Dear fellow authors,
There have been so many blog posts, forum posts, podcasts, etc. that have discussed what authors did to to market their books using large-scale promotional companies like Bookbub. As an aspiring writer, I’ve found many of them to be very helpful. Now, I feel that it’s my turn to pay it forward in hopes that there are some aspiring writers who are at that same point in their careers, but don’t know how to go about marketing their work.
I’m going to get right to it.
To put things bluntly, my goal for this promotion was to make the NYT or USA Today list. I thought perhaps utilizing Bookbub might help me get there, since I’ve heard so many success stories.
I’m a member of many online writing communities, and many authors share their results of large-scale promotions. These days, Bookbub is the holy grail of marketing companies for authors. Bookbub was my #1 goal, and I wanted to do everything under the sun to get featured. Being a new author, it can be difficult getting accepted at places like Bookbub. But on 6/15/2015, I was floored to receive an email from Bookbub, saying that my book, Scarred was accepted.
So what did I do to get on Bookbub?
1. Applied/re-applied aggressively
Bookbub has tons of categories to apply for. Each category varies in pricing, which is dependent on the # of subscribers in that particular category. For Scarred, I applied for these categories:
- New Adult and College Romance (850k+ subscribers, 1k+ average downloads)
- African American Interest (267k+ subscribers, approx. 390 average downloads)
I had thought about applying for the Contemporary Romance category (1.7 million+ subscribers, 3.8k+ average downloads), but not only did the price deter me, I knew that this category was probably the most competitive to get into.
Every time I received a rejection, I immediately applied again, this time changing the category. I applied 5 times, each time switching between categories.
Some things I kept consistent with my applications:
- Deal Price – One of Bookbub’s requirements is that the book must be discounted 50% or more. Bookbub mentions in their submission tips, that the deeper the discount, the higher the chances of getting chosen. The original price of Scarred was $4.99. The first time I applied, I set the discount price to $1.99. After the first rejection, I kept the discount price to $0.99.
- Flexible Dates – I think the less restrictions for your book, the higher the chance of being accepted. Bookbub also mentions this in their submission tips.
- Availability in all Regions – I feel like Bookbub might give you bonus points for seeing that your book is widely available in the regions that they offer on their application page.
- Fill in all the blanks! Leave no section unfilled. Even put something (meaningful) in the comments section. Maybe explain about your deal, marketing plan, or something similar.
- Wide Retailer Availability – Scarred is currently available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks. An article about Bookbub’s curation process talks about this.
2. Had over a 4-star rating on Amazon – At the time I got accepted by Bookbub, I had about a 4.6 rating on Amazon. I quickly paid my invoice to secure that spot, on the off-chance I receive a one-star review that would possibly bring the rating down below 4 stars and they revoke my application or something (I never heard of Bookbub doing this, but I didn’t want to take any chances). And interestingly enough, I did receive a one-star that brought the rating down to 4.0. I knew one more 1 or 2-star rating would bump it down below 4-stars and I would lose my chances of ever getting the opportunity to take advantage of the big, successful promo sites like Bookbub and others. I had been biting my nails before the promo period even started, hoping that wouldn’t happen.
3. Had 20 reviews on Amazon
It could just be me, but I think this was the biggest reason for me getting accepted more than anything. When I applied 4 (unsuccessful) times, I only had about 15 reviews. Then, within 3-4 days, I received 5 more reviews that brought my review count to 20, so I applied again and got accepted. I remembered someone mentioning this in a writing community I’m a member of, and based on my recent experience, this seems to be true.
Once I had a date secured at Bookbub, I researched a ton of other promo sites and scheduled dates around the Bookbub date. When it was all said and done, I ended up with a promo period that lasted from 7/12/2015 – 7/25/2015. Then I created a chart with the promo website name and prices. I needed to keep track of how much I was spending on advertising in order to calculate how many books I would need to sell to break even.
|Booksends||$100||Ordered extras: EreaderIQ|
|Bookbub||$125||African American Interest category|
|bknights||$21||Ordered extras: Facebook, website, newsletter|
|Ereader News Today||$50|
|SBB Promotions||$50||2-day Book Blitz|
|Bargain Booksy||$100||Ordered extras: Book of the day|
I chose these sites for promo based on price, subscriber base, popularity, and other authors’ experiences and suggestions. Of course, there are tons more others out there that are just as good, but I didn’t use. I will try to use different sites if and when I ever run another large-scale promo.
I spent a total of $565.98 on advertising. With Scarred priced at $0.99, it was too early to tell how many units I would need to sell to break even, since each of the retailers yield different revenue percentages (see below for details)
I created a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of my sales. This is what the final spreadsheet looked like after promo period was over:
The non-greyed-out areas denoted the week I was concentrating on heavy promo in order to count for the bestseller lists.
The result of this promo was NOT a financial success. Here is a detailed breakdown:
|Vendor Name||% of each sale (Vendor % as of 7/2015)||Orig. Price of book||Total price earned per book with percentages calculated|
|Amazon||35%||0.99||(.99 * .35) = 0.35 (Amazon royalty, rounding up)|
|B&N, D2D||40%, 15%||0.99||(.40 * .99) = ~0.40 (B&N royalty, rounding up)(.40 * .15) = .06 (D2D cut).40 – .06 = 0.34 (total B&N royalty with D2D cut calculated, rounding up)|
|iBooks||70%||0.99||(.99 * .70) = 0.70 (iBooks royalty, rounding up)|
Final results with these changes made:
|Vendor Name||Total Sold||Price per book (incl. percentages)||Total revenue|
|Amazon||720||0.35||$249.48||How that revenue number was reached:(720 * .99) = 712.80(712.80 * .35) = $249.48 (Amazon revenue)|
|B&N, D2D||93||0.34||$31.62||How that revenue number was reached:(.99 * .40) = .396 (B&N revenue)(.396 *.15) = .0594 (D2D cut)
(.396 – .0594) = .34 (per unit)
.34 * 93 = $31.62 (B&N revenue)
|iBooks||77||0.70||$53.36||How that revenue number was reached:(77 * .99) = 76.23(76.23 * .70) = $53.36 (iBooks revenue)|
|$565.98||Total Spent on Ads|
I was $231.52 away from breaking even, so this promo was not a financial success.
– Scarred sold 890 books (the most books I’ve ever sold in such a short time)
– Scarred received 2 new Amazon reviews (both positive!)
– Scratched (book 2) received 11 pre-orders during the promo period
– Scarred made the top 100 in three Amazon categories:
- Books > Romance > Sports
- Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Sports
- Books > Romance > Multicultural
– I got the opportunity of a lifetime to be featured on the the holy grail of sites, Bookbub. That alone, meant so much to me.
– Did not break even.
– Unfortunately, even with the Bookbub ad, Scarred did not make any bestseller lists. The book would have had to sell between 8,000 – 10,000 copies just to come close. I would guess that a lot of it has to do with the category that I was selected for. Bookbub’s subscriber base for the African-American Interest category makes up less than 1%.
– I received only 3 new sign-ups to my mailing list. (This is both a pro and con. I was certainly happy with those three sign-ups, but having sold so many books, I was hoping for more.)
– Massive sales (>=100 in a day) after the Bookbub ad did not sustain the day after. As many people had mentioned in forums and on writing loops, I noticed sales the day after Bookbub experienced a sharp drop, rather than a gradual downward slope like it reportedly used to do years ago. So, even though Scarred achieved a high ranking, it wasn’t enough to sustain its position for long.
The promo combinations that were the most effective for me (ie; yielded >=50 total sales, listed in order from highest to lowest):
1. Bookbub/People Reads = 372 sales (this promo occurred on a Friday)
2. Read Cheaply/People Reads/Bargain Booksy = 99 sales (this promo occurred on a Tuesday)
3. Robin Reads/People Reads = 88 Sales (this promo occurred on a Saturday. This promo also happened the day after the Bookbub ad, so I’m thinking many of those sales might have been remnants of that.)
4. Booksends/People Reads = 66 sales (this promo occurred on a Wednesday)
**Note, these sales numbers are an accumulation of Amazon, B&N, and iBooks sales.**
Marketing sites that I will
most likely try to use again:
– Read Cheaply
– Bargain Booksy
– Fussy Librarian
– Book Basset
Amazon, iBooks, & B&N results:
Amazon, by far, out-performed the other vendors, as I had expected (720 total sales). What surprised me, however, was that Barnes and Noble (93 total sales) out-performed iBooks (77 total sales). I had not been making a conscious effort to put a lot of work in promoting for B&N since all the problems the company has been facing and many people are skeptical of it still sticking around in the next five years. Moreover, it’s been mentioned many times that iBooks would be the next contender for Amazon, as they are reportedly the #2 ebook vendor right now. But based on this promo, that didn’t seem like the case.
Two days after the Bookbub promotion (7/18 – 7/19), I received the most B&N sales. During the Bookbub promotion (7/17), I had more iBooks sales (40 total sales) vs. the 33 B&N sales that day.
Even though I had less Apple sales, I earned a lot more since their percentages are significantly lower than B&N (and I wasn’t using an aggregator like D2D).
More about B&N
Before the Bookbub promotion, I was making 0-1 sales a day on B&N. On the day of the Bookbub promotion, my ranking on B&N soared significantly higher (almost in the top 100 range). After the Bookbub promotion, I experienced a gradual downward slump in rankings, but I’d maintained 4-5 sales a day. This was definitely a pleasant surprise, especially for a vendor like B&N.
More about iBooks
Before the Bookbub promotion, I was making 0-1 sales a day on iBooks. On the day of the Bookbub promotion, sales spiked to 40 sales, the most I’ve ever sold on iBooks. I’m not sure if the book ever reached a high-visibility ranking or what. After the Bookbub promotion, sales dipped considerably, and continued the downward trend, returning to 0-1 sales a day in just a few days.
My overall assessment based on this is that it’s much harder to sustain a high ranking/visible position on iBooks than B&N. Rankings will fall much quicker on iBooks than B&N. I’m not sure why that is the case.
Below are the charts of each of the vendors that illustrate the individual results of the promo period (7/12/2015 – 7/25/2015):
B&N (Used Draft 2 Digital to distribute):
How do I know how much I need to sell to break even?
First, I needed to wait until the end of the promo and add up the total number of units sold from each vendor. I sold an overall total of 890 units across all vendors.
– 720 of the 890 units came from Amazon. Therefore, Amazon made up approx. 81% of my total units sold.
– 93 of the 890 units came from B&N. Therefore, B&N made up approx. 10% of my total units sold.
– 77 of the 890 units came from iBooks. Therefore, iBooks made up approx. 9% of my total units sold.
Since I was at a deficit (-$231.52), in order to figure out how many more units I needed to sell in order to break even, I performed these steps:
Total net loss: -$231.52
Amazon: (81% of total units sold)
-231.52 * .81 = 181.53
181.53 / .35 (Amazon royalty rate)
= 536 more units need to be sold on Amazon
B&N (10% of total units sold)
-231.52 *.10 = 23.152
23.152 / .34 (B&N royalty rate, incl. D2D cut)
= 69 more units need to be sold on B&N
iBooks (9% of total units sold)
-231.52 * .09 = 20.8368
20.8368 / .70 (iBooks royalty rate)
= 30 more units need to be sold on iBooks
Thoughts on Promo Vendors:
Ereader News Today (ENT) – ENT is a legendary promo site that many considered to be the Bookbub before Bookbub. ENT has been around for many years–long before Bookbub was around–and many authors had amazing results with them. When I received a response that my ebook was chosen to be featured, I was absolutely stoked about this. Scarred was even listed in their Contemporary Romance category, too, which is pretty popular. I went in expecting to easily yield a hundred sales at least. My final results were underwhelming. The book yielded 42 sales overall, and I didn’t even break even for the $50.00 ENT ad I paid for (I was $8.80 in the hole). Now, I’m certainly not complaining about the 42 sales, however, I had gone into this promo with certain expectations based on the majority of other authors’ positive experiences. Perhaps ENT has lost its steam compared to years ago. Or perhaps I was just unlucky. I may try ENT again at a later date, but for now, I’m going to take some time to assess them a bit more.
Book Basset – This was my first time using them, and I really loved their service! They not only featured Scarred on their blog (along with a wonderful, small positive review), but they also featured it on a Facebook post. They have a lot of (legit) subscribers on their Facebook page who are super-engaged in their posts. Some subscribers even comment on the posts and on the BookBasset blog! I feel like Scarred received a lot of exposure with this particular promo service, and I would definitely try using them again in the future.
My main takeaway from this promo:
1. **Reviews are everything!** This includes the number of reviews and the actual rating. Most sites these days look solely at your stats on Amazon. As soon as I received 20 Amazon reviews, that opened up the door for so many opportunities for me to take advantage of the big advertising sites. Moreover, the fact that Scarred had over a 4-star rating made my chances even higher. If you have at least 20 reviews and a rating of 4-stars and above, I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity while you can.
What if you are a new author with no reviews? I was once in this situation. Here is what I did:
- Goodreads Groups – I am a part of a New Adult book club that has a special forum called ‘Read to Review’. Basically, you offer your book to readers who are obliged (as per the rules of that particular forum) to review the book if they choose to read it. There are tons of groups like this on Goodreads, so find the genre that best suits your book, join the group, and give it a try! This is a totally free way to get reviews (as well as network with readers).
- Review Tour – I used Xpresso Book Tours and Njkinny’s Tours and Promotions for my review tour. These services cost a small fee. Note: This is NOT considered paying for reviews. I paid the tour host to do the legwork for me and find lots of interested reviewers who wanted to read and review my book and feature the review on their blog. I did not receive all 5-star ratings, but all of them were detailed and helpful.
2. Pricing low means you’re going to have to sell a lot of units to break even – After carefully recalculating some numbers, I realized I’d over-estimated what I was really earning because I was not taking into account the vendors’ percentage cuts. With Scarred being priced at 99 cents, I would have to sell well over a thousand units just to break even. If the book was priced at a higher price point, then I would not need to sell as much, however many of the big promo sites, like Bookbub will not promote books priced over $2.99. And your chances of getting featured with Bookbub are much higher when your ebook discounts are steeper (or even free).
Overall, even though I did not break even I’m satisfied with the results of my first-ever large-scale promotion. It’s often said that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. I would definitely do this again, if given the chance. Scarred got a lot of exposure, and potential new fans. I’m hoping my strategy will be useful for other writers, but please do not take this strategy as gospel. What worked for me might not necessarily work for you. But the best thing you can do is try.
YMMV. Good luck!
Questions? Leave a note below! I’ll be more than happy to answer them. Comments are always welcome, too. 🙂