Should Self-Published Authors Pay For Advertising?

The other day I happened across a post from an author who had spent several hundred dollars in a single month on Facebook ads to help sell his books. I wanted to stick a pen in my eyeball.

I’m probably going to take a bit of crap for this post, but what the heck. Listen, there are some folks who are experts who can pull a rabbit out of the hat with targeted marketing using Facebook ads and other types of advertising. I’ve also seen some strategies like Jeff Bennington came up with that look pretty slick and, at least in his case, have certainly worked. However, as a general rule, most paid advertising campaigns don’t bring a good return on investment. Or, put it another way, you can promote your book more effectively through social media – for free.

The hundreds of dollars you can sink into Facebook ads or Google Adwords – and yes, I’ve slit my wrists and bled money out on both of those, and others – simply aren’t going to translate into enough book sales to make them worthwhile. Buying banner ads and spots on various web sites is popular, but because it’s popular, it’s getting more expensive on a lot of sites. In some cases, I saw price tags of several hundred dollars. You might experience a spike in sales while the ad is running, or you might not. But then your gig is up unless you cough up more money. Did you really make enough sales from that ad to justify the cost?

“But hey, I did better than break even!” You glare at me indignantly. I get that a lot.

Listen, if your writing is your business (and if you’re spending hundreds of bucks on advertising, you’re definitely in a business!), breaking even shouldn’t be in your vocabulary. You should be out to build up a big readership base, have one or two loss leaders (books that sell at a steep discount or are given away), and maximize your profit margin on everything else. If you’re doing this for a living, you don’t have time or money for things that only provide marginal returns on investment. Books from indie authors aren’t sold with Facebook ads or Google Adwords, they’re sold by word of mouth, either yours or your readers. Ads can sometimes help, but unless you really know what you’re doing and have money to burn, I advise caution.

Instead, consider spending your buckazoids on social media tools like Tweet Adder that keep on giving, helping you build a community of interest on Twitter. Or spend it on classes or books to get an education how to use social media effectively. Heck, spend it on cover art or editing.

Just my two cents.

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11 thoughts on “Should Self-Published Authors Pay For Advertising?

  • Berkshier

    Excellent post! Word-of-mouth is the ONLY truly effective tool for selling books. Everything else is either extraneous or simply doesn’t provide the return one would hope for.

  • Miracle

    I agree mostly with your post. Do not buy Facebook ads to sell your book. This is a wasted effort with very little return.

    On the other hand, spending .80 to a click to get a Facebook like to your fan page is an excellent return. You buy the opportunity to offer your books to them repeatedly and also promote anything that you support. In addition, whenever these people like or share a picture or post on your wall, it increases the chances of growing your readership. There are still limitations to the Facebook pages but I see plenty room for opportunity in the coming years.

    I use this method for my own printing business and it greatly increased my profits and promotional efforts as opposed to advertising straight to the website.

  • Rob Cornell

    %100 agree. It’s hard enough to get the free social media stuff to be worth the time investment. Throwing cash away on paid ads makes me queasy.

    I’ll also second investing in Tweet Adder. It’s helped me build up some readers (though I’ve sort of stagnated there, too.) Any chance we’ll see more posts on using Tweet Adder for marketing?

  • Lori Brighton

    As Justin Bieber says, never say never. But at this point in my career I’m with you. I had two books come out with Kensington and everyone (editors/agents and mostly other authors) told me I HAD to do ads since Kensington (and most NY publishers) don’t. So I did. With my pathetic advance, I promoted where I could and basically spent all my money. Since I started self publishing and actually *gasp* making money, I swore to never spend that much again. I’ve bought some pens with my name on them, spent a little to be in a calendar just recently, but that’s where I draw the line. I’m here to make money.

    I know some people swear by promoting and say you have to spend money to make money. In my instance, it’s never worked. Frankly, I like actually making a (small) living out of writing and I don’t want to give it up. So at this point I feel like I’m doing fine. Let’s face it, it’s a gamble and I’m not going to gamble my money away anymore. And honestly, I’ve seen people sell more by being friendly and outgoing on facebook and twitter than by buying ads.

  • Claude Nougat

    Totally right! Spending on ads NEVER works (or just about). I know I’ve never bought a book on the basis of an ad. Certainly it makes more sense to make your own book promotion for free (more or less, because many events require you to give away free copies but that’s peanuts of course).

    The only thing that will sell book are good customer reviews. And if you’re trad published, you can get reviews from journalists that publish in big papers – tops, the NYT. But that alas is not for us indies…So we have to chase ourown customers – a thankless job because if you scream too often “buy my book, it’s a unique read!” you sound like a spammer. A fellow writer put up a video sometime back with a funny song titled “buy my book” – it was hilarious, sorry I can’t find it anymore. Because, bottom line, we had better laugh about it all and not worry too much.

    Back to writing – the real kind, the creative kind! It’s the only remedy!

  • Rob Blackwell

    I agree in part and disagree in part.

    For one, I have used Facebook ads successfully for several months. Yes, I made money on them. I didn’t always make MUCH money, Mike, but money was made. Better than that, I was able to get more attention to the book and consistent sales. Facebook ads can work, you just have to know what you’re doing (and yes, I wasted some cash figuring that process out and I promise to write a blogpost as a guide to what I did.)

    You don’t have to take my word for it, by the way. Go look at “South of Bixby Bridge” on Amazon — the author (who I don’t know) has been using Facebook ads for months and seems to be getting steady sales as a result.

    BUT… I will say that the power of KDP Select blows Facebook (or Google adwords, which I was never as successful with) out of the water. It’s not even close. The opportunity to distribute your book to a large crowd, and then get sales you only ever dreamt of, can’t be missed. So… I don’t use FB ads much anymore. I can make far more money–and get far more readers–using KDP Select.

    I just don’t want people to think its impossible to use Facebook ads successfully. You can. Really. It just isn’t the most effective strategy. As a supplemental strategy, though, it can be useful.

  • Chewing gum

    No, I don’t think self published authors should pay for advertising because for number one, how can they even AFFORD to??? Don’t most of them only charge something like 99 cents per ebook?? Of which they earn 35 cents in royalties per ebook?? With that kind of “income” (if you want to call it that), they can ill-affrod to pay for ads. Leave ads to people who can actually AFFORD it!