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The Writer Unboxed / BookBub Interview, Pt 1


Whether you know what BookBub [1] is or you don’t, whether you have a book for sale now or are still working on a draft, whether you’re independently or traditionally published, you’re going to want to read this Q&A. First, for anyone who doesn’t know what BookBub is about, BookBub is a company that promotes quality e-books with temporarily–and drastically–slashed prices, via a daily newsletter and web updates. They are good at what they do. Very, very good. In a world where we as authors can’t be sure what will or what will not sell books, this seems one sure thing: A BookBub promotion means sales and lots of them.

How to use BookBub is something that stymies many authors I know, though, so when I noticed BookBub’s star presence at this year’s Book Expo America [2], I approached. That’s when I met Diana Urban, BookBub’s Industry Marketing Manager. I told her my publisher, Random House, had run a BookBub for my second novel, The Moon Sisters, which went exceptionally well. (As I revealed in an essay for BookCountry [3], sales for the eBook of The Moon Sisters had never really taken off. But the day after my BookBub, the eBook of The Moon Sisters was ranked #10 in Nook books at Barnes and Noble, and #1 in the Mothers and Children fiction category on Amazon.) We chatted for a bit, and then I asked if she’d be interested in doing an interview with me for Writer Unboxed. Happily, she agreed.

[pullquote]Bio Box: Who is Diana Urban [4]? Diana is the Industry Marketing Manager at BookBub, where she regularly publishes content on book marketing, self-publishing tips, and publishing insights at the BookBub Partners Blog [5]. She was previously the Head of Conversion Marketing at HubSpot and is an expert in inbound marketing, content marketing, and lead generation. Diana is also the author of two Young Adult thrillers, and is writing her third novel. Follow her on Twitter at @DianaUrban [6].[/pullquote]

I recently asked the Writer Unboxed community–mostly through our Facebook group [7]–to chime in with any questions they had about BookBub, and many of those questions are reflected here. So let’s get to it–part 1 of a two-part interview.

The Writer Unboxed / BookBub Interview, Pt 1

TW – Q1: It’s the prevailing opinion that BookBub is unique among a pool of book-promotion services, in that it seems to move the needle in a much more significant way and have a lasting sales impact on the books that are promoted. Why do you think that’s the case?

BB: One of our core goals has always been to provide authors and publishers with a way to run book marketing campaigns that drive real, measurable results. We’re a data-driven company, so every decision we make — from the categories we launch to the new members we acquire — is based on the results of rigorous testing and analysis, which helps us ensure that BookBub continues to be effective at moving the needle for our partners.

BookBub is also unique in that we’re providing curated recommendations to millions of loyal power readers who have specifically opted into genres they’re interested in reading. Our partners can therefore run targeted marketing campaigns while still reaching a high volume of interested readers. Those readers often become avid fans of authors they discover through BookBub. In fact, 77% of them are willing to buy other full-price books by an author they like, and 65% of them tell their friends about books they discover via BookBub. These highly engaged readers lead to the “lasting sales impact” you’re talking about after running a Featured Deal with us.

TW – Q2: How did BookBub come to be? Was it originally put into action to help indie authors gain visibility?

BB: Our co-founders, Josh Schanker and Nick Ciarelli, came from outside the publishing industry with backgrounds in internet entrepreneurship and digital media. They were exposed to publishing for the first time when a friend asked them to help her think about how to get ebooks from unknown authors discovered. While they knew publishers and authors were finding it difficult to get new readers’ attention, they also realized readers were having trouble sifting through all the books to discover great titles matching their interests. So they came up with the idea of giving away free and deeply-discounted ebooks to gain exposure and a fanbase.

However, they had trouble finding effective ways to advertise these promotions, so they decided to test building their own email list. Readers loved the idea of a regular email featuring flash sales on ebooks, but Josh and Nick soon realized that the service would work best if it featured titles from all publishers and authors. So they decided to run with it as a standalone business, and BookBub was born.

It wasn’t until the rise of ebooks and the evolution of self-publishing that publishers and authors began to shift resources from marketing to retailers to direct-to-consumer marketing. This created a need for marketing channels used by other industries that didn’t exist in publishing yet. BookBub allows publishers and authors to run effective direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns by reaching a highly targeted audience interested in the content offered.

TW – Q3: How many applications do you receive for BookBub promotions, and how many are you able to accept?

BB: We get 100–300 submissions per day right now, and that number continues to grow. Only about 10%–15% of those submissions will be chosen as a Featured Deal.

TW – Q4: How many subscribers do you have, and does your service continue to grow?

BB: As of September 2015, we have more than 6.5 million happy members, and we’re growing rapidly!

TW – Q5: What helps with your decision-making process?

BB: When a book is submitted to BookBub, it goes through a pretty rigorous review process! First, our editorial team evaluates whether it meets our minimum requirements [8]. Any title that doesn’t meet these requirements is automatically disqualified and does not receive further review.

If the book does meet these requirements, our editors assess its quality. They can’t read every title that gets submitted, so instead they review all the information available to a reader when making a purchasing decision. This includes reader reviews, critical reviews, author accolades, cover design, book samples, and formatting.

Next, our editors look at a book’s content fit. We constantly gather data about the content that performs best in each category, and our readers’ tastes change over time. Our editors carefully monitor the trends in each category — what plotlines, subgenres, etc. our readers are responding well to at any given time — and base their selections on what our readers in each genre are interested in receiving.

All else being equal in terms of quality and content fit, our editors will prioritize based on things like the availability of a book on retailers and in regions (the more the better!), the number of reviews it has, the competitiveness of the deal price, or the author’s accolades. Also keep in mind that the selection of a book really does depend on the other books being submitted alongside it in any given week.

You can read this article about our selection process [9] for an even more in-depth explanation on our decision-making process.

TW – Q6: Is it true that a book requires a certain number of reviews — or a certain star ranking — to be chosen for a BookBub promotion?

BB: While books with an established platform and high number of positive reviews tend to perform best for our partners, we don’t have any set number of reviews required to get selected for a Featured Deal. I recommend browsing through the books we’re featuring [10] in your category to get a sense of what a competitive number of reviews is for that genre. Also note that while reviews are very important in the selection process, they are only one of the many elements of a book our editors consider!

TW – Q7: Are some genres ‘no brainers,’ while others are less likely to be chosen?

BB: Every category has the same rigorous selection process, though some of our categories are more competitive than others. In those categories there are always tons of great submissions to sort through and what we feature is a matter of matching content to the tastes of our readers.

TW – Q8: Are there a certain number of books in a given genre that you aim to promote daily or weekly?

BB: Yes, we have daily and weekly targets, which depend on the category and are always evolving. These targets are adjusted based on the supply from our partners, engagement from readers, and overall performance of the category.

TW – Q9: Why is there a limit (e.g. one mystery on a given day)? Wouldn’t more be better? Or are you concerned about diluting the impact of the BookBub for a day’s chosen authors?

BB: We’ve always limited the number of books we feature to avoid overwhelming our subscribers and to ensure all our partners’ listings have an equal chance of performing well.

TW – Q10: Which genres do best with BookBub, and which do the least well?

BB: Due to the highly targeted nature of our category lists, all of our genres yield fantastic results [11] for our partners. Members specifically subscribe to the categories that interest them most, and only receive deals in the categories they’ve selected.

That being said, we’ve found that while BookBub readers are active across all our lists, average purchase rates vary quite a bit. In particular, many of our smaller categories like LGBT and African American Interest have extremely engaged subscribers. While these more targeted genres might attract a smaller base of total users, they draw very active readers who consume a high volume of content in that genre.

Conversely, many of our largest categories with the highest volume of subscribers have lower average engagement rates, but still result in a really high volume of sales. This makes sense — in addition to fervent fans, there are likely many more casual readers of a genre like mysteries than there are of smaller categories.

TW – Q11: What about the balance between traditionally published and self-published books? Is that a factor? (Note for the traditionally published among us: Your publisher has to be onboard with the promotion and lower the cost of your book. More on this point in part 2 of our Q&A next week.)

BB: We currently feature roughly a 50/50 split between self-published and traditionally published books and we’re really happy with this balance. We love working with the indie author community — they were some of the earliest adopters of BookBub and continue to provide us with fantastic content for our readers. The publishing landscape is getting more and more diverse and we want books on BookBub to reflect that diversity, with the best of both independently and traditionally published books in the mix. We’re also working on expanding our promotional offerings so everyone has more opportunities to promote books with us!

TW – Q12: Do reader reviews matter? Do blurbs matter? Do industry reviews matter?

BB: Yes, yes, and yes. :-) This article on our selection process [9] shows what editors look for.

TW – Q13: Do books listed for any given price make them less attractive for BookBub — $2.99, $1.99, $.99, FREE? Are there any tips in terms of finding the right sale price for your book, based on genre or anything else?

BB: We promise our subscribers the best deals available, so the better the deal, the more appealing it is to our subscribers, and therefore the more likely it is to be selected by our editors. We rarely feature books priced above $2.99, and even $2.99 is an unusually high price for many of our categories. Our editors are also able to select a higher percentage of free books than discounted ones [12]. You can read more about how our selection rates vary based on pricing here [12].

Ultimately, the competitiveness of your price depends on your category. For example, while it’s normal to see a $2.99 book in the Cooking category, prices are usually lower in the Mysteries or Romance categories. I’d recommend browsing through the featured books on BookBub [10] to see what’s competitive in different genres. And if your book is not selected at one price, try resubmitting at a lower price or for free. Your chances of being selected will be higher.

TW – Q14: What else tips the scales for you – one way or another? How can authors best position themselves to be chosen for the promotion?

BB: There are several factors that editors look for when reviewing each book. To boost your chances of getting selected, you should:

You can read about this in more depth here. [13]

TW – Q15: If an author has been rejected in the past, what might you say to them? Do you think they’ll continue to be rejected, or is there hope?

BB: Don’t lose hope! I’d encourage authors to keep submitting since the selection process is often impacted by timing (for example, how many other submissions we’re receiving in a particular category at a given time). Please don’t submit more than once every 30 days, though. Not only can this be frustrating for our editors, but it also isn’t enough time for them to see if our readers’ tastes have shifted in a direction that might make your book a better fit.

Come back on September 18th for Part 2 of my interview with Diana Urban! In the meanwhile, if you have burning questions:

What would you like to know about BookBub? If you’ve run a BookBub promotion and would like to share your results (price point, genre, rank jump, sales) you are welcome to do that.

Write on.

About Therese Walsh [15]

Therese Walsh (she/her) co-founded WU in 2006 and is the site's editorial director. She was the architect and 1st editor of WU's only book, Author in Progress [16], and orchestrates the WU UnConference. [17] Her second novel, The Moon Sisters [18], was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal and Book Riot; and her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy [19] was a Target Breakout Book. Sign up for her newsletter [20] to be among the first to learn about her new projects (or follow her on BookBub [21]). Learn more on her website [22].