A while ago, I made the following post on the Facebook SciFi Roundtable group:
I’ve seen the question raised: how much do you hate marketing your books? I’ll put it this way: If you believe you can effectively market my books, I will split the royalties with you. Fifty-fifty. Not a me-pay-you-and-maybe-you-can-sell-my-books deal. A simple fifty-fifty split, after the sale.
Let me know.
It got a few responses, ranging from the “Yep, me too” variety to the “There’s no money in marketing books” type.
For the record, I wasn’t expecting anyone to take me up on my offer. And no one did.
We’ll teach you how to market your book!
Join our service and realize more sales!
We’ll show you the secret tricks to make Amazon’s algorithms work for you!
Do you get these sorts of ads? I do, and fairly often. I’ve even tried a few of those services — did my best to follow their instructions, kept an open mind — and never once made even my minimal investment back. But, hey, maybe that’s my fault.
Maybe my books suck.
Maybe I did it wrong.
But here’s the thing: In the old days, authors had agents who sold books for them (to publishers) and earned a percentage (usually 10 to 20%) of the royalties. That model seems to be nearly gone now (or, at least, very hard to access. I tried for over a year to get an agent for my first book, querying almost fifty agencies. But that’s another story.). So, instead, we do it ourselves these days. Self-publish, self-market, self-medicate. Amazon is making plenty of money; editorial services and book cover services are probably doing okay (at least on a job-by-job basis). But authors? Mostly not so great. There is a whole industry designed not to sell books, but to sell services to authors who want to sell books.
Here’s looking at you, Bookbub
And that brings us to Bookbub. They have, for some time now, been the most successful of the email book marketing services. The gold standard. Readers sign up (for free) and get weekly emails promoting a list of books selling at a discount. The list changes constantly, and you can set some preferences in terms of genre and price points.
Authors apply for spots on these lists, and they pay Bookbub for the privilege. (There’s the key difference: in this model, authors pay the agents to market their books.)
For instance: if you want to have your science fiction novel listed at the free price point ($0.00), you will pay $519 for that listing. This, according to Bookbub’s website, will result in an average of 29,900 downloads. If you list it for $0.99, the price of the listing goes up to $754. Different genres and different price points result in different fees. Listing your book for $3.00 or more could cost you over $2500, depending on genre.
So the service is not cheap, but they claim to get results — and most of what I’ve read agrees that they are effective. Bookbub doesn’t break down stats for the various price points, but they do report an average sold figure — excluding the results for free listings. For that Sci Fi book of yours, the average number of sales generated is 2,040 copies.
So let’s crunch the numbers. Assume a $0.99 price point. If you are running a promotion through Kindle Direct, then you can earn a full 70% royalty on all sales made during that promotion (minus their delivery fee, which is a few pennies per download), so say you earn 67 cents per sale. If you achieve the average number of sales (2,040) you will earn $1,366 in royalties. Not bad. Subtract what you’re paying BookBub, $754, and you’ll make $612.
So, still not bad, at least when compared to the negligible returns most of us see. And you might do better. That’s only an average. (Or you could do worse, ’cause that’s how averages work, natch.) In addition, your book gets some notice, and that aint bad either. But remember, you’re out the $754 whether you knock it out of the park or hit a weak dribbler to third. Bookbub takes their cut before the promotion even begins.
So, Is it worthwhile? Most of the time, absolutely. We’re still talking about pretty small numbers. I would be delighted, frankly, to be making $612 per month on book royalties, but it wouldn’t represent a radical change in my finances.
What’s more to the point, did you notice that word “monthly?” I know of people who work in exactly this manner — crank out a book a month, run Bookbub ads, build up a following, get noticed by the Amazon algorithms and then fame, fortune, and endorsement deals. Personally, I can’t imagine producing more than a book or two a year at the very most, so this wouldn’t for me.
Besides, there’s another problem: Bookbub advertising spots are very much in demand, and Bookbub is highly selective. I’ve submitted Spark three times — once for a 99 cent promotion, twice for free promotions — and been rejected each time. The problem? My book doesn’t have very many reviews on Amazon, they said — I should wait until I get more, they said — and maybe consider pricing the book at a lower price point, they said (and yes, this was the advice that Bookbub gave me, even when I wanted to price the book for free, because it was obviously a form-rejection letter). The internet rumor mill estimates that Bookbub accepts fewer than ten percent of applicants, and they prefer people who are already famous and have hundreds of Amazon reviews. In short, the more you need them, the less likely they are to accommodate you.
So, where does that leave us? Certainly, there are other book marketers out there in the BookBub mode. I’ve used them (and written about it here and here .) None of these services are as big as BookBub. They don’t charge hundreds of dollars up front, but they also don’t suggest that they will generate thousands of dollars worth of sales. Some are even free, but, well, they tend to generate commensurate numbers, if you get my drift.
Which brings me back to my original subject: marketers. I’m still waiting for some marketer to respond to my offer: a 50/50 partnership. I write. You market. Half the royalties on actual sales go to you, half to me.
I expect I’ll be waiting for a long time.
Meanwhile, here’s a serious question: would it be possible for us, as a collective, to replicate, even in some small measure, the Bookbub model? Instead of paying Bookbub for access to their list, generate a list of our own? Send out our own newsletter? Even if it was significantly less effective than theirs, we’d still be saving a lot of money by not having to fork out $700 (and up, up, up) to Bookbub every time we advertised. I have no expertise, no knowledge about what might be involved or how long it might take to build up a list. No doubt others have tried this, but since there are (at least) dozens of us, each with our own varied contacts and resources, might we have some leverage they do not?
Is this a pipe dream? Probably. But until you ask, you never know.
So I’m asking.