I Used BookBub to Promote My Novel, and So Should You

Posted: 13th January 2015 by Jason Kristopher in My Work
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TL;DR – This is a long post about my recent BookBub promotion. If you’re not interested in my results or experience with this promotional site, this is not the post for you. If you just don’t want to read the whole thing but still want to know how it went, BookBub was the best $100 I ever spent on advertising, bar none.

UPDATE 2: This post was written on Jan 13, 2015, just after my first BookBub promotion. I’ve updated the spreadsheet attached with the most recent numbers from BookBub, as of April 7, 2016.

UPDATE: I’ve updated the spreadsheet with some new features. See below.

Many writers have heard of BookBub, the daily email service providing book deals to millions of subscribers. From their site:

BookBub is a free service that helps millions of readers discover great deals on acclaimed ebooks while providing publishers and authors with a way to drive sales and find new fans. Members receive a personalized daily email alerting them to the best free and deeply discounted titles matching their interests as selected by our editorial team.

I, too, had heard of them many times, and though it sounded like a good opportunity, their high prices had made me very reluctant to sign up. As the owner/operator of a small press, every single dollar has to be accounted for, every expense has to justify itself many times over. How could spending so much money without any guaranteed results be justified? And just for one day of promotion? I thought it was too much risk.

I was wrong. So very, very wrong. In the end, my promotion on BookBub was the single most effective advertising I have ever done for my book in nearly four years.

I’ve got some crunchy numbers for you in a second, but here’s some important things to note.

  1. Making your book free is not a good idea for standalone writers. I made my first book ‘perma-free’ because it’s a loss-leader. It’s the first book in a series, so readers get to try the series out and see if they like it, then hopefully buy the others. This doesn’t work for books not in series, so I’d recommend discounting your books to 99¢ in that case.
  2. Not every book gets approved for BookBub. You have to apply, and be accepted by their editors. This means the editors will take into account more than just your star rating (at least presumably), and look at the book as a whole to see whether it will be good for their readers.
  3. Not every genre costs the same. BookBub charges different prices for their promotions based on the genre the book is in and how many subscribers that genre has for them. So, for example, the Mysteries genre will cost you the most, with 2.1 million subscribers, and the LGBT genre will cost you the least, with “only” 110,000 readers.
  4. Nothing is guaranteed. They provide ranges and an average downloads/sales for each genre alongside the costs, but they don’t guarantee that you’ll receive even the low end of the range for your promotion. How could they guarantee that? It wouldn’t make sense. So herein lies the risk.

Do I still think it’s worth it? Hell yes, I do. The truth of the matter is that not everyone will receive the response I did. Not everyone will have a good cover, or an enticing blurb, or any of the myriad of other things. You have to go into this with the right expectation and goal in mind.

My goal with this promotion was to gain exposure, not to sell more books or gain tons more reviews. I knew that more than doubling the number of books previously distributed would lead to more sales of the sequel and add-on, and at least a few reviews. But what I really wanted was my book on 15,000 more Kindles and some Best Seller Lists. And I got that. Eventually, those folks will get around to reading them, and then maybe picking up the second and third (when it’s finished), and leaving some reviews.

But the most important thing was the Amazon Best Seller lists. Yesterday, my book reached as high as #13 on the Top 100 Free Kindle books (it’s still #15 as of this writing), out of close to 100,000 currently listed (I couldn’t find an exact number). Also, and just as importantly, it reached (and is still at) #1 on no less than six different category lists:

  • Science Fiction & Fantasy
  • Science Fiction
  • Science Fiction > Military
  • Science Fiction > Post-apocalyptic
  • Science Fiction > Dystopian
  • Genre Fiction > War

Why is this important? Because the book will stay at that ranking (or close to it) for several days, meaning more downloads and more readers. Given what we know about Amazon’s ranking algorithms, the more downloads over a sustained period, the longer the book stays at a higher ranking. Higher ranking = more downloads = higher ranking… you get the idea.

So from a ‘Did I accomplish my goal’ perspective, this promotion was fantastically successful. But how did it fare in downloads, you ask? Well, here are those numbers I promised.

Since May of 2011 when The Dying of the Light: End was first released, I had sold 11,479 copies. In August of 2014, the book was made “perma-free” through price-matching on Amazon. From September through December, I averaged free downloads of 417 per month. In the year prior, the book was priced at 99¢, and was selling an average of 22 copies per month – a long way from the heydays of several hundred sold at full price every month in the fall of 2011.

I noticed a slight uptick on sales of the sequel, The Dying of the Light: Interval, and the followup short story collection The Walker Chronicles, but nothing to go crazy over. I’ve averaged less than 10 of each sold per month since their release.

Yesterday, January 12th, my BookBub promotion ran. End was in the daily email to all Horror fans, was listed on their website in the Horror section (screenshot here , just in case), and was even included on their Facebook post for that day (something also not guaranteed). The email hits inboxes at different times throughout the day due to the mass volume, but it generally gets there sometime in the morning.

Here are the official numbers from all vendors for sales/downloads yesterday:

  • Amazon (all countries): 14,519 downloads
  • iBooks (all countries): 1,862 downloads
  • Nook: 9 sold

For those playing the home game, the total was 16,390 copies. I also sold 16 total copies of Interval and Chronicles, bringing my total net income for the day to $44.77. The cost of the promotion was $100, so after income from sales, I spent $55.23.

That means for every net penny I spent, nearly 3 copies were downloaded. The math speaks for itself, but I’ll give it a voice: there is simply no better advertising method you can actually pay for. Facebook Ads, Twitter Features, none of it comes even close on a per-copy basis.

There is one caveat, though: my book is currently free. These numbers are based on FREE downloads, not paid sales. Still, with this sort of response, I’m going to be looking at the other books published by Grey Gecko Press to see which ones we can spend the money on. Which brings me to my overall analysis of BookBub and a spreadsheet.

I created a spreadsheet based on BookBub’s own numbers to figure out which categories would be worth a promotion and which wouldn’t. Download that and refer to it, or use it for your own promotion planning, if you like.

Not every genre will be as successful, or as cost-efficient, as Horror was for me. Indeed, using BookBub’s own numbers, their Middle Grade category will actually lose you money if your 99¢ book performs on average. Note: I used current Kindle distribution costs for these calculations.

  • Cost of Middle Grade 99¢ promotion: $130
  • Average Sales of Middle Grade books: 300 copies
  • Net Sales Income: (300 x $0.99) x 35% = $105
  • Total Promotion Cost: $25

Every other category will actually make money for discounted books on average, with the lowest being Chick Lit (net sales income of $137 on a $130 promotion). Of course, this assumes your book is 100% average according to BookBub’s numbers. If your book doesn’t perform to average, things start looking worse for more categories, as you would expect.

I suppose they have those ranges for a reason – someone’s performance has to suck, after all – but by and large, most folks that I’ve talked to have seen, at worst, slightly-less-than-average results. Some categories are surprisingly profitable, at average numbers.

The LGBT category is the best performer (by percentage of net income), with a 288% increase for $2+ books. 510 sold on average at $2.99 gets you $1,067 – a net income of $792 on the promotion price of $275. More appropriate for Grey Gecko Press is the Science Fiction category, earning a 255% increase for $2.99 books. 1,610 sold gets you $3,370, netting $2,420 on the $950 promotion price tag.

NOTE: These calculations are performed using BookBub’s provided data. This doesn’t mean that a $2.99 book will sell 1,610 copies. It means that, with their data, discounted books (meaning those from $1+) sold that many copies on average. The lower the price, the more you’ll sell.

Included on the spreadsheet is a section for you to enter your own actual numbers and see how you did. I hope my readers find that useful. You can also see estimated numbers by tweaking the “Estimated Performance” number at the top left, and enter your own custom price if you don’t use one of the standards price points.

UPDATE: I’ve added a section to the spreadsheet called “Breakeven.” This shows you how many books you have to sell at the various price points to pay for the promotion with net profits from those sales. Next to each item is the percentage of the average required to achieve that total. Here’s an example:

The Mystery category requires a $700 fee for listing a 99¢ book with their service. To earn $700 from sales of the book, you’ll need to sell 2,021 copies. (2021 x 99¢ = $2000.79 x 35% [Kindle distribution fee] = $700.28.).

The average copies sold with a Mysteries promotion is 2,960. 2,021 copies (your sales) / 2,960 (average sold) = 68% (rounded down).

Also the most profitable by percentage, the best performers in terms of this percent-of-average were Religious/Inspirational, Horror, and LGBT. Indeed, in Horror, you only need to sell 65% of the average for 99¢ books, and an astonishing 27% of the average for books at $2.99.

The only categories that don’t break-even are Middle Grade and Children’s, requiring 125% and 102% respectively of average sales to break-even, with their 99¢ discounted copies. Their $1+ promotions are profitable though, according to the sheet.

That’s it, kiddos. To sum up, BookBub gained me 16,000+ new readers yesterday, and was worth every dime (and then some). I’m going to be taking a hard look at promoting other books, too. If you’ve had experience with BookBub – good or bad – I’d like to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.

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