Facebook Advertising for Authors, by Mark Dawson: Part 1
Last updated: 07/06/2017
You might have read about him on Forbes, the Financial Times or Publishing Perspectives, but we met Mark Dawson around a year ago, at an ALLi event, and have been closely following his progress since.
In less than a year, he’s gone from 1,000 subscribers on his mailing list to 20,000. He now makes $450,000 a year from his writing, an activity he can concentrate on full-time. In a word, he’s yet another example of the “self-publishing dream”, and a proof that this concept is far from dead.
In one of the very best author interviews we’ve done so far, Mark simply shares his secrets with us, and explains how he combines a clever email automation sequence and optimized Facebook advertising to grow his subscriber list and sell more books every month.
If you have ever wondered how to use Facebook ads, or how to build a reader mailing list, you will learn from the best. If you watch the full video, make sure to take notes! Else, we’ve provided the first part of the transcript below. And you can find part 2 here!
Hi Mark, really pleased to have you with us today. Why don’t you start by giving us a bit of background on your publishing story and your latest numbers?
I started writing a long time ago. I was first published in 1999-2000 by MacMillan in the UK (and Russia, strangely enough), for two books that did ok. I was given a very generous advance for those days, but the experience was ultimately a bit dispiriting, because as soon as the books hit the shelves, that was it. There wasn’t much in the way of promotion or marketing, it was just a question of making the books available and then seeing if they caught on or not — and mine didn’t.
This soured me a bit so I stopped writing for 5-6 years, and only started again in late 2011, when a friend of mine told me about the relative success he was having on Kindle — publishing directly via KDP. So I took a year and wrote another novel called The Black Mile, put that up and didn’t do much about it.
When I first realized that this had a lot of potential was when I got to the free days that Amazon gives you through KDP Select. It happened on a weekend, and I remember very vividly checking on my phone and seeing that I had given away tens of thousands of copies.
So I redoubled my efforts, wrote another book in 6-7 months, and that one did well too, even aroused some interest from traditional publishers — not quite enough for me to think it was worth going that route.
Then in June 2013 I wrote the first book in the John Milton series, which is the one that has really sold the best for me. I immediately noticed an uptake in activity on that book, so I quickly wrote the following ones, putting one out every 3-4 months.
Now, in 2014 I wrote 6 novels and 2 novellas — just short of a million words, I went from having 1,000 people on my mailing list in January to 15,000 in December, and from selling a few hundred books to selling 10,000 by the end of the year. In November I was able to quit my job to write full time, and I now can make 5 figures most months without too much bother.
So generally it’s all going ridiculously well, and I’ve started to dabble into other things: I’ve put together a course for authors based around Facebook advertising, which is one of the really powerful levers I’ve started to use around Christmas time last year. For audiobooks I’ve got a deal with Audible studios, and we’ve even had Hollywood interest for a couple of my books. I’m also consulting now for traditional publishers and agents on how they can move into this new space. So everything is going as well as it could be, it’s a really exciting time to be writing!
Well, congratulations! And it’s really nice to hear about a “recent” success story, because most of the well-known ones are a bit dated (Hugh Howey, Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, etc.). I know a lot of authors have been feeling a bit disheartened lately, thinking: “all this was possible 4-5 years ago, but not anymore”. Your experience proves it still is, but maybe using different marketing tools. You mentioned Facebook ads, what do you use them for?
There are two things I use Facebook ads for: growing my subscribers and driving direct sales. For this first part of the interview, we’re going to focus on the mailing list ads.
For the email list, it’s been incredibly powerful. I started using Facebook ads in January 2015 an in 6 weeks I was able to add over 3,000 subscribers to my mailing list just using Facebook ads, and giving away a starter library as a “magnet” to get people onto my list.
Once they’re on the list, I have an automation sequence that gives them some free books and then starts offering them some paid ones. I monitor how that’s going and how much I’m making from each subscriber.
I’ve also been teaching several other authors how to do it. My favourite story is a guy in America writing comic sci-fi (like Terry Pratchett), who started with 27 subscribers on his mailing list (and it had taken him 2 years to get to 27): in 6 weeks he was able to get to 2600. So it definitely works, and not for a huge amount of money either.
The second kind of advert I do is driving traffic from an advert directly to Amazon to sell a book, and that’s been unbelievable too. I can typically make most days a 100% return on investment (ROI). I’m spending around $300-$350 in Facebook ads every day and I make around $600-$700 a day from it.
There are some authors in other genres — romance is particularly good for this, as it is for just about everything else — who are also encountering huge success with this. There’s one author in particular who was selling $200 worth of her box set every month, and last month sold $1500. Obviously you’ve got to invest in the ads, but she is making a 500% ROI: pay $1 get $5… It’s just unbelievably powerful right now.
Wow, these figures are definitely incredible. I mean, Facebook ads have been around for a little while, and have been widely used in the startup industry, so they’ve become a bit competitive. But in the book industry, right now is the perfect time to get started, as you did. So tell us, for our readers who don’t know a thing about advertising on Facebook and want to use it to grow their mailing list, how do you get started?
The thing that is really amazing about Facebook ads is the targeting possibilities. My books are often compared in their genre to Lee Child, so one of the things that I do on Facebook is serve ads just to people who know or like Lee Child — fans of his fan page, fans of the Jack Reacher fan page, etc.
You want to find a similar author in your genre like that who you can use to make sure that your ads are shown to people who are likely to like your books.
In terms of budget, you can really start with whatever you want. On my mailing list ads, I was spending $50-$100 every day in January. I’ve now brought that down to $10 a day and I’m adding around 30 new subscribers every day. So provided your targeting is precise enough, your copy is relevant and your landing page is optimized to get more conversions (and none of this is difficult to do), you can see some amazing results with a very low budget.
And of course, if you’re impatient, you can scale that quite fast: one of the guys I’m working with at the moment is spending $100 a day and adding over 100 subscribers every day.
That’s great! But then I fear a lot of authors will think: “great, I’m adding subscribers to my mailing list, but will they really buy my books?” Do you track how much those paid subscribers bring you in terms of sales?
Yes I do, and it’s a good question, because these kind of subscribers aren’t going to be as effective as people who sign up after reading your book. Those are the best subscribers you can get, because they liked your book enough to sign up for more.
The “worst” subscribers you can get are the ones you gain through contests. Sometimes they’re not even readers, they’re just people who like contests and free stuff. I wouldn’t tend to recommend those subscribers because they’ll then unsubscribe at a high rate.
Subscribers coming from Facebook ads are not as cold as contest subscribers, but not as warm as people who come in after reading your stuff. They’re somewhere in between, probably closer to the “warm” side, because if your targeting is right, you know that they are fans of your genre, which is a good starting point.
I’ve tested this in the automated sequence of emails that I mentioned earlier: after the free stuff, and after a certain amount of time, I’ll offer subscribers the opportunity to buy the follow-up book to one of the free ones that they’ve got. I track what those buys are like: I can see the open rates, the click rates, and I can estimate what the buy rate is. That is the kind of information that allows me to model the behaviour that I can anticipate those subscribers will have.
Also, at the end of that sequence, I have a survey that runs, with 10-15 questions that asks them if they’ve bought anything, if they have, how many, and if they think they’ll buy anything else; what they think the books are worth, how did they find the automation sequence, etc. You can get all kinds of useful information with a survey.
When you have that information, you can start to compile it and work out kind of a composite subscriber based on where they’re coming from, and then you can compare the cost of acquiring that subscriber with the revenue you suspect you might make from them going forwards. Provided that the revenue is higher, the cost is an investment you should be happy to make.
Exactly. So I guess you keep those different kinds of subscribers in different lists on Mailchimp, right?
Oh, definitely. I’ve got a different email list for every book. I’ve got something like 20 different email lists in total. If someone subscribes after reading the first John Milton book, it’s incredibly useful for me to know that this is the book that they’ve read, because that enables me to market them the second book, or cross-market them the other series that I know is similar to the John Milton one.
You absolutely keep the Facebook guys out of the main list because they’re not going to react in the same way other subscribers (who’ve read your book) are going to react, they’re probably going to be more volatile.
If you want to learn more on Facebook ads, visit Mark Dawson’s course: Self-Publishing Formula.
Have you tried using Facebook advertising to grow your mailing list? Or to sell more books? What do you think of Mark’s tools for success? Leave your thoughts, or any questions for Mark, in the comments below!