I mentioned on Twitter last night that I’d snagged another Bookbub ad for one of my boxed sets, and someone asked what the trick was, since they had been trying for years to get accepted. I thought I’d do a write-up with some tips, since I’ve had 20-odd ads with them over the years, between my pen name and my regular name (there’s one tip: you can technically have two Bookbubs in a month if you have two names). I don’t apply every month, but I do it as often as it makes sense. Maybe one day I’ll have enough series out there that I can keep cycling through my Book 1s and have a different one to promo each month of the year.
For those who haven’t heard of Bookbub, it’s the one sponsorship site out there that pays off for most authors who use it, meaning you’ll often make your money back and more on Day 1 or 2 of the ad if you’re doing a 99-cent title. If you’re advertising a free book that’s the first in the series, you’ll often make the money back and more in the sales of the subsequent books, though that usually takes a little longer, as people have to work through the series. Bookbub is also the most expensive site out there, with ads in some categories costing over a thousand dollars. But right now, the size of their subscriber base is far, far larger than that of any of the other sponsorship sites.
As you can imagine, they’re popular with authors wanting to purchase ads, too, and they hand at more rejections than acceptances. So, what’s the trick to getting an ad? I’m sure most, if not all, of this is already out there, so I’ll attempt to keep my list short. I’ve also included a video of an interview with a Bookbub employee at the end, and she answers a lot of questions about what they’re looking for and why some books are chosen over others.
1. Have a professional cover
They get tons and tons of submissions and can afford to be picky. I’m a subscriber to the sci-fi and fantasy lists, and it’s super rare to see a cover that looks homemade (usually when it happens, it’s an old trad published book!). Plenty of indie books get accepted, but they all have covers that look like a pro made them.
If you have a truly awesome cover (and sometimes it’s hard to self-judge on this), your odds can only get better.
2. Make sure you’re offering a big discount
I’ve had $2.99 books that I wanted to drop to 99 cents get accepted, but they’ve stated straight out in interviews that they want to give their subscribers the best deal possible. I believe this is why the boxed sets get accepted so often–a lot of these are 6.99 and more, and the authors are discounting them to 99 cents. If you’re selling your ebook at 99 cents or 2.99 right now and planning to apply eventually, you may want to bump the price up to 3.99 or 4.99 for the three months prior.
3. Make sure you’re promoting Book 1
Unless you have the kind of open-ended series where someone can jump in at any point, make sure you’re applying with the first book in your series. (If it is an open-ended series, I would mention that in the comments box.) Bookbub has specifically stated that they prefer Book 1s.
4. Have a LOT of reviews
I’ve had books accepted where there are less than 100 reviews on Amazon, but it just seems to be much more likely that you’ll get a spot if it’s clear that your book is already popular and that lots of readers have liked it. The more competitive the category, the more true this appears to be.
Yes, it’s a chicken and an egg thing — how do you get that many reviews before you’ve used something like Bookbub and gotten massive exposure? If you’re struggling to get reviews, consider doing a free run and using some of the smaller and less picky sponsorship sites to get some exposure to your book at the same time. Also, in the back of the book, politely ask your readers to leave a review. Believe it or not, that does make people more inclined to do so.
I’ve heard that Bookbub looks at reviews on Goodreads as well as Amazon and some other sites in determining whether to accept a title, so if you don’t have much going on over at GR, you might consider doing some giveaways there of physical books or just asking your regular readers to leave reviews there.
5. Make sure you’re a good match for one of their categories
With the stuff I write under my regular name, it’s easy. It’s all fantasy. I request the fantasy category.
With my pen name, things get trickier. It’s science fiction (space opera) romance, and they often balk at the idea of putting those kinds of books into their sci-fi category (I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s dominated by male subscribers).
The first two times the pen name got Bookbub ads, they insisted on putting the books into paranormal romance. That’s usually vampires and werewolves and the like, and the stories are set on Earth and have magic in them (in short, they’re fantasy). I didn’t think my space adventures would be a good fit. I paid for the ads anyway, because even a bad Bookbub experience tends to pay for itself or at least get you a lot of exposure, but they definitely underperformed compared to what I was used to. I knew that even with the romance element, the pen name stuff would do better in straight up SF.
So… when it came time to submit a boxed set, I redid the cover and gave it a pure space opera look (stars, a planet, a space ship!) with no sexy shirtless guys or couples in the clinch. I also composed a blurb that mentioned that romance was included (along with adults scenes), but which played up the adventure sci-fi aspect. The boxed set got in, and it did extremely well.
Tip: it’s tougher to get a Bookbub ad with a KU title, but if you can, you’ll probably do really well running it as a Countdown Deal, since you earn 70% on that 99-cent book instead of 35%, and you’ll also get a lot of extra borrows.
Note: you may be asking if it’s worth redoing your blurb and maybe even your cover just to have a better shot at fitting into a Bookbub category. It probably is, not just because of Bookbub, but because the book might very well perform better in general if it seems more inline with a specific category’s tropes. Sadly, originality isn’t usually what sells books. An original story on the inside is fine, but in general, people seem to be more likely to buy more of what they already know they love!
If you have any other Bookbub acceptance tips, please leave them in the comments. Now, here’s that interview and a couple of links to helpful articles on the Bookbub blog too: