Guest post by David J Antocci
Why in the world do I need to pay for advertising, and give away my book for free, to get people to read it? I wrote a kick-ass book, my friends told me so, and I put it up on Amazon for $4.99. That’s all I need to do. The masses will flock to my sales page and copies will begin flying off of the virtual shelves. Right?
I’m going to primarily talk about BookBub in this post, but to do that I want to first do a reality check. Does the above sound ridiculous to you, or does it sound right on? I ask because when I discuss marketing, with other writers, the most common thing I hear is exactly that: Why should I have to pay for advertising? Why should I put my book on sale or give it away for free? Readers should buy my book because it’s a good book! How come they’re not?
The answer is simple; no matter how great a novel you have penned – or more appropriately tapped out on your laptop – you don’t have the cred to get anyone to buy your book on merit alone until you’ve earned it.
How We Discover New Writers
I distinctly remember the old bookshelf in my elementary school classroom. It was hand-built probably thirty years before my time, and the teal paint was worn and chipped. There were a couple of Hardy Boys books on that shelf. After I read those, I had my mother bring me to the library and would check out 3 or 4 Hardy Boys books at a time, come back a few days later, and check out 3 or 4 more. When I read through every title at the library we hit the used bookstore, and bought every one I could get my hands on. When I figured out the Nancy Drew books were pretty much the same books, I read every single one of those too.
Every book on that shelf followed the same path, whether they were pop lit like Drew or the Hardy Boys, or classics from Verne, Twain, or Stevenson. If I liked what I read, I would consume everything by that author that I could get my hands on. I’m still that way today. Think about the writers that you love. How did you discover them? Likely you tried a new author at the library, or someone read a book they enjoyed and gave you their copy to borrow. Sound about right?
That’s how we discover new writers. Writing more than anything relies on getting your work in front of eyes. If they like what they see, they’ll read more, tell their friends, and you get to keep writing.
So how did a guy like me, writing a on an old MacBook at my kitchen table in whatever spare time I can cobble together, get 2200 copies of his books purchased last month?
BookBub in a Nutshell
In case you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know what BookBub is, here it is in a nutshell. They maintain a massive email list in which readers sign up to receive targeted emails specific to the genres they select. The publisher (you, if you’re an Indie like me) submits the book for consideration, and if it gets through their editorial team, you get to pay them hundreds of dollars for a spot in the email blast for the day.
I’ve had several experiences with BookBub, all very positive, but I’ll concentrate on the most recent one mainly because the numbers are all at my fingertips and it’s fresh in my memory.
So the first step with BookBub is to submit your listing to them. I’m not going to walk you through the whole process; it’s very self-explanatory and can be found here after you finish reading this article.
Actually, that’s the second step. The first step is to write a good book. BookBub is very selective about the books that they will feature. The most recent numbers I saw on their website said that they only accept about 16% of books submitted for a sale, and about 24% of those submitted for a free promotion. You need to have a solid book to make the cut. Your book should be well reviewed (though they say there is no magic number for the amount of reviews you should have). Also make sure that the cover is professional, and your sales page is free of errors. Even with all that done, prepare to be rejected. I have been several times. They don’t tell you why you were rejected, so continue on and resubmit after 30 days, and keep that up until you get the green light.
When your book is selected you will receive an invoice to pay them for the ad. What you will pay varies wildly depending on your genre, and whether your book will be free, or if just a sale price what the price of your book will be. (See the full table at www.bookbub.com/partners/pricing)
So, now is probably a good time to get into the numbers.
I paid $280 to promote my first book, a thriller, which was priced at FREE (the price has since increased to $335 for the same ad). This got the book included in an email blast to nearly 2 million people, with Kindles, who wanted to receive emails about free ebooks in the Thriller category.
Wait a second… you paid $280, to give your book away for free?
Yep, I did.
Am I crazy? Most certainly, if you ask my wife or therapist, but not for paying almost $300 to give my book away.
Based on past BookBub experiences I knew that the residual sales after my book went back to full price would cover the cost, and even if it didn’t there were many other benefits which I’ll discuss in a few minutes. I also had another book out, and another on Pre-Order (which Amazon let’s us Indie’s do now… seems kinda awesome), so I was counting on the freebie to drive sales to the second two books as well.
So, the numbers… was that money well spent by an Indie artist trying to get his work in front of eyeballs? Let’s see how it turned out.
The email blast went out Feb 7th. I priced my first book at “Free” for 5 days. At the end of those five days, this is what the sales totals looked like:
Book One – 50,773 Free copies. 60 Borrowed copies.
Book Two – 894 copies purchased. 51 Borrowed copies.
Book Three – 393 copies purchased for pre-sale.
Due to sales of Book 2 – I made my BookBub investment back twice over by the end of the first day of the sale. So yes, the $300 was well spent.
Week 2 after the BookBub promo ended saw the following sales:
Book One – 66 purchased copies. 45 borrowed.
Book Two – 118 purchased copies, 48 borrowed.
Book Three – 744 total copies purchased for pre-sale.
Week 3 saw diminishing numbers, but still great sales for me:
Book One – 35 purchased copies. 23 borrowed.
Book Two – 91 purchased copies. 26 borrowed.
Book Three – 815 total copies purchased for pre-sale.
Week 4 was more of the same, still good sales, but continuing to diminish:
Book One – 13 purchased copies, 17 borrowed.
Book Two – 69 purchased copies, 19 borrowed.
Book Three – 875 total copies purchased for pre-sale.
So one month later, for a $300 investment, I made my money back many times over, I got a free copy of my first book on 50,000 Kindle’s owned by readers interested in my genre, a little more than 2200 addition copies of my books were purchased, and 300 borrowed, over the following weeks.
Based on my past experiences with BookBub I expect to see continued good residual sales over the next three months. At month three, to the day, there will be a noticeable drop-off. My guess is that’s more to do with Amazon’s algorithms than anything else. My last BookBub promo before this one was 10 months prior, and I was still seeing several dozen of my books sold each month, having done zero additional advertising.
In addition to sales, there are other benefits to getting your book in front of so many eyes. My email list has grown significantly, as has my modest Facebook following. Most notably, Book One also has about 80+ new reviews on Amazon in the past month.
So BookBub is definitely worth it.
Let me share some tips with you at this point.
Secrets to BookBub Success
First, Book One, the free-giveaway. When it returned to “paid” status on Amazon, I did not return it to its usual price of $2.99. Instead I priced it at .99 cents. With three books out now, I want as many readers as possible to grab a copy of Book One. If they like it and move on to Books 2 and 3, that’s fantastic. If they don’t like it, they only spent .99 cents, so hopefully won’t harbor too much ill will.
Second, I did not only use BookBub. While they are a beast and are responsible for at least 80% of the downloads, I also utilized Ereader News Today, and BMT’s free ebook submission tool. I think ENT was $20, and BMT was $15, so a drop in the bucket comparatively, but probably responsible for around 8-10k worth of downloads. Pixel of Ink, who I’ve also used before is worth about 10k downloads, but they were not accepting submissions when I ran my promo. My point is, use as many outlets as you can in addition to BookBub. Make the most of your promo!
Third… reviews… this is a point of contention that every writer against BookBub will bring up. “You’ll get readers outside of your genre who will leave bad reviews.” While I disagree with the outside of your genre argument (the email only goes to people who want to read your genre), if you put your book in front of that many readers, you are going to get some bad reviews. They hurt at the beginning, but it gets easier. Either decide you’re not going to read any of them (yeah, right!) or use it as an opportunity to thicken your skin. Not everyone is going to like your book, no matter how good it is. Does it hurt to have a reviewer say that your book could have been written better by a 6 year old? A little, yeah. But then go read a couple of your five-star reviews, declare, “Hater’s gonna hate,” and move on.
To sum up, I’ve run 3 promos with BookBub, and all have been successful. My measure of success is 1) did I make the investment back, and 2) did I gain productive exposure (reviews, Facebook/Email following, purchases on other books, etc). In all cases the answer to both has been yes.
If you’re an Indie writer, you have to market yourself if you want your art in front of people, and it takes time to build momentum. When I did my first promo two years ago, I only had one book out, so I didn’t make the money back the first day, nor did I make the investment back ten times over. But I did break even within a couple weeks, and the exposure was well worth it. It helped build a fan base for my future work. When my first book came out I barely sold 500 copies for the year. For my third book, as of this writing I have almost 1000 pre-ordered copies that will drop on the release date. That’s pretty awesome, but wouldn’t have happened without me busting my butt and putting in the time to market.
As with anything, you have to decide what’s right for your book, your finances, and your goals. But this is what has worked for me thus far, and I intend to continue to partner with BookBub far as long as they’ll have me.
I’ll end with the best piece of marketing advice I’ve ever heard: Once all the promo and hoopla is done, get to writing your next book! That’s the best marketing you can do. With my ads, promos, and blog tour wrapping up for my 3rd book, as of April 1st I’m going to cease worrying about all of that until the fall and spend all of my time working on Book 4!
About the Author
David J Antocci is a noted wordsmith, blogger and author. Before penning novels, he spent many years regularly featured on the Worcester Telegram and Gazette website where he wrote about the trials and tribulations of being a real life Mr. Mom. While his first love is music, he has put down the guitar in recent years in order to pour his passion into writing… and the gentle tap of the keys on his laptop are much less disruptive late at night when the children are sleeping. The ESCAPE books are his first published foray into fiction. He lives in New England with his beautiful wife and children.
About His Book
After saving a drowning man during a savage storm, Abby wakes up in a tropical paradise in a fight for her life. She has no idea how she got there, and notices changes in herself that she cannot explain. Haunted by unsettling dreams of her past, she meets up with Eric, and together they set out to escape. Standing in their way is a madman, and his band of willing followers, with a mind set on murdering their unwelcome visitors. An eccentric hermit who has been living there for years offers them refuge, but they must deny his generosity. Escape is their only option. Yet, they discover this deceptive paradise is harder to leave than they had ever imagined. One mystery leads to another, until their escape throws them into even greater danger as Abby’s frightening past finally catches up with her. Her escape is only the beginning.