A BookBub Experiment

BookBub is a book advertising site that sends out emails to readers every day. It’s famous among the independently-published world as being the only sure thing for ads: if you can get a Featured Deal on BookBub (easier said than done), it’s guaranteed to be successful (in terms of earning you more money than you’ve spent.) The ads are expensive, though, and it’s tough to get a featured deal. I’m not sure how many books they accept, but in February 2021, they said they get an average of 300 book submissions per day and accept only a small percentage. They list 42 genres, some of which probably don’t get daily submissions, some of which are probably insanely competitive (ie, romance), but assume about a 10-15% acceptance rate.

But that’s the Featured Deals. BookBub also does pre-order alerts, where you can send a notification of your book ahead of time to people who follow your author profile on the site; as well as purchased ads that go out at the bottom of their emails. I’ve tried both of those things, with not much success. The ads especially felt like throwing money into a black hole, but the pre-order sales on A Gift of Grace cost me $4/book. (In other words, I was paying readers to buy it, since I don’t earn that much per book.)

BookBub will also send out a notification to your followers when you release a book, if you let them know about the book within the week of publication. I just slipped under the wire; I got the notification on Friday that they would send that email out on Saturday. One day’s notice. Hmm… I wondered if I could measure the success — clickthrough rate — of that email. It’s spent specifically to people who have followed my author profile, so it ought to be an interested audience. But BookBub readers seem to me to be extremely price-sensitive: they like cheap books. And they like free books.

So what if Luck was free? That ought to tell me how many people clicked through because if someone is interested enough to click, they’re probably willing to pick up the book when it costs them nothing, even if they’re not totally sold on the description. Interested enough to follow me, interested enough to click on an email, interested enough to read for free. Doesn’t that make sense?

On a financial level, giving away a lot of books doesn’t make sense for me, but I was curious enough to try the experiment. So, according to my email from BookBub, I have 7322 followers in the US, all of whom were going to get a notification of my new book. The notification is very straightforward: it’s titled “New Release from Sarah Wynde” and include the book description, a button to Save to Wishlist, and an Amazon button.

I used my Kindle Unlimited free days to set Luck to be free for one day only. When the BookBub new release email arrived at 2:30 PM my time, I’d already given away 62 copies of Luck. Its sales rank was 1208, #76 in Cozy Mystery Free (no other lists, annoyingly enough). When I went to bed around 10PM, the sales rank was 545, #43 in Cozy Mystery.

a screenshot of the sales rank

I gave away 206 copies total, so 144 of them after the notification came out. If the notification email had a 3% clickthrough rate, I could have expected a total of 219 copies downloaded. 2% would be 146, so it was probably pretty close to a 2% clickthrough rate. That’s… well… I’ve certainly been told that email marketing is the way to go, the only successful strategy, and that a good mailing list is the best tool in a writer’s sales toolbox, but there is an effort/cost/time to reward ratio that just doesn’t make sense to me. The biggest, most successful, book advertising email in the world + FREE was decidedly unimpressive.

My little experiment obviously cost me something, too: potentially up to $600 if you believe that all of those people might have bought the book. But I don’t think that all those people would have bought it — I’d bet it’s more like a $60 expense. The one possible virtue of that expense is that Luck might appear in more Also Bought lists, so I’ll also watch sales this week and see if they’re any better than they were last week. That should also give me some insight into whether it might be worth using my KU Free days on some of the other books, possibly including paying for some ads. Fundamentally, of course, I believe that I am best served by working on my next book, but it’s not like I can do that ten hours/day. Well, maybe I could, but I’m not sure the words would be any good if I did.

Anyway, in conclusion, I don’t regret the experiment, but I’m unimpressed by the numbers.