I became an "independent author" last October (so this would be Oct, 2010). It all started with an email advertisement sent to me from Barnes and Noble advertising their self-publishing feature, "PubIt." I now know that digital self-publishing has been around for some time but at that point that was the first I had ever heard of it.
Excited, I immediately went to work preparing a story I had written a long time ago for upload. Upload complete, I eagerly waited for it to become "live" on the site and.... I had a sales rank of 300,000 something.
The cold dose of reality hit. Barnes and Noble's tag line of "just upload it and let us do the work" was totally misleading. I realized I would need to push this story on my own if I ever wanted to crawl out of the hundreds of thousands.
So I gave Facebook ads a shot. I actually have had some experience with Facebook and Google ads in the past to promote my string quartet. With the string quartet, I had a lot of clicks on my ads but very little business generated.
With regards to the string quartet ads, the lack of business generated was disappointing but not exactly shocking. When you're a musician, most of your business is generated from word of mouth. Plus, it's not like a string quartet is an impulse buy where you can just bank on people to randomly click and hire you right there.
But I figured that a book COULD be an impulse buy, so why not give advertising a shot? So I signed up for two weeks of facebook ads. When you sign up for these things, you can choose if you want to pay for impressions (just having the ad on the web page and hope people look at it) or clicks (when someone actually clicks on the ad). Usually you pay for every 1,000 impressions or every 1 click. I chose clicks and facebook optimistically set my default daily budget to $50 a day. Nice try, facebook. I lowered it to a more modest $10 a day.
At the conclusion of my two week campaign, I had averaged about 15 clicks a day. Not a single sale resulted.
Before anyone leaps down my throat for this: yes, I do know that ads are a way of generating EXPOSURE. 15 clicks a day for 14 days means that, at the very least, 210 people saw my name and associated it with a work of fiction. Did that affect things down the road...? Who knows.
But let's look at the more practical side. If I kept a continuous campaign, I would spend about $300 a month on advertising. Since my stories are all 99 cents and I make a 40 cents of that as my royalty, I would have to sell 750 copies of my stories just to break even. If I want a profit, it would have to be considerably more sales.
Unfortunately, I do not have enough extra money lying around for me to see if a month or two months actually increase sales slightly. But I think there are several safe conclusions that authors in my same situation can draw from this:
-ads definitely generate exposure but require a long term investment to be truly effective
-ads are expensive
-due to the nature of the product being sold (cheap indie books), it would probably take several years to make back what was initially invested in the advertisement