The ultimate Bookbub promotion strategy

How to get your book chosen on Bookbub, how to structure promotions – and an inspiring case study!

You’ve launched your book, you’ve accrued some sales, you’ve had some nice comments from readers and then …

Launch sales drop away. You may not have another book out (if you’re me) for another twelve months. It’s not that your books become invisible on Amazon, exactly – you’ll still be kicking around on some sub-bestseller lists, you’ll probably be visible on some Also Boughts – but, no question, your sales drop off to levels that are a pale shadow of what they were.

So what do you do?

Well, there are a few possible answers to that.

After your book launch: some strategies

Meet Bookbub!

One popular answer is: just keep pumping out the books. Bookouture, a superb British digital-only publisher, works on a book-every-three-months model. The beauty of that is that no sooner has a reader finished one book by Author X than they can pre-order the next one. (Amazon pre-orders are limited to 90 days, hence the three month model.)

Although Bookouture is the most visible example of such a publisher, the basic model was invented by indies. John Locke, Sean Platt / Johnny B. Truant, Adam Croft, and countless others blazed that trail, or variants of it.

And the model works. Each new launch helps build the mailing list and elevates the visibility of the entire series. What’s more, because you accumulate backlist so fast, even if you only make $200-300 per title in a quiet month, your list may be as big as 10-20 titles long. You only have to multiply that out, add in some extra money during those juicy launch months, and suddenly the financial arithmetic starts to look more appealing.

Disadvantages? Well, none really, except you have to pump out the fiction and maybe (like me) you feel that you can’t do that and retain the quality.

So a second popular answer is: advertise the heck out of your books.

That’s easier said than done, to be honest. Facebook ads are very expensive these days, and conversion rates have fallen. AMS ads are fabulous value, but can be really hard to scale meaningfully. But yes, advertising is still an option. It still works for some authors, some genres, and some titles.

But a third beautiful answer is Bookbub, designed to stuff money into your pockets, and the more the better.

But Bookbub isn’t so easy to access, and even if you do succeed in accessing it, there are tricks and tools for maximising the value it creates for you.

So buckle up, sit tight, and let’s go to Bookbub.

What is Bookbub?

Bookbub is basically an email service. Readers can sign up (here) for a series of emails that alerts them to high quality ebooks at deeply discounted prices.

That’s great from a reader’s point of view – the emails are human-curated, so you are getting some real assurances as to quality and the books are priced at a minimum 50% discount, but are often free or just $0.99.

Obviously, readers can specify what genres they’re interested in, and Bookbub is smart enough to flex those lists as tastes and interests change.

The reason why this service is so great for authors is that Bookbub’s email lists are huge. I write crime fiction and Bookbub’s crime emails go out to nearly 4 million crime readers worldwide. Sure, lots of those 4 million won’t read or open every email. And sure, not everyone is going to be interested in your book, but the numbers are still huge.

Bookbub reckons that a free crime book should expect around 50,000 downloads. A $0.99 one might hit 4,000 sales.

In a day.

How does Bookbub make money?

Bookbub’s service is free to readers, but as an author (or publisher) you have to pay to play. The full data can be found here, but suffice to say that the cost in a popular genre can run into thousands of bucks.

If you want to submit your crime novel as a free ebook, it’ll cost you $512. If you want to advertise it as a $2.99 ebook, it’ll cost you a thought-provoking $2,560.

How does Bookbub make money for indie authors?

These numbers are impressive, but the astute indie may be thinking, “50,000 downloads multiplied by no money at all, equals, uh … hang on, that can’t be right.”

Even if you price your book at $0.99, it’s quite likely that the actual sales made on the day of your Bookbub promo will only just cancel out the cost of buying the promotion in the first place.

This might makes it sound like Bookbub is fun as a way to draw attention to your books, but not actually a way to make money.

Except it is.

Because Bookbub’s numbers are so huge, they basically buy you access to the upper end of Amazon’s sales rankings. And sure, you may or may not make money on the day of the actual promo, but who cares about that? If you’re smart (and have any kind of backlist), you make money by the spadeful in the days and weeks that follow.

In essence, Bookbub gives you visibility on Amazon.

That visibility brings new eyes to your book page. Not just Bookbub users. Not just your existing readership. But completely new readers.

A proportion of those guys buy your book. That’s new readers, new fans, for you.

And the day after Bookbub, sure: your sales rank starts to crash back to earth again. But not all the way, and as you travel back down from (say) #100 on Bookbub day to (say) #30,000 or wherever your ‘steady state’ sales rank tends to settle, you will accumulate new readers and new sales.

Because most writers eliminate or reduce their discounting post-Bookbub, those new sales will be at full price. And, of course, a good proportion of those new readers will become committed fans of your whole series, so a $0.99 or free Bookbub offer could bring in readers who then buy half a dozen books or more at the full $4.99, or whatever your chosen price point is.

(Need some actual figures on an actual Bookbub promo? Stay with me. We’re getting there.)

How to get selected for a Bookbub promotion

There’s no real magic here. Bookbub tells you exactly what you need to be considered, so you just need to go ahead and supply it.

The minimum requirements are clear enough (listed in full here). Your title, minimum, needs to be:

  • Free or discounted by at least 50%.
  • Error free.
  • A limited-time offer.
  • A full-length book.
  • Available at least in either the US or the UK.

In short: you need to submit a book that is a full-length text, at a radically discounted price, which hasn’t been offered for less money over the past few months, and is high quality (no errors!) and widely available (which is code for “not exclusive to Amazon, please.”)

In addition, you should certainly also review this advice on how to make your submission stand out. The gist there, quite simply, is you need to make sure you are offering Bookbub’s readers a wonderful, professionally produced text that has already demonstrably satisfied numerous readers.

In particular, you should check that:

  • Your book has a classy, professional cover. (More advice here.)
  • Your cover copy (or book description) is classy, inviting, and error free.
  • You have a good number of positive reader reviews for your book or your series. I’d suggest that your entry level ambition should be an average star rating of no fewer than 4.0 and (depending on genre) anywhere from 50 to 100 or more reviews in total. For crime or romance books, you might need to do a fair bit better than that to pass muster.
  • Ideally, you’ll have scored some prize shortlists or awards, or positive critical reviews in nationally recognised outlets, or been a NYT bestseller, or something along those lines. Those things are harder for indies to come by than it is for traditionally published authors, but don’t panic. They’re more of a nice-to-have than a real essential. Great, authentic reader reviews will do just fine instead.
  • You should also aim to have your title available wide, not narrow – that is, not exclusive to Amazon. You should also aim to have your deal global in scope. A flexible promo date also helps with the scheduling. Personally, I don’t think any indie author should be soliciting a Bookbub deal unless they’re offering their work free or at $0.99. (Unless it’s a box set, in which case $1.99 is OK too.)

Peek at the advice before you submit.

Bookbub tells you that they won’t offer the same book to their readers more often than once every six months or any book by the same author more often than every 30 days. That’s true, yes, but a bit misleading in bigger genres. If you’re not a Mr John Grisham or a certain Ms Rowling, I’d suggest that you should bank on getting at most two Bookbub deals in the course of a year … or, more likely, just the one.

How to make Bookbub work for you

The key to making these promotions work is twofold. You need to lure people from the book to the series, and you need to expand the sales window from one day to 2 weeks, or even two months.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you’re like me and you have a six book series to play with. My standard ‘full’ price is $4.99, and I might want to give the first book away for free.

So here’s one way I could do things:

The naked Bookbub strategy

Book #1: down from $4.99 to free. Back to (say) $2.99 post-promo

Books #2-#6: $4.99 (no change)

That’s fine, except that it doesn’t really do anything to lure Bookbubbers into the series then and there. A lot of them will probably think, “hey, this series looks interesting, but expensive. I’ll read this free book at my leisure and if, in a few weeks time, I want more, I’ll take a look then.”

And sure, you will pick up new readers that way, but you’ll get a thin trickle drawn out over a number of weeks, and that trickle will do nothing so great for your sales rank, or your visibility. We’ve reached those Bookbub free-sample types, and no one else.

So let’s try running our promo like this instead:

The enticing Bookbub strategy

Book #1: down from $4.99 to free. Back to (say) $2.99 post-promo

Books #2-#6: $0.99 (for a few days post-promo, then $4.99)

The brilliant thing about this approach is that Bookbubbers are likely to see that the free book is an entry to a whole, wonderful, cheap series, and they’ll fill their boots. Yes, you’re giving the book away free, but you’re making money back from all those $0.99 sales.

$0.99 is hardly great, but those are paid sales, which means they boost sales rank, so that by the time you do snap back to full price, your books are going to be a lot more visible than they were before.

But it gets better.

Because there’s a really obvious extension to this strategy, and one that instantly adds a ton of profitability.

The crafty Bookbub strategy

Book #1: down from $4.99 to free. Back to (say) $2.99 post-promo

Books #2-#6: $0.99 on a Kindle Countdown deal (few days post-promo)

Then snap back to full $4.99 price.

If you’re OK with having your #2-and-later books exclusive to Amazon, then you can jump from a 35% royalty share to a 70% one, simply by synchronising your Kindle Countdown deal with your Bookbub promo. That’s an easy-peasy way to put money in your pocket. It’s like having your very own $100-bill counterfeiting plates.

Only legal. And, you know, less likely to land you in a Federal Penitentiary.

The ultimate Bookbub strategy

But it gets better.

We said that to make real money from Bookbub, we wanted to achieve two things:

  • Lure people from the book to the series
  • Expand that sales window

We’ve done that by pricing the rest-of-series books aggressively, and keeping the discount window open for long enough to really boost sales rank and visibility.

But there’s one easy – free – way to ramp up the success of a Bookbub promo, and it’s this: you co-promote the giveaway.

Sure, Bookbub boasts an email list that’s a gazillion times bigger than yours. But who cares about that? You boast an email list consisting entirely of your readers and ones who already have a personal connection with you.

Use that list.

Load bullets into that little Email Service Provider gun of yours, and blaze away like a deranged Charlton Heston. Like the end of a Schwarzenegger movie.

Or, to say the same thing in somewhat less colourful language, allow me to unveil the Ultimate Bookbub Strategy.

The ultimate Bookbub strategy

Book #1: down from $4.99 to free. Back to (say) $2.99 post-promo

Books #2-#6: $0.99 on a Kindle Countdown deal (4 days post-promo)

Then snap back to full $4.99 price

Email support from your list:

Emails to go out Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4

If you like, also a teaser on Day -2, or something like that

And sure, most of your readers may have bought most of your books, but only a fairly small fraction of your list will have bought everything. Even committed fans may have missed the launch of #5, or have lost the copy of #2 that they once had on their Kindle. And even if they have got everything, maybe a low-cost sale like this is the moment where they think, “Oh, what a great offer, I’ve got to tell my reader-buddies about this.”

In short, if you email your fans to say, “Hey, if you’ve got any holes in your collection, this is the perfect time to fill them,” that’ll seem like a helpful, kind and generous offer. You’re not annoying them, you’re helping them.

Meanwhile, the support that Bookbub has given your books gets another kick from the further support that your readers give them.

Result: huge sales rank boost, long term visibility gains – and sales.

New sales, to new readers, at full price.

An inspiring case study

That all sounds good, right?

But you’re an indie author, and I know how your mind works. Talk is all very well, but in the end it comes down to the figures.

So here are some figures.

I ran a Bookbub promo earlier this year, using essentially the Ultimate Bookbub Strategy described above. The full price for my books is $4.99. My email list at the time was then about 6,000 names, but a good chunk of those related to the UK, where I’ve been traditionally published in the past. I’d say my email list then wasn’t huge – it’s more than doubled since February – but it was pretty committed. My open rates and click rates were always excellent.

So.

That’s the background. I ran a Bookbub promo, bringing my #1 series title down to free, on February 21, 2017. Here’s what happened:

On the day of the promo

My #1 title hits the #1 rank in the Amazon free charts in the US.

It does the same in the UK.

My other titles start to sell like crazy. I’d earned out my $512 Bookbub fee by about midday EST on the day of the promo.

Subsequently

Here’s a graph of my sales, month by month, before during at after the promo. (And, to be clear, these are all paid sales. I’ve excluded the free downloads from this graph.)

That big kick in February? That’s my Ultimate Bookbub Strategy only. I did no other promo activity at all. I didn’t even tweet. March and April: the same thing. What you’re looking at there is the tail end of the Bookbub effect. There’s nothing else jigging those numbers around. No new ad campaign. No launch.

And aside from my #1 series title, my books are exclusive to Amazon and so eligible for KU borrows as well. Do you want to see a graph of those borrows?

Here it is.

No huge effect in February itself (because Bookbub readers were digesting book #1 before turning to the rest of the series.)

But then came that huge surge in March. The effect was still really significant in April. And even May was ahead of the “steady state” reader-flow in January.

Indeed, if we take January as my “steady state” month, then Bookbub probably delivered the equivalent of an additional 8 new sales-months, and maybe 4-5 new KENP-months.

All that, from a one day free promo.

That cost $512.

In my experience, nothing at all delivers a better outcome than this … aside of course from launching a new book, which has the irritating disadvantage that you actually have to sit down to write the thing.

How to maximise your returns: some reflections

Posts like this one follow a conventional strategy.

  • Introduce a book-promotional topic (in this case, Bookbub)
  • Outline a basic strategy
  • Introduce some refinements to that strategy
  • Reveal some case-study style data
  • And – ta-da! – job done

And whilst posts like this one are really useful, and the strategies outlined do really work, they also miss something.

The thing that they miss is still the one thing that really, really matters. Think about it: why does our Ultimate Bookbub Strategy actually work?

Bookbub’s giant email list pours gasoline over your sales, and your laser-targeted email-support tosses in a stick of gelignite, but plenty of authors use broadly similar tactics and don’t always see the same results. In the end, the difference between a good Bookbub experience and a dazzling one is simple.

Whether readers love your book.

That Bookbub free promo put a free sample of my work into the hands of 50,000 readers. Do those readers read beyond the first chapter? Do they read all the way to the end? Do they feel compelled to sign up to your email list? Do they feel compelled to go and buy other books in your series? Or maybe the entire series?

The ultimate success of a properly structured Bookbub promo has to do almost entirely with the actual quality of your actual book. And not just the quality of that very first book, but of the entire series.

In the end, you can market books as hard as you like. But if the product is duff, the product is duff. So the final moral of this post is the same as it should always be.

Write hard, and market easy.

It’s more satisfying that way – more satisfying to you, the creative artist – but long run, it’s more profitable too. The best of both worlds.

Happy writing. Happy editing. Happy publishing.

About WW Office

The Writers' Workshop is the world's leading consultancy for first time writers.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.