I decided to take a shot at doing a promo with BookBub. Over the past few years, they have become the most effective marketing platform for e-books. Their reputation is that they reject almost all submissions, and they never tell you why they rejected you. But if you manage to get accepted, then you will sell a lot of books. They regularly update a chart that shows exactly how many books people in various categories and price points sell. That’s useful, because if they accept you, the listing is very expensive.
I signed up to their email list to be notified about Erotic Romance novels, since that’s the best category for my novels. (Even though I can’t say that on Amazon.) I was pleased to see that the books being promoted were not out of my league. Of the 24 Erotic Romance books they have listed right now, there is an average rating of 4.1 stars on Amazon (both the straight average and a weighted average based on number of reviews come out to 4.1). Entropy’s rating is 4.6 stars, which is higher than all but one of those 24 books.
But my book was rejected nonetheless, so I’ve been looking deeper to see if I can guess why. One attribute worth comparing is the number of reviews, and I’m definitely coming up short there. I have 38. There was one book with a 4.1 star / 38 reviews count, so I’m better than that one. But the median number of reviews for listed books is 245, and that 38-review book was definitely an exception. So if you have read my book, and not left a review, please rectify that!
Another potential issue is fit. My novel is not a typical erotic romance. It is mostly a psychological exploration of power dynamics in an online relationship and personal growth in an older female lead. That would make it more of a “contemporary romance” except that it doesn’t follow the well-established formula for that genre. In short, it doesn’t fit the mold of either “Erotic Romance” or “Contemporary Romance.” But it’s awfully erotic, so that’s where I think it should be listed. Just as the traditional publishing industry has a reputation for being a gatekeeper to anything that doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold, I suspect BookBub is the same way. Their rejection form letter uses the phrase “titles within that group that they believe will perform best with our subscribers,” which sounds like code for preferring books that are like every other book.
And that totally makes sense. All pop music sounds the same because that’s what sells. And the traditional publishing industry is built on the idea of just putting out the same book over and over again. Same with big-budget movies. Since BookBub is becoming the new gatekeeper, it’s totally rational that they would drive toward lowest-common-denominator books. I can say for sure that the covers and descriptions of the Erotic Romance books they are listing could pretty much be 24 copies of the same book. (What’s up with babies being left on doorsteps in erotic romance novels? What a weird plot point to become a cliché in that genre.)
However, in doing my research, I noticed something that I think is a much bigger issue for me, and for any indie trying to use BookBub to actually make some money: BookBub rejects almost all Amazon-exclusive books.
I looked through whole categories on their site and could not find a single book being offered only on Amazon. 105 Young Adult titles: not a single one. 24 Erotic Romance titles: nil. After a lot of searching across genres, I managed to find a couple free books, and one lone non-free Amazon-exclusive book. But basically, if you are only on Amazon, you are almost guaranteed to be rejected.
Why does this matter? Why not just list your book on other sites? It matters because if you stay exclusive to Amazon, you can list your book for a limited time at $0.99 and still reap a 70% royalty. But if you aren’t exclusive, dropping your price to $0.99 will drop your royalty to 35%. Using BookBub’s numbers, if I spend $680 promoting a $0.99 Erotic Romance title (that’s not a typo; I told you they were expensive!), then I’ll probably sell about 2,090 books. If I’m Amazon-exclusive, I’d make $1,421, resulting in a profit of about $750. But if I’m not Amazon-exclusive, I’d only make $731 royalty, with a profit of about $50. But that’s only if I make the average number of sales. There’s a good chance that at the measly 35% royalty a non-exclusive $0.99 book gets, I’d lose money.
“But you are building a brand!” you argue. Bullshit. If you think an author with two novels and two short stories published could be a “brand,” then you know nothing about marketing. There are precious few authors who are brands, and you can name them all off the top of your head.
If I were to shell out $680 to promote a book with the promise that I’ll maybe break even, there’s little chance I’ll make any money, but there’s a fair chance I’ll lose money… well that’s just kind of stupid. And that is exactly what BookBub’s pricing leads to if they don’t accept Amazon-exclusive books. And it’s very clear that they don’t.
So will I try again in four weeks? Sure. Why not? But I’m confident that they are not going to accept my listing because there is no fucking way I’m going to drop out of KDP Select and lose my Kindle Unlimited reads, and my ability to run $0.99 sales that don’t destroy my royalties. Maybe they’ll screw up and accept my book by accident or something.