Pay to Play, Self-Publishing Style

My goal is 50 reviews. Can I do it?

I’m going to talk about reviews again.

This self-publishing learning curve is all-consuming. I’m currently trying to finish writing another book (nonfiction, nothing to do with Sienna Cash’s work) but I’m still mired in marketing for WORST-KEPT SECRET.

You have to let readers know it exists.
You have to let readers know it exists.

I’ll tell you something you may not know, particularly with fiction, and particularly for me: Marketing is a horrible job. It’s so difficult to segment your market. And it’s not as if your little novel is going to hit any of the day’s news pegs and land a TV spot or print interview. Furthermore, it is next to impossible to properly market a book without reviews, as I already mentioned in true chicken-egg fashion here. So marketing-wise I flailed for a while. I promoted my book to friends and family, because friends and family is what I have. I asked those readers that if they liked the book—and I firmly believe that there are only certain types of readers who will like the book, and if you’re not that type it sincerely does not offend me—to please review it and recommend it to friends. I scheduled reviews with chick-lit blogs, which wasn’t completely ideal because I don’t think my book is really chick-lit. (That’s a whole other conversation.) I reluctantly sent out books for free to hand-selected readers in exchange for honest reviews, cringing the whole time. Despite the cringing, I want my book to succeed, so I have another one of those review sessions set up on a larger scale for a couple months from now. I am embracing the awkward.

And then there’s BookBub.

Many of you will no doubt already have heard of BookBub. Readers sign up for this service, selecting the categories of books they like to read the most. Then, every day, BookBub sends them emails with lists of books in their chosen categories that are on sale—or even free—that day. For readers, it’s the motherlode.

For authors, it can also be the motherlode. Authors of books included on BookBub are likely to see thousands of downloads from a single ad. That’s why authors all over the place are clamoring to be included in a BookBub mailing. It’s extremely competetive.

To “win” a spot, it’s not as simple as just signing up. Authors wanting to be included in a BookBub promotion, authors have to do three things:

  1. Be accepted
  2. Pay to play
  3. Be willing to give the book away

Be accepted. Not everyone who applies to BookBub is accepted, particularly self-published authors. I’ve known authors to apply three and four times before they are accepted. I’ve known some who are still waiting. And although there are no hard-and-fast rules, it’s a generally accepted truth that as a self-published author, you have to have at least 50 Amazon reviews of four- and five-star ratings to be accepted.

Pay to play. To authors, BookBub is a promotional device. Therefore, we have to pay. And because BookBub promotes low-cost books, the higher the price of our book, the more we have to pay to be listed. The lowest fees are paid by authors who offer their book for free.

Yes, free. Which brings me to…

Give the book away. If I pay for a BookBub listing and offer my book for free in, say, the women’s fiction category, which will cost me $250, I can expect over 20,000 downloads. By readers who pay nothing. I make zero money—or, to be accurate, I make negative-$250. (If I offered that same book for 99 cents, it would cost me $500. You can see all of BookBub’s rates here.)

Want to increase this-here number? Go for it!
Want to increase this-here number? Go for it! Right here!

But here’s the rub. By all accounts, BookBub is absolutely worth it. Author after author has told me that BookBub exposure has helped them find readers and make their money back several times over. Even with thousands of readers downloading their book and paying nothing.

Believe you me, this rubs me in all the wrong ways. As a professional writer I will go to the ends of the earth to discourage other writers from writing for free (or, in the parlance of people who want to steal your work, for “exposure,” to which I, and all other business owners, respond: you can die of exposure). Not being paid for our work diminishes us as writers  and keeps us, the seasoned professionals who really can write, from paying the bills.

But—here’s where I get hypocritical—there is a generally accepted exception to working for free: when it helps to build your platform/expand your brand/[insert sorry marketing excuse here]. And BookBub seems unequaled in its capacity to do just that.

So I’ve decided. That’s my goal. To get a BookBub promotion.

Which brings me back to reviews. I currently have 23 reviews. I’d like to get twice that before I apply. To date, well over 100 people have purchased my book. If even half of the folks who bought my book reviewed it, I would be eligible to be considered for the privilege of paying for this promotion.

Go ahead. Help me spend some money.

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