Epic Fail: 80% of authors who used Facebook advertising to sell books.

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Results of Facebook Advertising Survey of Authors2018-02-12T07:48:18+00:00

Survey: 80% of Authors Who Advertised on Facebook Said It Failed

Over 100 indie authors participate in survey


You know what chaps my ass more than a three-foot flame?

People who blithely claim that Facebook Advertising is an effective way to sell books.

There is hardly an author, an expert (especially the ones selling Facebook advertising books and courses), a forum, or even a Facebook post that doesn’t extol its virtues.

Can I admit something to you?

I’ve never been able to make Facebook advertising work for myself or my clients. I’m an author and a book marketing consultant. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in the past couple of years trying to make Facebook advertising work.

No dice.

Snake eyes.





You know what’s weird? I’m an advertising expert. Spent most of my career in Media. In fact, I once won Adweek’s media plan of the year. Yet I could not make Facebook advertising work. Throughout my failed attempts I couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a forum, a text thread, a Blog article or a Facebook post that didn’t thrill to how well Facebook advertising sold books.

Something was clearly wrong. Either I didn’t know what I was doing or people were simply lying about their results. Or more likely, the only people who said anything  good about Facebook advertising were the few people who actually succeeded in it. This would make sense as most people don’t like to broadcast their failures.

Either way it did not make me feel good to hear that everyone was succeeding with Facebook advertising except me, the advertising expert.  Ouch!

So I went on a quest.

I wanted to find out just how many authors successfully used Facebook advertising to sell books. So I created a survey and advertised it on Facebook( the irony is not lost on me) and  had some prominent blogs and forums publicize it.

The result?

Well, you know all those blog articles and authors and experts telling you that Facebook advertising is the way to go? The survey shows they’re pumping sunshine up your ass.

The overwhelming majority of  authors who advertised on Facebook failed.  To be fair, about 21% said it worked for them.  More on that later.  Before we dive into the details let me tell you a little bit about the survey.

Background of Survey

In no way shape or form am I claiming that this survey is scientific or representative of the population but it is unquestionably the closest thing we have to Facebook advertising effectiveness because it does not rely on anecdote.   Here are the details:

Responses:  105

Geography:  95% U.S./5% U.K.

Respondent pool:  Facebook advertising (yes, I KNOW) 40% (I Targeted the advertising to independent authors in the US and UK, forums 10%, writing blogs and forums 50%)

Respondent Incentive:  Nothing but a promise to alert them to the survey’s results.

Gender:  Unknown. I did not ask.


  1. What was the genre of the book/bundle advertised?
  2. How many weeks did you advertise on Facebook?
  3. What was the price of your book/bundle during the advertising window?
  4. How much money did you spend on advertising?
  5. How many unit sales can you directly attribute to the advertising?
  6. Do you feel the results were worth the time, money and effort to run the ad campaign?

Want to see the raw data?

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Results Of My Facebook Advertising Survey

We’re going to take the questions one by one and I’ll provide a little bit of analysis  from my point of view. I invite you to leave your own analysis in the comment section.

What was the genre of the book/bundle advertised?

Romance2827%Misc1615%Sci fi1110%nonfiction1010%Suspense/thriller99%Urban Fantasy88%Mystery77%Historical Fiction66%Children’s44%Literary fiction22%poetry11%Women’s Fiction11%Young Adult11%Contemporary Fiction11%100% 


The only real surprise here is how few nonfiction authors (like me) took the survey. Is that because most independent authors are novelists? Probably.







How many weeks did you advertise on Facebook?

1 week2323%2 weeks2020%3 weeks88%4 weeks1212%5+ weeks3536%




A little later you’re going to see how many people thought Facebook advertising was worth it. The takeaway point here is that 70% of  of the people who said it was not worth the trouble only advertised for less than 4 weeks.  In other words, they may not have given it enough time.Observations:






What was the price of your book/bundle during the advertising window?







73% of respondents advertised books priced at free – $3.99.  









How much money did you spend on advertising?

$1 – 503532%$50 -1002018%$100 – 5003028%$501 – 1,0001312%$1,001 – 10,0001110%$10,000 – 190,00010.9%



50% of authors spent less than $100 to test advertising.  Is that enough? Given the speciousness of Facebook advertising and how hard the few successful authors had to work to make it effective the answer is decidedly not.






How many unit sales can you directly attribute to the advertising?

03231%1 – 101918%11 – 1001111%101 – 10001111%1,001 – 5,00033%20,00011%40,00011%200,00011%Don’t Know2423%



Two key numbers here: First, 31% of authors who tried Facebook advertising reported 0 sales.  ZERO.   I can attest to that myself. Of the dozens of Facebook campaigns I have run many hit the showers without so much as getting on base.

Second, 23% of authors who advertised on Facebook weren’t sure how many unit sales they could attribute to the advertising. Frankly, I think that number is actually a lot higher. If you ever advertised on Facebook you will understand how extremely difficult it is to attribute a sale to it.   You have to do a tremendous amount of homework and then be savvy enough to create a worksheet filled with formulas like the  one below that I use for my clients.  Most novelists do not have the capacity nor inclination to do something like this so I feel that this number–23% of authors NOT being sure if they could attribute sales to Facebook ads–is  understated by a factor of at least two or three.


Build a Sophisticated Spreadsheet Or Don’t Even Bother Advertising.

In order to properly attribute sales to your Facebook campaign (and measure ROI) you must build a spreadsheet with formulas that contain pre-advertising benchmarks.  The one you see to the left took me months to build and I’m still tinkering with it.  You can get access to it by buying my book, Make A Killing On Kindle 2018 EDITION.

Do you feel the results were worth the time, money and effort to run the ad campaign?

No6160%Not sure2020%yes2020%




Ahh, The Big Kahuna question. I think the numbers speak for themselves but let me play ventriloquist for a moment. While the data splits NO and NOT SURE into 60% and 20% respectively,  I am going to make an assertion;  they are one and the same. If you’re not sure if your Facebook advertising works then I maintain it DID NOT WORK. Yes, I can hear the rationalizations now– “hey, I may not have broken even but Facebook advertising helped get more reviews or increased my sales rank.”  Fine.  But at the end of the day you cannot pay the rent with a review no matter how good it is or a sales rank even if it technically puts you into a top 100 listing.


What Can We Learn From The 20% Of Authors Who Said They Were Pleased With Their Facebook Advertising Results?

First, That  you are far likelier to succeed if you are a romance writer.  While 27% of authors who  took the survey advertised romance novels they represented 50% of all authors who succeeded with Facebook advertising.  You see that wall? Pound your head against it if you’re not a romance writer.

Why are romance novelists far more likely to succeed with Facebook advertising than any other kind of writer?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Second, gird yourself, 88% of authors who succeeded with facebook advertising price their books from free to $3.99.  Let me break down what this means:

How do you make money advertising a free product?

Answer:  You don’t.

How do you make money advertising a $0.99 product? With the royalty rate of 35% that means you’re making  $0.35 for sale. Hell, you’ll pay that for a click let alone a sale!

Answer:  You don’t.

How do you make money advertising a $2.99 or $3.99 product?

With the average cost per click on Facebook being around $0.40 and the conversion rate around 1-5%, THERE IS VERY LITTLE CHANCE OF BREAKING EVEN LET ALONE MAKING MONEY.

Bottom Line: You cannot make money advertising on Facebook with a 0 – $3.99 book.


Unless it’s part of a series.  That way you use the advertised book as a loss leader in the hopes that readers will buy the other books in the series.  And THAT, my friends, describes 95% of the authors who said they thought Facebook advertising was effective.  

How Can You Use These Survey Results To Guide Your Book Marketing?

First, know that we’re dealing with the 80/20 rule:  80% of the ad wealth will go to 20% of the authors.  You have to know this going in.  Knowing you have an 80% chance of failure shouldn’t stop you from trying but it definitely should stop you from trying without being prepared.  Advertising on Facebook is like trying to grab a banana out of an 800-pound gorilla’s paws.  I suggest you go into the cage with something other than a butter knife.


So a few recommendations:

    • Forget about using Facebook advertising unless you have a series.
    • Forget about taking expensive online courses on Facebook advertising unless you have a series.
    • You are likelier to succeed in FB ads if you’re in the romance genre. But even then expect a high chance of failure.
    • If you try Facebook ads, give yourself three months and about $500 that you don’t mind seeing explode out of your wallet never to come back.  If you have any hope of making it you’re going to have to spent an enormous amount of time and energy switching out ads, testing different target audiences etc.
    • If you have a series you want to advertise, $3.99 is about the limit that you can charge.
    • Don’t be a fool and start advertising without a formula-based spreadsheet that can accurately attribute sales to the advertising.  You can use mine here.  
    • Make sure that your book is ready for advertising.  Is your copy seductiveYour cover compelling? 

  • Given the massive failure rate authors experience you’re better off taking the money you’d spend on Facebook and invest it in other areas like buying KDP Rocket, the software that helps you find keywords. You should also save money and time and STOP BLOGGING because it cannot sell books. Read my book and find out why blogging is a SERIOUS mistake authors make: Make A Killing On Kindle 2018 EDITION.
    The new edition has ten new chapters, a major eye tracking study, 100 images, 250 links, 12 downloadable worksheets and completely new approaches to vexing problems: The Kindle Keyword Optimization Technique, The Kindle Category Selection System and The Kindle Copywriting System. It also includes an industry first–200+ promotion sites like Bookbub ranked by effectiveness.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post.  Please leave a comment if you have any questions or observations you’d like to share.  


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