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Before I crack on with Facebook, here’s an apology of sorts.  Today, I realised that all three of my blog posts have “anyway” at the start of the last para.

Apparently, I only know one way to wrap up a blog post, and that’s to put “anyway” and then say goodbye.

What a dreadful way to finish.  It is a word that screams “I neither know I was trying to say, nor how to stop saying it.”  I don’t know whether to edit the previous posts, or leave them like that and try to make it “my thing”.

But enough of that.  I actually wanted to talk about my experience running a Facebook ad, in the hope that small presses and self-publishers (or indeed anyone who is thinking of advertising) will find my notes useful.

The first thing to say is that making a Facebook ad is very easy and a lot of fun.  Seriously.  It’s genuinely quite addictive.  You can have a little picture of whatever it is you’re trying to promote, plus a Tweet’s worth of text.

The ad is a link, and that link can point anywhere you want (as long as you don’t break Facebook’s terms of service).  I originally had mine pointing to Amazon, but other than seeing how many clicks I got, I didn’t really get any feedback from it – so I tried running an ad for the author’s Facebook page.  After that, I could at least see how many people bothered to click “like” on it, which was much more satisfying.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  We were talking about how to make the ad.  Once you choose your picture and text, you get to target Facebook users.  The main way you do this is via their interests.  So if you’re advertising guitar strings, you target people who like guitars.  So far, so simple.

Once you have your ad and know who to show it to, you need to decide how you want to pay.  One option is to pay per thousand impressions.  If your ad appears on someone’s Facebook, that’s one impression.

If you don’t like the idea of that, you can pay per click – which means you don’t pay until someone actually clicks on your ad – but one click might end up costing more than a thousand impressions.

Last of all, you select a maximum bid (usually in the tens of pence) and your maximum budget.  You might say that you’re prepared to pay up to 50p a click (or per thousand impressions, depending on what strategy you’ve picked), but no more than £2 a day.

What happens next is quite clever.  Whenever Facebook needs to serve up an ad, it looks at the appropriate ones (based on the user’s interests) and does a little “automatic auction” between them.  If you win the auction, your ad gets shown – unless you’ve exhausted your budget for the day, in which case your advert sleeps until the next.

With pay-per-click ads, Facebook also seems to factor in how often they get clicked on.  Say you bid 50p and someone else bids 40p.  You would expect to win.  But say their ad has been clicked twice as often as yours.  As far as I’m aware, the other ad will win the auction, since it makes more money for Facebook overall.

Anyway.  I’m a big fan of Facebook ads, but I can’t recommend them for books.  Put bluntly, your profit per unit is nowhere near big enough to justify the cost of the ad.

Let’s pluck some nice round figures out of the air to illustrate the point.  Say you pay 40p per click on average.  Also, say that 5% of the people who click your ad actually bother buying a book.  In that case, you need to spend an average of £8 on advertising to sell a single copy of your book.

I don’t need to tell you that you’re making a loss on this, because your profit per unit won’t be £8 (well – it won’t be if you’re publishing fiction and trying to match the big boys for cheapness).

Now bear in mind that your cost per click might be higher, and your “seal the deal” rate (whatever it’s called in marketing) might be lower.

Unless you have some very niche academic title that you’re selling for a bomb, and can target to people who are highly likely to buy, I don’t think there’s any way you can make a profit from promoting a book through Facebook’s paid ads.

On the other hand, I heartily recommend Facebook to anyone who makes a much larger profit per sale.  Spending £8 or even £80 on a sale makes perfect sense if the sale is worth ten times more.  It just doesn’t add up like that in the case of books.

Now the other way you can use Facebook ads is to try to build a fanbase.  So rather than looking for book sales, you’re looking for people to notice your author (or book, or whatever) and click “like” on it.  Personally, I think you’re better building that kind of following naturally and for free, by having fun and making friends on Twitter.  In cases where you pay for an ad, you simply have to look at the sales it generates, do the sum, and be honest with yourself about the bottom line.  I don’t see how advertising a book on the Facebook sidebar can ever be profitable.

Anyway.  Those are my thoughts about Facebook advertising for small presses and self-publishers.  Hope you found it useful!

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