Most indie authors are at least somewhat familiar with Twitter. Ever since its launch in 2006, authors and readers have flocked to the site, finding its emphasis on brevity and hashtagging features conducive to engaging fans and sparking discussions about books with people all over the world.

But, aside from providing a prominent venue for book talk, Twitter, which boasts 317 million active monthly users, offers another benefit to indie authors: advertising. The social media network’s easy-to-use and relatively inexpensive advertising platform can be a useful resource for self-published authors who want to spread the word about their books and expand their fan-bases.

[Note: this article was originally published in March 2015 and was updated on Feb. 13 2017.]

Identify Your Goal

Within its advertising platform, Twitter designates four main goals that help authors shape their campaigns. Users can choose to “Build an Audience,” get “Increase Website Traffic,” “Increase Tweet Engagements,” or “Promote Your App.” It also offers a “Quick Promote” option, which allows the author to promote a specific tweet to a certain geographic audience. Which campaign an author chooses will depend largely on her immediate objective. If she has a new book out and wants to direct readers to an e-retail destination, she might consider choosing “Increase Website Traffic.” If she doesn’t have a book out and is just interested in accruing more fans, she might consider choosing “Build an Audience.” (In 2016, Twitter discontinued a fifth category of ads, Lead Generation, which requested customer info.)

Create Your Ad

After an author chooses her goal—let’s assume she’s opted to “Increase Website Traffic”—she’ll be prompted to create an ad. The core component of a Twitter ad is the “Website Card,” a kind of digital billboard for which a user chooses an image, writes copy, and designates a call-to-action phrase, such as “Buy Now.” Like all tweets, the ad will be subject to Twitter’s 140-character mandate, so it’s best to write text that communicates information concisely and includes a clear, enticing image. Twitter also allows users to track the effectiveness of their ads in real time and to make adjustments as needed. Additionally, users have the option of creating and testing several cards simultaneously, to see which one works best.

Narrow Your Audience

Twitter allows users to narrow the reach of their ads to better reach interested users, selecting from a handful of criteria, such as “interests” (hundreds of categories and subcategories such as “politics and current events” and “romance”), “followers” (identified by interests or similarities with other users), “keywords,” “TV targeting” (yes, there is a whole criterion devoted to TV), event targeting, and more. An author can also narrow his reach by geography and language, gender, and device.

Self-publishing expert and book business veteran Dana Lynn Smith adds that Twitter’s targeting function makes it an especially appealing advertising tool for fiction authors. “You can choose people who are interested in specific book genres. You can also choose to target people who follow authors of books similar to yours—this is great for all types of authors, especially novelists,” she says.

Spend Wisely

Like other social media advertising platforms, such as those on Facebook and Goodreads, Twitter’s platform allows users to set a total budget. Website Cards are cost-per-click or CPC, which means users are only charged when their ads receive clicks.

Indie author Donna Fasano recently used Twitter to advertise her book Following His Heart. She invested $50. Over the course of the campaign’s four-day run, she received nearly 22,000 views and more than 250 engagements, making for a cost-per-click of $0.20 and an engagement rate of 1.15%. As of May 2014, the website Social Times put the average engagement rate for Twitter ads between 1% and 3%.

Additionally, Twitter enables an author to increase her chances of reaching “high-quality visitors” by increasing her bid—in other words, upping the cost-per-click—as part of what Twitter calls its “auction” model. “You’re bidding on access to your target audience,” the site says. “When you win, you’ll only pay slightly more than the next highest bidder.”

For Fasano, who says she didn’t see much of an uptick in sales, the program was still worthwhile. “Although the ad didn't sell any books, 21,934 Twitter users saw my ad, which included my name, my cover image, [and] my photo,” she says. “And 252 of those people engaged with the ad in some way. I've read that a consumer must see a product three times before feeling compelled to buy. I feel a lot of people saw my book; I'm satisfied with that result.