I really enjoy making my own book ads for social media. I realize this is not the case for everyone, but there are some concepts that can make it easier. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on design/my tips and tricks (some of which may be pretty obvious, but that’s fine – fundamental principles are fundamental for a reason!).
Note: Examples do not represent current sales! This guide also is specifically about design/content. I am not an expert in Facebook or Amazon ads.
Here are my current or recent graphics:
Aaaand some early attempts:
As you can see, my ads have…improved over time (as you can also see, I really like puns):
And yet I could still use any of these now. And they’re even more useful with text attached (as in a social media post).
Disclaimer: your results may vary. These tips/etc. are based on my experience.
First of all, a very important note: I cannot take credit for the book cover or the background art that can be seen in some of these banners/ads. Partly because I have worked as a designer, I outsourced my book cover (which I strongly recommend others do). Cover art by Stuart Bache of Books Covered, Ltd. He provided excellent marketing assets, which you can see here.
(Let’s not discuss the mockup I tried to make initially, hahaha. I am good at working with pretty art. I am not so good at coming up with said art myself. But I have a very clear understanding of how something should look. Know your strengths and weaknesses.)
Note: I can’t figure out how to put actual alt text on non-gallery images, so the captions are the “alt text.” Sorry!
How to construct a useful ad
- Clean background
- Core image(s)
- What I want the ad/graphic to convey.
The graphic should have:
- Clean lines
- Contrast (colors)
- Striking font
- Proper dimensions and readability (!)
- Quotes (social proof) if possible [please get permission to use!]
- Alt text for screen readers etc. (should describe the image + any text)
The text should have:
- Other important info as needed
Part I. Fundamentals
I generally start out with a blank background (or my red desert sunset background) and one core image or set of images. This is almost always my book cover or covers.
Here’s the simplest example I have:
The background color should generally come from the cover itself, which Canva helpfully provides. I usually do white or black, sometimes red.
After adding the core image, I then add the next element, which is what I want the ad/graphic to convey, in this case a single review quote. (Normally I’d add my website, but I didn’t in this case.)
Part II. Graphic Elements
The next step is to make sure that my graphic has the following:
- Clean use of space (not cluttered). I tend to think in terms of sections (top/middle/bottom) and then columns (middle: left + right), for example, and cluster elements together.
- Striking, easy-to-read, big-enough fonts (that are usable for commercial purposes!). I like the “lift” effect in Canva. I try not to use drop shadow as it can be blurry.
- High contrast (colors, background, fonts, etc.)
- Looks good at small or larger resolution/is the correct dimensions (check on banners in particular)
- Some kind of social proof: quote(s), award(s)
I check that it conveys what I want it to (see Fundamentals) before downloading it as high-resolution as possible.
Some examples, mostly from older to newer:
- Older, still in use because it’s so easy to read at a glance and conveys everything I want to convey:
I really like this one. It’s striking visually. It’s easy to read despite being in all caps, the font absolutely screams sci-fi to me, the eye is drawn to the center (with help from the glow in the background), the lines are all clean, and there’s enough empty space that it doesn’t feel cluttered despite having quite a bit of information.
It has my cover, two reviews, and my website. I can include the blurb and link in the ad, and that’s all I need.
(More later on actual text in social media posts.)
2. Gold and more gold:
This one feels very elegant to me. It’s visually broken into three sections: cover on the right, social proof on the left, blurb on the bottom (and website). I usually don’t include the blurb in the actual graphic, but this one works due to spacing. The colors all work well together – I went for a more metallic set of stars to match the various medallions, and I pulled the orange-gold font from the cover (see the top right of the S in AESTUS), if I recall.
I wouldn’t normally put quite so much info on a graphic, but I like how this one looks.
3. 2000s movie-poster style:
This one is more of a banner style, so probably shouldn’t be used on Instagram, for example, unless you add a border to make it a square (I’d recommend white or black in this and in most cases).
I love how the font “pops.” The font is very clean, high-contrast, and easy to read (I used the “lift” effect, if I recall, on Canva) on a bright, eye-catching background. The overall graphic looks a little early-2000s movie poster, which is fine with me as a 90s kid (it was pretty much the height of cool back then, plus I consciously wanted my cover to resemble early epic-adventure far-frontier sci-fi novels from back in the day, sooo…). Importantly, the graphic clearly conveys three things: genre (sci-fi), social proof (review + award medallions), and where to find the book.
Contrast with more modern looks that do little for me:
Pretty, but kind of meh. Both feel very flat, despite the font’s drop-shadow effect in the second image; I suspect in that case it’s the glow and the specific yellow. It feels blah and washed-out.
This is a good spot to note that as much as I love the marketing assets for Book 2 (moonrise! stars! blue!), I rarely use the background because it’s too hard to read smaller text and I’m more limited in the colors I can use/the lift effect is less noticeable against a darker background because it utilizes a kind of shadow, so things don’t pop as much:
This is my old Twitter banner; my current one is similar/updated. It looks great there, but I don’t typically use it for ads due to the above reasons.
My Current Ads
I’ve figured out the types of effects, spacing, etc. that work for me, and the results look great, in my (of course subjective) opinion.
As you can see, I update the main quotes as I go. I tend to rotate through several, but I usually put the IHeartSci-fi one in there (thanks, IHeartSci-fi!), as well as this very kind quote by Ian the Reader (thanks!). I also at one point crowdsourced opinions as to which of these three (plus a fourth red option with the blurb) was most effective, mostly to see if my instincts were correct. People pretty unanimously liked the black backgrounds due to the higher contrast, which is what I had been thinking:
A quick thought on spacing and clutter
Again, note the use of space. There’s sort of a columns/grid thing going on: top, middle (3 columns), and bottom. Or, for the longer review (which could be a blurb if needed): top (2 columns), middle, bottom.
These are my latest ads. I realize these are more cluttered but I think they work. I may experiment further. I’ve found a font I like (very readable even at a small scale), I’ve worked out the spacing, I can fit the medallions without cluttering too much…
Looking through all of these, here are my favorites for the reasons mentioned above:
I particularly like that the top left one looks good huge or very small. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re putting it on a website (viewed on desktop as well as mobile!).
Here are some quick ads I did for sales:
As you can see, I tried various color combos (Canva has a useful duplicate feature so you can make multiple of the same ad and then tweak the parameters). I ended up going with the white background and red text, if I recall. I like the bottom-right ad but it’s a bit cluttered unless you zoom in.
Some people include a “Buy now!” button, by the way, but I really don’t like those – they feel like those annoying promotions that I skim past. Example (with not-super-readable font, admittedly):
Part III. Text
The graphic is only half the battle. You also need usable text for a social media post. My “formula” is pretty simple:
- Opening line (“Looking for a new read?” or similar)
- Link (!)
- Review, sometimes
- Other important info as needed
Sample social media post:
Looking for a new read?
An underground city, built centuries ago to ride out the heat. A society under attack. And a young solar engineer whose skills may be key to saving her city…if she doesn’t get killed first.
#books #scifi #SFF
So there you have it.
Psychology, or why this often works
Proof that this strategy can actually work (haha): https://matthewjlarge.wordpress.com/2021/01/13/book-peddling/
In brief, the ad above is eye-catching, to the point, looks professional, doesn’t include unnecessary info, and includes enough info to make a potential reader want to click the link or go to my website. It’s a bit like a digital version of picking up a book in the store.
Note to those who subscribe to Blue – make sure your ads don’t go past the See More cutoff. I often don’t bother to click on that. Facebook is similar – get your info into the first couple lines!
By the way, you can also just do fun non-ad stuff like book quotes (and maybe include a link to your book sample, see what I did there?):
(The bottom right one was made for me by a friend and fellow author, Katherine Franklin! Thanks, Katherine!)
Thanks so much for reading!
For more thoughts on marketing: https://szattwell.com/2022/08/09/on-marketing/