Facebook Ads: Should Indie Authors Buy Them?

by | May 14, 2014

If you have a Facebook page, have you noticed that fewer of your posts are reaching your fans’ news feeds?

You’re not alone. As Facebook moves further in the direction of monetization, and as it adjusts its algorithm, fewer of our Facebook page posts are reaching our fans.

Facebook’s reasons for the recent improvements make sense to some extent. A brand page (also called a company page or an author page) you liked when you were 37 may not be a page you have any interest in when you’re 42. Similarly, a friend you were close with four years ago could have moved away and may no longer be in your tight social sphere.

Facebook whittles your news feed to reflect your changing preferences based on your actions in the form of Likes, Shares and Comments.

According to a February 2014 Pew Research Center report, half of all adult Facebook users have more than 200 friends in their network. Users who are 29 and younger have even more.

In addition, last year AllFacebook reported that the average user had liked 40 pages but that figure is higher for residents of the United States, where the average user likes an estimated 70 pages.

In light of these numbers, Facebook assumes that the average user doesn’t have sufficient time to review every post from every friend and author page they’ve liked in the past several years. So the network steps in and determines which friends you’d prefer to hear from, based on your most frequent interactions, and decides which of your own posts from your Facebook page will appear in your fans’ news feeds.

In other words, if all of your fans don’t engage with your page on a regular basis, fewer and fewer over time will see any of your carefully written Facebook posts.

Research Proves that Organic Reach on Facebook Is Plummeting

A March 2014 study from EdgeRank Checker, a news feed optimization service, determined that organic reach – penetration by your Facebook page’s status updates into your fans’ news feeds without support from advertising – has declined from 16% in February 2012 to a paltry 6.51% in March 2014.

It’s reported that Facebook uses as many as 100,000 different indicators to determine which of you page posts end up in your readers’ news feed. The criteria include:

  • The level of engagement on your page measured by Likes, Shares, and Comments
  • The history of engagement between your page and your fans
  • The history of engagement between your posts and your fans
  • Whether you post new information or recycle old material or frequently posted material that you didn’t create

Your posts not only have to successfully engage your audience, your Facebook page needs to have a history of being popular among your fans, and you need to focus on posting unique content.

Facebook Further Tweaks Its Algorithm

From its news center, Facebook notified users of still more changes to the news feed on April 10. These improvements are designed to reduce the stories that users identify as spam or prefer not to see.

The new update targets three categories:

  • Like-baiting or asking fans to like a post
  • Frequently posting the same type of content
  • Tricking fans to click a link by including misleading information in the post

Some authors are giving up on Facebook but that isn’t a reasonable move. Gigya, a Facebook Marketing Developer, recently issued a report indicating that in the first three months of 2014, 53 percent (51 percent in North America) of all social media logins occurred on Facebook.

According to Shareaholic, Facebook “is the supreme king of social referrals.” When you create posts that your fans adore, Facebook users reign at clicking on links, sharing content and sending referrals to your website or Amazon to purchase books.

If you have a Facebook page or if you’re planning to start one, you need to resign yourself to promoting your page using two strategies: consistently provide the type of content that resonates with your fans and allocate an advertising budget.

Organic vs. Paid Reach

Do what you can to increase organic reach. Post twice a day each weekday and once on Saturday and Sunday. In addition, keep your posts short – between 100 and 250 characters – vary your banner image (use Canva or PicMonkey to create new banners for your Timeline), and vary the content of your posts.

If you write Young Adult novels, recognize that 79% of all Millennials use social media. In addition, according to a new study reported on AllFacebook, Millennials embrace incentives and loyalty programs. So send a free eBook to your most loyal fans on occasion and offer incentives when running contests or surveying your fans for information.

The Problem with the Boost Post Option

If you decide to purchase Facebook advertising, try not to fall for that flirty button situated at the bottom right-hand corner of your status updates. The button, which says Boost Post, seems like a quick and easy way to spend your money on advertising, and that’s the problem with it.

Boosted posts seem innocuous. They are intended to increase engagement on your Facebook page by improving penetration of your fans’ news feeds. But if you’re going to spend money on advertising, you’ll want to make sure it’s reaching your target audience, a strategy you can’t achieve with a Boost Post ad. With a Boost Post ad, you’ll only be able to target your fans and friends of your fans.

Even worse, you can’t decide where your ad will be placed. As reported by TechCrunch, 78% of Facebook users access this network via a mobile device so it would make sense to have your ad appear on mobile news feeds. If you fall for the effortless Boost Post method, however, you will be stuck with your ad appearing strictly on desktop news feeds, reaching only 22% of Facebook’s users.

With an ad that you design, you can also establish age limits, and designate languages and countries you want to target.

Let’s say that I decide to use the Boost Post button. I am limited to the options of setting an age limit, stipulating a gender, and adding keywords. That’s it.

Facebook Ads Image 1

When I use Facebook’s ads manager, my options expand. I can now specify that I want my promoted post to appear in mobile news feeds.

Facebook Ads Image 2

I can also specify countries, demographics and digital spending habits.

Facebook Ads Image 3

How to Create Facebook Ads

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.

You can use two vehicles for creating an ad, Facebook’s Ad Manager or its Power Editor, which works best using the Google’s Chrome browser.

Let’s start with the Ad Manager. To create the ad:

  1. Navigate to www.facebook.com/advertising.
  2. Select “Create an Ad.” You can also access this feature from the arrow positioned at the top right-hand corner of your taskbar.

    Facebook Ads Image 4

  3. Decide what type of ad you want. The most used options are ads to promote a post (Promote Post Engagement), increase page Likes, or track website clicks or purchases on your website.

There is some debate about using ads to increase page Likes. Some experts believe that a better strategy to increase page Likes occurs by consistently creating great content and by driving readers to your Facebook page from your website, Twitter, and newsletters. You might want to experiment with those strategies to determine which approach works best for you.

Facebook Ads Image 5

Let’s assume you want to promote a post. Facebook will automatically suggest that you promote a post that has performed well but you can select any post you’d like.

In all your ads, you want to limit the exposure of the ad from between 1,000 and 10,000 people. If your audience is too broad, you could end up with an audience of millions, thereby reducing the impact of your ad budget and exhausting your budget quickly on a poorly defined audience. The ad I’ve created should reach 6,600 people.

To better target my ad, I limited the age range to that of my clients and I added digital activities because people who purchase my books typically have some online experience and are accustomed to making online purchases.

When I began the promotion of the Kindle version of my book Social Media Just for Writers, I didn’t post the reduced price on any promotional websites. I simply used social media and Facebook advertising.

The graph below indicates that when promotion of the reduced price began, sales surged as my social media marketing program began. Then sales plunged until the Facebook ad began, when sales rose again. When the first ad ended, sales dropped but the second ad increased sales again. Sales dipped again and then rose slightly on the last day of the ad, April 30, and then returned to my pre-advertising sales level.

Facebook Ads Image 6

Facebook’s Power Editor

Facebook’s Power Editor is touted as the best method for creating ads due to its expanded features. You’ll have access to Axciom, Datalogix and Epsilon, three data-mining companies that collect information on Facebook users’ histories and lifestyles, including household size, whether the user has purchased a home and other factors.

You will also have the option to create LookAlike Audiences by uploading email addresses from your MailChimp account or an Excel spreadsheet you create so that Facebook can create an audience similar to your regular readers. There are other benefits as well but it would take an entire blog post to explain all of them. The PowerEditor feature is complicated but its expanded features are designed to help you reach the exact audience you want to target.

Facebook Insights

What if you aren’t in a position to allocate funds to an advertising budget? I suggest you study Insights, Facebook’s free analytics program that becomes available once a page garners 35 Likes.

When I look at Insights on my page, I notice posts that ask questions and include fun quotes or comical images such as a Somee card always outperform status updates that are more serious in nature.

In fact, despite what Facebook says about giving greater weight to status updates that lead to valuable content, I’ve found that posts with very few words and posts that include images that have a comic bent about the writing process always outrank posts that include a link to meaningful content, even a status update sharing information on Jane Friedman’s blog.

My experience isn’t definitive but it does point to the importance of checking Insights at least weekly to replicate the posts that trigger the most engagement. It’s important to try to hold on to the fans you have and provide the type of content they want to read.

A former Yahoo executive recently told me that marketing is about entertainment and I think that’s particularly true on Facebook. I’m not giving up on status updates leading to stellar content, however, I am mindful about balancing those meaningful morning posts with lighter fare in the afternoons. I add advertising to the mix when I want to introduce a new book or notify my fans about price reductions.

How do you stimulate engagement on your Facebook page?

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. ferris robinson

    Frances, this is so helpful! Trying to figure out Facebook ads to help market my novel, and your info and resources here are invaluable. Thank you!

    • Frances Caballo

      Ferris: I’m so glad that you found my post helpful. Good luck with your Facebook ad campaign.

  2. EM Lynley

    This is a great set of basic information. I’ve tried Facebook ads and have had reasonable success. WHat I have had trouble with is trying to use a cover image on the ad. They get rejected for having too much text. Even if it’s only 3 or 4 words (title and author name) they cover too much territory and get rejected.

    Have you got any advice on that problem?
    Or how about some advice on what kind of copy to use?

    • Frances Caballo

      Em, the text in the image you select for your ad can only take up 20% of the image. Here is a link to the full explanation. https://www.facebook.com/help/468870969814641 It also contains a link to a test grid where you can upload your images to see whether your images meet the qualifications.

      In terms of what copy to use, it’s difficult for me to suggest language for you. It’s best to turn to advertising when you have an objective, such as increase book sales. I tend to write a post with the intent to use it later in my advertising and then pull up that text when I promote a post.

      I hope this helps!

      • Funny about Money

        I fail to understand something here: how do you advertise a book when you can’t post the cover in the ad????

        To avoid having to spend money on a system that I don’t fully understand and don’t want to devote the time to figuring out, I hired an ad manager. When we ran the Kindle cover of a book we want to advertise through Facebook’s grid to determine whether the cover lines occupy more than 20% of the image, just the byline, the title, and the subtitle ALONE came to 24%. These amount to all of 11 words!

        So am I supposed to post the cover art without the cover lines? What good is that going to do? What is a potential reader to make of an image of a book cover without the title? I could see dropping the author’s name (“see” does not mean “like” or “think it makes sense”), but no title?????

        The only thing I can figure is that people must be using ads that do not include their book’s cover (????) or else they must be creating special images that reduce the cover lines’ size to nearly microscopic levels. The type size on a Kindle cover — or a full wrap-around cover for print — is selected SO THAT a reader can see it at a glance. If the type is tiny…what’s the point of posting that?

        • Frances Caballo

          Facebook makes an exception on the 20% rule for book covers. So no need to worry. Your Facebook manager probably knows this as well. Good luck!

        • Frances Caballo

          Facebook has discarded its 20% rule so you can now use your book cover in your Facebook advertising.

    • Frances Caballo

      Facebook recently did away with its 20% rule (that an image couldn’t have more than 20% of text on it). So you no longer need to worry about your book cover getting rejected. (Theoretically, Facebook said it wouldn’t reject book covers before this change but I found it practice inconsistent with its policy. But no you needn’t worry.) Good luck! If you need more help with your ads, Jon Loomer’s blog is a great resource and Andrea Vahl and Mark Dawson both offer quality courses on Facebook advertising.

      • Funny about Money

        That’s nice. I tried a FB ad campaign, run by a professional marketer. The results were exactly nil: we sold nothing. I did much better with an Amazon count-down sale. So, no. I wouldn’t waste my money on FB ads again, whether or not they let me run an image of my book’s cover.

  3. Kelly Martin

    Regarding advertising on Facebook, I would not bother whatsoever. Have you watched the you tube videos on guys who have tested out paid reach and where advertising goes to? I was quite shocked to see how FB is hoodwinking people into paying. I watched the videos on this post https://www.booooooom.com/2014/02/25/end-facebook/ and would not pay for anything on Facebook now. I reach less than 1% of my followers now and having more likes is not worth anything. I am keeping my page open as a face, but that is it for now and concentrating on Google+ and twitter and also Pinterest.

  4. Kellie Merriman

    I was wondering, Ernie, as you have sold so many books and say there is 100 other ways of selling books other than via Facebook, if you would like to elaborate on that statement?

    • Paula Cappa

      Good question, Kellie. I see Ernie’s books are nonfiction. I’m a fiction author and this is a whole different selling game than nonfiction books. I’m still curious as to Ernie’s suggestions.

  5. Vincent C. Martinez

    I’ve only started promoting my own books and was in desperate need for reviewers (still am), and some of the folks who’d promised to review them still haven’t. My official Facebook page only had about 35 “likes,” and I wanted to expand my reach as quickly as possible, so I took a chance on promoting my page through Facebook ads. I chipped in about $50 from my very limited budget to see how it would go. After about a week, my list grew to about 240 likes, and I decided to to have a one-day book giveaway experiment on Amazon, asking folks on my FB page to write up nice, honest reviews if they liked my works.

    I got about 200 downloads on that day. Not great by any means, but I think without those “likes” I wouldn’t have even had anywhere near that many downloads.

    Now, I’m still not going to call it a success since no new reviews or sales have kicked up (it’s only been a day since the giveaway), but in a limited way it did help my outreach. Whether or not I’d do it again depends on any new reviews I get on Amazon.

    I’m a shy person by nature, and it’s tough for folks like me to go out and promote themselves, so the FB ad route provided a quick and easy solution for the meantime. Whether it will have any long-lasting benefit is anyone’s guess.

    • Frances Caballo

      Vincent: Thank you for sharing your experience. I think what you did was successful. I’ll be interested in learning the results if you try that strategy again in the future.

      • Frances Caballo

        You can promote anything with a Facebook ad: your books, your blog posts, services you provide, etc.

  6. Paula Cappa

    Anthony, I too wonder how well writers are selling books via Facebook through ads or even just book posts on various genre groups. One thing I will say for FB is that the genre groups do connect you to industry professionals, authors, reviewers, and editors. In that sense the exposure is helpful and as we all know networking your author platform is part of the process in establishing and selling your book. So, there is a value there but book sales depend on reaching readers. My question is, what is the percentage of readers vs authors on Facebook? How many readers shop for books on Facebook group pages? Nobody knows this answer … yet.

  7. Anthony Chapman

    I’ve recently quit Facebook after nothing but frustration, and after seeing a video about click-farms. I had paid for ads on Facebook with no worthwhile result – no books sold, a small number of likes on my page, but no engagement. I tried posting free book promotions to groups, and had the same number of downloads as when I’d promoted withiut any kind of advertising, free or otherwise. Now I wonder how many indie writes are doing well out of Facebook, and how many are lying about it to make their book seem more popular than it is.

  8. Deb

    Thanks for the information. I need all the FACEBOOK help that I can get!

    • Frances Caballo

      Deb: I’m so glad you found the information useful!

  9. Christine Leov Lealand

    If you were a fiction rather than non-fiction writer this would be more helpful to many of us – me included. As it is you have a small frequently tech-literate market – writers and authors as the market for your featured FB marketed book.
    I don’t buy into FB and I don’t want to be part of their advertising and copyright empire.
    I particularly don’t want to post parts of my novels there as FB following it’s terms of service will then ‘own’ those things I post to my timeline – including my book cover images. I guess no one has had much of a face-off over written content being possessed by FB but I’m sure the day is coming.
    There isn’t enough time to write, run a business and do FB statuses every day, blog and tweet – to name a few things to be done by a self published author.
    Like others – I dislike advertising in my time line and would LOVE a ‘dislike’ or ‘disappear now’ button.
    As soon as FB makes my friends posts invisible to me I will no longer be on FB.

    • Frances Caballo

      Christine: A lot of people share your frustration with Facebook!

  10. Kay Kendall

    Lots of good food for thought here. I will reread and adjust my FB habits. Since I didn’t know how to do a great FB ad, I’ve been using the easy little button. NO MORE, thanks to you! Appreciate your posting this.

    • Frances Caballo

      Kay: I’m so glad you liked this post. Yes, in the past I’d fallen for that flirty button as well!

  11. Linda Austin

    Excellent article which I have shared around, partly because I’ve been seeing threads in various groups lately asking this very question. Like Jason, I think groups are great for networking and gaining audience, but as for using personal profiles for business – no, since family/friends are a very different audience than business acquaintances and constantly fixing which lists can see your posts would be tedious. Since I have a page, I don’t know much about author profiles but am beginning to think those are better than pages. Not sure if you can buy an ad if you have that kind of entity or if FB does the same sort of algorithm gaming on those, too. Any insight on author profiles vs pages?

    • Frances Caballo

      Linda: Unfortunately, you can’t purchase a Facebook ad through your profile. You can only purchase advertising if you have a page. I find myself telling writers that Facebook pages are difficult. When you have a page, you can’t simply ask other users on Facebook to like your page; you need to generate your page likes from outside of Facebook via your Twitter account, newsletter program, and icon on your author website.

      I think that Facebook profiles are a great way to regularly connect with friends, colleagues and even readers. What I need to remember is that I need to be more personable on my page. I know that the more personal I am on my profile, the more engagement I generate.

      As to Facebook’s algorithm on profiles, whether or not you see all of your friends’ posts in the future depends on how frequently you liked, shared or left a comment on their posts yesterday. Facebook assumes that if you aren’t liking, sharing and commenting on certain friends’ posts, then you probably won’t care to hear from them in the future. I find this quite frustrating.

      Let me know if you have additional questions!

  12. Paula Cappa

    Great post. Every author should read it who uses Facebook. I don’t do much advertising on social media. I do hear from many authors that most social media ads are a disappointment. This is slightly off topic: I post mostly on the Facebook genre groups (horror and gothic) and readers’ groups (ex. Hungry Bookworms). From an author’s perspective, posting your book on an FB reader’s group such as Amazon Book Club, you’d think you are reaching lots of readers. But that group just did a poll of their members (over 13,000) and 488 identified themselves as authors and 88 were readers. Pretty small percentage of readers vs authors. I’d be interested, Frances, if you had any insights or advice about posting on Facebook reader or genre groups.

    • Frances Caballo

      Paula: I wish I had information about Facebook reader and genre groups but I don’t. Perhaps someone else will leave a comment here — perhaps Jason Matthews — and fill us in. I’m glad you liked the post, Paula!

  13. Jason Matthews

    Great post, Frances. I’ve been asked to like someone’s Facebook page every day for about a year now and find it annoying. Even for my own projects, I’ve found Like pages to be complete duds with no regular activity aside from my own input. However, Group pages and regular old personal profile pages can be very effective for networking, sharing and receiving input from others. It’s better to be social than to be pitching, and Like pages come across as salesy, just my opinion.

    • Frances Caballo

      Jason: I think that Facebook pages, if done correctly, needn’t come off as a constant drone of sales pitches. In fact, they shouldn’t be used merely to pitch one’s books or workshops. I know that I go back and forth: There are definitely days when I prefer the intimacy of my Facebook profile. You raise an excellent point about Facebook groups. They are a perfect vehicle to connect socially with like-minded individuals in a professional online venue. Thanks for mentioning them!

  14. A Laramey

    Thanks for this post, I find it extremely helpful! I was completely unaware of the differences between a regular facebook ad and the “boost post” function.

    • Frances Caballo

      A Laramey: I’m so glad you found this post useful! Thanks for leaving a comment.

  15. Ernie Zelinski

    You ask:

    “How do you stimulate engagement on your Facebook page?”

    Actually, I don’t use my Facebook page for the main intention of increasing the sales of my books. There are at least 100 other much more effective ways that I can think of for marketing my books. Indeed, I can avoid Facebook altogether and have the sales of certain of my books outdo the sales of 99 percent of the books published today.

    I am going to prove it by bringing out one or two or three new titles and creating at least 100,000 copies sold in print for each of the titles (not including ebook sales). I will be discussing this with my American distributor National Book Network when I met with them at Book Expo in New York from May 29 to May 31.

    Incidentally, I have three books each with over 100,000 copies sold in print alone and several more each with over 40,000 copies sold in print. My mainly self-published books have sold over 800,000 copies worldwide.

    I find Facebook a valuable place for testing a passage or two from upcoming books. Here is one from one of my future books that I will publish (only 500 print copies in a special edition — not for profit but for the sole purpose of giving away to special people in my life):

    “It seems easier to live the comfortable
    and conventional, to fit in with the majority.
    It’s when you live the uncomfortable and
    unconventional, however, that you make the
    most of your talents, your creativity, and your actions.
    That is also when your life starts being fun,
    satisfying, and meaningful.”
    — from “Life’s Secret Handbook

    Even so, I know that I can’t overdo this testing. So, Facebook for me, ultimately, is a place have fun and post ridiculous, fun content that brings joy to people’s lives.

    For the record, I don’t buy any ads on Facebook. One of the reasons is that I am repulsed by any ads that appear in my timeline. The more ads that Facebook places on my timeline, the less I use Facebook. What’s more, I am even more turned off by people, more so than Facebook, who have managed to get their “Sponsored” content on my timeline, particularly those self-proclaimed “bestselling book experts”, whose books have sold fewer that 1,000 copies. What a fraud those people are! And there are many.

    Yes, the Yahoo marketing executive was right in saying, “Marketing is about entertainment.” That is so true. But again, there are at least 100 ways to do this without having to use Facebook.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)



  1. Indie Author Marketing Guide: Facebook - […] that in mind, you should create Facebook ads, and not simply boost popular posts, according to The Book Designer.…
  2. Novel Marketing through Social Media – Peter J Story - […] Of course, on Facebook’s end, this adjustment to the page view algorithm appears to be a direct result of…
  3. Novel Marketing through Social Media 2 – Peter J Story - […] Of course, on Facebook’s end, this adjustment to the page view algorithm appears to be a direct result of…
  4. Why a Facebook Page Won't Be Part of My Marketing Plan « Beth Jusino Beth Jusino - […] From The Book Designer blog: […]
  5. Facebook Ads: Should Indie Authors Buy Them? | ... - […] Facebook Ads: Should Indie Authors Buy Them? by Frances Caballo explains the recent changes to your Facebook news feed…
  6. Monday Must-Reads [05/19/14] - […] Facebook Ads: Should Indie Authors Buy Them? by Frances Caballo — The Book Designer […]
  7. Wordslingr | News for Writers for 05/14/2014 - […] Facebook Ads: Should Indie Authors Buy Them? — Frances Caballo explains the recent changes to your Facebook news feed…
  8. Facebook Ads: Should Indie Authors Buy Them? by... - […] Facebook Ads: Should Indie Authors Buy Them? by Frances Caballo explains the recent changes to your Facebook news feed…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *