As the number of social media networks continues to grow, indie authors have more and more platforms on which to spread the word about their books. But the granddaddy of all social networks is still Facebook, which boasts more than 1.65 billion active users per month, according to VentureBeat. And it's this huge user base that makes Facebook an ideal destination for self-published authors looking to market their books and build their readerships.
[Note: this article was originally published in March 2015 and was updated on Dec. 9, 2016.]
First Things First: Author Page
Facebook’s advertising program allows users to market their books in several ways. Most options require what’s called a Page—or, in this case, an author page. Even if indie authors are not ready to start advertising their work, author pages are a good thing to have as they allow users to post about their books, upcoming publications, and appearances.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Because Facebook advertising offers a range of options, indie authors should decide early what exactly they hope to get out of the program. As self-publishing guru Joel Friedlander notes at The Book Designer: “Before creating an ad, be clear about the results you want to achieve. It’s better to use ads when you have a clear business objective, such as increasing books sales or encouraging fans to sign up for a webinar or newsletter.”
The first thing users will be asked to do when they land on Facebook’s advertising page is choose an objective. Although users should tailor their objectives to specific advertising plans, most authors will likely choose one of the following: “boost your posts,” “promote your page,” or “send people to your website.”
Narrow Your Reach
After choosing an objective—let’s assume “boost your posts” was selected—Facebook will let users specify the demographic reach of their ads/posts. Users can choose location and radius (e.g. New York City, with a 10-, 25-, or 50-mile radius), as well as age range, gender, and languages. Users can also target ads by searching for specific interests or behaviors. For instance, if an author has written a book similar to George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, she can target her ad toward Facebook users whose interests include that book or its television adaption. Similarly, if a book is about biking, authors can specify for that in behaviors.
While it may sound counterintuitive, limiting the reach of an ad may help authors find more people likely to take an interest in their books. Marketing and publishing veteran Dana Lynn Smith says the ability to pinpoint a demographic is one of the Facebook platform’s most appealing features.
“[Advertising on Facebook] works best if the target audience for your book matches up well with the parameters that Facebook provides for selection, including age, gender, country, and interests,” she says. “For example, if your primary market is women over 65 in the United States, you can easily select that group.”
Facebook offers two spending options: per-day and lifetime. With each, users set a budget, and Facebook will pace their spending over the allotted time. If, for example, an author goes with a per-day budget of $10, Facebook will pace her reach so that she spends the full amount throughout day. If an author goes with a lifetime budget of $200, for example, Facebook will pace that amount over the lifetime of her ad.
Facebook’s interface includes a calculator that estimates the range of people users will reach based on the amount they’re willing to spend. Depending on the audience size selected, a $5.00 per-day budget might reach 650 to 1,700 people, while a $20.00 per-day budget might reach 2,600 to 6,800 people. Users can also optimize their ads by bidding for specific types of user interactions, such as clicks, engagement, or impressions. Facebook’s video about budget setting and bidding is helpful for those without digital marketing expertise—and probably for those with some, too. “It’s best to experiment with a small amount of money and measure the results,” says Smith.
Indie author Jennifer Bresnick used Facebook ads to market her book Dark the Night Descending. She spent a total of $24. Of the roughly 5,300 people who saw the ad, about 1.33% clicked—an engagement rate that Bresnick cites as above average for Facebook. Bresnick says she’s glad she used the program, but adds that Facebook, because it has a vast user base, poses targeting challenges that Goodreads, which is used primarily by bibliophiles, doesn’t.
On Facebook, “you do targeting where you [specify] people who are interested in books, people who are interested in reading," she says. "You have to pick those keywords yourself.”
Putting on the Finishing Touches
The final step in the ad-creation process involves choosing an image and writing copy for the ad. To make their ads more appealing, indie authors should use concise language and visually attractive imagery. And, indie authors should do some research beforehand: spend some time on Facebook determining which ads are the most appealing and compelling.