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How To Sell More Books With BookBub With Carlyn Robertson

How to Sell More Books with BookBub with Carlyn Robertson

Audience: All Levels

Audience: All Levels

Bookbub is a popular and effective book promotional tool for authors and publishers, that offers a range of services, from ads to featured deals and more. In conversation with Orna Ross, Carlyn Robertson explains the latest developments, including Chirp, their audiobook service.

This is a post from the Tools and Techniques SelfPubCon. SelfPubCon (The Self-Publishing Advice Conference) is an online author event, run free twice-yearly, in association with the Alliance of Independent Authors. Join the conversation on Twitter: #selfpubcon

Session Transcript

Orna Ross: Hi everyone and happy Friday. Yes, it's Friday. Hard to know what day it is, but still good to get to Friday. I'm here with the lovely Carlyn from BookBub. Hi Carlyn.

Carlyn Robertson: Hello. Wonderful to be here. 

Orna Ross: Thanks so much for dropping by to talk to us about BookBub, really delighted, we've been trying to make this happen for a little while, but you've been busy moving home. How’s that going?

Carlyn Robertson: Very smoothly, surprisingly. Settling in nicely to the new place. Yeah.

Orna Ross: That's great. Good stuff. Okay. Well, let's talk a little bit about you maybe just to start. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at BookBub? I should, of course begin by introducing myself and yourself, just to say, I'm Orna Ross from the Alliance of Independent Authors, for those of you who may not know. And every so often we talk to feature partners who are doing things that are particularly useful for indie authors in the publishing space. And BookBub is well known to most of our members and followers as a place where you can really get some traction on your book.

And I think the last time we had a chat, it was with Katie actually, but I think it must be three years or so ago, and I know lots has happened there. 

So, Carlyn, tell us a little bit about you, a little bit about what BookBub does for those who may not be a hundred percent sure. And yeah, what's your role there?

Carlyn Robertson: Absolutely. So, I've been at BookBub for five years now of the eight-year history that we've been around. So, when I started, BookBub was still mostly just known for featured deals. So, that's the daily email that we send out to our subscribed members with eBook deals in the genres of their choice, with links to purchase at their retailer of choice.

And that's still a fantastic tool today that tons of authors and publishers use to drive thousands of, if not tens of thousands, of eBook sales and downloads to get a really fantastic boost in sales and revenue, great exposure for books as well. And BookBub has grown a lot since then. So, when I started out, I was actually an account rep working directly with authors.

So, if you had a featured deal coming up, I would be the person that you emailed to answer any questions, figure things out. So, I'm really an expert on the indie author side of things, working with BookBub and all of our tools and the ins and outs of how to use them. So, we added a lot of different tools over the years with, different ways that authors could reach BookBub's audience of readers.

We have over 20 million readers worldwide now. So, that's based in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and India. 

So, in addition to the featured deals, which offer great exposure for eBooks, discounted eBooks, we also have a couple of different tools to promote new releases specifically, and many of those are only targeted to our US audience at the moment.

And then we also have the BookBub ads platform, which is a really flexible tool that allows any author, any book marketer to promote any one of their titles to the BookBub audience at any time for any budget. So, it's a display ads platform, similar to an Amazon ads or Facebook ads. And we'll get into the details of all those tools in a bit.

So, basically over the last five years, I helped develop a lot of those with the rest of our team and make sure that we're building tools in a way that are going to be as useful as possible for authors to use, to reach our readers. And then now mostly I'm involved in education. So, both speaking in situations like this or at conferences. 

I write a lot of blog posts for our blog, it's, it has a lot of great resources on data on our readers and how to use our tools, and tutorials, any information sort of on our website to help you use all of our tools as successfully as possible. 

Orna Ross: And I do have to say that your blog posts and information generally is super interesting. Even if somebody was never going to use a BookBub tool, just following the blog is a really good insight into contemporary book marketing, what it takes and lots of great examples, always. I love looking at all the different ways that authors are doing things, you know, it's always really inspiring. So, yeah, thank you for all of that work. It's really great. 

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah. 

Orna Ross: So, let's back up a little bit and let's start with the famous featured deal. Two things I hear always about BookBub’s featured deal, first is from somebody who actually manages to land one, wow, it made a huge, big difference for the space and time of the deal, at least. And often that carries over on further than that. The other thing I hear is it's too expensive. I can't go there. And we always talk to authors about return on investment, as opposed to thinking of the actual absolute cost, but it is expensive, isn't it? 

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah. So, as we have grown our reader base and you're reaching more readers, the costs have gone up over the years, especially in some of our larger categories, but the way that we've actually designed the costs for the featured deals is based on the expected results.

So, it's not just the number of readers that you're reaching. It's actually based on how many of those readers we know are consistently opening their emails, clicking on deals, purchasing deals. So, our goal is for all the authors working with us to get a positive ROI as well. And, of course, we can't make any guarantees, but between the way that we've structured that pricing based on the expected response and the editorial selection process, where our editors review all the submissions coming in and only select a very limited number of books to go out in the email.

Between those two factors, that's basically how we try to ensure success for all of our author partners to get them, basically, the best response possible from our members, and to ensure that we're sending our members books that we know they're going to really respond well to.

Orna Ross: Great. The other thing of course I hear is, I got turned down, and you always say to not give up, and I actually heard from one of our members recently who got accepted on their 15th attempt. So, is that your advice, if at first, you’re turned down, keep on trying? 

Carlyn Robertson: Yes, absolutely. We know that it can be tough to be turned away, but I would encourage you not to take it personally ever.

We are getting an average of, I think, 300 submissions every single day for a very limited number of spots in the email. And we keep it limited intentionally to make sure that every deal we send out will get a good response from our readers. We don't want to overflow our readers with too many deals every day.

So, it really is often a numbers game. The editors have to make some really tough choices and often many of the books they're reviewing would actually be a good fit for our audience. So, if you submit once and don't have any luck that time, you can submit the same book again, 30 days later. And at that point, the pool of submissions that our editors are looking at will be completely different, which means that if your book is something that our readers would be interested in, you might have a better chance of getting selected just 30 days later, if nothing else has changed about your book. So, there's no harm in submitting multiple times. It's not a ding on your record if it's not selected.

So, we absolutely encourage you to keep trying. 

Orna Ross: Okay, great. I was actually wondering, is it the opposite? I remember when I was an editor on a magazine years ago, you know, if somebody was persistent, we did notice and it did kind of make us think, okay, this person is really keen, you know, do you remember people or do you get so many submissions that that doesn't happen?

Carlyn Robertson: The editors often do remember, and they are personally real people reviewing every single submission that comes in. So, every single time a book comes in, they are going to take a good look at it. And they're really looking at all the factors that a reader would consider when they're deciding whether or not to purchase a book.

So, cover of course is important and the contents of the book, what's it about as well as just the total number of reader reviews, and they'll actually even dig into the content of the reviews as well. That's a really good way for them to get a sense for how have other readers responded to this book, what did they highlight that they enjoy or maybe didn't like as much, and what do we know about our readers and will that resonate with them in the same way? So, those are the factors that the editors are looking at. And then also, of course, their own knowledge and data of our member base and what our readers in each of our different categories are looking for.

Orna Ross: Sure. Let's talk a little bit more about reviews because they are key aren't they? I mean, they're really important in terms of getting the acceptance. They're really important anyway, for all sorts of every reason. But there is a minimum requirement of reviews. There's a minimum number?

Carlyn Robertson: There's not actually, that's a very persistent myth.

Orna Ross: Okay, I wanted to double check that one. So, there isn't a minimum number, but you do require reviews. I was wondering how it works with the new release deal. Can you explain to people, I mean, if it's a brand-new release, how could it have reviews? Do you expect reviews at that point? 

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah. Great question. So, for the featured deals, reviews are important mainly because we know that they're important to our readers. So, we've actually done some tests in our blurbs that we include in those emails where we mentioned the total number of reviews, and we did find that mentioning, I think over 155 star reviews did actually drive more clicks when we added that to a blurb.

So, for us, we know that a book that's well reviewed is one that's likely to perform well with our featured deal subscribers. For the featured new releases, which we send out on a weekly basis, highlighting new books in each of our categories, many new books don't have reviews yet. So, in that case, what the editors are really looking for is the author's reputation and the content.

So, we use our blurbs and the AB tests that we run, to really get a good sense for what our readers respond best to. So, we can tell, you know, if we add a particular trope, does that make them more likely to click or less likely to click? Or if we highlight some specific elements of a book, how do our readers respond?

So, for the featured new releases, we're relying heavily on that knowledge of our reader base and using the book description, quotes from other authors are something that can also help a lot for either of those products, so deals or the featured new releases. If we can say that another author that we know our audience enjoys has said something positive about a book, that will increase the likelihood that our members will want to purchase that book.

So, yeah, reviews definitely aren't as important for the new releases because we know that it's tricky to get those in advance. 

Orna Ross: Okay, great. Can you give any advice on things that kind of rule a book out? So, what would actually kind of make your editor to say, no, we can't go with this one. 

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah. So, we do have some minimum requirements and that's always the first pass.

So, a page count, it's a little bit different for each of our different categories, but it's 150 for fiction and we have some discounting rules as well. So, to make sure that we're offering a good limited time deal in the case of a 99 cent plus discount, we do offer Permafree deals as well. So, if it's been free indefinitely, that's fine.

A couple of other requirements. We do look for typos and formatting errors. That's something that's really important to us that we're sending out high quality books to our members. But other than those requirements, there are very few things that are going to be sort of an automatic no. The editors are always going to review each book each time it comes in, and once it gets past that first check, and most submissions do meet those minimum requirements, then it's about sort of comparing all the other submissions they have at that time to pick the ones that we think are going to perform best. 

Orna Ross: That's interesting. That most of the books do actually meet those quality requirements. That's very heartening to hear that. So yeah, there's obviously some sort of red line in authors own minds that, you know, I won't apply for a BookBub deal unless I know I have got my ducks in a row, basically. 

Okay. So, folks, just for those of you who are just joining, I'm here with Carlyn, from BookBub. We're putting our questions about how to sell more books, using the BookBub platform.

So, if any of you have any questions, please do feel free to pop them into the chat. Tell us where you're calling in from, always interesting to hear where people are. And, of course, BookBub reaches internationally, which it makes it of interest, and we will talk a little bit more about that in a few moments. But I I'd like to come back to the ad platform because this is, of course, open to everybody who is willing to invest, and I think at the moment it's, well with all that's going on in the world, advertising for authors, I think, it's just becoming more and more something that authors want to do. And you have devised this platform that is very much geared with, obviously, there's nothing else there except books, which is different to say, if you're advertising on Facebook or Instagram or something where you're looking at a whole different kind of ballgame. So, talk to us about the ad platform and how it works, first of all. 

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah. So, the ads platform is an auction-based ad platform. So, it's the kind of tool that a lot of authors are using elsewhere.

But it basically gives you the opportunity to set a really narrow target audience of readers that you want to reach. So, you can limit it by our categories or by author interest, which is a really fabulous option. And we've got a dedicated space at the bottom of every single one of our emails and on some pages of our website as well.

And every time a reader opens an email from BookBub. When they scroll down to the bottom there, they will see an ad and the auction runs at the moment that each reader opens their email. So, when you set it up, you let us know who you want to reach, what your bid is, and we compare all of the bids of all of the ads targeting each reader at the moment they open that email and end up showing them the ad that's bidding the highest.

It's a little bit complicated, the bidding and the budgets and how those all interact, but we've got some great tutorials on our blog that break it all down and sort of explain the various moving pieces. But conceptually it gives you a really flexible option for any budget that you have. You can run an ad with just $10 and reach BookBub readers.

And, as you mentioned, you know, that when a BookBub readers opening their email, they're there to discover books, and you know that they're someone who buys books. So, it's a really fantastic audience for you to reach and offers a ton of flexibility. There's no selection process, so you don't need to wait for our editorial team, but still gives you a way to reach our audience of very active and engaged members.

Orna Ross: And I will say, though you say it's complex and it's certainly not easy for someone who's number challenged as I am,, ads never are, but I will say that BookBub is actually one of the simpler and easier to kind of wrap the head around, it all makes sense. So, it's definitely worth exploring, even if you're somebody who has found Facebook ads to be something that you gave up on in despair, (inaudible) your hair might actually be able to manage BookBub ads.

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah, we did design it exclusively for authors and publishers and book marketers. So, fewer options, certainly then a platform that's meant for advertisers of any kind of product. And we've definitely done our best to make it as easy to use as possible. We know that marketing for many of you is not necessarily your top choice of how you would spend your time. You want to be spending time on writing. So, we've tried to do what we can to make that a really streamlined process.

Orna Ross: That's great, thank you. And as always folks, if you have feedback, the good people at BookBub would love to hear it. If there are things that you'd like to talk about it. So, another very interesting and up to the minute feature that you've added of late is Chirp which is your audiobook promotion platform, because that was something actually that a lot of authors were crying out for, for a long time, how do I promote my audiobook? So, talk to us a little bit about Chirp.

Carlyn Robertson: Yes. So, chirp is actually an audiobook retailer. So, members can sign up and purchase their audiobooks, à la carte directly from Chirp. So, buy one book, it shows up in their app, or they can listen to it on the website and that's their book to own.

So, we're partnered actually with Findaway Voices, is the platform that is the distributor for Chirp. So, they are an audiobook distributor to a ton of different retailers and libraries and other platforms. And they're providing all of the books to Chirp on the back end. So, if you have an audiobook available with find a way voices, you can add it to Chirp, just by checking that extra box to add it to your list of places that you distribute, that audiobook.

And we have a very similar email on the Chirp side that we send out, basically the same thing as featured deals, but instead of links out to many retailers, it's just links directly back to the Chirp store. So, on the chirp website, you'll see the audiobook deals by category, and right now it's a much more limited set of categories than on the book website, but we're definitely going to keep growing that as we grow the Chirp member base. 

We also have full price, audiobooks for sale as well. So, you can do a very similar strategy of promoting, for example, the first book in a series at a discount, and then let listeners come and purchase the later books in the series. And I believe we're already at a rate where we're going to be selling millions of audiobooks a year.

So, it's grown really fast over the past year. And for years, actually, BookBub members were asking us to do deals on audiobooks, and authors, of course, as well, wanted ways to promote them. So, we were really excited to get Chirp off the ground as a way to offer limited time audiobook deals to listeners that would be interested in that.

Orna Ross: Fantastic. What's coming up? What's in the plans? You guys don't sit still for long, so I'm sure you've got something up your sleeve, what's happening?

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah, so, Chirp is actually a great lead into that. So, we're planning to announce next week, actually, that you can start targeting Chirp members with the BookBub ads platform.

So, we've added that dedicated advertising spot to our Chirp emails, and you can specifically promote your Chirp audiobooks to that audience of Chirp listeners, even if you have not been selected for a deal in the Chirp email. So, very similar to the BookBub side and eBooks, and it's in exactly the same ad forms.

We've just added a section at the top where you can specify eBook or audiobook and then fill out the form as usual to reach those Chirp members with your audiobooks. So, we're hoping that that provides another great way to promote your audio books, and we are seeing that deals still work very well in that space, unsurprisingly. 

But it's a great way to retarget, both on the eBook and audiobook side. Someone who has clicked on a previous deal for one of your books. So, if you've run a deal on Chirp or a deal on BookBub and you run an ad campaign targeting your own fans, you would actually get to reach anyone who clicked on that first deal.

So, like I mentioned, very flexible, lots of exciting ways to use that tool. So, we're really excited to add Chirp and audiobooks as a targeting option there. 

Orna Ross: That's fantastic. Can you talk to me a little bit about trends that you are seeing in book retailing generally, book marketing? What sort of things should our members be aware of?

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah. So, obviously this is a very strange time for everyone, and there's a lot of things on people's minds, but one thing that's been really clear to us is that reader engagement is up, especially for digital books. So, eBooks and audiobooks. A lot of people are spending more time at home, and many of them are using that time to read.

So, we've seen increased open rates for our BookBub emails. We're seeing more readers clicking and purchasing eBooks and audiobooks. Our BookBub ads are getting more clicks. So, BookBub readers really are looking for new books right now, in the midst of all this. So, I hope that that's reassuring to everyone.

It's obviously a very scary and uncertain time in a lot of ways, but we hope that that's one thing that makes you feel a little bit better, at least in the context of your writing and your book marketing, and it’s that readers are really looking at books as a way to cope right now. 

So, it might feel strange to be promoting a book in a time like this, but readers are looking for your books as a way to get them through this. So, don't be discouraged by everything else that's happening. At least in that one small way, there's some reassuring news there. 

Orna Ross: That's really great to hear, because I know authors are worried at the moment about you, you know, is it even important what I do, but it is.

Carlyn Robertson: It really is.

Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. So, great to hear you echoing that. Any particular genre or anything, you know, is there more interest in anything in particular at the moment?

Carlyn Robertson: We're seeing kind of a mix actually, nothing that's really stood out as, sort of, a clear trend that's changed over the last few months.

We are, I think, sending out more deals in parenting and children's, just because there's been a lot of demand for that. But across our fiction and nonfiction categories we've been seeing increases across the board. One area that is a little bit harder to pin down, but that we are seeing increased interest in, is feel good books.

So, lighthearted fiction with an uplifting message is something that we're seeing readers really looking for and responding well to right now. 

Orna Ross: Unsurprisingly, I guess. 

Carlyn Robertson: But it does seem to be that readers are really looking for whatever their cup of tea is. Some people right now want to be reading really gripping thrillers. Others are looking for lighthearted fiction. So, definitely across the board, we're still seeing increased interest in all of our categories. 

Orna Ross: Okay. So, no major surge in pandemic fiction or anything like that? 

Carlyn Robertson: Not that we can see. I did read Station 11 actually, right when this started, which was an interesting choice. Great book, but a little bit eerie at the moment. 

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think authors fall into, or readers, I should say, fall into two categories. There are people who kind of want to go with what's out there, and then people who just say, oh, take me away into escapism. All right. So, we're running towards the end of our time.

Before we let you go, you are right at the heart of marketing books. So, what three tips would you have for our members? What's the most important thing they need to be thinking about when they're thinking about marketing and then separately promotion. 

Carlyn Robertson: Two things come to mind immediately. I'll think about the third.

The first one is I would say, know your audience. As nice as it would be to think that every single reader out there is going to want to pick up your book, the reality is that there are going to be some people who are much more likely to want to read what you're writing than others. So, don't worry about promoting to the widest possible audience, find your niche and find the readers who are going to be really excited about what you're offering. 

So, I mentioned the BookBub ads platform offers that kind of flexibility. One common trap we see people falling into is targeting an entire genre of readers or targeting only the biggest, most popular authors in a particular genre, and trying to reach those fans.

And often, you'll have a lot better luck, and get higher click through rates and more sales if you look for authors who have much more similarities with the kind of books that you are writing. So, looking at your “also boughts” on retailers as a place to find targets, rather than just going for the big names that pop into your head right away in the genre.

So, it takes some time to do some research and identify the group of readers that's going to be a really good fit for you and your books. Would be one tip. 

Second one for BookBub, at least in particular, I would say, don't hesitate to reach out to us. So, we've got contact information on our website and you can email at any time.

You'll reach one of my team members and we are happy to answer any question you might have no matter how big, how small. We have people writing in just asking us the nitty gritty details of using our tools. We have authors who ask us, I'm trying to hit the USA today, bestseller list, how can I do that with your tools?

So, there's nothing too big or too small. We really want to be here to help you out all the time, and especially right now. We know that there's a lot going on. So, please don't hesitate to use us as a resource and write in. I promise we're not scary. And third tip, those are usually my two biggest ones is be mindful of who you're trying to reach and then ask for help if you need it.

Orna Ross: I think they're two fantastic tips. And I think particularly, you know, that whole thing of knowing who your right reader is and narrowing down and going niche, I mean, we really can't emphasize that enough. I think we do tend to think in too broad categories and understanding that is really the key to marketing in terms of a promotion plan. And then a, kind of, tip around that, maybe, you know, do you recommend BookBub, you know, to do a suite of things on BookBub platform, to use BookBub alongside other platforms? So, when we define marketing, it's kind of the overall promise that your book makes, all the things that you do on a recurring basis that make people aware of your books.

But promotion is a specific drive on a particular book. So, kind of drawing that distinction, any final tips that you could leave us with?

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah. So, I would say that we offer different tools that help both with the marketing and with the promotion, and they are kind of designed to be combined in different ways.

So, something like a featured deal is a promotion to be used often at a very particular time, and BookBub ads can supplement that. If you have a deal and you're getting a huge spike in sales on one particular book, you can run an ad campaign to supplement that on the same book you're getting the deal, or afterwards on another book in the series, or a related book. 

But then we also have tools so any author can just claim their profile on BookBub. And, if you are based in the US you can actually share book recommendations, as well. UK authors, actually, you can change your author account to a US account to get access to that tool, and you can email us if you have any questions about that.

So we do have ways to just maintain your profile and your presence on BookBub and engage with readers who are following you as a way to just continue having a little bit more of a personal connection with those readers. So, we do offer tools that kind of get at both sides of that.

Does that answer that question?

Orna Ross: Yes, it very much does, and thank you. But just backing up there, because that wasn't something, I was aware of. Talk to me about the international audience being able to switch to...just say all that again, just break it down. 

Carlyn Robertson: So, some of our tools are only available to our US members right now.

Orna Ross: Much to over frustration over here across the pond.  

Carlyn Robertson: I know, we hope that we can get those available to everyone soon. But from the author side, you are able to use all of our tools if you just email into us, or you can edit it in your account settings, switch your country from wherever you are to the US and that will give you access to all of our promotional tools from the author side of things.

And in your dashboard, you should already have access to all of the promotional tools, but the book recommendations are the one that you need the US account to have access to. So, for our US members on, they can see recommendations from authors that they follow. It's a really wonderful tool and we created it just to give authors a way to share their own sort of personal favorite books with their followers, but we've actually seen that it can drive sales to. That your word is an author that you enjoyed a book can be enough for one of your fans one of your readers to go and purchase that book. 

So, yeah, so basically if you're an international author, we would say, if you edit your account settings to the US that's the best way to make sure that you always have the most up to date promotional tools and access to all of our different features.

And again, if you write into us, we can definitely help you get that set up as well. 

Orna Ross: That's wonderful, Carlyn. Final, great question here has just come in on the chat, is BookBub only effective if you've got a series? 

So, I mean, it does represent a major investment and obviously the read through on a series can make that, you know, the ROI can be significantly increased. This sounds like a new author who's just got one book. Do you think a featured deal is still of value for him or her? 

Carlyn Robertson: Yeah, that's a very good question. So, series are great because it's very easy for a reader to jump right from one to the next, and especially BookBub readers, are often power readers and getting through tons of books and it makes it a very easy choice, what to pick up next for a series.

But they're also very loyal to authors that they like regardless of if the books in a related series or not. If you have just one book right now, I would say that for a featured deal, you should think about what you would like to accomplish with that deal. So, a 99-cent deal could be a fantastic way to drive a big boost of sales, big boost in revenue, and a free deal could be a great way to get really wide exposure. So, one thing we often recommend with a featured deal, especially a free one, is to put something in the back of your book, so that a reader who downloads that book, reads it through, gets to the end and has a little note either to leave a review, it can be a great way to increase your reviews or sign up to your newsletter so that you can let them know when you've got another book coming out in the future. So, I would say that if you have just one book, just think carefully about what you want to achieve right now with that featured deal, and we do have some great posts on our blog as well, that talk about kind of different strategies there and how to pick a price for that deal based on how many books you have and what you're trying to achieve right now, based on where you are in your career.

Orna Ross: That's fantastic. Fantastic finish to a fantastic session. Thank you very much for dropping in to talk to us about BookBub. Carlyn has very kindly provided some great material which we are uploading to the member zone all about, well, some of the things we've talked about today, but just generally about how to use the platform, how to get the most out of it. So, thank you very much for those also. And yeah, if we get any more questions, we'll send them on to you.

Carlyn Robertson: Indeed. Of course. Thank you so much, everyone. I hope you stay well right now. 

Orna Ross: Yes, indeed. Stay well. Stay safe. Keep reading, keep writing. Thank you. Take care.

Bye, bye now.

Carlyn Robertson

BookBub Partner Team

Carlyn Robertson is responsible for partner education on BookBub’s Partners Team. She’s an expert on BookBub’s promotional tools and ensures that authors, publishers, and book marketers know how to use those tools to accomplish their marketing goals.

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