Today’s post is by book advertising consultant Matt Holmes.
When authors want to advertise their books, three advertising platforms spring to mind for most: Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and BookBub ads.
And while each of these platforms can be amazing in their own right and even more so when used holistically together, without a strong foundation (i.e. a great book that has been edited and proofread, a strong book description, right pricing for your category or genre, a professional-looking book cover that fits in your genre, etc.), no amount of advertising can sell a poor quality book.
Once you have a strong foundation, the truth is that advertising takes time to perfect; it takes testing; it takes patience, persistence, and, ultimately, it takes money.
However, let’s brighten things up.
When you get your ads dialed in, they can truly transform your career.
As an example, my wife is an author of fantasy novels. Before we started advertising her debut series of books, we were lucky if they pulled in $40 per month!
Last month, this same series earned $8,550 in royalties, with $5,200 of profit—and that’s with just one series of three books; the fourth book is due out later this year.
And the advertising platform that did the brunt of the leg work was…
Let’s dive into it. Here’s what you’ll learn.
- Why Facebook offers authors an incredible opportunity to position themselves in front of their ideal readers
- When to use Facebook ads
- Are Facebook ads worth your time and money?
- How to create scroll-stopping Facebook ads
- My top 5 Facebook ads tips for authors
The Facebook ads opportunity
Facebook’s biggest and most valuable asset is data. As an advertiser on Facebook, you can tap into this data and pinpoint the exact people (readers) you want to reach with your ads.
As an example, if you know your readers:
- Live in New York
- Are female
- Aged between 45 and 55
- Work as an accountant
- Have been a newlywed for 6 months
- Recently moved
- Enjoy French cuisine
- Own a dog and a fish
- And do yoga
You could potentially target them! Now, I wouldn’t recommend being this granular with your targeting; this is just an exaggerated example to show you how much Facebook knows about its user base. In fact, I have seen better results by leaving my targeting fairly open. I trust Facebook enough to go out and find the right people to position the books I’m advertising in front of.
So what sort of targeting should you be doing with your Facebook ads?
Targeting is a big topic and what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another. However, myself and many other authors have seen the best results by targeting:
- Author names
- Book / series titles
- TV shows
- Genres (e.g., romantic fantasy)
As long as your targeting is relevant to the book you’re advertising, it’s worth testing. That’s not to say that every target you test will be a winner, but the more relevant you can be, the higher the chance of your Facebook ads converting into sales and therefore providing you with a positive Return on Ad Spend (ROAS); in other words, profit.
When researching potential targets, I can’t recommend enough that you keep track of all your tests in a spreadsheet. I have built my own Targeting and Tracking spreadsheet which you can use for free; it’s included in my Author Ads Toolkit, which comes with several other valuable resources.
It’s also worth noting that Facebook ads allow you to advertise not just on the Facebook News Feed, although that is where you are likely to see the majority of your traffic coming from, but also on Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, Instagram Feed, Facebook Messenger and many more.
Before we move on, let’s first take a quick look at what a Facebook ad actually looks like.
This is one of the ads I’ve run for my wife’s series of fantasy novels.
If you’ve spent any length of time scrolling on your Facebook News Feed, I’m sure you recognize the layout and style of this ad. As you can see, Facebook wants their ads to fit in with an organic post (i.e., not an ad) that you might see from one of your Facebook friends.
I’ll be walking you through the different assets that make up a Facebook ad, as well as some tips and best practices on how to create scroll-stopping ads.
When to use Facebook ads
Facebook ads can be extremely powerful in many scenarios; whether you use them in all these scenarios or just one or two will depend on your ultimate goals and your strategy for building a career as an author.
Here are the 6 scenarios I like to use Facebook ads for:
- Book launches
- Promotions (e.g., $0.99 sale for 7 days)
- Evergreen sales (e.g., continuously advertising Book 1 of a series)
- Cross-series Retargeting (e.g. retarget people who have seen Book 1 of your series in a Facebook ad with Book 1 of another of your series in a similar genre)
- Same-series retargeting (e.g. if your books can be read in any order, retarget people who have seen one book from your series in a Facebook ad and show them another book from that same series)
- Building your mailing list (e.g., giving people a free copy of one of your books in exchange for their email address)
By no means do you need to use Facebook ads for each of these scenarios! Start slow and then build at a pace that works for you once you begin to see results.
I started by purely running ads for Book 1 of a series; I learnt the ropes, so to speak, got my head around the Facebook ads interface, started testing different audiences and discovered some that completely flopped and others that worked like gangbusters!
I also tested a variety of different ad creative (i.e., the ads that people see on their Facebook News Feed), and once again, I found some images resonated more with my target audience better than other images did; the same was true with the text I used in the ads.
This process of testing and finding my feet took around three to four months, but I was only spending $10-15 per day to begin with.
If I were spending $50-$100 per day, I would gather the statistically significant data I needed much quicker than the $10-$15 I was spending each day.
This statistically significant data I’m talking about here is the data in my Facebook Ads dashboard that I look at, then decide whether to turn an ad off, or stop showing ads to a particular audience, or maybe increase the ad spend on one of my campaigns, for example.
After all this experience (and the mistakes I’ve made along the way), I now use Facebook ads for book launches, promotions, and I continue to use them for evergreen sales and same-series retargeting; there’s never a day goes by when I don’t spend money on Facebook ads!
Are Facebook ads worth your time and money?
After what we’ve been through so far, you may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but do I really need to spend the time and money on Facebook ads? Can’t I just let Amazon and the other retailers do the selling for me?”
This approach of letting Amazon and the other retailers (e.g. Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc.) sell your books for you did work back in the early days of self-publishing. But today’s marketplace is much more competitive. There are millions upon millions of books vying for readers’ eyeballs and wallets.
The Amazon algorithm for one has become much harder to crack; in order to tickle the algorithm enough for Amazon to start promoting your book for you, you first need to generate some sales. If you have a big email list, great! This is one way to sell books.
But if you want to build a thriving career as an author, you need to reach people who haven’t heard of you or your books before. In the marketing world, these people are known as a cold audience. And Facebook ads offers one of the most cost-effective ways to reach a cold audience.
Yes, it’s going to take some time to learn how to run Facebook ads, to understand the data and what to do with that data in order to optimize and scale your ads.
And yes, it’s also going to take money, because, although it does happen from time to time, you’re unlikely to hit a home run with your first Facebook ad! It’s going to take some testing to find winning audiences and winning ads.
The beauty of Facebook ads, however, is that you don’t need hundreds or thousands of dollars to see success from them. You could spend just $5 a day if you’re not comfortable budgeting more than that to begin with. And if at any time you don’t like what you’re seeing in your Facebook ads dashboard, with one click of a button you can turn your ads off and you won’t spend any more money; you are in complete control.
The Facebook ads structure
Before we dive into what makes a scroll-stopping Facebook ad, it’s important that you first understand how Facebook ads are structured.
It’s a very simple structure with only 3 levels:
- LEVEL 1: Campaigns
- LEVEL 2: Ad Sets
- LEVEL 3: Ads
Here is a visual representation of the Facebook ads structure which clearly shows how each of these 3 levels work cohesively together:
Let’s look at each of these levels in a little more detai
LEVEL 1: Campaign
At the Campaign level, you are setting your Campaign Objective: what you want your Facebook ad to do for you. At the time of writing, there are 11 Campaign Objectives to choose from. The one that I recommend you choose is Traffic. This will let Facebook know that you want them to send as much traffic (i.e., people who click on your Facebook ad) to your Amazon book product page (or wherever you want to send them).
Put simply, with the Traffic objective selected, Facebook will find people within your target audience who have a strong history of clicking on Facebook ads, as they are highly likely to click on your Facebook ad too!
LEVEL 2: Ad Sets
This is the exciting part, as the Ad Set is where you define the targeting: who you want to see your Facebook Ad. You can base your targeting on:
- Location: Country, State, Postcode/Zip Code
- Gender: Men or Women or both
- Age: 18–65+ (and everything in between)
- Languages: English, French, German, etc.
- Detailed Targeting: For example, authors, books, TV shows, films, genres, etc.
You also decide at the Ad Set level where you want your Facebook Ads to appear within the Facebook ecosystem. As I mentioned a little earlier, you will find that most of the action takes place on the Facebook News Feed. However, I have found that giving Facebook free rein on where it decides to show my ads delivers better and cheaper results.
This is why I choose Automatic Targeting for Placements; every layer of targeting you add at the Ad Set level throttles the Facebook algorithm and performance can suffer because you’re not letting Facebook do its thing.
Some Facebook advertisers (outside of the author world) use a tactic known as Open Targeting with their Facebook Ads. Essentially, they provide Facebook with a location (e.g. United States) and that’s it! No age range, no genders, no detailed targeting.
Facebook’s algorithm is clever enough to figure out who are the right people on Facebook to achieve the advertisers Campaign Objective. Unbelievable, right? To achieve this unfathomable goal of Open Targeting, however, your Facebook Ads account needs lots of previous data to work with.
And that’s what you’re building when you are testing audiences and ads.
Speaking of ads, let’s move onto level 3 of the Facebook ads structure.
LEVEL 3: Ads
This is where you get creative! You build your ads (i.e. the ads that people will see on their Facebook News Feed) at the Ad level.
And to be honest, based on my experience, the ads really move the needle in your Facebook ads success. Yes, audiences are vitally important, but if the ad doesn’t resonate with your audience, they’re unlikely to click on them and won’t even visit your book product page.
You can include up to 50 individual Ads within a single Ad Set, however, I recommend keeping the number of Ads in an Ad Set to 3 or 4. The more Ads you have in an Ad Set, the more budget you will need as there are more variables for Facebook to test. With 3 or 4 Ads in an Ad Set, Facebook will be able to find a winner (i.e. the Ad that resonates most with an audience and generates the most clicks for the lowest cost) relatively quickly.
How to create scroll-stopping Facebook ads
Now you have a better understanding of how Facebook ads are structured, let’s drill down into level 3, the Ads and what makes a scroll-stopping ad.
A Facebook ad is made up of 6 core assets or elements:
- Media (i.e. Image or Video)
- Primary Text
- Display Link
- Call-To-Action Button
Below, you can see a labeled visual representation of a Facebook ad to put everything into context for you:
Let’s take a look at each of these assets that make up a Facebook ad and cover some best practices and ideas you can use for your first Ads.
Starting at the top of the ad, the Primary Text is the text that sits above the Media (typically, an image or video). There really is no right or wrong way to use your Primary Text; you just need to test different angles, different approaches and structures and see which option performs best for your books.
If this is your first time writing any sort of text for advertising or marketing purposes, you may be struggling with where to start. Below, you’ll see a simple structure I like to use that performs incredibly well. Feel free to adapt this as you see fit:
- Start with a strong, powerful review of the book you’re advertising (including where the review came from, e.g., Amazon)
- Then move on to a 1-2 sentence teaser of your book (conflict, stakes and tension)
- Include 1-3 review quotes from the reviews on your book product page
- End with a Call-To-Action, such as “Start Reading Today”, followed by a link
To put this into some context, here is a real-life example of one of the best performing pieces of Primary Text I’ve written for Book 1 of my wife’s fantasy series:
“If you enjoyed Clan of the Cave Bear you should read this” Amazon Customer
The unforgettable story of one woman’s perilous journey as she learns to survive in a freezing and hostile world, hunted, alone and carrying…The Forbidden.
“It was a book I found hard to put down. The story grabs you from the start.”
“I couldn’t help but imagine what the characters in this story were experiencing.”
“You’re immediately sucked into the story and feel yourself becoming entwined with the main character”
Start reading today and escape into our own dark and forgotten past… → [LINK]
Another option for your Primary Text is to use a short passage from your book, word for word, as this gives readers a taste of your writing style or the story. After this short passage, end your Primary Text with a call-to-action and a link where readers can purchase a copy of your book. This approach can work exceptionally well when you choose a passage that leaves the reader wanting to know more.
The following example is again, for my wife’s fantasy series and, to date, is the best-performing piece of Primary Text for this book:
The lie that had got her this far crumbled as the truth closed its merciless jaws around her heart and sank in deep. He was dead. Her senses had already told her what she needed to know, but some masochistic part of herself reached out for him all the same.
The nothingness that came whipping back to her was crippling. She screamed her loss to the frozen, uncaring sky.
Rebaa did not know how long she crouched there, lost in her grief. The wind howled, whistling through the rocks, tearing relentlessly at her furs. The loneliness of its wail settled the true extent of her situation around her quaking shoulders.
She was utterly alone; abandoned far from her native land with no tribe to protect her. Her breath came faster. She was a dead woman walking.
— From ‘The Forbidden’ (The Ancestors Saga, Book 1), by Lori Holmes
Start Reading Today → [LINK]
Warning! Your Primary Text is NOT the place to write a blow-by-blow account of what happens in your book! Nor is it the place to write a full synopsis! You need to put your advertiser’s hat on to write your Primary Text.
You have a couple of options with your Media: use an image or a video. I have done extensive testing of both and have always found that images deliver better results than video.
This is great news because you don’t need to spend a lot of money and/or time creating videos! You can create images for your Facebook ads relatively quickly using free tools such as Canva, or paid tools such as Adobe Photoshop.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some possible ways you can use images in your Facebook ads.
When creating your images, make sure the resolution is 1080 x 1080 pixels (i.e. square) as this is what Facebook recommends; square images also take up more real estate (i.e. space) on a mobile phone screen, which is the device that the majority of people use when scrolling through their Facebook News Feed.
The following options I’m about to walk you through are by no means exhaustive; these are just three possible ideas for you to consider and test for your own books. By all means, get creative and test a range of different ideas and discover your winning images!
The 3D Mockup. You can use a tool such as BookBrush to create these 3D mockups of your book in either paperback or ebook format. Then use an image editor such as Canva or Adobe Photoshop to place the mock-up on the main background image of your book cover.
I like to include a strong review quote in the image as well and make it big and bold! This layer of social proof can be incredibly powerful and really makes your image stand out.
Idea 2. Book Cover Image. This image layout has been my best performing idea. It’s simply taking the main image of your book cover, without the title and author name, and adding a review quote.
If your book cover includes a character, as in the example above, this can really help with engagement, especially if said character is looking directly at the viewer as it will draw the viewer’s eye into the image and into your ad.
You could also add the logos of where your books are available (e.g. Amazon, Kobo, etc.), but this won’t have a massive impact on performance.
Idea 3. Shake it up! I like to test new image ideas on a monthly basis; this way, I always have other options I can use if a previously winning image becomes less effective.
The image above is one that I tested after experimenting with the different elements of the book cover in Photoshop, and it’s one of my best performers to date. You never know how something will perform until you test it.
The next element of your Ad is the Headline, which is the bold line of text that appears directly underneath the Media.
You can write anything you like here, within reason. However, from my testing, I have found the following to be the best performers…
- A review quote (in quotation marks, to signify that this is a quote/review)
- A comparison to another book, series or author (e.g. “if you enjoyed XXX [BOOK] you’ll love XXX [YOUR BOOK/SERIES]”
- If you are running a time sensitive promotion, let people know (e.g., $0.99 until March 30th)
- Or, if your books are exclusive to Amazon and therefore available in Kindle Unlimited, let readers know (e.g. FREE with Kindle Unlimited)
The Description on your Facebook ad is the small line of text underneath the Headline, but it isn’t always visible; it depends on the device someone is using when they see your ad (e.g. iPhone, iPad, desktop, etc.) and also how long your Headline is and whether it runs onto 2 lines.
You don’t have to use a Description at all, as it is optional in the Facebook Ads Manager and, truth be told, from my experience and testing, adding a Description has very little, if any, impact on the performance of your ads.
If you do want to include a description however, here are a few ideas for you to consider and test:
- Short quote from a review (in quotation marks)
- How the book can be consumed (e.g. Kindle | Audio | Paperback)
- A tagline that calls out to your ideal readers/genre (e.g. Begin an Epic Fantasy Adventure)
You can choose from a number of preset buttons to include in your Facebook Ad, or you may decide not to have a button at all.
The button that has consistently performed the best for me is Shop Now, which is the one I recommend you start with. However, feel free to test any of the other relevant options, such as Learn More and Download.
This is simply the abbreviated version of where you are sending people when they click on your Facebook ad and it will be automatically populated once you enter the URL of your book product page in the Facebook Ads Manager.
For example, if your book product page URL is https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0937HVNDH, Facebook will shorten this and use AMAZON.COM as your Display URL.
And that is how you create scroll-stopping Facebook ads! Clearly I’ve just scratched the surface here, but what I really want to drill home to you is that when you’re testing ads, that you test 1 variable at a time.
What do I mean by this?
Let’s say you want to test three different images to see which one performs the best. You would create three identical ads, with the only difference being the Image. The Primary Text, Headline, Description and Button would be exactly the same in each version of the ad.
Once you have found a winning image, you can move onto testing a different asset of the ad; for example, the Primary Text. For this scenario, you would, again, create 3 identical ads, with the only difference this time being the Primary Text. The Image, Headline, Description and Button would be exactly the same in each of the 3 ads.
If you were testing 3 different ads in a single Ad Set and each ad was completely different, you wouldn’t know if it were the ads or the audiences that resulted in the positive or negative results from that test. So always test 1 variable at a time!
Regarding which assets of the ad have the biggest impact on performance, and therefore the assets I recommend you focus your testing on initially, are, in order of impact:
- Primary Text
As humans, we consume images 60,000 times faster than we do text, so it’s no surprise that the Media of a Facebook ad has the biggest impact. The Primary Text allows you to speak to readers and entice them enough to click your ad. And the Headline is a bold piece of text on your ad that stands out, so use it to drive home a clear, concise message.
If you want more inspiration for creating your own Facebook ads, I highly recommend checking out The Facebook Ads Library. This is a free tool provided by Facebook whereby you can quickly and easily search for any advertiser on Facebook (i.e., authors) and see what ads they are running.
Clearly, I’m not saying to copy these other authors’ Facebook ads. But analyze them, look at their ad images, how are they writing their Primary Text? What are they using as a Headline? What Button are they using, if any?
This is an amazing resource and one that you should definitely be referring to on a regular basis.
My top 5 Facebook Ads tips for authors
I could write even more about all the tips I’d like to share with you! But these 5 are the most important based on my experience.
1. Be patient and start small.
Facebook ads take time to mature; they are like a good cheese, or a fine wine and improve with age! When you first set up a Facebook ad, the Ad Sets within your Campaign will go into something known as the Learning Phase.
Essentially, the Learning Phase is where Facebook shows your ads to pockets of people within your target audience and sees which ad is resonating most. It is also analyzing the characteristics of the people who engage with your ads the most, and will then go out and find more people like that in a different pocket of your target audience.
The Learning Phase lasts for around 1–3 days, depending on your budget, as an individual Ad Set needs to receive 50 clicks before it can exit the Learning Phase.
During the Learning Phase, you may notice that costs and performance aren’t quite as good as you’d like them to be. Don’t panic! Performance will stabilize and improve once your Ad Sets are out of the Learning Phase.
Even after the Learning Phase is complete, Facebook will continue to learn and improve for as long as your ads are running.
There will come a time when ads just stop performing as well as they did in the past and your costs will start to increase, or you will see a decline in sales, page reads and royalties. However, there’s no set amount of time when this can happen; I’ve had ads that have performed well for 2 weeks, then they start to deteriorate. On the other hand, I’ve had ads that have run for 6–8 months with superb, consistent performance.
But ultimately, don’t tinker with your ads every day! If you do this, you run the risk of your Ad Sets falling back into the Learning Phase.
Personally, I like to make all my optimizations, create new Campaigns, Ad Sets and Ads (if required) on a weekly basis at most, typically on a Monday morning. I then let them run untouched until the following Monday morning, where I review the data and adjust accordingly.
And don’t feel you have to launch into Facebook ads with a $100 per day budget! Start at whatever you can afford. That could be just $5 or $10 per day; it’s where I started and where a lot of authors start.
Once you are comfortable with the Facebook Ads interface and you’re seeing a positive return on your investment, then you can start increasing your ad spend gradually.
When you start increasing your ad spend, however, do so slowly; I recommend no more than 10% to 15% per week. If you increase your spend too aggressively, your Facebook Ads account could be shut down, so take it steady.
2. Test multiple audiences and ads.
Facebook has 2.85 billion (yes, that’s billion with a B) monthly active users. That’s a lot of people! Clearly not all of these people are going to be readers who enjoy books like yours. However, you should be consistently testing new audiences and ads as you never want to be in a position where you’re relying on one audience and one ad to do all the leg work for you.
Audiences change over time, as do their preferences in terms of what ads they like and what ads they don’t like. Keeping your ads fresh is one of the best ways to avoid ad fatigue, which is where your ads start becoming less and less effective, people start seeing the same ads too often and your costs start to rise.
Likewise, you don’t want the same people to be seeing multiple different ads for the same book, which is why testing different audiences is so important too; you want to be reaching new people every week and positioning your books in front of readers who have never heard of you. That is how you build your career as an author, by introducing your books to new readers.
Personally, I test new audiences every single week, and I test new ads at least once per month, sometimes more frequently than that. You don’t have to test new ads and audiences that regularly, particularly if you only have a small budget to work with. I would recommend, however, that you test new ads and audiences at least once per month.
3: Keep an eye on the data
Unfortunately, there is no real way to track how many sales your Facebook ads are generating. You can use Amazon Associate Tracking Links, but it goes against Amazon’s terms of service (TOS) to use their Associate links in Pay-Per-Click Ads (which is what Facebook Ads are).
So, the best way to track the performance of your Facebook ads is to compare them to your baseline numbers
Your baseline numbers are the sales, KU page reads (if applicable) and royalties you were generating before you started running Facebook ads. It’s also worth noting your sales rank here too. Ideally, you should use a period of at least 30 days where you weren’t running any ads, or had any promotions or book launches.
Then, once you’ve run Facebook ads for 30 days consistently (again, with no promotions or books launches), compare your results (sales, page reads, royalties and sales rank) to your baseline numbers.
It’s not 100% accurate, but unfortunately, there’s no real way to see the data without using the Amazon Associate links.
I recommend tracking all your numbers in here on a daily basis in a spreadsheet; this way, you will be able to spot patterns in the data and make adjustments accordingly.
4. Don’t think of ad spend as wasted money.
Many authors are understandably worried about spending money on ads and not seeing a return on that investment. If this is you, I can’t recommend enough that you work on changing your mindset around this, because it will really hold you back from achieving your dreams and goals as an author.
When you see advertising as an investment, rather than an expense, it becomes a lot easier to make rational decisions with your ads. You could be days away from one of your Facebook ads hitting the big time, but if you are worried about the ad spending too much money, you may hastily come in and turn it off.
As I mentioned earlier, I recommend leaving your ads to run for at least 7 days before making any decisions on whether or not to turn them off. If something isn’t working after 7 days, it’s unlikely to improve if you give it more time. This isn’t always the case, but it’s a good rule of thumb. If you’re spending $5 per day on an ad, then I recommend leaving the ads to run for 10–14 days, just so that you have the time to collect statistically significant data.
When you’re testing different ads and audiences, you are buying data. You are investing in understanding what works and what doesn’t work. This is invaluable! Iif you know what audiences and ads work for your books and which ones don’t, you know not to use those ads and audiences again. This is the mindset you need to approach advertising with.
5. Enjoy the process!
Another mindset shift here: You are learning something new; you are building skills and you are crafting and investing in your future. Facebook ads have the potential to put your books into the hands of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of readers around the world. Isn’t that an incredible feeling?
I completely understand that learning something new, such as Facebook ads, can be daunting and overwhelming, but if you do nothing about it, you can be left in a state of paralysis by analysis, whereby you end up taking no action at all.
Once you get the ball rolling, it’s much easier to keep it rolling. Similar to pushing a car, it’s hard to get the car moving at first, but once you’ve got it going, it becomes easier. The same is true with learning how to advertise your books.
After reading this article, I hope you now have a better understanding of the potential of Facebook ads. It is an incredible advertising platform and although it’s not a magic bullet, Facebook ads can truly transform your author career. Sure, it has its challenges, but life would be boring without challenges, right? Just take it steady, start small, learn, build your skills, analyze the data to make informed decisions, and enjoy the process of learning something new.
Matt Holmes is a book advertising consultant working with self-published authors to help them bring their work into the world through paid ads; namely, Facebook Ads, Amazon Ads and BookBub Ads. Matt is also the author of three books, written under the pen name, Matthew J Holmes, that help authors take their first step into advertising. He lives in the UK with his author wife, Lori, their twin boys, Jacob and Caleb and not forgetting their 2 dogs, Freya and Loki.