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Being Accepted by BookBub

Being Accepted by BookBub

When my novel The Girl on the Pier came out at the start of 2015, getting it onto a BookBub promotion seemed like the Holy Grail. I have a literary agent, but I had decided to self-publish, for various reasons. As such, mainstream reviews were going to be hard to come by, and most of the niche marketing opportunities open to me were most likely to lead to a limited number of sales; therefore the chance for the book to be listed in an email sent out to over two million readers seemed something worth chasing.

Unfortunately, the scuttlebutt on writing sites and social media was that it was hard to get accepted. Part of the beauty of BookBub is that is it only includes a handful of titles each day – sometimes maybe only two or three – so any title that is included does not get lost in a deluge of clutter. In those early months my novel had been selected for two different Kobo promotions, the first of which saw it well positioned in their charts; and it was soon in the site’s top 20. However, a later promotion saw it listed so far back that, after clicking through several pages, I almost gave up looking. I don’t think it sold a single copy as a result, that time – it certainly didn’t budge on the chart. It was selling steadily but I was keen to give it an extra push.

BookBub promised to be different. I applied time and again, month after month, to no avail. It was all I could do to wait the required thirty days each time before resubmitting; the temptation was to spam them, to get noticed (and then presumably get blacklisted). I’d already picked up some good blog and reader reviews of the novel, a lot coming via the NetGalley service, but including them in my submissions to BookBub didn’t seem to pique their interest. I’d probably sold about 1000 copies in total when, in September of 2015, I decided to pay for a Kirkus review. I’d put so much effort into the novel over a number of years, and it was depressing to see it dying a slow death. It needed a shot in the arm.

Turning a Corner

I was wary of paying for a review, but it was clear that I’d be paying for the reviewer’s time (to read a novel and write 300 words) and not for a favourable response. With indie submissions, they offer the chance to “hide” the review if it’s damning – no one ever need know if they think it stinks – but they won’t be kind just because you’re paying. If it stinks, they’ll say it stinks. It cost $575 (about £350), which wasn’t cheap, but the chance to get some reputable quotes about my book made it seem worthwhile.

I’d put so much effort into the novel over a number of years, and it was depressing to see it dying a slow death. It needed a shot in the arm.

Not only did Kirkus like it, but they awarded it a Kirkus Star, a feat achieved by only a small percentage of books published either traditionally or independently. The review is only a few hundred words, but it really summed up what the novel is about and gave me some great lines to quote, including “Beautiful and chilling—a brilliant debut”.

Success!

A couple of weeks later, when I reapplied to BookBub with a link to the review, the novel was suddenly accepted. Those few words from the review seemed to open doors. The downside was that it was only included in the UK, Canada and India mail-outs, with the US – which is far bigger than the other markets combined – not included. For a few days, The Girl on the Pier would be 99p, or the equivalent, on all the major ebook retailers in the countries in question, and BookBub would be directing their readers to it. It cost $190 (£110) and I’d estimate that it led to around 2500 sales, worth approximately £750 in royalties by the time I got my share. So even without the more lucrative US deal, I’d already made my money back on both the Kirkus and BookBub outlays, with a few hundred pounds to spare.

I continued to reapply for the US BookBub, but nothing was happening, even after I pointed out that I’d more than trebled the average UK sales they list for thrillers on their site (710). Then, in December, Kirkus listed my novel as one of its best indie books of the year. Another boost. I included this news in my next submission to BookBub, although I changed one thing: having been applying for the Thriller category, I changed to the Literary list, given that the novel fit into both genres. This time, to my great joy, they accepted, although recommended it for the more popular (and expensive) Thriller category, which was fine by me – after all, that’s the one I’d been regularly applying for all those months beforehand. So in January 2016, at a cost to me of $540 (£320), details of my novel went out to all the American subscribers to the Thriller category. They list the average sales as 2430; The Girl on the Pier sold at least 5000 copies that week, although as the sales reports come in separately from each retailer over a period of time, it’s hard to be 100% accurate.

Was BookBub Worth It?

What I can say is that 8000 copies of the ebook have been sold since the first promotion last September, with the majority of those coming this January. It probably raised over £3000 in royalties, which makes it a huge success given the outlay. (It’s just a shame there seems to be no equivalent for physical books.) The only downside is that, out of the 2.7 million people who subscribe to BookBub’s Thriller emails, a fair few weren’t going to find my novel to their taste. In that case I’d have preferred the people didn’t waste their 99p or 99c, but even though the book’s style is clearly labelled in its listing and blurb, there were a fair few reviews from people expecting some kind of fast-paced action thriller.

Still, even though the financial rewards made it a success, the most gratifying thing has been reaching totally new readers through the promotions – people who would never have stumbled across my book in any other way – and how they’ve said they felt passionately about it, perhaps having already read it twice, and will be looking out for my future novels. Indeed, it helped confirm to me that it was worth the time and energy to write a second novel, and write it for that very audience.

www.paultomkins.com

Editor’s note: You can submit your ebook to BookBub via their website: www.bookbub.com
My advice would be to mention any good reviews and/or press coverage you’ve had, as well as being flexible about the (appropriate) categories that you’d like to feature in. Finally, persevere – lots of authors have to try as many as ten times before their ebook is accepted! The site really is inundated with titles.

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From the editor…

As we enter the autumn, the publishing industry is gearing up for the great Christmas rush. For self-publishers, this is often a frustrating time of year, with many not realising the long timescales that retailers work to. If you haven't already got your book in production, it's looking likely that it won't be ready in time for Christmas!

Even if you do get your book ready well in advance of the holiday season, getting retailers to take notice can be difficult. There are so many big books from the established publishing houses that it can be impossible to get noticed. That can mean that you forsake what appears to be the best selling season in favour of a time when there are fewer big books around, so in the early spring, for instance.

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In the next few months we will be altering the way that this magazine reaches readers, so watch this space!

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