Much of the information out there on Facebook Ads is from people spending a lot of money and from people making a lot of money.
We all love to hear the outlier stories, but sometimes it's more encouraging to hear from those nearer the beginning of the journey. In this article, David Penny shares how he was able to get his historical fiction novels moving by using Facebook Ads.
I’ve heard people swear by Facebook Ads, but I’ve heard far more people swear at them.
I’m one of the fortunate individuals who falls into the former camp, but it’s not by accident.
Joanna has interviewed some of the great success stories in this area such as Mark Dawson and Adam Croft. Sometimes we less stellar individuals view their success and believe we can never attain that position, but I hope to show we can forge success on our own terms.
In June 2015 I had 2 books in the series and sold 13 copies for the month.
In November 2016 I am projected to sell 1697 books.
It was in November 2015 when I started to learn how to use the power of Facebook Ads that things began to change. Not at the start, because there were lessons to learn, and a craft to acquire. This is the story of what I did wrong, and what I did right.
Before I begin, however, I should I need to clarify something. The majority of success stories in the Facebook Ad arena have been sales of Box sets and series in the thriller or crime genre, with a few outliers in science-fiction. And most people start by building a mailing list using free content.
I did none of those things. But:
- I have a series – tick.
- I don’t offer the first book at a huge discount, but there is a small discount – half a tick.
- I made no effort to build a mailing list – no tick. In fact, slapped wrist, and something I need to correct and will.
- I write in the genre of Historical Fiction – no tick – this is a harder sell, I believe.
- I only had three books available when I started doing Facebook Ads, far less than recommended – no tick.
So although I’ve had some success it’s been limited, but it’s also been continuously improving. Here’s what happened, and what I learned along the way.
LESSON #1: Forget the words, it’s the picture that counts.
I was talking to a friend this week about how she picks a book to read, and her logic is exactly the same as mine. Forget Amazon – assume you’re in a bookshop and want something new to read. Personally I browse the shelves looking for a cover that attracts me. If I see one I take it down and read the back. Then I check the first page. I guess it’s the same on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and everywhere else.
So when creating a Facebook Ad the number one, most important thing to get right, is find an image that smacks the reader across the face and screams genre and this book is for you.
For instance, although I don’t particularly like this image it was the first I used that worked, and was the start of moving from loss to profit.
Why did it work? Well, and this is only my opinion – because it’s simple.
And it’s yellow. I know, stupid, but if there’s one thing I’ve discovered through all this it’s that strong yellow/orange colours work, at least in my genre.
Go figure. I think it’s because they attract the eye whether it wants to go there or not.
It also shows the three series books, which tells the reader they’re buying into more than a single book.
Of course, just like me, until you find that image you don’t know what it might be, which brings us to…
LESSON #2: Forget what YOU like – it’s what the reader likes that matters.
This is the hardest lesson of all, because how can you turn off your own critical faculties? It’s the same for editing and other elements of the tradecraft of writing. It all comes down to practice and using the analytical part of your brain.
After my simple riding knight I tried several things, most of which failed.
I thought this image was a winner, and it bombed. It’s red, see, I blame that 🙂
Then I hit upon my next image during June 2016, and this marked the start of a new rise in profitability.
LESSON #3: Make it seamless
Ensure there is no disconnect between what your Ad says and what your sales page shows. If the reader experiences any friction at all they’ll leave. No sale.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject – never, ever, ever link to your own website, it means one more click before someone can buy. Always link direct to a sales page on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo etc. The only time you link to your own page is for mailing list signups, and I’m not dealing with those here.
This is my most successful Ad so far. It launched early June 2016 and if you look at the sales graph later on you’ll exactly see what happened then.
Why did it work?
- Well – against all advice it shows the book, and I think readers want to know there’s a physical product behind your ad.
- It shouts Historical Fiction. There is no disconnect between this and the sales page (click it to find out). And it’s yellow, kind of.
All of this even with a stray apostrophe in the middle of the picture.
LESSON #4: Forget the words.
I know this is a hard one for writers, but bear with me. It’s your image that captures attention. What the words say really doesn’t matter, provided they’re all spelt correctly and your grammar passes muster. Most people won’t even read them.
And while we’re talking about words – quotes about how great your book is, whoever it’s from, will have negligible effect. You need to create an effective advert. When was the last time you saw a Tesco ad that said “XYZ says they would never shop anywhere else.” And even if they did, would you believe it?
LESSON #5: Take your time and don’t spend more than you are willing to lose.
When you start using Facebook Ads always spend the minimum. At the moment this is £5/$5 a day. Even that means £35 a week, or over £140 a month. For most of us that’s a major commitment.
So spend as little as you can until you find something that works. Only when that happens can you increase your spend. Once something works you can ramp the spend up (but never more than 50% at a time) and will usually see a rise in sales, but bear in mind that the income will not come in until 60 days after you’ve spent the money, so make sure you can afford it. So monitor (see Lesson #7)
LESSON #6: If something isn’t working pull the plug on it.
Not immediately, because it can take a week before an Ad starts to work, but if after 7-10 days you’re not making money, pull it and start again, using my eight lessons.
LESSON #7: Forget what you read about statistics.
If you follow perceived wisdom on Facebook Ads you can find yourself obsessing over CPC, CPI, CPM, CP-whatever. And yes, they do all mean something, but I’m going to tell you to ignore them.
There are only two statistics that matters.
- How much does your Ad campaign cost?
- How much are you earning over and above your baseline?
- Are you in profit
Of course, you need to know the baseline in the first place, so I recommend you go back and look at your sales figures over, say, the previous six months to a year. That’s your baseline.
LESSON #8: Learn from your mistakes – which means keeping records.
If you hate spreadsheets, hold your nose now but keep on reading, because they’re important to this process.
Many people will rightly tell you not to obsess about your sales figures. Successful Indie writer Zoe Sharp says “That way lies madness.” But if you’re running a Facebook Ad campaign you must keep statistics.
So every day I open a giant spreadsheet for the year, divided into months, and record the following:
- Income per day (in my case this is easy because I only sell through Amazon, and I ignore print which is less than 1% of my income). I use BookReport for this.
- Cost of Ads per day – this comes straight from my Facebook Ad page.
- Return on Investment (ROI) – not clever, but simply income less costs. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s good enough to give me the trend, which is what matters.
- Number of books sold – I record this per title, but you might prefer an overall total
- Number of page reads – I then calculate the estimated income from this, and what percentage of overall sales it is (which averages 28-32% of my overall income).
- I also keep an estimated monthly and annual sales projection both for income and number of books sold.
At the end of the month I transfer the statistics to an annual graph, which most months brings a small smile to my face. I’m not precious or secretive about what my statistics are, so the graph is shown below.
The 2015 average is hard to see, so I’ll tell you it was 14 sales a month.
As you can see, the number of books sold has risen every month since April 2016, accelerating rapidly from May. From that point on, when the orange knight rode out of the sunset (remember Lesson #2?) they rose sharply month on month. So did my spend, but as long as I made a profit I wasn’t concerned. However, in October I saw an interesting thing. I spent less and still earned more. I believe this is a result of my sales rising in Amazon’s categories.
What you’ll also notice is over the last few months the graph is flattening out. This is because my best Ad (Lesson #3) began to run out of steam. It had worked for over 3 months, but all Ads have a lifecycle, and that one was exhausted. I’m just now getting better results after a round of experimentation.
Since June I have been in the top 100 for Historical Fiction -> Mystery and Historical Fiction -> Mystery, Thriller & Suspense.
In the UK I reached the top 10 on several occasions, and in the US am regularly in the top 100. Once you reach this position Amazon starts to help, hence less Ad spend and still an increase in income.
All of this occurred, particularly toward the end of the year, while others were complaining of a slump in Sales. The reasons blamed were the Summer slump and the US election. I saw some result of that, particularly the latter when my US sales stagnated, but not as much as others.
LESSON #9: Pick your Audience well
Initially you should choose authors who write books similar to yours and who are successful in their genre. In my case I chose people like CJ Sansom, Bernard Cornwell etc.
After a few weeks Facebook picked up its game and started to tell me how relevant my list of authors was, and I discovered CJ Sansom, who I believed was a close match, wasn’t. So I dropped him from the list and found others who were better, and my sales improved.
You should also use Facebook's own statistics to see who reacted to your Ad. By doing this I discovered my best audience were females over the age of 45, so I started to target that demographic.
You need to keep on monitoring, keep on testing, because creating a single Ad and expecting it to perform well forever is not going to work.
So, the question everyone has at this point is: Can anyone do this?
My response? Maybe, maybe not. Like all such things you need to approach the task with a business mindset.
Provided you go about it carefully, and in full knowledge of the limitations, you can succeed. Some will have enormous success – others I know from talking to them have none at all. Sometimes this is down to the books, other times it’s generally down to an unwillingness to let go of preconceptions.
My last piece of advice: If you don’t try, you don’t achieve.