There once was a florist.
She went to coffee shops and asked permission to place arrangements on the tables along with a stack of her business cards. The shop got the benefit of ambiance they could not otherwise afford.
The florist got new customers.
Here’s the cool part: she went back to the shops at the end of the week and looked at how many business cards remained. If most of the cards were gone, then she knew the flowers were doing their job and she would continue doing it, week after week.
If most of the cards were still there, she wouldn’t continue creating free floral arrangements for them. Instead she would find a new shop and ask permission to place arrangements there.
We are a community of entrepreneurs, of girl bosses and goal diggers. We place a lot of stock in hard work. In hustle. It would be easy to say—she succeeded because she hustled.
That would overlook a lot of what makes this story great.
Namely, the analysis she did throughout. The course correction.
That’s what made sure her time and money weren’t going to waste. That’s what makes this strategy ongoing, something she can continue throughout the shops in the city and then start over again.
A customer only picks up a business card if they love the arrangements and don’t know the florist. If I discover the florist on week one and become a lifelong customer, I don’t continue to pick up a business card every week. The strategy is designed to not only find people who love her work, but NEW people who love her work, with a clear plan B if that’s not happening.
I hear from authors who say, I’m not a numbers person. I can’t do math.
Each and every one of them can look at a stack of business cards and see whether it’s big or small. This isn’t calculus—and thank God, right?
Did you give away more business cards or less?
Did you sell more books or less?
And then taking that information and acting on it.
That’s the trick to this whole marketing thing. That’s the secret sauce.
Looking at the numbers, the black-and-white numbers, the stack of business cards, and then changing what you do based on what it says.
Simple, simple, simple, and somehow harder than actual calculus. Because of inertia. Because of self-imposed limitations. Because of fear.
* * *
One question I get a lot is: who can I hire to do my Facebook ads?
This is really the most reasonable question in the history of reasonableness.
I’m honest about how Facebook ads have changed my business for the better—so you are convinced that they are worth trying. But you aren’t a Facebook advertising guru. Who has the time?
You pay a cover designer because they know graphic design better than you. You pay a formatter because they know markup language and file formats and typography better than you.
It’s both a question of expertise and time. So often I hear that authors do their own formatting “to save time” but then don’t use retailer specific links or update their backmatter because it takes too long. *head desk*
So why do I recommend that authors do their own Facebook ads?
Because the hardest things to learn, the most essential part of doing Facebook ads well, are things that it would take hours upon hours to teach. Weeks, months. They’re things we’ve learned over years.
There are a hundred different ways to write the blurb.
There are a thousand possible taglines. Only you have both the deep understand of your book and the romance genre to come up with them.
It would be like the florist hiring someone on Craigslist who would not only approach local businesses directly but also create the arrangements that appear there. It would misrepresent what the florist offers and probably not result in many sales.
There’s no point in “saving time” if it ends up costing thousands of dollars in lost sales.
* * *
The first series that I ran ads for was my Stripped series, which was my frontlist at the time, where I invested lots of money into the branding and other forms of marketing. My ROI with Facebook ads was 150% on a good day. If you’ve never had a machine that can take $10 and turn it into $15 dollars, and I had never had one before, finding one is incredible.
At the same time I re-released a backlist series Chicago Underground using a totally different packaging and branding. My ROI on that series was easily double. Often triple. Sometimes quadruple.
When an author says, I tried running ads and it didn’t work, there are a thousand possible reasons why. One of the more common ones is this: the conversion on the sales page is low, low, low.
It’s not very hard to send a targeted romance reader to your Amazon page. Give me a few bucks and the vaguest description of your book, and I can get you ten cents a click.
Is that person going to buy your book? What if they don’t?
It would be easy, especially if someone don’t have many author friends running ads, to assume that hey, maybe Facebook ads clickers just don’t buy books. Maybe they don’t buy her kind of book. Maybe her books are too smart for Facebook ads clickers. (I’ve actually heard that one…)
Occam’s razor is that the simplest answer is often the correct one.
The simplest reason why someone gets to the Amazon page but doesn’t buy your book is that it doesn’t look that interesting. That doesn’t mean it’s not actually interesting. Your prose, your story, in the middle, might be amazing. In fact I write these posts based on the assumption that your book is amazing, which is why I don’t talk about craft.
If you’re sending targeted, proven, active readers to the page, and they aren’t buying?
There’s something wrong with the packaging.
Now let’s say you’re a florist, and you read that story in Entrepreneur magazine like I did, and you think hey, that strategy sounds pretty great. So you load yourself up with business cards and bouquets and hit the local businesses. At the end of a week, two weeks, almost no business cards have been taken.
No new customers have been found.
Are your ideal customers too smart to enjoy fresh flowers and business cards?
(That doesn’t many any sense in this context either.)
You could try new shops, but if the strategy isn’t working for you across the board, if people aren’t picking up business cards from any shop, maybe the problem… is you *cues Bad at Love by Halsey*
Try new types of floral arrangements. Try new business cards. Add a limited time offer, a discount, a tried and true marketing strategy, and see if that helps.
If that sounds like work, good. It is work.
The work of Facebook ads isn’t performing complex calculus or generating fractals. It’s simply trying new things using your understanding of your book and the genre, until it’s profitable.
Every single one of us writes the best blurb that we can. We tinker and tinker. We ask our author friends for help. How do you know it’s good enough? It’s hard to tell the answer to that. Between the book cover and release blitzes and Facebook parties and paid ads and reader excitement, there are so many factors that determine a book’s sales.
With Facebok ads, you can finally figure out the answer.
You can run the same image and the same targets with different copy and determine which one actually produces more clicks. Which one’s actually more compelling to readers. Which pile of business cards is smaller at the end of the day.
* * *
The romance genre is a pretty big place. There are author-oriented businesses that help us do things, including writing blurbs, including PR, that understand these readers. Isn’t it possible that there’s an ad agency that can understand them, too?
The way that someone becomes good at creating ads is by running them—a lot of them. Which means that the population of people good at creating ads for romance books is primarily made of romance authors.
I’ll use myself as an example, since I could hang a shingle to create Facebook ads for other author's books. Let’s say I can pretty reliably produce double return on investment. For every $10 I put in I can make $20 in royalties, while spending an average of 10 minutes a day on the ad campaign.
Now you come along and say, here’s $100, do this for my books, please.
How much should you pay me?
If I spend 10 minutes a day on my own books, I can put in $100 and get $200 back. If I spend that 10 minutes a day on your books, I can put in $100 and get $200 back, which then gets split between us. Even if you paid me half of the profit, which most people would consider a very high percentage, I would still be making less money.
That’s why it almost never makes sense for an author who’s successful at ads for their own books to do consulting for other authors. Their time is better spent on their own books.
But wait, there’s more.
It takes me only 10 minutes a day to work on my own ads. It will take far longer to work on yours. I have to consult with you to begin with, like any freelancer, to convince you I know what I’m doing and learn about your book and sub genre. Then I might have to show you the ads and potentially debate the merits of them with you.
Then I have to send you updates and reports.
That’s not all, she says in infomercial announcer style.
If I determine that a blurb isn’t that effective, numbers prove that other copy sells better, I make the change in my own books. That increases the conversion of both Facebook ads and all other marketing. If I determine that a book cover image isn’t that effective, data proves another image works better, I make the change to my own book cover, increasing the conversion across the board.
If my sell through to other books is low, I tweak the back matter.
This author only hired me to run Facebook ads. They’re probably not going to be that receptive to me trying to convince them to change their blurb, their cover, their backmatter. Even things like pricing, like packaging of books into parts or boxed sets, which books to advertise. All of that plays a role in the return on investment of Facebook ads.
Convincing the author to change things is going to take even more time.
And then, most likely, the author will say no.
Because we have convinced ourselves that our packaging works, even when sales are dropping. I see it every single day in author groups. It’s Amazon. It’s Facebook. It’s book pirates. It’s other authors. It’s someone’s fault, but not mine. Not anything I could change.
This packaging worked with my very best superfans, so it must work for everyone. It worked in the past, so it must work now.
So the author says no, and the Facebook ads consultant has to churn harder for no reason. They may not even be able to make the current packaging profitable.
All for less money, a fraction of the profit, that they could make running ads to their own books. So you see why the cups don’t runneth over with super effective, experienced advertising professionals. And why, even if they did, they would cost far more than would make sense for you to pay.
There are exceptions. Very few exceptions.
The author who has a massive backlist of books that already sell great, with strong proven sell through over time and volume, who could probably sell even more with Facebook ads. That author could benefit from doing some of their own ads—even small improvements to conversion and sell through spread through a large backlist is a sizable amount of money.
Or they could hire someone. That’s where it gets trickier.
Who is great at Facebook ads for books but is willing to take less money than they could make selling their own books? An author who’s managed to get great at Facebook ads with a small backlist and who, for whatever reason, isn’t writing anymore. Someone who loves books and romance and writing but who actively loves ad management most.
But if their goal is to write again, consulting can be a distraction.
Previously I've talked about shower time and how I guard it—if you’re creating ads for five clients, including studying their books and the market, including communicating with them, it’s going to use your brain’s quiet cycles. They’re going to steal your epiphanies.
It’s an opportunity cost beyond even a high hourly rate.
So now we need someone who loves books and romance, who wrote a few books and managed to learn Facebook ads well, but who isn’t writing now and has no plans to write again, but instead wants to make Facebook ads for other authors their career. We get it, the pool is small.
It doesn’t even matter, though.
Because you can hustle like the florist. You can see which stack of business cards is smaller. And what’s more—what you learn from that experience will inform every aspect of your business.
That’s what Facebook ads is about.
It really is that simple—which is why paying someone to do the ads for you, even if you could find someone, is mostly not a well-reasoned decision to delegate. It’s actually just old-fashioned avoidance. There, I said it. It’s a little controversial. Sorry. (Not that sorry.)
I’m the queen of avoidance, so I know it when I see it.
It’s tough love time.
If an author would rather do what feels safe and comfortable, if she’d rather do that as sales fall, if she'd rather do that even if she has to go back to a day job she hates, if she’d rather blame Goodreads and whatever else, then it will be far easier to pay someone. Pay someone to do the ads, and then if it doesn’t work, blame them.
But if the author wants to know, really know, which cover will sell more books, then she will find out. If she wants to know what copy is more clicky, the answers are right there.
Which stack of business cards is lower? That's the math required to do Facebook ads. If an author refuses to look then it has nothing to do with ability. It's a choice.
* * *
In the original Star Trek, Bones is known for saying, Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a [insert something that’s not a doctor here.] That’s what I hear from authors a lot of times.
Damn it, Skye, I’m a writer, not a Facebook ads professional!
You are not only a writer.
If you self publish you decide your covers and your blurb and your release schedule. You decide what promo to do. You decide a thousand and one non-writing things for your business, so there’s no reason to be missish about Facebook ads.
You're an entrepreneur.
And I mean this even if you are traditionally published.
You decide what books to write and which publishers will distribute them. You decide whether to sell your audio and foreign rights in a lump or whether to shop them separately. You invest some of your royalties into marketing—whether that’s paid advertising or attending a book convention or mailing book plates.
You retain the copyrights to your books.
Your pen name is a marketing shingle owned by your business.
There are almost no ways that you could write romance novels professionally and not be an entrepreneur, but if so it would involve ghost writing under a name you don’t own.
You are already the CEO, already making decisions that have a major impact on your company’s bottom line. All I’m saying is, be involved with what is the most effective tool for selling books that I’ve personally ever seen.
If you ever do anything at all in your business other than write, then you’re marketing. If you’re on social media, you’re marketing. If you send a newsletter, you’re marketing. If you tell anyone, in any way, that you have a book for sale, you’re marketing.
If you cough—marketing. Okay, maybe not that last one.
We are a community of entrepreneurs, of girl bosses and goal diggers. We place a lot of stock in hard work. In hustle. In a thousand different ways, you're already making bouquets and sending them out.
So, keep an eye on the stacks of business cards while you do it.