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How to Use BookBub to Boost Sales of Self-Published Books

Headshot of Jane Davis

Award-winning English author Jane Davis shares her successful case study of using book promotion service BookBub to market her literary novels.

Why BookBub?

Cover of A Funeral for an Owl

Jane Davis used BookBub to boost the sales of her novel with the fewest recent sales

There’s little doubt about it, BookBub is the Holy Grail of ebook advertising. I have heard them talk about their huge successes in promoting romantic fiction and sci-fi, but I write literary fiction. Would it work for me?

With BookBub, you don’t simply hand over your cash. You apply for an advertising slot and wait to hear (a) whether your application is accepted and (b) when it will run. They had turned me down twice in the past, but I hadn’t been prepared to give my work away before. My sales figures had never been so low at the beginning of 2016. I knew I had to break the pattern.

Given the date 13 March, I chose to promote A Funeral for an Owl. With only four purchases in the quarter leading up to February 2016, it was my worst performing book. At the same time, I hold great affection for its characters and the story – despite the fact that it lost me a publishing deal!

What does a BookBub ad cost?

Two factors influence the price of a coveted BookBub slot. One is genre. The other is price (either 99p/99c or free). My BookBub ad for UK, US and Canada cost £215 (Literary, free). BookBub also offer advertising in India, but Amazon declined to price-match for that region.

How should I prepare for my ad?

cover of I Stopped Time by Jane Davis

Another novel acted as incentive for mailing-list sign-ups

In anticipation of cross-selling opportunities, I wanted to ensure my book descriptions were as appealing as they could be, so I hired J J Marsh to review and improve on my copy.

In order to encourage newsletter sign-ups, I linked to the sign-up page on my website from both the front and back matter, offering a copy of I Stopped Time (with its beautiful artwork by Jessica Bell) in return for an email address.

I made the book free at the end of February. Price-matching is entirely at Amazon’s discretion, so if you aren’t in KDP Select, do allow plenty of time to negotiate with them. With no advertising,  save for social media presence, I was getting an average of 50 free downloads per day. Before the BookBub advert ran, I experimented with a couple of book recommendation sites which had smaller subscriber lists. The maximum downloads per day before the 13th March was 415.

How many downloads can I expect?

BookBub estimated that for literary fiction priced at free, I could expect 16,300 downloads (including the Indian market). The number actually achieved was 27,500 (split 23,000 from Amazon and 4500 from Draft2Digital).

Will downloads convert to reads?

Naturally, I was sceptical. Depending on source, data that suggests that 45-65% of all ebooks remain unread, regardless of whether or not they have been paid for. It seemed fair to estimate that at least half of my downloads would never be read.

What did I gain?

My aspirations were four-fold.

Increased visibility. On Amazon, I made it to #8 in the free kindle chart in the UK and #5 in the free kindle chart in the US. However, ranking isn’t all.

Boost reviews numbers. So far I have had 59 new reviews on Amazon.com, 9 on Amazon.co.uk, 40 on Goodreads (plus ratings have leapt up to 222), 5 on Kobo (plus 20 ratings) and 1 review on iTunes (plus 7 ratings). In other words, 114 new reviews in 2 months. Even with a few 1-star reviews, the average is 4.2! I hope you’ll indulge me while I quote from some of my favourites:

  • ‘One of the most powerful and moving books I have read in a long time.’
  • ‘Davis has crafted such a wonderfully intertwined and compelling story with complex, fallible, endearing characters that I’m still almost shaking as I think of the lives so exquisitely intertwined in A Funeral for an Owl. And having just finished this I feel that maybe we have hope…..This isn’t quite To Kill a Mockingbird, but in so many ways it’s pretty darned close to it.’
  • ‘I don’t know if it was the tale itself or Davis’s writing, but I was drawn into the world of this novel and didn’t want to come out of it until I had digested every word. The writing is rich without being suffocating, the tale is bleak without being hopeless, and the ending is happy without being saccharine.’
  • ‘Don’t you just love a book which grips you from the first sentence? That’s what happens here.’
  • ‘If they allowed me to, I would list the book as hopeful, dark, nostalgic, suspenseful and thoughtful.’

I even loved the review that referred to it as Death of an Owl.

But something more personal happened. I received five emails from readers who told me that they don’t post reviews, but wanted to let me know how much they loved it.

This is a book I had been told the US audience ‘wouldn’t get’.

Sign-ups to my newsletter. 268 new sign-ups so far, which tells me that at least 268 people who downloaded the eBook have opened it.

New readers. Several reviewers said they will look out for more of my books:

  • ‘Planning to read all of Jane Davis’ novels. Her prose is delicious.’
  • ‘I can’t wait to read another novel by this same author.’
  • ‘A Funeral for an Owl is the first book authored by Jane Davis that I have read. I most certainly want to read any other books written by her.’

How soon after the BookBub advert runs should I change my price?

I took advice that suggested I increase my price (albeit only to 99p/99c) 48 hours after the advert ran, to recoup the cost of the advert. In retrospect, I would say that this was far too early. It would have been interesting to see what happened to the rankings had I left the ebook priced at free. However, the book sold well at 99p for the next two months. After sales had died down, I returned the price to £2.99.

Conclusions

  • bookbub logoBookBub have plenty of readers – voracious readers – whose appetite is literary fiction.
  • My thoughts on giving the book away are that this helped me to reach 27,000 readers who might not have discovered me otherwise.
  • Readers of free fiction post reviews. In fact, I would suggest that this is how readers of free fiction ‘pay’ for the book. Some are extremely well-written. In other words, BookBub readers are serious readers!
  • When readers have an option of downloading from Amazon and an alternative,a reasonable percentage will choose the alternative.
  • It’s a great way to kick-start presence on another publishing platform. My book had been for sale on D2D for some time but, interestingly, I’d had very few paid purchases. For the last two months, my royalties has been about the same as from Amazon.
  • Before investing, it may pay to wait until you have other books to cross-sell. It was the boost in sales of my other books that paid for the ad.

 

OVER TO YOU If  you’ve used BookBub yourself, do you have any further tips to share based on your own experience? Do you have any questions for Jane? Would you like to recommend alternatives to BookBub? If you’re a literary fiction writer like Jane, what other promotion services have you found helpful? We’d love to know, so please feel free to leave your comments.

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13 Responses to How to Use BookBub to Boost Sales of Self-Published Books

  1. Jenn Crowell June 21, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I’m always happy to hear about results from fellow literary fiction authors, since there seem to be so few of us out there in the self-publishing world.

  2. Doris June 20, 2016 at 2:34 am #

    Jane
    Congratulations for your ROI
    Great post, very informative – HOWEVER …. this might end soon.
    Amazon is cracking down on all these advertising / affiliate programs, they started already to end programs with several competitors of BookBuB – at the same time started Goodreads Deals, which does the same for free.

    Read this: Crackdown on Outside Book Influencers
    Bestseller author Hugh Howey : “It could be that Amazon wants in on the BookBub market. It’s all about curation and having control over all the bestseller list rankings.”
    http://www.hughhowey.com/amazon-affiliate-accounts/

    And a review of advertising / affiliate programs
    http://www.savvybookwriters.com/fantastic-tool-for-authors-promotion-review/

  3. Jane Davis June 14, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

    I feel I should say that the brief I was given was to write a blog on whether BookBub works for literary fiction. Literary fiction is actually one of the cheapest categories. For commercial, historical and genre fiction, expect to pay in excess of £500.

  4. Helena Halme June 13, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    Jane, This is so encouraging. I’ve been turned down by BookBub twice, but haven’t dared to go back for a possible third rejection yet. I shall have a go now. Can I ask you, how many reviews did you have when they approved ‘A Funeral for an Owl’? Helena

    • Jane Davis June 13, 2016 at 7:43 pm #

      Hi Helena, I had 6 Amazon reviews on .com and 25 on co.uk.

  5. Jane Davis June 12, 2016 at 10:36 am #

    Thanks, Tara. I also struggled to get Amazon to price match, and I know that others have too. All I would say that is BookBub’s customer service was great. They offered alternatives of changing the date of the promo or varying it, so that I could work within what Amazon were prepared to give me. BookBub have since turned me down for a further promo that I intended to price at 99p, so it seems clear to me that they like free as that gives the best results. It may be that Amazon’s growing reluctance to price match will cause BookBub to change their business model.

    • Tara Allred June 22, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

      Thanks Jane. Very helpful info.

    • N P Ryan October 7, 2016 at 12:42 am #

      Hi. As someone about to publish for the first time, I’m so glad to have found this site and it’s treasure chest of advice and information. What I’m about to ask is very possibly a silly question. I thought Amazon say one can change the price whenever one pleases to whatever one wants, even zero; if someone could help with what I’m missing (even if it’s to say read Amazon’s t&c again) it would be much appreciated x

  6. Anne June 11, 2016 at 11:34 pm #

    This is a wonderful success story. Unfortunately, as you say, you have to be ‘accepted’ by bookbub which is not an easy task. My books have not been accepted but maybe someday . . . .

  7. Wendy Jones June 11, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    Thank you for sharing how it went. I am considering applying for a BookBub ad and this has convinced me ti is worth giving it a go. I am glad it went well for you and there was a corresponding increase in sales.

  8. Tara C. Allref June 11, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    I bought “A Funeral for an Owl” at the $0.99 price when I found it after the BookBub feature. Looked like a wonderful read, now I can’t wait to read it and am so glad it’s in my collection.

    I also write Literary Fiction, I have featured my first novel twice on BookBub (literary fiction/free) and both times have been extremely pleased with the results. My other novels sold well during this time, sales on the featured book also continued once it returned to the original price ($2.99), plus the reviews made the price to run the BookBub ad totally worth it. My first novel is with KDP Select so pricing it free has always been easy to do.

    However once I ran my second book through a BookBub ad (literary/free), followed the recommendation to first change the price ($4.95) to free on Kobo and Google, only to have a fail with price change on Amazon at the necessary time. (I believe I did the change about a week before the designated promo date, but as soon as I knew BookBub had selected it.) BookBub was very kind, but I had to find a work around to this situation, after exploring my limited options, we ran the ad only featuring Kobo and Google for where to “purchase” for free. Since I couldn’t get the title to be available for free on Amazon, I dropped the price to $0.99 there. The results, of course, were not nearly as successful as my previous experience, especially because readers had to go out on their own to find the book on Amazon rather than a simple click. I don’t recommend my path, but in the end I did recoup the cost of my ad (or very closely to it).

    I would love to hear success stories of authors who used BookBub for a free ad on a non-KDP Select title. Is it just a waiting game, until Amazon changes the price? Do you seek out the BookBub slot first and then try to get the price match? Or do you get the price change first and then seek out the BookBub ad? Or do you change the book to KDP Select for a limited time, and if so what do you do with your other distributing channels during that time?

    Great post! Thank you, Jane Davis. Excited for my upcoming read.

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