Making Facebook ads work for your self-published novel


I’ve heard people swear by Facebook Ads, but I’ve heard far more people swear at them.

I’m one of the fortunate individuals who falls into the first camp, but it’s not by accident. Over the period of a year I’ve learned a few lessons on what does, and what doesn’t, work for a Facebook Ad.

But first the absolute essentials.

You have a good book, don’t you? In fact, you have a great book but trouble finding readers. That’s exactly how I was.

You have a Facebook page as an author page. If not, go and create one now. It doesn’t need to contain much, just a welcome post. Once you’ve got the page, you need to set up an Ad account. I’m not going to cover that here, but if you search the web there are a host of great resources on how to do this.


Some of David Penny's books

So now you’re set up you need a great Ad that’s going to wow readers and draw them through to buy your book. This is probably the toughest part because what works and what doesn’t is a steep learning curve.

I write Historical Mysteries, which is an unusual genre for Facebook Ads, but if they work for me then they will work for almost anyone, whatever genre you write in. Thrillers and Crime seem to do best, but anything can work if you put the effort in.

01. Forget the words, it’s the picture that counts

I was talking to a friend recently about how she picks a book to read, and her logic was exactly the same as mine. Forget Amazon for now – assume I’m in a bookshop and want something new to read. I browse the shelves looking for a cover that attracts me. If I see one I take it down and read the back. Then I check the first page. I guess it’s the same on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and everywhere else.

So when creating a Facebook Ad the number one, most important thing to get right, is find an image that smacks the reader across the face and screams genre and this book is for you.

For instance, although I don’t like this image it was the first one I used that worked, and was the start of moving from loss to profit.


Why did this work? Well, and this is only my opinion: it worked because it’s simple. And it’s yellow. I know, stupid, but if there’s one thing I’ve discovered through all this it’s that strong yellow/orange colours work. They work for my genre and seem to work for others too.

Go figure. I think it’s because they attract the eye whether it wants to go there or not.

It was also the first to show three series books, which tells the reader they’re buying into more than a single book.

Of course, just like me, until you find that image you don’t know what it might be. One of the great things about Canva is even if they don’t have the right image already, they will link to stock photos and allow you to choose your own, most of them for only $1. That’s a bargain.

02. Forget what you like

This is the hardest lesson of all, because how can you turn off your own critical faculties? It’s the same with editing and other elements of the tradecraft of writing. It all comes down to practice and using the analytical part of your brain.

After my simple riding knight, which worked for several months, I tried a few other things, most of which failed.


I thought this image was a winner and it bombed. It’s red, see, I blame that.

03. No disconnect between ad and sales page

Make sure there is no disconnect between what your Ad says and what your sales page shows. If the reader experiences any friction at all they’ll leave. No sale.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject – never, ever, ever link to your own website. It means one more click before someone can buy. Always link direct to a sales page on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo etc. The only time you link to your own page is for mailing list signups, and I’m not dealing with those here.

I hit upon the next image in June 2016, and it marked the start of a new rise in sales.


This is my most successful Ad so far. Its success lasted over 3 months, which in Facebook Ad terms makes it geriatric. All Facebook Ads grow tired. When they do put a halt to them and create something new. You might be able to re-launch the old Ad a few months later and get a new lease of life from it.

So – Why did this Ad work? Well, against all advice, it shows a book, and I think readers want to know there’s a physical product behind your ad.

It shouts Historical Fiction. There is no disconnect between this and the sales page. And it’s yellow, kind of.

All of this even with a stray apostrophe in the middle of the picture.

To create this in Canva I chose the Facebook Ad template and uploaded my own artwork – the main image is a highly processed section from the book cover.

04. Forget the words

I know, this is a hard one for writers, but bear with me. It’s your image that captures attention. What the words say really doesn’t matter, provided they’re all spelt correctly and your grammar passes muster. Most people won’t even read them.

And while we’re talking about words – quotes about how great your book is, whoever it’s from, will have negligible effect. You need to create an effective advert. When was the last time you saw an ad that said “XYZ says they would never shop anywhere else.” And even if they did, would you believe it?

05. Pick your audience well

Facebook lets you choose the audience your Ad will be delivered to. Other than creating the right image, this is the most important part of all. But don’t worry, because they will start to help you.

Initially you should choose authors who write books similar to yours and who are successful in their genre. In my case I chose people like CJ Sansom, Bernard Cornwell etc.

After a few weeks Facebook picked up its game and started to tell me how relevant my list of authors was, and I discovered CJ Sansom, who I believed was a close match, wasn’t. So I dropped him from the list and found others who were better, and my sales improved.

You should also use Facebooks statistics to see who reacted to your Ad. By doing this I discovered my best audience were females over the age of 45, so I started to target that demographic.

You need to keep on monitoring, keep on testing, because creating a single Ad and expecting it to perform well forever is not going to work.

Lessons and Conclusions

Mine is not one of the stellar success stories of people like Mark Dawson or Adam Croft. My success, such as it is, has been on a more modest scale. I’m perfectly happy to tell you what effect my Ads have had.

Throughout 2015 I averaged sales of 14 books a month. I had deliberately done no social media or advertising because I wanted to wait until the third book in my 10 book series was out. Everyone told me you need at least three books, so that’s what I did.

Since starting with Facebook Ads in November 2015, with an initial four months of failure, I finally clicked with the riding knight, which was my first lesson. Simple is good.

From that point on sales rose until, in November 2016, I am targeted to sell over 1,700 books.

That’s a growth rate of 1,200% in only a little over 6 months.

And yes, I have spent money on Adverts, but for the last half of the year my earnings have been more than triple what the spend is.

Since June 2016 I have been in the top 100 for Historical Fiction -> Mystery and Historical Fiction -> Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. In the UK I reached the top 10 on several occasions, and in the US am regularly in the top 100. Once you reach this position Amazon starts to help.

So if you believe your sales need a boost I would recommend you set yourself a budget, experiment, and create your Facebook ads in Canva. You can use some of the designs we’ve included below — just click on the ad you like to get transferred to the Canva editor. Good luck.


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