Would a world with no advertising be better for authors?

facebook-ads Apr 30, 2019

Grab a cup of tea and a comfy chair, because we’re going to talk about Facebook ads.

And social media in general.

Every so often a new social media site will pop up.

Actually they pop up way more often than that, but only a few get enough support to breach the collective consciousness. They have a great new format for their posts, they offer cute filters, or they focus on a certain niche. Whatever the reason, suddenly everyone is talking about it. This is totally natural and fun.

There’s a gloss to things that are new, which is one of the reasons I love book launches. The marketing I do during this short time period is almost always more effective than that same marketing at any other time before or after the fact.

So we get excited about new social media sites, but inevitably there are the comments, the excitement, the relief from authors that this new social media site DOES NOT HAVE ADS.

Which unfortunately highlights a couple problems…

  1. A misunderstanding of what social media companies do
  2. And a combative relationship with one of the best ways an author can get the word out about their books, encompassing both ads and the social media sites themselves

It would be like watching a rash of handymen waxing rhapsodic about a New Hammer™ because thank God, really, they absolutely despise all existing hammers, it’s the worst part of the job, and best of all the New Hammer™ will not ever smash your thumb. Except that it will. Smashing things, and occasionally thumbs, is the nature of hammers.

The most valuable things grocery stores have are groceries to sell. The most valuable thing a private college has is courses to teach. And the most valuable thing that a social media company has is a rectangle of screen space in front of a person, where they know lots of things this person likes…

AKA highly targeted ad space.

A billboard ad is also targeted ad space, to a certain degree. In Times Square they know the person likes city living and probably shiny and trendy things, which is why you see ads for Abercrombie and iPhones. In Texas Hill Country they know the person is probably driving between cities and has to pee, which is why you see ads for gas stations. But it’s not highlytargeted. They don’t know that I love to read books by Tessa Bailey and that I’ll buy anything if I think my dogs will like it.

Social media sites know those things, which is why those ads can be highly targeted.

It’s also what makes those ads so freaking valuable to authors. Because you and I, we don’t have huge amounts of money to spend on a billboard ad, not anywhere, not when only the tiniest fraction of those readers are even our customer base. But we can spend a few dollars on a highly targeted ad to fans of Sylvia Day.

When you’re setting up a social media company, there are only two places to get money from. Consumers and businesses. And why would the consumer pay money to keep in contact with her aunt across the country when there are a hundred sites that let her do it for free? Those places exist, but only rarely. Ancestry.com is one example. Other communication services that let you upgrade for an ad-free experience, such as Google Apps and Skype, are similar. Though even these places usually have a free option, because it’s pretty much required to reach any kind of critical mass of users.

Someone says, this new social media site doesn’t have ads!

And then I have to scrunch my nose, because of course it will eventually have ads.

Either that or it will eventually take money from the consumer. These are not nonprofits, these are companies for profit, which is a good thing. I would much rather nonprofits focus on providing clean water to people who need it, not giving free advertising for my books.

My background is in computer science, including a brief stint in the Silicon Valley Web 2.0 land. I don’t agree with everything Facebook does. But my personal wish list for changes is tempered by what’s best for the company, what’s best for their stockholders, and what’s best for their regular non-business consumers.

So I can say, I wish their ad policies were more clear. That’s something that could help me, a business user, and could also help Facebook as a company.

But I wouldn’t say, how dare they charge businesses money to sell their products! Their developers should work for free! Because that wouldn’t make sense for anyone.

Or there was the case of a site that came out recently where every author had to pay.

In the Facebook model, you can post for free—and when you do pay the amount is commensurate with the additional views you get. In this site’s model you pay a static amount to post anything at all. Which is fine. But to say such a site has no ads is a fundamental misunderstanding, because in fact every single post is an ad.

The bigger question, though, is why having no ads would even be a selling point for an author.

Ads are optional. They are so very optional.

You can post on almost ALL social media sites for free. That doesn’t guarantee you followers or fans or even views for those posts. You can post, though, and across the board with social media sites, the more compelling your posts, the more they are seen.

There are people out there who say things like, you must be running Facebook ads as an author.I’m not saying they’re wrong, either, because the context in which they’re saying this is usually in response to a thousand and one authors bemoaning the state of their sales. Saying that things are worse than ever. Saying that they will have to stop writing and find a desk job if things don’t improve. In the context of trying to help authors sell more books, then Facebook ads are important.

But you don’t have to use Facebook ads, not really.

You don’t have to sell more books. Not really.

Sometimes I’ll talk to authors, even ones who seek out my advice about ads, who have such a deeply contentious view of Facebook ads that it would be counterproductive for them to use them. Not only would they hate the experience of trying, but they would inherently be less effective.

Someone who hates Facebook ads is unlikely to be a consumer of them, to be a student of them, to read and study and experiment with them so they can create the best ads for their books.

Someone who hates selling books is likely to create ads that do anything but that, such as driving people to their reader groups or their ARC teams or giveaways focused on existing readers—things that don’t actually have much appeal to brand new readers who’ve never heard of that author before. Readers actually LOVE discovering great books to get excited about. Don’t you?

Someone who hates money, maybe because having it makes them anxious, or maybe because earning it feels icky, will spend their subconscious energy making sure they don’t get any. Some authors have connected the idea of writing good books with making very little money, so how will they let themselves make any? They won’t, even though the fundamental idea of marketing is about selling more of the same books you’re already writing. Even though a stable income is important so that you can write even more books.

And so the whole thing will be labeled A BUST, because a contentious relationship with your hammer will always end badly.

Facebook ads are a tool. An optional one. A profitable one? Yes. One with insight into your reader’s minds that allows you develop better covers and blurbs and packaging? Also yes.

I’m going to dig into making effective Facebook ads soon, but let’s start here:
You control your book sales. Your book sales don’t control you.

That means it’s completely your choice whether you run ads or not. It’s completely your choice whether you do any form of marketing or not. That’s the thing about being in control—it’s actually more scary than throwing up our hands and bemoaning the state of our industry. I get it. I’m shaking in my boots, almost literally. I have imposter syndrome, for serious. Even while seeing first-hand what is possible, while selling more books than ever using these tools, I’m feeling the same damn fear.

And that means the hardest work we have to do is in our heads.

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