Book recommendation websites can be a valuable tool to help you reach more readers. One of these, the free subscription service BookBub, sends readers a free daily email of recommended reads, discounted and tailored to suit each subscriber's personal reading preferences. ALLi author member Christine Nolfi, who uses BookBub very successfully to promote her novels, interviewed the company's Editorial Operations Director Halli Melnitksy. to help you secure a BookBub listing for your self-published book.
Halli: We often receive over 100 submissions per day, of which we select about 20% for listing. They're mostly excellent titles, but we don’t want to overwhelm our subscribers with too many books and hurt the performance of any individual title, so we have to make a lot of tough decisions. We have 1.5 million subscribers and thousands of new readers joining every day.
Christine: How you maintain your astonishing efficiency of matching bibliophile to book while growing so fast?
Halli: We are continually adjusting our processes to ensure authors are reaching the perfect audience for their work, and readers get books they’ll love. Every day we ask ourselves how to get the right books to the right readers at the right price. We want to make sure our members are delighted by the books they receive so they keep coming back for more.
How BookBub Selects Books
Christine: I understand your selection process is collaborative. How does it work exactly?
Halli: First, we vet every submission we receive to confirm it meets our basic requirements, so it’s important for authors to ensure their books meet those guidelines before submitting. We look at the plot, cover, samples, author background, and book platform, including both editorial and reader reviews. If we only have a few sources of information, it’s much harder for us to evaluate a listing. If there is a lot of negative feedback on a book, we figure out what made people unhappy. On the other hand, we make sure positive feedback isn’t coming from biased, artificial, or paid sources.
We always try to put ourselves in the shoes of our subscribers and ask, “Will our readers be excited about this deal?” We also take price into account to ensure that the readers really are getting bargains. The greater the discount, the more competitive the deal.
Most importantly, we ask, “Is this the best possible book for our audience at this time?” We review data on our past titles to better understand our readers’ evolving tastes. That’s how we make sure our authors are reaching an audience of engaged subscribers likely to click on their title. We are also constantly adjusting our standards based on how many listing orders we’ve received and how many open spots we have.
Submissions that meet these basic requirements go to the editorial team member responsible for each book's category. Most of the submissions also go through a collaborative review process. The editorial team meets multiple times a day to discuss submissions. The team doesn’t vote on listings, but rather we reach the selection decision by consensus — considering and deliberating together until we all agree.
Christine: What are the most important factors you consider, and how can authors make their listings more competitive?
Halli: Making sure readers get content they want, and ensuring that authors get results that make BookBub a valuable tool. We’re constantly looking to discover what optimizes a promotion, and the Submissions Tips page on our website summarises what we've found so far. Extensive research has gone into each and every one of these tips. We’ve tested everything — from pricing, to covers, to content — to get an idea of how important these factors are for a book’s success.
We also keep a close eye on patterns and make decisions based on what we find. For example, if horror stories about evil unicorns have been consistently under-performing, we might conclude that our Horror subscribers weren’t looking for that kind of content at the moment. We’d then move away from accepting evil unicorn stories for a while, even if a particular evil unicorn book was exceptional in other ways, because that listing ultimately wouldn’t be successful for our author partner or our readers. Of course, that’s just a hypothetical example, not a judgment on unicorns — evil or otherwise!
This means that when we do select a book, we have confidence that it will appeal to our readers and will likely be a worthwhile investment for our authors. Granted, we can’t predict every outcome. But by closely analyzing each listing’s results, we can make better predictions in the future about what kind of books our readers prefer on each list.
Christine: Please tell us about BookBub’s editorial team.
Halli: They bring experience from across the industry, previously having worked at large publishing houses, tiny presses, literary agencies, and as published authors. More importantly, they are ardent readers and book lovers – the kind of kids who stayed up late with a flashlight, reading under the covers. We want to give our subscribers that same experience.
We understand how difficult discoverability can be. Authors want to find readers who will fall in love with their story and characters the way they have. We see ourselves as a conduit, helping readers and writers find each other.
During our listing discussions, we also ask people from other departments to weigh in and give their perspective. We have business school grads, entrepreneurs, creative marketers, and brilliant programmers who all bring a different dimension to our decisions.
BookBub's Future Plans
Christine: How is BookBub evolving and what are your plans for the future?
Halli: We’re constantly thinking about the readers we aren’t reaching, and listening to feedback on how we can make our service better. For example, one thing we hear consistently from our readers and authors is that they want even more targeting capabilities. Many readers only read one sub-genre of a larger category, after all! So while we originally only had one Romance list, we now have six sub-categories, and we plan to do more of this as time goes on.
Any time we add more books or new categories, we have to think about how that will affect the results of each individual book. It's important that we reach new readers, rather than just diluting our list and decreasing the effectiveness of a BookBub listing, which is why we can’t just add as many books to the email as we want. Ultimately, our goal is to have every kind of reader, and the perfect book for each one.
When we see performance trends continue over time, they usually lead us to adjust our categories or policies. For example, we noticed recently that books we ran for a second time after only four months weren’t performing as well the second time. We now feature the same book only once every six months to ensure that it has the best chance of performing well the second time around.
We also use this research to create new categories. A great example is the recently launched Romantic Suspense list. Excellent authors were submitting very strong books, but we knew from prior results that their listings weren’t a perfect fit for either our Romance or Thriller readers, so we launched a separate category to address demand from both authors and subscribers.
Christine: Your listings feature both traditionally published and independent books. Do you try to strike a balance between the two, or do you favor one publishing medium over the other?
Halli: Independent authors have been the backbone of BookBub since we launched. One of the great things about publishing right now is how diverse it is. At BookBub, we want to reflect that diversity. When a subscriber opens our email, they can’t see whether a book we’re running is from an indie author or a big house. They are making purchasing decisions based on how appealing the book looks, whether it sounds interesting, and if the price seems like a good deal. And since that’s what matters to our readers, that’s what matters to us. Regardless of where they come from, we’ll take any book that we think our readers will enjoy, and we hope to always maintain that diversity.
Christine: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the ALLi membership?
Halli: We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the indie author community, and we spend every day figuring out how to grow so that we can continue to reward their loyalty and support with the best BookBub experience possible!
Here are links to more detailed information: