This article was originally published on September 6, 2013.
How do you get a Bookbub promotion? If you’re looking for advice from someone who kept getting rejected by them, you’ve come to the right place. I started submitting to Bookbub about six months ago. I was met with rejection each time I applied, totaling about six or seven rejections. Finally, I got approved. So how do you get approved for the almighty gate-keeper, Bookbub?
To start, the reason everyone wants a Bookbub ad is because they reject so many people. If they weren’t so exclusive, not as many people would use their mailing list to find and buy quality books. In fact, just today they sent out an email detailing how the process to get in will be even harder in the future. This is because their subscriber base has grown to 1.5 million members and they are continually inundated with more submissions than ever. I got lucky, or I worked hard, because I landed a permafree ad for my book Darkin: A Journey East, which is the first book in a fantasy series. So which was it? Luck or hard work?
If you’re like I was, you feel like you’ll never get in. In fact, I wrote a blog post earlier about my rejection. Whenever I got rejected, I received a mysterious rationale that went something like this: “We won’t tell you why you’re really being rejected, so continue to grow your critical acclaim.” Let me tell you, I did. It’s a great thing they don’t tell people exactly how to get accepted, because that’s when the system is susceptible to gaming. So I followed their advice. I developed more critical acclaim. For me, that came in the form of getting my book into more readers’ hands.
At first, when I submitted to Bookbub, I had about 12 or 13 reviews on Darkin 1. I had barely any presence on Goodreads. I had a marginal presence on the other major retailers, maybe only Barnes and Noble, and each with a minimum number of reviews. So what did I do? First and foremost, I ran a Goodreads book giveaway. Goodreads lets you give away print copies of your book. This works to dramatically increase the number of people who have added your book. It also ensures that you’ll see a slight increase in reviews, depending upon how many copies you give away.
I gave away 20 copies through Goodreads. In hindsight, I would have given away 5. It was way too much money for what it was worth, and with 5 given away, I’m sure I would have had the same results. Towards the end of a Goodreads book giveaway, you get tons of people adding your book. Of course the downside is that some people will sign up, possibly win your book, and not even care for your genre. There are people out there who will just sign up for every book, increasing their overall odds of winning something. That’s okay. It didn’t destroy my book’s rating. Some didn’t like it, but some did. I still hold on to a piece of advice I read recently from Stephen King’s On Writing: If half the people who read your book like it, then you’ve succeeded. I’m paraphrasing, but the idea is translated soundly I believe.
Besides working to bolster my “critical acclaim” through a Goodreads giveaway, I discovered something else wonderful about Goodreads–they have something called “groups.” Groups are these wonderful coalitions of readers who congregate and voraciously devour books of specific genres. The best part is that almost every group has a bulletin board with a specific section where you can promote your book. By promote, I mean give away for free. Remember, being the first in my series, I had long ago made my book permafree on Amazon. If you don’t know what making a book permafree is, I suggest doing a bit of research because it can be a valuable tool for marketing your series. Anyway, each group has a spot where you can post, give away, and often offer a “Read for Review.” When you do a read for review, the expectation is that the people who reply to you provide their email addresses and preferred format of the ebook. You then send them a copy with high hopes they’ll read and review it. The lot over at Goodreads are very friendly. That doesn’t mean their reviews will always be. In fact, sometimes they’ll write you an essay about why they loathed your plot, characters, theme, the whole nine. But that doesn’t matter. As long as you’re getting your book out there–and by now you should be confident in the quality of what you’ve put out–you will begin to snowball reviews and ratings and book adds.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Bookbub cares a great deal about how big your presence is on Goodreads, as well as other major channels besides Amazon. In their just-released e-mail, they provided new information about what exactly they’re looking for in a book. They really want a nice cover, blurb, and presence on the major websites. The best way that worked for me to get that presence was by offering free copies of the book. And just unloading them on Amazon didn’t work. I had to put hours of work into targeting groups on Goodreads and affably communicating, and quickly, with potential reader/reviewers. The good news: working on Goodreads is free. I wouldn’t bother with their cheap advertising program. I signed up eight months ago, and the ad still hasn’t run its course yet. It has unspent clicks that seem like they’ll never expire.
So if you’re discouraged because Bookbub keeps rejecting your book, and you feel like you’ll never get anywhere without a Bookbub ad, don’t despair. Just work harder. That’s right. Build the windmill. It’ll take some time. Don’t be afraid to submit to Bookbub as often as you’re allowed–every four weeks I believe. For a while, I didn’t know I had to wait four weeks at a time–I was so eager I would submit a new application to them whenever I landed two new reviews. All told, I had roughly thirty reviews on Amazon when they accepted me, but my Goodreads presence had grown dramatically, especially since running the book giveaway. Just realize this–Goodreads is a social networking site. When someone is reading your book, it shows up on their status. All of that person’s friends see the book. Some might casually add it, and others might click far enough to find out it’s free, and give it a try for themselves.
Did Bookbub hold up to its mythical status? Well, I’d say absolutely yes. I gave away 15,000 copies of the book in my promo, and nearly two hundred copies of the sequel. That paid for the cost of the ad twice over. Will they accept my next submission? I don’t know. Seeing as it took a bunch of rejections to get one in there, I am not overly optimistic. On the other hand, they didn’t lie. They may have been vague, stating that I needed to gather more praise, but they were telling me what I really had to do. I listened, and it worked.
Self-publishing is a long haul, I am finding out. But it can work. Some say the window to find ground in the indie market is narrowing, but I have no idea. I’m just following the lead of indie successfuls I’ve seen go before me, taking their advice, because I really love writing. I love telling stories. And as much criticism as we get for our shiny new story, we can find solace knowing it was just one of the many thousands teeming in our imaginations. Hopefully, we can tell most of them.