Trying to publicize your books is hard. It’s one of the things that you don’t think much about until you try to transition from “writer” to “author.” At least I didn’t. But I had seen enough authors talking about the need to do publicity that I had some idea what I was getting myself into. What I didn’t know anything about, however, was advertising.

Last summer, I saw a Facebook group that was going to offer a free starter class for people who wanted to learn about advertising using ads at Amazon. I decided to spend a little money up front just trying out the advertising system. I first tried letting Amazon construct the ad (basically just showing a book among search results, I think). But I think I clicked something wrong and it didn’t work at all. It didn’t cost anything because nobody clicked on it — whatever it was (I couldn’t figure out how to get it to show me what the ad was that it was even showing). But it tried again and got some tiny number of clicks. But it was clear that a lot more fine tuning was required. So I tried the class.

The class was based around long screencasts. I quickly found I couldn’t stand to watch the screencasts at all. But accompanying the screencasts were click-by-click directions for the activities. This I could do, so I set up a handful of experimental ads like they recommended. The results were quite discouraging. I didn’t get any sales (as far as I could tell) and, when I spoke with another author who had taken a similar (but more advanced class), he indicated that you needed to get orders of magnitude larger responses in order actually see appreciable sales. And he had decided it wasn’t worth it.

Several people said that Facebook ads were a better fit, so I decided to hold my nose and give those a try. I truly and wholeheartedly despise Facebook. But I gave them some money to “boost” a post I had already written to promote Better Angels: Tour de Force. The interface was less complicated and it seemed like I got better results. So, after that ad finished, I decided to run another. When I did, however, I discovered how enshittified the Facebook ad system is.

The first ad you buy has reasonable defaults that make sense: it defaults to $14 for a week with a goal of getting people to click on your link. But when you try to do the next one, it dicks with the defaults. It tries to get you to spend $42 or $56 or some much larger amount. And it defaults to other weird goals like “get more engagement” or “get more messages via Facebook Messenger”. And it tries to get you link Instagram and What’s App accounts with your Facebook account. Ugh. I feel so unclean.

Since I’ve been playing around with my book promotion posts already, I will probably continue to purchase ads at some low level. Since it does seem to actually put my ad in front of people who do, at some level, click through to the book page. And maybe some of them actually buy a book. If nothing else, it gives me some additional metrics on which book promotion posts are more effective.

It still feels a lot like just rolling the dice.