Facebook ad February – $1000 spent and 300 book sales

Mike Grist Facebook Ads, Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

My month-long experiment with Facebook ads may be at an end. Here’s the story so far:

In summary – a month back I read Michael Cooper’s book about Facebook ads, which focused heavily on the essential importance of getting good book readthrough in order to make a profit, and decided I wanted to give it a real go.

Now I have. I pushed book 1 in the 9-book Last Mayor zombie series and book 1 in the 2-book epic fantasy Ignifer Cycle. I experimented with ad copy, ad images and targeting. I watched sales come in with some dizzy highs and some disheartening lows. At times I thought I had it cracked. At others I wanted to just pull them all.

So, results:

  • Total money spent on ads – $1060
  • Total sales – 328 books
  • Total page reads – 31,000
  • Total money earned – $850
  • Profit – -$210

So, it’s a losing proposition. Not by a huge amount, it’s true. The fact is, I knew that from the first few days – it was clear I wasn’t making my money back on a day-for-day basis, but that wasn’t the point.

The point was waiting for readthrough. People buy book 1, set it aside, then at some point read it and hopefully read on to book 2 and further. When do those extra sales come in? Within a month? Within two?

It’s still possible that this investment will earn out. Readthrough should keep trickling in over the coming months, and who knows if it will lead to profit. One important thing to consider though is that the total sales above are certainly not all attributable to Facebook ads. I typically make about $200 a month just from ambient sales.

So actually it’s more like a $400 loss on the ads. That’ll be pretty hard to pay off with readthrough. And really, there’s no need to keep running ads now to see if the readthrough materializes – it’ll come in whether I sell more book ones or not. For that reason, I’m probably going to cut these ads until I know more.

Now for some breakdowns:

Ad effectiveness

Ad effectiveness has faded with time. On one day I sold 30 books – that was a heady 24-hours! It seemed for the first time that this thing might have legs. But then 8 books got returned for refunds and the wind sucked out of my sails.

Clicks have only grown more expensive since then. Engagement has dropped off. Fewer sales have been coming in, and the frequency of ad display (how many times any one FB user saw my ads) has been creeping up toward 2 times.

I tinkered with the ads. I tried new target markets, new copy, new images – but nothing topped the earliest ads. Seems I got it right first time. Briefly I was getting clicks for 11p on both ad campaigns, but very few sales, leading me to the more important metric.

It’s not how many clicks you get, it’s how many sales you get.

That’s obvious, I suppose, but the easiest metric to look at is cost-per-click. Michael Cooper focuses on it. I was getting hundreds of clicks from a pretty generic, million-strong audience, but no sales. It wasn’t targeted enough.

The Last campaign

  • Total ad spend – $530
  • Total money earned – $310
  • Total book 1 – 80 sales, 10,000 page reads
  • Total book 2 – 5 sales, 1,400 page reads
  • Total book 9 – 11 sales, 400 page reads
  • Conversion to book 2 – 6%
  • Total income – -$220

There’s quite a lot of news that looks bad here. Of course the loss is foremost, but the readthrough is appalling. Yes, again, people might not have had a chance to read book 2, but it’s not really all that far from the less clean data I already have from the last 4 years – these books don’t score a lot of readthrough.

Sigh. I could spend months reworking them to counter this. I could do that, but it won’t help the ads run better to sell book 1. I’m getting weak sales of book 1 and far weaker sales of book 2. It seems the series is dead, and no amount of CPR will revive it. I could keep it running like a zombie, but probably better to chop off its head now.

So I pulled the ads.

The Saint’s Rise campaign

  • Total ad spend – $540
  • Total money earned – $540
  • Total book 1 – 132 sales
  • Total book 2 – 24
  • Conversion to book 2 – 18%
  • Total income – $0

These stats are better, and actually make The Last stats look even worse. The Saint’s Rise is twice as long as The Last, but it’s readthrough is 3 times better even within the single month. So fair readthrough within a month is possible.

Ah, it is disappointing that the Last Mayor books don’t do better.

Anyway, The Saint’s Rise is holding it’s own, when I take into account sales on other vendors besides Amazon. $0 is not much to boast about, though – again considering that some of these are ambient sales and not directly attributable to Facebook ads. I’d have more money if I hadn’t run the ads, basically.


So what have I learned?

Bookbub – One important factor to take into account is that I got a Bookbub on The Saint’s Rise. I’d already applied for this multiple times, and always been turned down. Now I got accepted – and while this could be for any combination of reasons, I can’t help but think that the higher ranking the book had thanks to the FB ads played a role.

If I was Bookbub, I wouldn’t want to promote a book that was in the 100,000s in ranking. I’d want to see it was already selling. So maybe this month of $0 has led to the Bookbub – in which case, it’s a win, and maybe a future strategy for getting a Bookbub. Juice the ranking with ads in advance of an application.

Readthrough – Undeniably this is where the money is. If a book series converts well, it’s possible to make money. Maybe cliff-hangers are necessary. People need to feel compelled to read on, and The Last doesnt offer that compulsion at all. I never intended it as a series, and it probably shows.

The Saint’s Rise does end on a cliff-hanger of sorts. Major conflicts are resolved, but there’s still threat hanging. It could be this, or the quality of the books generally, or who knows.

Ad targeting – Massive million-strong audiences with great low click rates are not good – they probably won’t buy while burning through clicks. More focused 100,000-strong audiences may buy, but the cost per click will jack right up. Of course what matters is not cost-per-click, but cost-per-sale.

My best audience was for The Saint’s Rise – I picked a whole range of fantasy authors, excluding George R.R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien, because they are sucking in fans of the movies, and I want readers.

The Last was far harder to target. My best audience was a combination of Walking Dead fans (a TV show and comic) with Kindle readers. The trouble here is, I think many of these folks thought I was pushing an alternate TV show or comic. They clicked but didn’t convert when they saw it was a book.

I tried different copy to highlight that it was a book – and sales and clicks dropped further. Ugh. There are a few zombie authors admitted as targetable interests on Facebook, but the click costs were double what I wanted to pay – 40p plus, without a corresponding decent number of sales.

So how to target these readers? I don’t know. I tried SF great authors combo-ed with zombie movie fans and Walking Dead, I tried Apocalypse Fiction fans (basically the Hunger Games) tied with Kindle and zombie movies and Walking Dead, and just SF greats, and even paranormal fiction (like Twilight!) and none of them were better than Walking Dead plus Kindle.

Ah well. It’s tricky.

Ad copy – By far my best copy were the challenge plot blurbs. The best, which got great engagement, was the Saint’s Rise:

“Better than The Name of the Wind AND Locke Lamora!”

Fantasy fans knew these authors and argued with me in the comments. That’s good, arguing improved engagement and lots of people said the boldness drove them to buy. Good!

It didn’t work as well with The Last. The best one was this:

“Better than the Walking Dead (and definitely better than seasons 7 and 8!)”

It didn’t get engagement. It made people think it was a TV show I was pushing, maybe. Still, it was the best. I tried a few challenges that compared to more famous zombie authors, trying to get the readers involved, but that did even worse. Famous zombie authors are not famous the same way epic fantasy authors are, I guess…

After each of these I had a brief plot blurb.

The lesson is to do a challenge using comparable books/authors that are well-known and will start an argument.


And that is it! It has been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. It feels good that in 3 months I’ll get most of this money back – so it’s not a major loss. I can’t justify continuing to run The Last ads though. I could keep fine-tuning, but I don’t think fine-tuning will do it.

As for The Saint’s Rise, I may keep running them just to keep some momentum going as I approach the Bookbub on March 24. Otherwise, they’re actually a net negative. Maybe just $5 a day on US ads, to keep it ticking over.

Final thoughts for FB ad success:

Success = Great readthrough + 300,000 targeted readers + Challenge plot blurbs on famous authors/books + striking image

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