Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
I was recently at a writing conference and the subject of “BookBub” came up in no fewer than six conversations. Plus, a panel session dedicated to “Getting A BookBub” was filled to standing-room-only capacity. BookBub is one of the hottest book discovery vehicles around.
What is BookBub? It’s a book advertising platform that lets readers know about free ebooks. Its subscribers are located around the world. BookBub primarily communicates via email messages that contain links to discounted or free books, but it also provides messages via social media and the web.
For many independent author-publishers, making their book discoverable is a monumental task. So they’re willing to make their titles free, or deeply discounted, for a brief time and purchase an ad on BookBub, in order to get their work into the e-readers, and hopefully into the hearts, of new readers.
A single BookBub ad can generate thousands of downloads for a book in a single day. No wonder authors can’t stop talking about BookBub.
Problem is, as an author, you can’t simply purchase an ad on BookBub. These ads are in such high demand that one must apply for an ad and wait for service to choose you. Even if you are willing to discount your title and make it available to BookBub’s readers, you have to get through their editorial gatekeepers first. According to the BookBub web site, the “staff works with [authors and publishers] to determine the best ones [books] to feature to our members.”
It’s not simply that BookBub doesn’t have the the capacity to promote all of the books that are submitted. BookBub is intentional about making its own editorial choices. According to the website, “Our team of experts makes sure that we’re only featuring great deals on quality books that you’ll love.”
The reality is, being accepted by BookBub is actually very difficult. The organization is very selective. It’s likely that you will not get chosen. BookBub states that 80-90% of applications are rejected.
So if BookBub rejects your book, you’ve got lots of company. In fact, those conversations I heard about BookBub at the conference? Most of them were people lamenting the fact that BookBub hasn’t chosen them.
But if you’re an author who hasn’t yet “gotten a Bookbub,” don’t fret. Here are three reasons not to shed any tears about getting overlooked by digital publishing’s most-talked-about book discovery vehicle.
No-Tears Reason 1: You’ll avoid all those negative reviews from readers who aren’t right for your book
The reality is that no matter how awesome your book is, there will be people who don’t appreciate it. This is because every book has its target audience—and sometimes those audiences are very narrow. You wrote your book in a specific genre with a specific type of reader in mind. Let’s say you wrote a psychological thriller with graphic descriptions of a murderer’s state of mind. Someone who only enjoys cozy mysteries that don’t contain any gore will probably not like your book. It doesn’t mean your book is bad. It means your book is designed to appease a certain appetite. Many of the best books are very narrowly targeted in this way.
But your BookBub listing will attract all kinds of readers. Sure you can select the genre, and the subscribers are supposed to have also professed to enjoy that genre, but your book is free, after all. Anyone who happens upon the link may download it. That means you’ll get reviews from people outside of your target market.
Though in general, it’s a great idea for a book to receive as many reviews as possible, it’s an even better idea to get good reviews, those worth four or more stars, from people who actually “get” your book. The people are in your niche audience. All other people will probably be much less generous with their stars.
A new ebook is posted to Amazon every five minutes according to Tech Crunch. One wonderful thing about the fact that there are many millions of books out there is that they foster a wonderful assortment of niches that satisfies a huge array of tastes.
Your book probably caters to a narrow niche audience, and maybe even a teeny-tiny micro-niche. The more targeted your book is, the more likely it is that the people in your niche audience will adore it. On the flip side, the more targeted your book is, the more likely it is that people outside of your niche not get it at all.
Here’s an example from real life. My e-book, titled I Hate Reading, is a children’s book for kids who struggle with the act of reading. It’s a humorous tale that derives much of is humor by poking fun at learning techniques employed in schools today. That means seven-, eight- and nine-year-old kids totally get the jokes. They find it hilarious. Think: inside jokes at in summer camp skit. For example, there is lots of silliness in the book about about measuring the amount of time you’re required to read every day—a huge source of stress for second and third graders. The book also employs irony for much of its comedic value—irony that only makes sense if you understand the hyperboles of this niche group of elementary schoolers.
In the book, there’s a blank page intentionally placed about halfway through. Kids go bonkers with laughter when they see that empty space. They also think it’s hilarious that we put the dedication in the middle of the book instead of at the beginning. This is because teachers make a big deal about the parts of a book, of which the dedication is one. Grown-ups don’t see these points as side-splittingly humorous. Plus, they don’t understand the context. I say all of this to demonstrate how a niche audience can be enraptured with delight while everyone just scratches their heads.
So I ask, do you want comments on your online sales page that come from the head-scratchers who wouldn’t come anywhere close to your book if it wasn’t free?
Here’s a comment from one reader of my book on Goodreads: “Well, that was stupid. Lesson learned: Just because it’s a kids book, and it’s free on Amazon, and it has reading in the title, does NOT mean it’s worth your time.” This person clearly is not a kid in my target audience.
On the other hand, here’s an Amazon comment from a teacher—someone who totally gets what I’m trying to do with this book: “I plan to make this the first book in our ‘Learn to Love Reading’ read aloud series!” The teacher understands the context and appreciates the book’s value, its irony, and its humor. This teacher is going to use the book as an example for his class—he doesn’t just appreciate it, he sees its value as a teaching tool.
The Goodreads reader, however, is not in the target audience. The Goodreads reader doesn’t recognize those educational references and doesn’t have a child’s sense of humor—and thereby that reader doesn’t think it’s worth her time.
The point I’m trying to make is that when your book gets listed as free on BookBub, thousands of people outside your target audience are going to download your book and read it. Though it might be a great book for the people you intended it for, not everyone will love it. Disgruntled people are somehow more motivated than satisfied people to comment online, so many of them will make a comment.
If your book isn’t chosen by BookBub, those non-targeted people won’t be grabbing a free copy of your book, and they won’t be frustrated by it. They won’t be motivated to criticize it it online therefore their negative comments won’t discourage your actual target market from buying the book.
So if your title is not accepted by BookBub, your book will receive fewer inappropriate, tangential reviews—and avoiding that negativity is something to feel good about.
No-Tears Reason 2. The freebie sales, though numerous, don’t directly affect your Amazon ranking.
Back when I started advising authors on their marketing, Amazon included free books in their ranking statistics. So if a BookBub ad generated, say, 3,000 free books in a single day, all of those downloads would be credited as actual sales. Cha-ching! The title would shoot right up to Bestseller status (at least temporarily). But that was a long time ago (by Internet standards).
Today, Amazon does not rank free downloads together with books that are sold for actual money. All books whose price is set to free, either temporarily or permanently (the term for this is perma-free) are measured separately. So the thousands of free sales an author gets from a BookBub ad are not going to result in a that coveted orange bestseller banner from Amazon.
In fact, on the day of your BookBub ad, your book will disappear from its usual category rankings. So the books you compete with will keep on nudging their way up or down the rankings—and your book will be absent from the competition.
When your BookBub ad is complete and your book is no longer free, your book’s rank will probably begin in a ranking spot that’s lower than it was on the day before the BookBub ad because it’s been away from the competition for a day (or more, depending on how long you’ve set the price at free). So even though a few thousand new people have your book on their reading devices, those downloads don’t count specifically toward your author or title rank.
No-Tears Reason 3. The whole exercise is only worth the cost if it’s part of a bigger, overall campaign.
BookBub’s ads are not cheap. Currently, to advertise a free promo for a crime fiction book, you have to pay $512. If you wrote a memoir and want to give it away at no cost for a day, you have to shell out $458. Sure, you’re going to get a lot of downloads, but if the book is free, you’re not going to earn that money back as part of that specific promotion. You should only do a BookBub ad it it’s part of a bigger campaign, such as a fan appreciation effort or if you combine the freebie with the launch of another book in your series.
So if you aren’t doing anything else to communicate with your readers then you’re not going to get much of a return on your investment. Having a lot of people download your book isn’t, in and of itself, going to help you sell actual books. And if you spend more money advertising your book than you receive in royalties, you’re not going to be able to last as a gainfully employed author for very long.
Don’t fret… but do re-apply.
If BookBub has rejected your book, it’s a bit of a blow to the old ego, but please, don’t shed any tears. Just dig in and go for it again. Why is it worth applying a second (or third, or fourth) time? Stay tuned for Part Two of this article to discover why you may want to continue to apply for a BookBub ad, and what you can, and should do, to make your title look more attractive to their editors so they’ll eventually give you a shot at this powerful discovery opportunity.