $2.05. Those 34 people at .6% conversion made me 20% of a single sale. So $.41. That means I spent $70 to make $.41. I'm not great with math but that seems less than fantastic.

Some of you might point out (and I'm sure Mark Dawson would), I'm grabbing these subscribers so I can send them newsletters ad naseum, which is totally fair. Let's say that percentage holds true across every release-announcing newsletter I send for the rest of my career. It would take 170 releases for me to make back that $70.

As you saw in my newsletter essay, I'm pretty optimistic about the powers of "spreading the word" and recognize that there are impossible-to-measure factors when it comes to simply getting your books out there in front of people. Ten of those "page likes" I mentioned above could turn into wild fans that buy every one of my books and tell all of their friends and makes it so I can die happy in a pile of money. Statistically, however, that seems pretty unlikely.

Needless to say, I'm not thrilled with the results of my Facebook ad experiment. I was ready to follow the Mark Dawson technique and drop $100/day into FB ads. If they worked. Unfortunately, that won't be happening. I am willing to concede a few points: 1) that I just don't have right combination of mojo/genre/ad wording/etc to really make a FB ad succeed. 2) that a novella in an existing world might not be as tempting as a full-length first novel as a freebie. 3) That FB ads might work a lot better in scale, and that if I had the money to put $1000/day into them I might get amazing results.

Regardless, I'm not going to be advising my author friends to try out Facebook ads any time soon.