Anatomy of a Facebook advertisement

I decided to try a Facebook advertising campaign for a week to help promote the eBook release of Remain In Light. To be honest, I've only clicked on (maybe) three Facebook ads ever, but obviously it's working for some folks.

The ad (pictured) linked directly to the Amazon Kindle Store page for the novel. The downside is that you can't tell how many sales resulted from the ad, so you have to look at sales for the week and also consider the number of people who actually saw the ad for "brand building."

I targeted the ad to people ages 30 to 65 who enjoy mystery, thrillers, suspense, fiction, novels, Paris and travel. There were a potential 2 million viewers of the ad, but then you have to place a bid for how much you want to spend each time someone clicks on the ad. The suggested bid for my ad to hit all the targets was $1.03 per click. I set a cap of $25 per day, but the average price per click turned out to be 84 cents. The higher you bid means the ad shows up on more pages more often.

From Oct. 9 to Oct. 16, the ad was shown an average of three times to 157,034 people. During the week, 207 people actually clicked on the ad and visited the Amazon Kindle Store page for Remain In Light. My total cost for the ad was $174.70.

According to Vanilla Heart sales figures for Amazon for the last week, 6 eBooks of Remain In Light and 5 eBooks of Conquering Venus, the first book in the Venus Trilogy, were sold.

Final analysis: Money was lost and not many books were sold. I can only hope that some people who saw the ad might have made a note of Remain In Light (and Conquering Venus) and added it to their list of books to buy in the future. Luckily, the eBook is being sold at other retailers so that low number is not my total number of sales, but it's still disappointing.

One thing I've discovered with promoting the eBook is that there are thousands and thousands of authors (self-published and with both small and large presses) trying to get a bestseller. Rising above the noise and finding readers is a combination of determination and luck. I've got the first and hoping for the second.

UPDATE: After some late reporting from Amazon, it turns out 11 copies of Remain In Light and 8 copies of Conquering Venus were sold during the week the ad was running.


Dave said…
Very interesting experiment, Collin. Thanks for the report.
This was eye-opening and informative. Thank you.

If it's any help, this AM I became convinced of the eBook revolution when I my elevator stopped to pick up someone on my way down to the main floor and in stepped my 86 year old neighbor with her cup of coffee and her "brand new Kindle."
Cleo Creech said…
I was always convinced that the power of the facebook advertising was the targeting. But it sounds like you had that down pretty well and still saw minimal results. I know at Coca-Cola one of the marketing mantras that it takes at least three impression or exposures for something to break through and sink in with a customer. But you're right with all the social media noise it can be hard to getthrough.
Howdy Colin,
Thanks for the information. That's something handy and worth keeping note of as well. Here's hoping that your book (both print and ebook) goes through the roof. I know I enjoyed your first novel, Conquering Venus, and look forward to the second.
Christine said…
Thanks for sharing your experiences, Collin. Those ads are expensive, and knowing up front the cost/benefit analysis helps us make our decisions.
Adam Lowe said…
Hi Collin,

This is a very interesting post. I used to use FB ads for running events, and it seemed more useful for that. The reason being that people didn't need to click on the link--they just needed to be regularly reminded that the event was on, where it was, and when it was. It worked, because it didn't require any kind of purchase.

For books there's something different going on. Plus, there are so many books being promoted, people switch off, I think. Try searching the Twitter hashtag #free. About 80% of posts seem to be about books. That's what you're contending with.

I think the ebook revolution is a revolution in one sense only: that it gives an even larger share to Amazon and technology producers, rather than to writers and publishers. You hit the nail on the head when you said you're competing with so many other books it's hard to be heard. If we open the floodgates to anyone with MS Word or OpenOffice (which Amazon's ebook publishinf programme does), you're not making it easier for readers to find good books or for good authors to find readers. You're just widening the range of books that are out there. Most readers, however, won't spend hours and hours trying to track down your book if they're not even aware of it. Why should they?

I think ebooks are a new way of reaching audiences which should be embraced, yes. Although, I'm still a big believer in supporting small presses and indie publishers, and they are the people who will support, nurture and promote writing talent. Amazon, on the otherhand, while a great retailer, is first and foremost about the bottom line--not the worth of literature.
Adam Lowe said…
I think that turned into a little bit of a rant against Amazon-as-publisher, rather than about FB advertising LOL.

For promoting ebooks, I think blogs are where the key promotion will and should be done (if you want sales). And I think you're already doing that, so if you want to increase sales, perhaps it's considering what else you can play around with blog-wise?
Collin Kelley said…
Adam, some very good points, but I also think there's still the misconception that if you are picked up by the Big 6 or even a more noted small press that you're going to be able to sit back and a promotion team is going to do all the work. I'm with a small press and I'm doing 90 percent of my own promotion. I know authors who are with the Big 6 that are also doing their own promo. Those days of being sent out on big book tours, big money being spent on advertising, etc. are gone. Whether the public is going to find the book relies on the author shaking off their fears of self-promotion and putting in a lot of hard work.
Adam Lowe said…
Collin, I absolutely agree with that fact. But if you're with the Big 6, you can guarantee that you'll have the distribution channels which will get you into mainstream retailers.

I'm very much a believer in writers promoting themselves, but I think it needs to be done in tandem with the publisher's work. A small press shouldn't leave it all to an author, but similarly an author shouldn't leave it all to publisher.

For example, it's much easier for me to knock up a poster or flyer design than my writers, because I have the software. I can probably also get the best quote on getting such things printed, so it shouldn't cost me more than £30. If the writer organises a reading, it should then be my duty to design and print those posters, make sure the venue stocks the books, and promote the event in my newsletter. Those things work, and because publishers have a better chance at reaching readers than random assorted authors spread across the world, they usually succeed better than FB ads and online promo by a writer alone.

There's also the 'legitimacy' issue. If you're promoting yourself too much, people switch off. They see it as self-aggrandisement, and reckon you're only there for your own good. But if a publisher does it, it's somehow less 'spammy'.

Does that make sense?

I think the key thing I'm trying to say is: online marketing alone won't do the trick, especially if you're just a solitary writer. You need to back it up with events, possibly print marketing, and, most importantly, the support of your publisher.

From a business point of view: those writers who regularly attend conventions and festivals, and who organise readings, generally sell a lot more than those who don't.

At every reading/event one of my authors organises, they can expect to sell 15-20 books as a minimum. Bookstores will often host these free of charge and help with the promo. This is a better use of time and money, I think, than FB ads.
Adam Lowe said…
Also, I agree about getting out there.

As a side note, have you considered appearances at schools, universities and festivals? I'm not sure what things are like in the US, but in the UK at least the daily rate for an author in such settings is £350 or £250 for a half day (Society of Authors' guidelines). Those types of settings also allow you to get a few sales too, which generally means they're twice as useful as organising readings in bookshops (who usually won't pay an appearance fee).
Collin Kelley said…
Adam, more good points but still over generalizing. For instance, here in Atlanta all the bookstore chains are gone except for Barnes & Noble and a handful of small indies (where my books are available). Target, Wal-Mart and the supermarkets only stock blockbusters with their limited space. The main retailers of books are now online. So while getting into brick and mortar stores is important, it's not the primary sales channel anymore. Not in America, anyway. I've attended more festivals and conferences than I can count and it's always been a mixed bag on sales. Some sell well, some you sell a single copy. The publishing industry in America is at a serious crossroads and bookstores go out of business on alarmingly regular basis. The old model of being an author is disappearing fast.
Collin Kelley said…
Adam, just saw that you are in the UK. Sadly, things are far different in the US publishing market than they are in the UK -- for now. Ebooks are now outselling printed books in America. Brick and mortar ceases to matter in that instance. Publishers are still scrabbling around, often overpricing ebooks and snapping up former self-pub authors who've made any kind of impact. It feels very "wild west" these days as we move into this new era.

The number of opportunities for writers to appear at universities isn't as robust as it used to be. I've guest lectured at colleges, including Worcester College in Oxford, but again it's a handful of sales.
Adam Lowe said…
I disagree with online retailers being the sole channel for sales now. Most of my sales are in the US, and they're to small independent bookstores. I also do the marketing at another publisher, where the majority of sales are also in the US, and again online sales only account for 20% of their total. This is about average across the board. Perhaps it is different, as you say, in the US, but it doesn't explain why I sell more books to shops there than online. Who do your publishers use as a distributor? IPG are great, but there are lots of smaller US distributors too. Check them out ;)

Also, I agree that small bookstores are going out of business. And I wouldn't at all bother with the supermarkets. But there are still indies out there. You just have to search for them.

You can also host events in libraries and non-traditional venues, such as cafes and bars. This works wonderfully, if you're willing to engage with your local literature scene (and most big cities will have one).

Ebooks aren't really outselling print books. That's just Amazon hype. Ebooks are outselling hardbacks, but nobody buys those any more. What Amazon means is 'more people who use Amazon are buying ebooks than print books on Amazon'. But that makes sense. If people are online anyway, and they want a book right away, why not buy it as ebook? If you're in a bookstore and want the book right away, it stands to reason you'd pick up the book. It's a matter of convenience.

Besides, ebook sales are increasing because they are seen as a disposable purchase that targets the lowest common denominator. But in general it's not wise for writers to aim for the lowest common denominator, because that puts you in the same category as those millions of other ebooks. It's better to discover what your niche is and market to that niche as effectively as you can.

On a separate note, the trend for masses of cheap ebooks is alarming for any writer or publisher wanting to make money from books (but not retailers, who benefit from the sheer numbers sold). What you'll see is that most of the bestselling ebooks are priced really low (£1 or so), and sales are driven by impulse purchases. But that's unsustainable for most indies and bigger publishers, because you can't cover overheads that way, and there are so many publishers and self-publishers now that the market is fragmented in such a way they don't have the market-share to benefit from volume sales over per-unit profit margins. Realistically, all the behind-the-scenes work on an ebook still has to be done. The only thing you're saving on is the printing cost (about £2 per copy). So realistically, a £10 book ($15 over in the US) should equate to an £8 ebook ($12). This doesn't take into account that things like DRM and backlist conversion also costs money. All this means is that publishers chasing ebook sales over print sales are shooting themselves in the foot if they're also driving down prices.

Sorry, this is an essay ;)

If you're interested in sharing marketing plans and ideas, let me know. Would love to chat more about this with you.
Adam Lowe said…
P.S., re: universities, I always make them pay me an appearance fee, rather than relying on sales. Students are generally cheap. If you make them pay you a fee, they're more likely to guarantee an audience, and when they do that (ironically) you also tend to sell more books.
Collin Kelley said…
Publishers Weekly just reported that ebook sales doubled in the US in July, a 152% increase. That's not just Amazon figures. We have a couple of big ebook retailers here -- B&N and Smashwords. There are only a couple of big bookstore chains left in America -- B&N and Books A Million are the primary ones. Borders closed hundreds of stores across the country as more and more demand went to ordering physical books and eBooks online. That trend continues. Indie bookstores are floundering or adapting by offering eBooks and used books.

I've spent the past decade hosting events at all sorts of places, for myself and other. I know what it takes to sell a book, it's just getting the attention of readers.

I don't know what books your publisher is selling, but perhaps they'd like to pick up the foreign rights to mind. lol
Adam Lowe said…
LOL well your books do look very interesting. You can see if you think we'd be a fit by checking out Although most of our stuff is science fiction and fantasy, with only a small focus on literary work.

The UK is the same in term of chain stores. But, if anything, chain stores drove down prices and did more harm to bookselling than good. Their own folly was competing with the supermarkets. Successful bookshops understand they can offer something different: a greater range, a more personal experience, and more events. At least, that's what the successful indie stores I've seen do.

I'm curious to see how bookselling will change over the next decade. There will be a shift. There are just too many books competing for the same slice of the pie, with dropping margins, worse remuneration for authors, and fewer big bookstores. I'm not sure it will be a good shift, but it there will be one.

I have a saying I'm sure you can appreciate: anyone who goes into publishing (or writing) is mad!

80% of books sell less than 100 copies, and 85% of books lose money. Publishing is a very weird industry in that regard.
Collin Kelley said…
Luckily, I've been able to sell more than a hundred copies of my books (novels and poetry), but it's still a slog. I didn't get into writing for money, but I would like a bigger readership.
Vyrastas said…
Good info, still trying to figure out how to best advertise my own material, have been reading into things like this and am not exactly sold on it... but when you first start out a few sales is a big deal.
Anonymous said…
Funny I should stumble across this blog post and find Adam commenting (Hi, Adam!). I'm in a unique position of being a self-published writer, and someone who is also pursuing traditional publishing deals. Adam's Dog Horn Publishing is the publisher of my upcoming collection, Through the Eyes of Strays. I've also sold hundreds of ebook copies of my novels on my own. That doesn't stop me from seeking a traditional deal. I have a novel awaiting a decision from a traditional publisher, and I'm busy finishing off a novella for a different traditional deal. It's foolish for writers to ignore ebooks, but jumping into the ebook world 100% can be just as ignorant.

As far as Facebook ads, I don't think you can target your potential readers that way. I've never clicked a FB ad, and I try my best to ignore whatever they're trying to sell me. But that's just me and ads in general.

Nice discussion!
Stacia said…
Thank you for sharing this, and for advocating for self-promotion. You're absolutely right: "Whether the public is going to find the book relies on the author shaking off their fears of self-promotion and putting in a lot of hard work." Best of luck with your new novel!
Jessie Carty said…
Argh blogger ate my comment! In short: my biggest issue is how many people at readings want to know how they can be published and sell books as they fail to buy any books ...
Adam Lowe said…
LOL Jessie. There are plenty of people like that. I find it pretty rude, to be honest, but always calm myself by remembering that writers aren't always the most wealthy individuals (but books should be a priority for a good writer).

I noticed at a festival I was at recently, they had one 'How to Get Published' lecture on at the same time as a workshop entitled 'How to Edit Your Work'. Unsurprisingly, everyone turned up to the former and the latter was empty. I think this is similar to the problem you've faced.

Many would-be writers want to get published, but they don't want to go through the necessary steps to reach a publishable standard. They want the publishing industry to support them, but they don't want to support the publishing industry themselves.

For instance, they want to be published in a magazine but don't support any magazines themselves (and haven't read the magazine they're submitting to). They don't buy from indie bookshops or direct from publishers, but rather borrow books off their friends. They want to write but don't read enough.

The trick is to politely suggest they acquaint themselves with a publisher's list by buying books. Enthusiasm on your part always helps too.
Collin Kelley said…
Jessie and Adam... very true. Although I don't have much money, I got out of my way to publish other author's books and support them, their presses and indie bookstores. It's the right thing to do.

I'm now trying an advertisement on Goodreads. I'll let you know the results. It was cheaper and more targeted directly at readers, so another blog post soon.
Adam Lowe said…
Goodreads sounds like a good idea!
Staci Burruel said…
Hang in there, Collin. It may take some time before you finally get to use Facebook as an effective advertising tool, and one of the factors have to overcome is competition. You can't expect people to just instantly offer money upon arriving at your home page. Getting help from your friends and letting them share your ads to the people in their network might help. That will allow you to target a larger market. =)

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