BS PromotionA while ago (over a year) a writer friend turned me on to an advertising site that was not cheap, but had an extraordinarily large email list of readers in myriad genres. In other words, a bit of the Fountain of Find-the-Readers into which to bathe one’s books and come out the other side better-known and more distributed. The site is BookBub.

I tried them and, wow, they worked as advertised. Not inexpensive, but not crippling either—particularly when weighing the cost against the success. Here was my first example (I can’t recall which of my books I advertised, but it really doesn’t matter):

Genre: Mystery (BookBub charges based on a few factors, the most relevant being the number of subscribers to a particular genre’s email list. Mysteries boasts the highest numbers (ergo, cost) at 480,000 proclaimed subscribers and a whopping $480 for one email blast on the day you choose (and, of course, is available). Also I believe their numbers have grown and thusly to milk every dime (viva capitalism), have increased the cost.

They prefer 99 cent or lower (free) deals, but they demand a certain reduction in price (50%, I think, but whatever the number, it becomes MUCH more costly to have a book at $2.99 or higher promo-priced—recently I submitted my trilogy (three-pack of my Bobby Mac Detective series), lowering the price from $7.99 to $2.99 (or 99 cents per book, purchased as a bundle).

BookBub wanted $900 for one email blast.

As my friend told me so long ago: they ain’t cheap.

donald-trumpHowever, I have only had one campaign not pay for itself at a minimum (and in the one case where I did not sell enough books to cover the advertising, it was BB refused to run my new book (one of many on-the-fly changes in policy that you’ll suddenly run into). The Bub said they’d made an” editorial decision” against running the book I wanted—the new one—and rather offered to run an earlier book in the series, which had been advertised once before). In fact, it was that campaign where I started to notice a bit of “attitude” from The Donald…or, I mean, The Bub.

Donald Trump could not care less about you, the customer. He builds what he wants, where he wants (check out the latest brouhaha in Scotland), and he charges what he decides he wants to charge. After all, he not only considers himself the smartest businessman in any room, ever, and at all times (I suppose even when he’s sleeping), but he also considers everything he builds, from golf courses to casinos to hotels to television series.

successful-book-promotionSo after running several successful BookBub campaigns, I finished my own favorite book in my own canon, INK: Eight Rules to A Better Book. I was so excited. The Bub actually has an “Advice and How-To” genre. PERFECT. The list even had a semi-decent subscription number, though it was no Mystery list.

Now let me preface this by saying I wrote this book to (honestly, sincerely, and without mental purpose of narcissism) share what I felt I had learned over a half a lifetime of workshops and classes and critiques and all the rinsing and repeating I could stand. My “secrets”, you could call them. I don’t believe in hoarding; I DO believe in authors collaborating, sharing, and giving as much selfless support to other writers as possible. That said, there’s a lot of crap out there. As with all things in life, some of the crap is salvageable and some (in my opinion) is not.

In writing INK, I was both doing something I try to accomplish in my blog and acquiesce to the writers who thought I should put my blogs into a book (I never liked that idea; I didn’t want a tome, and I figured if someone wanted to read my blog, they’d already done so). Still, I very much wanted to share with all authors, experienced and not, but most arduously, the writers who have some real potential yet are still making the most common mistakes; mistakes that we’ve all made and quite honestly represent the difference between a damn decent book and a piece of, uh, rotted cuttlefish.

What I am getting at (and those writers who’d read the book, nearly 100% of them, agreed) is that INK accomplished the goals with which I’d set out. The initial response was overwhelmingly positive; truly, it was humbling. I knew I needed to get this book out there. I knew it would be well-received and help other writers!

My own, unverified, picture of the BB editors.

My own, unverified, picture of the BB editors.

BookBub rejected my advertisement. Said their “editorial staff” did not believe it was up to their standards. Oh, and at 104 pages, it was too short. They had a limit of 50,000 words or 150 pages.

Not up to their standards? Who the hell are “they”? What qualification do “they”have? Are they serious?

And who writes a 50,000 word Advice, How-To book? Who would write a NOVEL-length piece about the best way to get lice out of your child’s hair and get them so sleep through a cold, or one to really make those daisies flourish and grow, grow, grow?

Besides, I intentionally made the book smaller. Eight Rules. That’s it. No quest for the Holy Grail or a Hobbit’s ring; just something a writer could digest in a few hours and, ideally, keep next to the computer for reference. The Forward by writer Scott Morgan is brilliant.

I wrote BB and complained. I showed them examples of several books half as long (50, 60, 70 pages) that they’d recently run. I was told their “editorial staff” makes exceptions for top notch work but didn’t feel my work qualified as such.

Picture from a BookBub email I received recently.

Picture from a BookBub email I received recently.

One of the books they accepted is titled Confucius Cat Says… I hate picking on a writer and/or their work, but this “book” has a cover that looks like it was thrown together using the old version of Microsoft Paint. By a twelve-year-old. Using a picture of the family cat and the text editor, and that’s it.

The witticisms inside aren’t much better (and the book makes the 150 page limit by inserting multiple huge spacing between every supposedly funny yet charmingly meaningful “cat quote”. The book itself can’t possibly top 10,000 words. From Confucius Cat:

If all you see in life is the cat litter, you’ll never experience the catnip.

Advice is like flea preventative. Few of us want to take it even though we’d often be better if we did.

A closed mind is like a hooded litter box with the door blocked. There’s no way to use it effectively.

(I thought of a way: leave the cat on the inside. Then he can defecate and pee and yet NOT dispense advice where we can hear it.)

These exceedingly witless sayings go on and on and on with LOTS of white space to make it into a “book length” work.

(Spoiler for you cat-lovers: there are a LOT of references to the litter box, the litter that fills it, what can be done with and what can’t be done with said litter, the cliche smell of litter, catnip, mouse-shaped cat toys, scratching posts, more litter boxes, and,oh, did I mention litter?)

garfield y odieGarfield, this cat is not.

Garfield would commit feline-icide on this cat and make it look like Odie accidentally shat on it.

Back to The Bub. The Bub “editorial staff” must’ve loved Confucius Cat Says… qualified bunch, they.

The Bub has now gone in yet a different direction. Digging up authors past like Agatha Christie and Anne Rice (Rice, who in my opinion wasn’t good back when her career exploded because of a decent screenwriter and a new heartthrob known simply as The Cruise). BB also apparently accepts any book whose cover has “New York Times Bestseller” typed across the top. Or bottom.

(Is there a New York in the middle of the Sudan?)


But BookBub, oh baay-bee, they have no problem issuing REJECTIONS for advertising. They don’t want your money.

And the Bub loves The Donald, I just know it. If you’re out there listen, Mr. Trump, you might want to consider picking at your pocket change and buy up this amazing, best of class, magnificently conceived site. It smacks of the Trump empire and your own business acumen (and delusions).

Donald-Trumps-Air-Gone-WildI just wonder if The Bub has the hair? I mean you gotta have the classic orange comb-over coif if you are going to roam around slamming everything from Harvard and Wharton business schools to the revered St. Andrews Links, touting yours as the biggest, longest, fattest, and most admired by the ladies. The Donald thinks everything he touches is “the world’s most amazing _______” (and most people end up feeling that Trump turns the majority of these things to complete shite, to quote an old Scottish lad).

The Bub better be careful. The window of success for businesses who treat their clientele like meal tickets rather than valued partners is very small. Microscopic in the long run.

Stayed tuned. There are a few (rules-light) businesses I know of that are ramping up to help talented independent unknowns get the reach they so desperately seek (and require) at a cost that won’t send them away broken and, still, unknown.

The Bub won’t care. The Bub has the world’s most AMAZING and SPECTACULAR advertising site. They garnered hard-earned cash from Anne Rice.

After the cost of the shovels, that is.

I think those are deductible, Bub.


The blank page is dead…long live the blank page.


Rubber Chicken Arrow Through Headv2Author known to use spontaneous satire, sarcasm, and unannounced injections of pith or witticisms which may not be suitable for humorless or otherwise jest-challenged individuals. (Witticisms not guaranteed to be witty, funny, comical, hilarious, clever, scintillating, whimsical, wise, endearing, keen, savvy, sagacious, penetrating, fanciful, or otherwise enjoyable. The Surgeon General has determined through laboratory testing that sarcasm can be dangerous, even in small amounts, and should not be ingested by those who are serious, somber, pensive, weighty, funereal, unsmiling, poker-faced, sober, or pregnant.)




21 Responses to BookBub: Indie Savior Or Donald Trump In Sheep’s Clothing?

  1. Caleb Pirtle says:

    Rob, BookBub is indeed expensive. And BookBub is difficult and virtually impossible to get on anymore. However, email blasts to targeted book buyers are the best and really only way we have for selling our novels. The real problem is that we need a lot more BookBubs in the marketplace. Kindle Books and Tips is trying, and so is BookBlast. They are less expensive and do sell books, but not nearly in the quantities that BookBub delivers.

    • rsguthrie says:

      You are a master craftsman and a genius regarding the marketplace. I can think of no better writer for The Bub’s cadre than you, Caleb. And I meant it when I said there are businesses lining up to support the talented independent writer as a FIRST priority, rather than catering to the almighty dollar.

      To anyone reading, BookBub should lie down and thank Caleb Pirtle for using their site. “Even the late October sky wore black to her funeral.” I rest my case.

  2. In March of 2013, I published EYE CANDY. BookBub rejected it because the book was in Amazon KDP and BookBub wants its subscribers to get the best deal possible. Understandable.

    So I waited two months, did not re-enroll EYE CANDY in KDP Select and approached BookBub again. I was ready to pay the large fee because everyone claimed to be having success with them.

    Again, EYE CANDY was rejected.

    I emailed to ask why, citing its professional quality both inside and out. For example, the commissioning of the cover art cost me more than double what BookBub was asking.

    BookBub emailed back saying they couldn’t cite anything specific about why EYE CANDY was rejected, but offered a list of things they look for in a book they want to promote. By reading between the lines I gathered that EYE CANDY did not have enough reviews (At the time I think it had 7 or 8). In their listings, BookBub often mentions the high number of 5-star reviews a book has on Amazon. Given that 90% of online shoppers say they value peer recommendations, this makes sense.

    So, now, I wait while the book garners more reviews. Will I approach BookBub a third time? Perhaps.

    Thanks for getting this conversation going, Rob.

    • rsguthrie says:

      EYE CANDY is an excellent, well-written book, and compared to some of the books I’ve seen on BB, it’s a candidate for the Pulitzer in Literature. They DO use the Amazon review system which is a conundrum because the first 15-20 reviews are almost always writer friends (which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it puts the onus on the ethics of the writer rather than the public at large). The rest of the conundrum is that (as you know better than I) approximately 1% of true readers leave reviews. By BB’s standards, Indie writers will never get a shot at garnering some significant exposure to a large readership.

      BookBub has quoted many times that they want to put out “quality material” for their readers, and they tout a mysterious “editorial staff” that makes capricious, random, subjective decisions to post a crappy, half-sized book over a stellar, 5-star read. They look for names (Anne Rice, Agatha Christie) whenever they can, kowtowing to the fame rather than quality, and they also look for anything “known”, such as “New York Times Bestseller”, or Amazon reviews/ratings, which are the most skewed on earth.

      I don’t believe there is any “editorial staff” and if there is, they don’t know a masterpiece from a piece of cod.

      I know you’re more forgiving than I. God bless you for that; the world needs complementary side, emotions, reactions, etc. more than anything these days. I just want to say to anyone reading: BUY EYE CANDY. Ryan Schneider writes a helluva book.

  3. Rob: Great post. BB email audience numbers are suspect. Some question whether they are using shills. Only the free ones get a high ranking and there is no after-taste.(rank/sales quickly decline.)

    Their twitter followers are 50% names with no followers or description. I have a study about BB and other Paid-ad firms on my blog site: HBS eBook Author’s Corner.

    PS: Donald money is OPM (Other people’s money.) See you in the Spotlight soon.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for the comment, James, and for adding to the conversation. An author friend I have is a legal sleuth and found BookBub is part of “Windwalker Enterprises” (a.k.a. I’m going to sleuth myself and guess Stephen Windwalker, of Kindle Nation fame—another similar flash in the pan that used to work quite well yet no longer has the punch it did. Through her investigations she came up with two theories:

      1) BookBub doesn’t look to have nearly as many subscribers as they tout.
      2) They may be in the practice of buying email lists (which isn’t illegal, but depending on where you get them, could be unethical).

      All of the above is speculation, of course. Except for their vagueness in providing any specifics on their “editorial” staff or why certain terrible books that clearly don’t meet any quality standards whatsoever, gain approval while great writers like Caleb Pirtle (whose first line of a book I STILL quote as my favorite ever) and Ryan Schneider, a writer with ten times the chops of other authors who appear regularly on BookBub, is rejected twice.

      Again, I appreciate the addition and look forward to seeing you there. 🙂

  4. Interesting article. I used BB in April and May and was pleased with the results, and was just going to rerun those two books when BB changed the rules for books previously listed (you have to wait longer) so now we’ll see what happens.
    I wonder what will happen when some of the indies try and get on board around the holidays – who will make it and who will get rejected. Also, if the site becomes all NYT bestsellers etc. will BB lose people? Anyone can find those books – at least some readers want to find the unheard, unsung, but great book.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Renee. Thanks for jumping in the pool, tepid as the water may be. 😉 Great questions. With the holidays approaching, Indies need more exposure than well-known authors. As I mentioned, I have no complaints about the quality of BB’s service; they’ve gotten me, on average, to the top 60 in Paid on Amazon each time. I just can’t agree with their seemingly subjective and unfair practices in choosing their “elite” clientele. I wish it were different. They had/have the opportunity to make a real difference for the unknown independent writer with talent. They just don’t seem to pen that very high on their priority list. 😐

      • I just submitted my horror book (Nephilim) for October – I’ll let you know if they accept it or not – Nephilim has plenty of 4/5 star reviews, and it will be available on Nook, Kobo and other sites, so we’ll see what they say.

  5. Coke and Pepsi long ago realized that if they didn’t advertise on an on-going basis, their sales dropped. The two most popular colas in the world, and they must advertise regularly. BB’s new rules make them something other than an advertising source for business-minded authors. They are definitely not in the business of serving their clients needs. Who wants to deal with a business like that?

  6. Dean M says:

    I approached BB once when I first started out in 2010 and the moment they advised me to drop the price on my novel to 99 cents, I was out of there. The Trump reference is chillingly apt.

  7. This information is exactly why I spend part of my day reading writer blogs: when I publish (next September, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise), I hope to be current on where the advertising dollars will do the most good.

    Things are changing rapidly – and part of a business plan is that we now have control of all the mysterious things the publishers used to do.

    Daunting, but potentially very much better: try things, listen to others who have tried things, try some more. After you’ve written and polished the best book you can, of course: that part never changes.

    Thanks for the up-to-date BookBub info.

    • rsguthrie says:

      First, being from Wyoming, great qualifier (God willin’ and the creek don’t rise). Took me home for a moment.

      Second, GOOD FOR YOU. Get that book out there. And you can never, EVER, start soon enough with Twitter, Facebook, etc. Build the anticipation, is what I suggest. Have readers waiting for that release!!

  8. Bought INK. Read it in an hour. Loved it. Left review – I rarely do that.

    It was a pleasure to read. If those were blog posts, you clean up nicely – it didn’t show. It was coherent as a whole. Nice work. And it DID save me going through your whole blog (which I just discovered) to get the information.

    I wish I had learned more NEW things, but it worked extremely well for me as a checklist – in indie it’s often hard to get validation of your writing skills before you publish.

    Will be back.

  9. Rob,
    I feel your pain, believe me. I’ve had the same book on BB twice this year with good results each time. I have also attempted to advertise other books and been rejected. My favorite rejection from BB was one that said something like “Why don’t you try that book with us again after it has achieved greater acclaim?” I had come to BB with the strange belief that the “creating acclaim for a book” part of the equation was why it existed.
    I received a note from another guy in the book business who said he attended the BEA earlier this year and that the BookBub presentation was standing room only. According to him the traditional publishers were foaming at the mouth trying to stick checks in the BB guys’ hands. I really think it is BB’s business with the big houses that is driving its attitude. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see one of the big boys buy BB out right.
    It’s all about huge book buyer subscriber lists. Right now BB seems to have the lists that work the best, but other sites are in the works. My hope is that those new sites will develop a promotional model that is Indie author friendly and that demonstrates loyalty toward its customers (i.e., the authors advertising with them). For instance, it looks like it would be a simple thing for such a site to guarantee an author a listing, or a first right of refusal for a listing, or something along those lines, based on her advertising record with the site.
    Anyway, as usual, Rob, much food for thought in your blog. Come see us.


    Hello Rob,
    great article!
    Why they rejected the book? Very easy: with new books, even if they have several 5-star reviews they cannot make enough money through their affiliate program with Amazon. Only books that are already bestsellers are accepted by their “editorial staff” (whoever this might be and whoever their “qualifications” are…).
    Maybe not a loss, as we hear from so many writers that the success with them is dwindling rapidly : )

    During a research of book advertising companies I came over their website, studied it very carefully and read several press releases that they had blasted out.
    As a trained marketing professional, I asked them several questions, e.g.:
    1. What are your Nielsen numbers?
    2. Are your email lists acquired or genuine through many years of reader contacts obtained?
    3. How can you proof the subscriber numbers?
    4. Are you belonging to an affiliate program with Amazon or other online retailers

    Answer for question 1:
    Only through persistence and several emails later, I got half-answers:
    No, the amount of advertisers is not confirmed by Nielsen or any other organization. I also was wondering about their relatively low number of followers on Social Media and very few tweets to promote their customers, considered what these writers pay for.

    Number 2: no comment
    Number 3: See number 1: The amount of subscribers can and will not be verified.
    Number 4: It took three emails with inquisitive questions, til they submitted to work with an affiliate program.

    Until this spring, advertisers who where enrolled in Amazon’s affiliate programs, earned up to 7% for each downloaded book in the KDP Select free book campaigns (maybe even for Prime members lending). Now these commissions are only paid for books that are at least 99cents.

    They are obliged by FTC rules to let each customer and advertiser know that they make additional commissions, aside from the advertising fees. But NO, THEY ARE NOT DISCLOSING THIS!

    On March 12, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated its guidance for advertising disclosures in a guide called .com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising…..Which should be “clear and conspicuous. Here are some of the highlights from the guidelines:
    Consumer protection laws such as the FTC’s prohibition on “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” apply to all media, including mobile devices. Disclosures (for Affiliate programs) must be placed “as close as possible” to the claims.
    To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261

    Cheers, Doris

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Doris…thanks for the thorough and illuminating post! I am wondering how they get around informing customers (and potential customers) that they are also receiving kickbacks from Amazon (and other sites?). I am in 100% agreement with you on the amount of time (and the overall effectiveness) of advertising. Obviously, as Christine points out, a brand must advertise, but I would suggest that guest-posting, blogging, etc. (i.e. content writing) is a form of advertising. I guess this is the point where hairs are split regarding what is “advertising” and what is “marketing”. 😉 Maybe “paid advertising” is a more accurate term for comparison.

      It is most definitely an overall process with a large spectrum; I spent a year writing and marketing and I easily put in 75% or more of my time in marketing (paid advertising, content writing, contests, social media presence, etc.). It’s easily a full-time job!

      I’ll admit, it’s nice when a site like BookBub that “works” comes along; “work” being defined as generates enough sales to pay for the advertising, at a minimum, and hopefully provide for a modest profit margin (BB being “successor”, in my mind, to Kindle Nation (and the same owner/operator when you look into the business registry—>Windwalker Enterprises, or some such moniker).

      Thanks again for the thought-provoking comments. I subscribed to savvybookwriters blog and look forward to reading!


  11. Hello Rob,

    Wow, you sound(ed) pissed off! Rest assured, little has changed. My novel was unceremoniously turned down a couple of days ago. I made little of it at first, being well aware of the volume of traffic they receive. Then I saw this:
    This piece of literary excrement, practically bursting at the seems with spelling errors, non-existent or erroneous punctuation and writing that would have gotten me a C- in my high school creative writing class (had I gone to high school, that is) was one of the lucky few to meet BookBub’s “requirements” in my genre.
    It’s this kind of thing that throws the aspiring author because it implies that intuition and logic do not count for much when you’re trying to establish where the goal posts are. Like many “friends” of the Indie movement, BookBub wastes no time advertising its bleeding-heart biography as a few kindred spirits who saw a chance to make a difference and took it. It also post strict guidelines about what it will and won’t accept. Like this one: “Error free. We look for content that is well-formatted and free of typos and grammatical errors.”
    This is absolute poppycock. What this book did have going for it was a large volume of great reviews, all of them compliments of “an aggressive email forwarding campaign to an unlimited network of friends and family”, in the words of the publisher, Brooklyn based Good2Go Publishing.
    The bitch of it is, I haven’t entirely given up in the idea of trying BookBub again. The numbers are hard to ignore and I have read plenty of success stories from independent authors. With only six reviews for my book, I’m clearly going to need to beef this up somehow. But here again, life is not so simple. I requested reviews from over 50 blogs a couple of months ago and didn’t get a single one for my effort.
    I’ll keep you posted.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hello, Nathanial. Thanks for the read and for weighing in. I’m not sure I was really all that pissed off (or maybe now, after all this time, I’ve just marginalized it). I hate inconsistency. It’s one of those few things that really thorns my side (I’d say “sticks in my craw” but, aside from being cliche, I’ve never taken the time to learn what a craw really is, knowledge of implied meaning notwithstanding). 🙂

      They just this past week accepted one of my books that has finally rolled around on a year (or whatever looooooong waiting period they have per author, per book, etc.). I honestly had stopped using them, but their free listing really helped me last time, and is less expensive, so I thought I would give it another go.

      Do keep me posted. I’d like to hear how your dealings with BB (and others) go.

      Again, thanks for jumping in the pool (see, the water is fine). 😉


  12. Christian D. says:

    Doing some research on a possible niche business/email list and ran across your post. Do think there’s room for a website/e-mail list that was specific to a ‘niche/genre’ ??


    • rsguthrie says:

      Absolutely. In fact, the more targeted (i.e. specific) the email list is, the better. I mean, if you are selling XYZ_Widgets while most are selling ABC_Widgets, having a Widget_Buyers email list is good, but having an XYZ_Wget_Buyers email list is even better. In fact, I’d say, build BOTH and target some “why buy XYZ over ABC” articles to the more general “niche/genre” list. Not outright ads, mind you, but a well-written article on the pros and cons of both widgets, for example.

      Hope this answered your question. One thing is certain: once you build a list, don’t over-email, study the best subject lines, length of content and where certain important content should go, and use proven sites like MailChimp where you can do some very cool analytics/break-outs (who clicks, who buys, who opens, who never opens, etc.). And let your list readers know you appreciate them; offer some specials just for being on your list! 🙂

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