I’m currently experimenting with a pen name in an erotic fiction sub-sub-genre. In other words, I’ve launched a brand new, unknown author straight out of the gate.
Everyone tells you the money is in the list, and I know from the travel website and guides I do with my partner how true this is.
If you want to check out what we do in travel as we get over 50K eyes to our website every month, and have close to 30K Facebook fans and 18K Instagram fans, traveloutbackaustralia.com is the place to go.
At present, for a brand new author Facebook (FB) ads seem to be the best way to build a list quickly. I’m a lifelong adventurer so I thought I’d give it a go.
What I’m going to write is honest and straight from the heart. It’s also pertinent to ONE sub-sub-genre, so I have no idea how it will apply to others.
Stage 1: Learning From Others
There’s loads of info out there now on FB ads for authors, so I’m going to share what I found useful for one erotica sub-genre.
Mark Dawson, David Martin and Mavis Amouzou-Akue were the folks I’d seen recommended by others so I read whatever whatever they’d put out free or contained in low cost PDF reports and then synthesized it.
Here’s what you need to know about the resources I used:
- David Martin’s ‘In The Trenches’ (now unavailable) report contains a step-by-step walk-through for setting up different kinds of ads and has a few examples of his older ads
- Mavis Amouzou-Akue’s report is very similar to Martin’s and contains a walk-through for setting up lead ads
- Mark Dawson’s free series of videos walks you through setting up lead ads but does explain other kinds of ads in passing
If you haven’t set up a Facebook page or ever looked at the FB Adverts Manager or Power Editor, each of these resources helps you do that, too.
The first thing I’ll say is that was based on the comments of many other authors, I was expecting FB Advert Manager to be extremely difficult to use.
Maybe it’s because I’ve had years of making and running websites and can cope with CSS and HTML. Maybe I’m just used to the FB interface.
Anyhow, I didn’t find the interface as daunting as others had made it out to be.
I started off working my way through David Martin’s ‘In the Trenches’ report and abandoned it after one spectacularly frustrating day that has nothing to do with its ability to explain ad set up – I’ll come back to this in the next section.
Likewise with Mavis’s report. It’s very easy to follow, and covers setting up pages and lead ads, but once I was up and running, I didn’t refer to it again.
Personally, I found Mark Dawson’s free series of how-to videos the easiest to follow – even though I HATE watching videos and would much rather learn how to do something by following a step-by step tutorial.
CAVEAT: Some of the screen shots in all of these resources need to be updated, as FB has changed its interface.
Whilst this isn’t a show stopper, it will mean you have to sometimes click around inside the FB Adverts manager to find the equivalent sections.
Stage 2.1: Implementation & Frustration
In the beginning, I was following David Martin’s step-by-step guide and adapting his ad style to my pen name and the series of erotica shorts I’d written.
Oh dear. I fucked up – and I’ll share what happened in a moment.
First, I’d like to talk to you about something that none of the resources covered very well: how to actually make an ad!
(Yes, I know Mark covers this in his ‘paid’ course, but at present it’s closed so I can’t comment on what he teaches in there).
Missing in Action
You want to be able to make the artwork for your ads and change your ad designs and text QUICKLY to get best results, so I’m going to tell you where to do this:
Canva has a FB ad template that’s the exact right size, you can adapt one of their designs or upload your own images.
Canva will take a little bit of learning, although I find it very intuitive.
Once you’ve designed your ad, it’s very easy to change little bits of it and re-upload it to the FB Adverts Manager or Power Editor.
But let’s step back a bit.
BEFORE you hit Canva and start designing, have a look at the ads in your FB feed and get a sense of what other people are doing.
Hopefully, as an author you like lots of other author pages and their ads are being served to you, so you’ll find something that you like.
Copy what’s working. Not every design will work for your genre – which is why it’s really important to be able to change your ads quickly.
To simplify things, I only designed TWO ads to monitor, tweak and experiment with.
Facebook lets you use a number of ads. As most people do A/B split testing in the online marketing space, I followed this and only used two ads.
Stage 2.2: I FAILED & WHY
My first attempt at getting an ad up failed before a single person had seen it.
Facebook WOULD NOT approve my ad.
Apparently, my ads had too much cleavage!
This was hilarious as the cover of the book I’d used in my ad had a woman in a black evening dress on it. She’s 100% clothed with no nipples or cleavage showing.
Your gran could look at this book and not be offended!
*The erotica sub-sub-genre I’m in is unique in that it doesn’t favour covers with NEKKID men’s torsos or women’s nudie bits on them.
So it had me completely stumped why the %&#^# Facebook wouldn’t approve my ad.
After several hours of swearing (fuck, fuck, FUCK! I can swear!) I figured out that it was my pen name’s profile pic… there was a little bit of cleavage showing as she’s wearing a bikini top!
Yup. Facebook has a problem with chicks wearing bikinis.
I zoomed in on her image so that you could only see her head and shoulders, and voila!
My ad was approved.
Also, using the words ‘erotic’ or ‘erotica’ in your ads is a no-no. They won’t get approved.
But my woes didn’t stop there…
I’d decided to send people to my website and a landing page to sign up for my amazeballs free book.
I followed David Martin’s advice to the letter. I’d even modelled my ads on his designs and copy.
I already had a landing page on my pen name’s website and I’m am a HUGE Thrive themes fan, so I’ve got their Visual Editor plugin that makes building your own landing page a breeze.
I left two ads running for 24 hours and it resulted in only 6 clicks and no sign ups.
WHAT THE HELL HAD I DONE WRONG?
Stage 2.3: AUTOPSY REQUIRED
I woke up feeling bummed.
Like this whole indie author thing was going to be a massive failure and I should go back to my agent and start prostituting myself to HarperCollins again…
Soon, I was wallowing in the black pit of doom, my entrails flapping behind me.
I was scared.
No one was looking at my ad or my free amazeballs book.
Deep breath. Take a 10km walk and then run 5km in the afternoon.
Whilst I was out walking, it came to me that I should go back and watch Mark Dawson’s videos again.
Something else also came to me when I was walking and my mind was in the flow state exercise triggers … I wasn’t sure about it at first, but in the end, it proved to be critical.
Stage 3: Back to Square One
I decided to try the FB lead ads route that Mark describes (so do Mavis and David).
My reason for NOT doing it in the first place was that I am a stubborn, headstrong biatch and I wanted people to see MY stupendous lead page that I’d built all myself.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
No one gives a crap that I’d built it myself.
And they voted with their resounding silence… and zero clicks!
So Facebook lead ads it was to be!
WHAT IS A FACEBOOK LEAD AD?
I hear you asking.
Quite simply, it’s an ad that collects people’s email addresses when they sign up for an offer or a subscription. They never have to leave Facebook.
You then manually download the emails in a spreadsheet and put them into Aweber, Mailchimp or the email provider you’re using.
There are PAID services that will add your sign ups to your email provider for you, but as I’m stingy and this is a throwaway pen name, I’m doing it manually, twice a day.
Stage 3.1: A Modicum of Success
I relaunched my ads using David Martin’s design suggestions and some slightly altered copy after rewatching Mark’s videos.
Remember, I’m only testing TWO ads.
I woke up the next day (I’m in Australia so magic happens overnight for us, whilst the rest of the world is still trying to play catch up) and a whole seven people had clicked and subscribed.
Over the course of the day, I watched my ads’ ‘Relevance’ score, like Mark Dawson had told me to.
You don’t get a relevance score until your ad has reached 500 people.
It took until mid-afternoon for me to get one (the ad had gone up the previous evening).
I scored a massive 1 out of 10, ten being an ad that bestows immortality, conquers evil and wins lotto… or the meat raffle the local pub.
ONE. Out of ten.
Hmmm…. there was something wrong with my ad, my copy or my targeting.
Remember I said I had another epiphany on my walk?
I was right.
Stage 4: SUCCESS, CLICKS AND 9/10
This is the part of my journey where I get down and dirty.
I started to tweak and test parts of my ads and monitor the results.
What I’m going to share worked with erotica. It might not work with other genres, and it’s only based on one set of ads, so who knows, I could be talking through my bum!
Stage 4.1: Design
I’m going to be totally upfront here.
David Martin’s ad design did not work for my target audience. He does clean romance.
I don’t. In fact, clean romance leaves me cold. And do not even start me on ‘christian’ romance – my stomach is hurling my lunch!
(I find Mr Martin very odd. He does ‘jesus’ interpretive dancing. Uhuh… Cannot take him seriously).
Lesson here: study your market. What works in clean romance probably won’t work in erotica or science fiction!
My design tweaks:
I ditched the scenery background on one of my ads and went for a plain, warm crimson with the book cover on the right hand side.
On the left side of the ad was the book’s short tag line.
Yes, I started to get more clicks.
I waited a few hours, then tried a close up of my cover model’s head and shoulders on the second ad with no text in the picture.
The text was beneath the picture, and was a short story logline.
This DID NOT WORK. Nopety, nope!
I created a second plain background ad in a different colour (a WARM blue like Facebook’s blue, although FB is a cool blue).
This ad got a few clicks.
Lesson: In my erotica genre, people seem to like plain backgrounds and book covers. No flowers, no scenery and I didn’t have a single naked, headless muscle man anywhere!
Stage 4.2 Copy
On my two initial ads, I used Mark Dawson’s very simple copy in one and David Martin’s longer, elevator pitch copy on the other.
Here’s what I changed:
Used Mark Dawson’s simple copy. No details of story, other than the tag text in photo design. Just the kind of ‘get it free’ text above and below the ad.
At the end of running this ad for 5 days, I have a relevance score of 7 and a CPC of $0.64 (Australian dollars).
Initially, I used identical copy to the crimson ad, which resulted in fewer clicks
After going for another 10km walk, I decided to TELL people what I wanted them to do. I changed the text in the picture design of the ad to a CALL TO ACTION and added a very short teaser of the story (a logline) below the picture.
At the end of running this ad for 48 hours, the relevance score is 8 and the CPC is $0.39 (AUD).
After running this ad for 12 days, I had a relevance score of 9 and a CPC of $0.34. AUSSIE DOLLARS – not US!
Stage 4.3: Targeting
Now this is where my results fly in the face of what the experts are saying.
I think there’s some damned good reasons for this which you may or may not agree with.
Every single one of the resources said to target the US only, and start with mobile.
I did exactly that.
Something inside me said this wasn’t right.
So, after the second day, I added the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
THIS IS WHEN I STARTED TO SEE RESULTS.
After another day, I added Canada (sorry Canucks, I left you out!).
I can hear you saying… HEY! WHOA! That can’t be right, the US market is THE BOMB! I make 90% of my dosh there…
Well, I’m telling you what happened for me.
I have two suspicions.
One is cultural:
The US has a religious, puritan culture I just don’t get.
The countries of the Commonwealth don’t have this prudishness.
Some of us were founded by very, very naughty people who did heinous things like stealing ducks cos they were starving and were transported to the Colonies for their efforts.
Perhaps this means that US women are less likely to sign up for erotica in their FB feed, and would rather do it elsewhere? I’m sure there’s erotica writers serving ads to US markets – so I’d like to think this wasn’t the case.
Maybe US readers like all sunshine and rainbows type erotica… which my books aren’t?
Maybe US readers only like books with NEKKID men or billionaires on them?
I don’t have enough data to be sure – but hey, I’m glad for my fellow members of the Commonwealth and their desire for deeper, darker things.
A significant percentage of people are signing onto my list from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand. I have some thoughts on this:
- Other authors aren’t serving ads to them because experts have told them not to
- Other authors don’t care/know these markets exist
- My ads were drowned out in the US market by other author’s ads
- My ads don’t appeal to the US market
Again, it’s early days and I don’t have anything to compare with, so this is all speculation.
*NB – after 2 weeks, most ADDITIONAL sales of other titles by my pen name came from UK, NZ and AU
The last thing I did was to deliver to desktop as well as mobile.
Again, I saw an instant increase in sign ups.
This seems to be a biggy that flies in the face of what I was told.
After almost two weeks, I’ve had hundreds (312) of sign ups and downloads of my free book.
I’ve also had some reviews and made sales of my pen name’s other book.
I spent just over $100 AUD (Australian dollars, in case you’ve forgotten) and am quite happy with the result.
The things I can say:
- You MUST study your market first and know what appeals to them visually
- Tweak and monitor constantly
- It IS possible to get a relevance score of 9/10 – you just have to work at it
- Sign ups peaked on the UK/US weekends
- IGNORE THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH AT YOUR PERIL —> you are cutting off precious markets
- Readers in the UK,NZ & AU purchased OTHER titles after reading my free offering more than US readers
I will be repeating my FB ad shortly in our travel non-fiction niche, and then for the first book of the Night Lily series due next January (2017).