SPS-176: What’s Working Right Now: BookBub Ads – with David Gaughran

In the second of this week’s three-part series on advertising for authors, David Gaughran discusses the advantages of BookBub ads.

This week’s highlights include:

  • Appreciating BookBub as a reader first
  • Embracing BookBub’s strengths, including stellar conversion rates
  • The ease of scaling up with BookBub ads
  • The importance of testing ads before scaling up
  • Why comparable authors matter to BookBub ads
  • Tips for designing your BookBub ad image
  • The importance of branding consistency

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

SAMPLE ADS: Click here to view David’s ads that James and Mark analyse.

COURSE: The Ads for Authors course is opening this week for a brief enrollment period. Learn more here.

BOOK: David’s book all about BookBub advertising: BookBub Ads Expert.

Transcript of Interview with David Gaughran

Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-publishing Show.

David Gaughran: I think we’re always looking for that magical button and the X factor, and a lot of it is just standing around. Inside the book I think it’s pacing. That’s a discussion for another day.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers.

Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello. It is the Self-Publishing Show with James Blatch in Huntingdon, UK.

Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson in Salisbury UK, which is much prettier than Huntingdon.

James Blatch: That is true, although we have a lovely market square.

Mark Dawson: You do.

James Blatch: I don’t know if you’ve seen our market square.

Mark Dawson: I drove through it. Yes.

James Blatch: Oh did you, yes, with a war memorial sculpture called The Thinking Soldier, which is really worth a visit, designed by … who was that naturalist Peter Scott’s wife, in the 1920s, it really is a beautiful sculpture. It’s a soldier contemplating the tragedy of what he’s just been through. I find it very stirring.

Right, enough waffle from us. We do get criticized occasionally by somebody who doesn’t like the waffle and then lots of other people say, “We love the waffle.” Who knows.

We are now talking paid ads this week in these special episodes, two bonus episodes in addition to our regular Friday episode.

Yesterday we talked about Facebook ads with the excellent Shane Silvers, and today we have the also excellent Dave Gaughran to talk about BookBub ads.

I have a little BookBub love in with David at the end of this interview because they’re just an organization that seem to get it right to me. They really focus on readers. Everything they do works well, and if it doesn’t work well, they tweak it and make sure that it does. They’re really earnest and an enthusiastic team. Actually lovely people as well.
There are lots of organizations that come and go in this indie world at the moment, and not all of them are as wholesome as we’d like them to be. But BookBub are definitely, as far as I can tell, some of the good guys.

Mark Dawson: Oh God, yeah. I went over there twice last year to Boston to see them. I strolled past, I can’t remember what I doing, both times going over to conferences, I took a stop in Boston to go and see them. I spoke to like an all hands meeting to like a hundred of them the second time, and it was really great there.

They’re really lovely people and they’re smart, they’re clever. They’re working on some new things in the background that they haven’t announced yet that I think will be really fun. Some things that people have been asking for for ages they are working on. I’m a big fan of BookBub.

Also we’re not talking about their featured deals today, which is kind of the thing they’re known for. But I do see occasionally in various Facebook communities that I’m in that people were moaning that BookBub ads don’t work anymore. I have one answer to that, kind of like Horlicks, actually no, Horlicks doesn’t sound like bollocks does it? Anyway, there you go.

James Blatch: Rowlocks, used on a boat.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, exactly.

James Blatch: That sounds like bollocks, because we can’t say bollocks, can we?

Mark Dawson: We couldn’t say bollocks, no. Let’s say it’s nonsense. They do work really well. I had one not too long ago, last month that did really well.

They’re probably not as effective as they were like four years ago because like everything else there’s much more competition now. Facebook ads aren’t as effective as they used to be, but they’re still effective. BookBub ads are still very effective too. So don’t believe that if you hear it.

James Blatch: Okay, well let’s talk to Dave Gaughran about the platform.

Now I should say right at the beginning, David on the day that we were due to interview suddenly had to flee to Lisbon. Not for financial reasons but because he had a domestic thing to sort out, I think he has a flat he owns there. But he very kindly, and we were communicating as he was on the bus to his flat trying to work out if the wifi would be enough.

We got a signal together in his flat, it’s not brilliant and the sound is not perfect, but nonetheless, you can hear I suppose talking, so I’m just warning you that is the case in advance. Let’s hear from Dave, and then Mark and I will be back to look at a couple of examples that Dave sent us after the interview.

James Blatch: Dave, welcome back to the Self-Publishing Show. I think the last time you were on the Self-Publishing Show, we were probably sitting in the clammy confines of a Floridian hotel room.

David Gaughran: We were, I remember the sound set up, we had to interfere with the air conditioning, which made it a very, very hot interview.

James Blatch: Now I’m in the cold dry air of the UK. But again, you’re clammy somewhere.

Is it warm where you are?

David Gaughran: It’s indescribably warm, it’s about 25 degrees officially. But I think they’re lying. I think it’s like 55 degrees. That’s what it feels like to this Irish man anyway, we’re not built for the hot weather.

James Blatch: No. So you’re in Portugal today, and I’m very grateful for the fact that we’ve snatched some time out of your busy schedule to talk about BookBub ads, which have come out of nowhere a couple of years ago, and are now part of the toolkit that many indie authors are using.

Why don’t we start just to bring people up to date, because not everyone is intimately familiar with these things like we are.

What is BookBub and where did the ads platform come from?

David Gaughran: Okay, so let’s start at the top. I would say even just to take off our writer hats for a minute and just think of ourselves as readers for a moment.

I think everyone should sign up to BookBub as a reader. It’s a really cool website where they send out daily deals, free books, 99 cent books, 1.99 books in every possible genre. You can indicate which genres you’re interested in as a reader, whether or not it’s science fiction or erotic romance or anything really.

They’ve got about 30 different categories now and you pick whichever categories you’re interested in, and you’ll get an email every day with several books in it which are all going to be between free and 1.99.

Some of them will be huge authors like John Grisham, some of them will be indies. Some of them will be guys that you haven’t heard of, but the big thing about it is they put a lot of effort into curation. So it’s actually quite hard to get a deal, I’m sure we’ll talk about that in a moment. But the level of the books you’re getting recommended is usually there’s a lot more curation than some of the other sites.

So even just as a reader, I recommend signing up and just seeing what’s going on. I buy a couple of books a week just from the emails. It is really good quality recommendations.

As a writer, getting in that email is something that we’re all shooting for. I think they only accept about 20% of applications. It’s quite difficult to get a deal. The reason for that is because they have such a huge audience.

I was actually chatting to them recently and asking, because they used to have a public thing on their website saying how many readers they had, and they stopped doing that recently. I just asked them to share how many people they have on their mailing list now. It’s over 10 million readers.

James Blatch: Wow.

David Gaughran: Across all their different mailing lists. So if you go to their website as an advertiser, they’ll actually tell you how many people are on each category. So I think the biggest one might be crime, I think has maybe 3 million readers or something. A lot of the other sites are a lot cheaper. They have much smaller audiences.
BookBub is just like several leagues above any other site in that space where you can have your book, your deal being shown to millions and millions of readers.

James Blatch: That’s why they’re so sought after, as you say. I think they call them featured deal spots. Is that the terminology?

David Gaughran: Yeah, that’s the nomenclature, that they have featured deals. You can sign up as a reader and you’ll get several books in your email every day depending on how many genres you picked when you sign up. They’ll all either be 99 cents or free or 1.99. The prices are starting to creep up a little bit.

James Blatch: Within the last couple of years, so up until maybe 18 months ago, whenever the platform changed a little bit, that was the only way you could get into that email, was to be selected. Go through that curation.

You say teams of people in Boston, who look at your reviews, look at your writing, it’s properly done with humans, which is why they put a lot of effort into the quality of their recommendations, which is obviously the secret to their success.

Then they started opening up a paid slot on the emails.

David Gaughran: If you are a subscriber, if you scroll down to the bottom of your email, at the very bottom there’s a little ad slot, it’s almost kind of a squarish kind of box, which is a pay per click advertising platform that’s open to anybody.

You don’t have to apply to featured deals, you can advertise on that whenever you like, there’s no real restrictions on who can advertise there. As long as you’re pointed towards a book and you’re advertising a book, they give you pretty much free reign.

The only thing you can’t actually advertise there is a reader magnet, which is something we should point out. They won’t allow you to do that. As long as your book is on sale at a retailer, or even if you’re selling from your own site, you can’t point to your own site, they don’t want that, but as long as it’s a book on sale somewhere and you’re not just using this to collect email addresses they’ll let you advertise pretty much anything.

What’s really interesting about BookBub as an advertising platform, there’s a number of things, and I think actually when it comes to any advertisement platform, whether that’s Amazon ads or Facebook ads or BookBub ads, I think it’s very important to lean into the unique strengths of the platform and not be rowing against the tide.

There’s certain things that BookBub ads are very good at. There’s certain things that BookBub ads are less good at. I think it’s important to embrace the strengths, and that goes for any platform that you’re advertising on.
With BookBub the unique thing that really makes BookBub ads particularly powerful, and I think people get surprised when they advertise there, once they get the hang of it and once their ads are optimized, like the conversion rates on BookBub ads are phenomenal, they’re like leagues better than Amazon ads, they’re considerably better than Facebook ads.

I routinely get conversion rates of 25% or higher, which is unbelievable for advertising. Sometimes it’s a lot higher. I think the reason for that is because the ads are being delivered by email. Anybody that has a reasonably good email strategy will know that email is different to social channels, is different to Facebook, Twitter. It’s different to even blogging, there’s something more intimate about email. I think anyone with a reasonably sized mailing list will know that your conversion rates on something in an email will be a lot better than a blog post. It just converts better.

Being able to advertise in an email, like it really changes the equation. When you’re running the numbers on something like Amazon ads and Facebook ads, you’re often dealing with … like sometimes with Amazon ads, your conversion rate might be 5% or 10% or something like 15% of your ads are really working. When your conversion rate is that high, 25%, that really changes the equation with regards to what you’re spending and what kind of return that you’re getting.

James Blatch: Okay. I’ve got a few follow-up questions to things in those answers. So first of all, just to clarify that you can’t put a book on there that’s free.

You can’t give a book away via this ad?

David Gaughran: Well you can, you can if your book is free on Amazon, if it’s free on Kobo or Barnes and Noble. It’s just not a reader magnet that you’re giving away free on your website.

So I think their actual rule is if the purpose of the ad is to drive signups to an email list, it’s not permitted. But any free book is fine. Any full-price book, any deal, it’s usually better to have some form of deal like a 99 cent book or a free book. You get far better return on that approach because it’s a deals newsletter.

That’s usually the first question I get asked about BookBub ads, people want to know if they can advertise full price books there. Everyone wants to advertise full price books. That’s one of the things that BookBub is actually weaker at. It’s harder. It’s not impossible to sell full price books.

When I say full price I mean 2.99, 3.99, 4.99.

It’s a deals newsletter. So if you put yourself in the reader’s shoes, which is always a good thing to do, and you imagine you’re there getting your daily email, and there’s books in the email from people like Stephen King, and he’s selling a book for 1.99 or 99 cents, and they scroll down to your ad and you’re trying to sell a 4.99 book. It’s difficult.

I think BookBub’s biggest strength for me is I don’t advertise all the time on BookBub. I wait until I’m putting together a big promotion and then BookBub acts like this accelerant to really take a promotion to the next level. That’s I think the biggest strength.

James Blatch: Okay, well I’ll ask you a bit more about strategy in a moment. A couple of other quick points. You said that the advert’s open to anyone, certainly in the early days you had to apply to be approved to advertise on BookBub.

Is that still the case, or is it literally a platform you can literally sign up to and advertise on?

David Gaughran: I’m pretty sure it’s open to everybody now, I think that was when it was in Beta. You had to apply and they were kind of selective at the start when they were just slowly rolling it out, and then they were more open, and now I think it’s just open to anybody.

So as soon as you go to BookBub you can sign up for a partner’s account I think it’s called and I think they approve you very quickly.

James Blatch: My final question from the opening sort of gambit was you talked about the excellent conversion rates, and they really are excellent. Emails are a more personal medium I think which is why that works like that.

So what about upscaling? Is there such a thing with BookBub ads? If you’re getting great returns, most people would be happy to put more money in.

David Gaughran: Yeah, for sure. This is actually my favorite thing about BookBub ads because I think people get very surprised when they start using BookBub ads about how responsive the platform is. They’re used to, with Amazon ads sometimes you’re waiting up to three days to get reports on how your ads are doing. That for me feels like swimming in treacle or something, you know?

An ad might be taking off and then we only find out three days later when you’re trying to turn up the budget that you’ve got to wait three more days to see the results of that.

With BookBub it’s almost instantaneous. You can put up an ad and within five minutes it’ll start serving. Facebook sometimes takes an hour or two to fully kind of ramp up. BookBub, it goes from zero to 60 in the click of a finger.
So that has good points and bad points. If your ads are bad, it means you can lose money very quickly. If your ads are good, it means you can scale up almost instantaneously. So you have to be a little bit smarter about how you manage it.

I kind of micromanage my BookBub ads a little bit, where I’ll only give them a budget of $10 or $15 until I see that the ad is converting really well. Then I will turn it up. If you wanted to spend $200 in an afternoon, it’ll do that. It’ll do it very well if your ads are optimized. So it’s a really good tool to have in your toolbox.

My main use for BookBub ads up until about a year ago was kind of the get out of jail free card, because there’s no other platform that responsive. If I was doing a big marketing campaign or a giant launch, I would keep BookBub ads in my back pocket. If something was going slightly off-kilter, I knew I could throw down $300 or $400 or $500 and get a certain amount of sales for that.

Once you get a hang of the platform, it’s the most predictable and most consistent and most responsive platform.

James Blatch: Great.

David Gaughran: That as I said cuts both ways. If you go in there and you haven’t tested your ads and you haven’t tested your images, your targeting, and you throw down $100 you’ll lose it in a second and you’ll see very little back from that. So I think it’s really, really important to go through the testing process and take that slowly and spend a bit of time nailing down which author targets will actually work for you on BookBub.

James Blatch: Mark’s very keen on people starting slowly, starting small and scaling up slowly as well when that happens, although by the sounds of it, BookBub is the platform where you can move quickly once you sort of hit that oil spurt.

David Gaughran: Yeah. In my experience with Facebook, I tend to start slowly there as well, but you kind of have to ratchet it up. I might increase the budget from like $10 to $50 to $100, and kind of check it everywhere along the way to make sure nothing has gone wrong.

With BookBub I find if that $10 or $15 is returning a good CTR, I can just turn it up and then I know that it’s going to work. So it’s nice to have something kind of hands-off like that in your toolbox. It’s very, very useful.
James Blatch: Okay. So let’s go back to strategy. You started alluding to how you use the platform in your cycle of bookselling.

Let’s take an average author who might produce two or three books a year. It seems like quite a lot from where I’m sitting, but it seems to be what people do. You’ve talked about it being a launch tool.

Where should they be looking at BookBub?

David Gaughran: I think a lot of this will come down to whether you’re exclusive with Amazon or whether you’re a wide author, because I think there’s kind of two different approaches to marketing depending on which way you’re going with your books. So let’s talk about a wide author for a moment first.

They’ll tend to lean more on things like permafree, so you’re using BookBub ads there, you’ll have more of a kind of drip. You might just have a daily budget of $5, $10, $20 a day depending on your needs. They’ll be slow in following people into your free book, into your other books in the series. That’s where your profit is.

With a KU author it’s a bit different, you approach marketing in a different way. Or at least I do for KU books, I tend to focus more on doing big huge promotions over a five day period, or a seven day period, with your KDP Select five-day free run, or you’re doing a countdown deal for seven days.

I tend to focus the marketing in that period, and then do pretty much no marketing for the rest of the month. Sometimes for even longer, I can just post off the last of what I’ve done in those five to seven days. So in that case then you’re looking to spend as much money as possible in a window.

It’s a very different kind of approach. But the good thing about BookBub ads is, you can scale up really, really fast as we were saying. Which you can’t really do with AMS or Amazon ads. It’s very difficult. It doesn’t have that kind of instant feedback to give you, to let you know how you’re doing with it.

For me, at least with Amazon ads, I find it just gets kind of a nice baseline sales. I can’t, if I want to go and spend $1,000 in five days. I can’t really do that on Amazon ads. I can definitely do that on BookBub.

James Blatch: Amazon ads notoriously difficult to scale up, I know this. So, and just to clarify, as you mentioned, wide exclusives, I should have asked that at the beginning. There’s no reason if you’re exclusive to Amazon, that you can’t run BookBub ads, because I think as I remember right in the email, you get tabs basically underneath the book to where you want to buy it.

If you’re exclusive to Amazon, you would just have the Amazon tab there. Others might have Kobo and Apple, etc, there as well.

David Gaughran: Right. So when you’re a reader and you sign up, you indicate which retailer you buy from. Some people will indicate multiple retailers, but most readers just have one retailer when they buy from, whether that’s iBooks, or Kobo, or Amazon. And so they will only see Kobo deals in their newsletter.

So if you’re a KU author, if you’re exclusive to Amazon, you will only show your ad to people who are buying at Amazon.

Same goes for Kobo and iBooks, and Barnes and Noble. They have a very good system with making sure the right people see the right ads. You have that level of targeting on there. There’s not a huge amount of options with BookBub ads, it’s not like Facebook where you can kind of get lost in all the options. But you can target by retailer, you can target by country which is very useful.

So if you only want to advertise in the US and the UK, for example, which you might want to do if you have a countdown deal, for example, because they’re only in the US and the UK. They don’t exist in Canada so you don’t want to advertise the Canadian people. BookBub allows you just to show your ad to people in the US and UK.

Or for example, maybe you’re trying to actively build up in a certain market. Maybe it’s the Australian market. You want to spend a bit extra there, to build up your readership there. You can just run ads to the Australian market, or same goes for if you want to actively build up at Barnes and Noble or Apple. You can spend more money there or you can just target those readers if you want.

The most important thing about targeting, which we should probably talk about, is that the main targeting of BookBub, and this is what makes it pretty unique, is just done by author. You can target by genre, but that’s not really recommended because as I said, there’s millions of readers on some of these lists, so you don’t want to advertise to three million people. You want to drill down to the author who was a good comp author. Someone who writes similar to you, or you share an audience with. And that’s the best way to approach BookBub ads.

James Blatch: Finding out those authors, we’ve had some discussion about this in the past, and a few authors have told us they’ve been surprised after they’d been operating for a year or so of running a survey or looking at the auto bot, that you can’t necessarily easily predict what sort of other authors you’re comparable to. You might have one idea, but your readers might have another idea.

Is there any help within the BookBub universe to find those authors for you?

David Gaughran: Well, I just want to speak about comp authors more generally and then I’ll talk about how it works in the BookBub ecosystem because it’s a little bit different to platforms that people might be more familiar with.
This is one of many areas where our inner artist leads us astray, and when we talk about comp authors. So I think a lot of us, well I do anyways, get kind of tied up in knots when I start thinking about comp authors. Who do I write like? If I’m going to say I write like Bernard Cornwell, he sold 100 million books or something. So that seems like a big claim to make. I think the best way to think about is, who do I share an audience with, instead of who do I write like?

Because if you start thinking about who you write like, you might write like nobody. If you drill down far enough your voice is unique. That’s your fingerprint as an author. But who do you share an audience with? I can say I share an audience with Bernard Cornwell. I’m not beating myself up too much there or making any bold claims.

But we are aiming for the same set of readers. He’s doing it slightly more successfully than I am, but we are aiming at the same segment of the market. So I can say Bernard Cornwell is a comp author for me. That’s just speaking generally. He is a good target for me on Amazon ads and on Facebook.

But when you come to BookBub, BookBub is its own little universe. I think a lot of people will have already advertised on Amazon ads or Facebook as well before they come to BookBub, and they might have a list of authors that they target on Amazon, and they target on Facebook.

They might even be in their also boughts on Amazon and they are in the real world, good comp authors for them. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good comp author for you on BookBub. BookBub is its own little world with its own little rules, and you have to individually test each author on BookBub to make sure it’s a good complimentary author for you on BookBub.

The reason for that is partly down to how BookBub is structured. So they’ve been building out all these social aspects to the site. It’s getting more than the deals newsletter that we talked about. It’s turning more into kind of a Goodreads, where readers can review books and they can follow authors. They want to make the site a bit more of a destination now, and that’s definitely the way they’ve been pivoting over the last couple of years.

And that means that some authors who might be a genuinely huge author in the real world mightn’t have too many followers on BookBub, because you imagine followers that you have as an author. Like I think I have, I don’t know, five or six thousands followers now. There’s some like genuinely huge Nobel Prize-winning authors who might only have a couple of thousand followers on BookBub. Even though they’ve sold, 50 million books or something, because what gets you followers on BookBub is running featured deals and running advertisements. They’re the things that will generate followers.

So there might be someone, I think in my book, I talked about Isabel Allende, she’s either won the Nobel prize or has been in the running for it several times. She’s sold a hundred million books or more, critically claimed, huge career, lots and lots of books. And she only has a couple of thousand followers because her publisher has never run a feature deal for her books, and she’s never run any BookBub ads.

In the world of BookBub, she’s not a huge author. So someone who you think will be a solid gold comp author for you, might not be in BookBub. You have to test it individually there.

James Blatch: And this is the reason you start low with those £5 and £10 investments and watch carefully.

David Gaughran: Yes. In my book, I think it’s something like 25% of the book is all about the testing process. I’ll be straight with you, it’s the bit that people find most frustrating. But you only have to do once. The good thing about BookBub as we said before, is the consistency.

So if I discover that an author is a good comp author for me on BookBub, that won’t change. I haven’t had to ditch any of my comp authors over the last couple of years. I think there was only one time when I had to remove an author from my targeting because he just blew up, and he had so many followers that it just became too big an authors to target. But aside from that, if you’re getting good results targeting an author, you will continue to get good results and you don’t have to rejig that at all.

James Blatch: So for people who want to start out on BookBub ads, I think we have one bit of advice you gave right at the beginning, is make sure you’re a reader on their list so you understand how it works in the email. Become familiar with all of that. I think that’s a really good tip for anybody.

In fact, you should think like a reader for every platform by the way. That’s a really important part of you being a good advertiser on there.

Would you recommend they start by trying to get a feature deal or does it not matter whether you’ve had a feature deal in the past?

David Gaughran: I think you should. If you have a chance to get a feature deal, you should grab it with both hands. If there’s no such thing as a sure thing in the world of marketing. But a BookBub feature deal is definitely the closest thing to it.

They are expensive. I think for the biggest categories, like crime, I think they run to something like $1,000. For the smaller categories where they have considerably less audience. I think it might only be $250. But that’s still a fair chunk of change.

But I will say that you will make that money back. Like 99% of people make that money back within 24 hours. A good chunk of them will double or triple their money over the next couple of days. A BookBub deal, the bigger categories can throw you into the top 50 on Amazon.

It really is huge, you’ll sell thousands of books. So if you get a chance for a feature deal, absolutely go for it. Problem is, you usually don’t get accepted, and you still want to access that huge audience of 10 million readers, because these guys really are readers. They are power readers, they’re definitely the guys that you want on your mailing list, that you want working through your series. So it’s a really valuable audience to reach. So if you can’t get a featured deal, basic BookBub ads, it’s not your plan B.

I think like you know there’s a lot of uses for BookBub ads even if you’re one of the authors that is getting featured deals every month. You still want to advertise to this audience because it’s something that you control, and you can do whatever you like. There’s a lot of, things you can do with the ad platform that you can’t do with featured deals, because you don’t control that as directly. But the two can be quite symbiotic and feed off each other.

James Blatch: So okay, you move onto your first foray into advertising on BookBub.

If you’ve got a series, is it the traditional advertising thing of focusing on the first book in the series for your advertising money?

David Gaughran: Yeah. That strategy isn’t bad. But I think the most important thing with BookBub ads is to make sure that you have some kind of offer in the ad. As I said before, you can advertise full price books. But if you’re trying to do that in your first go, before you’ve really nailed down your targets, and before your images are really good quality, it’s really, really difficult.

So I strongly, strongly recommend starting out advertising a deal. Like a $0.99 I think is best of all, because especially when you’re testing, because sometimes you’ll get very high click-through rates on a free deal, and they might mask some kind of problems with your targeting and image.

But a $0.99 cent deal is definitely best for testing, for checking which authors will work best for you. For checking your images, I think this is something that authors don’t spend enough time on.

I think some people get a little bit lazy or maybe they’re not graphic designers, which is fine. You can hire it out, you can hire someone to design a BookBub ad for you for I think $20 or $30 is what I paid the last time I hired it out. I make to myself now in Canva, and I am not remotely artistic. But just with practice I’ve gotten pretty good at designing BookBub ad images now. So I think anybody can do it,

Canva is free. So you can just play with it and see if it’s something that’s going to work for you. But if you really don’t want to do that, just hire it out, $20 or $30. You’ll have a BookBub ad, and if you design it in the right way, you’ll be able to reuse that multiple times.

But actually the best thing, and the easiest things to do, is when you’re getting your book cover done, for a small amount extra, and sometimes designers will just throw this in for free, get all sorts of promo graphics made with your book cover. Like get a Facebook header image, a Twitter image, some branding for your website.
For a small amount of extra money, you can get all these extra images. For a professional designer, who has all the tools at their disposal, they can knock this stuff up really quickly once you tell them the dimensions that you need for a BookBub ad, or for Facebook ads, they’ll be able to knock them out pretty quickly, and you’ll be able to just reuse them.

Get a few variations so you can test and see what works. But yeah, spend a bit of time on the image, especially at the start before you know what audiences really respond to.

I think one of the traps that people fall into tends to be like with Facebook, there used to be very strong restrictions around texts. They’ve changed that a little bit, but BookBub, there’s no restrictions. Again, one of the unique things about BookBub ads, is it’s just the image that’s doing the selling for you. You don’t have any text there at all.

People tend to go a bit wild with that freedom and put too much text on their ads. Some of them have 50 words, and it’s only a small little box.

So I would actually say a pared-back approach, I’ve done a lot of testing on this, and all sorts of different genres. I think a very pared back approach is usually what gets best results. I think the book cover front and center, something highlighting the deal, like a big obnoxious price tag, saying, “Free” with a button is something that people always respond to and if you have a really cool tagline, throw it in there. But if you don’t have one, I wouldn’t sweat it.

Sometimes just the book cover, some background and a price tag is enough and that’ll work.

James Blatch: That’s a really good tip you buried in there Dave, which is too, when you get your book cover done, do get the images, pay extra. It won’t be very much if you’re upfront from the beginning, don’t try and do this afterwards. Don’t deconstruct something that they’ve given you without their permission.
But if they know in advance you’re going to want the layers for instance, and the dimensions of the various advertising platforms you work on, most of the times they would be more than happy to do that for a modest amount more.

That, as you say, makes all the difference for professional looking adverts.

David Gaughran: Yeah. Just in terms of consistent branding, if you look at the really big selling authors, we’re always kind of looking for that magic bullet and the x-factor. I think a lot of is just down to branding. Inside the book, I think it’s pacing. That’s a discussion for another day. But outside the book, I think it’s consistent branding.

You look at their bio on Amazon, you look at their Twitter profile, everything is in harmony. So when you are getting your cover design, make sure to commission all sorts of assets to go with that. Not just your BookBub ads, but Facebook ads, and your Facebook cover photo and everything.

I think that’s one thing that really makes the best sellers stand apart, is that kind of consistency and branding. Actually, this is another reason why you should, even if you are commissioning all this stuff, which is what I did at the start, start playing around in Canva anyway. Just to get your hands dirty, it gives you just a deeper understanding of branding, I think, just playing around with that stuff.

James Blatch: Yeah, I mean you say for the big authors that the branding is good. There’s no reason why an indie author can’t actually be better at branding because we control almost every aspect, every webpage, every Facebook account, every Amazon author profile.

So you can actually be really on top of the game here.

David Gaughran: Yeah. Well now, when I think of big authors, I’m thinking of my role models, the people I’m looking to are people like Cheryl Bradshaw. I’m thinking of the big indies who are doing all the smart things. John Grisham probably doesn’t even know what his branding looks like.

James Blatch: No. We always laugh when we see a traditional publishing, big author, Facebook advertising. It’s usually strewn with errors.

Which reminds me whilst I’m on the subject, it would be great to see some examples of good BookBub ads Dave. Maybe something that Mark and I can talk about immediately after this interview, or put them up on the screen for people watching on YouTube. So perhaps afterward in the next day or two, if you could forward me maybe a couple of your own, or a couple of others that you’ve seen that have caught your eye that you think work well.

That’d be good for some best practice inspiration for people.

David Gaughran: Yeah, for sure. I should point out that BookBub has a lot of cool resources, free resources on their site. They have an excellent blog. But they have regular posts where they show some of the highest performing ads from 2018. They’ve lots of galleries of winning ad images. There’s lots of great stuff out there that you can access and look through, and get a sense of what works for audiences in different genres.

James Blatch: Do you know percentage wise how much you’re spending on BookBub compared Amazon and Facebook?

David Gaughran: Well this is really interesting because I did a survey of what I was spending on different platforms and CTRs and CPCs. Because when you have your nose to the grindstone, and you see a lot of variance, and prices going up and down, and spends and all that.

When I actually zoomed back and was just looking on a book level, on a more meta level, CPCs have remained remarkably consistent and CGRs have remained consistent, and this is across Facebook and BookBub.

But one thing that jumped out a mile was, I can probably, maybe two years ago or a year and a half ago, I could probably spend $300 or $500 on BookBub before the wheels came off. This is doing it a KU Books promotion where I’d be trying to spend as much as possible over five or seven days and just get as much visibility as possibility.

But there was a hard limit to how many people I could show my ads to where I’d still get a decent response. But now two years later, because they’ve built all these social aspects on site, and because they’ve grown their audience so much, and because all these things where people are reviewing books and recommending books, generates more emails from the website to people’s inboxes. Which means there’s more billboards for us to advertise on if you like.

Effectively now I can spend four or five times as much and still get the same kind of good results that make it worthwhile for me. So that’s just in the space of 18 months. My effective spend has grown four or five times there. Where it’s remained relatively stable on Facebook. Amazon ads, it’s gone up a tiny bit, but that’s where I personally have seen the biggest growth.

James Blatch: So you are fine with the BookBub Ads platform.

David Gaughran: Yeah, it’s definitely got its pros and cons. Its strengths and weaknesses, but if you don’t roll against the tide too much, once you know what it’s good at, and lean into those strengths. For me it’s my favorite ad platform right now.

James Blatch: Yeah. Great. That’s a fantastic overview and a scraping down to some of the detail. I think we should say that a lot of organizations have started, in the last few years on the indie wave that’s going on at the moment, sort of revolution if you want to use that word and we’re quite rightly skeptical of some, and absolutely you’re like the shop steward of the indie world, Dave, and you quite rightly point the finger when things aren’t necessarily right.

BookBub have built, I think, a really good platform, a very reader focused platform. It’s very neat. It seems to work. It’s attractive to be a part of, and it’s really pleasing to hear that the ads platform side of it, which is fairly new for them is in the same way is working.

David Gaughran: Yeah. And I think part of that is down to the people they have on the ground. They spend a lot of time going to all sorts of writer conferences. If you’ve been to any conference in the states, you probably, you probably met the team.

Some of the bigger retailers I think, they’ll turn up to some events and that kind of feels like a duty for them. Like they have to be there, they’re ticking a box, whereas BookBub feel like they’re actually listening. Like they actually want to know what your problems are with various aspects of the platform. Again, it’s not just a box ticking exercise. You’ll say something to them and then they’ll, fix it within a month and you’re like, wow I wasn’t really expecting that to happen.

James Blatch: It was a real conversation.

David Gaughran: Yeah. They are actually paying attention, but that’s not just my experience. That’s everyone else I talk to, and when they interface with the team, they’re actually listening. They actually want suggestions, they want to build it.

It’s kind of the same vibe again, when you’re talking to the Kobo guys, they actually want to build things in a way that’s most useful to us. Amazon is far too big to take that approach anymore. So it is really nice to have companies like that who genuinely, it’s not just corporate blather. They genuinely do want to listen to our problems and try and fix them.

James Blatch: Yeah. Fantastic. Good. Dave, I’ll let you get back out in the sun. I hope you’ve got some slap with you.

David Gaughran: I’m going to need it. I’m going to need one of those little parasols.
James Blatch: Yeah, to walk around with. Well look, we benefit a lot from your knowledge and your work and experience here.

Should we should say you have a book available, now’s your chance?

David Gaughran: I do, yes. It’s called BookBub Ads Expert, and it’s quite a considerable tome. I think it’s 40 or 50,000 words. So it goes and spends a lot of time talking about things that we couldn’t really get into here. Deeper levels of strategy and how to run campaigns to support a launch, or if you’ve got a free book or what ways you should do things differently. If you’re in KU, if you’re wide.

I think as I said about a quarter of the book goes through testing because that’s really the most important part. And then it’s got all sorts of advanced tips at the end, which you know, once your ads are optimized, you’ve gone through the testing process there’s some really cool things you can do once you’ve got your targeting nailed down.

And actually, because you were talking about interest and stuff, this was one of the funky things about eBooks, you can’t really put a lot of images in eBooks. I’m sure that’s something you guys have run into, without the delivery fees is getting bumped up. So this is something I just realized as I was formatting the book. I built this private page on my website, which anybody who buys the book can access, and it’s got a gallery of ad images.

It’s got all sorts of detailed optimization advice and it’s really cool because as things change on the platform, instead of having to go back and change aspects of the book, I just put up a new section on the website. People are in the comments helping each other with targeting advice.

It’s building organically into quite a cool little resource. But for anyone who’s not fully on board the BookBub train just yet, there’s also a free course I have. Now it’s super basic. It’s not going to teach you everything how to use the platform, but you want something just like bite size. I think you get 10 emails over 10 days, and you can read them in five minutes, and it’ll just give you a very, very, super basic branding on the platform.

James Blatch: Awesome. Fantastic. Great. Dave, Thank you so much indeed for your time today. I really appreciate this. I know you’re a busy man. A lot of traveling on your hands today. Thank you.

David Gaughran: Thanks for having me.

James Blatch: There you go. Yes. Apologies. The sound wasn’t quite up to our normal standards here, certainly on the Lisbon end. However, very grateful for Dave for taking the time to do that and he speaks very eloquently about the platform, and he gave us some examples so we’re going to go through those.

They are numbered one to four, they’re in the pack if you go to now. A-D-S N-O-W. You can have a look at these examples along with us and we’ll try and put them on screen. We will put them on screen in the YouTube version as well.

So example one. Now he did talk about less is more with BookBub ads. They’re quite small at the bottom of the email and you don’t need to put a lot of stuff on there. And he said one of the mistakes people make is to put too much text on screen. This is a great example of a minimalist ad that people may well click on because it tells the story in image form.

Mark Dawson: Exactly. David is pretty good at this. I have to admit, I haven’t listened to the interview yet so I don’t know whether he mentioned. But he has run some BookBub ads for me before, so I paid him to do a couple of months worth of work to run some BookBub ads just so I could get some data to see how they’re performing.

David is very thorough when it comes to how he puts these things together, his ads together. So we’re looking at Invasion first, so Jay Allen, and that’s a science fiction author.

It’s minimal in terms of the content. It’s got the book cover. It’s then got the artwork from the cover as its background, and then just the word new. So that is really skimpy in terms of the content, but the genre is obvious. It’s clearly science fiction.

It’s a nice bright, bright yellow box there so it will stand out of the bottom of those ads and bear in mind of course that he’ll be targeting this. So it goes to readers of science fiction. So they will be very warm in terms of this, it’s called Invasion. That’s a very popular kind of sub-genre invasion, a subsection of invasion novels. I can see working quite well. And as you said, it really does exemplify that less can be more for these kinds of ads.

James Blatch: And you’ve got to keep focused on what the aim of this ad is. The aim of this ad is to get a click, and the click will go through to your Amazon page. On your Amazon page or wherever, presumably Amazon page, at that point you’ve got a lot more detail about the book.

You’ve got your blurb, you’ve got reviews, all the rest of it. So in a way, the more you put on this advert, once you’ve told people it’s exciting, it’s in their genre and it’s new, the more you put might be reasons for them not to click. So I think that works very well in that sense.

Now there are a few more words on some of the other adverts. If we look at example two, Mark.

Mark Dawson: So that one is One Tequila by Tricia O’Malley. So a little bit different in terms of the content we’ve got. They’ve certainly got much more text. The book cover, it’s a flat 2D version of the book cover, over on the left-hand side. Then just a blank background. I’m not in touch with what that background actually is, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s not important.

The text there, “A psychic, a witch and a voodoo priestess walk into a bar.” It’s very nicely establishing the tone and the content there. So we know there’s going to be some kind of some magic, something along those lines is going to be contained within the book. Beneath that we’ve got the word in, “A magically fun mystery. More than 40 5-star reviews on Goodreads.”

So establishing some social proof there with that, in terms of the number of reviews, and the fact that there are five-star reviews. Then just finally a little blue button that says, “Free today.”

BookBub is subscribed to readers who are looking for deals, and some of them will be looking for free books. Obviously, BookBub is great for publicizing a free run. They also buy, BookBub have made that clear. They’ve got the data that suggests that readers will buy as well, and also buy at full price. But this one is appealing to the free reader crowd, and what Trisha will be hoping to achieve with this ad is to get people into her writing, into her series and then they’ll progress through and buy subsequent books that come along.

James Blatch: Dave pointed out in the interview, you can’t use these ads for list building. So you can’t have a signup page on the end of this, but you can give a book away for free, and once hopefully your reader likes your stuff-

Mark Dawson: Dave’s right. You can’t send it to a landing page where they sign up for your newsletter. But what you can do is run a big free promotion like this, and make it very, very clear. This could be a reader magnet.

So they could go to Amazon, download the free book. It doesn’t cost me anything. Then at the end of the free book, there’s a chance to sign up for the second book, and that’s your magnet to get people to join your list. So you definitely can use them to build your list. You just can’t do it in, you have to have one step in between.

James Blatch: Sort of indirectly.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: Good. And Dave’s a big fan of the offers, as you rightly pointed out, Mark, as why a lot of people subscribe to BookBub, and they like offers. They like bargains because these are people who read lots of books, and it can get expensive for them. So that’s a really good thing to do.

Let’s look at example number three. Dave’s himself.

Mark Dawson: So yes Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran. I think is that this is a bit of a chancer, and I wouldn’t recommend this book at all.

James Blatch: Yes, you would.

Mark Dawson: Well it would be one of the first books I ever read, when I was getting into self-publishing. So yeah, I absolutely would recommend it. It’s excellent.

So again, just to describe, it’s got a keyboard as the background, which doesn’t look too busy, it works quite well.
Then he’s got a 3D image of what looks like a hardback book. Which is kind of curious because people won’t be buying this in print. Although I’m sure he does sell a good number of them in print. But got it as a 3D hardback, and then in that yellow and black text that he favors in his ads, Kindle Daily Deal Today only. So establishing a little bit of scarcity. So you want people to get over there quickly, 0.99p.

So there’s the price, and save 75%. So lots of strong messages there, and is book cover itself, meaning that he doesn’t need to describe in the ad copy what the book is. Because you can read, quite clean. I think you would even be able to read this on the BookBub email, which is a little smaller: How to Self Publish and Why You Should, Let’s Get Digital David Gaughran. So the whole, every message that he wants to get across there is contained in the ad in one way or another.

James Blatch: Yeah. Excellent. Very, very bargain. Heavy on that.
I’ve been helping my daughter with her GCSE maths revision this week. That’d be a classic question there is, what was the original price?

Mark Dawson: Well, I think it would be a 99X4 James, would it?

James Blatch: 99X4?

Mark Dawson: Isn’t that right? Well, 25%.

James Blatch: No 75% off. It’s going to be about £1.75 or something like that. It’s complicated.

Mark Dawson: Oh okay, whatever. We don’t do maths.

James Blatch: We don’t do math. We have a final example to look at here, which is from Lucy Kevin.

Mark Dawson: It’s actually Bella Andre.

James Blatch: No, it’s from Bella Andre.

Mark Dawson: Lucky Kevin is a pseudonym for Bella. She’s combining her pen names. She outed herself a while ago as Lucy Kevin.

So just a slightly different tone from her. I think Lucy Kevin is a little less racy than Bella’s normal stuff. Anyway, again, so very straightforward. We’ve got a kind of a pastel blue background. It looks like the boards of perhaps a beach hut. At least that’s what it would suggest to me. The book is called, “A Summer Wedding.” With a cover of a bride and groom on a beach.

So it’s definitely setting out that kind of coastal theme. Fun, flirty and romantic is the copy, five stars beneath that. Sale $0.99, again in slightly less shouty, yellow and black. And then at the top a strap line, “New York Times bestselling author.” So tons of social proof there.

New York Times best selling authors, they sell lots of books so immediately your reader would know that this isn’t some fly-by-night author. They’ve been doing it for a while. You’ve got the five stars they’re setting up that, and the price. So a nice effective ad, not too in your face. But that would be, I think they would convert quite well for that particular market.

James Blatch: Let’s talk about colors, because there’s a psychology isn’t there, colors and adverts. I’ve seen the yellows quite prominently in quite a few of the ads we’ve looked at.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, yellows and oranges work quite well on online platforms. I’ve no idea why. There may not be a psychological reason behind it. It might just be that they are displayed well on digital devices. I really have no idea, but I’ve always found my best performing ad ever, and I’ve served literally millions of impressions now. My best performing one is a very bright sunset-ty background with a single figure silhouetted against it, so quite orange.

That’s always been the one that’s worked best. And then just after that a slightly lighter, a light red with San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in the background has always worked quite well as well. So no idea why that is.
Dave’s obviously landed on yellow as being a color that converts quite well. It does stand out well, yellow. I think if you look at, well I’m not an artist obviously. But When we could get Stuart Bache to talk about this, but I think I remember reading somewhere that black stands out particularly well on yellow.

James Blatch: Well bumblebees, it works, and wasps.

Mark Dawson: Whether Dave knows or has just come to that through testing, I don’t know. But I remember reading that’s a particularly good combination. Black and yellow.

James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Okay. Look, that’s the BookBub ads platform. Don’t stop applying for the Daily Deals, the Feature Deals as Dave says. I mean, they are fantastic and still brilliant for people.

Mark Dawson: As Mark says, I’m Mark, hello.

James Blatch: Yeah, but Dave also said that.

Mark Dawson: Oh, okay. Fair enough. I haven’t heard that. I believe you.

James Blatch: Yeah, because you haven’t heard his interview yet. But he does say that. He says still apply for them. And I know it’s frustrating when you don’t get them, but the BookBub people always tell us, just keep applying and you’ll get that.

Mark Dawson: I got turned down last week. I hate it. I hate BookBub. Did I say I liked BookBub? They’re dreadful. They’re dreadful, bunch of useless charlatans.
James Blatch: They’re lovely, lovely people, I’m looking forward to meeting up again at the conferences this year.

Okay, look, I’ve got an overheating camera. It went off in the middle of that, but it’s back on now, which is good. But people watching on YouTube, you don’t miss me because we’ve got backup cameras.

Mark Dawson: I don’t miss you.

James Blatch: That means we’re going to have a little break and a coffee, and we’re going to come back and we’re going to record Friday’s episodes, so we had Facebook ads so far, we’ve had BookBub ads.

We’re going to finish off with Amazon ads tomorrow, and also going to talk about your foray into the German market translation and all of that.

That’s it from our second bonus episode of this first week of July, June. Oh yeah, I was going to give the date away. Do you remember we said about the Book Brush Webinar, which is coming up?

So just to say that again, that is going to be on July 2nd, the Book Brush, which is a neat little program, Canva-esque program to help you produce images for your ads. So it goes in very nicely with these series of podcasts. And to be eligible to sign up for that webinar, you need to be in the SPF University. So either by one of our courses, or you can very cheaply subscribe to and sponsor the episodes from as little as a $1 an episode. And you’ll be in the SPFU and eligible for those webinars. Great. That’s it. We’ll be back tomorrow so it’s goodbye from me.

Mark Dawson: and goodbye from him. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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