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If you write a great book, it will not fly off the virtual shelves unless people can actually find it. In today's interview, crime author Adam Croft describes how he used Facebook Ads to drive his book into the Amazon Top 100 and stay there, while actually making money on his advertising. Meredith Wild, who featured in a NY Times article a few weeks back, used this same strategy to launch her Hacker series and now the Calendar Girl books currently storming the charts.
Adam Croft is a bestselling British crime writer and playwright.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- On Adam's two mystery series; a British police procedural series and a cozy mystery series.
- The shift in mindset that allowed Adam to better balance the creative and the business sides of being an author.
- Adam's background as a playwright and how he views that type of writing vs. mystery and crime novels.
- On what Adam did to start with Facebook advertising, including
his strategy and his budget.
- Thinking like a reader, rather than like a writer, when planning ads.
- How Facebook Advertising is responsible for one of the books Adam has written.
- Writing the ad copy for a book before the book is written.
- Adam's feedback on Joanna's ad for her London crime thrillers.
- Defining split testing and why this type of strategy works to make ads more profitable.
- How much patience to have with ads and why timing matters.
- Establishing target audiences for your advertisements and using Facebook's suggestions to do this.
- Why marketing matters for those writers who want to be full-time authors.
You can find Adam at www.AdamCroft.net and on twitter at @adamcroft
Transcription of interview with Adam Croft
Joanna Penn: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I'm here with best-selling British Crime Writer and Playwright, Adam Croft. Welcome, Adam.
Adam Croft: Thank you.
Joanna Penn: Adam's been on the show before, but way back in April 2012. And this is in…it's because this podcast been running so super long now. It's like six years. So Adam, just give us an update.
What has changed in your writing world and tell us a bit more about you?
Adam Croft: Quite a lot's changed, actually. I've essentially been able to get the creative and the business sides of writing together which is something I struggled with for quite a while. I've always been fine with writing stories, been fine with having run businesses in the past. But actually bringing those together and getting that commercial side of the brain to work at the same time as the creative side of the brain. That's what's changed, really. Using a lot of different things. Facebook Advertising for me and I've spoken about that a lot with Mark Dawson, that's worked fantastically for me in this especially the most recent book I had out, back-end of 2015 has worked really well.
Joanna Penn: We'll come to the details, but tell people a bit more about the books that you write so that they can understand your place in the firmament as such.
Adam Croft: I write two series mainly, the ‘Knight & Culverhouse' crime thrillers, which are like the Ian Rankin, Peter James kind of British detective in a British town.
I also write the ‘Kempston Hardwick Mysteries' which are a cozy mystery but with a humorous twist. It's kind of like a pastiche, a bit of a mickey take on the golden age of crime/detective fiction, Agatha Christie, things like that. A bit of a tongue-and-cheek approach to that. And I started recently a branch, got more into psychological thrillers as well, which is what the most recent book of mine was, which was my ninth book.
Joanna Penn: Are you a full-time author now? Are you making a living this way?
Adam Croft: Yes. I have been for a while now, for a few years. Obviously, what's full-time, it's full-time hours anyway. But no way full-time money. But yeah, in terms of the way things have gone the last couple of months…
Joanna Penn: It's getting better?
Adam Croft: Yeah, to say the least. There's no going back now.
Joanna Penn: What's interesting is you said there about struggling with the business, balancing the business and creative side. And I know a lot of the listeners are going through that struggle now.
How did you kind of psychologically pull yourself together and sort it out? How did you get yourself into that mindset?
Adam Croft: I think it's a case of organization. It's a case of having a plan and knowing what you're going to do. For example, I knew that I was gonna dedicate a lot of time to sorting out the Facebook Adverts and I took Mark Dawson's course, I buckled down, watch through the videos, took notes, tested.
You've got to have that business out of the brain in the first place, you've got to be willing to take risks. I speak to so many people who say, “Yeah, I'm running for jump on Facebook Ads again. I'm running ads a $10 a day. I'm getting an ROI of 300%. That's good, isn't it?” I say, “Yeah, of course it is.” So start scaling up, I think. Throw what you can at it because at the end of they day, you want 300% of $1,000 rather than 300% of $10.
And that's when it seems to be this kind of clinking of gears together and I get, “Well, I'm not really comfortable with spending more money.” And you think, well, you've got to have that trust in the figures, as well as the trust in your words. It's a strange thing to kind of bring together, I think. But I suppose you've got to be business brained.
You've got to be business-brained in the first place. If you're not, then that's absolutely fine. But perhaps it might be better going down the traditional route rather than the self-publishing route because you've got to have that entrepreneurial spirit as well if you want it to be a commercial success. If you're just looking to put books out there and see what happens, then that's fine. That's what I did five years ago as well, and it did okay then.
Joanna Penn: But you're also a playwright. I just want to bring that up because you're writing these commercial thrillers, crime books, playwriting is not traditionally known as a way to someone with a business head.
How does that play into your creative life?
Adam Croft: It plays very well into my creative life, and not at all well into my business life. It's very much my creative outlook. And the plays are nothing like the books either. We're talking emotionally kind of surrealist drama and one or two kind of farces or comedies thrown in.
Theater's a big love of mine. I act as well and it's always been a big love of mine. So writing plays is something that I do it for me. And yeah, there's some money in it but it's not something I could do on its own.
Joanna Penn: I'd like to advise all the poets in the audience that that's pretty much the attitude I think most poets probably need to have.
Adam Croft: It's exactly the same, yeah. No matter how good a business-brain you've got, it's difficult with fiction, it's bloody difficult. But if you're getting into playwriting and poetry you're talking a whole other level of it's almost insane to try to get a business out of that.
Joanna Penn: I think that's what I like about it is you talk about this business side, but you do have this other side that is clearly just for the love of writing. So let's come back and just wind the clock back.
We are going to talk about the Facebook ads because I think what's happened in the last, probably the last year since Mark put out his course being in the cusp of the wave as such, is a lot of authors have tried Facebook ads. But I would probably say that most of them have tried and failed. So let's take you back to when you first discovered Facebook advertising.
How did you start with Facebook advertising and how would you advise other people start? Did you start by looking at your books and try to decide on audiences or did you start with ads? How did you get started?
Adam Croft: I started with the books and tried to work out which ones I was going to advertise and how I was going to advertise them. At the time, I only had four books in each series. And I was advertising the more recent ones in the series. They were doing fairly well; I was getting positive ROI. Didn't have any money to throw at it, so I was doing sort of £10 a day, something like that.
And what happened there, cause even though I was advertising the fourth book in the series, a lot of the sales are going up for the first, second, and third. A lot of people were seeing, yeah, the fourth book was the one being advertised that it was a fourth book and now they're going back and buying the other ones. When your first books's permafree perhaps not all that much money's to be made in that. And it's quite difficult to track the success.
Joanna Penn: I'll just stop you there because some people haven't got into the detail of this yet. So first of all, define ROI so people know what you're talking about.
Adam Croft: ROI is your return on investment. So essentially it's a way of measuring how profitable your advertising has been. The simple calculation is to divide the profit by what you're spending. So for example, if I look at my spreadsheet from Sunday here I spent £783 on ads and made £1,594 which comes 103%, which is just over doubling. That's…
Joanna Penn: And we'll just point out there that that's an advanced level of spending.
Adam Croft: Of course, yes.
Joanna Penn: When you're first starting out, the ROI is often less.
How many ads did you set up at the beginning and how much money were you down before things started to go up?
Adam Croft: Percentage wise, the ROIs will stay the same because it's kind of relative to what you're spending. In ROI, the 100% means that you're doubling what you're spending on your ads in profit each day. I started at a low level. I tried it for probably two or three weeks and didn't get much out of it and I kind of stopped.
I went back and took stock and I thought I've got to have a kind of different approach to this. A lot of people are advertising books on Facebook now. Readers are, especially if you've liked a page of Lee Child or James Patterson or someone like that, you're gonna get hammered by Facebook Ads all day long. So you've gotta do something a bit different.
And I kind of went from the other side. Rather than saying, “This is what I want to write. This is what I've written. How I'm gonna market this?” I thought, “Well, perhaps it's time to start doing it the other way around. What are the readers going to look for? What's going to hook them?” And the idea of these kind of high-concept hooks are something that always really interest me, which is where the idea for the most recent book came from.
Joanna Penn: Right. We'll come back to that high-concept hook idea. So just going back to the beginning; you set up say 10 ads or whatever. And a lot of them didn't work, so you narrowed it down to things that might have worked better. But after a couple of weeks, as you said, you gave up. Now that's I think the journey of most people with Facebook advertising right now.
Can you just be a bit more specific about how you did restart that? Like, how did you do the research around what the readers would want?
Adam Croft: I went back and did the course through again, watched through the videos again. And thought, “There's got to be something missing there.” And I think what we don't often do so much as authors is put ourselves in the position of the reader, and also write the books that you'd love to read. And it was a case of doing that because I was targeting readers of certain authors.
I thought, “Well, I am a reader of these authors. Would I look at this advert, completely subjectively, and think, clearly objectively and think it's something I'd want to read.” And I thought, “Possibly not.” It's good, it's not a bad advert, doesn't look like a bad book. But it doesn't really stand out.
So it was a case of putting myself in the mindset of me as Adam, the crime/thriller reader, rather than Adam the crime/thriller writer. And trying to generate, not generate story lines around it, but sort of come up with those ideas and get into that mindset of perhaps coming up with something from a reader's perspective.
And in terms of the hook, I've always been fascinated by what Stephen King does with horror, which is to put in normal people, in a normal situation, normal everyday life, and then something weird, bizarre, catastrophic, horror-wise happens to them. And it's trying to amalgamate that with the thriller genre as well. So that you've got thriller like things happening to people in their everyday life. And it could be you, it could be me, it could be anyone.
Joanna Penn: The ads that you're running now for this book, the most successful ads that you've run, you actually wrote a book in order to use Facebook advertising for it?
Adam Croft: Sort of, yeah. It was an idea that I had floating around. And it was something I'd written bits of, I'd never really got that far with it. And I wasn't sure how it was ending and it sat in the drawer for months. And I started before I even discovered Facebook Advertising, months before I'd kind of started on it. I was almost ready to throw it away.
And when I was thinking about this idea of doing something that's different and basing it around this hook for advertising, that came back into my head again. I thought, “Hang on. I've got this. It might work.” So essentially the reason it's out there and the reason it's published is because I knew it would be a hugely marketable book. If it wasn't for Facebook Adverts, I wouldn't say I would never have thought of the idea and written it, but I would never have finished it and I don't think it would be published now.
Joanna Penn: And that's your most successful ad? Is that one with that hook?
Adam Croft: Yes. By a long, long way.
Joanna Penn: And that, I think this is brilliant and I know people are sitting there going, “That's crazy,” because surely you take what you have and then you try and sell what you have, which is what most people are doing.
Adam Croft: If people want it. And if they don't want it, then that's the problem, isn't it?
Joanna Penn: No amount of advertising is going to persuade people that they want something that they don't want.
Adam Croft: Exactly.
Joanna Penn: I find that really genius. And kudos to you for basically going, “Okay. You know what…”
And that doesn't mean that people don't want your other books. It's that you weren't able to come up with a hook that was good in an advert, right?
Adam Croft: Exactly. The sales of the other books have gone up as a result, and the reviews that are coming through on those are excellent. There's obviously nothing wrong with the books; it was the fact that I couldn't market them.
And I've gone one step further with the next ones. I'm writing another one now which I actually wrote the ad-copy for, first. That was the first thing I did before I had a title, before I had a plot, I wrote the ad-copy. And I've written the book from that. I'm kind of going one step further and we'll see what happens there.
Joanna Penn: This is going back to how Tim Ferris did ‘The 4-Hour Workweek'. When he came up with the title for that book, he split tested the titles on Facebook and with other things and Google AdWords and stuff. I guess it was back then like 10 years ago.
Have you run the ad down to a landing page or something? Are you actually gonna test that ad before your write the book?
Adam Croft: No, no. I like the idea of the book enough that I'm gonna write it anyway.
Joanna Penn: Anyway?
Adam Croft: If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. But that's what it's all about. It's all about testing and seeing what happens and learning from it. And Facebook adverts are great for doing that, for being able to put something out instantly in front of your target audience and see what happens and measure their response and likely success of something.
Joanna Penn: I think that's great. I do think that's brilliant but most people are gonna be in the position of having a book that they then want to run an ad on in order to sell. And most of the wisdom seems to be that it's best to run ads on a box set when you've got three books because the royalty is higher, so you're more likely to get positive ROI.
I have an advert that we're going to talk about right now for my London psychic, crime thriller trilogy. The books are ‘Desecration', ‘Delirium', and ‘Deviance'. They're crime but she is a British detective. He is a psychic, a reluctant psychic. And there's definitely an edge of horror. The reviews say things like, “Not for the faint-hearted,” and things like that. But it is essentially a British detective thriller in London.
Now, I'm going to put the advert on the show notes so people can go and see that. I'm just putting it out there. This is an ad I've run. This is an ad that has run and this is a UK ad because it's set in Britain. I have some results on this ad which I'm happy to talk about in a minute.
Give me your feedback on, first of all, the ads and the text because it's in the crime genre, which you're familiar with. But also, what your ideas might be around targeting.
Adam Croft: Okay. In terms of the ad itself, I mean, any time I give advice to some of the adverts, it's based on what's worked for me. It might not work for other people, it's probably slightly more likely to work for you because you're in a similar kind of genre.
On the first glance in terms of the text of it, putting the price in the description does tend to work well, or if there's some kind of deal, if it's 40% off or something like that, that does tend to work quite well. Probably move that further forward in the text; I'd probably use that as a selling point.
In terms of the blurb of the book itself, “A killer stalks London after dark. Can they stop him before it's too late?” it's a great way of getting it across quite quickly and succinctly, but it doesn't stand out would be the only thing I would say there.
It's every crime fiction book, really, there's a killer. Can they stop the murders before it's too late? That could be replaced with any crime fiction books as a way. It's a case of finding the hook that that sets the book apart.
What's different? Why do they need to read this rather than say I'll go out and buy a Peter James or a Mark Billingham or whatever? I think it's a case of finding what the particular hook for your book is and pushing that.
And in fact, even though I've seen this ad a couple of times, it's literally just jumped out at me when it says three full-length books for just £5.99. I didn't even realize it was in the box actually until just now. So that's probably something that could be pushed. Again, further up the ads, making a point of the fact that it's a box set. You're gonna be saving X percent by doing that.
And also, who are you? So then if they haven't heard of JFPenn, are you, I think I'm right in saying New York Times best seller as well. So that's something that you can mention in there. I mean, everyone's going to mention certain things. It's a case of selling yourself in a certain way to the market as well.
Picture's very good, I like it. I probably would try it without the text on the picture. Certainly, at least, split test it and I'd probably expect it would be better without. But again, you never know. Yeah, learn more on the button. That works well for me, better than “Shop Now” and things like that. It just seems it's a strong enough call to action to get people to click through, but it's not kind of ‘Give me your money'. It's a little bit, it's kind of equivalent to Mark when he uses his, ‘Get my free books now' on his mailing list building ads, and things like that.
The question on the ad, ‘Love crime thrillers with an edge of the supernatural?', is good, it's leading, I like it. But it's kind of something that lots of people are doing. Again, it's like I see so many ads with ‘Who is character X?' Because that's something that Mark did and it's worked well for him so everyone goes I'm gonna do that and it's gonna work. It's probably not. The more people who do it, the less likely it's to work. So again, it's not necessarily following proven ads too closely but think what is it about that that works and it's not the fact that it is just a question or do you like this, you will like that. It's finding a different way of doing things, thinking slightly outside the box.
Joanna Penn: Brilliant. That's brilliant feedback already.
Just some things if people don't realize, what is split testing?
Adam Croft: Split testing would be where you're running, for example, on your advert presuming everyone's seen it in the notes, you've got your advert, one with the lovely picture of London looking particularly bright and beautiful. And you've got the words, “Evil stalks the city after dark.” For example. you ran that advert and alongside it, in the same ad set, run the advert without the text on it. Everything else is the same so you're literally just testing which one performs better whether it's with that text or without. You then see after a few days which one performs better, kill the one that's not performing as well. Duplicate the advert again and change something else. Like you might change the…
Joanna Penn: The headline?
Adam Croft: Yeah, or you might change, “Get them for £5.99.” You might change that to, ‘40% off', or whatever the particular deal is, see which one works best. Kill the one that doesn't work as well and then change another thing.
The idea is that you're getting your ad slowly more and more refined and making one change each time, seeing whether it works better or not, if it doesn't, go back to the original. The idea is your ad's gonna get more and more specific and perform better and better throughout time until you've exhausted your audience obviously.
Joanna Penn: Yes, so a couple of things there. Because I think this is great because people are getting a much more kind of delving into the experience of it. But at the beginning with the split testing, so you just can't expect to put up an ad and this is the first iteration of this ad.
You can't expect to put an ad up like this, say show it to fans of Peter James, and expect to make 200% ROI.
Adam Croft: No.
Joanna Penn: No, that just doesn't happen, right? So everyone here who wants to do this properly has to have a budget upfront in order to put in a number of ads like you say and then kill off things. So you put them up for say $5 each and then kill off things that don't work. So you have, in quotation marks ‘lost that $5'.
But what you've learned will help you with the next iteration. That's basically what that testing process is, right?
Adam Croft: Essentially, yeah. And I mean, I wouldn't even say that you lost $5 necessarily. I always say that I would rather spend $1,000 to make $1,000 than spend nothing to make nothing. Because your books's going out in front of people, your name's going out in front of people, those people might read it and tell people.
And even if you lose some money in the short term, the long-term gains might be massive. The few people who do read it might tell other people, might leave reviews. Your name's out there and it's a marketing exercise as well. I get so many comments in my ads from people saying, “I've seen this ad four or five times now, and for some reason it popped up into my head when I was in my lunch break today,” or, “Somebody was talking about something and I remembered it and I'm gonna buy the book now and see what it's all about.”
So it's not as simplistic as putting it in front of people, and when they see it they rather buy or they won't. If you've got a striking-enough advert and a strong-enough hook, it's gonna stick in people's minds. And it might take five or six times for them to see it before they go through and buy it. So again, you do need a budget to be able to sit on it and put some money towards it. And see what happens in the long-term.
Mark and myself and lots of other people always advocate waiting at least 72 hours before you do anything with an advert. I have people come to me who have been running them for four or five hours and they go, “It's costing me $2 a click. I'm gonna kill it.” No, wait, wait, wait. Some of my best ones I've done that. But there's a lot to be said for sitting on it longer as well and see what happens…
Some ads can be a really slow burn. Some of them will be, “Oh, this is a great deal. I'll get it now and download it,” and some of them are a slow burn. It can stick in people's minds and it can take five, six times of them seeing it, a good week before they'll buy it.
Joanna Penn: And two good points here.
One, the day of the week does make a difference, doesn't it? I noticed a really big spike at the weekend.
Adam Croft: Uh-huh.
Joanna Penn: So if you've started running something on a Tuesday, and it was under, under, and then at the weekend it blows you out of the water, then you can start changing the timing of the ads, that type of thing.
Adam Croft: Yeah, it depends as well on where you are. The five biggest days I've had sales-wise will have been Sundays. Saturdays, they're normally okay, but not as good as you might expect. Again, depends what's going on in the world.
For example, I think about a week or so ago we had the, over in the States, they had the Republican debates. And Donald Trump wasn't there, he was doing his own one. Of course everyone in the US is watching that and my US sales just went…for about 4 hours, there was just nothing. But conversely a couple of weeks earlier when we had all the snow on the East Coast, New York was under three feet of snow, the East Coast sales went up. And every other comment I was getting was from New York, was from New Jersey, it was from people who were snowed in and had nothing else to do but read.
You do have to kind of think out of the box and keep your eye on those things, because we're dealing with real people sat in front of a real computer in the real world. And how likely they are to buy something or to even be on Facebook in the first place is dictated by what's going on around them.
Joanna Penn: And the other thing you said there which I thought was brilliant, what's kind of described as this halo effect, is if one ad results in X number of dollars, that's not just the entire point. And no one ever said that marketing was gonna make you loads of money. That actually most people would expect to spend money on marketing and for it to get 50% of marketing works, we just don't know what 50%. But now we do know which 50% because we can measure it. But like you say, that halo effect.
How have the sales of your other books moved based on advertising your main hook book?
Adam Croft: They've all gone up as well. I get so many messages from people saying, “I've read the most recent book. I've enjoyed it and I've gone and bought all the others as well.” So that person, the £2 or whatever that I got when they bought the book, great. But they've then gone out and bought another eight. And you can't always measure that from the start because somebody's got to buy the book. But they've then got to read it. I get messages people who bought the book two months ago and have only just got around to reading it and are now going out and buying all the others.
In a week, the money that I'm making today is because of the success of the ads that I was running two months ago. That's why it's so difficult even within three days to say whether it works or not. But of course at the same time, people can't always go throwing lots money at it.
It's a case of spending what you can afford, but at the same time taking it seriously and thinking if you want to do this as a career, if you want to do it as a business, if you want to make money out of it, like any business you can't just set up a shop for free and open it and expect that loads of people are going to walk in. You've got to invest, you've got to put yourself out there. If it was a case of it costing nothing and you're just selling lots and lots of books, then everyone would be doing it.
Joanna Penn: Okay. So then just coming back to my ad, you now know a bit about it.
How would I go about finding the right target audience? Because this is the other thing, isn't it? You can have the most amazing hook and the most amazing ad, but if you have advertise it to fans of Nora Roberts instead of Stephen King or vise versa, it's not gonna work, is it? How would you recommend I or other people go into the targeting?
Adam Croft: This is something that's easier if you write what you already like reading. So for example, if you're writing on a well-established genre, and you're not trying something too new, it's quite easy because you think, “Well, what authors do I like reading?” And you might be surprised at how wide you can actually push that out. For example, mine aren't horror based at well, but targeting fans of Stephen King and people like that does do quite well. So don't be afraid to push a bit wider with the adverts.
I know somebody who writes crime fiction who targets fans of Wilbur Smith and does surprisingly well. It's about hooking people into buying. You don't necessarily need to be after the exact specific genre that you think. You might be quite surprised at how different genres and different authors crossover when you don't realize.
Again, if it's a genre you read that you're writing and then you know the authors that you like, you know the authors that move around there. Facebook's quite good at suggesting other authors as well. If you type a couple in when you're setting up your ad set, it will make suggestions underneath. And you can perhaps jot down a couple of those and Google them, look on Amazon, see if they might be similar.
Remember that Facebook knows what works, knows how similar interests interact with each other because it's got data from so many authors that are doing this. So yeah, don't be afraid to use Facebook suggestions as well, and test it. You might be surprised at the ones that do work.
Joanna Penn: I know some people are going “Ah ah.” I've struggled with this is the testing and the spreadsheet and looking at ROI and looking at relevance and frequency and all these different things. Well, you get over that because you're making money, right? That's what it comes down to.
“Do you want to sell books and make money? Yes, I do.” But how did you force yourself into that at the beginning?
Adam Croft: It helps that I love spreadsheets.
Joanna Penn: Oh, okay. You're abnormal then.
Adam Croft: That does help. But like you're saying, it is a case of saying to yourself, “Do I want this to work? What do I want to be doing in a couple years time? Do I want to be writing full-time? Do I want to be doing this as my business? Putting books out, selling them, building up a fan base.”
If you do, then you have to do it. Writing is not, I'm sure most people watching this know that already that writing is not the life of luxury that a lot of people think. It's a lot of hard work. A lot of it is business, especially if you want to be making money from it. And it's something you've got to do.
Nobody doing any job likes every aspect of it. Premiership footballers being paid £100,000 a week probably don't like having to get up and go to training at 7:00 in the morning but they have to do it because otherwise they're not gonna be in the team. It's one of those things you have to do. Every job has it's up and down sides. This is a fantastic job and I wouldn't do it any other way. And this is just part of what you have to do to make it a success.
Joanna Penn: Do you think we will reach a peak with Facebook Ads? As in, it seems to be becoming so popular right now, which is brilliant because Mark and you sharing your knowledge means that more and more authors can get into it. But as with all things, self-publishing, the more people are into it, the more difficult it becomes.
Do you think we are going to start struggling the more authors come into this? Or what are your feeling on that?
Adam Croft: There's no getting away from the fact that the more people who do it, the more people who target the same audience, prices go up, profits go down, because it's an auction when you're bidding for these clicks. And the more people you're bidding against, the more expensive it's gonna get.
There's a couple ways that could go. Books could end up being pushed up price-wise because people need to make more of a profit. It could be that the people who are least successful at it unfortunately end up falling off the end because they're going to be making less of a profit and not being able to take the hit it's hardest. As hard as people who perhaps already making 20%, you're making 20% on a lot more, it's kind of easier to stomach. It's impossible to say how it's going to go. I mean, in terms of for the Facebook users, I don't think they're going to see any difference. But Facebook just because…
Joanna Penn: The way you serve them up?
Adam Croft: Just because more people are advertising doesn't mean that Facebook shows more adverts. It only shows a certain number. So people aren't going to see the difference. I think what people are starting to do is see that there are a lot of adverts coming at which are basically the same ad. A lot of people looking at the examples that Mark does and essentially trying to kind of copy the formula that's worked for him. And that's the same for writers. We're all writers, we all sit and write books, we all try and market them, we all try and sell them. But we're all very different writers, writing very different books, in very different genres, for very different readers. So that's why you've got to kind of, again, it's one of those well-worn phrases: carve your own niche.
Joanna Penn: Which is great. I can obviously talk to you all day about this. But I have two more questions.
One is you're in the UK, you advertise in the UK and the U.S. What are the differences that you've seen between the two markets? If you have a successful ad and target in the UK, do you just duplicate that or have you noticed differences?
Adam Croft: I do generally tend to duplicate it. U.S. audiences do sometimes look for different things. I found that with adverts as well if they don't like the book or if they don't like the fact your advert pops up in the News Feed, the American audiences can be a bit more vocal about that, especially in the comment sections. So they can be a bit more difficult to please but that's no bad thing. It means you've got to work a bit harder and you've got a far bigger market there as well. That does work.
I'm also spreading out into Australia and Canada as well. I'm in that 3-day testing phase at the moment so I'm not even gonna look and see how things are going. But again that's a market I'm going to be looking at next.
Joanna Penn: And iBooks, Kobo?
Adam Croft: I have tried directly advertising those. Results are kind of mixed to say the best. And what I found does work if you're advertising it to Kindle, the sales elsewhere do go up, especially in a larger budget; it's obviously far more noticeable. But I don't advertise on other platforms at all. And they're getting sort of mid 4-figure profits each month. So that's down to what happens after they saw the Facebook Adverts. And even paperbacks, I was selling maybe five paperbacks a month before I started doing this. And even though I don't advertise the paperbacks at all, I'm now selling about 1,000 a month.
Joanna Penn: Wow.
Adam Croft: So it's fairly clear for me how that's happened. That's not something I can measure directly and that's what we're saying about earlier is that indirect effect of the…
Joanna Penn: That halo effect, basically.
Adam Croft: Exactly. So many other things can be affected by it.
Joanna Penn: And of course at the same time you're presumably growing your email list.
Adam Croft: Exactly, yeah.
Joanna Penn: And using the look-a-like audiences and that type of thing.
Adam Croft: Yeah, I don't advertise the mailing list in the same way as I did. When I started off doing the ads, or actually I built up quite a big list from giving away the free starter library type thing. And that worked really well, got a huge list, and virtually no increase in sales off the back of it. A little bit but not compared to what I was spending on the adverts, which was quite a bit. So I knocked that on the head.
When I started advertising the paid books in the back of those books, I've got the invitations to what I call my VIP club, which now I'm getting more people signing up out of the back of the book than I was when I was essentially paying them to sign up directly.
And then out of the warmest of warm leads, the people who have read the book, liked it enough to want to hear more about the others. So that's, I don't know figures wise how successful that's going to be because I've not released a subsequent book yet. But in a few weeks times, I'll be able to know success of that. And again, you can put that down to the Facebook Ads. It's the halo effect in play again.
Joanna Penn: So interesting. Okay. So my big question then is, let's talk about your best-selling book, the one you're advertising right now.
‘Her Last Tomorrow' has this incredible tagline, which is on your ads, “Could you murder your wife to save your daughter?” And that is the premise you came up with right? How did you come up with it?
Adam Croft: A combination of what I was saying about earlier. Doing this approach to thrillers the same way Stephen King does to horror, putting normal people in a normal situation and then saying what if this happened? And I think that's the premise of all good stories is, ‘What if?'. We're now talking now on Skype doing a video interview. What happens if the video stream is hacked by ISIS and they broadcast something on that?
It's just you come up with these ideas all the time, “Well, that one wouldn't work. That one might not work.” And occasionally one comes up that is really workable. And that was a similar thing for me. You're just thinking about the most normal person in the most normal situation in a suburban driveway, putting his kid in the car. And what happens if he goes in to get something and comes back out and she's gone? And you kind of work on from there. Where she gone? Who's taken her? Why? And merging that with another good hallmark of all books which is the impossible choice that your main character has to take. And the impossible choice there being he can have her back but he has to murder his wife.
It's kind of formulaic way of approaching writing a book, but it's not something that works every time either. It does take a lot of playing around with different scenarios and sort of piecing different things together to come up with it. But it's worked brilliantly and it's something I'm gonna carry on using definitely.
Joanna Penn: But on that, did you brainstorm a whole load of ideas and then narrow down to this one? Or, did you try and, like you said, with the next book you've designed the ad first. Is there just a big brainstorming period?
Adam Croft: There is, yeah. It's kind of an internal brainstorming, if you like. For example, my next book that I'm working on that I'm gonna give away the plot and the premise here, it's an exclusive for you. Because all I've told anybody is the title of the book so far. So this is a world exclusive for you.
Back in the last year, I was working away and staying away in hotels quite a bit. And again, I was running through this ‘What-if' premise. And one night I was sat there, brushing my teeth in the bathroom, and I thought the bath is next to me, the shower curtain is across. What happened if I opened that shower curtain and there's a dead body in there? What if it was somebody I knew who couldn't possibly be there? What if the murder had been set up to look like it was me who had done it? What would then happen? And just kind of then running away with this premise. And that essentially is the premise of the next book.
Joanna Penn: Cool. Yeah, that is interesting. And I think this kind of hook, this is what screenwriters do. I'm going on a screenwriting course next week. So this is something that I'm really interested in because at the moment I still write my books from just interesting things that I want to learn about. And I, like many of us, I struggle with the back blurb, I struggle with coming up with a good tagline, all of that type of stuff.
I think basically what you're saying is if you're thinking about it that way upfront, it actually, it helps everything. It helps the whole process all the way through the marketing.
Adam Croft: What it does is it provides that kind of spark for you, as well. I mean for you, you're saying that the spark that you have in wanting to write a book is it's about something that you want to learn about. So you've got that reason to get up and write it because you want to learn about this thing. And that spark, that ‘What if?', that kind of, ‘Ooh, great' that readers get when they see it is exactly the same as what I get when I think of it. And I think, “Yes, I need to do something with that.” It's going through just as exciting to write it as it is to read it. So the hook's not just for the reader, it's also for you to have a reason to get up and write it, and to motivate yourself to get it done.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. You've been so helpful. Where can people find you and your books online?
Adam Croft: They can usually find me in a local pub. But I think the best way for them to do it would be probably to go to my website, which is adamcroft.net. I'm on Twitter, Adam Croft, and on Facebook as well, Adam Croft Books.
Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time Adam.
Adam Croft: My pleasure.
Linda Fausnet says
Hi, guys. Thanks so much – this was really helpful. I’m getting ready to run a Facebook ad tomorrow re: my permafree book, first in a series, books 2 and 3 not out yet. Goal is to get reads and hopefully email signups. Reader Magnet (as Bryan Cohen and Nick Stephenson would call it ) is two more free books with email list signup.
Any more advice on exactly how to target the facebook ad? So hard to know who to target. The book is paranormal romance (Book one in the Gettysburg Ghost series).
Thanks again Joanna and Adam for this podcast. One of the best I’ve heard in a while with lots of specific yet realistic advice for people like me who are working a day job and have precious little disposable income!
Joanna Penn says
Glad you enjoyed it – with targeting, start with the 10 authors that are most like yours and then use Audience Insights to find more potential targets. Then split test. There seems to be no short cut to this process!
Adam Croft says
I’ve found targeting permafrees with ads to be fairly catastrophic. Takeup is low and sell-through almost non-existent when I’ve tried it. You just get freebie chasers. Instead, package the first 3 in the series into a box set and market that. That got me very good ROIs.
Linda Fausnet says
Trouble is, only book one is out. I figure if book one was released to the sound of crickets, I can’t imagine what will happen with book 2 if no one has read book one!
Joanna Penn says
Many authors note a jump in income at book 3 or book 5 because many readers won’t even commit until there are a couple of books ready. They want a binge immersive read experience 🙂
Linda Fausnet says
Yes, I will definitely substantially increase the ad budget when book three is out! I’ve heard lots of people say they do get a great ROI on box sets as Adam said.
As usual a brilliant and informative podcast packed with great advice and info. Always interesting to hear how other authors come up with ideas for their writing and how that can link into marketing efforts and creating good hooks. I will now be thinking about how to market my books and create hooks whilst I am writing the book rather than completing the book and figuring out how to market it.
Alastair Humphreys says
Thank you, as always!
Aleshia Robinson says
Excellent interview! Adam was very helpful. I had zero desire to promote on FB but after listening, you guys actually inspired me to try the ads this spring. I wrote my blurb while listening to this podcast. I took the advice he gave you on your advert. Super helpful! Which btw if I can add my two cents, (we Americans tend to do that unapologetically about everything) I think you should add the book covers to your Facebook ad. It pops more. If I saw your ad in my feed I wouldn’t know if was for a book because I would have just looked at the picture and I would have kept scrolling. I look at the picture first then if I like the cover, I read the copy. Just food for thought.
I do hope you feel better Joanna. Don’t know if you are a juicer but if not definitely incorporate more greens like kale, spinach and watercress into your diet. Mix that with your favorite fruits and blend it up with ginger. I promise your immune system will strengthen after a few days of life.
Linda Fausnet says
I would definitely recommend trying Facebook ads. I really believe they are the most effective way to reach readers – right now at least. Eventually, the ad market might get saturated or something better might come along, but right now it really works.
I totally agree about book covers. I’m a romance author (and reader) and I’m always amazed at the number of Facebook ads that feature a generic couple kissing at sunset or whatever. It might work in short term because it screams romance, but without the book cover you’re not really building brand recognition. I had to scrimp and save to afford a good book cover, so I put that thing up wherever I can!
Joanna Penn says
Hi Aleshia, We’ve been split testing with and without the book cover and found that no book cover converts better. Everyone needs to split test and don’t make a decision on what you ‘think’ is right 🙂
Thanks for the tips – apparently this warm winter in the UK has meant none of the flash frosts which kill bugs so we’ve got this viral soup going around. It’s like the bad guy in a horror movie, you think it’s gone and then it’s back! I had a couple of nights bad sleep last week and that finished me off. But most people I know who have had it twice recovered faster second time, so hopefully will be better soon 🙂 On juicing, I’m actually allergic to chlorophyll in raw form so can’t do green smoothies – I almost died after a wheatgrass shot in Bali once 🙂
Aleshia Robinson says
OMG I don’t know what I would do if I was allergic to chlorophyll in raw form. I literally drink a head of spinach a day! No exaggeration. Well, hopefully you feel better soon.
John Corwin says
Do you still use an image in the ad even if it’s not the cover?
Joanna Penn says
short answer, yes 🙂
Adam Croft says
Statistically, ads with the book cover on them do far worse. Sounds odd, but me and others have tested it quite a few times and ‘coverless’ ads work better 90-95% of the time.
Aleshia Robinson says
Oh wow! That is great to know. Thank you guys for sharing.
Linda Fausnet says
That definitely is good to know. Thanks!!
I’ve abstained from Facebook so far but am aware that if I wanted to market a book I’d need to be on there, and maybe other stuff too, Twitter, Instagram? I don’t even know what’s out there to be honest. I guess detecting the next burgeoning social media thing could be a way of coining an untapped market. But maybe that’s naive.
And I cannot believe all the bad poetry juju here. Where is the love? (just kidding!)
Anyway I wondered if there is a good beginner’s guide to marketing on Facebook anywhere? Do I just set up an account, make ads and send them out(thought honestly I don’t even know what that means right now).
Great show – real easy to listen to even for someone with an inverted attention span.
I think less is more with adverts. Like streamline the text to a painful minimum to cater for the lazy, bored, multi tasking daydreamers on lunchbreaks. Also Joanna, I know youre not using the ad any more, but what struck me was the photo doesn’t tell me much about the book even though it takes up half the ad – surely a photo can have a hook too. I dunno – a wolf walking through a London street, a pair of eyes superimposed on the skyline. To be fair though I know diddly squat about marketing so Im probably talking out of my proverbial! Just trying to join in!
Dan Van Oss says
When Adam talked about using a “hook” for his ads I immediately thought of how many authors begin their books with a “concept” and a “premise” on which to build their story. The concept (e.g. “Snakes on a plane,” “What if you could go back in time and find your true love?,” “What if a child is sent to earth from another planet, is raised by human parents and grows up with extraordinary super powers?”, etc.) becomes the foundation on which the story is fleshed out, but then also is very easily translatable into good ad copy, especially in a “what if” statement.
Matteo Sedazzari says
Great insight, and inspiring, just about to launch my début novel A Crafty Cigarette – Tales of a Teenager Mod on Kindle, should be approved soon. Print version out late last year, love this site, honest and wonderful advice. Using FaceBook ads as a start, thanks so much for this,
Cynthia Varady says
I love this cast! It gave me a great idea for an add, and then for a book to go along with it. I listened to the first part while on a jog. I’m hoping I can get the mom-in-law to watch the little one this afternoon so I can go out and finish it.
Jane Cull says
Hi Joanna and Adam
This article was brilliant and it helped me so much! I noticed in the comments that ads without covers do better than ads with which is extremely interesting. So instead of a cover you just use an image instead that is related to the copy or do you use no image at all? Can you give more advice on this important aspect with an example? Thanks so much in advance!
Joanna Penn says
Always use an image – it’s the most important thing 🙂 Check this out for more examples http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2016/11/24/facebooks-ads-beginner/
Jon burgess says
Great interview I learned some new caveats guys. Hope you don’t mind me sharing my experiences with FB ads.
I have been running ads for a couple of months with some OK results. But they are complex and a lot of testing is required as you discuss: my aim is to build a mailing list of fans. My enticer is my first novel. Initially, I offered a 13 chapter sampler, but all ads got limited sign-ups, as soon as I offered the entire book readers began to subscribe.
The thing a lot of ad courses and ad gurus say is “Target similar authors in your genre,” those that come up on Amazon such as customers also bought etc. With this in mind I created a spreadsheet of authors and tried to put them in my targeting, but I found out to my dismay none of around 100 authors had a big enough following on Facebook for them to actually register in FB ads targeting forms. This is absolutely bizarre!! Quite a few of these authors are selling thousands of books and ranking high on Amazon.
So I changed the targeting too much bigger name authors, that works, but costs are higher. I have taken a few FB ad courses, and one thing I will say is they often try to make it seem like ABC, it’s not at all!! And not one single course mentions that at least 85% or of the smaller, but very relevant authors don’t have a big enough audience to be targeted.
I mention this as I wasted a lot of time on this. Lastly, very few said FB ad gurus/courses will tell you they spent thousands to build a large mailing list. We’re talking tens of thousands as well. Yes, they get it back in sales and make a profit but newbie authors simply do not have those kinds of budgets to spend: they are bloody frightening! In one video tutorial, a well-known author spends around six grand on one campaign. Very misleading!
FB ads do work, but if you can afford an ad specialist to help with targetting and set up, do that first, you’ll learn more and get better targeting. I found one on Fivver who actually works for a big ad agency and freelances. His price was very reasonable.
Joanna Penn says
That list of authors will serve you very well for ads on BookBub PPC and also Amazon ads — so worth the time 🙂