BookBub Ads Experiments Continue

First test ad

First test ad

When last we met our hero, the BookBub gatekeepers had smote his attempts at a featured ad, and he was trying BookBub ads as a backdoor to get into the email boxes of all those potential readers. (I had to look up the past perfect of smite for that—it’s had smote—who knew?) I now have a little more data, and some preliminary conclusions.

The first thing to note is that there isn’t just one BookBub advertising market. Assuming you target by genre (and not by author, which seems insanely hard), I would expect the going CPM rate (the amount you pay for 1000 impressions of your ad) to be wildly different, depending on which genre you choose. My numbers are for Erotic Romance.

The next variable is targeting. I’m targeting people who signed up to see Amazon books in US, UK, and Canada, because I’ve never had a Twitter ad work in any other market, so I figure I should stick to the markets I can compare to Twitter.

After that is the variable of conversion rate, which is a function of your price, and of how good your blurb and reviews are. Yours might be better than mine, or it might be worse. But the important thing is that it’s not the same as mine.

So the bottom line is that these results apply only to me. You can use them as a benchmark, or to help you shape your own experiments, but you must not assume your results would be anything like mine, because I can pretty much guarantee they won’t be.

Okay, so that said, I ran a $30 campaign Friday through Sunday. I paid $2.30 CPM, which works out to 13,000 impressions. Remember that we are a little skeptical about whether an impression is really an impression, since opening the email will count as one, even if the person does not scroll down to view the ad.

My initial test ad got a click-through-rate (CTR) of 0.7% which is almost identical to the CTR I get on Twitter. However, that was either a total fluke, or it was due to the fact that I left India and Australia in that first test. Regardless, with proper targeting of US/UK/CA, I’m getting a CTR of just 0.45%. That means my $30 bought me 56 clicks on my ad.

My conversion rate was really good: 7.1% (in other words, 4 of those 56 clicks turned into sales; 2 UK, 1 US, 1 CA). At the $2.99 price point, I’d expect about 5% with Twitter ads targeted at the same geography, and people who follow popular romance authors. However, the last big Twitter ad campaign I ran got much lower conversion of about 2.5%. Also, my Twitter campaigns included some Kindle Unlimited read-throughs, and I’ve since dropped out of KDP Select, so we are only looking at straight ebook sales here. So the bottom line is that BookBub ads are kicking Twitter ads ass in conversion rate. These people are buyers. A low conversion rate is also a sign of click fraud, so this high conversion rate is an indication that BookBub is trustworthy.

Unfortunately, you put all those numbers together and they kind of suck. $30 in advertising sold 4 books, resulting in $7.72 in my pocket.

I can’t get impressions with a lower bid, so I’m stuck with the CPM of about $2.25. That means to break even, I need either a higher click-through-rate (CTR) or a better conversion rate. A better conversion rate is not happening, since this conversion rate is already awesome. So we need a higher CTR. How much higher? A lot higher. I need the CTR to be 1.67% just to break even. It’s 0.45% now. It needs to be 4 times as good.

I ran an experiment today to tackle the low-hanging-fruit. The creative I was using was blurry, because BookBub beats the crap out of ads in JPG compression. So I tried re-creating the ad in photoshop and uploading a nice PNG. I’m sure they converted it to JPG before they served it, but I don’t have any way to see what they are actually serving. (I’ve asked them to fix that, because that’s kind of bonkers.) Anyway, the campaign ran all day with the cleaned-up ad you see at the top of this post and my conversion rate is… drumroll please… the same. Actually slightly lower 0.38%. Sigh.

There aren’t a lot of things I can play with to get the CTR higher. I can try to improve that ad (any ideas?). I can try putting “SALE” on there, but that’s prone to drive up CTR at the expense of conversion, since $2.99 isn’t a compelling sale price.

I can try targeting just the UK, since I’ve typically gotten better numbers there than in the US. I think maybe they like the flowers on the cover.

I can try targeting iBook users instead of Amazon. However, I just got on iBooks and I have no reviews there, so I suspect my conversion rate would suck there. It’s still worth a $10 experiment, of course.

My mission now is to improve my CTR. I’m going to try a bunch of different things and then I’ll report back. Stay tuned!!!

BookBub Features and Ads Update

EntropyI was rejected once again in my attempt to get a Featured slot on BookBub. The difference this time is that my book is now on lots of different stores, not just Amazon-exclusive. BookBub chooses very few Amazon-exclusive books, so I thought maybe my chances would be better this time. No such luck. I’ll keep trying.

Meanwhile, BookBub has allowed me into their advertising program. I wrote about this when they first announced it. I did a small test campaign to figure out how it compares to Twitter ads. I haven’t been able to use Twitter ads for a while because the election jacked up the CPC rates. When you have to compete like that to get impressions, the economics of advertising stop working.

My First BookBub Ad

My First BookBub Ad

That’s the ad. It looks a  little fuzzy because BookBub compresses the crap out of ad images. If you scroll to the bottom of your latest BookBub spam, you’ll see that whatever ad is there also has the crap beat out of it. I chose that text because it’s the heart of the tweet I have been most successful with on Twitter Ads.

I bid $3 CPM (I started at $2 and got no impressions, so I increased it), and because there’s an auction, I ended up paying $2.29 for a thousand impressions (that’s what CPM means: cost per mille [thousand]). I ran it for $9 worth, and got 4,229 impressions. That led to 29 clicks, which works out to a CTR (click through rate) of 0.7%. That’s almost identical to the CTR I get for Twitter ads.

So let’s compare pricing. Twitter charges me per click (CPC) and I can generally get impressions within my target audience (people who follow romance authors) with a bid of $0.10-$0.15. (Well, I could before the election; hopefully the rates will settle back down there now.) For BookBub, I have CPM=$2.30 generating 7 clicks per thousand impressions, so that’s a CPC of $0.32. About twice what I was paying for Twitter Ads.

However, the people clicking on BookBub ads are really well targeted. They signed up for a newsletter specifically to find out about books they can buy. So although these clicks cost twice as much, the conversion rate might just be twice as high.

As it turns out, the 29 clicks I got on my little test campaign resulted in no sales. But my book is full-price at $4.99 right now. My conversion rate at that price should be right about 0%, if you follow that chart in the post I linked. So we really don’t know about conversion yet. To do a fair test of that, I need to lower my prices.

I had my prices cranked up to $5 primarily to make a $0.99 deal look a lot better to the BookBub reviewers to get a featured deal. And that didn’t work. So here’s what I need to do:

  • Drop my price back down to $2.99 which is the optimal price for advertising-based customer acquisition.
  • Try another BookBub campaign, just like the one I did, but maybe only US/UK/CA, since that’s how I’ve been running Twitter campaigns.
  • Try Twitter Ads again and see whether the CPC rates have settled down, now that the politicians aren’t buying up all the ad space.

I’ll keep you posted!

The Perfect Gift for the Women in your Life!

Entropy & Duality

An actual photograph of the actual books I will be signing! No fake 3D templates here. These are 100% free range, organic, gluten free novels.

Are you trying to figure out what to get that woman who doesn’t need stuff? The one who loves to read great books that challenge her intellectually and emotionally? How about a pair of books signed by yours truly? Huh? Huh? Good, right?

I knew you’d be excited.

You can get the signed pair, including shipping anywhere in the USA, for $37. Hell, I’ll write whatever you want in there! Want my perfect martini recipe? Done! Scotch recommendation? Sure! You want a filthy poem? Can do!

Just drop 37 bucks in my paypal account and be sure to add a note with the address and any guidance on how you want it signed. Paypal gives me your email address, so I can follow up if I need any more info.

If you live outside the USA, message me on Twitter, and we can sort out how much extra the shipping is.

Trust me, and all the reviewers on Amazon, when I tell you she is going to love this present!

Time to Leave KDP Select?

KU DashboardI think my love affair with KDP Select—where you sell your ebook exclusively on Amazon and they give you some benefits—has come to an end. Some of the benefits (like getting 70% royalties in markets where nobody buys my books) have never done me any good, but there were two things that did work for me:

  1. They keep you at the full 70% royalty when you put your book on sale, instead of dropping you to 35%.
  2. They let people borrow your book in Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and pay you per page read.

The dollar value of the first one hasn’t actually been that big for me. Getting twice the royalty on something you are selling for only a buck still isn’t much of a royalty. Getting full royalties on sales has netted me a whopping $17 extra in the last year.

The KU thing has done a little better for me. As of today, 16% of my revenue has come from KU. But as you can see from that chart I started with, that seems to have ended. I didn’t earn a single dime from KU in October.

So I think it’s time to leave KDP Select.

My commitment to Amazon ends mid-November, so that’s when it will become official. At that point, I’ll use Smashwords to get the e-book version of Entropy distributed far and wide. (Duality will have to wait until January for its exclusive contract to expire.) Getting into more stores certainly can’t be a bad thing, and perhaps doing so will let me get that BookBub promo they keep rejecting at least partly because I’m in KDP Select.

In other news, I’ve started putting my poetry onto Wattpad, as I suggested I might in a previous post. They are all poems that I’ve previously published here, but this blog has gotten unwieldy and I’m betting most of you didn’t even know there were poems here. So I’m taking the best ones and putting them over on Wattpad, so they are easier to find.

Joshua Edward Smith – Entropy

Delightful new review of my first novel…



This book breaks the standard formula for a romance novel. First, the concept of an online romance is uniquely fantastic. To make things more interesting, it is a D/s relationship.  Coincidentally, I had just first heard of the concept of an online D/s relationship a few days before I started reading the book. I felt like I was reading an entirely new genre, which was new and exciting.

The ebb and flow of the developing relationship is less linear than most romance novels.  There are a number of issues that derail or set-back the progression of the relationship.

The depth of Lisa’s feelings grow incrementally throughout the book. The author never seems to make those unexpected leaps that ruins the believability of the book.

I fell in love with Lisa’s character when she starts tweeting from her hospital bed.  (Hey, it’s in the first 20% of the book, which I’ve…

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Whither Wattpad?

wattpadI’m trying another experiment. In case you’ve never heard of it, Wattpad is to e-books as Instagram is to photos. That analogy is incredibly accurate, by the way. Just as Instagram is based on the idea that everyone is a photographer (they aren’t), Wattpad is based on the idea that everyone is an author (they aren’t). For a while it has been a social network populated mostly by angst-ridden teenage girls who think they can write (lots of fan fiction).

However, things are changing. The number of users has skyrocketed and the people who run the company are working hard to expand their user base beyond the Gidget demographic. Part of their formula is getting actual professional authors to post books there. They have an editorial process that hopes to find really good books that they can put on a “Featured” list. (One piece I read about Wattpad noted that books are either really good and go on the Featured list, or they are really popular and get on the “Hot” list; and that no book would ever be on both because the vast majority of Wattpad users don’t actually like well-written books.)

I have been aware of Wattpad for about a year, but dismissed it until recently. Why would it make sense to build an audience of people who prefer to only read free books? Why would it make sense to build an audience of teens who don’t even have credit cards to let them buy a book if they wanted to? These are very valid questions. I’ve yet to find anyone who thinks their Wattpad fan base is doing anything to help their book sales in the real world.

So why am I doing it?

It’s a long-term strategy. As one very successful Wattpad author explained to me privately, at some point these kids are going to grow up. And if you were nice to them on Wattpad and engaged with them and commented on their writing and all that, they are going to remember. And eventually they will get credit cards and buy your books. Obviously, not everything I write is appropriate for that audience, but some of it is, and Wattpad lets me mark the other stuff as “Mature” (with the hope that the growing adult audience of Wattpad users can find it).

I do a lot of beta reading and editing for friends on a “pay it forward” basis. So other than not knowing where I’ll find the time to spend on yet-another-fucking-social-network, reading works by amateur authors and giving them pointers is actually something I’d like to do. So this could work.

I created a profile there, and have put up the first four chapters of Entropy (that’s all I’m allowed to post, since that novel has an exclusive deal with Amazon), and I put up my short story Attractions, which I made permafree everywhere a little while ago. My demi-novella (that’s not a thingRegrets is going up now (marked Mature). I’m going to drip one scene a week up there, because apparently that’s just what you do on Wattpad. Regrets is leaving its exclusive contract with Amazon next week, so I’ll also be posting it everywhere like I did with Attractions. But unlike the short story, I’m not going to make it free. I’ll leave it at $0.99 and get some experience selling cheap erotica across lots of venues.

I’m also seriously considering posting a poetry anthology on Wattpad. I write just the sort of angsty love poems that could melt the core teen girl demographic. (It’s not “Mature” content.) I also need to get engaged on the platform: following people, commenting on their writing, etc.

Sales of my books have completely stalled. I can’t run Twitter ads right now because the election has driven up CPC rates too high for me to get affordable impressions. Right now I’m running a $0.99 sale that’s been almost a complete flop. So maybe a change of direction to build a new audience is just what I need.

Please come join Wattpad and follow me and “vote” for my stories. You can find me here. And if you have experience with Wattpad that you think might help me, please let me know in the comments!!!

Expanded Distribution

I'll pay you $0.47 to sell my book! (No I won't)

I’ll pay you $0.47 to sell my book! (No I won’t)

I’m trying something new with my print books. I use CreateSpace to have them made and until just a couple days ago, I only sold them on Amazon. The reason for that is illustrated in the picture on the right. Through some polling I did when I first released the book, I determined that $12.95 was pretty much the max I could charge for the paperback. That was the price at which people who loved me would not balk.

If you run that through the nifty little royalty calculator CreateSpace has, you immediately see the problem with selling the book anywhere except Amazon. After the cost of production and everyone taking their cut, every book sold through another channel would cost me $0.47. As you know, I’m not a fan of paying people to read your book, and so even if CreateSpace let me do that (they won’t), I wouldn’t.

However, a couple things have changed in the year (yes! it’s been a year!) since I wrote Entropy. Sales of the print book have basically dried up. I’m selling maybe one print copy a month. E-book sales still happen, but not so much the print ones. The other thing that happened is someone suggested I look into Midwest Book Review. It seems like a great idea, but their target audience is book stores and libraries, and those folks do not buy books that are strictly sold through Amazon. To get to those places, you have to open up “Expanded Distribution” from CreateSpace, which gets you into the Ingram catalog, which gets you everywhere.

So I went ahead and bit the bullet and cranked my print list price to $16.95. That gets me out of the hole for expanded distribution, and it also gives me a really huge royalty if someone buys on Amazon (which, of course, they won’t—it’s too expensive). Fortunately, Amazon lets you set a different price for the UK and EU, so my print edition remains affordably priced everywhere except the US/Canada market.

I’ve decided to also step up guerrilla promotion efforts of my novels in other ways. In addition to trying to get MBR to review my book, I’ve started submitting it to bloggers to review. That’ll take time, but I hope that it might generate some new sales. The other thing I’m doing is pushing hard on the perma-free short story Attractions. You can get it free all over the fucking place now. The first chapter of Entropy is stuck on the end of the short story. And I’ve submitted Attractions to every “free book” listing site I can find.

I’ve suspended Twitter Ads for a while, so I can see whether I get any Entropy sales from any of these activities. The CPC on Twitter Ads has been creeping up lately, anyway, which makes them too expensive to use at my current conversion and price points.

As always, I’ll update when I have any hard data to report.

Attractions “PermaFree” Status Update

When last we met our hero, he was trying to make his short story Attractions free. This is just a little update on that. After about 8 days, Smashwords approved the e-book for their “Premium Catalog” which means it’ll show up in 16 different places over the next few days. It is already live on Apple and Kobo. Notably, Smashwords doesn’t have a deal with Google, so it won’t show up in the Play Store. In fact, when I looked into the Google Play Store, I discovered that they shut down access to new authors over a year ago, and have shown no signs of opening it back up. Rumor is they had a bit of a plagiarism problem. So I guess it won’t be there any time soon, if ever.

Being free on Apple is supposed to be all it takes to get to free on Amazon, though, so I popped over to KDP and filed a support ticket asking them to match the price. I also reported the lower prices to Amazon directly on the book page (I’ll do that again when it finally gets up on B&N). The KDP people got back to me right away (I love those guys) and said they’d tell Amazon.

One nice surprise was that being free on Smashwords for this past week actually led to about 50 downloads. That’s pretty impressive since I didn’t advertise it, and Smashwords is a store nobody’s ever heard of. No bump in sales of Entropy though, so our initial conclusion that the “First Hit is Free” sales strategy is a bunch of hooey is standing strong.

UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after I asked KDP support (love those guys!) to get my price lowered, my short story is now free on! It isn’t free in Canada, UK, or Australia (the only other markets where people actually buy my books), so I’ve asked the KDP support guys to pass along the request to those three Amazons.

Typical email from the best support organization on the whole internet.

Typical email from the best support organization on the whole internet.

UPDATE: And just 24 hours later, KDP support (love those guys!) came through, and now it’s free globally! Still waiting for it to appear on B&N. Once that happens, I’ll submit it to all those sites that list free books.

Attractions going “PermaFree”

Attractions - Joshua Edward SmithI’ve decided to make my short story Attractions permanently free. Or, at least, I’m going to try to do that. I did an experiment where I made it free for a little while on Amazon, and it totally failed. It didn’t convert into any sales of my novel Entropy, which is obviously my objective. So I’m making some changes and trying again.

First, I let my “KDP Select” contract with Amazon run out. That will allow me to put the book on other platforms, hopefully increasing my reach to different readers. It’s also a necessary step to making the book free.

I expanded the sample of Entropy to be the full first chapter, not just the first scene. (I also did this with the sample of Entropy in my novella Regrets.)

I’ve uploaded the book to Smashwords, and you can grab it for free there already, if you like. I now need to wait for them to review it, and hopefully they’ll decide to make it available to Apple and B&N and the other places people can buy books. If they do, then it’ll be free on those sites, and I’ll be able to get Amazon to make it free. (That’s the only way to make a book free on Amazon—make it free someplace else and ask them to price-match it.)

Read Me a Story, Siri

The economics of audiobooks are basically a disaster. They cost a lot to produce, the sellers don’t let you set your own prices, and the volumes are too low. So unless you have a mega-hit or you are doing it as a charity/vanity exercise, your book isn’t ever going to be an audiobook. But people love audiobooks. It’s so convenient to be able to listen to the book while you drive!

I decided to see if I could listen to a regular e-book by having my phone read it to me. I got it to work (I’ll explain how below, if you want to try). It was a little weird. The reading was completely emotionless. It so happens that I was “reading” Calculated Regrets by Thomas Jast at the time. And the main character in there is a sociopath. And it’s in the first person. So the lack of emotion fit the character and it all kind of worked together. But for other books it’s not such a good fit.

Anyway, if you want to try, first get an iPhone. I’m sure it’s possible to do this with Android, but I have no idea how.

Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Voice Over

Drag the speaking rate slider to the exact middle. The default rate is way too fast.

Now go back up to the Accessibility settings and scroll down to the bottom. Select Accessibility Shortcut. Set it to VoiceOver.

If you are in your car, do whatever you do to listen to music from your phone through your car speakers. Stop the music, obviously.

Now go to your e-Reader. iBooks and Kindle both work. Make the text as small as possible. VoiceOver doesn’t know how to read hyphenated words, and making the text tiny minimizes the number of those you’ll have to decipher as you listen.

Update: iBooks has a setting (over in the Settings app, not in iBooks itself) where you can turn off hyphenation. I can’t find a setting like that for Kindle, but it solves the hyphenation problem if you listen to a book in iBooks.

Swipe up from the bottom and go into Airplane mode. When you get a notification, VoiceOver will read it and then stop reading the book. That will drive you crazy. Going to Airplane mode is a quick way to stop notifications.

Triple-click the home button. That turns VoiceOver on.

Swipe down on the top of the page with two fingers. It will start reading and just keep on reading until you triple-click the home button again.

Let me know in the comments whether it works for you, and what you think of the experience.