Email lists are a crucial part of growing your platform, reaching your target readers, and selling more books.

But where do you begin? What’s the magic formula to growing an email list? 

The truth is, there is no special equation that will grow your list overnight. But there are proven tools and methods that work over time.

We’ve talked about email lists a lot on the Novel Marketing podcast. The following episodes will give you a great start on how to build your email list.

And many more!!

I recently interviewed Jason Porterfield, an author who grew his email list from zero subscribers to 6,000 subscribers in less than one year. He is represented by literary agent Mary DeMuth of the Books & Such Literary Agency. Jason is pitching his first book, The Peacemaker’s Passion, and he has several traditional publishers interested partly because he grew his email list so quickly.

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Jason, how did you get started?

Jason G. Porterfield: I’m a longtime listener of this podcast, and over the years, I’ve heard you harp on a few main points.

  1. Your book must have a unique concept.
  2. You’ve got to work on the craft of writing.
  3. You must grow a platform.

I listened to this podcast for years, and I worked hard to create a unique concept for my book. I worked hard to grow in the craft of writing. But I just nodded my head about needing to grow a platform. I never actually got around to doing it until one day.

In February of 2020, I did some writing coach sessions with Rachelle Gardner, and she did what a writing coach should do. She said, “Your concept is unique. Good job. Your writing is good enough. Good job. What you need to work on is your platform.”

I knew I needed a platform, but I didn’t know how to do that. Covid hit right at that time, and we all got locked down. I couldn’t do speaking engagements, so Rachelle suggested that I create a reader magnet.

I knew about reader magnets because I had listened to Novel Marketing, so I started to think about what I could use as a reader magnet.

I looked at my target audience listed in my book proposal to consider what they would need or want most. Then I looked at the future book ideas I had included in my proposal. I wanted to create a reader magnet that would attract the type of readers I want for my first book.

In my book, I follow Jesus through Holy Week and examine how Jesus contended for peace, how he confronted justice, how he called out oppressors, and how he worked for peace.

My primary audience for that book is people who are passionate about social justice, peacemaking, and nonviolence. There’s certainly a secondary audience that is interested in Easter, Holy Week, and the cross. But my primary audience, the audience that I intend to continue writing books for, is an audience of peacemakers interested in justice.

When I reviewed my future book idea, I figured I could be most efficient if I created a reader magnet made up of research I planned to do for a chapter in that future book.

I wanted to create a unique reader magnet that no one else had done, so I ended up creating a reader magnet entitled “100 Early Christian Quotes on Not Killing.” That reader magnet would become part of the content for a chapter in my book, and it’s attractive to people interested in justice and peacemaking.

Thomas: reader magnet is a short, free thank-you gift that people receive immediately after subscribing to your email list. When you’re fishing for readers, you want the right bait so you can attract the right fish.

I love that you’re targeting pacifists. That seems like a small niche, but that’s exactly what you’re looking for as an author. There are many pacifists out there. They may not know one another, but they’re looking for things that support their ideas, or they’re curious about pacifism.

A reader magnet titled “100 Early Christian Quotes on Not Killing” will turn away the people who won’t like you. Most people who are not in your target audience will see that title and say, “Nope. That’s not for me,” and that’s exactly what you want.

Your reader magnet needs to attract the right kind of people. If you attract people with a free Kindle or iPad, you will bring in all kinds of readers who want a new device, but not many of them will like your book. Some of them won’t like the fact that you’re a pacifist. Some of them won’t like the fact that you’re a Christian, and suddenly you’ll have a bunch of negative reviews simply because they weren’t the right readers.

The reader magnet you created is the right kind of bait for the right fish. You compiled the research that you were already planning to use and created a PDF of the quotes.

Jason: Correct. It was a 17-page PDF.

Thomas: That’s a good length. It’s worth downloading without being overwhelming.

How did you get people to want your reader magnet?

Jason: First, I took three weeks off writing my book and worked hard to find the best quotes. I worked on packaging it in a visually pleasing way. Then I went to Fiverr (affiliate link) to hire someone to create a two-dimensional graphic for my reader magnet cover. 

To be honest, it wasn’t a great cover. It gave me some ideas, though, so I made some tweaks in Photoshop, and I got a better look for the cover. Online you can get free 3D book mockup files. If you’ve seen pictures of people’s books resting on a coffee table with a coffee cup next to it, it’s probably a 3D book mockup where their cover has been imposed on that fake 3D book. You can pay someone on Fiverr to make a 3D-looking book cover from your two-dimensional cover graphic.

Thomas: You bring up an important point. Authors need a cover graphic, or a 3D book image, for the digital PDF reader magnet so readers can see an image. A PDF is boring and ugly all by itself. People may enjoy the text, but you can’t put a picture of text on an ad or your website. 

You absolutely need a cover because your readers need to see an image. When I’m doing an important project, I’ll often hire several contractors on Fiverr to do the same project. You never know who will do the best job because it’s so cheap. Since you’re paying $20 per design, you can get four designs from four different designers for $100, then choose or test the best one.  

You probably won’t get the finest quality work from Fiverr, but it’s a cheap option. There are more expensive options, and if you have the budget, you can explore those. If you don’t have much of a budget to work with, getting a design on Fiverr will get you started, and you can build on it.

Once you have a good two-dimensional version for the cover, creating a 3D cover from that image makes it feel like a real product.  

You created an attractive reader magnet. You know who you created it for.

How did you put it in front of the right people? 

Jason: You can put it in front of people for free in several ways. 

My Facebook Page

I created a post for my Facebook page that would ultimately become the same text that I used for advertising my reader magnet. I pinned that post to the top of my page, so it’s the first thing people see when visiting my Facebook Page.

My Website

I also promoted my reader magnet on my website. Anyone who visits my website or reads a blog post will see a popup promoting my reader magnet. It doesn’t pop obnoxiously, but after they’ve been on the page for a little while, it will pop up and ask if they want to join my email list and receive my reader magnet.

Thomas: What tool are you using on your website to power the popup?

Jason: Most email service providers have a plugin to use with your WordPress site. I would encourage you to have a WordPress site because your email service provider’s plugin will allow you to collect email addresses. It will automatically add them to your email list. My email service provider is called MooSend. They have a subscription plugin, and I use it as a popup.

Thomas: WordPress is preferable because it plays nice with other programs. Every single email service provider has a plugin for WordPress because WordPress is so popular. Forty percent of the Internet runs on WordPress. Their next biggest competitor runs about 2% of the Internet. Since it’s so big, everybody works with WordPress.

One of the many benefits of using WordPress is that your email service provider’s built-in plugins are inexpensive and simple to use.  

There are advantages down the road, too. Once you have multiple reader magnets, you can use a more advanced plugin like Bloom. But for a single pop that waits to pop, you’ve got a good system.

So, you did all the free things. And let me guess. You got a few dozen, maybe a few hundred sign-ups with the free methods. Is that a good estimate?

Facebook Ads

Jason: Yes, that’s about the number I got. It was just a trickle coming in. Not much. I always want to utilize my free options first. But ultimately, I grew my list from zero to 6,000 by using Facebook ads.

Thomas: When you’re starting from scratch, it’s hard to get word-of-mouth marketing to work for you since you don’t have anyone talking about it initially. It’s easy to get stuck in your own social circle, which is limited by demographics, geography, and psychographics.

Facebook advertising is a good way to reach a larger circle of people.

In my Obscure No More course, we talk about the marketing funnel. Picture an upside-down pyramid. At the top, you attract a large group of people. In the middle, you engage the people who stick around. At the bottom point of the inverted pyramid, you convert. That final stage is where people know, like, and trust you. 

Beginning authors face the challenge of being unknown and obscure. Too often, beginning authors spend too much time trying to engage people who already know them rather than connecting with strangers and introducing themselves.

Advertising is a quick way to introduce yourself to strangers. The downside is that it costs money.

How do you buy Facebook ads?

Jason: You’ve repeatedly said that the email list is the top piece of your platform. I have found that using Facebook ads is the primary way for a first-time author with few followers to grow that email list.

To buy Facebook ads, you need a Facebook page, not just a personal profile. Hopefully, you already have an author page. You also need to set up a payment method.

After you’ve set up your Facebook Page and payment method, go to the Facebook Ads Manager. You can find it in the settings section, or you can just type “Facebook ads manager” in a Google search, and you’ll get there.

In the Ads Manager, you’ll create your ad. There are 11 different types of ads to use depending on what your objective is. If you’re trying to raise awareness and want the highest number of people to see your ad, you might do a “Reach Ad.”

But if you want people to join your mailing list, you’ll use either a “Lead Generation Ad” (lead ads) or a “Conversion Ad.” Both are good.

What’s the difference between a lead ad and a conversion ad?

Conversion ads and lead ads look the same to the Facebook user when they’re scrolling through their news feed. The ad has an image with a written description. It will have a call-to-action button that says “download” or “sign up” or “grab your free copy” or “get it now.” The ads will look the same, but the ads become different once the Facebook user clicks the call-to-action button.

A conversion ad takes them to a landing page you’ve created on your website. Usually, you’ll create a landing page where people can only take one action, like signing up to get your reader magnet. You’ll need a subscription form on your landing page where visitors type their name and email address, and then you’ll send them the reader magnet.

A lead ad keeps the person on Facebook, and it does not send them to your website. When a reader clicks that call-to-action button to “download,” they will see the next part of the ad where they can enter their information. Lead ads are optimized. They are fast and ready for mobile devices. You tell Facebook what information you want to collect, and they collect it efficiently.

I only ask for a first name and email address because I want to eliminate friction. The nice thing about a lead ad is that Facebook auto-fills that information for the user because Facebook already has their name and email address.

A conversion ad requires the person to type in their name and email address, which creates friction. A conversion ad requires that your landing page loads fast, and I’ve found that most people don’t know what they’re doing with that.

Yesterday, I saw a Facebook ad, and I wanted to get the thing. It was a conversion ad that took me to a landing page. But after two seconds, Facebook said, “This page is loading slowly. Do you want to continue?” And I said, “No.” That advertiser lost me right there after two seconds.

So those are some of the differences between lead ads and conversion ads. The lack of friction is the reason I use lead ads. The downside of a lead ad is that there is an extra step for you, the advertiser.

If the Facebook user wants to download your reader magnet through the lead ad, they will give you their first name and email address, which was auto-filled in the form. When they click “OK,” you’ve got their information. Then they have to click a button to go to your reader magnet. I just uploaded the media file of my PDF document. In the ad settings, I clicked “no index,” and that’s important. Clicking “no index” means that your reader magnet won’t show up in Google results. It won’t show up on any page. People will only get to that document if they’ve signed up with a lead ad.

Then comes the extra step for you. You have to get the subscriber’s information–their name and email address–to your email service provider.

If you’ve done a conversion ad and the user lands on your website, hopefully, you’ve used a subscription form from your email service provider. That’s free, and it adds them directly to your mailing list.

Thomas: With a lead ad, Facebook just gives you a CSV file of everyone who has filled out the form on the lead ad. Are you saying they don’t connect to the email service providers to trigger your automation?

Jason: That is correct. Last I checked, there are only third-party integration services for that. It’s not hard, but it’s a factor you need to be aware of.

You can manually go to Facebook and download the list of people who have joined since the last time you downloaded. The downside is that if you’re only downloading new subscribers once a week, they’re not getting any of your scheduled emails for that week.

The most popular app integration or workflow integration service is Zapier. Zapier will connect your Facebook leads to your email list, and all the big-name email service providers work with Zapier.

I use a service called Integromat, which does the same thing. Their free plan will be good enough for most people. It’s not quite as user-friendly, but it’s not hard to figure out how to connect it to your Facebook page. You tell it which ad you want it to draw people’s information from, and then you connect it to your email service provider and tell it which mailing list you want them to join.

That’s the extra step with a lead ad, but it’s not too complicated.

Thomas: There are other third-party syncing services out there, like SyncSumo. Your email service provider may have a direct integration. I recommend using one of the services to get people directly into your automation so that they start to receive your drip sequence (a.k.a. onboarding sequence). You want them to receive your welcome email within the next hour or 24 hours after they subscribe. You don’t want a week to pass before they hear from you. By that time, they will have forgotten who you were.

Jason: Exactly. Those services will check for new subscribers every 15 minutes (or at the interval you set), and they will do all the work behind the scenes for you.

Thomas: The more sophisticated you are, the more you can pull off conversion ads. If you have the Facebook pixel on your website and you have good landing pages, the conversion ads may work for you. But the lead ads are probably the easier way to go for most authors. You just have to be willing to pay for this extra piece.

How did you identify who to target with your ads? 

Thomas: How did you find Christian pacifists on Facebook?

Jason: Finding your target audience is where you spend a lot of your time trying to optimize the ad.

There are three big pieces to your ad:

  1. Write-up or Description
  2. Image
  3. Audience

Facebook has a lot of data. You can target an audience by age, gender, location, country, interests, education level, and other demographics.

Facebook Ad Audiences

Initially, before you have a sizable email list, you find the audience to target by targeting different demographics and different felt needs. I like to think of it as overlapping circles. For example, in one circle, I had interests related to justice, nonviolence, and peacemaking. In the ad-creation process, you can type in different ideas, and Facebook will show you whether that is something you can target.

For example, I typed in “Nobel Peace Prize” and “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” I also used ideas like “social change,” “peace and conflict studies,” and “activism.” They were all lumped into one group.

After you create that group, you can tell Facebook to create a second group that is to be excluded from the first group. You can also create a second group of identifiers that must also be true of the people in the first group.

I noticed that if I just had “nonviolence” as the interest in my first list, most of the people who saw the ad would be affiliated with Buddhism, not Christianity. Buddhists would not be interested in my Christian book on Holy Week.

So in my second list, I included people who follow Shane Claiborne or Beth Moore. I included people who are Mennonite or Anabaptists. I included people who held an MDiv and were seminary graduates. I included 20- 30 different things related to Christians.

By adding that second list, I’m telling Facebook to show my ad to people who match at least one thing in that first list (pacificism and nonviolence) and one thing in that second list (related to Christianity). The overlap between the two lists was the sweet spot to help target the right audience. That’s what you have to do initially.

What is a lookalike audience?

After you have at least 1,000 people on your email list, you can create what’s called a lookalike audience. That is where the magic happens, and the cost per lead goes down.

The quality of your lookalike audience will depend on the quality of your email list.

I used to be a missionary, but if I uploaded all the people who used to be on my prayer email list, that wouldn’t be very helpful. But once I had 1,000 people who had downloaded my reader magnet, I downloaded a CSV file from my email service provider and uploaded it into Facebook.

Facebook went through my list and said, “Hey, I know about 90% of these people.” In my case, since my leads were from Facebook, Facebook knew 100% of the people on my list.

After you’ve uploaded your list, you tell Facebook to “Create a lookalike audience.” You can choose to show the ad to the top 1% (up to 10%) of Facebook users who “look” like people (based on interests and demographics) who have already joined your mailing list.

I was advised to target the top 1%-3% of the people who look like my audience. Create that lookalike audience, and then Facebook does the work. That’s where my cost per lead started to decrease from about $.60 per lead to about $.40 per lead.

Thomas: Lookalike audiences are based on Facebook’s artificial intelligence and neural engine. No human does that programming. It’s done by a neural network. The computer is literally programming itself to find those people based on all the things that Facebook knows about you. And Facebook knows a lot about its users.

Its access to data is being reduced, however. Apple declared war on Facebook’s data gathering about a year ago, but the opening shots were fired when the new iOS 14.5 allowed Facebook users to opt-out of inter-app tracking. That doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t tracking you. It just means that it’s harder for them to track you if you’re using an iPhone. But Facebook still has all the data it’s collected on you in the past.

I recorded an episode about big changes at Facebook, and we talked about this issue. Over the next year or two, lookalike audiences may become less effective than they used to be because Facebook’s access to data is reduced.

That said, Facebook is good at getting data on people.

In my experience, people who believe in nonviolence tend to make a lot of noise about it on Facebook. They’re not quiet about it. People are not quiet about their religious affiliations either. In this instance, you’re looking for psychographics and demographics that are easily targetable, regardless of app tracking. That may not be true for all authors, but it holds true for many authors.

If you’re targeting people who go to Comic-Con, they’re probably posting photos of themselves at Comic-Con. They’re not keeping it a secret, and that’s a very targetable audience. The lookalike algorithm can find a bunch of teenagers like the ones you already have on your list.

Jason: That’s absolutely correct. The iOS 14 update means you have to grant permission for Facebook to track your data.

I want to clarify one point. You’re right that it’s becoming less effective. Less data is available now, and so Facebook has to show your ad to more people to get a lead. I’ve noticed a difference in the last three weeks. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the cost per lead will increase because fewer people are advertising now. As a result, there’s less competition, and the cost to show your ad to 1,000 people may decrease. Only time will tell will if the cost of getting those leads will increase or not. But the effectiveness of my ads has gone down a little over the last few weeks.

Thomas: When it comes to supply and demand for ads on Facebook, one pro tip is never to advertise in election season. The competition is too fierce. You’re bidding on Facebook users, and you’re bidding against all the people targeting Christian pacifists as well as everyone interested in that group of Christian pacifists. In a presidential election year, everyone is targetable. But even in an off-year, you’ll have campaigns for governor or senator. In a big race, campaigns will spend billions of dollars on Facebook ads targeting those folks. It drives up the cost of ads for everyone.

If you’re targeting teens who go to Comic-Con, nobody with political clout is paying money to target the teens at Comic-Con, so you’re probably safe there.

Since your book is on the edge of some political topics, you may see your ads get expensive around election time and then get cheap the day after the election. Your cost per click may drop $.10 because bids from all those politicians disappear on the same day.

Jason: That’s exactly right. I didn’t run my ads throughout the whole year. Those 6,000 people joined within about seven months of the year because things got expensive during the election season and the Christmas season. From Black Friday until the New Year, I stopped running my ads.

In my proposal, I’ve separated my platform and marketing sections, as you recommend. I have small numbers of social media followers and a medium number of email subscribers. I’ve heard that you can mitigate that “small” factor by showing your growth. In my proposal, I said, “I’ve grown an email list from zero to 6,000, averaging 500 new subscribers per month,” and that piqued the interest of several publishers.

Thomas: Quick math tells me that $.40 per lead times 6,000 people on your list means you spent nearly $2,500 acquiring email addresses. Does that sound about right?

Jason: That sounds about right.

Thomas: This is a pricey strategy, but this is a strategy that works on social media. You can’t get 6,000 subscribers by posting funny images and videos and all the free stuff people do on Facebook. People want these results without spending money on Facebook, but those days are over.

If you think this episode conflicts with my previous episodes decrying social media as a waste of your marketing time, remember that Jason is not spending two hours every day posting interesting memes on Facebook, hoping people will share.

He’s not spending time on Facebook. He’s spending money on Facebook. 

He’s spending several hundred dollars per month on Facebook ads. If you can afford that, you can show strong growth, and that impresses publishers.

Facebook Ad Graphics

Thomas: How did you use the 3D cover image and create a graphic for your Facebook ads?

Jason: I used the 3D book mockup file in my ad graphic. Originally, I used Photoshop to create my 3D mockup. I have Photoshop on my computer. Other people use Affinity, which is less expensive and can open Photoshop files. If you’re not tech-savvy and you haven’t done much graphic design, then you probably want to hire someone to do it.

Facebook recommends using a 1080 x 1080 pixel graphic for ads. You can place your ad in multiple locations, including Facebook stories, newsfeed, or on the right sidebar of the desktop screen. You can also use the same ad for Instagram.

I found the cheapest ad by far is the Facebook news feed ad, but you should experiment. Try multiple spots and see what works best for your ad. You can choose automatic placement, or you can manually tell it where to go.

Facebook news feed tends to like square graphics, so I created a 1080 x 1080 pixel image. It’s just the 3D cover with a light blue background.

Once I hit 1,000 downloads, I added a little social proof ribbon to the graphic that says, “1,000+ downloads.” When I hit 5,000 downloads, I edited the ribbon to say “5,000+ downloads.”

Even then, I did an A/B split test to see which image performed best. In numerous episodes, you’ve talked about split testing. When you’re testing your marketing, change one thing and only one thing to see which ad performs best. It turned out that showing that social proof optimized the ad a little bit.

Thomas: That’s great. If you’re not Photoshop savvy, you can also use BookBrush, which is specifically designed for authors to turn book covers into Amazon ads. You can add badges to your ad that say, “Listen now on Audible” or “Download on Kindle.” It creates those badges for you. But if you know Photoshop, you don’t need to use those tools.

I love the idea of adding social proof. It’s a great way of including marketing psychology in your advertising. People want to do what they see other people doing, and social proof shows them what others are doing.

You’ve built this list of 6,000 emails, and you’re still running the ads. You’ve got a monthly budget, so you continue growing.

When you send an email to your list, what kind of open rate do you get?

Jason: To deliver the reader magnet, I send them straight to the reader magnet, but I also send a follow-up email where they can get the reader magnet again just in case they didn’t decide to download it. I don’t want them to lose it.

That first email is probably not a true, accurate representation of my open rate, but it’s about 26% because most people have already received the download. The subsequent emails of my drip sequence have an open rate ranging from 26% to 50%. I don’t send an email every week. With an automated drip sequence, you can send those first few emails every few days. But after the sequence is complete, the frequency decreases.

I also don’t want to annoy my readers. I’ve ultimately unsubscribed from every author who sends out a weekly newsletter. At some point, the quality of their content isn’t worth it for me. I want to be relentlessly helpful to my readers. For that reason, I try to email only high-quality, useful content once a month. I also have the unsubscribe option there, so it’s easy for them to unsubscribe if they want. You don’t want to spam these people.

Thomas: Right now, you’re in a bidding war with several different publishers, so you want as many subscribers as possible. Once you have a publishing contract in hand, you may consider doing an off-boarding campaign, which is where you get rid of people who aren’t reading your emails. Hopefully, your email service provider does this.

One of the weaknesses of MailChimp is that it’s hard to effectively off-board inactive subscribers. Some people sign up with an email address they never check. With an off-boarding campaign, you can identify those people who never open an email or haven’t opened an email in the last year.

After you identify them, send two or three emails saying, “Hey, do you still want to keep getting emails?” It’s possible that some of those subscribers have privacy settings set high, and they have been opening your emails, but because of their settings, you just don’t know it.

Most of your inactive subscribers don’t exist. You’re paying for phantom emails, and you don’t need to. It happens to every list. Even a clean list that was grown in all the best, organic ways has some churn.  

People’s email addresses change. They get a new job, and their old work email becomes obsolete. When that happens, your high-quality, helpful email just goes to an empty hole. There’s no reason to pay for those subscribers because it also reduces your delivery rate. The higher your open rate is, the higher your delivery rate will be.

You’ll want to wait to clean your list until after you get a contract, but once you get that contract in hand, you may be able to raise your open rate by purging some of the inactive subscribers. Your list is still young, so it’s less of an issue.

I love that you’re writing valuable emails. High-quality, helpful content is more important than frequency. Only send email at a frequency that makes sense. Sending a weekly email doesn’t make sense for most authors. But if you’re rapid-releasing or if you have a big backlist, you can email more frequently with your new deals and discounts.

I interviewed Chautona Havig, who has written more than 52 books. Every week she puts a different book on sale. You know what? That’s a valuable email. People like receiving emails about a new book sale. It gets people reading through her backlist, and it’s a great reward for being on her list.

If you don’t have a book out yet, or you’re not releasing a new podcast every week, then monthly frequency, or every other month, is a solid frequency.

Facebook Ad Copy

Thomas: How do you decide what text to put in that ad?

Jason: To optimize my ad copy, I test two different options for the description.

I always make sure that my ad write-up is short enough so it doesn’t get cut off. If it gets cut off, Facebook makes people click to “see more…” if they want to read the rest of it. Your ad copy or description must be brief.

I’ll try out different write-ups, and sometimes I’m surprised which one does better. For example, I’ve tested the following copy:

A: “To a church that has become so quick to embrace violence, the early Christians offer a powerful alternative.”

B: “God made iron for tilling, not killing,” and 99 other quotes from the early church about not killing, though sadly, they all don’t rhyme.”

Try out different lines and test to see which one works best.

Thomas: You’ve been advertising and experimenting for several years. What else have you learned that people can put into practice?

Jason: My first tip is to use your ad to help grow your Facebook Page following. There’s that little bell symbol where you get Facebook notifications. If you’re in Facebook Ads Manager, click that bell, and you’ll see all your notifications. You’ll find one that says something like, “Jill and Bill and 15 others reacted to a link from your page. Help them see…” and the rest of the notification is cut off. These are people who didn’t necessarily download your reader magnet, but they reacted to your ad. They gave it a thumbs-up or a heart.

When you click that notification, it brings up everyone who’s reacted to your ad. My ads get a lot of backlash. Most of my comments are from people who didn’t download my reader magnet, and they want to talk about how Christians are violent.

Anyone who gave me a thumbs up or a heart—in other words, a positive reaction—gets an invitation to like my Facebook page. I have to go through that list and manually invite the people who had a positive reaction. Only about one out of five end up liking my page. That grows my page at a slower rate than my email list, but I’m squeezing everything I can out of my ads.

My second tip is to put a link to your sign-up page. I have a sign-up form on my website where visitors can sign up to get my reader magnet. I put the link to that page in my Instagram bio so people can click that and be taken to my sign-up page. That’s another free way to get people to join your mailing list.

Ultimately, though, you want to optimize your ads. Facebook has a lot of great data that tells you what it cost to show the ad to men ages 40 to 55 versus ages 30 to 32, for example. You can see how much it cost to show the same ad to women in those age ranges.

With that information, you can optimize and try showing your ad only to women in a certain age range or men in a certain age range. If you want to advertise in different countries, the cost will be different. If you’re only publishing your book in the U.S. and Canada, then there’s no point in getting cheaper leads from New Zealand, Australia, or India. You don’t just want the cheapest leads. You want quality leads.

Facebook provides a lot of great data so you can see what’s working best. You can even look at what devices people were using when Facebook showed them your ad. You can see whether it was an iPhone or Android, and you can target just those devices. It can get complex.

Facebook wants you to succeed because they want your money. There are great tutorials out there. If you’re getting stuck and feel like it should cost less per lead, you can sign up for free appointments with some of Facebook’s staff who can help you optimize your ads.

Thomas: Once you start paying Facebook, you become Facebook’s customer, and suddenly they start caring about you. They want you to succeed, which makes a difference.

As you’re doing these experiments and seeing the demographic data, you can present that same data in your proposal or give it to your publisher’s marketing team. They don’t know any of that information about your book unless you tell them.

One of the benefits of paying for digital advertising is that you’ll get valuable data. Facebook data is probably the easiest for most authors because it has so much psychographic targeting information. You’re not targeting people based on search terms they’re typing into Google. You’re targeting them based on the kind of person they are, especially for a book like this. You’re targeting deep-seated core values.

The data is also valuable for a book proposal because it demonstrates a level of commitment and sophistication that many authors don’t have.

The marketing and sales people at the publishing company are the most likely to say no to a book. When the acquisitions editor brings the book to the pub board, that editor is already sold on your book. They can usually sell it to the other editorial people in the room. But the sales person and the marketing person are often the ones who have to say, “No. I don’t think we can sell that.”

Your book becomes very interesting to a pub board when you have a proposal with a strong marketing plan that shows rapid platform growth and really good reader data. I’m not surprised that you have competing offers. They can see that you know what you’re doing. You’ve demonstrated that you know how to find your audience, which is something they don’t know how to do.

Jason: It’s even valuable if you choose to go indie. Push yourself to go through this steep learning curve. In the process, you’ll learn how to do advertising to help promote your book once it’s out. In addition, you’ll know your audience better.

Thomas: To clarify, we have been talking about running ads to get people to sign up for a free reader magnet. I don’t recommend that traditional authors advertise their books on Facebook. In most cases, it makes no financial sense because you end up losing money on every sale. 

Let’s say you need to sell 5,000 copies of your book to earn out your advance. That means for the first 5,000 sales, you make no additional money. You’ve already been paid that money when you received your advance.

If you’re paying $.40 per click on a Facebook ad, you’re losing $.40 for every one of those sales.

Once you earn out your advance and receive a royalty check, you’ll be earning $.80 – $1.00 per copy sold. To keep the math simple, let’s say you earn $1.00 per copy sold after earning out your advance. At that point, if you can buy a reader for $.50 per click, then you can technically earn $.50 on every sale. That seems like a good deal. But the problem is that you’re spending the money now, and you won’t get the money back from your publisher until 6-12 months later because they only pay royalties every six months. It makes for a terrible cash flow cycle.

If your publisher goes out of business or there’s a delay, you’ve basically lent a bunch of money to your publisher. For traditional authors, the finances just don’t work for advertising a book. I don’t know of any traditional authors who can profitably advertise and make money back from the royalty, even if you remove the cash flow issues.

On the other hand, it’s common for indie authors to pay $1.00 – $3.00 per sale. But if you’re making $5.00 per copy, that works. If you’re making $1.00 per copy, it doesn’t work.

However, advertising does make sense for traditional authors who want to build an email list of readers. Once you get these people on your email list, you can sell them multiple books in the future. Besides that, you’re building a relationship with them. You’re hoping they’ll forward your valuable emails to their friends. Each reader is like an ember in a different part of the forest that will help a fire spread.

Different authors are in different positions when it comes to advertising. For some, $200 per month isn’t feasible. For others, it seems like a great starting point.

Jason: Absolutely. It’s not cheap, but I view it as an investment. I would not have multiple publishers competing for my book if I hadn’t grown this email list. In some ways, it will have paid for itself with the advance.

It may not make sense to continue to run Facebook ads to try and sell the book. If that’s the case, I’ll lean towards what I would call “platform adjacent friends” who are influencers in different circles. I’ve been building relationships with them for years, so I’ll utilize their platforms for free. I’ll continue to use my platform as well.

Thomas: Where can people find out more about you and your reader magnet?  

Jason: My website is JasonGPorterfield.com, and when you visit, you can get a copy of 100 Early Christian Quotes About Not Killing.

Thomas: If you do multiple podcast interviews, you may look into buying the domain name 100ChristianQuotesonNotKilling.com or something like that. You can have that domain redirect to a landing page. If you have a good reader magnet, it may make sense to spend $10 to buy a domain to go with it.

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