Today’s Q&A is by journalist and romance writer Cathy Shouse (@cathyshouse).
Melissa Storm is a New York Times and multiple USA Today bestselling author of women’s fiction, inspirational romance, and cozy mysteries.
Her latest book, Witch for Hire, was written under her pen name, Molly Fitz, and released in November. Her second book in a series, Wednesday Walks and Wags, released in August from Kensington Books and was an Amazon Best of the Month Selection.
She and her husband and fellow author, Falcon Storm, run a number of book-related businesses together, including LitRing, Sweet Promise Press, Novel Publicity, and Your Author Engine. When she’s not reading, writing, or child-rearing, Melissa spends time relaxing at her home in the Michigan woods, where she is kept company by a seemingly unending quantity of dogs and two very demanding Maine Coon rescues. She also writes under the pen name Mila Riggs.
Cathy Shouse: With so much buzz about the positive impact of online advertising on book sales, will you help sort some facts from myths, specifically when it comes to Facebook and BookBub ads?
Melissa Storm: Learning how to run ads is the second most important thing I’ve done for my author career; the first was learning to write good books! Diving in can be super overwhelming for authors, especially since neither platform has a problem spending all your money whether or not the results are good.
Facebook (FB) has many more moving pieces, but tends to be an easier platform to begin learning. This is in part because FB’s system analyzes the data and helps you optimize. With BookBub ads, there are fewer levers to pull, but you’re completely on your own. Nothing beats BookBub, however, for advertising to non-Amazon retailers—which makes it just as important as Facebook ads if you choose to forego the Kindle Unlimited program.
I suggest picking one platform to become proficient in first before moving on to learn the other. Each has its own quirks and trying to learn them together can be quite confusing!
How can an author optimize their chances of success with ads? It’s often advised not to advertise unless you have more than one book. What do you think?
I believe Facebook ads are the easiest to learn, because if you know how to create a great brand presentation for your book, then you already have a big piece of the puzzle. Often ads work best by using your product description and a cropped version of your book cover art. If those ads don’t convert well, chances are something is off about your branding. Ads can help you identify that and tweak it so you earn better across the board—from newsletters, promo sites, organic discovery, anything!
You can produce a profit when advertising a solo title, but it’s so much easier to make a profit with a series. One tip I have for either Facebook or BookBub ads is to link to your series page instead of a single book. It also helps to have some kind of special offer, like marking the first book down to 99 cents or making it free.
Do you have guidelines to share about ad spending? What about exceeding your budget and not knowing how to staunch the bleeding?
Both BookBub and Facebook have a safety function that many authors don’t know about. For BookBub ads, if you choose CPC (cost per click) bidding and bid low, BookBub will either get you clicks for that amount or it won’t spend your money.
For Facebook ads, under the campaign level, change “Campaign Bid Strategy” from the default “lowest cost” to the secondary option “bid cap.” For authors new to ads, I recommend setting the bid cap at 25 cents. You can move that down as you start to get results. It will take longer to get data this way, but you can also make sure every penny counts!
Do most authors getting started in ads need to take courses to learn how to do it? Or can you hire someone to create ads?
The biggest factor when deciding whether to run your own ads or to hire out is what ads cost you—not just money but factor in your time and also the impact it has on your overall stress level, and how that impacts other aspects of your writing career and life.
If the thought of learning ads sends you into a panic spiral, then hiring out might be for you. Just remember that with a pro, you’re adding the additional cost of their services, and that makes it harder to produce ROI-positive (profitable) ads. That said, ask for recommendations and find someone who not only delivers results you like but openly and consistently and honestly communicates with you. P.S. I offer ad services through my company LitRing.
What are the top three mistakes people make with ads?
- Not giving them enough time. Too many authors freak out and turn off the ads while they’re still settling. The data could be lagging a little bit, and you may have turned off an excellent ad.
- Not adjusting. Ads are not set it and forget it. Even the most evergreen campaigns take a bit of work to get there. I make sure to check my ads daily and turn off any lower performers, so that my money goes to those that work best.
- Not testing multiple ads or audiences. Data is key with ads and having only one data point with zero context doesn’t tell a very compelling story.
Is it possible to rely too much on ads? Or what about the reverse: if one masters ads, can they slack on the newsletters and social media engagement?
There is no prescription for success, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either looking through the narrow scope of their own experience or is lying to you. My motto when it comes to marketing is “do it first or do it best.” If you hate sending newsletters, your readers will notice. You also can’t be the best at things you don’t enjoy doing, so cut them out of the equation and focus on what you do enjoy—you’ll do it much better.
Just because ads are a crucial part of my success doesn’t mean that the next author can’t be successful without them. It’s one of those things that has huge risks, but huge rewards. I’m willing to gamble with my royalty dollars in the hopes of making more (and almost always I do), but if you’re not, don’t force it. Find your own path. Do what you love.
What are some tips you would you recommend for someone whose ads have produced disappointing results in the past?
The data tells a story, listen to it. Too many authors try to force their way to an ads HEA (Happily Ever After), but the truth is, there’s going to be some conflict and tough times before they run off into the beautiful sunset and make you lots of money forever and ever, amen. Of course, you won’t have very much data to interpret if you’re only running one ad with one audience, as I see so many authors do starting out. Test at least three different ads and five different audiences, so you can compare their performance and do more of what works best!
Would you mind sharing your advertising strategy for your latest indie release? As experienced as you are, is it still more art than science?
My most recent release is Witch for Hire (under my Molly Fitz pen name). I decided last minute that I wanted to launch it to the USA Today Bestseller List, which requires an ad heavy strategy. Of course, launching close to a contentious election makes everything so much harder. Immediately I saw that while my book had some amazing organic launch power, ads were not going to be as easy as they usually are. I had to adjust my strategy as I went and rely more heavily on BookBub ads than Facebook ads. It will be very close as to whether or not I make it. Wish me luck!
Cathy Shouse’s articles have appeared in Family Fun, The Saturday Evening Post and Indianapolis Monthly, as well as The Romance Writers of America national magazine (RWR Romance Writers Report). She writes contemporary romance and assists writers with promotion at every opportunity. Visit her website or find her on Twitter at @cathyshouse.